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Send In The Clowns

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“Clowns scare the shit out of me. You know that, don‘t you?”

“Keep it down!” Timmy hissed, jabbing an elbow sharply into Donald’s ribcage. “There are children here, for God’s sake!”

It was a Hallmark Greeting Card kind of a day, a rare and perfect Saturday afternoon in late October. Wood smoke was on the breeze, mingled with the faint, almost subliminal scent of apples. The air was crisp and clean, the sky virtually cloudless, and the autumn colors, though just past their peak, were still a satisfying collage of golds, oranges, and rusts.

Yeah, Donald knew it was a cliché. But as corny as it seemed, days like this made him yearn to take Timmy on long, romantic walks in the woods, to tussle with him in soft, rustling piles of fallen leaves, to cuddle up next to him in front of their fire pit as they sipped something hot and sweet -- coffee laced with Bailey’s for him and mulled wine or tea with honey for Timmy -- and waited for the sun to go down. But were they doing any of those wonderfully corny, clichéd things? Oh, hell, no. They were under siege in their own back yard, surrounded by a swarm of shrieking, costume-clad little monsters because Timmy, the wimp, had agreed to host his niece’s birthday party.

Donald was genuinely pleased that Timmy had his sister back in his life and was bonding with five-year-old Cadie. If Kelly and Donald had agreed early on that they weren’t exactly each other‘s idea of a perfect in-law, at least their mutual affection for Timothy kept them civil, if not borderline congenial. Cadie was a nice kid, with Kelly’s delicate, almost brittle good looks combined with Timmy’s kind eyes and sweeter and more loving nature. Donald had to admit that he felt a surge of genuine warmth whenever the little girl scrambled onto his lap and begged “Uncle Don” to read her a story. Since Kelly was always out chasing her causes and the entity she referred to as The Sperm Donor was whereabouts unknown, frequent babysitting was required. On the rare occasions when Timmy’s mother was unable to fill the bill, Timmy generally stepped up to the plate, dragging Donald along for the ride.

Donald was fine with that. He really was. Timmy was the light of his life and his dearest love, and Donald would do anything in the world to make him happy. But there were days….

“I know there are children here.” Donald ducked just in time to keep a flying glob of ice cream -- Breyer’s strawberry, if he wasn’t mistaken -- from connecting with his left ear. “It’s kind of hard to miss the fact that there are children here. Children screaming, children jumping on the picnic table, children throwing food, children running around with no adult supervision….”

“You’re an adult,” Timmy said mildly as he produced a handkerchief and mopped strawberry droplets off his husband’s shoulder. “You could wade in any time now and start supervising.”

“That’s what we hired the clowns for, not that they‘re doing a very good job of it. The girl clown’s keeping a few of the kids from killing each other and the guy who looks like a technicolored Charlie Chaplin‘s doing card tricks over by the pool, but I don’t see the skinny one with the purple hair anywhere. Where the hell is that creepy-looking bastard, anyway?”

Timmy handed Hello Kitty party cups filled with neon orange punch to a clamoring kindergartener in Frankenstein drag and a knee-high hobo, then shot Donald a poisonous glare. “He’s right over there by the chrysanthemum bed, making balloon animals for Cadie and one of the Hannahs. If you don’t at least attempt to watch your language, I’m going to slap you.”

“Stop making promises you don’t intend to keep,” Donald said with a half-hearted leer. But his expression darkened as Kilroy the Klown -- Who the hell would name a clown Kilroy, for chrissake? Clowns were supposed to be named Presto or Bozo or Clancy or Krusty or Ronald -- presented a blue latex giraffe to a pint-sized Princess Fiona. At least Donald thought it was supposed to be a giraffe. “I fucking hate clowns,” he muttered.

Timmy’s elbow connected with his ribcage once again, unerringly targeting the exact spot he’d jabbed earlier. That was starting to hurt, dammit, and would probably leave a bruise if he kept it up much longer. Donald couldn‘t say he really minded, though. The second they were alone in their bedroom and their shirts came off, Timmy would spot the discoloration on Donald‘s fair skin and feel guilty enough to spend the rest of the night making it up to him in any number of varied, creative, and physically challenging ways. It was almost worth cultivating the pain now, knowing he was sowing the seeds of future pleasure.

The girl clown, who was really a bubbly CNA-in-training named Kirstie, reached into the seemingly bottomless pocket of her red and yellow checkered coat and produced a battered CD player and a collapsible pole, which she quickly expanded to its full length. She recruited Shrek to hold one end and a ballerina to hold the other, then loaded a CD and cranked up the volume.

