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Prue felt the presence behind her. Was that one creature or two? She studied the two-headed shadow on the floor in front of her. She could tell from the shadow's outline that the thing behind her was humanlike, but the body looked like a big blob. Each head was oddly shaped, and in profile she could make out their strange noses.
"Just what I don't need," she muttered. "I'm late as it is." Standing awkwardly on one high heel, she whirled around and hurled the strappy sandal in her hand at the interloper.
"Hey!" Phoebe shouted as Piper shrieked and ducked. "Watch it."
Prue smirked at her sisters. "You thought you could sneak up and scare me? After all the demon training I've had? You're bigger clowns than I thought."
Prue's eyes traveled up and down her sisters' outlandish costumes. They wore oversize overalls stuffed with pillows. Piper had tucked her long dark hair under a bright orange wig made of yarn. Phoebe wore a crushed fedora so big that it slipped down to her eyebrows. Both had little red balls stuck on their noses.
"The answer is still no," Prue declared. "No matter how easily you would fit in."
"No fair," Phoebe complained. "We're the ones who love the circus, and you're the one with the cush assignment."
"There is nothing 'cush' about this job," Prue grumbled. The magazine she often worked for as a freelance photojournalist, 415, had paired Prue with a reporter doing a feature story on the Carnival Cavalcade -- a carnival with circus acts that performed in a tent set up in Golden Gate Park. They were going to spend the whole week "amidst the sawdust and spangles," as Kristin McMillan, the reporter Prue would be working with, had so colorfully put it.
"I wish this week was over already," Prue said with a sigh.
"Your whole attitude makes it even more of a shame," Piper protested. "We should go -- not you. You hate the circus."
Prue eyed her sisters again. "Especially clowns."
"Okay, so maybe the clown getup wasn't the best way to persuade you to take us with you," Piper admitted. "But you have to admit, it got your attention."
"And nearly got you beaned by my sandal." Prue retrieved her shoe and stepped into it.
"But we deserve to go," Phoebe whined.
Prue shook her head as she bent over to buckle the strap of her sandal. "You sound like a six-year-old." She straightened up and put her hands on her hips. "Well, you certainly look as if you belong at the circus."
Prue bit her lip as her sisters put on their most pleading, pathetic expressions. She fought back a laugh. "Okay, you can come. But hurry," she added sternly. "I'm already running behind."
"Whoo-hoo!" Phoebe cheered. She and Piper slapped high fives, then dashed out of Prue's bedroom.
I hope I don't regret this, Prue thought. This is a professional situation, and those two are acting like out-of-control toddlers. I'll have enough to worry about as it is.
Prue knew that her sisters imagined being assigned to cover the carnival was just fun and games, but she knew it was going to be a tough gig. She would be trying to capture the essence of live performance, snap backstage antics, and also do intimate individual portraits. Different techniques, approaches, film, and lenses would be called for in each situation. That meant a lot of switching gears and staying alert to potential images and visual moments, in addition to keeping track of f-stops and light readings.
But there was a deeper reason Prue was on edge about this assignment.
She knew she was being silly, but her sisters were right: Prue just didn't like the circus. There wasn't anything she could quite put her finger on that explained her aversion. Circuses and carnivals simply gave her the creeps and always had. The transient lifestyle cloaked the performers and staff in anonymity, creating an air of mystery that Prue found unsettling.
After all, Prue continued musing as she ran a brush through her thick dark hair, who knows who is under all that clown makeup? What normal person would think it was fun to step into cages with tigers, or balance three chairs on her chin?
She scanned her bedroom to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything. Camera case loaded with both black-and-white and color film, flashes, and batteries. Purse with comb, lipstick, mints, and cell phone. All she needed now was to find her keys, corral her sisters, and head out.
"Ready!" Phoebe posed in the doorway in a pair of black jeans and a blue halter top. "You see? Good-bye clown, hello hottie."
"I don't know if there will be anyone there to appreciate your finer qualities," Prue commented. "Who are you trying to impress, the elephants?"
