They sent out the dogs hoping to find the scent and track those dirty bastards down. Stealing radioactive chickens and selling their eggs to the Soviets. We had them in sting, a perfect set-up but one of the guys was listening to his Walkman, someone said it was The Smiths, and didn’t hear them pull in. Heaven knows I’m miserable now. So we had to send the dogs out in hopes of finding them before dark puts the clamps down. The state line is only four to five miles south so time is of the essence. We’ve sent Deputy Jon Johnson ahead as well. He’s a runner, mostly marathons but some smaller events as well. He’s won the annual Slaughter’s Mad Dash 5k three years in a row. In a town where the largest employer is a slaughter house that’s the kind of thing you get.
The Carnival Boys have been raising Cain around here for the past six months. It started with stealing refills at Ken’s Smart Mart, grew into a bicycle chop shop and now they’ve graduated to international crimes. Pictures from surveillance are blurry. Kevin, the assistant manager down at Ken’s estimates their ages to be 12 or 13 years old, although he can’t remember ever seeing them. They did leave a business card at the soda fountain which gave us the name, Carnival Boys in bold with Otto and Peewee in a smaller font just below. Teenage girls around here are in love with them. Parents are encouraged to lock their doors. Television producers from two major networks have flown into town and are considering a television movie. Both the CIA and FBI have been notified by letter delivered by carrier pigeon.
Church bells. Something about church bells makes me melancholy. Something about love makes me sad. The dogs are getting close. Picking up steam, on their heels. Another deputy has secured the chickens. They’re both a little shaken-up which isn’t surprising. It’s only a matter of time now. There are times when I look up at the night sky and wonder how the arc of time stretches across the universe and comes back to settle in our hearts and manufacture our memories. The ticking of my pocket watch keeps me grounded in the here and now but I’ve been having discussions with the wife in the morning over coffee about the present sense of terror that has found me as of late. It happens as we grow older, I understand that but it has almost become a physical ache in my chest; it carries with it a certain weight. Last Tuesday night at exactly 11 p.m. the phone rang and the voice on the other end of the line said, in a whisper, “Are you afraid of dying,” and gently hung up. Now, something about that sticks with a person and it has sent my thinking in about 20 different directions. The wife suggests retirement. I jokingly suggest she have her head examined. We kiss and off I go to work.
We’ve found a plastic clown mask most likely discarded by one of the boys. They make it interesting; always leaving little clues like a pen knife or an oven mitt. A tailless raccoon crosses our path with what looks to be tears in its eyes. Those boys have no shame. The dogs stall, circle and seem to have lost the scent. Two of them lie down and turn on their backs waiting for belly rubs and one of my deputies obliges. Hard to fault him for that. A single gunshot breaks the silence; the echo passes through me and nearly carries me away to a former time. We scramble to reach Jon and after a half mile through a fog that is just beginning to settle like a faint breath we find him on his back, dead. Single shot through the head. The wind sways and I hear what can only be described as a giggle but when I look around there’s nothing there. None of the other guys heard it. An owl blinks from a branch of pine tree. There’s a note nearby, which reads “I did my best.”
The three of us switch off carrying Jon’s body back to the farm, while the solo man leads the chickens. It’s not his death as much as the loneliness surrounding it that makes me want to weep. It borders on madness. After the ambulance arrives I get inside my car, breathe and finally ask myself aloud what I’ve been thinking for some time: Are The Carnival Boys physically real? There are strange spirits in this town but I’ve never witnessed a cruelty like this. Did they, like some deranged Pan-like figure lead Jon into the black hole of his own emptiness? Is that what we all face? The wretched night cuts a dashing figure in the light of a blind moon that cannot hide its frailty.
The following morning I wake-up early. It’s still dark. I walk outside, close my eyes and breathe deeply. The air is tinged with the smell of waking, a new life just as simply as the old one is discarded. An owl’s screech draws my attention to a large pine across the street. I remember a long time ago, when we were different people, when my wife said, “Owls do cry. I’ve seen the tears in their atomic eyes, glow and shine. They cry because they have seen so much but have no one to tell it to.” The weight of what will be begins to bear down and I whisper a prayer for mercy.