“Limbo time!” she called as Chubby Checker’s “Limbo Rock” began to blare from the cracked speakers. “The winner gets to throw a pie in Chappie‘s face!” TechniChaplin covered his face with his hands and cringed, shaking his psychedelic bootie in faux-terror.

“We knew what we were getting into when we agreed to do this. If you’re going to stand around and complain, at least do something useful at the same time. Here.” Timmy handed Donald a knife and set a tall stack of Hello Kitty party plates in front of him. “Why don’t you get started on the second cake while I take care of the punch? Make the pieces smaller this time so they’ll go farther. Meanwhile, explain to me what this clown issue is all about.”

“I’m not a fan, that’s all.” Donald hacked away at the pink and turquoise nightmare of a cake, dumping uneven chunks of it onto the plates. Realizing the last piece was at least twice the size it should have been, he quickly covered it with a napkin and shoved it out of sight behind two grinning jack-o-lanterns. “Clowns give me the creeps. I didn’t even like them when I was a kid.”

“But clowns are such a wonderful part of childhood! They’re colorful and funny and they make people laugh. See how excited Cadie is? She loves clowns. Everyone does.”

“Oh no, they don’t,” Donald said, turning a suspicious eye on Kilroy, who was twisting a pink balloon for a minute Minnie Mouse. “I don‘t trust clowns. A lot of people don’t trust clowns. Clowns are up to no good. They try to make you laugh just to distract you, and before you know it, there goes your wallet…or your life. And what’s with all the makeup and disguises, anyway? If you ask me, clowns are hiding something. Something rotten.”

“All they’re hiding is a cache of squirt guns and the secret to a magic trick or two.”

“Bullshit. You’ve seen It. We’ve watched it together at least twice, and both times you were scared to go into the kitchen for popcorn unless I came with you….”

“I simply needed another pair of hands to carry the bowls and drinks.”

“…and we had to leave the bathroom light on all night because you….”

“That movie unnerved me, all right? I freely admit it. But that was just a film, Donald. It was a work of fiction, a figment of Stephen King‘s slightly skewed imagination. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in real life.”

“Wrong! It happens all the time. You read the papers. In just the last month, a little girl’s gone missing in Fulton and a boy was taken from his grandmother’s home in Poughkeepsie. It happened just a few blocks from the house where you grew up -- you said so yourself. And another kid disappeared from a birthday party last week, this time in Syracuse, I think. Nobody’s seen him since. There were clowns at his party. I saw it on the news.”

“I‘m sorry, Isaac, but I think three cups of punch are more than enough,” Timmy said in response to a plea from a decidedly pudgy Dark Knight. “Remember what happened last week when we took you and Cadie to the zoo and you drank all that Pepsi? You can have a candy apple if you like.” He helped the Caped Crusader select a caramel-coated, English toffee-encrusted sphere on a stick and sent him on his way, then turned back to Donald. “If you’ll recall, the Syracuse party was a huge event, honey. There were at least three hundred people present that day, including a juggler, a mime, a live band, and an elderly gentleman giving the kids pony rides. It could have been anybody.”

“I’ll admit I didn’t like the looks of the pony guy, and mimes are pretty sinister, I’ll grant you that. But clowns are different. Clowns are sneaky and scary and evil and…soulless. Once you get past all the grease paint, you can see it in their eyes.”

Timmy paused in the act of filling more cups and sighed deeply. “I‘m beginning to believe you‘re seriously in need of professional help. Have you ever considered spending some quality time with a therapist?“

“If it’s physical therapy you have in mind, I’m in. Just say the word, my love, and we can play doctor anytime you want. Otherwise, all I really need is for us to have the house all to ourselves, our yard declared a clown-free zone, and you naked and covered in…” Donald stood on tiptoe to whisper the rest in the taller man’s ear, his leer morphing into a delighted little boy’s grin as Timmy gasped and spluttered, his eyes popping wide.

“Enough! I’m going to forget you said that. Well, at least until all the kids have gone home….”

Just as “Limbo Rock” began its third play-through, a pair of redheaded clones in Alice in Wonderland attire wedged their way between them. “We need to go to the bathroom, and we can’t find it anywhere,” they announced in unison. Timmy looked at Donald and Donald looked right back, determined to wait him out.

“Fine,” Timmy said, “but you’ve got to keep an eye on things while I’m gone. Make sure the clowns keep busy and that the gate stays shut. Elijah’s due for another escape attempt any moment, so we need to be ready. And would you please put at least a minimal amount of effort into slicing that cake?”

