Sean's eyes grew big as saucers as the Chinaman bore down upon him. Overcoming his initial surprise, Sean closed the gap and quickly ducked under the man's outstretched hands turning to land punches to the man's kidneys. The big man grunted and grabbed for the agent. Sean slipped away and continued to pummel his foe.
Sean backed away almost apologetically. "Mr., Sir, I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding." Banking on the feint to distract the man, Sean fired a nasty kick at the man's leg, reasoning that it would be more difficult for him to wrestle if he couldn't stand. The man paused for a moment in his advance, then continued to close; now, though, he smiled a nasty smile.
Sean backed away stumbling on a board. Catching his balance, Sean hefted a board hoping that its introduction into the fray might discourage the man. It did not, so Sean swung hard. The board connected solidly with the man's ribs. The board splintered and the man's eyes crossed, he dropped to one knee gasping for breath. He began to rise, but Sean hit him again with the board and he dropped.
With a third shot Sean left the man unmoving, save for the rise and fall of his chest. "Whew," he sighed, "we really could have talked about it." Sean retrieved his hat and expected that the senorita was long gone. He kicked the dust in disgust, and set his sights on where the Chinaman had come from.
The boards through which his foe had come had been gimmicked to make a secret door, it looked like recent work to Sean, from the fresh cuts in the wood. Moving carefully he went through the door and found himself in the back of what he realized must be the Chinese laundry on the corner down from his rooming house. He was in a small storeroom laden with cleaning supplies, and a curtain led to the laundry proper where he heard voices speaking Chinese and the splash of laundry tubs, and the smell of soap reached his nostrils.
Quietly Sean moved around a bin and peeked through the slit in the curtain. He certainly didn't want to walk into an entire family of the fellow he dispatched out back. Suddenly, he wished he had brought another board with him.
There were three people working the laundry room: a man, a woman and a small girl-child. The woman was stirring the clothes, the man running the mangle and the child hanging them to dry. Every now and then, one or the other would cast a glance toward the closet with an inscrutable expression.
Innocent enough, thought Sean. Maybe they were pressured into letting the beast do as he wished, that certainly wasn't out of the question. He looked around the back room for a saw, if the man had bullied his way in to get at the senorita then maybe his tool was still around.
After having found no saw and determined that the boards were cut long ago, he shook his head in disappointment. The senorita was the bait, and he had been led into an ambush. The family was probably just as much a victim in all this, after all who could expect them to stand up to that China bull snoozing back in the alley. Sean decided to slip out the back and check on his attacker.
The man was gone, an empy bucket and a small pool of water on the ground by where he had fallen suggested an accomplice.
Sean grabbed the bucket and started whistling a tune from the theatre as he entered the laundry. A moment later, the man he had seen in the back appeared. He bowed, "Yes sir. Clothes to clean, yes?"
"No," he said twirling the bucket on his finger. "Is this yours?" he asked pointing to the bucket, "I saw a man drop it beside your shop. Big Chinese man, no shirt."
The man immediately started shaking his head, "No. no. No big Chinese. Never see. Only Chinese wife and daughter."
Sean eyed the man suspiciously and put the bucket on the man's counter. Holding out his arms, Sean tried to mimic the man bordering on the foolish. "He looked like this," he grunted out paying careful attention to any unspoken cues from the man's wife and daughter.
"No, no big Chinese here. Laundry. You have ticket?"
Sean stopped clowning around and stood still, shook his head and muttered "No ticket." Disappointed at the lack of cooperation he shuffled out the door and looked left and right down the street. He was upset, partly because he was played a fool in the failed ambush, and also because he was nearly killed by a mountain of flesh. But, on the bright side he had ruffled some feathers and that was progress.
The veiled woman wouldn't pan out, her identity was too obscured although he was confident he'd recognize those eyes and voice again. The Chinese muscle would be a dead end. He'd gotten attention by asking around and there was no better place to ask questions than a saloon. If people wanted him to stop asking questions they had gone about it all wrong.
Sean walked down Main Street trying to determine what to do next and jammed both hands into his pockets. It was there that he felt something, the laundry ticket that Riobrios had stored away in one of his pockets. Sean pulled it out and looked at the location, feeling that he'd be retracing his steps back to where he had just been.
He turned and walked back to the laundry. Entering, the bell above the door jingled and the old Chinese man came out of the back. Seeing Sean, he started to shake his head.
Before the man could get wound up, Sean produced the ticket. "Clothes to pick up," he said waving the paper. "My friend sent me," he added to defuse the situation and head off any problems with him not being the man who brought the clothes in.
The man calmed somewhat, and took the ticket. He squinted at it then disappeared into the back. A few minutes later he came back out. "Laundry not here. Friend must have picked it up himself."
Disappointed, Sean asked "But how? I had his ticket." He looked around the shop and leaned in, "did you know the person who picked it up?"
