Epilogue

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Dust is whipped up by a hot, strong blow from the south. All around the carnival people solemnly prepare themselves. Dressing up in their fancy duds, their Sunday go to meetin’ clothes. Inside their tent, Sweetie is straining to button up the top button of Brian’s too tight for him shirt. He doesn’t like dressing up at all and is squirming. She is frustrated trying to control him and guide the button at the same time. She commands, “Hold still, Brian!” he resentful and half hearted attempt to comply. Sweetie completes the arduous task and sighs, “There! You look fine.”  Brian grimaces as he considers his reflection in the mirror. He feels like the Thanksgiving goose.

After he is quiet for a few seconds he questions, “Are you going to miss the Carnival?” Sweetie casually replies as she brushes her hair. “Maybe a little…” A shadow falls across her face as she discloses, “I’m really going to miss Jackie the most…” “Yea.” Brian agrees. Sweetie chokes back the tears and keeps working. “Jackie was the heart and soul of the Carnival, to me.”

Brian considers a moment then asks, “Are you nervous about, well you know… about living with the Judge and his wife?” Sweetie nods. Brian lifts his eye brows as he releases a deep, tension filled sigh. “Yea, me too…” Brian turns to look at Sweetie. He peers deeply into her eyes. She is still primping. Brian studies her in a new light. She looks so beautiful, so strong, so grown up. He whispers. “Sweetie, I love you…” Sweetie stops her preparations and stares at him, her big brother. So weak and vulnerable and scared.

Sweetie smiles, a slight twinkle in her eyes. She quietly assures him. “Brian, I won’t ever leave you … I promise.” Brian looks down at the ground shamefaced. Sweetie walks over to him and puts her arm around him. Her voice is comforting and soft. “It’s going to be O.K. We’ll make it.” Brian rotates around and clutches her. They cling to each other like two little wet, kittens caught in a rain storm. Trying to keep warm and comfort each other. Brian sobs on her shoulder. The first time he has allowed himself to express any emotions since he heard about Jackie. He laments, “I miss Jackie. Why did she have to die?” Sweetie pats his back tenderly. “I know. I know.” Tears silently stream down her face. She stares heavenward and contemplates, “I think she’s happier though. She was a soul divided… She really had no place here on earth… I think wherever she is now, she’s happy… she’s home.

Wolf hobbles into the tent barking. Brian shoots, “Hey! Wolf!” They both run over and hug him. He wags his tail gingerly. Buster follows closely on his heels. He looks funny. He wears an brown outdated suit that is several sizes too big for him. The sleeves droop sloppily over his hands and the baggy pant legs crumple on his boots. He tries to appear serious and commanding as he urges, “Come on! We’re going to be late!” Brian snorts. Sweetie giggles and seeks, “My God! Where did you get that suit?” Buster is embarrassed. He despises wearing a suit and tie. It is so awkward and uncomfortable. He couldn’t understand why some men choose to wear them. He tries to threaten them. “No wise cracks, if I were you. Really! We need to go.” Come on.” He whines now pitifully. Buster presents such a ironic spectacle they can’t keep from laughing. Wolf looks on attentively. His tongue hanging out of his mouth as he pants and smiles.

Sweetie tries to compose herself and move on but her curiosity gets the best of her. “O.K., O.K… but first, you just got to tell us where you got the suit.” Brian covers his mouth to keep from cracking up. Sweetie can tell it is honestly difficult for him to answer. She puts her hand on his forearm. Buster confesses timidly. “It was my old mans… He gave it to me before he… died. It’s the only thing I took of his when I left…” Buster hold his arms out in front of himself and pushes up the sleeves. “This is the first time I’ve ever worn it.” Sweetie silently slips her other hand around Brian’s arm and leads them out.

An old yellow taxi slowly pulls up in front of Agnes’ trailer. She’s sitting gloomily on the metal stairs surrounded by a pile a suitcases, boxes and several tote bags. Buster tells Brian and Sweetie, “I’ll be back in a minute.” And runs over to help the load up the taxi. The cabbie is more than happy to accommodate. It allows him to return his full attention to his soggy cigar. Buster grabs a couple of suitcases at a time and flings them into the trunk. The driver is an old rotund man with a New York attitude. He squats down back inside the car and waits for them to finish.

