Mr. Happy's Super-Giant-Mega-Wonderballs

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

a work in progress. Mr. Happy manages to solve a crime or two (while causing several of his own) without really meaning to.

Chapter 1 (v.1) - Mr. Happy's Super-Giant-Mega-Wonderballs

Submitted: July 17, 2012

Reads: 86

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Submitted: July 17, 2012

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Chapter 1

It was night at the circus, but something wasn't right. Mr. Happy sat in a highbacked leather chair, the sort you'd find in a library lined with shelves of decaying volumes written by dead men two hundred years ago. The chair was in the center of the center ring of the circus' three rings. The circus tent rose to obscure heights of color-striped canvas. Ominous shadows dominated.

Mr. Happy's suit, a festive patchwork of reds and blues and greens, some with polka dots, some with stars, some with daisies, was now hidden beneath a lush blood-red velvet smoking jacket. He sipped from an enormous brandy snifter and puffed on a long thick Partagas Corona. He appeared the picture of relaxation, his wooly red fly-away hair the only chaos about his person.

Around the ring where Hap reclined paraded a precise circle of his fellow performers. Trapeze artists, acrobats, elephants, strong-men, dancing bears, horses and other clowns followed each other in a slow, strangely graceful procession. Humans and animals walked in step around the center ring.

Hap smoked and watched the parade with a weary eye. As he puffed on his big cigar, the smoke drifted up to the peak of the tent in a thick gray cloud. At the tent's zenith, sat a white plastic smoke detector, its ready light blinking.

Upon reaching the peak of the tent, the cloud of smoke coalesced into the shape of a giant hand. The index finger of this hand extended accusingly and poked the smoke detector, setting off its alarm.

The harsh blare of the smoke detector bled into the whining bleat of the digital alarm clock on Hap's bedside table. His arm flew out of its own accord and swept the clock to the floor, silencing it forever.

Mr. Happy paused in his appreciation of Cuban craftsmanship to regard the smashed smoke detector at his feet.

He looked from the scattered bits of plastic to the encircling Conga-line and noticed a strange ripple making its way through the participants. Animals and performers began to stagger and misstep, as if they were all suddenly drunk or having a stroke.

A trapeze artist reared backwards, like a prop-comic standing at the edge of a swimming pool. She cartwheeled her arms and took two quick steps backwards directly into the flailing arms of a dancing bear wearing a tutu. The trapeze artist was absorbed into the bear and vice versa. The resulting creature looked not unlike a short fat caveperson from a diorama at the Natural History Museum, except that this caveperson appeared to be dressed for either a day at the beach or a ballet performance. And it had three legs.

Hap stopped, mid-sip on his brandy and spied the creature from the corner of his eye. He absently jammed the cigar between his teeth, bracing himself for what came next.

A clown in a mismatched pink and blue tuxedo bumped into the bear-thing from behind and was also absorbed. A smattering of the clown's wardrobe sprung out on the beast. The slightly larger trapeze-artist-bear-clown-thing staggered in place for a few moments, seemingly adjusting to its new physiology.

Hap caught a glimpse of jerky movement and turned his head in time to see a strong-man and a fat-lady meld with a prancing horse in full sequined headgear.

Hap jerked his head the other direction, spilling his drink and dropping ash from the cigar down the front of his smoking jacket. All around him, the performers were joining in bizarre unions. Then, the products of those unions formed new unions. Mr. Happy looked around wildly, his mind beginning to protest at the horror unfolding before him. He whimpered softly.

Finally, a behemoth monster stood before Mr. Happy. If it had stood up straight, it would have been over twenty feet tall. It crouched on seven or eight legs, some with hooves, and flexed the paws and hands on at least ten assorted arms. Its flesh was a mishmash of clown-suit, mammal pelt and Lycra. It had two heads. One was the size and relative shape of a basketball covered with an even layer of horsehide perched atop a sinewy, swan-like neck at least four feet long. A wide toothless mouth smiled stupidly beneath two flaring nostril slits and three eyes, each a different size and color. The second head was easily the size of a golfcart. It was mostly elephant skin, with a rainbow-striped afro Mohawk running from between its huge yellow eyes, over its massive skull and down to a neck as thick as a side-by-side fridge-freezer. It had a wide grinning snout filled with an assortment of teeth, each different to its neighbors save for a uniform pointiness.

The thing leaned over Hap without seeming to move. It breathed warm fetid breath and dripped viscous ropes of saliva.

Hap cowered into the chair, trying to back through it or maybe hide under the cushion.

The big head grinned wider and opened its vast maw.

Mr. Happy tried to scream, but nothing came out. The cigar lingered for a second, pasted to his bottom lip.

The beast leaned closer and the big head opened its mouth wider.

Hap shut his eyes as tightly as he could.

"Telephone," a gentle, slightly lisping voice said.

Hap opened one eye.

The small head smiled pleasantly. It swept its sinewey neck around so the head was less than three inches from Hap's left ear.

"Telephone," it repeated.

A human hand sporting a thick patch of bear fur and meticulously painted nails on an arm that looked like something from the Museum of Natural History pointed to the big head.

Hap turned reluctantly and looked into the moist gaping toothy chasm before him.

The big head was sticking out its tongue. Perched on the end, like a half-sucked lozenge was an old, red rotary-dial telephone.

Hap looked from the big head to the small head.

"Telephone," said the small head.

Hap looked at the phone again and it immediately began to ring.

"Huh?" Mr. Happy said.

He sat up in bed and tried to blink the sleep-rocks out of his eyes. Sharp lightning and the thudding of sledge-hammers bounced around inside his head.

He looked at the ringing phone like it might explode if he touched it.

He picked up the phone and immediately began to cough; thick, ratchety lung-butter coughs that made him see stars.

The coughing spluttered down the line. Francine Frisbie, Hap's PA, held the phone away from her ear until the spasms had subsided.

"H-hello?" Hap said eventually.

"All better?" Francine asked with a distinct lack of empathy.

"Don't fucking tease me, Francine," Hap said after a final hack. "You're still non-union."

Francine ignored the dig. "Do you have any idea what time it is?" she asked.

Mr. Happy looked down at the broken clock.

"No."

"It's eleven-thirty."

"So?"

"So?" Francine asked incredulously. "So, we tape at twelve."

"Cut me some slack, will ya? It's been a long night."

"The two-headed circus thing again?"

"Yes, the two-headed circus thing again. Thank you for being so sensitive and understanding."

