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Samson wanted to scream, wanted the release of screaming. But no sound would come.

Maybe that was just as well. Sofie was doing enough screaming for a whole troupe. Apollonia just sat there on the ground, trembling, her face buried in her hands. Virtually all the assembled carnies were staring at them, stunned.

Only Samson was looking at the charred body of Clayton Jones.

He'd gotten to be like a son to me. An' I never told him, never even admitted it to myself...

I had a feelin' all day that somethin' terrible was gonna happen. But I never dreamed it'd be this.

The fire in Appy and Sofie's converted school bus had gone out as suddenly as it had begun. Jonesy, who'd rushed to the rescue, was dead. Yet neither woman had a mark on her.

What the hell is Sofie sayin'? In between screams, she was babbling about the fire. But it made no sense, couldn't possibly make sense.

Apparently, she was passing on what Appy was mentally telling her...

Appy had started it herself, knowing she and Sofie had some kind of self-healing powers - that Sofie hadn't known about - and couldn't be hurt. Appy had been sure Jonesy would dash into the bus to try to save Sofie, because he was in love with her. She'd started the fire to kill him!

And not because she had anything against him personally. She'd done it wouldn't have something. Either Sofie wasn't making herself clear, or she couldn't understand her mother.

But then...then Appy had realized...whoever-it-was had already done whatever-it-was? Jonesy's death was a "waste," wasn't "necessary"? Appy had murdered him for nothing?

Samson wanted to grab the bitch and throttle her! But Sofie was already doing it. It took a half-dozen men to pull the frenzied young woman off her mother.

I shoulda told them to stay back, give Sofie time to hurt her.

Damn. I forgot it ain't possible to hurt her.

The carnival boss was brooding, paralyzed by grief, when someone grabbed him from behind and began pawing him, almost yanking him off his feet.

"Shit!" He'd been in charge for so long that it never occurred to him, here, to be on guard against attempts to take advantage of his size. Now he aimed a kick at his unseen assailant's shin, and was rewarded by hearing a pained "Ow!"

But the man held on and kept groping, and everyone else was distracted by Appy and Sofie, and hot tears welled in Samson's eyes as he found himself wondering to what extent his authority had depended on Jonesy's being there to back him up.

The attacker suddenly let go. Samson was still clutching his cane, and he managed to steady himself and spin around for a look at him.

Oh my God.

There wasn't much light, but there was enough for Samson to see that Ben Hawkins' shirt was heavily stained with blood. And that the thing he'd snatched from Samson's pants pocket was his gun.

"Hawkins, what the hell is wrong with you? Gimme that!"

"I'm sorry, Samson." The kid sounded as if he meant it. "I didn't like roughin' you up, but I need this."

"Like hell you do -"

"I'm sorry." Hawkins backed away, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. "You'll like what I'm gonna do, Samson, I promise."

Then he turned and strode toward...

"Hawkins!" The yell Samson let out at that point got everyone's attention. "Hawkins, come back! You can't -"

But as he watched, quaking, rooted to the spot, the kid kicked open the door of the Management trailer and stormed in.

A single shot rang out.

The entire troupe was gazing at the trailer, horrified, when a healthy Clayton Jones sat up and asked, "What the hell's goin' on?"



(The End)