Wednesday, November 14, 2012

An Account of a Curious Developement: Tigers and Fireworks

    Author's Note:
This story is dedicated with love to my dear friend and sister Kallista Pendragon!!!

From everything we've seen and done together, a story for your birthday, Kal, isn't as spectacular as the fireworks I'd like to fire, but I wrote it with you in mind. I definitely hope you enjoy this story, but more than anything, I just hope you have fun on your birthday. :3

 Happy Birthday!!!

  A lion's roar sounds like particularly loud rush of water, or blaze of fire, or any other powerful earthly element. When you hear it, you know something big is happening, and you know it probably will be terrible, or at least terribly beautiful.   

  When Scarlet Sky Hope heard it, she knew it could go either way. Her crimson hair, bound in an unruly ponytail, fell over her shoulder as she turned her head and glanced back at the strange man with the exceptionally long beard a short distance away. He had opened the door to a roomy lion’s den, and the animal inside was waking up for lunch. The lion stood and stretched like a kitten waking from a particularly long nap, rumbling deep in his throat before lounging lazily over to the hunk of meat the bearded man had thrown inside.

  Scarlet sighed with relief, her emerald eyes turning to the tents. They were huge and striped red and white, pointing to the sky above. The air smelled of popcorn, cotton candy, and sawdust. The circus was beginning to prepare itself for the night's events.

  Strange people walked, lumbered, or traipsed past Scarlet, their gaits varying with his own personal physique. Grinning down at her with a snake tattoo curling over one cheek, a man with impossibly long legs went by, followed by another, a woman with a waist the size of a baseball. Others with long hair and short hair or strange hats and clothes and mysteriously changing shadows walked about, each going to his own job or errand. 

 A bald midget with a goatee almost tottered right by her, but paused and asked her if she needed directions. Scarlet smiled, having always liked little people, and asked where the ringman was.

"Oh! You mean Raphael!" The midget grinned a gap-toothed smile and pointed in the distance, "He's right over there. You'll like him! Everybody does!"

Scarlet's eyes warmed a little, "Thanks so much!" The midget nodded and trotted off, reminding Scarlet of a penguin. 

  She looked in the direction he had pointed and saw several odd people standing in front of a stage and listening to a man with smiling, lavender blue eyes and a handlebar mustache. He raised his fist into the air, yelling something probably heroic, and the crowd cheered, a few of them also punching the air. She watched a moment longer, analyzing the gentleman, and wondering how someone so charming became a ringmaster. 

  It's true that Scarlet always liked circuses,- who didn't?- but she also knew that a lot of shady fellows tended toward the profession. Although, she thought, glancing around once more at the bizarre atmosphere and multitude, I've never seen a circus quite like the Wild Magical Emporium Circus Express before. When she thought about it, it wasn't especially the people or things, but the way it felt. Scarlet closed her eyes, listening, sensing, breathing the stream of magic wafting through the whole place. It was different from places she had perceived before in that it was pure and loved and wholesome. With a smile, she realized it smelled like a Satsuma- tart, pungent, and delicious.

  Scarlet drank in one more breath before she opened her eyes, almost wishing she hadn't taken Mr. Frederickson's job. He wanted someone discreet for some reason, and that doesn't usually insinuate good intentions. Letting out a slight breath of exasperation, Scarlet wished her talents at slipping by unnoticed weren't so attractive to thieves and scoundrels. She really needed Mr. Frederickson’s money at the moment, and didn't want to return it with an apology to the chubby-faced man if the job turned out to be corrupt. Well, she determined, I'll get to the bottom of this and see what comes of it. Maybe it's time I got some fresh dirt on my hands. She scowled at the thought. On the other hand, maybe I'll take dear ol' Esther's advice... and if I perish, I perish.

  Glancing back at this Raphael Pendragon with his black hair and suave style, she saw he was finishing his speech, and with one last word and one last cheer, the crowd moved off to their separate posts to further prepare themselves for the night's events. The midget who has spoken to her earlier lingered a moment and mentioned something to Raphael before following the crowd.

  Raphael’s lavender blue eyes fixed on her, knowing she didn’t belong, but he smiled, nodded, and waited for her to come towards him. She began to wish she’d sneaked in with the commotion at night instead of such an outward approach. Even if she was just asking questions, it wasn’t her style to let the suspect know he’s being questioned.

  Plastering a nonchalant, giddy expression on her face, the redhead waltzed over to Mr. Pendragon.
“How do you do?” he asked her when she was close enough. Scarlet grinned, replying that she was excellent.