As soon as Timmy was safely inside the house, Donald uncovered the piece of cake he’d hidden and wolfed it down, scraping stray bits of icing off the plate with his fingers. He filled the next several plates with slices he was sure would pass muster with Timothy Callahan, Dessert Police, then with a furtive glance at the back door, he cut off another mammoth hunk and crammed it into his mouth as well, washing it down with a cup of punch.

The limbo contest was winding down, and a winner was declared. Amid lukewarm applause, a tiny blond Neytiri was hoisted into the air by KirstieKlown and allowed to hurl a pie pan full of whipped topping into TechniChaplin’s face at pointblank range. Donald licked icing from his fingers and smirked.

Now that was entertainment.

Kids scattered everywhere, and a line of repeat customers formed in front of the refreshment table. Timmy reappeared in time to help feed the hungry masses, all the while murmuring warm words of praise over the wonderful job Donald had done in his absence. Once the last kid in line made off with his fair share of artificial colors and preservatives, Donald stretched and rubbed his back, more than ready to take a breather. Another scoop of ice cream flew by -- chocolate this time, and covered in sprinkles -- followed by a half-eaten slice of pizza. They both dodged the ice cream successfully enough, but the pizza caught Donald directly in the face. Wearily, he pried mozzarella off his left eyebrow as a greasy pepperoni disk slid down his nose. Two glitter-encrusted vampires and a pink unicorn scurried away, squealing with laughter.

“Remind me why I’m here?” he said at last.

Timmy brandished his handkerchief once again. “You’re here because Kelly’s committed to leading a Greenpeace rally in D.C. this weekend, and with her birthday today and Halloween tomorrow, Cadie would be heartbroken if she didn‘t get to have a party and go trick-or-treating. Mom and Dad were obligated to attend Congressman Brighton’s funeral in Memphis, so we graciously volunteered….”

You graciously volunteered. That’s why you’re here. I’m here because you threatened to take a vow of chastity until next Halloween if I made you face your niece and the resto of this munchkin brigade alone.”

“Our niece,” Timmy said a little too quietly. “I rather thought you considered Cadie our niece.“ There was an odd note to his voice, a flash of something in his eyes that Donald couldn’t ignore, or help responding to.

“Our niece,” he agreed, slipping his hand into Timmy’s and tugging it gently. “She’s our niece and this is our life, and I wouldn’t miss sharing a minute of it with you.”

“Even if it means subjecting yourself to twenty-seven sugar-dosed five-year-olds, half of whom are named Hannah?”

“Even if it means taking on a thousand Hannahs,” Donald assured him. “Even if it means taking on clowns.”

They both smiled softly, and Timmy leaned in for a quick kiss. “And to think I was under the impression that you were just in it for the cake.”

“Cake? What cake?” Donald asked, surreptitiously checking the corners of his mouth for telltale traces of pink and turquoise icing.

“The six or seven pieces of birthday cake you’ve gulped down when you thought I wasn’t looking. Not to mention the three pieces of pizza, two hotdogs loaded with chili and cheese, a candy apple or two, multiple popcorn balls, who knows how much ice cream, and half that bag of peanut M&Ms you’ve squirreled away behind the helium tank. Honestly, Donald, I don’t know why you do this to yourself. By the time everyone goes home, you’ll be curled up in fetal position, writhing and moaning. You’ll be in no condition to enjoy…“ Timmy hesitated, choosing his words carefully, “…all the heartfelt expressions of gratitude you had coming your way tonight.”

Donald perked up instantly. Gratitude sex? Timmy was going to give him gratitude sex? “I didn’t know you were planning….”

“Of course I was. It was for hanging in there with me through all of this.” He made a sweeping gesture. “Kids, clowns, airborne food….”

While he wasn‘t philosophically opposed to any form of lovemaking Timmy could dream up, Donald was particularly fond of gratitude sex. As far as he was concerned, it ranked even higher than make-up sex, primarily because fighting wasn’t required as part of the foreplay. His stomach gurgled a warning, and he patted it sheepishly.

“If I do end up in fetal position, you could always rub my belly and make me better,” he said. “Then I might still be up for some of your…gestures of appreciation.”

“Darling, I’ll be glad to rub any part of you I can reach.”

Donald grabbed an economy-size Wolverine who was trying to climb onto the table top and deposited him on the grass. He kissed Timmy again, more deeply this time, as Wolverine howled, “Ewwwww!“ and another of the Hannahs -- this one dressed as a Disney princess, though Donald wasn’t sure which -- shrieked and giggled. Suddenly aware that his behavior might not exactly rate as appropriate in more than one mother’s book, Donald watched Timmy pull away, his cheeks coloring, and become very busy with the punch bowl and cups.