"Are you kidding?" Phoebe's dark eyes widened. "The circus is full of hunky riggers and roustabouts. Guys with serious muscle power. Besides, you're the one with the clown problem, not me."
"I'd really hate to think the circus is your new dating pool," Prue said.
Phoebe laughed. "Most of the guys I meet are clowns anyway. At least this way they have an excuse."
Piper came to join them. Her bright red-and-white sundress looked perfect for a day at the carnival. "Leave it to Phoebe to see a day at the circus as a way to cruise guys."
"Speaking of leaving," Prue said. "First stop, Muffin Madness. I need to pick up some breakfast since I don't know when I'll have a chance to grab something once we're there."
She hustled her sisters out the door and to the car. She slid behind the wheel with Piper beside her. Phoebe sprawled across the backseat. Prue drove the familiar route to the muffin shop.
"So what exactly is this assignment?" Phoebe asked after they divvied up their bags of coffee and muffins. "I'm glad you have this job so that we get to go, but don't circuses usually have their own publicity machine?"
"She's right," Piper added. "Why would they bring in an outside photographer?"
Prue kept her eye on the traffic as she headed toward Golden Gate Park. "This is a backstage story. You know, the behind-the-scenes stuff that isn't in the typical press kit."
Piper flicked her sunglasses up onto her head and looked at Prue. "Behind the scenes? Does that mean what I think it means?"
Prue could hear the excitement in her sister's voice.
Phoebe leaned in between her sisters. "You'll have an all-access pass? Cool!"
"I don't know if that means that you'll have access," Prue warned. "This is actually quite unusual. Kristin explained that the only reason the owner, Mr. Amalfi, is allowing us backstage is because he's hoping the article will help ticket sales. I think they've been somewhat lower than he'd hoped."
"Why is going backstage unusual?" Piper asked.
"Circuses tend to be pretty closed communities," Prue explained. "Kristin told me to be prepared for some less-than-willing participants."
"Kristin," Phoebe repeated. "Have we met her?"
"Kristin McMillan," Prue said. "Short blond hair, seriously perky."
"Oh, yeah," Phoebe murmured. "The cheerleader type."
Prue grinned. "That's her. Only I think she would outpep the pep squad."
"You can't stand her," Piper observed.
"That's not true," Prue protested. "Well, not exactly true. Not completely." She sighed. "Okay, I find her style sort of clashes with mine."
"You see? You need us," Piper said. "Otherwise you might strangle the perky right out of her."
Prue laughed. "You're probably right." She turned into the park. "Okay, I'm glad you're here. If only to balance out Kristin's niceness."
"Are you insulting us?" Piper asked. "Implying that we, your lovely sisters, aren't nice?"
Prue grinned and went on as if she hadn't heard Piper's protest. "You know, yin yang, balance of energies. Kristin is overly nice and you two are -- "
"We get it, we get it," Piper grumbled. "Still, it's nice to be needed." She patted Prue's shoulder and then giggled.
We do need each other, Prue thought, grinning at Piper. We're so different but so alike.
Ever since the Halliwell sisters came into their powers, their ties to one another had become even stronger. In fact, if they hadn't discovered that they were witches, they might never have worked so hard to overcome those differences. Nothing like fending off warlocks to bring a family together, Prue mused. She was glad her sisters had insisted on tagging along today. But she wasn't going to let them know that. She'd never live it down!
Prue checked the directions Kristin had given her to the "backstage" entrance. Actually, it was a security check-in point near the trailers that housed the performers. Several men carrying clipboards and walkie-talkies stood chatting just inside the police barricades that ran completely around the area. Prue pulled into the parking lot and stopped the car.
Almost instantly, Phoebe and Piper scrambled out. "Hey, wait for me," Prue called after them.
No use. Piper and Phoebe were so excited that they hurried up to the sawhorse barricades and ducked under them. A burly guard instantly headed their way. Those two really are behaving like six-year-olds, Prue observed.
Prue shook her head with amusement as she pulled out her equipment. She regretted her choice of shoes almost instantly. The ground was slightly soggy from recent rains, and she realized that inside the tent there would be dirt and sawdust. Expensive high-heel sandals were not the smartest choice, she was thinking as she caught up to her sisters.