Sean exerted all of his not inconsiderable charm to convince the man to part with what he knew. After some jollying him along and a shift to reassurance, the man finally leaned in close, "Big Chinese come and take clothes weeks ago."
Smiling, Sean nodded. "I know just the man, do you know where I can find him?" he asked withdrawing a few coins. "My friend needs his clothes, it must have slipped his mind to return them. He won't know where I heard it from," Sean promised with all sincerity.
"Mister Riobrios dead, no need clothes anymore," said the man. With sudden vehemence he added, "Wan Lo bad man, maybe kill Mister Riobrios. Don't know where he is now. Not here anymore. Gone." He jabbed a finger at the window. Across the way, Sean could see a poster for the circus.
hawn backed away, flashed his soothing smile and thanked the man for his help. A couple of coins made a clatter as they bounced on the man's counter. When he had corraled the coins he looked up to see Sean approaching the poster.
In one corner of the poster was a drawing of an enormously muscled stereotype of a Chinese man with the legend, "See Wan Lo the Strongest Man of the Orient and many other marvels at at Professor Miracle's Side Show!"
"Ah, this explains a lot," Sean muttered as he scanned the poster for the circus' next stop.
Then he remembered the circus cars at Montrose that had provided cover for his transfer from the private car to the regular train three days ago.
Arriving at the station, he was pleased to note that the circus cars were still on the siding, so he wouldn't have to chase the circus any farther. He examined the posters carefully, and learned where the circus had set up just outside of town, then returned to the private car to check in with Pringle.
Sean walked up to the private car and quickly ran through the series of clicks and slides on the locking mechanism that would disarm the defenses and alert Max that he was coming in without danger riding shotgun. Naturally Max was busy, this time cleaning his pistol.
"Max," Sean said closing the door behind him. "Ever been to the circus?"
"Not for years," said Max, snapping the cylinder back into place. "I've been thinking about seeing this one, though. But I didn't want to stray too far in case you needed something." He snapped the pistol in the clamp on the table and flipped the top over. With a click it locked into place, appearing to be no more than a dinner table. "Do you need something?"
"Just a little time with a mirror," he said hefting his disguise kit. Sean filled Max in on his encounter with the Chinese strongman, the senorita and Riobrios' missing clothes. "It appears that this circus may have an act that doesn't make the posters -- a werewolf." Spirit gum, makeup, and various accessories each made an appearance as Sean gradually decided upon a look.
Rising from the stool, Sean elected for a stooped posture and shuffling gait. His gray streaked hair framed the waxed, silver moustache perched on his lip as if it were a prized possession. "How do I look?" he rasped.
Pringle merely smiled and held up Sean's coat for him to slip it on.
"Do get some rest," Sean said before donning his hat and shuffling out the railcar door. Sean made his way over to the circus area and looked for the crowds.
Sean walked around observing the workers and acts, making special note of the off limit areas. It was here that he set his sights. Walking along, appearing to be enamoured by all the excitement, he slipped between two wagons and continued his journey.
He headed toward what looked like sleeping wagons, keeping a particular eye out for something that might suit a giant Chinese strongman.
It occurred to him as he looked that the sleeping wagons were clustered near the performance areas where possible. So he headed toward the wagons behind the sideshow. There were twelve wagons there, which along with the sideshow tents themselves, formed a loose circle with a fire at the center - or so he deduced from the smoke rising from the circle; curtains had been run between the wagons to keep out prying eyes.
Carefully he approached a point where the curtain abutted the wagon. Taking care to stand off to the side, Sean gently eased the curtain apart to peer inside.
There was a firepit, with a smoldering fire in it, but there didn't seem to be anyone around. Probably they were at the performance tent since the circus was open for business.
Sean slipped past the curtain and surveyed the wagons, mainly looking for the strongman's wagon.
Sean looked carefully at the wagons. One was clearly larger and more magnificent than the rest, he guessed that one would belong to "Professor Miracle." That wagon rested nearest the performance tents on one side. The wagons nearest the performance tents on the other side were clearly livestock wagons.
Looking at the others, he found his attention drawn to the wagon next to the one he thought of Professor Miracle's. Something about the visible decoration suggested the Orient, and nearby were accoutrements that might fit a strongman. None of the other wagons seemed any more likely.
Quietly he strode over to what he guessed was the strongman's wagon. With a cautious look around he entered.
He climbed the few stairs and slipped into the wagon. His guess, it seemed had been correct. From the inside, it was much more obviously a strongman's wagon, and the shiny pants with oriental dragons on them could only belong to one particular strongman.
Sean rolled his eyes at the pants, and muttered "Amateurs" letting his bias for the theatre show through. First up was to find Riobrios' missing clothes, so he looked for a closet or chest.
