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Authors: Tanya Landman

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BOOK: Certain Death
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“What do you mean?”

“Well… Maybe it was more like some sort of sick joke. The sort of thing a clown might do.” I jerked my head in Peepo’s direction. “Irena hates him but he keeps trying to be nice to her. I wonder why? There’s something odd going on there.” I felt like our investigation had suddenly acquired a new direction.

“Peepo. I reckon he’s our Number One suspect. We should keep a close eye on him.”

the mysterious misha

When
it was time for the two groups to swap over, Graham and I started juggling without a word to each other. I was so busy watching Peepo that I half expected him to thrust my money back into my hands and throw
me
out, too. But he didn’t. In fact, as the morning progressed his mind seemed to be on other things. He kept fingering the pocket of his jacket, glancing up at the sun and then looking over towards Irena’s caravan. He wasn’t wearing a watch, but he had the manner of a man waiting none-too-patiently for a long-overdue train.

At twelve o’clock sharp our workshop ended. Just as Graham and I were returning our juggling balls to the sack, Irena’s caravan door was thrown open. Irena, dressed in a startling electric-blue embroidered kimono, surveyed the park as if she owned every blade of grass in it. Peepo, unable to contain himself a second longer, thrust his hand into his pocket and pulled out a leather box about the size of a small book. We’d never have known what was in it if I hadn’t chosen that moment to pick up the sack of balls and hand it helpfully back to him. Unfortunately the bag was heavier than I’d expected, and when I swung it towards him it thudded into his good leg, knocking him onto his bad one. In a matter of seconds we were both sprawling on the ground. He dropped the box, and when it hit the grass it opened.

A diamond necklace spilled out.

A stream of what were undoubtedly particularly rude swear-words poured out of Peepo’s mouth. Fortunately they were in Russian, so I didn’t understand precisely what I was being called, but it was enough to make me flush scarlet.

“Sorry,” I gabbled. And Graham and I hurried through the crush barrier, leaving Peepo to pick up his jewels.

A minute later we ducked into the shrubbery and doubled back just in time to see Peepo deliver his present to Irena. “Do you think those are real diamonds?” I hissed.

“Impossible to tell at a glance,” said Graham.

For a moment Irena looked as if she might slam the door in Peepo’s face, but when he opened the leather box and she saw what was inside, her expression changed. She didn’t exactly smile, but she did look at him. And then, with a quick glance around to check no one was watching, she stood aside to let him in.

“Interesting,” I said. “Very interesting.”

But by then it was lunchtime, and we had to go home.

After I’d stuffed myself to Mum’s satisfaction with roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, she said she had some cuttings to pot up in the garden and what was I going to do? I didn’t dare say that I wanted to meet Graham again and go back to the circus. Instead I asked if I could have a turn on the computer. It seemed the ideal opportunity to do a little background research into Peepo.

I rang Graham and he’d had the same idea. Wedging the phone in the crook of my neck, I began trawling the Internet while Graham did the same at his end. The odd thing was that we couldn’t find anything to start with. OK, there were a load of photographs on the circus website, but nothing we hadn’t seen in the programme. There was a bit of blurb about Peepo’s act – the same as there was on all the performers – but it didn’t tell us anything new. He had joined almost exactly a year after Irena, but if we Googled his name there was nothing else at all: no newspaper articles, no mention of him on blog spots, nothing. It was like Peepo and his act had only come into existence when he joined Brady Sparkles. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t find out where he’d been before or what the connection was between him and the trapeze star.

We each sat at our computers getting cricks in our necks and wearing our brains out thinking up various things to search under. We tried “clowns” and “Russian artistes” and trawled pretty much every circus site in the country, but we drew a blank. Then I said, “Let’s go at this from another angle, Graham. Let’s try ‘Misha’. No, hang on… ‘Misha and Irena’. Let’s see if we can get anything on them.”