"I've told you before, that's what you get for drinking that cheap rotgut."

Hap looked around the room. The floor was littered with empties: beer cans, beer bottles, those little airplane booze bottles, and about a dozen empty quart bottles of Captain Kidneystone's Old Fashioned Rotgut.

"Now," Francine continued, "stop feeling sorry for yourself and get your flabby, white, clown ass out of bed and down to the studio or I'm not gonna be able to keep Pickles off it."

"Yeah, yeah," Hap said, stopping short of rolling his eyes; it would have hurt too much. "You sound just like my mother."

"Don't hand me that shit," Francine said, raising her voice. "If I was your mother, you'd be in more pain."

She slammed the phone down. Hap looked at it serenely.

"Thanks for calling," he said to the dial-tone. "Your concern for my well-being touches me deeply. Somewhere between my buttcheeks, I believe."

He gently replaced the receiver and dragged himself out of bed. He kicked a path through the empties to the bathroom.

Hap turned on the cold water and let it fill the sink as he pissed away a fourteen-hour binge. He swayed a little, but managed to stay upright.

He turned to the sink and braced himself with both hands on the chipped Formica countertop. He looked at himself in the mirror. Bloodshot eyes, more ivory than white, but more gray than ivory, with jet-black pie-eyed pupils looked back at him. His skin was a uniform grease-paint white, not only on his face, but over his thin, flacid arms and bird cage chest as well. Most clowns had at least one birthmark: a four-leaf clover, a cartoon mouse, a bulls-eye peeking out like a prison tattoo on a wrist or neck. Hap's skin was unblemished, right down to the soles of his feet. The tips of his fingers were going a bit brown, but that was just the nicotine.

He blinked at himself in the mirror and sighed earnestly. His hair stood up like a cherry-red rocket-ship. He turned off the cold tap.

Without further ceremony, Mr. Happy plunged his face into the sinkful of chilly water. He came up gasping and wheezing and quickly dried himself on a stained towel.

He took a cigarette from the toothbrush holder and lit it with a kitchen match from the brick on the windowsill. He inhaled deeply, smoking the whole cigarette in a single drag. He held the smoke in his lungs for a few seconds, then began to exhale, instantly collapsing into another fit of coughing. After nearly a minute of hacking, Hap puked into the unflushed toilet.

He quickly repeated his dunk into the cold sink, once, twice, thrice. He towelled off again, belched robustly and lit another cigarette.

"Ahh. Fuckin' lovely."

Francine called again, but the phone went unanswered. She considered this a positive development.

*

 

Mack's was around the corner from Mr. Happy's apartment. It was a dumpy convenience store run by a dumpy guy called Mack.

"Hey, Mister Happy," Mack said as his most regular customer shuffled in. "How you doin'?"

"Meh." Hap grunted.

"I hope you're not after any more rotgut. You cleaned me out on Friday and the truck ain't been by yet."

"Keep it down, will ya." Hap said, wincing. "My head's about to bust open."

Mack looked at Mr. Happy with concern.

"You look like shit," he said.

Hap smiled a sugary sweet smile. "Just shut up and give me a Lucky Dip and a Scratch 'n Win."

Mack turned to the lottery machine whistling the theme tune from 'The Mr. Happy Show'. Hap lit another smoke.

"Good luck, Mister Happy," Mack said, handing over the tickets and palming Hap's five. "No smoking."

Hap blew a thick plume of smoke in Mack's face and left.

Outside, Hap dug deep into his deep pocket and came out with a penny. He scratched the Scratch 'n Win: bar, bar, cherry.

"Another day, another kick in the teeth," Hap said, sighing. He dropped the dead ticket on the sidewalk and went to work.

*

 

KBIG, Channel 3 had its headquarters downtown on the corner of Third Street and Milton. The building had originally been built to house a nail-making factory, but had been converted to house the television studios in the late fifties. It was the unspectacular brick box, which you'd expect of a nail-making factory.

Francine stood outside the door to Studio F, tapping her pen against her clipboard in exasperated agitation. She tutted and sighed and checked her watch every few seconds.

Downstairs, Mr. Happy pushed his way through the revolving door and into the lobby. The receptionist smiled whitely.

"Good morning, Mister Happy."

"Ugh."

Hap poked the up button and waited for the elevator. A few suits slowly gathered around, waiting for elevators or autographs, Hap could never tell. He belched and clucked his tongue and tried to broadcast an air of irritation. When the elevator arrived, he got in and pushed the button for the fourth floor without waiting for anyone else to get in.

As the elevator rose, Hap reached up and opened the cover on the smoke detector. He took out the battery, dropped it into his pocket and re-closed the plastic cover. Then he lit another cigarette.

The elevator stopped on the fourth floor and Mr. Happy peered around the open doors cautiously before stepping out. Seeing that the coast was clear, he strode purposefully down the hall towards the back entrance to the soundstages. As he rounded the last corner, he stopped abruptly.

"Aw shit," he said, contemplating running back down the hall to the elevators.

"Aw shit?" Lew Pickles repeated, trying unsuccessfully to imitate Hap's whine. He was the controller of KBIG, Channel 4, a short, round man with a shiney comb-over spanning a shiney pate. His suits were well cut, for somebody else, and twenty years out of fashion. "Is that the best you can do? Aw shit?"

Hap shrugged. He took another drag on his smoke and grimaced. He'd smoked it down to the filter.

"You were supposed to start taping half an hour ago."

"Sorry, Boss," Hap said, fishing out and lighting a fresh cigarette and not looking at Pickles. "Stuck in traffic."

"You don't own a car," Pickles said through gritted teeth, beginning to vibrate slightly with barely suppressed rage.

"Can't afford one." Hap blew a jet of smoke through his nostrils and plucked a stray flake of tobacco from his tongue.

"Are you asking me for a raise?" Pickles squinted at Mr. Happy, calculating how nuts he should go.

"The Bear got a raise."

"The Bear shows up on time," Pickles said, his voice rising steadily into an open-mouthed shout, with added spittle. "The Bear gets better ratings! The Bear doesn't treat this place like some goddamned hourly-rate flophouse and the Bear doesn't blow smoke in my face!"

Hap, unable to resist such an invitation, blew a luxuriant cloud of smoke in Pickles' face just as Francine sped around the corner, hoping to save the situation.

Pickles seemed to relax himself a little. Though, when he spoke, his voice was still hard enough to pound nails with.

"This is your last chance," he said, aiming a stout finger at Mr. Happy. "You might be the only Mister Happy, but you're sure as hell not the only clown."