He had barely begun to search when the door opened. A tall and curvaceous woman stood in the doorway, "The show's out there, cowboy." She jerked a thumb over her shoulder, unconciously drawing attention to the shifting silks she wore that were obviously part of her costume. "And you do not want Wan Lo finding you in here. So get lost, real fast and I might just forget you were in here at all."
Sean jerked upright in surprise and then settled back down into his bent-over posture. "Much obliged, missy." He shuffled over, "Wanlo? This isn't the owner and proprietor's wagon?" he asked taking the steps gingerly.
"No, old-timer, it isn't. Go on, get out," she said holding the door open. "But Professor Miracle wouldn't take too kindly to you just walking in on him either."
"A business proposition!" Sean bellowed, "I resent being cast as a snoop!" Brushing his left shoulder, he turned to face the lady eyeing her figure. "Rather, my son has a business proposition for the...Professor, you say?"
Squinting into her face, he softened his demeanor. "Say, you have beautiful eyes. My son would like to meet you."
"Slow down there, old timer," she said backing away. "Lot's of people like to meet me after they see my act. Now come on." She stepped out the door.
"I'm just saying," he trailed off. Slowly he made his way down the steps, "a performer, are you?" he asked. "What do you do? I really must talk to this Professor," he rattled off in a mildly coherent manner.
"Then it is good that I am here, yes?" said a voice with a distinct, though not overwhelming, Eastern European accent. "I am Professor Miracle." Sean turned and saw a sleek but not particularly handsome man with very black hair and piercing eyes, dressed in a suit, with an opera cape and top hat, leaning easily on a walking stick. Towering above him was the figure of Wan Lo, the giant strongman. "And I am very interested in why you were poking about in Wan Lo's wagon."
Sean shook, feigning fright, and struggled with cotton mouth "I-I-I was looking for the owner of the circus to discuss business," he stammered, adding "for my son."
"And your son is?" said Professor Miracle smoothly.
Puffing out his chest with pride, "Richard Simonchild, entrepreneur, collector, acquirer of oddities, and businessman." As if to address their quizzical looks, he added "surely you've heard of him" with a dash of pompousness.
"Which makes you?" continued Miracle.
"Robert Simonchild of Boston" he said extending his hand after a deep bow.
"Well, where's this son of yours then?" asked Miracle with an unconvincing show of heartiness. "And perhaps you'd like to come into my wagon to talk; much nicer than Wan Lo's I assure you."
"He arrives tomorrow," Sean answered looking around. "Which is your wagon?" he said ambling around. "My son is going to want to talk to you, he's a very shrewd businessman and has issues to discuss, he does."
"This wagon here, Mr. Simonchild," said Miracle, leading the way to the large wagon next to the tents. Wan Lo stepped behind Sean to 'show him the way.'
"I see it, I see it," he said cantankerously to the Chinese strongman. Sean shuffled along a few steps and then turned to the young lady. "Will you be joining us, Miss?"
"Yes, Alison, will you be joining us?" asked Miracle with a rather thin smile.
"Of course, sir," she said.
They entered the wagon, a large affair with at least two rooms, since a wall divided that back portion from the front which was equipped as a cross between an office, a laboratory and a freakatorium. "Alison, Mr. Simonchild ..." Miracle indicated chairs in front of the desk, behind which he sat himself. Wan Lo took up position by the door. After they had sat, Miracle continued, "Pray continue, Mr. Simonchild. When will your son be arriving and how may we contact him? And, of course, what business does he wish to discuss with me?"
Sean squirmed in his chair, when the right comfort level was reached he finally spoke. "Tomorrow he is scheduled to arrive. I am not at liberty to represent him in business affairs." He leaned over to Allison to add, "I am fully capable mind you, but he doesn't like me to show him up!" Sean barked out a wheezy laugh, "you know how children are, don't you Professor?"
"Arriving where, Mr. Simonchild?" said Miracle leaning forward.
"Here in Montrose, of course, to see you and the circus." Sean drummed his fingers on the chair arm. "He's a big fan."
"Alison, what was Mr. Simonchild doing when you found him?"
Taken by surprise, the girls stammered a moment, then replied, "Nothing really, Professor. Just looking around."
"I see. Alison, you may go," said Miracle. After a moment, she did so. Miracle looked at Sean for a long moment. "What are we to do with you, Mr. Simonchild of Boston? If that's who you are." He shrugged. "Wan Lo, hold him." Large hands grasped Sean's shoulders.
Sean forced himself to remain calm, but appear harried. "What's this?" he struggled gently, "this isn't the way to treat guests!" Carefully Sean judged the pressure Wan Lo exerted on his shoulders measuring it in case he needed to react quickly should his ruse fail entirely.
Wan Lo was not, he guessed exerting his full force, but the strongman was a strong man ...
Miracle came around the desk and prodded Sean gently in the chest with his walking stick. "I have an idea of what we shall do with you," said Miracle. Green gas suddenly puffed out from the end of the stick into Sean's face. Sean's face screwed up tightly and he collapsed forward.