By Roxanne Dent
Chapter Eight: “Laugh, Clown, Laugh”
Inside the tent at the end of the pier we watched a bunch of hyper dogs jump through hoops. About a dozen people were in the audience. They sat on wooden benches and watched two clowns juggle balls.
One clown had a curly, red wig, a big nose, a striped one piece and big, floppy shoes that were coming apart at the seams. The other wore a red and white striped skirt, with white, lace bloomers, a vest over a middy blouse, wooden shoes and a straw-colored wig with large splotches of red makeup on her cheeks. She dropped a ball and bent down to pick it up. The other clown backed into her and they tumbled over each other. This was followed by chasing each other around the tent, squirting water, tossing balls and balloons at each other.
It was a dispirited show with a less than enthusiastic audience. We waited until the end before going outside to look for Thomasina.
A passing roustabout pointed to a gypsy wagon in the back.
“Door’s open,” a deep voice called out.
We entered a tiny, neat room and were dazzled. On every available space were skillfully executed watercolors and a couple of oils.
Thomasina sat before a mirror in a dove grey and pale pink silk robe, removing her makeup. Her yellow braids, wooden shoes and striped gown were nowhere in sight. Her short, brown hair was pinned up beneath a hairnet. Underneath the thick makeup was a day’s growth of new beard. She looked up as we entered.
I didn’t think she doubled as the bearded lady. Thomasina was a man.
“We’re private investigators,” I said. “My name is Josey Turner. This is Harry Barnes. What can you tell us about Mavis Bankes?”
Thomasina uncovered a bowl of water, soaped up, took out a razor and began to shave.
“She was a bitch.”
“Don’t expect tears!”
“She was murdered,” I added.
“I hated her but not enough to kill her.”
“Alice was your mother,” Harry said.
“That’s right. Everybody loved her. Except the woman who raised her. That bitch could never forgive her for having me. Ain’t that sweet.”
“Did you ever meet Mavis?” I asked.
Thomasina stopped shaving and slowly wiped the blade off with a rag. “When I was a few weeks old, my poor mother took me to see her. She wouldn’t look at me and had the butler throw us out. She tried again when I was 3. The butler was instructed not to open the door even though it was pouring out.”
“How about this week?” Harry asked.
My eyes wandered over to a coat hanging on a hook. It was a woman’s cloth coat with a large, fox fur collar
“It was you who rammed into me at Madame Roskovich’s,” I said.
Thomasina glanced at me in the mirror. “Can you blame me? I’d just found a dead body.”
“What were you doing there?” Harry said.
“I wrote to her. Asked to see her.”
“For a psychic reading?”
Thomasina laughed. “Hell no. My mother and Madame Roskovich were pals. We kept in touch. I called her Baba.”
“Why did you want to see her?” I said.
“I wanted to go to Paris to study art and needed a loan.”
“Are all these drawings yours,” I asked.
“I know. But I want to be great. All the greats study in Paris.”
“So, when Madame Roskovich refused, you lost your temper and shot her,” Harry said.
“You got it all wrong. Baba said she wanted to come with me. She kept saying she made a lot of mistakes and wanted to start over.”
“So, what happened?” Harry prodded.
“When I got there, she buzzed me in. She made tea and I went to the bathroom. I heard the front door open. There was an argument and a shot. When I got up the nerve to come out, I found Baba dead on the floor. I called the cops and ran.”
“You didn’t stick around to be interviewed,” I said.
“I don’t like the fuzz. Did you stick around?”
“No.” I frowned. “But why were you dressed like a woman?”
Thomasina reached into a drawer and removed a pearl choker. As she hooked it around her slender neck she glanced in the mirror and her hazel eyes met mine. “Because I am a woman, sweetie.”
As we left, Harry murmured,” If Madame Roskovich changed her mind about the trip and Thomasina brought a gun—”
“It would be premeditation. I don’t see it. She seemed genuinely fond of the medium.”
“Remember, who you were talking to. A huckster who grew up with con artists. He or she, could be Wilda, Madame Roskovich’s partner,” Harry argued. “Did you see all the scarfs?”
“She didn’t have, as your pal, Willie Kasper noted, great gams. Her calves were too thick and her prominent Adam’s apple would give her away in any chorus line that wasn’t an all-male revue. Besides, Sonja seemed to think Mavis’ partner was a complete stranger. He might not be Wilda, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t kill Mavis.”
I noted the crowds had thinned out even more.
“The place is closing for the night,” Harry said. “This late in the year the park shuts down by six.”
“How about a last ride on the Ferris Wheel,” I said as I watched the cars lift up and jerk away.
“If you promise not to swing the cars back and forth. I’m afraid of heights.”
“You were fine on the coaster,” I said suspiciously.
“I was silently screaming. How about discussing what we know over dinner at The Russian Room.”
“So long as it’s not a date-date.”
Roxanne Dent lives in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and has sold nine novels and dozens of short stories in a variety of genres to anthologies, including Paranormal Fantasy, Regency, Mystery, Horror, Middle Grade and YA. Her fantasy, The Day the Demons Came, recently sold to the anthology, In the Shadow of the Mountain, Elder Gods Publishing. And My Zombie Valentine, sold to Blood Red Shadows, Night to Dawn, and will be out around Valentine’s Day. She has also co-authored short stories and plays with her sister, Karen Dent. Their plays Young at Heart and Monkey Girl Blues, were put on at the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport.