Nathan was waiting downstairs with Tony, William and Robin. It was past sunset and they were dressed again like military. She had quickly pulled on a green wind jacket and soft ballerina shoes.
“Come on!” Silver was loosing her patience, when she yelled from the open door. She was pushed in and before she even had time to sit, was flattened between the guys on the back seat.
Nathan immediately took off and while he drove with speed only normal for someone suicidal, Silver was leaning back and yelling her the information.
“He got out maximum an hour ago. We’ve tracked him down to Cardon roundabout!”
Margaret’s heart beat heavy in her chest. “But that’s nearly on edge of the city!”
“If he gets on the fields, we won’t catch up!”
She didn’t need to tell her that – that’s where the circus was! Six Scanias covered in bright colors and filled with all their equipment including pair of elephants and tigers, horses, ponies and their offices. This circus had 30 people on the spot in any given moment! They always had their tents put up there, because it was the largest area to get their main tent up!
The signals coming on the screen caught up in volume.
“He is two streets ahead!” Silver reported comparing the blue screen with GPS.
There was one chance out of seven that it was Alex and she couldn’t even ask them. But it wasn’t logical – why would he want to get out again if he had just had himself caught up? So it had to be someone else. This wasn’t much of a choice either, because that meant she had to point the finger again and with their trigger-happy attitude, that meant loosing another man.
“Um…” she wanted to warn them about the circus, but Silver shouted next coordinates and her tiny voice was lost.
“Step on it, Nat! We’re up to our necks if he gets away!” Tony was impatient and irritated more than before.
“There’s a problem with his direction!” She had to yell to be heard over all their commotion. That did the trick and she had all their attention now.
“What kind of problem?”
“Black Swan is camping there!”
“Black what?” Twin grabbed her shoulder and pulled her around to see her eyes. She hit herself against something hard and metallic. It was big and cornered, but not one of their regular weapons.
“Circus! They camp there!”
The swearing was worth the news. If it wasn’t hard enough to find him in city noises, then in a field with good soil and six trucks and constant noise it was impossible.
“Guys?” Nathan hit the breaks and pushed them all off their seats. “I have passed him! You’ve got two minutes!”
That was their signal and they got off. They were on the street that ended with Cardon roundabout. She could hear the sounds of the men building defenses around their site and putting up the last of the animal’s resting places. Some lights flashed up high when the lights were tested and for mere seconds the entire sky lit up, when the full lighting was tested.
The two minutes went too quickly and right when Nat got the car’s motor stop, she felt fast rumbling heading straight at them.
“Behind you! He is following the curbstone!”
They immediately turned their guns at the pavement, but the moment she had said it, she felt the road under her rise for mere seconds and fall back and the man had passed them.
“There!” He was moving at Twin’s way.
Twin swung his gun on his back and pulled a big blacksmith hammer from his belt. He gave the land big shove. This was enough to change his course and he turned directly to Silver, who did the same with a smaller hammer.
They have better hearing, she thought, sensing him change his course again, this time heading in opposite and reaching right at sergeant’s feet. One look in his way and he pulled the hammer and hit it hard against land.
It stopped. She got no vibes from the underground.
Suddenly a big truck drove past them and signaled Silver to move away its way, which she did. The moment the machine was gone and the vibrations of its heavy load had faded she concentrated back on the road. Sinking feeling gave her only one solution – there wasn’t anything between them anymore.
“Nat?” she called, eyes frantically searching any difference in the surface. She didn’t want to move and her hands began trembling, realizing that he was right there, next to their feet and she had no idea, where he was hiding himself. He could have jumped out any moment and pulled them in pieces.
Something big must have got on his way, because her eyes caught the slight rise and fall from outside the group, just few feet away.
“Silver!” she pointed behind them and they ran after it.
In every few feet she asked them to stop and tried again, but he was always few feet away. Nathan followed them with the car a bit behind so the noise of the car wouldn’t mix with the vibrations. They reached the roundabout. It was nearly empty with lonely family cars driving past skip a few trucks.
