Clowning Around

By Percy Spurlark Parker

Vic's neighbors thought he was a traveling hardware salesman. It was what he used to do for a living. So he was prepared when he was asked which saw should be used for this or that project, which was the best hammer, what's wholesale on that reversible drill. It was an easy lie to maintain. He wasn't married, wasn't going steady with anyone, although the wives in his neighborhood were always trying to push a friend or relative off on him. He simply couldn't afford to have anyone that close to him to question what he was actually doing.

He robbed banks.

He was very good at it. Fourteen bank job in less than five years without a single hitch. He contributed this to meticulous planning, robbing only small town banks. They rarely had guards, or even high partitions at their teller windows. It seemed the banks attitude was to deal with bank robbers with the least chance of trouble occurring as possible. Give him the money and let him go, with hopes the police would catch up with him later.

One other thing he liked to do, was to have someplace nearby he could duck into quickly after robbing a bank, a restaurant or movie theater. Some place, if need be, where he could lay low until the fuss of the bank robbery cooled down. And of course, just in case, he always knew the quickest way to the nearest expressway.

But most importantly, he gave a lot of credit to his gun. It was a .357 magnum revolver with a six and a half inch barrel and a rubber grip. There were slicker and more powerful guns available, but his mag was a big bulky monster. All he had to do was show the gun to the bank teller and his job was done. Sure he'd slip them a note demanding all their cash, minus any little tricky exploding dye packs they might have behind their counter, but the sight of the gun pulled it off more than anything else.

He'd cased the Gable Lakes Bank a month ago after he'd read a back page article in his local paper about Clown Day. Back in the eighties, Funny Freddie, a noted circus clown had retired to Boone's Creek, Wisconsin and opened a clown school. Over the years graduation exercises sparked a reunion of former students. Soon it was adopted by the three neighboring townships of Gable Lakes, Boone's Creek, and Walter's Falls as a revolving annual charity event. This year it was Gable Lakes turn to host. Everyone, from the mayor to the town's sanitation engineer, school children, store keepers, and the tourists who flocked into town for the event were going to be dressed as clowns.

The idea had come to him before he'd finished reading the article. Robbing a bank on Clown Day dressed as a clown. He would have something to laugh about for years to come. It was just too perfect.

He'd Googled a map of Gable Lakes getting the layout of the town. After driving through making sure the map was accurate, he'd doubled back to the bank picking up pamphlets on savings plans, and getting a good look around. The closest hotel, Gable Lakes Manor, was also the largest of the local hotels. He chatted briefly with the clerk about Clown Day. It was going to be a big party, but the town didn't close down. Mail still got delivered, kids still had to go to school, and most important the bank would still be open.

He made his reservation then and there, before all the rooms were booked, letting the hotel clerk think it was his idea. He'd paid in cash, using one of the phony driver's licenses he carried for ID.

* * *

Clown Day. It was a little after nine in the morning when he drove into town. He had rented the Ford sedan in Illinois, using a different phony driver's license, and taking the added precaution of switching license plates he'd stolen in Indiana.

There were a fair number of clowns out and about, on the sidewalks, or behind the wheels of everything from pick-up trucks to convertibles. And the hotel lobby was packed also. Carrying a small suitcase and a garment bag, he did his best to weave through a rainbow of costumes, over-sized painted-on smiles, and red bulb noses, on his way to the registration desk.

Someone bumped into him, he made a miss-step and stumbled into another clown. Their struggle to keep each other up right was somewhat of an awkward embrace.

"Maybe we ought to set this to music," she said with a laugh. She had mounds of billowing red hair cascading down onto her shoulders. Her painted on eyebrows were a good inch wide, and bright red lipstick over-exaggerated her lips. A large gold star on her left cheek, he guessed served as a beauty mark. Long thick eye lashes completed the face. She was wearing a floor length gold evening gown, its bodice over exaggerated. The thigh high slit in the gown revealed a pair of red flannel long johns, which didn't disguise her shapely long legs, and hiking boots.

"Sorry," he said.

"Hey, it was my fault. I can't see a thing with these damn lashes on. You here for Clown Day?"

He looked around the lobby. "Aren't we all?"

She laughed again. "Guess you're right. This your first one?"

"Yeah. I read an article about it. Sounded like fun."

"It a blast, you won't regret it. First time in Gable Lakes then?"

"Yes, yes it is."

"Well, it's a great place and we have the best Clown Day of all of them. Say, if you want, I could show you around?"

"Maybe later, after I get settled in and get my costume on," he said, not wanting to be bothered but it was best to be cordial, not draw any undue attention.

"Good. I'm Ann, by the way. Most of the time I live a pretty routine life. But on Clown Day, I'm Ronda Redd, the world's sexiest clown."

"You are that."

"Well, thank you, ah..."

"Ted, Ted Foster," he said, giving her the name he'd used when he made his hotel reservation.

"Then I'll see you later, Ted?"

"Sure, why not? If you can recognize me once I change."

"Bet I can. I've got a keen pair of eyes somewhere under all these lashes."

He smiled to himself as he checked in at the reservation desk. Rhonda Redd. There had been a number of women who had come on to him during his travels, but never one in a clown costume.