“Wow!” she said, “This circus is amazing!” she feigned awe and looked around her for the twentieth time, inspecting things like she had only just seen them for the first.

“Why, thank you. I appreciate compliments, especially from such a pretty lass as yourself. I’m Raphael Pendragon, the ringmaster, at your service.” Raphael took Scarlet’s hand in his own and kissed it tenderly. 

This guy is good

“Oh.., Mr. Pendragon!” Scarlet turned her eyes down in shy manner.

“Please, call me Raphael,” the gentleman replied, letting go of Scarlet’s hand after a slightly-longer-than-casual moment. “Now, what may I do for you, Miss… ?”

“Hope. Scarlet Sky Hope.” Scarlet smiled and turned again to view the circus. “And- to be perfectly honest- I was being a bit of a scoundrel and sneaking in to get a preview. When someone asked me if I needed directions, well, I figured I had better say something before I was thrown out. ‘Ringmaster’ was the first thing that came to mind.”

Raphael laughed and nodded, “I see. Well, now I know who’s been sleeping on the clock. Thanks for pointing it out to me! I’ll have to have a word with Jimmy later.” His eyes glistened slightly when she looked at him, and she knew her story hadn’t quite fooled him. “But, anyone as enthusiastic about the Wild Magical Emporium Circus Express as you are, sneaking in and all just to get a look, must be a friend of mine.” His teeth sparkled when he grinned, “Would you like a personal tour, Miss Hope?”

“Oh, I would absolutely love a tour! But only under one condition.” Raphael arched an eyebrow slightly in question, and Scarlet went on, “You must promise that under all circumstances, you will henceforth call me Scarlet.”

Raphael laughed again, “Agreed.”

  He knew something was up; Scarlet could sense it. Despite the casual conversation throughout the tour, touched by her innocent sounding interrogation, she just knew he knew that she wasn’t some silly girl looking for a tour of a circus. She just wondered why he wasn’t doing anything about it.

  But on second thought, Scarlet changed her mind about that. After all, she was waltzing around with him in his own circus, with his own people and lions and tigers and probably bears for good measure. When she realized that, Scarlet felt a bit more like an idiot, and began inconspicuously scouting for a convenient gate or exit to slink out of.

  That’s when they entered the tent with the animals. 

  Snuffles, scratches, hee-haws, growls, and roars were all too apparent along with the smell of inhuman creatures, a sort of musty, earthy, almost comforting smell, unless you happen to be afraid of being eaten, as Scarlet was at that particular moment.

  She muttered something about being allergic- although she wasn’t- and tried pulling back a bit, but Raphael had looped her arm around his, casually restraining her.

“Nonsense,” he said, his eyes sparkling a tad, “you can’t leave the circus…” he paused, glancing at her, the corners of his mouth curling slightly, “without seeing the tigers. I wouldn’t be a proper host that way, now would I?”

  Scarlet laughed nervously, wondering if this would be her end after all. To be honest, she didn’t think Raphael the type to sentence her as a late lunch for one of his pets, or even stealing the emerald necklace as she had come here to investigate. But on the other hand, was she suspicious? Good heavens, yes.

  Around the bend was the tigers’ den, a great open area with a fence netting keeping them at bay, Raphael paused and looked in at them. “You know,” Raphael murmured, “we feed them daily…, but it never seems quite enough.”

“… Oh?”

“They’re always hungry for more. I think if I gave them an elephant, in fact, they would still willingly go at any fresh…” he glanced at her, “piece of meat.” Scarlet couldn’t refrain from swallowing the lump in her throat. Then he smiled, “It’s a good thing I don’t feed my guests to the animals,” and led her out of the animal tent.

  “Alright,” he said, “you know you’re going to have to tell me what’s going on here.” Raphael had shown her to his office, comfortable quarters on his train. As soon as they had entered, Scarlet smelled that tangerine aroma again, only stronger, and she loved it. It was the smell of the caring and love and magic this creature, this train, shouldn’t have had. It was as if a thing of metal and mechanics and wood had come alive from its years of living under gentle care and attention, and when it roared to life, Scarlet only knew it must feel like a living, breathing animal galloping into freedom.

  She sighed, "Yes, I suppose I do, don't I?" She glanced into the distance, composing her thoughts. Her emerald eyes glazed over, staring at the rows of books and an elegant painting hanging on the wall behind Raphael of a pirate's ship. There was a woman standing at the prow, her dark hair blowing behind her, and a clever glint in her one good, blue-green eye, the other covered by an eyepatch. Lightening was striking in the distance, a terrible storm was crashing all around her, and for a moment, Scarlet heard the roar of the angry waves, and manly voices yelling over the lashing rain and thunder, trying... trying to keep from sinking... keep from dieing...  and still, the woman was almost smiling, the edges of her lips curling so slightly.