Hap smiled with what he hoped was a calm nonchalance, as Pickles turned and walked away.

"Are you insane?" Francine asked in a hissing whisper. She wore a crisply starched blouse and a charcoal gray pencil skirt. Her wiry hair was tamed back into a painful looking bun and her thick-framed glasses made her eyeballs look three sizes too big. She held her clipboard with both hands, like she might use it as a weapon. "He's serious this time."

"I know he's serious," Hap said, watching the little round man veer around a corner. He listened for another second and when he heard the door slam, he exhaled a breath he hadn't known he was holding. "I just have a problem with authority."

"Do you have a problem with cancellation?" Francine asked, forcing Hap to meet her big bug-eyes.

"Oh, ha-fucking-ha, Francine. Get me a coffee, will ya. I'm about to fall over here."

Francine reduced her lips to tiny pink lines about as thick as a sheet of paper each. She narrowed her gaze, turned on a three-inch heel and walked off.

"Hey," Hap yelled to her neatly pressed back. "Who've we got today?"

"Find out for yourself, asshole." She dropped the clipboard and carried on walking.

Mr. Happy loped a few strides and bent for the clipboard. He had to blink several times after he'd straightened to clear the spots from his field of vision.

"Oh marvelous," he said, sighing again as he read the day's guest list.

Chapter 2

 

Frankie Foster was ten years old. He was a mature ten, but he needed to be. His father had disappeared one day; gone out to work in the morning, but never came home that night. Most kids dropped absently into that situation would have constructed elaborate myths to cloak the reality of the occasion. Their fathers might have been wrongly accused, arrested in error and falsely imprisoned, victims of sinister vendettas and official corruption. They might have gotten into a fight protecting an innocent old lady, the blow from the assailant's cudgel inducing dramatic and irreversible amnesia. They might have been abducted by aliens, or criminal gangs, harvesting organs for arcane experiments or black-market medical procedures. Frankie's dad left. The acceptance of this fact elevated Frankie to near-adult status, at least in his own mind, while at the same time reducing his father's status to that of perpetual bum and dickhead.

Frankie's mother worked. She had two jobs, three if you counted the ironing she did for some of the neighbors. She relied on Frankie to be grown-up and responsible enough not to need constant monitoring. He did the best he could, which was significantly better than the efforts of quite a few actual adults he saw on the news or read about in the paper.

As he stood outside the hospital, though, he suffered what some would call a crisis of confidence. His treatments were short, thankfully. But, they hurt like hell. He stood on the sidewalk, looking up at the imposing glass and steel of Big City General, absently rubbing his left arm, as if it were bruised and sore.

His body made the decision without full consultation. He found himself walking down Third Street without a recollection of leaving the front of the hospital. Then he found himself running. He was through the revolving doors and into the air-conditioned starkness of the KBIG studios before he properly knew where he was going.

"Hi, Frankie," the receptionist said, holding out a nametag. "You still trying for an autograph?"

Frankie nodded and grinned and held up a red, faux-leather bound autograph book.

"Good luck."

Up in his dressing room, Hap sat in what looked like a big dentist's chair. He held a smoldering cigarette and a steaming mug of coffee in his right hand while reading a page of notes he held in his left.

Three stylists orbited around him, each attending in her turn to hair-fluffing or the polishing of shoes and nose.

*

 

The circus had come to town. Which town was unimportant; it could have been any town small enough to have insufficient zoning laws and fewer than ten people on the local police force but big enough to have a two or three acre patch of land going spare. In a big town, a parade got lost among tall buildings or stuck in traffic. In a small town, a parade was the traffic and none of the buildings were so tall that people couldn't safely lean out of the windows to watch and cheer.

Zap Tootle's Big Top Bonanza had made its presence known. The line at the gate comprised about eighty percent of the adult population and all of the kids. The Mayor himself had shown up; Zap knew because the Mayor had cut in line and started a fight.

Inside the tent, a circle of six elephants lumbered themselves onto their hind legs. 'The Tumbling Tovarics' cartwheeled about the ring. They climbed over each other, making elaborate human pyramids and other, less Euclidean constructions. They climbed the enduring elephants and jumped off, flipping and landing and catching each other.

Four of the Tovarics were expert jugglers. They set up at opposing points of the compass and flung china plates and wooden bells and flaming batons in a dangerous and fluid melee, narrowly but consistently missing man and beast alike.

The townsfolk, most of who couldn't spell elephant or juggle their own balls without wetting their pants, went nuts for it. Applause and Cracker-Jacks and spent cotton-candy cones flew around like leaves in October.

Almost unseen, a tiny car, the make and model of which the good people of Booger Hollow could never have guessed at, made a swift, tight circle around the outside of the center ring. Into its second lap, people in the crowd started to notice and the enthusiastic applause melded and morphed into a collective laughter that had something sinister lurking in it, somewhere.

The tiny car moved inside the center ring and started weaving in and out of the elephants' hind legs. More than one acrobat had to jump out of the path of the tiny car.

It drove in a wavering spiral until it stopped, with a handbrake-turn and a loud backfire, in the center of the center ring. The doors flew open and clowns poured out.

The crowd roared with the same sinister laughter, but louder.

Eventually, nearly twenty clowns capered about, interfering with the acrobats, badly juggling plates and flaming batons, trying to climb the elephants, falling gracelessly off the elephants, throwing pies and spritzing faces. Most of these clowns had appeared from the darkened wings amid the distractions of the seven or eight who had actually come in the tiny car. The effect from the audience's point of view was that a car scarcely bigger than a washing machine magically held twenty clowns. More laughter.

Individual clowns, each tracked by a single spotlight, began to assault members of the audience foolish enough to choose ringside seats. The Mayor was singled out and avoided a spritzing only by batting the soda siphon with a meaty backhand and shoving a clown roughly to the sawdust. Elsewhere, pies were thrown, clean clothes were drenched and pockets were picked.

Three clowns, Dinky, Snookums and Flatbed Willy, broke off from the center ring and were tracked by a bigger spot to the South Ring, where Junior Birdman was making the last safety checks to his enormous cannon.

Dinky and Snookums distracted Junior Birdman while Flatbed Willy climbed up and slid down the barrel of the cannon. He waved a spotted handkerchief as he disappeared from sight.

Junior Birdman got a pie in the face just as a very young Mr. Happy ran excitedly to assist with the gag.

"Okay, kid," Dinky said to young Hap in a gruff, pinched whisper. "Pull the lever and tip 'im out."

Young Hap grabbed the lever closest to him and pulled with all his weight and enthusiasm.

"No!" Dinky shouted, too late. "Not that one!"

The cannon went off with a mighty BANG! The unfortunate Flatbed Willie flew from the end of the barrel with a forlorn wail that followed him through the side of the tent and into the night.

The audience seemed to know instinctively that something had gone terribly wrong. The cheering and worried laughter ceased as if it had been turned off with a switch. Flatbed Willie's cry ended with an abrupt WHUMP!, as he caved in the roof of the Mayor's brand new luxury sedan. A silence followed. Crickets could be heard. Somewhere, maybe a mile away, a dog barked.

Dinky looked at young Mr. Happy with disdain at Hap's ineptitude, anger that he'd never see the twenty bucks that Flatbed owed him and relief that it hadn't been him who'd pulled the wrong lever.

"Oops," was all that young Hap could think to say.

*

 

Inside Studio F, 'The Mr. Happy Show' was about to start. The studio was in one of the old nail factory's former workshops. The large square room had a low stage hemmed by thick red curtains in one corner. Two banks of bleachers rose almost to the twenty-foot ceiling. On the floorplan, it looked not unlike a baseball diamond, with the stage where the backstop should be.

An audience filled with children under twelve made a noise like only an audience filled with children under twelve can make. It was a piercing, keening shriek that was commonly felt by adults at the base of the skull, like a drillbit made of chalk trying to bore a hole into a blackboard, but louder.

A studio assistant, who must have been high on something, for he had no earplugs, jumped up and down and waved and flapped his arms like some giant wounded bird. The sonic assault of the children rose and fell with the movements of this demented, probably unpaid, intern.

On the low stage, three small spotlights chased each other around the velvet of the curtain.

Erno, the director, wearing big headphones and a creased brow, looked at his watch and held up fingers to the announcer. Five. Four. Three. Two.

"Aaaaaalriiight, kids!" Donny Rascombe boomed, his big voice matched by a chest deep enough to park a car in. He made good money at Channel 3, but had to supplement himself doing radio spots for Furniture Town and Carpet Castle; his wife liked the Keno machines at the Indian casino. "Are you ready to get happy?"

The audience, at the instigation of the drugged intern, shouted a high, sibilant, "Yeeesssss!"

"'Cause here he comes! Live from the KBIG studios in the heart of the Big City, it's the happiest clown in the world. It's Miiisterrr Haaaappy!"

The roving spots converged on Hap's disembodied and grinning face, which had appeared between the closed curtains.

"Hi, everyone out there!" Mr. Happy yelled.

"Hi, Mister Happy!" the children cried in answer.

The curtains parted and the stage lights came up, illuminating Hap's set. An oversized and overstuffed sofa, upholstered in lemon yellow and lime green tartan sat adjacent to an equally outsized armchair in orange with pink polka dots. A coffee table with legs like columns from four different Roman temples, a standard lamp like an old-fashioned hair drier and a huge old, wood-grain TV made the set look like a living room from a cartoon. Mr. Happy had a kitchen set and a den, as well. The crew could unbolt the components and completely change one for another in under three minutes, if they felt like it.

"Say," Mr. Happy said, looking around the stage like he'd lost something. "Where's Jingles?"

Right on cue, a little dog of indeterminate, but suitably cuddly pedigree, wearing a jingle-bell collar popped through a big cartoonish dog flap, Stage Right.

"There he is!" the audience roared, also on cue.

Jingles barked happily and leaped into Mr. Happy's arms.

*

 

The Big City had a large, square, pedestrian friendly shopping district, adjacent to the town square, where City Hall and all of the other government offices were. There was an area of four square blocks, which used to contain several large apartment buildings in competing stages of decrepitude, two large office buildings built with non-union labor and the Leviathan that was Hickham's Department Store.

Hickham's had been an institution. It had been said that they had one of everything under the sun. It was a point of honor with the management of Hickham's that they kept an example of everything that they'd ever sold, just in case someone wanted one of whatever they wanted, but couldn't find anywhere because it had been illegal to make them since 1962, or what have you. The Museum of Prototypes was the title bestowed on the scattered network of antechambers and storage cupboards by Little Horace Hickham, the son of the company's founder. Acetate, Crinoline, cardboard coated in parafin to keep it waterproof; they don't make 'em like they used to.

They also prided themselves on their record keeping. Stacks and stacks of files going back to the founding of the store in 1888 were kept in lovely, old maple filing cabinets.

Thrift was another by-word at Hickham's. All of the office and administrative staff still worked at the same sturdy oak desks that had been moved in the week of the store's grand opening.

The floors were polished beech. Even the blinds on the office windows were made of wood.

Grampy Jonas was old when old Horace, Little Horace's father, founded the company. He was a fixture as much as anything else was. Some said Grampy was actually the son of Grampy; people were so used to seeing him that no one noticed when he passed the mantle. People refused to believe that a man could be that old and continue to function, regardless of whether anyone could pinpoint what his actual function was. Grampy stalked the less well lit areas, the store cupboards and backrooms, the sub-basements. He was beholden to none but the dead founder. He spoke infrequently, and when he did, no one could understand what he said. His words burbled forth from a sunken and toothless hole, out of the corner of which a smoldering, half-smoked stogie continually jutted and a thin strand of brown, tobacco-rich juice continually ran. He walked in a staggering sort of shuffle, his posture stooped and crooked, but he refused to use a cane. His green Dickies had taken on the waxed sheen of garments worn too long and seldom laundered; the weave and weft of their fabric reinforced by decades of dust and 3-in-1 oil.

It had only been a matter of time before he lost his balance. He tipped one day, leaning over a barrel full of old-fashioned shirt collars. He went into the barrel face first and when the faintly glowing end of his cigar touched the slowly degrading pile of acetate, he went up like a Roman candle. Such a fixture had Grampy been that his passing caused the destruction of four whole city blocks. Hickham's and its near neighbors burnt to the ground before the fire department knew how many trucks to send.

The site remained unused for several years. That is, it remained unused by the city or any legal or recognised business. The local tramps and prostitutes loved it. They built little shacks among the blackened ruins. At night the glow from their hobo fires brought to mind Christmas in New England.

Not long ago, the place was bought by some development company or other for about ten bucks. The city was getting more and more worried about the size of the rats in the area and the proclivity of some senior councilors to spend long lunches in the vicinity, for research purposes only, of course. The company bulldozed all the shacks and put up an open-air mall, complete with gourmet restaurants, valet parking and sapling plane trees.

