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The dead man looked at the clown and smiled. The
clown was draped over a chair and desk across from him in a semi-intoxicated
state of contemplative repose, and was too busy studying his reflection in a
hand mirror to notice the nervous gesture. The clown's small black eyes studied
the image in the mirror with something like the concentrated discipline of an
astronomer. They squeezed into tight whirls of flesh and pondered, peering at
the silvery surface from cavernous sockets in a right then left canted head as
though such contortions could help him fathom what the eyes saw. A hazy border
of greasy fingerprints obscured the issue more giving the reflection a
dream-like quality. The clown could easily make out the dark spiky hair that
grew to his shoulder and the tip of his nose painted black. By lifting his chin
he revealed a wide grin scrawled across his white-powdered cheeks, by dropping
it he showed scripted eyebrows swooping up and over the tall forehead in
exclamation or terror. They wrinkled, gleaming with sweat. Perhaps they posed a
An ill-fitting coverall hung on the big man's frame
with all the sophistication of an oily tarp thrown over discarded car parts. The
apparel was decorated with faded colored spots that vied equally for notice with
stains of various sorts. His boots were black and heavy, better suited to combat
than office work. They were crossed on the desk, and threatened to upset the
telephone where it had been pushed with a pile of papers and overflowing
"What?" The clown drifted from his reverie. His gaze
fell evenly on the corpse that sat across from him. "What?"
"We was talking." Said Elmo, always reluctant to
prompt his boss. "About the Change."
"Oh." The clown's eyes did an inward turn, pupils
flashing for memory. He dropped the mirror in a desk drawer, slammed it. "You
remember the earthquakes, Elmo!" He leaned back in his chair with an air of
authority, but a thin quaver in his voice denounced it. "Airplanes fell from the
sky. There were riots and civil strife! And that millennium bug..."
"True," rasped the dead man, exhibiting a rare
display of assertiveness. "But could'a been coincidence, could'a been anythin'."
He gingerly nibbled a yellowed fingernail. "Could'a been the ozone, or the
"Rumors of war-nation rising up against nation! And
all that cloning...oh that was bad!"
The clown suddenly animate lurched forward, pounding
the desk. "It's not coincidence! It's all there in the book, that Bible! John
saw it didn't he? And it wasn't any hothouse effect!"
"But the Bible talked about seals and lambs and such.
I ain't seen no lambs nor seals." Elmo's hands shook, almost overwhelmed by his
own bravado. "I seen hardly any animals at all."
"That's where we let ourselves down. It's not going
to happen like a TV show. The world won't end after the closing credits or
following a commercial break." The clown swept his legs back onto the desk as he
tapped his forehead with index finger. "We're going to have to think about this
one, Elmo. Think about it! A lamb might not be a lamb, so to speak. Could be a
man or a thing. Could be a lamb."
A stream of derisive air shot from between Fat Elmo's
pursed lips. "Still ain't convinced." He hissed. "Nations is always rising up
against nations. And a lamb is always a lamb where I come from! And seals, I
ain't driving to the coast just to see them." He drew a curtain of silence as he
crossed his arms.
The clown silently studied the dead man. His
partner's head was round and the black skin on it was drawn tight over the
exposed crown. What remained of his hair was fair, almost a strawberry blonde,
and long and lanky. Elmo had pressed or ironed the kinks out of it. It could
have been the bleach he used that pacified the ancestral convolutions. Large
dark eyes sat in a very thin face with a broad broken nose splayed across it. A
long skinny moustache trailed over thick lips. As always, his clothing was
impeccable. Even with the frayed cuffs his dark wool suit was head and shoulders
above of the clown's ensemble. He even had matching silver tiepin and cufflinks.
The slack sag of skin against cheekbone hinted at Elmo's need for re-hydration.
Suddenly, the clown's eyes burned with revelation.
Leaning forward on his elbows he barked, "For Christ's sake, Elmo. You're dead!"
Fat Elmo shifted nervously in his chair then rolled
his eyes at the ceiling as though a suitable rebuttal might be written there.