Agnes looks totally fucked up… pitiful, broken spirited and disheveled.  Nevertheless, Buster’s attention revives the flirt in her. Although her saucy attitude is more repugnant, like an old, worn out whore who tries to act the teen aged sex idol. She takes a last, long, drag off her cigarette, drops it to the ground and stamps it out with her left high heel. Buster observes the obvious, “Well, you’re heading out? Going to pass on the funeral, huh?” Agnes sneers and tries to act nonchalant, “Not much for good-byes anyway… (then more soberly) Seen too many of them lately.” She refuses to cry anymore about things. She determines to maintain a cold and hard exterior. Despite her resolution, she looks like she could burst out crying at any moment. Buster offers warmly, “Sorry about Butch!” Agnes starts to sniffle. She wipes her nose on her sleeve and mutters, “Yea, thanks.” Agnes looks at Buster hungrily and needy a moment. There is a strange unspoken energy between them. Buster has secretly lusted and fantasized about her since she came to live with Butch. She has always represented his unspoken sexual wish. Agnes, who has learned to read men expertly, has sensed his hidden desires all along. Yet now it was different for Buster. He felt sorry for her more her than anything else.

Agnes fortifies herself with the knowledge that Buster wants her. She appreciates his final gentlemanly gesture as well. She shakes his hand. “So take care of yourself… You’re going to make some lucky girl real happy.” Then she pulls back and looks at his curious outfit. “Even if you do look like an absolute dork. They laugh and treasure the intimate moment between them. Agnes fervently yanks him close to her body. She presses her wet lips deeply and passionately into his. She is surprised by her unexpected explosion of affection. Before he can fully comprehend or react, she finishes.

She gives him a coy, sexy smile and steps into the cab. Buster lingers dreamily on her body as she moves away. As if in slow motion. She is dressed provocatively in a short, satiny bronze dress. He looks unabashedly at the smooth contours of her thighs as she enters and sits in the rear of the cab. He mutters and waves weakly to her as she closes the door. “Bye Agnes… Take care.” He watches the cab drive away bouncing down the dirt road along the midway. Agnes stares blankly, numbly into nothingness as they disappear out the main gate. She is lost somewhere inside herself. Buster doesn’t know what to make of her or their brief, perplexing encounter. He reflects on her sudden seductive advance. Agnes is a widow in mourning. Everyone has their own way of grieving.

***

Several dozen carney folk assemble in a local graveyard to pay their final respects to Jackie. The procession is an oddly arrayed assortment of people and dress. More like a colorful quilt created from remnants, then a final woven bedspread. They grimly surround the grave site. Jackie’s tomb stone is a small granite slab, adorned simply with her name, duration of existence and the words, ‘rest in peace’. In distance, some 30 yards or so, the cemetery workers are also laying Buster to rest as well. One of the Carnies plays a clumsy rendition of “Amazing Grace” on his old accordion. Enid grumbles to Clyde in a whispered huff, “I don’t like this idea of a double funeral! It’s just isn’t right.” Clyde patiently explains, “We had to do it. It was a lot cheaper this way. Paid for Jackie’s headstone.

The crowd of sad faces quietly meditate around Jackie’ plain wooden casket, each saying good-bye to her in their private thoughts.

Sweetie and Brian firmly holding hands. Judge Brainard and his wife stand respectfully behind the two siblings. The Judge lays his hand on Brian’s shoulder while his wife gently holds Sweetie’s free hand as a sign of support and consolation. Buster just stares at Jackie’s economic canister, uncomfortably fidgeting in his formal attire. Wolf goes over to the edge of the pit and looks solemnly into it whining under his breath. He paces back and forth nervously and barks.

Clyde reads a short passage from the King James Version of the Bible and utters a short, uninspiring prayer to the effect of “Lord, we hold up this sister of ours, Jackie. Please take care of her.” Thereafter they unceremoniously disperse. Sweetie and Brian follow the Brainards to their Black Lincoln Continental. Buster trails them to say his sad farewells. “Take care of yourselves, you hear? I’m not going to be there to watch over you and keep you out of trouble.” He robustly shakes Brians’ hand, “Good luck, Brian.” Brian answers succinctly, “Thanks, Buster… Good luck to you too.”