Permits for food carts or other hawkers started at a hundred dollars a day. If you didn't have a permit, the cops liked to ask you all about why you felt you were specifically exempt from their lovely, fun-filled laws. Occasionally, their questions relied more heavily on non-verbal communication techniques, though they always took pains to see that any offenders were set right in the eyes of the law. If someone was caught trading without a permit, the police took the offender to the edge of the re-zoned shopping district and relieved them of the price of the permit they'd neglected to purchase. If the unfortunate person didn't have enough cash to buy their way out, they got a pasting. The rate of recidivism in the district was understandably low.

Knowing all this, Pablo and Jaime set up just outside the new shopping center, midway between the outermost shops and the first of a string of inexpensive, multi-storey parking garages. They were close enough to glean from the shoppers returning to their cars after a long morning of buying stuff and eating five-dollar muffins, but far enough that the cops wouldn't bother them.

Pablo had begun his routine with two minutes of 'Struggles Against the Zephyr', segued into 'Rope Assisted Incline', which morphed fluidly into 'Tug O' War'. He'd done a few minutes of free-form miming and was now 'Trapped' in the invisible box. Nobody had stopped to watch the entire performance; nobody had stopped at all, but several people had dropped change into the upturned Derby at Pablo's feet.

Jaime, as skilled a mime as Pablo, chose to focus solely on 'Leaning Against the Wall' while 'Smoking a Cigarette'. Technically, this was loafing, not miming though Jaime liked to view his subtle nods to passersby who dropped change as contributing to the performance as a whole.

*

 

Mr. Happy sat in his over-stuffed chair and interviewed a spotty boy of about thirteen who slouched on the sofa and looked like he'd rather be playing video games. The boy wore a Boy Scouts uniform. He had several badges sewn to his shirt, a loop of gold braiding on one shoulder and a medal pinned to his chest. Jingles sat at the boy's feet, gazing up at him like he was his long lost master. The Boy Scout ignored the dog.

"So, Brian," Mr. Happy said in the slightly hushed tone of the grave and concerned television interviewer, "when did you realise something was wrong?"

"Well," Brian the Boy Scout said, in a slow and unnervingly deep voice, "I heard this voice, kind of whispering, 'Help me! Help me!'"

Hap looked worried and nodded his head for Brian to continue.

"So, I looked over the side of the cliff and there's this old lady down there, hangin' on to this branch."

*

 

A series of bright yellow cards with black arrows printed on them and bunches of balloons tied to street signs pointed the way to little Phillip Woodford's seventh birthday party. Carl would have found the place even if he had been drunk. He'd stayed sober specifically because he'd been worried about getting lost in this sprawling suburban wasteland and losing the fifty bucks little Phillip's mommy still owed him. This was to say nothing of the cake and ice cream. Carl had been on the Raman-Noodle-and-Stolen-Ketchup-Packets-Diet for the past two weeks and he was starting to get worried. His teeth felt loose.

He'd been in clover a few months back and had splurged and had his battered and leaking old Econoline van re-sprayed black. He'd hired another guy to stencil, 'The Amazing Carl' in gold copperplate arching over a white-gloved hand fanning a deck of cards with his phone number underneath. Phillip's mommy had been the last job to call before they cut off his phone.

The dilemma now, besides getting through the birthday party without his hands shaking and fucking up every other trick, was to decide between eating something with animal protein in it and paying the phone company. Maybe there'd be something worth stealing, something small and easily palmed.

He stood in the Woodford's living room, sweating in his polyester tuxedo. He'd taken off his cape, but had resisted taking off his top hat. The kids might expect him to pull a rabbit or a pigeon out of it. Thinking that just made him hungrier.

The carpeted square half-acre was festooned with brightly colored crepe paper and balloons. A table that wouldn't have looked out of place in a feudal mead-hall was draped in a red paper tablecloth. There were two cakes, one chocolate and one Angel-food. Besides that, there was a cooler loaded with about twenty of Baskin & Robbins' thirty-one flavors. Besides that, there were big bowls filled with potato chips and Doritos and about five or six cases of Coke and Sprite and Mountain Dew and whatever else. Phillip had invited around thirty of his closest playground associates. Lucky Phillip.

Carl's stomach growled as he fanned a deck in front of a rough circle of the chosen few. Phillip stood in front of him, ready for his cue.

"Okay, kid," Carl said, speaking loudly to cover his hunger-pangs. "Pick a card. Any card."

Phillip reached out to pick his card.

"Not that one."

*

 

The studio had been cleared of the 'At Home' set. The producers had borrowed some big Styrofoam boulders and some fake palm trees from one of the other shows and dressed the set to look like a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing, Mr. Happy was talking to Dr. Baker, a paleontologist. Dr. Baker brought two huge audio-animatronic dinosaurs with him. They curled their lips and flexed their talons in a jerky, but menacing way. Jingles looked nervous.

"I didn't know dinosaurs needed doctors, Doctor Baker," Hap said, smiling at his own dumbness.

"Oh," Dr. Baker said with a chuckle. "I'm not that kind of doctor, Mister Happy."

One of the dinosaurs growled. Jingles barked and made a lunge at the smaller of the two machines.

The audience laughed. Jingles, reacting to the audience, barked again and started trying to rip a chunk out of the mechanical creature's leg.

Dr. Baker pushed a button on a small handset. A small flash, a puff of smoke and a zapping noise were accompanied by a startled 'Yip!' from Jingles. The audience laughed some more.

"So," Hap said, "tell me, Doctor Baker, did these guys eat caveman burgers, or what?"

"Well, actually-"

A loud train whistle blew, drowning the rest of Dr. Baker's lecture.

"Hey, kids!" Mr. Happy yelled. "You know what that means!"

"Cartoon time!" the audience cheered.

Chapter 3

Lew Pickles' office was a strange cross between sparse and cluttered. He had bookshelves with nothing on them, but the walls were covered with certificates of dubious distinction and framed photographs of Lew with his arm around a selection of toothy middle-grade celebrities. His certificate of membership to the Big City Guild of Travelling Salesmen hung next to photographic evidence of a smiling, thumbs-up Lew Pickles at a table with a clearly uneasy Richard Dawson. This pattern was repeated to such an extent that the color of the walls was a mystery, even to Lew.