Donald caught Wolverine in the midst of another table-climbing attempt and plopped him on the ground once again. In spite of all the stress and pressure brought on by an afternoon of unaccustomed kid-wrangling, he couldn’t help grinning. He was sorry he’d made Timmy uncomfortable by laying a liplock on him in front of the kids, but the guy just looked so damned adorable when he was flustered. Hell, he looked pretty damned adorable 24/7, so much so that it took a supreme act of will for Donald to keep his hands to himself most of the time. Kids and clowns and flying food be damned, this was home, this man of his, and there was no place he’d rather be than right here by Timmy‘s side. He was about to say as much when something attached itself to his right leg, and a surprisingly sharp set of baby teeth penetrated his sock, grazing his ankle. He shook his assailant off without bothering to look down and growled, “Bite me one more time, Aiden, and I swear to God….”

“Maybe it‘s time to organize another group activity,” Timmy interjected.

“Russian Roulette is always fun. I’d be glad to supply the props.”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Timmy said, rescuing the neighbor’s silver tabby, Maxwell, a split second before Captain Jack Sparrow dunked it in the punch bowl. “Thank you, Marcus, but I really don’t think the kitty wants to take a bath right now.” Deftly securing the justifiably freaked-out Maxwell in the crook of his arm, he righted a jack-o-lantern Captain Jack had sent rolling and straightened the tablecloth with his free hand. Once order was restored, he petted the cat briefly before setting it free, then went back to ladling punch.

“Let’s see, we’ve played games and given out prizes, committed mayhem on a piñata, served refreshments, had a sing-along and a scavenger hunt for enough candy to keep them wired and their parents hating us for at least a month. I suppose the only thing we have left to do is settle everyone down so the guest of honor can open her presents.”

“And then they’ll all go away?”

Wolverine, who’d apparently decided that poking Disney Princess Hannah with his plastic claws was more entertaining than scaling the refreshment table, finally poked one time too many. Hannah doubled up her fist and nailed him on the chin, sending him reeling into Timmy. The punchbowl tipped and neon orange liquid went everywhere, saturating Wolverine‘s costume and Hannah‘s hair, the Hello Kitty tablecloth and the remains of the Hello Kitty cake, and especially Timmy’s designer jeans and the new teal and cream cashmere sweater he’d bought for the occasion. Donald braced himself for an explosion -- or at least a long, aggrieved rant. But as Hannah sucked on the tips of her punch-flavored hair and Wolverine went back to poking her, Timmy simply adjusted his glasses, then closed his eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath.

“And then they’ll all go away,” he said.

Donald touched his arm very gently. “Are you okay?”

Another cleansing breath, then Timmy seemed to rally. “Hazards of the trade when you’re playing indulgent uncle for the day. Why don’t you gather the kids around the helium tank and fill the rest of the balloons so everyone will have a few to take home with them, and I’ll see if I can find our birthday girl. She seems to have slipped off somewhere.”

“Hey, I don’t see that freaky Killjoy…”


“…the Klown either. He was right there a minute ago, I know he was. I don’t like that guy, Timmy. Every time I look at him, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my stomach starts to hurt.”

“Probably that third piece of pizza coming back to haunt you.”

“It’s not the pizza! It’s the guy’s eyes. They’re like a snake‘s eyes. Jesus, you don’t think….”

“For heaven’s sake, Donald, get a grip on yourself! I’m sure Cadie either went inside to use the restroom or is off somewhere sneaking another hot dog just like her dear old Uncle Don. Kelly keeps her all organic and mostly vegan at home, so she goes a little crazy at events like this. I believe in healthy eating, too, but sometimes a child simply needs to be a child.“

“And Killjoy?“

“Kilroy’s probably taking another unauthorized cigarette break behind the hedge. I warned him about that earlier, and when I see him….”

In spite of Timmy‘s reassurance, Donald felt a flutter of fear. Something didn’t feel right. Something very much did not feel right, and that something had to do with Kilroy the Kreepy Klown.

“Why don’t you let me round up Cadie and deal with Killjoy while you dole out the balloons,” he suggested. “I’ll meet you back here in a few, then we can get this show on the road.”

“You’re willing to go one-on-one with a clown for me? I thought you said they were scary.”

“They are, but the thought of facing this crowd without you as a backup is even scarier!"


