|Circus World Series
|City of Baraboo
I The Last Show On Earth
II Follow the Red Wagons
III Working the Route Book
IV The Slick Gentlemen
V Sweet Revenge
VI In the Cart
Working The Route Book
Chapter III of
City of Baraboo
by Barry B. Longyear
It was the beginning of the 2144 season (Earth Time) and O'Hara's Greater Shows' third season in the circus starship City of Baraboo. Never had Divver-Sehin Tho a passing thought of being employed by humans, and a circus was beyond his experience. He was a reasonably secure language clerk in the Bureau of Regret in Aargow, capital of the planet Pendiia. The Democratists had been in office less than three years, replacing a monarchy that had been in place for twelve centuries. Divver had fought in the revolution on the Democratist side, but as the wheels of reform reduced the Bureau of Regret to a loosely supervised chaos, he found himself half wishing for the return of the monarchy.
It was in such a frame of mind, aided by a hysterical division supervisor the day before attempting to maintain his pre-revolutionary position by creating endless work, that Divver found himself at odd moments reading the help-wanted ads in the news chips. It was not that he was thinking seriously about leaving his position; he simply wanted to assure himself that the choice was still his. It was on the first day of his vacation, and he was occupied with the want ads, when one listing caught his eye, "Call! Call! Call! Where are you Billy Pratt? Jowls McGee, stay where you are. State lowest salary in first letter. Need one to work the route book. Must read, write English, experience in history useful. Apply in person to O'Hara's Greater Shows, Westhoven."
Divver frowned. The human entertainment company had put down on Pendiia some months before, but he had never seen the show. Since he was familiar with the Earth tongue called English, had a smattering of history, and an overwhelming curiosity, he decided to journey to the municipality of Westhoven and see what could be seen.
As he put up the rented scooter and came on the lot at Westhoven, the number of humans on the lot began making him nervous. Earth had supported the old monarchy in the revolution until the Ninth Quadrant forces intervened to let the Pendiians settle their own politics.
In the center of the lot was spread a huge canvas structure supported by poles and tied down by endless lengths of rope. Human painters were touching up the red paint and gold leaf on numerous wagons with brightly colored, spoked wheels. Performers practiced between several smaller canvas structures-a juggler, a woman who appeared to be tying herself into a knot, a few tumblers---when a human mountain clad in rough work-alls and a sloped-front hat stood up from untangling some rope and turned in Divver's direction. "Help you?"
"Why, yes." Divver looked at the note he had made from the news chip. "Where do I apply for a position?"
The big man's eyebrows went up, then he shifted the stub of a cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. Lowering his brows again, he pointed with his thumb over his shoulder. "Back in the treasury wagon."
Divver looked in the indicated direction and saw a forest of brightly painted wagons. "Which would be the treasury wagon?"
The big man rubbed his chin, squinted, raised one eyebrow, then poked the Pendiian in the ribs with a finger shaped much like a knockwurst. "You wouldn't be that shakedown artist with the sweet tooth, would you?"
Divver backed away, rubbing his ribs. "I'm certain I have no idea to what you are referring!"
The big man rubbed his chin some more, then nodded. "You speak that stuff pretty good." He held out a hand the size of a soup plate. "I'm called Duckfoot. Boss Canvasman."
Divver had seen the curious human ritual before. He lifted his arm and placed his hand against the human's. In a moment, the Pendiian's hand disappeared as it underwent a friendly mangle. "My name is . . . ah! . . . Divver-Sehin Tho."
Duckfoot nodded as the Pendiian counted, then flexed his fingers. "Divver-Sayheen . . . well, that won't last long. Are you going to work the route book?"
"I'm looking into the position."
Duckfoot cocked his head back toward the wagons. "Come on, I'll take you to see the Governor." The pair crossed the lot until they stood before a white and gold wagon with a caged window set into the side. Duckfoot mounted the stairs leading to the door and opened it. "Mr. John. First of May out here."
The door opened all of the way exposing a rotund, but very tall, human dressed in loud-checked coat and trousers. He was hairless on top, but sported white, well-trimmed facial hair. He looked down at Divver, then motioned with his hand toward the interior of the wagon. "Come in and find a spot to squat. Be with you in a minute." He turned and went into the wagon.