He had three local TV Emmys on his desk propping up a leaning stack of 'TV Guide' magazines. His desk had been in its current location since the days of the nail factory. Its surface was a stained and gouged moonscape of coffee-rings, embedded staples and small hills of dried glue. It had only one drawer. This drawer held a bottle of sour-mash whiskey and a selection of prescription medications, most of which had Lew's name on them. He suffered from dispepsia, acid reflux, male pattern baldness and nervous tension.

Lew sat behind his desk, trying to light a Honduran cigar with a cheap plastic lighter. As he impotently ground a callus into the pad of his thumb, the butt of his cigar became pinched and soggy. He began to sweat.

Dale McDougal, President and CEO of the McDougal's fast food chain, lithely withdrew a gold cigar lighter from his waistcoat pocket. He pressed the stud on his lighter and a vivid blue and yellow inch-high flame instantly sprang forth. He held his cigar over the flame for three seconds before putting it between his lips.

He extended his lighter to Pickles, but Pickles was too absorbed in his own useless device to notice. Lew's face had gone a deep shade of pink and his nose had begun to run, just slightly. A long strand of comb-over uncoiled itself across Lew's forehead. It was swept by gravity across his face to dangle, nearly touching his collar. It reminded McDougal of a broken windshield wiper as much as anything else.

McDougal whistled sharply to get Lew's attention. Pickles jumped like he'd been caught with his hand down someone else's pants. The dead lighter flew from his hand and the cigar dropped to the floor with a moist plop.

"Sorry, Lew," McDougal said, smiling broadly. "Didn't mean to frighten you." He still held the lighter out to Pickles.

"My fault, my fault," Pickles said. He swept the errant lock back into place, grabbed a fresh cigar from the box on his desk and tried to light it with the wrapper still on. "I'm on a new medication for my blood pressure," he said, laughing at himself. "Don't know whether to shit or buy eggrolls."

McDougal laughed as well and Lew managed to finally get his cigar lit. McDougal closed the lighter and left it on the corner of the desk. It was too hot to put back in his pocket without setting himself on fire.

"Nice," Pickles said, puffing his cigar. "Whatcha think?"

McDougal smiled politely and made what he hoped was a pleasantly affirmative sound, puffing delicately at his cigar. He hadn't smoked a Honduran cigar since he was twelve. He hadn't liked them then.

"I thought you'd like 'em," Pickles said. "I get 'em wholesale from a guy down at the docks. We get this deal signed today, I'll send you a box."

"How kind," McDougal said. He'd been wondering if he should get his importer to send pickles a box of Cohiba Panatellas, but thought better of it. Now he wondered if he could put a whole box of crushed Honduran tobacco onto his compost heap without killing his garden entirely. "About this deal," he said.

He'd been trying to expand his little empire for the better part of a decade now and the offer that Pickles had made had sounded too good to be true. He'd been contained, in a business sense at least, by the threat of lawsuit from a certain ubiquitous international fast food corporation. They contended that the name of his enterprise was too similar to theirs to be comfortable. His name was McDougal, he'd countered, and he saw no reason why he should change it to suit some faceless megalithic organization. They further contended that his logo was too similar to theirs to be allowable without a licensing agreement. He'd said that the idea that anyone could copyright a rainbow was an affront to nature, a pair of rainbows, doubly so. They said they'd keep their eyes on him. He'd become clinically coulrophobic. That was partly why he wanted Pickles to explain the deal again. Did it have to be the clown? Why not the bear? He had nothing against bears.

"Hmmm?" Pickles smiled through a haze of smoke.

"The deal," McDougal said, placing his cigar on the edge of the desk. "Could we run through it one more time?"

"S'real simple," Pickles said, leaning forward and pushing the cigar to the corner of his mouth with his tongue. "You pay the top rate for the slots on the Clown's show. You get syndication to sixty markets, nationwide."

"But-" McDougal began.

Pickles put up a claming hand.

"I know, I know," he said. "It's expensive. But, look at the upside. Your little burger joint gets halfway to national coverage. You'll get the jump in sales you need to keep the other guy off your back. Plus, you'll get thirty percent of your fee back."

McDougal leaned forward. "That's the part I don't quite understand," he said, narrowing his eyes to filter the cloud of smoke Pickles blew in his face. "My contact said something about lottery tickets."

Pickles grinned widely. He looked like a giant balding toad in a bad suit.

"Not lottery tickets," Pickles said. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out a small limp square of blue paper. "Lottery ticket." He slid the ticket across to McDougal.

McDougal leaned forward some more and peered closely at the ticket without reaching out to touch it. He looked at Pickles, then back at the ticket.

"Am I to understand," he said, "that this is a winning lottery ticket?"

Pickles shrugged and spread his hands in an expansive gesture.

"It's a winning ticket," he said, "not the winning ticket."

McDougal sat back and adopted a strictly business-like demeanor.

"What's it worth?" he asked.

"Well," Pickles began, reaching into his pocket for another piece of paper. This one was a folded document in an envelope. "A standard contract for three thirty second slots to run five days per week on 'The Mr. Happy Show' will run you two million, three-hundred and forty-thousand dollars for one year."

McDougal stared at Pickles. He didn't move. He may have been waiting for Pickles to finish. He may have been stunned by the relative affordability of those rates. He may have suffered a stroke. Pickles carried on, careless of which option applied to the man sitting across from him.

"Now, as I said, this here ticket ain't no Wonderball jackpot ticket. This ain't a lucky seven. This here ticket gets six out of seven. On the current projection of ticket sales, that gives this second place ticket a value of about seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. But, the draw ain't for three days, yet. So, that seven fifty is a minimum. Depending on sales, it may go over a million." Pickles sat back, puffed his cheap cigar and laced his hands behind his head, airing the sweat stains bleeding through his polyester weave. "That's tax free," he added as an afterthought.

McDougal opened his mouth to say something, but stopped. Then, he did it again. Pickles thought he looked like a very dignified goldfish.

"You're a cheat," McDougal said softly, like he'd only just worked it out.

"Don't be silly," Pickles said with a dismissive wave of his sweaty hand. "I'm a businessman. This is business."

"It's a scam," McDougal said, sounding slightly as if he might start to raise his voice.

"Are you saying you'd rather I made this offer to Big Ed's Burrito Barn?"

"No!"

*

 

What felt, to Hap, at least, like twelve hours later, the studio lights went up and the audience began to file out and wander off towards the elevator.

Hap lit a cigarette and headed for his dressing room.