We were rewarded pretty much instantly. The top hit was an archive entry from a couple of years ago – the same year Irena had signed up with Brady Sparkles. It was an advert for Gary Bling’s circus, in which “Irena and Misha, the Revolving Russians” had top billing. When we clicked on it, we saw the same reckless use of exclamation marks that characterized Brady Sparkles’s posters.

The Revolving Russians!!

See them fly and spin through the big top with breathtaking ease!!!!!!!

Misha and his lovely wife, Irena!!!!!!

“Wife!” I exclaimed. “Wow…”

It was just a small ad in a local paper and there were no pictures.

“Where is he now?” I said. “We’ve got to find him!”

Further down we found a second entry. A small article in the same paper. It seemed there had been an accident. Misha had fallen from the trapeze and broken his pelvis. He would never fly again.

“And then she
dumped
him?” I exclaimed. “How horrible! That would be enough to make him want to kill her, wouldn’t it?”

I could hear Graham gulp. “Revenge would certainly seem to be the strongest motive we’ve discovered so far,” he agreed.

“What does Misha look like?” I demanded. “We’ve got to find a picture.”

“Try typing ‘Revolving Russians’ into Google Images,” Graham told me. “That should produce some results.”

He was right. We hit the jackpot instantly. From the silence at Graham’s end of the phone line, I knew he was doing the same as me – staring open-mouthed at the photograph of a happy couple decked out in matching jade jumpsuits. My heart almost stopped.

He didn’t have a red nose. He wasn’t wearing make-up. But that moustache was unmistakable.

Misha and Peepo were one and the same.

the tears of a clown

The
more we dredged up about Irena and Misha, the worse it got. Three pages into the Google listings we found an account of the inquiry that had followed Misha’s near-fatal accident.

It turned out that Irena had mistimed the swing of her trapeze. When Misha had flown through the air towards her, she hadn’t caught him properly – he’d slipped through her fingers and fallen. His injuries were her fault. I was aghast.

“So when Francesca said Irena dropped Misha…” I was pacing up and down now with the phone, cold with horror at the nastiness of it. “She meant it literally. Irena really did let him go.”

“Then she developed a solo act. A month later she joined Brady Sparkles’s circus. Misha was left on his own to recover in hospital. That does seem extraordinarily hard-hearted,” Graham said, “even for someone as ambitious as Irena.”

“No wonder she’s so unpopular! She’s ruthless. Greedy, too. I mean she totally ignored Peepo when we first saw her, but she was quite happy to let him into her caravan when he presented her with that necklace.”

“She certainly lacks moral fibre,” agreed Graham.

“OK… I can understand why Peepo would want to develop a new act. Once a circus performer, always a circus performer, I suppose.”

“And I’d have thought that with that limp, the only option open to him would be clowning,” added Graham. “It’s not like he could return to the trapeze or do acrobatics or tightrope walking.”

“But why join Brady Sparkles? You’d think that after the way Irena treated him he’d go as far as possible in the opposite direction.” Then I remembered one of my mum’s mates and the Nasty Unsuitable Boyfriend she’d once had. “Grown-ups are weird when it comes to that kind of thing, aren’t they? They get quite unbalanced about it. Angry one minute, pleading the next. Look at Carlotta. I suppose Peepo was hoping to win Irena back.”

“Given that she’s now working with Alonzo, his attempts would appear to be futile,” said Graham.

“Maybe that’s why Peepo started threatening her. He was the one that gave the posters out – it would have been dead easy for him to tamper with them. I bet he changed the advert, too. He was trying to force her to change her mind.”

“Threatening someone seems like a very unsound method of persuading them to love you,” mused Graham. “I’d have thought it was highly unlikely to succeed.”

“You’re right – so maybe he tried to buy her instead. That must be what the diamonds were all about.”

“And in between?” asked Graham. “Do you think he could have been the one who fired that shot?”

“If he’s that obsessed with her, yes, I suppose so.” Suddenly an awful thought occurred to me. “Graham! The diamonds!”

“Yes?”