Buster goes to shake Sweetie’s hand as well. She prevents him, giving him a big, enthusiastic hug instead. She reaches up and kisses him on the cheek. They both bend down and affectionately take their leave of Wolf. Brian pats Wolf’s head. Sweetie squats down beside him. He jumps up and licks her face. Then the two crawl into the luxurious car to begin a new chapter in their lives. Judge Brainard walks over to Buster, smiles and pats his shoulder paternally, “Gook luck, son. If there’s anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to look me up. O.K.?” Buster counters gratefully, “Thanks Judge, I will.” They drive smoothly away. Sweetie waves at Buster through the tinted windows as they depart.

Buster and Wolf stroll over to Butch’s grave just as Clyde Enid and Tommy are leaving. Clyde has his skinny arm around Enid. The best he can, given her enormous size. She’s crying as they walk away, dabbing her eyes delicately with Clyde’s hankie. Tommy is mischievously picking flowers off one of the neighboring grave sites. Enid suddenly breaks somber character to scream at her son, “I told you not to pick the flowers, now stop it!” Then she immediately returns to her mournful persona, crying and sadly shaking her head from side to side.

As they tread the path that leads back to their RV, Enid stealthily pulls a pair of twinkies from her tent dress pocket, unconsciously peals off the plastic and stuffs them in turn into her mouth between sobs. Her husband comforting her as Tommy runs on ahead.

Buster and Wolf stand quietly over Butch’s resting place while the grave hands finish shoveling dirt into the pit. They conclude their duties by propping up a temporary wooden plaque. They grab their equipment–shovels, cooler, water bottles and jackets—get into the old white utility truck and leave. Buster and Wolf remain behind. He removes his suit coat and loosens his tie. Buster feels compelled to pronounce a departing benediction to his previous boss and mentor.  “Well, I guess the show’s over… You did keep the Carnival going all these years. I figure your grandfather would have proud.”

He searches for something more profound to say. Wolf sits reverently besides Buster as he continues. “I don’t really know what to say… except that I forgive you for trying to trick and betray me… and for using us all like you did. Maybe you didn’t know no better. Probably the way you were taught to do things… I can’t say that I’ll miss you. But I do hope you find peace somehow.” He puts his suit coat back on and looks at himself. He acknowledges on a lighter note, “Yea, I know I look like a fool… Anyway, so long.” Buster humbly walks away.

Wolf trots over Butch’s wooden grave marker. He stands solemnly in front of it as if he were reading it. Preparing to silently proclaim a blessing or parting soliloquy of his own. Wolf then lifts his hairy leg pees on the head stone. Depositing an extensive quantity of urine. It trickles down the plaque and gathers in a puddle by the head of the grave. Slowly it is absorbed into the freshly turned soil.

Wolf completes his final thoughts and wishes. Then runs happily off to catch up to Buster. He barks and teasingly snaps at Buster’s heels. Buster chases him around the tomb stones as they playfully make their way back to old white truck. Still sporting a broken side window from his run in with Peter and the boys. Buster reminds himself to see to it, when they get back to the Carnival.

The ‘Suits’ come up from Texas to look over Carnival with Jim, the Carnival accountant and liaison with the bankers. A host of emotionless faces tour the facilities asking dumb questions and taking studious notes. Buster and Wolf serve as their reluctant guides. After several hours, the entourage finish their review, shake hands with Jim and dismiss themselves. Buster stands beside Jim waiting. When they have left he remarks sarcastically, “So what happens now? They going to run it?”

Jim chuckles, “In a way… Actually, the banks will officially step in and take control of the business; Liquidate the outstanding loans. Reorganize the entire operation. Find a new management team to run it, keep it going… We believe that with a few changes, this little carnival could still be profitable.” Buster snorts, “Yea, like what?” Jim outlines his plan. “First, we put more emphasis on the primary profit centers, eliminating the weaker areas like the main arena and some of the older rides. Then, we establish strict budgetary controls and develop a streamlined, cost savings approach with systematic financial accountability mechanism.  Institute a profit sharing program to serve as an incentive to everyone. Hire prudent experienced administration. Update some of the rides. Strategic use of advertising in new locations.  Shift the play dates to focus on the more lucrative, rural population centers.”