A loose congregation of kids loitered in the hallways, hoping. Most were too intimidated to even look as Mr. Happy slunk towards them.

Frankie had his autograph book in one hand, a pen in the other and an open-mouthed grin on his chops.

"No autographs," Hap grumbled as he trudged past.

Frankie's face fell, but the other kids expected the snub.

"He never signs anything," one said. They began to disperse.

"My dad says he'd sign if there was money in it," another kid said.

"What's that mean?" the first one asked.

The second kid thought, then shrugged. "Dunno," he said. "Let's go see Billy Bear."

They left and Frankie stood alone, watching Hap stalk down the hall and around the corner.

A sound of tiny sleigh bells could be heard. Frankie turned and saw Jingles race from the studio. Marcella, Jingles' handler, ran after him in the stilted, arms flapping, half-stumbling run of the congenitally uncoordinated.

"Ooh, he's such a terror," she warbled. Marcella Weeks was the kind of person who smiled, slightly dementedly, at all times. No one was ever sure if she was about to laugh out loud or burst into heavy wrenching sobs. She favored flowing, cape-like garments in a variety of earth tones and Paisleys. She wore two dozen rings at any one time and layers of robust beaded necklaces so that, when she moved she sounded like the heated semi-final round of a dominoes tournament.

The little dog nipped around the few people still milling about, ran past Frankie and pelted along to catch up with Hap.

When Jingles was within range, and without looking around or breaking stride, Mr. Happy shot his left leg out. His big clown shoe connected with the little dog's right flank, sending his co-host skittering across the linoleum, ricocheting off the baseboard on the way.

Jingles uttered a series of distressed yelps as Marcella closed the distance and scooped the dog into a rattley embrace.

"Ooh, poor wittle Jingles," she cooed. She glared a narrowed glare at the back of Hap's head, though she still smiled slightly. Maybe it was a muscular disorder. "You, Mister Happy, are an evil, twisted clown," Marcella said, with as much venom as she could muster, which was, frankly, not much.

"Shut up, ya damn tree-hugger," Hap said without looking at them. He went into his dressing room and slammed the door.

Frankie had to hold a hand over his mouth to keep from giggling. It was to his credit that he felt bad about it later.

When Francine made it to the dressing room, Hap was already on his second scotch and rocks.

"Well," she said, still clutching her clipboard, "that wasn't too bad."

"Are you kidding me?" Hap said, shaking his head. "With those guests?" He drained his glass and went for another. "Who's the Bear got today?"

"I don't know."

Hap looked at Francine's reflection in the mirror and raised an eyebrow. "Bullshit, Francine."

She couldn't meet his gaze, even through the mirror.

"You PAs are like a bunch of old ladies at the salon, waitin' for your damn blue-rinse to set. Just cut the crap and tell me."

"Tony Bennet," Francine mumbled at the floor.

"What? The Tony Bennet?" Hap turned in a half circle to face Francine.

"Yes, the Tony Bennet."

"Who else?"

"You don't need to know," Francine continued to talk to the carpet.

Hap turned all the way around and took a squaking step towards his PA.

"Francine," he said in a tone of voice loud enough to sound authoritative, he hoped.

Francine looked at Mr. Happy. Hap set his glass down on the counter and folded his arms across his chest.

"Eddie Murphy," Francine said, holding Hap's gaze.

"Now you're kidding me," Hap said, grinning.

"Oh, no." Francine shook her head. "Eddie's kids are big fans."

"Oh, that's fine," Hap said, quietly. "That's just fucking great." He turned back to the mirror and poured himself another two fingers. "I have to deal with some damn museum geek and a seventeen-year-old who's still a Boy Scout and Eddie's kids are big fans of the Bear. What's wrong with this world?" Hap looked at his reflection. He suddenly wanted to laugh in his own face.

"There's nothing wrong with this world," Francine mumbled at the floor.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hap started to crane his neck to peer at Francine over his shoulder, but his muscles protested. He winced at the stabbing pain.

Francine drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She looked at Hap and shrugged.

"It doesn't mean anything," she said, "except that Billy Bear is really nice to people. He doesn't spend all his time bitching about what a raw deal he's getting and he doesn't kick his co-host."

"I'm under a lot of pressure here," Hap said, massaging his neck.

Francine raised a questioning eyebrow.

"What?" Hap said. "Being Mister Happy ain't a bowl of Fruity-Sugar-Bombz, you know. People expect too much from me. They want me to be on all the time, grinning like a damn cadaver, twenty-four-freakin'-seven."

Francine raised the other eyebrow.

"What?"

"I was just thinking," she said. "I don't think I've ever seen you smile offstage."

"Just shut up, okay."

Out in the hall, the audience for 'Billy Bear's Friendly Forest' was just letting out.

Billy Bear, a television personality so large that he nearly filled the corridor, was surrounded by a few dozen hopping, yelling, smiling children under twelve. He'd flipped his bear head back, because if he hadn't it would have scraped the ceiling. His human head was tanned an even acorn-brown and sported thick, straight, shoulder-length black hair.

He made it a point to sign every autograph that was asked of him. The kids loved Billy Bear and Billy Bear loved the kids.

A little girl wearing a blue pinafore-dress and patent leather shoes hopped up and down on the periphery of the crowd.

"Billy! Billy!" she shouted.

"Hey!" Billy Bear said in a deep, happy voice. "It's Chloe!" He reached over the heads of the kids in front of him and lifted Chloe into his furry embrace.

Chloe squealed with delight and hugged Billy Bear like she was trying to squeeze orange juice out of him.

"I missed you, Billy Bear!" she said.

"I missed you too, honey bee." Billy rested Chloe on his hip and signed another autograph with his free paw. "How's your brother?"

"Oh, he's all better now. Mommy says if he ever climbs that tree again, she'll kill him herself."

Billy Bear laughed what could only be called a bear-like laugh. It was a sort of cross between Santa and Satan. It traveled. It floated down the corridor, reverberating within the structure of the building. It vibrated up through the broad soles of Mr. Happy's size twenty-six shoes, through his wrecked and exhausted body, down his arm and into his whiskey.

Hap spilled his drink down the front of his suit. He wasn't that concerned about his outfit; that would see worse before the day was out. It was a waste of good hooch.

Hap threw his glass at the wall, reducing it to a spray of tiny fragments. If Francine had still been in the room, he might not have lashed out like that. She wasn't, however, and he'd still been scowling at himself in the mirror. He'd thought, momentarily, that striking out in a fit of temper might make him feel better about himself. The episode only served to remind him that a clown in a rage is ridiculous before it is impressive.