The guard was eyeing Piper and Phoebe suspiciously. "I don't see your names here," he said, scanning his clipboard. "If you're not on the list, you need to go to the front and buy tickets like everyone else."
"Prue Halliwell," Prue announced to the security guard.
He glanced down at his clipboard. "You check out. Kristin McMillan asked me to have you meet her at the cookhouse trailer up ahead and to the left. She was having breakfast with some of the performers."
"Thanks." Prue tried to think of a way to get Piper and Phoebe passes. Maybe she could ask Kristin to arrange the passes for them.
Phoebe wasted no time in coming up with a scheme. "We're Ms. Halliwell's assistants." Phoebe grabbed the camera accessories case out of Prue's grip and the brown paper bag holding her coffee and half-nibbled muffin. Phoebe handed the bag to Piper, who nodded.
The guard didn't seem to be buying it. He raised a skeptical eyebrow. Phoebe got closer to him and jerked her head in Prue's direction. "She's a real prima donna," Phoebe told the guard in a throaty stage whisper. "Afraid she'll break a nail. You know the type."
Piper nodded and rolled her eyes in Prue's direction. "Makes us carry everything," she confided.
"But the good news is," Phoebe went on, "Miss Thing's brattiness keeps us employed."
Prue fought back a grin. She decided to play along. "Why are you chatting when there is work to do?" she snapped. "And someone please wipe off my shoes before they are ruined." Might as well get the most mileage out of this, she thought.
"Shoes?" Prue repeated, adding an incredulous edge to her voice. She glared at Piper, then at Phoebe, as if cleaning her shoes was the most important task in the world.
Piper gave Prue a dark look, then bent down and wiped the shoes with a napkin from the brown paper bag. Prue had a feeling she'd pay for this little charade, but hey -- if they wanted her to play prima donna she had to be convincing, right?
"Okay, here are the passes." The security guard gave them their credentials -- tags hanging from cords to wear around their necks. Prue saw that each had "All access" printed on it, along with the date. He waved them through, then rejoined the other security guards. Prue felt their eyes on her and her sisters as they passed the group.
"Phoebe, yesterday's lunch was not acceptable," Prue continued for the guard's benefit. "I've told you a thousand times, the dressing must be on the side, and the salad absolutely crisp or it is inedible."
Once they moved out of the guard's earshot, Prue dropped the diva routine. "I can't believe you called me a brat," she chided her sisters.
"Ooh, she's being a brat again," Piper teased.
"Ha ha." Prue scanned the area. This part of Golden Gate Park had been transformed into a mini trailer city. Beyond the trailers was the midway, set up along the wide boulevards that graced the center of the park. In the distance she could see the top of the circus tent, where the performances would take place several times a day and into the evening. She knew there were more trailers set up on the other side of the tent.
"Okay," Prue said. "He told us to find Kristin near the cookhouse trailer. But which one is that?"
"Oh, Prue," a singsong voice called. Prue turned toward the familiar tone. Kristin McMillan stood in front of a trailer that had many people -- some in costumes, some in street clothes -- swarming around it.
"Must be food," Piper said. "Look at the crowd."
Kristin waved at them. "Over here." Prue thought that Kristin's trademark pink suit made her look even more like the former cheerleader she'd been. Prue had always wondered how Kristin managed to find so many outfits in that single shade of pink. Didn't she ever want to rebel and wear blue? Or even -- gasp! -- black?
Kristin flashed Prue a perfect smile, and then went back to talking to the three clowns surrounding her.
"Oh, goody. The fun begins now," Prue grumbled.
"You are so weird," Piper commented. "You can kick demon booty but you can't handle clowns?"
"I'll take a demon or a warlock over a clown any day," Prue replied. And I'm only half kidding, she added to herself.
Phoebe gave her a mock shocked expression. "Take that back this instant," she scolded. "We Halliwells have a tendency to get what we wish for."
Prue sighed. Phoebe was right. Calling up demons even in jest tended to bring rather dangerous results.
Copyright © 2001 by Spelling Television, Inc.