By now it didn’t matter to her if it was Alex or someone else. Every look over the road endorsed panic growing inside her – she didn’t want it free to go and kill people dear to her.
She didn’t know if it went across or stayed on this side, so she looked back to Tony and shrugged suggestively. With every passing machine, the entire earth shook like small earthquake and there was no way for her to say, where he was.
Nat was keeping eye on the monitors, she saw his eyes diverted on the side as he drove after them.
“He went over!” he yelled, seeing them stand and wait.
Her eyes diverted from Nathan to the camp on the other side.
Tony swore hard. “We can’t hunt him there!”
Cold swooped over her back and heavy feet pulled her closer to the ground. “Why not?”
“Soft soil and closed range!” Twin pulled his gun back in front and rest his arms on it.
“I can get us in.” she said firmly, eyes still fixed on the man sitting astride on the ladder in the light of projector, changing bulbs on the show lights. The tent was already up and empty trucks were waiting on the side to drive in farther side before the drivers were allowed to go to bed.
“You?” Tony asked.
“I have people skills.” She shrugged and after next passing car, run over the road and straight to the man setting the lights up. Soldiers followed her, incredulous of what she was about to do.
The man on the ladder saw them running and after a moment of frowning and wondering, climbed down and waited next to the projector.
Twin reached out and pulled her back. “What are you doing?”
“Getting us in the camp!”
“Are you crazy?”
“We’re hunting a big panther from the local zoo!”
“You come up with those things as you go, don’t you?”
“Scold me later, moral boy.” She pulled herself free. “Should I tell them we’re after a human, who digs through dirt as we speak? They have four tigers and two lions – they can relate with that.”
“How do you know?”
She didn’t answer that, but went straight to the electrician, nearly choking for having to lie to him. Hunt had worked in Black Swan far longer than most of the performers. His sassy grey beard was often the first thing most of them saw here and recognized the unofficial symbol of the Black Swan.
“Hunt!” She reached out and hugged the old man. Two heavy hands clasped on her back.
“Dear sweet Margaret!” he whispered in joy and pulled her up for a swirl.
“Hunt, I’m sorry, I’m not for social visit – I need your help!”
“Aunt Mag is already asl… help?”
“We…” she gave a quick glance to William, Silver and Tony, who was on phone, “We’re hunting a panther, she got away from the zoo. Have you seen it?”
“No, but do what you need. I’ll wake aunt Mag up, she’ll need to know about this.”
“Ok.” She gave him a quick hug and they headed inside the camp, soldiers following her and Hunt running with his belly bouncing while he made his way to beige car.
She looked around to see if things had changed. For years they used the same camp plan and if they’d kept things same, then she was pretty sure, where something was. The performers were circled like crescent moon on both sides of the main tent ending their rows with ticket seller on one side and guards huts in another. The entire area was secluded with make-shift borders and some that could be pulled in front of the trailers to create a long hallway that would lead straight to the tent.
“He’ll wake the entire camp up!”
“No he won’t!” She hushed Twin to take it down or he’d be the cause why they all get up and start pointing sharp things at them. “Magniffica must know when someone is in the camp! The only three besides her are the guards! Two of them are asleep and the third…”
“Leave the territory or I’ll call the police!”
“…would be him.” She turned around and pointed at the short man in heavy rain coat holding up a walky-talky. “Ginger, I have madam Magniffica’s permission to look around!”
“Do you really?” he drawled. William and Silver joined with his unbeliever’s look.
“He was new when I left,” she shrugged and turned back to the little man. “Yes! Hunt went to wake her up. Look, we have a panther on a run, we can’t play right now.”
“He is fifty feet to North.” Tony said, listening closely, what Nathan told her over the phone.
She stood there dumbfound and waved her hands for a moment, trying to relocate herself. The roundabout always was in South-East, she remembered and she turned to face North. And the big yellow-purple striped tent.
“That’s you’re North, gentlemen!” She showed them the huge temporary building. The entrance is in… that way,” she led them to East side of it and they went in, watchman following them.
Tony pulled the guy she just called Ginger aside and ordered him to stay outside. “For your own protection,” he added.