* * * *


Donald covered every inch of the yard, checking the nook between the porch and the garage, peeking behind garbage cans and peering over hedgerows, his gut churning from more than the aftereffects of all that greasy, sugar-saturated party fare. He hadn’t wanted to send Timmy into a panic, but he was teetering very close to the edge himself. His fine-tuned detective’s instincts were screaming that he had to find Cadie, and he had to find her fast. There was a clown running amuck in their midst, one with purple hair and a smoker’s cough and something that looked very much like death in his eyes. Until Kilroy was accounted for, no child was safe.

He hurried into the house and raced from room to room, jerking closet doors open and pushing back shower curtains, checking under the bed and even behind the water heater, hoping to spot the bright red hem of Cadie’s polka-dotted skirt or the tips of her black felt ears as she crouched down, hands over her mouth and trying not to giggle, in an impromptu game of hide-and-seek. Frustrated, he called her name over and over, knowing with a cold, uncompromising certainty that she wasn’t going to answer. Back outside, he shot a glance at Timmy, who was holding court by the helium tank, and took a quick survey of the monsters and fantasy creatures, comic book heroes, and assorted Hannahs in Disney drag who were waiting not-so-patiently for their balloons. No Minnie Mouse or Kilroy there.

The other two clowns had no more idea than he did where their colleague had gone, and they seemed considerably less interested in finding out. “He’s prolly off burning one, dude,” TechniChaplin informed him. “At least that’s where I’d be if the agency wasn’t going to can my ass next time I got caught tokin’ on the clock.”

Donald took a good, hard look at the size of the guy’s pupils and made a mental note to run a background check on him, then filed it away for later. Dreading with everything in him the thought of telling Timmy that his…no, their niece was missing, he started working the crowd, kneeling in front of child after child and asking, “Do you know where Cadie is? Have you seen Minnie Mouse or the purple-haired clown?” In response, all he got were head shakes and shrugs, plus a brief but passionate tirade from a young velociraptor on the subject of why Hello Kitty parties suck and Jurassic Park parties rock. Just when he was ready to throw in the towel and dial 911, a small hand tugged at the leg of his 501s and Captain Jack the Cat Dunker solemnly pointed to the backyard gate, which was hanging open.

It hadn’t been open a second before. It couldn’t have been. With his heart in his throat and those two chili dogs threatening to make a comeback, Donald barreled around the house and into the front yard, coming to a skidding halt in the driveway. The garage door, which they always, always kept closed, was raised perhaps a foot and a half from the ground -- certainly not far enough to walk or drive under, but providing more than enough clearance for a little girl to wriggle through. Perhaps a dope-smoking, child-abducting clown as well. Holding his breath in an attempt to steady himself, he heard faint scuffling noises followed by the sound of a child’s voice, whimpering in terror.

Donald dropped to the pavement and rolled through the opening, scrambling to his feet as soon as he cleared the door. What he saw inside stopped him dead in his tracks. Cadie was in there, all right, and struggling for all she was worth, caught in the grip of Kilroy the Killer Klown. As Donald watched in horror, Kilroy’s neck seemed to lengthen and his head swelled to twice its normal size. His jaw -- dear God, his jaw! -- became unhinged, and his mouth stretched impossibly wide, revealing a jagged set of six-inch fangs.

Faster than thought, Donald was on him, yanking Cadie from his grasp and wrestling him to the ground, fighting like a madman as Kilroy hissed and writhed, clown arms and legs melding with a lengthening, contorting body. Painted clown skin became cold, smooth scales, and icy breath carrying the stench of decay billowed into Donald’s face, making his stomach lurch and roll. He fumbled for his gun, belatedly remembering that he wasn’t carrying it, that he’d locked it safely away before the children arrived. Then a serpentine tail coiled around him, pinning his arms to his side and compressing his lungs. He heard Cadie shrieking his name, was vaguely aware of the party sounds from outside, children laughing and shouting and Timmy’s voice raised above the din. He couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, and all the while that fanged maw stretched wider, a forked tongue flicked his cheek, and the snake’s coils flexed and tightened, slowly crushing the life out of him. His overloaded stomach caved under the pressure and he hurled, choking on it, his vision fading along with his consciousness, until all he saw or heard was Timmy.

Timmy’s face.

Timmy’s voice.


A jolt and a CRACKKK! like lightning, then the coils suddenly relaxed. Donald’s head hit the concrete floor as a painful rush of air filled his lungs, and he gasped and gagged, his vision slowly clearing. Kilroy was still loosely wrapped around him, his fanged jaw still stretched wide but dangling now, broken and useless. And there was Timmy, his beautiful Timmy -- not just a fading apparition but solid and real -- standing over them both, his face contorted with effort and disgust as he swung a helium tank in a graceful arc and clipped the side of Kilroy’s head once again.