Divver nodded at the Boss Canvasman as the large man came down the stairs. "Thank you." Duckfoot waved a hand and moved off toward his pile of rope. Divver swallowed, walked up the stairs and entered the wagon. Four desks crammed the interior along with cabinets and tape files. Every portion of wall space not taken up with furniture, bulletins, or windows was hung with brightly colored paintings of fierce animals, strangely painted humans, and a white and gold spaceship decorated with strange patterns. In the rear of the wagon, the white-bearded man was seated in a comfortable chair facing a tall, thin human dressed in a black suit. Divver found a chair and sat down.
The bearded human nodded at the thin one. "Go ahead, Patch."
"Well, Mr. John, I appreciate the offer, but I'm getting a little old for the road. On the Baraboo between planets isn't bad, but trouping on the surface is wearing me down."
Mr. John shook his head. "Hate to lose you. You're the best fixer in the business."
"Was, Mr. John. Was." The thin man shook his head. "I hate to go off and leave you with Arnheim & Boon on the warpath, but retirement is the only thing left in the cards for me."
"Are you certain everything is worked out?"
The Patch nodded. "Easiest fix I ever put in." He shrugged and held out his hands. "These guys are real punks."
Mr. John clasped his hands over his belly and smiled. "Sure you won't miss the show?"
"I'll miss it, but I think the work will be interesting. It's no circus, but there's plenty need for a fixer."
O'Hara stood and held out his hand. "Good luck, and send a note along when you can."
The thin man shook Mr. john's hand, then he turned and left the wagon. Divver stood up and approached the bearded man's desk. "My name is Divver-Sehin Tho. I've come about the advertisement."
The Governor looked off into the distance for a moment, then turned his eyes in Divver's direction. His eyes were bright blue under shaggy, white brows. "Divver-Sehin Tho. Well, that won't last long. Know English, do you?"
"Yes . . ." The Pendiian looked toward the door, then back at the Governor. "If you don't mind my asking, just what is a fixer?"
"Legal adjuster. Keeps us out from under permits, coppers, local politicos. I don't know if I'll ever be able to replace him." He leaned forward and stroked his short-cropped white beard. "Know anything about the law, how to spread sugar where it does the most good?"
The Pendiian shrugged. "Not a thing. I came about the advertisement. You wanted someone who could read, write, and speak English. This is my function in the Bureau of Regret."
"Hmmm." The Governor leaned back in his chair. "What's your name again?"
"Ummm." The Governor stroked his beard again. "See here, Divver, what I had in mind was a . . . man. A human."
"That seems pretty narrow-minded. A goodly number of the creatures I saw out there on the lot hardly look human!"
O'Hara laughed, then nodded. "We do come in a variety of sizes and shapes."
"I had particular reference to the one with two heads."
"Oh, Na-Na is with the kid show. All the same, she's human." The Governor leaned forward. "What I need is someone to keep the route book for the show. O'Hara's Greater Shows was the first circus to take to the star road. Now, even though that was only two years ago, there must be thirty companies flying around right now calling themselves circuses. Most of them come from non Earth planets, but even the ones from Earth are nothing but flying gadget shows." The Governor stabbed a finger in Divver's direction. "I don't ever want this company to forget what a real circus is.
Divver held out his hands. "What has this to do with your route book?"
The Governor leaned back in his chair, spread open his coat, and stuck his thumbs behind thick, yellow suspenders. "Now, Spivvy, a route book is a show's log of the season. It works just like a ship's log. It has daily entries that tell where we are, what's happening, and what kind of shape we're in." O'Hara pulled one of his thumbs out from under a suspender and used the forefinger on the same hand to point at Divver. "But, I want more out of my route book man . . . or creature. I want to keep the book just like a running history. I need someone to write the history that this show will make. How does that sound?"
Divver rubbed his bumpy chin, then held out a hand. "I'm curious to know what happened to the former occupant of this position."
"Killed. In a clem on Masstone at the end of last season." O'Hara frowned. "I've been keeping it since, but I'm not doing the job the way I want." He studied the Pendiian, then nodded. "You Pendiians have good eyesight, I hear."
Divver frowned, lowered his voice, and leaned forward. "I must tell you that I have grave doubts about this position."
"What kind of doubts?"
"Among others, I fought against humans during the Revolution. Would I be placed in a position where I might be subjected to hostility?"
