It was a horrible New Year’s Eve. After lunch the wind began to howl and the rain came lashing down. Don told everyone to stop rehearsing and they all ran back to the boarding houses where they warmed themselves up with tea and scones Albert had bought that morning. Ganesh and Rani stayed behind as they usually slept together in the big top.
It was dark by the time the rain had eased a little. It seemed such a miserable and cold night Don drove his car back to the big top with some extra blankets for Rani and a flask of tea for Ganesh. Ruby came too.
As he parked the car, the wind and rain suddenly whipped up again, so loud on the car roof Don fancied he heard shouting. Then he heard it again, coming from outside. Don and Ruby looked at each other. Who was out there on a night like this? Don opened the car door and through the driving rain about ten paces away he saw Mr Mortimer, silhouetted against the pale big top, soaking wet. He was holding something. Don couldn’t quite see what it was.
“Don Unusually!” screamed Mr Mortimer. “I’ve been waiting for you. I need to talk to you.”
“I’m here,” Don said, getting out of the car, the rain hitting his face and making him squint, “You owe us money on the bet, seven thousand pounds.”
Mortimer laughed a strangled hollow laugh, “Seven thousand pounds? Do you really think I have seven thousand pounds? You’ve ruined me. And now he’s not here anymore, my precious brother, I can take back what’s rightfully mine.”
There was a flash of lightning and Don saw the whole scene lit up in blue-white. Mortimer was holding Ganesh by a fistful of hair, yanking his head back. In his other hand he held a pistol, pressed against Ganesh’s right temple.
Don started towards them but Mortimer yelled, “Don’t come any closer or I’ll shoot. I’ll shoot him and I’ll shoot you.” Mortimer waved the gun around wildly. Don stopped, halfway between the car and Mortimer. Thunder rumbled overhead.
“Just let Ganesh go and leave us alone. We’ll find the money some other way.”
Mortimer was babbling and whining now, “All I hear is ‘Why doesn’t your circus do a tightrope pyramid? Why don’t you do the triple? Why don’t you do the Wheel of Death?’ And I smile and say, we’re working on it, we’re working on it. But no-one will do it. Only your lot. Years and years of losing customers and stupid mistakes and the money’s all gone. You’ve ruined me. You and your father. So, the way I see it, you owe me.”
Don was scared, but he was also angry, “You can’t just come here and start threatening people. Everyone’s happy here, they won’t come with you.”
“You stole Cha Cha from me, so I’m gonna take someone from you. Not Ganesh, I don’t want a bleeding elephant, but you’ve got to give me someone.”
“We had a bet but you didn’t stick to it. If you’d won, you could have taken someone, but you didn’t.”
“Just like your father. You expect everyone to be honest. Well the world doesn’t work like that. People lie and cheat all the time. My father lied to me. So I don’t see why I have to be honest.”
Don knew he had to be careful, Ganesh was in danger, but he’d had enough of Mortimer’s skewed view of the world, “He didn’t lie to you, he just didn’t do what you expected him too. You can’t come here and take what you want. It doesn’t work like that.” The rain was running down Don’s neck now and he could see very little.
Mortimer screamed, “Well it had better start working like that otherwise this boy gets a bullet in the ear.”
Don was trying to stay calm, but firm. “That’s not going to happen.”
“You just wait and see. Now, I want the Ziping girls, and I want Ruby. I need you too, I know you won’t come with me, but you can at least give me those others.”
“But you lost the bet. You owe me, remember?”
“I don’t owe anyone, anything. Not when I’ve got a gun in my hand.”
Don could see this wasn’t going anywhere. He needed to buy himself some time, he knew Mortimer was more than capable of pulling the trigger on Ganesh, he needed to calm him down somehow, “Come and talk to me properly, in the car, out of the rain.”
“No, no, I want them now. I’ll take them back tonight. You give them to me and I’ll go away, I promise, you won’t ever see me again. But you try anything funny and I’m gonna shoot, I swear I will.”
“No,” Don said, firmly, “No, you’re not going to shoot. You’re better than this, you could have a great circus, you’ve got everything you need.”
“Stop talking rubbish, you know I ain’t got the right acts. I could never choose them like my brother. He had the eye, I didn’t. So stop messing around and hand them over, and then I’ll be gone, I promise.”
Don was getting a little sick of his uncle’s promises. Then something caught his attention, moving behind his uncle. What was it? There was another flash of lightning and he saw Rani in the mouth of the show tent, a few yards behind Mortimer.
“Look, just put the gun down and come and talk, I promise we’ll give you something, we’ll reach some sort of agreement.” Don tried to keep his voice steady. He tried to speak kindly.
Then Don heard a car door slam, Ruby walked round the car, brushing past Don and striding straight towards Mortimer, shouting, “Look, just leave us alone. You’re evil. You bullied Leo and Harry their whole lives. I‘m not going to let you bully anyone, anymore.” She was just a few feet away when Mortimer raised the gun and pointed it straight at her. She stopped.
Mortimer yelled, “Leo was never any good. He had a dying act. Harry, well, Harry was always a pathetic little wretch. They were both a waste of space. I’m glad to be rid of them.”
Ruby yelled blinking into the rain, “You’re just evil and sad and lonely. Jealousy’s eaten you up so there’s nothing left that’s any good or any use.”
The pistol clapped, flashing in the dark. Then Ruby was down in the grass, her body trembling. Don ran towards her, “What did you do?” he screamed at Mortimer, “What did you do?”
It was then that Don saw Rani charging towards Mortimer from behind.