He stormed out into the hallway.

"Hey!" he shouted.

Billy Bear was still surrounded by kids waving autograph books. He was chuckling contentedly to himself and signing autographs and talking to his fans. He hadn't heard Hap.

"Hey!"

Still, Mr. Happy's pique fails to crack the surface of Billy Bear's good humor.

"Alright goddammit!" Hap started down the hall towards the cluster. "Hey, you big dumbass fleabag! I'm talkin' to you, Shits-in-the-Woods! If you don't shut the hell up I'm gonna make a fuckin' rug outta you!"

There was a collective gasp as all the assembled children turn to stare gape-mouthed at the angry clown with booze spilled down his front. Billy Bear straightened up and looked at Hap with a mixture of anger, exasperation and pity.

"You said the ef word," little Chloe said in tones of undisguised awe. She pointed a small accusing finger.

"He sure did," Billy said seriously. "You know what that means, kids."

The assembled children all took a breath in unison.

"MAMMA'S GONNA WASH YOUR MOUTH OUT!" they chanted.

Hap grabbed the sides of his head to keep it from splitting open.

"Shut up!" Hap yelled, hopping up in the air and clenching his gloved fists. "Shut the hell up, all of you!"

Billy sighed resignedly. The children all looked disappointed, as if Hap were the child and he would only learn if he had a sound spanking. A stern silence developed.

"Okay, kids," Billy said. "I'll see you all later."

The children groan their collective displeasure.

"Oh, go on, now," Billy said, gently nudging those nearest him in the right direction. "You all probably got chores to do. Besides," he eyed Hap, "old Billy Bear's got a couple of lessons to teach our friend Mister Happy here."

"Ooooooh," the children chanted maliciously as they made their ways down the hall and around the corner.

"You're just like a big, mangy fucking Pied Piper, aren't you?" Hap said, craning his neck to look up at Billy.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Laughing Boy?" Billy asked, trying not to lose his temper.

Hap stepped closer in an attempt to get into Billy's face.

"You're what's wrong with me, Nuts-n-Berries." Hap emphasized himself by poking Billy somewhere in the midsection. "You make me sick, with your big, loud laugh and your stinking fur and all those screaming ankle-biters of yours."

"Alright," Billy said, taking a small step back to afford himself a better angle. "You asked for it."

Billy Bear swiped at Mr. Happy with a paw the size of a dinner plate. If Hap had been in peak condition, he might have dodged it. If Hap had been in peak condition, he wouldn't have been Hap. Billy's blow sent Hap into the wall hard enough to make his teeth clack. He bounced back and straight into a back-hander which sent him skittering down the hall on his back, like an upside-down turtle in a bowling alley.

Billy ambled after Hap in a leisurely stroll. Hap tried to blink the stars out of his eyes. He sat up just in time to receive a sweeping uppercut. He managed to shift his body at the last possible moment and grab hold of the big bear's arm. The force of the swing lifted Mr. Happy upright again, but he refused to let go.

Billy shook his arm sharply.

"Get off."

He shook it again, but Hap clung on for dear life. He had a look of strange determination on his face, as if he was deliberating outside the dentist's office, or preparing to break the news to a bereaved Sumo wrestler.

"I said, get off!" Billy said, shaking his arm in a sort of solo Hokey-Pokey.

Mr. Happy took a deep breath, opened his mouth and sank his teeth into the thick, musky fur on Billy Bear's arm.

Billy roared with rage and swung himself in a broad semi-circle. He drove Hap into the wall with a sickening crunch. Hap sank to the floor, coughing out little tufts of bear fur as he tried to catch his breath.

Billy inspected his wound and gave it a few cursory licks.

"Why you so full of hate, Clown?" he asked the gasping mound at his feet.

"Fuh-fuh-fuck off." Hap managed.

Billy kicked him once for good measure and left him.

Mr. Happy rolled himself over into a nearly sitting position. Gravity and floor wax conspired against him and he slid back to a prone position. He sighed and lay still. He closed his eyes and coughed.

Jingles poked his head out of a dog flap in one of the doors along the hall. There was a star and a brass dog biscuit on the door. Jingles' name was engraved on the biscuit. Seeing that the coast was clear, the dog tip-toed, if dogs can do such things, up to the supine clown. He quickly jockeyed himself into position, hiked his leg and pissed onto Mr. Happy's upturned face.

Hap spluttered himself upright in time to see his co-host disappear through the dog flap.

"You piece of shit!" Hap yelled, lunging after the dog. His head made contact with the dog flap just as it was swinging back.

"Son of a bitch." Hap said, holding his bleeding nose. He slumped himself back against the wall and tried to hold his head and wipe his nose at the same time.

Frankie peered around the corner and watched Mr. Happy. He wanted to speak, to help Hap up and into his dressing room, to get him a cold compress for his nose, like his mother always did when Frankie's nose bled. He took and unconscious step around the corner and froze.

Hap turned his head and squinted at Frankie.

"What the hell are you looking at?"

Frankie looked at Hap for another few seconds. Then he sighed, lowered his head and went back around the corner and out of sight.

Hap dug gingerly into his deep pocket and brought out a crumpled pack of Blue Ribbons. They'd come off worse in their encounters with so many hard surfaces. Hap found a cigarette that was bent but still whole and lit it with a big match.

Chapter 4

 

Tink's was a hole in the wall. Technically, it wasn't a hole so much as a basement. It was in one of the old neighborhoods, close in to the business district and the rest of downtown. Several square blocks had been originally zoned as both light industrial and residential. If you were the owner or manager of a walk-up sweatshop, most of your staff lived just around one corner or another. Big, badly built brick tenement blocks had been put up next to six or eight storey factory warehouses. Some of the basements had originally been subdivided into rooms for the wage-slaves who couldn't afford an above-ground flea-pit. Some of the other basements had been sold or leased whole and, in the early days of twentieth-century, seen use as brothels, gambling dens and bars.

Tink's was in the basement of an abandoned garment warehouse on the corner of Zimmer and Sixth Street. The space had been a bar since the lunch whistle on the first day of construction of the building. Some enterprising soul, there was debate about his name, had stolen a two-hundred-gallon keg from the brewery in the middle of the night. One school of thought ran that it had been John J. Jiminy Junior, son and recently disinherited heir to the Jiminy brewer


© Copyright 2017 robhart. All rights reserved.

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