  Scarlet blinked, and she was back in the present with Raphael studying her quizzically. Scarlet shifted in her seat, deciding then to tell the truth instead of the story she had come up with in a worst-case scenario. "There's a man, Raphael, a man called Mr. Frederickson." Raphael tilted his head slightly but made no other sign of recognition. "I don't know his first name," Scarlet went on. "He didn't want to give it. After all, I'm the girl to go to for a discreet recovery. However, he hired me to return his stolen merchandise...." She watched Raphael closely at this, trying to see something that gave away he knew what she was talking about. There, a flicker over his eyes, then nothing. She continued, "It was an emerald studded necklace, incredibly valuable. The perpetrator didn't leave much behind as evidence, but you can imagine my suspicion at the new circus in town."

  Somewhat shame-faced, she glanced to the side, "To be honest, I'm usually considerably better at retrieving things without drawing attention to myself. Get in, find it, disappear without a trace- that's the way it usually goes, but your business... This 'Wild Magical Emporium Circus Express' drew me in somehow... I felt safe. I don't know how to describe it... I don't even know what you did to it, Mr. Pendragon, but I didn't feel the need to come with the shadows or any some such. I just wanted to walk in and...," Scarlet felt silly saying, "have fun..."

  Raphael smiled, "Yes," he stroked the wall of the train next to him, "I built her for that purpose. She's made for fun and life and love." He glanced at Scarlet and stood up to pace back and forth.

"You... you built her?" Scarlet looked again at the beautiful room she was in, polished mahogany and all. The craftsmanship was more the excellent. It was magical and wonderful, and now she knew why everything smelled so sweet.

  "I did. It took me a decade, but it was worth every minute," he smiled at her and continued pacing. Scarlet re-evaluated Raphael Pendragon. The man wore a sharp suit, old-fashioned as it was, and everything about him seemed to effuse youth and vitality. He appeared to be in his twenties or early thirties, but Scarlet realized when it comes to magic, it's hard to see the aging on the body. She looked at his eyes instead. Eyes, Scarlet found, showed far more of a person's true age. Those lavender-blues looked back at her, and she could feel the years and the knowledge and, more than anything, the wisdom emanating from them. Suddenly, she wanted to know so badly how old this man was, but she didn't ask.

  "Scarlet, what do you know of Mr. Frederickson?"

"Very little... I don't ask very many questions when someone hires me. I try to take honest jobs, but my skills aren't usually appreciated by the honest."

Raphael nodded slowly, "No offense, but you know I must ask... You're a thief?"

Scarlet frowned, "No... I'm definitely not a thief." One solitary eyebrow arched, and Raphael didn't have to say anything for Scarlet to realize he was skeptical. "Ok, ok," she said. "I'm not usually a thief. When someone hires me most of the time, I'm a Recovery Agent."

Raphael paused, digesting this, and forming another question, "And that's different from a thief... how?"

Scarlet had a bad urge to scowl, but she fought it, "A Recovery Agent steals something back and returns it to the rightful owner, but even these jobs are rare ones. I have an... umm... alternate job description most of the time." That eyebrow of his twitched again, but he didn't say anything.

  "Well, then, I'll tell you a bit more about your client... Mr. Frederickson." Raphael started pacing again as he went on, "he calls himself a 'business man,' but personally, I don't consider the scoundrel more than a murderer and thief. Usually, it's cons he specializes in. Most recently, he bribed a doctor and faked blood reports most efficiently in order to appear to be the closest kin to the shortly deceased Mr. and Mrs. Holt. The reason for this? The two owned little, but for this invaluable emerald necklace. It had been Mrs. Holt's mother's, and Mrs. Holt cherished it for sentimentality. She never even wore it, Scarlet; she only wanted it to remember her mother."

  Raphael paused a moment, and went on, "The Holts didn't have a daughter of their own, but they had a niece they raised when her parents died. They loved her like she was their child.... More than one witness claims to have heard them say they wanted their niece to have the necklace when they passed away, but unfortunately, the two never got around to writing a will, or perhaps it was lost in the fire... Either way, the necklace would have to go to next of kin, which was their niece, to be received when she turned eighteen." Scarlet could hear the venom in his voice when he told the rest of the story, "Right before it was signed over, however, Mr. Frederickson appeared out of the blue with his 'blood reports' claiming him to be a closer relative than their niece, and there was nothing to do but to sign the necklace over to him."