Thrashing wildly, the clown’s body became longer and thinner still, morphing and compacting until nothing remained of Kilroy but a baggy clown suit and a pair of oversized shoes. As a gathering throng of Hannahs and Twilight wannabes ooooohhhhhed and ahhhhhhhhed, a small, green snake slithered free of the red flounced collar and regarded Donald briefly, its forked tongue flicking the air in what seemed to be defiance. Then a $150 designer moccasin -- half of a recently purchased $300 set -- came down hard on its head.

“Gotcha,” Timmy said.


* * * *


The police were called, of course, and Bub Bailey arrived on the scene with an impressive entourage in tow, rolling his eyes in disbelief as the kids gathered round -- silent for once and clearly, eerily fascinated -- while Timmy tried his best to relate the events of the day.

“Let me get this straight, Callahan. You’re telling me that a demonic clown transformed into a giant snake and tried to eat both your niece and your boyfriend? Now I’ve heard it all. There’s never a dull moment with you two, is there?”

“Laugh if you like, Detective, but that’s exactly what happened.” Timmy’d had his hands full -- literally as well as figuratively -- from the moment he’d set foot in the garage. The second the snake né Kilroy twitched its last, he’d scooped up a hysterical Cadie and given her a fast but thorough once over, then hefted her onto his left hip and descended upon Donald. Once he’d assured first himself, and then his niece, that Uncle Don still had all his body parts and that Kilroy wasn‘t going to be grabbing any more little girls or their uncles ever again, she calmed down fairly quickly, popping a thumb in her mouth and hiccupping softly as she watched the scene unfold with grave, Callahan-blue eyes.

Still woozy and reeling from the aftereffects of his near-death-by-snake experience, Donald attempted to stand without Timmy’s support but thought better of it. “Timmy’s telling the truth, Bub,” he said, wincing. “That thing was going to swallow me whole.”

Surrrrrrrrrre it was. Good thing Callahan happened along when he did and cold-cocked it with…what? An empty helium tank?”

Donald started to laugh, albeit weakly. “Only because he didn’t have time to find his shovel.”

Timmy snorted. Then he and Donald both cracked up, clinging together and cackling hysterically as cops, kids and remaining clowns alike looked on in wide-eyed disbelief.

Bailey tucked his clipboard under his arm and closed his ballpoint with a decisive click. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” he muttered, “you two deserve each other.”

Cadie rested her head on Timmy’s shoulder and closed her eyes, her fingers curling around a strand of his short, dark hair. Donald envied her the luxury.

“You tired, Cadie Bug?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said around the thumb.

Donald was beyond tired himself. He felt like a piece of road kill that had been left sitting in the sun for about a week -- run down, dried out, and definitely passed its prime. Nothing would have made him happier than to spend the evening soaking in the tub -- preferably with Timmy on hand to soap his aching back and gently wash the snake drool from his hair -- while taking solace in the olive-scented haven of his husband’s signature martinis. Of course, with Cadie sleeping over, the martini shaker wouldn’t be seeing any action that night, but that was okay, too. Once the house was clear and he’d gobbled a double dose of Advil, he’d be perfectly content to curl up in front of the TV with Timmy and their niece and peacefully doze his way through something light and innocuous with a no-brainer plot and a very low decibel level. Something that didn’t involve clowns or reptiles or small children in large numbers.

“Want me to run the rest of these hoodlums off so you can get some rest?” he asked, trying not to sound too hopeful and failing miserably.

Cadie didn’t open her eyes, but the thumb popped out of her mouth. “No,” she said decisively before sucking it back in again.

“Well, it‘s your big day. Is there something you want to do instead?”

The thumb appeared once more. “Presents,” she said.

A brief but passionate argument broke out between a uniformed officer and a plainclothesman named Murray over what should be done with the earthly remains of Kilroy the Kid-Eating Klown. The uniform, whom Bub had introduced as Sergeant Brindle, pointed out that all he saw was a dead snake. “Call Animal Control,” he said. “Let them take care of it.” Murray, on the other hand, was in favor of hauling it down to the morgue for a full autopsy. In the end, the snake was bagged as evidence. “Though damned if I know what it’s supposed to be evidence of,“ Bub groused.

A search of the baggy costume yielded a switchblade and a spray bottle of seltzer, several sticks of dynamite, a bicycle horn and a crowbar, three bags of confetti, a squirt gun and a can of Silly String, two semiautomatic weapons, a flame thrower, and what appeared to be a hand grenade circa WWII. It was all tagged and bagged, along with the clown suit and Timmy’s depleted helium tank.

“Like a good boy scout, Kilroy obviously believed in being prepared,” Timmy said dryly.