The Governor laughed and shook his head. "No. Place your mind at rest, Skivver. The purpose of a show is to entertain, not be political. See, we have to appeal to everyone, and so we stay out of politics." O'Hara snapped his yellow suspenders. "That's one principle that's set in concrete." He grabbed a coat lapel with each hand and looked through his shaggy brows at the ceiling. "An alien working the route book . . ." He nodded. ". . . that just might be the ticket." The Governor looked at Divver. "You'd be putting down the kind of detail a trouper would take for granted, and that's just the kind of stuff I don't want to lose---"
The door opened and the Boss Canvasman stuck in his head. "Mr. John, my gang is back from the polls. I'm putting them on the spool wagons for the rest of the day."
"All the repairs on the old rag completed? I don't want anything to hold up tomorrow's opening."
"All done. Is the road clear yet?"
O'Hara shook his head. "Seen that fellow with the sweet tooth on the lot?"
"Yeah. He's been rubbering around the lot for the past few minutes." Duckfoot turned his head and looked over his shoulder. "Here he comes now." The Boss Canvasman stood in the doorway until a voice spoke up with a thick Pendiian accent.
"I am here to see the owner."
Duckfoot stepped aside and held out a hand in O'Hara's direction. "There is himself." Duckfoot left laughing, then the Pendiian climbed the steps and walked inside.
The Pendiian looked at Divver, frowned, then performed the shallow quarter-bow indicating the greeting of a superior to an inferior. Divver barely cocked his head in return. The newcomer studied Divver a moment longer. "I am Mizan-Nie Crav, code enforcement officer for the municipality of Westhoven."
Crav turned to O'Hara, then looked back at Divver. "Might I ask why you are here?"
"You might." Divver's steam was up. A haze over the subject of sugar and Crav's sweet tooth began lifting. Crav was holding up the show's permits until credits exchanged hands. Divver suspected that Crav was wondering whether the Pendiian in O'Hara's wagon was an investigator.
"Then, why are you here?"
"It is none of your concern."
O'Hara chuckled. "Now, now, Skivvy, that's no way to talk to a high municipal official." The Governor turned and faced Crav.
"Skivvy here is applying for a job. What's on your mind, Crab?"
"That's Crav, Mister O'Hara." The officer folded his arms and looked down his lumpy nose at the Governor. "I see by the posters and banners stuck and hung all over the town that you intend to conduct your parade and opening show as scheduled."
O'Hara nodded. "True. Very observant." The Governor turned to Divver. "I always said you Pendiians have sharp eyes." He looked back at Crav.
"Mister O'Hara, I thought we had an understanding."
O'Hara held out his hands and shrugged. "What can I do, Crag? Those tackspitters and bannermen are just plain thick. I've explained bribes, crooks, and such to them time and again, but they just don't seem to get it."
Crav squinted. "As I said before, O'Hara: There will be no parade and no show unless . . . certain conditions are met." The officer turned, marched to the door, then faced the Governor. "Set one foot on a Westhoven street or let one customer into your tent, and I'll arrest the lot of you!"
As Crav left, O'Hara chuckled and turned toward Divver. "Now, where were we?"
Divver turned his head from the door, frowning. "That creature! He is demanding money! He should be reported to the Bureau of Regret---"
The Governor held up his hands. "Hold your hosses. Crav is being handled. We were saying . . . ?"
Divver shrugged. "You were explaining the nonpolitical nature of the circus when the Duckfoot fellow interrupted to inform you that his crew had just returned from the polls. Are humans voting in the municipal election?"
O'Hara raised his brows and pursed his lips. "They've been here long enough to establish residency. Shouldn't they?"
"What you said about the show being nonpolitical."
"Oh, that. Well, I can't stop my people from voting, can I?" O'Hara shrugged. "Besides, all three of Westhoven's candidates were out here offering handsome prices for troupers' votes."
Divver stood. "Buying votes! That's . . . disgraceful! To suffer a revolution to---"
O'Hara held up his hands. "Calm down, Skivvy. Calm down. It's nothing to get upset over." Divver resumed his seat. "If you troupe with this show, you'll see worse things out of politicos than that."
Divver folded his arms and snorted. "Do you know whose credits will buy the election?"
"Why, let's see. Each candidate promised five credits for showing up and voting. That's fifteen, and an easier fifteen is hard to come by. So they pick up their fifteen, then take advantage of the secret ballot."
Divver stood again, clasped his hands behind his back, and began pacing before the Governor's desk. "An outrage, that's what it is. The revolution less than three years old, and corruption run rampant! Bribes, vote-buying . . . " He stopped and faced O'Hara. "I must report this! All of this---"
The Governor shook his head. "No. We take care of shakedown artists in our own way. We never call copper." O'Hara shrugged. "Besides, it would take forever to square things away through the coppers; it's faster to let Patch handle it."