"Course I am!" His eyes dropped beneath loose lids.
"Still don't prove it. Just 'cause I'm dead..."
"The dead rose up from their graves..." The clown
started, but Elmo was saved from this difficult position by the annoying rattle
of the telephone. Glaring, the clown scooped the receiver up and wedged it
between his chin and collarbone. "Yeah." His inky black eyes darted back and
forth. He wrinkled his eyebrows then picked at something under a thumbnail.
"This is Wildclown Investigations," the clown
whispered, as the dead man across from him strained his leathery ears toward the
squeaky chipmunk voice on the phone. Elmo's eyes were otherworldly in the
extreme shadow of the office, bordered as they were by sooty black skin. The
inconsistent lighting from the street was sending flashing bars of lightning
through the blinds-the lamp on the desk flickered as another blackout loomed.
Madness nibbled at the edges of the scene.
"Yeah, I'm him. I'm Tommy Wildclown." The clown
repeated, drilling a bony finger into his nose. He made a flicking motion, then
gestured for a cigarette. With creaky deliberate movements, Elmo produced a pack
and tossed one to Tommy, who lit it with a match.
"Yeah," he said as Elmo noisily slurped water from a
Tommy continued like this for some time, chanting his
approving mantra. "Yeah."
The dead man passed the time lifting and flexing his
thin legs where he sat. He hoisted a foot up to chest level by gripping an
argyle-covered ankle and held it there a few seconds before repeating the
process with the other leg. The post-mortem aerobics produced creaks, snaps and
rubbery thrumming sounds from the dead muscle and connective tissues. Irritated,
the clown pressed a petulant finger to his puckered lips. Elmo stopped
stretching, cowed, but continued to shift uneasily in his chair. All dead people
had Elmo's problem. The joints froze up with extended inactivity.
"All right!" Tommy growled as he crashed the receiver
into its cradle. Elmo's eyes snapped wide. "God-damned, son-of-a-bitchin'
Christ!" The clown leapt to his feet. "Damned if I'm not going to have to work."
Elmo's face made crackling sounds as he worked up a
grin. "Got a case?"
"Yeah," said Tommy pouring two four-finger whiskies.
"Seems some lawyer got himself whacked, and he's pissed right off. Shit." He
raised his glass and smiled. "He's coming over which means money, Elmo. No more
of this sitting around, this senseless fucking arguing."
Elmo declined the drink offered opting instead to
fidget noisily in his chair.
Tommy drank. He sauntered to the window, made
scissors of his fingers, cut a hole in the blind and peered out at the
flickering lights. A big Packard sizzled by on the rain slick street-its
retro-fenders glistening like wet blisters. It was a dark afternoon. The sun
hadn't broken the cloud in years.
The clown's teeth clinked against his glass. He wiped
whisky from the corner of his mouth. Quivers ran from his shoulders to his hands
as he downed the rest of the drink at suicidal speed. He glanced back at Elmo
creases of fear marking his painted cheeks. The dead man watched him calmly.
I watched the scene from where I floated near the
ceiling. Tommy's nervousness had nothing to do with the fact that Elmo was dead
or the impending mayhem inherent in any criminal investigation. It was me. I was
about to possess him and he didn't like it. Every time he got a case, I stepped
into his head and like Pavlov's slobbering dogs, the clown was conditioned to
expect it. Not that I was a goblin or a devil. I had no interest in making him
vomit, levitating his bed or forcing him to speak in tongues. When I took over I
worked. He didn't like it because he couldn't remember anything that happened
when I was in charge. That bothered him. And so his reluctance to enjoy the work
on the rare occasion that it came. I guess it would bother me too.
I was in no rush to take over just then. It had been
a while since our last case and I spent the time between them in my invisible,
odorless state. The longer I did that, the more complicated my love-hate
relationship with corporeality became. I enjoyed my time in Tommy Wildclown's
body, but I had a habit of getting hurt when cases came up and I was no fan of
pain. Neither was the clown and he was the one stuck with the bruises at the end
of the day. But understanding it didn't make me stop.