Buster gets impatient. Besides which he doesn’t have a clue about half of what Jim is talking about. He shakes his head in contempt. “Yea, fine sounding plans except the fact that you and those other bean counters don’t know shit about how to run a carnival! No offense, of course.” Buster smirks. Jim concedes the point. “None taken… You’re right though! We don’t know anything about the day-to-day operations of the Carnival business. That’s why it’s so important to find someone who knows the Carnival business inside and out. Who knows first hand, the whole operations… They got to be honest, hard working, know how to handle crews. They have to be willing to work around the clock if necessary to get the job done right. Under tremendous stress and in circumstances that would kill most folk in a few months.”

Buster whistles under his breath and snickers aloud, “Shit… Where are you suits going to find someone stupid enough to take on a job like that?” Wolf barks repeatedly, runs in a circle around Buster. Barks again. Buster and Jim give Wolf a puzzled look. Jim smiles at the joke. “I think we already found our man.” Buster is astonished. “Oh yea! Who in the hell would voluntarily jump into a mess like this?” Jim pronounces confidently, “Actually, I’m looking at him right now.” Buster is flabber- gasted. “What, me? You’re kidding!” Jim repeats the proposal. “No, I’ve already spoken to the bankers about the idea and they all agree.”

Buster can hardly contain himself. Jim clarifies a couple of matters. “I’ll be watching the purse pretty closely, especially at first. I’ll be working with you during the reorganization of course… but the rest is up to you. You call the shots.” Buster reels with the realization that he will really be in charge of the entire thing. He feels a bit squeamish and insecure. Jim offers his vote of confidence. “Hell, I know you can do it! Everyone knows that you’ve been running things for quite some time anyway… So, what do you say?” Wolf runs excitedly around and around. Then stops and barks, wagging his tail vigorously. Jim prods, “Well, I see you got one loyal crew member already.”

Buster hesitates a moment as he tries to consider all the implications and changes. Then he just ignores his apprehensions and declares, “Why not?! With a little help from my friends…” He pats Wolf affectionately. He wants to make sure of one thing before he commits to the job. “So, I get to run things as I see best? And get to pick all my own crew and everything?” Jim reassures him, “Sure, like I said, within limits, you call all the shots.” Buster grins from ear to ear, “Well, hell yes then!” Jim is pleased by Buster’s response. “O.K. It’s a deal then.” They shake hands to seal their understanding. Buster is happier than he can ever remember being in his entire life. He bends down to stroke his furry accomplice. “Well boy, looks like we’re back in the carnival business after all.” Wolf looks excited and encouraged as well.

Buster wanders throughout the carnival grounds, carefully surveying his new stewardship. He hadn’t felt any drastic changes come over him since it all had been placed in his hands a short time ago. He runs into Mohammed back by the grand stand gate, whittling at something. Mo observes, “I hear tell that you’re the new Carnival Boss. Congratulations.”  Mo keeps whittling at his new artifact diligently. Buster replies. “Yea, thanks. Big job though. I’m going to need a strong supervisor to keep these guys in line. Someone who knows how to bust heads. Get things done.” Buster puts on a tough front, speaking in an artificially deep voice and gruff manner. Mo pauses, looks up curiously as Buster finishes, “And most of all, someone who has a good heart… How about it, Mo? I sure could use a good hand.”

Mo stands to his feet slowly. Stretches and straightens himself. A good foot higher and 100 pounds heavier than Buster. He smiles a gentle, knowing smile and puts his arm around Buster’s shoulder. “Well, I do believe I could stay on a while and see how things get along.” They walk back toward the busy midway. A long, hard night’s work ahead getting set up for opening the next day. The sun set casts a fiery kaleidoscope across the horizon. The bright lights of the attractions begin to illuminate the night sky. The most pronounced object in sight being the huge Ferris wheel circling around and around. From a bird’s eye view of the operation, the Carnival looks like a colorful, animated board game. Almost surreal, pretend. Little people running to and fro on their important, if routine tasks. Helping to erect the facades and mechanisms of entertainment and happy diversion. From a distance, Buster and Mo join and blend into the throng. The suits finish reviewing the contracts and necessary paper work with Jim. They pile wordlessly into a white full sized rental car and drive off to catch an evening flight back to Texas.