“Some fucking boy scout. Owww!” Donald yelped as something with pointy ears -- a very short Vulcan or an elf, he was beyond caring which -- delivered a vicious kick to his left shin.

“You said the F-word! I’m telling Mom!”

“Listen, Levi,” Timmy began, “that’s no way…Owww!” he cried as the Vulcan-elf nailed him as well.

“And you squished Kilroy! You suck!”

More indignant voices joined in.

“Kilroy was cool!”

“I want the snake guy!”

“You guys suck!”

“Yeah, you suck!

The tide of public opinion was clearly turning against them. Donald slipped free of his partner’s steadying grip and stepped in front of him, braced and determined to shield Timmy and Cadie with his own body if the situation demanded it. In another moment, an angry mob would form, and the potty-mouthed clown-squishers would be torn limb from limb. Just as he was sure the killing was about to commence, Cadie’s thumb popped out of her mouth once again.

“I want to open presents now,” she announced with an imperative edge to her voice that reminded Donald of Timmy’s late spitfire of a grandmother, Liz.

“I’ve got your back,” he told Timmy. “Make a break for it while you can.”

“Don?” Timmy hesitated, his eyes locked on the Vulcan-elf, who appeared to be ringleader.

“Let the kid open her stuff. I’ll diffuse this situation, then meet you outside in a few.”

Timmy touched his shoulder. “Are you sure?”

“I’ll be fine. Now, go!”

Resigned to his fate, Donald watched Timmy slip outside with Cadie safe in his arms, then braced himself for the inevitable as a circle of militant five-year-olds closed in on him.


* * * *


An hour later, Donald found himself manning the front porch as a seemingly endless queue of parents in SUVs and minivans arrived to haul their sugar-shocked, hyper-stimulated X-Men, vampires, and assorted Hannahs home. Through the combined efforts of the Albany PD and the two remaining clowns, order had eventually been restored, and the partygoers all enjoyed another round of tasty -- if slightly punch-splattered -- treats while Cadie settled in Timmy’s lap to open her gifts. As soon as the last package was unwrapped, she thanked her guests for coming, then removed her Minnie Mouse ears and placed them on Timmy’s head, adjusting their tilt with utter solemnity. Without another word, she wrapped her arms around his neck and closed her eyes. She was asleep within seconds.

Timmy had been deeply apologetic when he asked Donald to see the kids off while he settled Cadie in for the night, but truth to be told, the battered and bruised P.I. was more than happy to do it. He’d never been more thrilled to watch a group of party guests vacate the premises in his life, and even as tired as he was, he fully intended to savor the experience.

“I see Mama‘s car coming, so I gotta go,” a vertically-challenged Iron Man informed him.

“Thanks for coming to the party, Brayden.“ Donald couldn’t help feeling a faint surge of pride. There had been two Iron Men present, and by some miracle, he’d managed to keep their names straight. “Did you have a good time today?”

“Uh-huh!” The child nodded emphatically. “The snake guy was way cool! I’m gonna tell Mama I want one of those at my party next month. Mama said it was very nice of you to invite me, even if you are going to go to hell for kissing boys instead of girls.”

“Well, tell your mama she can kiss…”

“Donald!” Timmy appeared at his side, arms crossed and glaring a warning.

“…anyone she wants, and I won’t think any less of her,” he finished hastily.

“Nice save,” Timmy said as they watched Brayden scamper down the driveway.

“I’m nothing if not quick on my feet.”

“So I’ve noticed. Was that the last of them?“

“It was.“

“Well, thank God for that! It’s been quite a day for you, hasn’t it? You’ve confronted your fear of clowns, plus you’ve survived playing host to over two dozen small children.”

“Little monsters,” Donald grumbled.

“They’re not monsters. They’re just….”

“Demons? Sociopaths? Serial killers in training?”

“Kids, honey. Just kids being kids. You were one once, and so was I.”

Donald readily acknowledged that he’d been a child once, and according to his mother, not a particularly well-behaved one at that. But Timmy? It took quite a stretch to associate Timmy with any of the unruly small fry they’d encountered that day. Somehow, he’d always imagined Timmy popping out of the womb with glasses on and wearing an infant-sized Brooks Brothers suit and tie, packing a monogrammed leather briefcase and no doubt voicing his concern over our rapidly diminishing civil liberties as the doctor snipped the ol’ umbilical cord. It made for one hell of an entertaining visual, and he was seriously tempted to mention it just for the fun of getting a rise out of Timmy.

Someday. When he had the energy.