He was given a room on the third floor over-looking the front of the hotel. More and more clowns began to fill the streets and sidewalks. He saw clowns on unicycles, roller blades, and skateboards. He saw them juggling, turning cartwheels, and doing magic tricks; each trying to outdo the other, to get the most attention, the biggest laugh. He had a magic trick of sorts of his own to perform, one the whole town would be talking about, making a pile of money disappear from the Gable Lakes Bank.

He slipped off his jacket, unfastened the huge gun he carried in a shoulder holster at his left arm pit. The gun was always with him when he was on a job, from start to finish. The best partner anyone could ever have. He only put it away when he was back home, when he was back to being mister friendly hardware salesman.

For his preparation into the land of clowns, he'd experimented with applying different types of make-up, learning which was easiest to put on and take off, which best hide his own features. He'd settled on a stark white face, achieved with a heavy layer of pancake make-up. He added a large handlebar mustache, a shaggy blond wig, and a rather beaten up derby. An orange shirt, a pair of baggy yellow overalls, white cotton gloves, and an oversized patched army jacket to hide the holstered gun made up the rest of his attire.

It was nearly noon by the time he'd finished dressing. He took one last look in the mirror to be sure his transformation was complete. The bank was just around the corner from the hotel. He would simply walk there, rob the bank and walk back. His plan was to get back to his hotel room, put the stolen money away, then wait for the commotion about the bank robbery to die down before checking out. He may even go out and blend in with the clown populace for a while. If the slightest thing went wrong at the bank and he had to leave town right away, he had a change of clothes in the trunk of his car. Preparation, and the big gun were the key.

He rode the elevator to the lobby with a clown in wide striped prison garb who'd been waiting for the elevator when he stepped out of his room. They complimented each other on their costumes and wished each other a fun time as they exited.

He didn't look around for Rhonda Redd. He didn't think she could recognize him now anyway, but he didn't want to risk eye contact on the off chance she might latch onto him and foul things up.

There seemed to be even more clowns on the street now, all prancing or dancing, laughing or talking loudly. He joined in as best he could, skipping somewhat as he made his way to the bank.

Everyone in the bank was in costume, employees and patrons alike. There were two tellers, both in ruffled collars and white fuzzy wigs. Their windows were no more than open spaces between an eight inch high glass partition. He got in the shorter of the two lines, scanning every corner of the bank. He thought the clown he rode the elevator with came in and went to one of the back desks, but he wasn't sure. All the clowns and their costumes were beginning to merge.

He stepped up to the counter slipping the teller his note. KEEP IT FRIENDLY. CASH ONLY. NO DYE PACK OR I'LL BE BACK FOR YOU. He passed a nap sack across to her, then pulled his jacket back so she got a good look at the big holstered gun, and slowly rubbed his hand over the gun's grip. She kept her smile, but her hazel eyes got very wide.

There was a clown band marching by as he left the bank. The lead clown beat on a big drum strapped to him by a shoulder harness. The one behind him pumped earnestly on an accordion. The next one had a piccolo, and a little terrier with a pointed cap strapped to its head and bells on its tail pulled up the rear. He wasn't sure what they were playing, although to him the dog sounded more in tune than the rest of them.

Joining the crowd that followed them, he danced along until he got back to the hotel, made his way through the crowd in the lobby. In his room, he dumped the money on the bed and began to count it. He would have to find out which town was hosting Clown Day next year. He had never enjoyed robbing a bank as much.

A knock on the door, not especially loud. He reached for his gun, then eased off as he heard. "Hey, Ted, You going to stay in your room all day? I thought we had a date."

Rhonda Redd. He looked through the peep hole seeing her distorted image.

"Just a minute," he called back, stashing the money under the bed. Determined woman. Well, his work was done, why not have a little fun?

She rushed passed him into the room as he opened the door. When he turned to face her he felt the muzzle of a revolver on the back of his neck.

"Don't even think about moving," a rough voice told him.

Someone else grabbed his arms and cuffed his hands behind him as Rhonda Redd stepped up and took the gun out of its holster.

She let out a low whistle. "Quite a weapon you got here, Ted. Guess this is what I felt when we bumped into each other in the lobby. You ever fire this thing? Bet the recoil would pretty near tear your arm off."

The gun was removed from the back of his neck as two other clowns filed into his room, one of the them was the guy in the prison garb. It didn't take them long to find the money under the bed.

"Nobody brings something like this to Clown Day unless they're up to no good," Rhonda Redd said, unloading the gun and dropping it and the cartages on the bed. "I checked with the desk clerk and found out you lied about this being your first time in town. He said you made your reservation in person, with cash. After that, it was just a matter of watching you to see what kind of trouble you were going to get yourself into."

She reached into her extravagant bodice pulling out a wallet. "By the way, this star on my cheek is just a substitute for this one." She flipped open the wallet showing him the gold badge. "I'm the sheriff here in Gable Lakes, and you're under arrest for bank robbery."

Percy Spurlark Parker is a published mystery writer (since 1972), a former MWA V.P. and a current member of PWA. His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Woman's World, and several anthologies.

His short story "Plus One" appeared in omdb! in November, 2012.

Copyright 2013 Percy Spurlark Parker. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!

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