  He finally stopped pacing, with his hands slightly clenching by his sides, "Evangeline, their niece, is well and living with a distant relative..., but if you could have seen her face when she was told the necklace wasn't to be hers..." Raphael's voice didn't waver in the slightest when he said, "Maybe then you would understand why I stole the necklace." He blinked and looked away, "Mr. Frederickson is too good at what he does, and if the law had yet to catch up with him, than I decided I would do what I could."

Raphael sat back down, leaned forward, grinned, and asked, "Miss Scarlet Sky Hope..., may I let you in to some private information?"

  Scarlet blinked, hesitating for a moment and recalling her meeting with Mr. Frederickson. It had been at night, and she could tell when she took a seat by him in the back of his limousine, that this was someone used to getting what he wanted. Scarlet didn't like that. Someone who gets what he wants is one of two people, the clever or the coward. This time, however, Mr. Frederickson was a bit of both.

  His pudgy cheeks were red from the warmth in the car and probably the excessive coughing from the cigar he was smoking. Wrapped around a few of his fingers were rings, mostly big and gaudy ones, and what little hair he had, was perched on top of his head like a little bird unable to escape. Scarlet almost laughed at the sight of him, but she had learned a while ago that it was usually a bad thing to laugh at one's client.

  Thence ensued the short conversation with Mr. Frederickson discussing the terms of the arrangement. Above all, he wanted things quiet. This man didn't want unhealthy attention directed at himself, and that’s why he was hiring Scarlet.

  Scarlet had agreed after a bit of lightning deliberation on her part. She wasn’t particularly fond of Mr. Frederickson, especially with all of his huffing and yelling, and she never liked it when someone had to yell to even get a “how do you do?” across. Overbearing and impolite, Scarlet would generally turn someone like him down right away, but she already had her suspects, she needed the money, and it seemed like relatively easy pickings.
So with a sigh, Scarlet had agreed.

  Currently she was almost regretting that choice. Fine mess it had landed her in, that’s for sure, but on the other hand, Raphael Pendragon seemed like someone she could get along with. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all… Of course, there was still the problem of figuring out Mr. Frederickson and the advance pay he had given her.

  Still, having heard everything Raphael had told her and comparing everything Mr. Frederickson had, aligning their characters and traits as well, she would much rather be on Raphael’s side. Half grimacing and half smiling, Scarlet leaned forward as well, and said, “You absolutely may divulge secret information to me, Mr. Raphael Pendragon, even though I haven’t the foggiest idea why you would possibly trust me with it.”

  Raphael laughed, “I had a feeling you were more than your intentions, and I seem to have been right! I’m just glad I could persuade you.” He leaned back in his chair, fingers steepling on his knee, and continued, “Tonight, Miss Hope, there will be fireworks.”

Scarlet paused, leaning back also, and wondered at the relevancy of this. “… Fireworks…, Mr. Pendragon?”

“Please, do call me Raff, and yes, indeed.” His eyes sparkled when he said, “Fireworks.”

“If you’ll have me call you Raff, Mr. Pendragon, than you must remember to call me Scar, and I’m afraid I’m still baffled. Are fireworks at a circus so secret?”

“Ahh, I understand your confusion…, Scar,” he grinned, “but maybe it will help if I tell you that yes, there will be fireworks at my circus tonight, but at our good friend Mr. Frederickson’s house, there will be… shall we say, figurative fireworks.”

  It took a moment for a smile to also curl Scarlet’s lips, but when it did, she leaned forward once more and questioned, “You have a plan, then?”

A mysterious nod and an explanation ensued.


  It was late and dark outside. Above, the new moon was even darker than the rest of the sky, and the stars sparkled with life, watching in anticipation. You wouldn’t have seen her, but a girl with vibrant red hair and sparkling green eyes stood before the massive front door of a house that had seen more than one renovation. She slipped an envelope through the mail latch and rang the doorbell, a smile playing at the edges of her mouth as she disappeared into the night.

  Mr. James was an old man who had been Mr. Frederickson’s butler for far too long, and this night was special. It was his twentieth anniversary working for Mr. Frederickson, and in spite of this, he hadn't gotten so much as a "Good job, keep it up." So he was going to leave without notice and find a job elsewhere, possibly as a cobbler. Still, walking by the door with his suitcase in hand and hat on his head, he couldn’t help but notice the letter that fell through the mail latch on the front door. He paused a moment, considering, especially after the doorbell rang, and, with a sigh, he set down his suitcase, took off his hat, and opened the door.