“Maybe they weren’t a gift!”

“What do you mean?”

“They could be a trick. He was her husband – if she’s greedy, he’ll know all about it. Suppose he only gave them to her so she’d let him in? What if he was planning to try to kill her again?”

Graham’s sigh seemed to whistle hollowly down the length of phone line that connected us. “If that’s the case, we’re already too late. By now Irena will be dead.”

the missing pistol

Graham
lost his mobile in the park this morning!” I called to Mum. “He wants me to help him find it.”

I was off out of the door before she even had a chance to answer. Graham and I met at the park gates five minutes later.

“Should we call the police?” he asked as we raced towards the circus.

“No point,” I answered. “If Irena’s alive, they’ll accuse us of wasting their time.”

“And if she’s dead…?”

“We can call them then – if no one else has.”

We ran all the way, Graham huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf – he’s not much of a runner, to be honest. But when we got there, we could see that our marathon effort was a waste of time. The matinee performance was obviously in full swing. We could hear Irena and Alonzo’s music just starting up.

“We were wrong, then,” I said, relieved. “She’s obviously fine.”

We strolled over to the play area and sat on the swings, looking across at the deserted caravans. All the circus performers were in the tent, either watching Irena’s act or getting ready for their own.

All except Peepo, who was slipping surreptitiously out of the big top and across the grass to Irena’s caravan.

“Graham, look!” I pointed.

Peepo darted a furtive glance over his shoulder before opening the door and creeping inside.

“What’s he up to?” I murmured.

“No idea.”

“Let’s get closer.”

Our only chance of finding out what Peepo was doing without getting caught by the burly circus bouncers was to sneak through the shrubbery and squeeze under the crush barrier.

While we were wriggling like worms through the grass and mud under the caravans, the music in the big top was building up to its dramatic finale. I could picture the scene inside. Right at that moment Irena would be sliding down Alonzo. The tune swelled to a heart-stopping climax. He would be holding her by the fingertips while the crashing chords stilled and quietened to a single note, drawn out like a nerve. Everyone would be on the edge of their seats.

“This time yesterday, someone fired that bullet,” I said to Graham.

And at precisely that moment a shot cracked through the air. I jumped, smashing my head on the caravan axle.

For a second I was confused. I listened for screams from the big top, but there was nothing. Then I realized that the sound hadn’t come from there.

It had come from Irena’s caravan.

Graham and I were squashed underneath a particularly low-slung trailer. I couldn’t see anything but the wheels, and all Graham had a view of was my trainers. But with a burst of energy I hauled myself out into the open. Graham was a heartbeat behind.

By the time we were on our feet, Yuri was on the steps of Irena’s caravan, ripping open the door. We ran towards him. So we were right there when he looked inside and let out a sorrowful groan.

It wasn’t a pretty sight.

The clown had shot himself. The weapon was still in Peepo’s hand. And he’d left a note. It was on Irena’s bedside table, weighed down by the diamond necklace.

On a torn scrap of paper were the words:

a domestic
tragedy

The
TV news that Sunday evening reported exactly what Inspector Humphries had told them in the press conference. It was a domestic incident, he said. Peepo had attempted to kill his estranged wife at the Saturday matinee – everyone at the circus confirmed that he was obsessed with her, and her new act with Alonzo had pushed him over the edge. Overcome with guilt and remorse, Peepo had purchased an expensive diamond necklace by way of an apology. Then he had killed himself. The suicide note made everything crystal clear. Carlotta was released from police custody with a caution.

Mum hadn’t been best pleased that we’d been witnesses to another deadly incident. She’d had to come to the park and sit in on another interview with Inspector Humphries. When we admitted what we’d been doing under the caravans, her eyes had rolled heavenwards. As soon as we’d finished she’d sent Graham straight home. It was only because I borrowed the mobile phone from her handbag that I was able to talk to him later that evening. Under the duvet with the light out, whispering so Mum couldn’t hear.

BOOK: Certain Death
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