Divver sat down. "What can he do? I don't see---"
"It's like when we put into orbit around Masstone last season. Now, our nut's pretty heavy, and---"
'Hara shook his head and raised his brows. "My, but aren't you a First of May. The nut is our daily cost of operation. See, what with paying off the Baraboo---that's our ship---fuel for the shuttles, wages, supplies, permit fees, taxes, maintenance, property, and so on, it figures out to forty-nine-thousand credits a day. That's our nut."
"Well, once we put into orbit and put down the show planetside, you can see why we have to start playing to two straw houses right off."
"That's what I said. Anyway, once we put down on Masstone, the shakedown artists dropped on us and wouldn't let us open unless we spread the sugar." O'Hara leaned forward and pointed a thick finger. "Now, I can see helping an underpaid civil servant make ends meet now and again, but shakedowns are a different matter. We don't give in to 'em. It's the principle of the thing."
Divver decided that the Governor was a man of principles. "What did you do?"
"Patch caught up with our advertising shuttle and had the lithographers make up some new paper." O'Hara pulled his beard, shook his head, and chuckled. "See, we'd been advertising the show on Masstone for weeks, and the gillies were looking forward to seeing us. Patch sent out the brigade loaded with hods of posters all over the big towns and had the media gents work the papers and stations with readers-press releases. Well, all they said was that there would be no show because of permit difficulties." The Governor slapped his knee. "In the space of a week, Masstone almost had a revolution on its hands and the authorities were begging us to put on the show, and no charges for the permits. Well, we sat back and thought about it, know what I mean?"
"I'm not sure. You didn't take the permits?"
O'Hara nodded. "We took 'em, after they paid us two hundred thousand credits to take 'em."
"You mean . . ."
"We shook them down."
The Governor studied the Pendiian, waiting for his reaction. All Divver could do was nod. "I see why you will miss Mister Patch."
O'Hara nodded. "Oh, I could tell you a thousand stories about Patch. I have the call out for another fixer---Billy Pratt--- but I don't know if I can get him."
The wagon door opened and in walked a dapper fellow dressed in a red coat with black collar, black trousers tucked into shiny black boots. "Governor, I've brought the rest of the performers back from the polls. Are you finished with the parade order?"
O'Hara pushed some papers around on his desk, then pulled one out and handed it to the man, then turned toward Divver. "This is Sarasota Sam, the Circus Equestrian Director. Sam, meet Skivvy-Seein Toe."
He stood and let Sarasota Sam crush his fingers. "My name is Divver-Sehin Tho."
Sam smiled. "Well, that won't last long."
"Skivvy's taking the route book."
"I'm considering it."
Sam held up the paper and turned toward O'Hara. "I'd better get together with the property man about this."
O'Hara nodded and Sam left the wagon. Divver faced the Governor. "If I did take the position, what would I be paid?"
"Eighty a week---that's seven Earth days---bed and board. Holdback is ten a week and you get it at the end of the season if you can cut it."
By the time the Pendiian had returned to his living unit, had put in a night's sleep, and had thought about it, the entire prospect of wandering around the Quadrant like a nomad with a collection of peculiar beings seemed foolish. This feeling was underlined by the pay, which was half of his take at the Bureau. Divver could imagine himself in the Patch's position ---old, worn-out, and cast adrift on a strange planet when he couldn't "cut it" anymore. In addition, it appeared that the "English" the Governor wanted hadn't been covered in Divver's education.
Despite the meaninglessness of his position at the Bureau, and the tarnish gathering on the glory of the revolution, Divver had made up his mind to expect less from life and return to the Bureau at the end of his vacation. He chanced, then, to read this morning's news chips. When the Pendiian had stopped laughing and had recovered enough to rise from his prone position on the floor, he had made up his mind to take the route book. Divver Sehin Tho would follow the red wagons on their route to strange, unpredictable worlds.
The news story was a simple account of the Westhoven municipal election. The three candidates on the ballot had been defeated by a surprise write-in campaign. The picture next to the story showed the aging winner dressed in black coat and trousers, his large watery eyes looking back at the reader. The circus would get its permit, Westhoven would get its parade, and the fixer, Patch, had found something to occupy his retirement years---being mayor of Westhoven. As the Patch had said, it isn't the circus, but there's plenty need for a fixer.
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