She first went to the light switches they kept outside next to the door. The basic light cords were attached to the tent so if it was put up, then the lights would be fully functional too. It was still dim after that, but it was only meant for business, so they could find their way in there. They had nothing else built inside yet. That was usually the second day’s work. That was good, because this meant no chairs or arena to be messed up.
She pushed the green switch up and waited for a moment for the tent to pick up the light.
“Now we can go in.” she said. She slowed down and went in slowly, trying to capture the vibrations. The soldiers behind her stopped and waited eyes only on her.
Cold wind ran through the tent, pulling the walls up like sails, before quietly laying them back. Though the lighting inside was warm, the entire place still felt empty and cold.
The soil was indeed different here. In the city, everything echoed, but here – it was muzzled. She put it on the expense of the enormous amount of fabric surrounding them. It must have confused the man in earth, too, because his movement reminded her of barely babbling chaotic spring. Either he was not sure, where to go or he was somehow picking up the working cars behind the tent, but he kept going feet to one direction or feet to another.
The trucks behind the tent belonged to animals. There were always three lined up and they had small generators on them that were always running for hot or cool air. They created quite a bit vibration in the ground, which didn’t bother animals, but made working with them hell for her. It seemed to be a good barrier for him, too, because he didn’t know what was causing it.
Loud noises began from one of the trailers that was always parked behind the tent. She heard the horses and one of the lions was crying out.
“Great, they are waking the entire place!” Silver muttered, but she hushed her silent.
“They’re just checking the harnesses and locks on animals! It’s standard procedure!”
“When what happens? How often do panthers run away from zoos?”
She had enough of his picking. “There are rules for everything! I can tell you each and one of them later! Will you NOW shut up?”
She was still with back to the centre, when she felt strange wind blowing up and over her, spraying her with filth. She was caught off guard and landed flat on her stomach with someone very heavy landing on top of her. She couldn’t turn. He had attached himself to her shoulders and all she could see was the fingertips with fixed jaw pushing her even more down to the ground.
He reeked. That was all she could think of right now. Even the blood soaked fingertips with nails half missing wasn’t what got through to her. It was the smell of decay and mix of fresh sweet –smelling butchery that made her heave.
He was pulled off her and she flew around with him. His fingers were still clutched around her shoulders and he tried to add to those chains by shoving his feet around hers.
She pushed her fingers up, clutched under his and tried to prize them off.
Tony was first to hit it with the barrel of the gun and it passed out, releasing her shoulders. It hurt so much, she was sure he had broken at least on of them, but when William gave her a hand to pull her up, she understood they were fine.
She gazed over her shoulder while he pulled her away and turned the moment her feet carried her. She needed to know.
The man was bald, with high bump visible on the back of his head. The head shape was long, far different than his and she felt relief washing over her – it wasn’t Alex. But the man was in bad state – his hands were damaged far more than on the previous escapers, probably, because he had dug further out than others had.
He moaned. This was creepy enough for her to tangle her fingers in Twin’s sleeve and try to hide behind him. No matter how much trust she possessed for Alex, these things here did not have it.
Door opened on the left side of the tent and everybody’s eyes turned towards it. It was the one that came in from the animals trucks.
Margaret pulled herself free from Twin and stepped aside. Her brother was standing on the entry of the tent and watched, his eyes big as saucers, the entire thing happening inside. He was holding some of the empty feed bags, probably hoping to have a shortcut through the main tent.
Tony and William stared at him for a long time, thinking out what to say to him, but he just stared at the man behind them, Margaret and then the man again and then, said quite innocently: “So that’s the sort of animals you work with…”
She gasped from relief.
“Hunt woke me up to check on tigers, but… well!” His pitching tone changed abruptly and he looked at the empty feed bag he had tangling between his fingers stuffed with old blankets they used to put on horses after their training.
He thought a moment and tossed it to William then. “I’m guessing you’re hunting panthers? Then bag him up good. Madam Magniffica is up and she might want to see it.” He shrugged and his eyes sparkled when looking at the Twin’s shocked eyes. “She’s a big cat lover.”