  Of course there was no one there. Mr. James frowned in annoyance and picked up the letter. It was addressed to Mr. Frederickson with no return address. Shrugging, Mr. James figured he would do this one last deed for Mr. Frederickson, give him one more chance to acknowledge him before he left for good, and took him the letter upstairs.

  Mr. Frederickson was sitting in his dressing gown, paging through a magazine when Mr. James announced the envelope. He was ushered in, and the letter was gotten. Mr. James stood there for a moment mefore Mr. Frederickson noticed him, and demanded he leave him in peace immediately. 
With a simple, "It will be my pleasure, sir," Mr. James left Mr. Frederickson forever.

  Mr. Frederickson, on the other hand, was peeved at receiving a letter and not even knowing who sent it. With a huff and a growl, he tore open the envelope and groped inside until his beady eyes squinted, and he yanked out a small piece of paper with a short inscription on it. The scrap read the following:

Dear Mr. Frederickson,

  I don't suppose you have the foggiest idea whom this is from, do you? Or possibly, if I know you at all, you have a nagging sensation in the back of your mind who it must be sending you a note at this time of night. Your most recent investment gone wrong, perhaps? Maybe the somewhat unprofessional, fiery red-headed seventeen-year-old you hired recently?  Yes, that's it, now you've figured it out, haven't you. It's Scarlet here, and I've come to tell you that your plot has been revealed.  
Ahh, it was a smart little scheme, bribing Doctor Jones to fake your blood reports, but I just today acquired a friend…. The thing is, Mr. Frederickson, he’s a clever man, far cleverer than yourself, and-

  Mr. Frederickson scowled at the sound of the doorbell ringing for a second time that night, but knew that moron butler Jame-something-or-other would open the door. If Mr. James had any brains at all,  he would shoo the unwelcome guests away, demanding they return at a decent hour. Hence, Mr. Frederickson only paused to mutter and scowl at the sound, and returned to the despicable little note that thought itself so witty.

You are in trouble. That's right... it didn't take much convincing when one has a few lions and tigers to back oneself up. You're entirely baffled, aren't you? I do apologize, but fear not. Things will be very clear and very simple, and rather... routine for you shortly.

Ding- dong, Ding-Dong, Ding-dong...

  Mr. Frederickson howled at that deaf James fellow to answer the bloody door, but the sound of the doorbells continued. 

  Groaning at the unprofessionalism of everyone he met, Mr. Frederickson finally heaved himself up, knowing nothing ever got done unless he did it himself, and, storming out of his room, he continued reading the note.

Was that a doorbell? I'm sure it has rung by now. 

He stomped down the stairs, muttering under his breath a whole slew of foul things.
My new friend- the one with the tigers- he had a talk with your Doctor Jones. They came to an agreement, those two. What will you do, I wonder? Will you even have a chance to run? Somehow I doubt it..., but it will be fun to see you squirm. You see,-

He reached the door, and, not looking up, he unlatched it, and swung it open, howling, "What do you want!" as he read the last few words on the the scrap.
That will be the police at your doorstep.

Mr. Frederickson looked up like startled fish into the eyes of blue-clad gentleman with handcuffs ready to click into place.

"Mr. Frederickson? You're under arrest..."


  Scarlet laughed; she couldn't help it. The expression on Mr. Frederickson's face was almost priceless. She and Raphael were nearby, watching the scene at Mr. Frederickson's front door. They already knew there would be a lot of writhing and shouting, but this was even better than either of them would have thought.

Chuckling, Raphael said, "You don't see that every day, do you?" Mr Frederickson actually managed to get away from the cops for a few seconds, and ran madly until he was tackled by half-a-dozen of them and dragged back to one of the cars and stuffed in.

  "No, you surely don't!" Scarlet was grinning from ear to ear as Mr. Frederickson was driven away, and the sound of sirens began to fade. She glanced at her comrade, and said, "Raphael Pendragon... I'd like to thank you. Not just for the fun, but for letting me be a part of it and not turning me in, either. That was brilliant."

"Believe me, the pleasure was all mine." He grinned, taking the procured hand and shaking it warmly. "I had a feeling about you, and I have no doubt we'll meet again someday soon."

"You know what?" Scarlet said, "I'm looking forward to that day." She returned the grin, and both of them turned to watch the fireworks exploding in brilliant colors in the distance.