***

Lindsay throws down his knap sack and falls to the ground. It’s been a rough journey thus far. Hot days and cold nights. Miles of walking. Thousands of cars and trucks whizzing by. Several short rides. 50 or 60 miles. One truck driver jerk who tried to proposition him. Lindsay carried a 7” butcher knife in his sack. He was afraid to consider the circumstances under which he would be forced to use it. All in all, so far it was rather tedious and boring being out on the road. He missed his friends. Funny, he used to think he didn’t have any friends… At least being out on the road gave a person plenty of time to think. To get matters straight in his head. Still a long way to go to get to Texas.

Why Texas? Well they had wintered two years there, so at least it was a place he was fairly acquainted with. Seemed as good a place as any. Most of all though, he had heard that there was a good chance that Lobo would be transferred back to Texas because of his parole violation. There was also some talk of them conducting the trial there for Butch’s murder, seeing as it was their registered permanent, address of residence.

The chill of the evening is setting in. Lindsay pulls his jacket tight around his neck. Turns up the collar to deflect the wind from his ears. An old light blue pick-up truck, loaded down with furniture and earthly belongings pulls to a stop ahead of Lindsay and honks. As he approaches from the back Lindsay can’t imagine that they could have any room left. The truck was already weighed down and packed to the gills. He comes along side the passenger window and says hello.

A quick scan of the occupants reveals a thirtieths man and his young wife. A huge black Bible is laying on the dash board. The driver invites, “Come on in. My name is Fred and this here is Erma.” They squeeze together as Lindsay hops aboard. He lays his back pack on the floor, under his feet. The lady has an kind-hearted, infectious smile. They pull back on to the highway and slowly regain sufficient speed. Fred observes, “You seem kind of young to be out here on the road hitchhiking. Where you heading?” Lindsay answers reservedly. “Texas.” They have to speak loudly because of a poor muffler. “We’re heading down to Waco. Got a call… from a friend of mine. Said he feels directed to start a home for runaways and teenagers on drugs. Asked us to come and help him get it going. We prayed about it. Seems to be what God would have us do… So decided to give it a try.”

The truck, vintage early 1950’s, chugs along faithfully down the road. Lindsay wonders however if it will really make the trip. The driver likes to talk. His wife is pretty quiet, just smiles a lot. The man motions at the dog laying contentedly on the lady’s lap, “That’s Gus here, he’s a Daughts-hund. He won’t hurt you. He’s our watch dog.” Fred expounds upon the virtues of the breed. Weaving endless tales of how they were bred to be hunters and fighters. Tells how they can even whoop German shepherds. Get down on their breast bone and writhe like a snake. Snap the Shepherds leg right in two. Hours pass as they travel down the road together, getting to know each other.

Fred gradually began to ask Lindsay some more personal questions as they became better acquainted. Lindsay tells him a fair amount of the story. His life in the Carnival. His friend Lobo. Lindsay unconsciously fondles the icon that Mo gave him as he talks. Fred takes notice and asks about it. Lindsay shows it to them. They admire the workmanship and detail. Erma thinks it very beautiful. Fred comments that it looks unique, then asks, “Is there a special meaning behind it?” Lindsay explains, “It reminds me to have Faith… Lobo used to say that if we have faith, love will lead us along the right path…” Fred and Erma seemed especially pleased with Lindsay’s explanation.

For a long time the only sound was the blaring of the muffler. The solitary dark highway ahead illuminated by the jiggling headlights of the old truck. Lindsay liked them. He cherished the warmth of Erma’s skin as he was pressed against her in the tiny cab. Lindsay didn’t know why but he felt safe and comfortable with these folks.

Fred finally speaks up after a period of private contemplation with an offer. “If you got no other plans, we sure could use your help getting things going in Waco. Lots of work to be done. It be great to have another pair of hands…” Erma looks up at her husband and lightly squeezes his hand. Fred adds sincerely, “And I can see that you’re a man with a good heart and a lot to offer the world… We’d count it as a real privilege, if you’d consider joining us.” Lindsay feels warm inside. Mo’s prediction and blessing were becoming true. Lindsay eagerly nods his head and smiles.  “Sounds good to me.” Fred slaps his knee happily, “Well fine then, that’s great!”

Erma, who remained almost entirely speechless during the previous several hours, begun to sing softly and sweetly as they rambled south. Old hymns were her delightful specialty. I saw the light… Love lifted me… Leaning on the everlasting arms… Love that will not let me go…

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