They walked inside together, locking the door and turning off lights as they passed through the living room and into the kitchen. It was barely 7:30, but they were every bit as wiped out as Cadie had been and more than ready to call the day a wrap. Timmy opened a bottle of Advil and shook two of the red tablets into Donald‘s outstretched palm, then filled a glass with water from the tap and drank half of it before handing it over as well. Donald knocked back the pills and drained the glass. Before Timmy could stop him, he grabbed the Advil and took two more, chasing them with another full glass of water.

“A pity it’s not Valium,” he said.

Timmy opened his arms and Donald was instantly in them, his knotted and abused muscles gradually relaxing until he sagged forward, allowing his husband to support his weight.

“Are you sure you’re all right?” Timmy asked, worried.

“I am now. You?”

Nodding, Timmy heaved a heavy sigh. “I‘m so sorry, honey. From the very beginning, you tried to tell me that something wasn’t right about Kilroy, but I wouldn’t listen.”

Donald rubbed his knuckles along Timmy’s jaw line, loving the faint trace of a five o’clock shadow he felt there. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure my whole ‘clowns are evil’ spiel sounded pretty crazy at the time.”

“A little, but no matter how it sounded, I know you, Donald. I know you have good instincts. I’m sorry I didn’t trust them -- or you.”

“Does this mean I get to say ‘I told you so?’”

Timmy‘s lips brushed the sore spot on Donald’s head, delivering the faintest ghost of a kiss. “You do. Kilroy turned out to be every bit as dangerous as you said he was, and you’re free to rub it in whenever you like for as long as you like. As a matter of fact, I think you were right about clowns in general. They are scary. And while we were out there in the garage, I discovered you were right about something else, too.”

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

“Children are even scarier.”

Laughing, Donald reached up to tweak one of the mouse ears Timmy was still sporting. Timmy started to remove them, but Donald caught his hand. “Leave ‘em,” he said. “They kind of suit you.” Lacing their fingers together, he led the way toward the staircase. “Do you think Cadie’s going to be okay?”

“I turned the baby monitor on just in case she has nightmares and needs us, but I honestly think she’ll be just fine. We Callahans are a pretty resilient breed, you know.”

“I’ll say. I’d wake up with the screaming horrors every night for the next six months if I’d gone through what she has today.”

“You did go through it, remember?” Timmy peered at him, frowning. “Exactly how hard did you hit your head, anyway?”

“Hard enough, apparently.” Rubbing the tender spot on his temple, Donald paused by the guestroom door. “Stop looking so serious, honey. I’m fine. Now go on in,” he said. “You know you want to.”

Timmy gave Donald’s hand a quick squeeze before he slipped inside to check on Cadie one last time. As he bent to stroke her hair and fuss with the blanket, Donald leaned in the doorway, feeling a twinge of guilt. He’d made it clear years ago that he didn’t consider himself viable parental material, and he still stood just as firmly behind that proclamation today. But occasionally, just occasionally, he wondered if that was fair to Timmy.

“This one’s not quite so scary,” Timmy said when he caught Donald staring.

“She was the best-behaved kid at the party.”

“She was,” Timmy agreed.

“I was just thinking.“

Timmy kissed Cadie on the forehead and quietly eased away. “Oh no, not again! I thought we agreed….“

“It’s nothing bad. I was just thinking how good you are at this stuff. You’d make a really great dad.”

“I make a good uncle, honey, and so do you. But fathers? I don’t think either of us has the stamina for it.”

“You were incredible out there today, just rolling with the punches and keeping it together no matter what the little hoodlums threw your way. You’re really amazing, you know that? Do you ever wish…do you ever think….”

“I think our life is perfect just the way it is, so why would I wish for anything more? Besides, when I think of all the times we were pelted with party cuisine, drenched in punch, kicked, bitten, and otherwise physically assaulted today, I can’t help but conclude that this whole experience boils down to the reaffirmation of a fundamental truth.”

“Which is?”

“God placed the two of us outside the procreation loop for a reason.“

“When it comes to me, I know you’re right. You know I think Cadie’s cool, and we always have a lot of fun when she comes to visit, but I’ve just never had the instincts or the desire, you know? To do it fulltime, I mean. But you? The way you looked with Cadie just now…hell, Timmy, taking care of people is what you do best.”

“I already have someone to take care of, darling. In case you haven’t noticed, taking care of you is a fulltime job. And now, if I’m not mistaken, it’s time for me to get to work.”

“Get to…?” Donald paused, noticing a certain edge to Timmy’s voice, a certain spark in his eye he hadn’t seen since…well…he’d only seen once before. His ribs felt like they’d been run through a trash compactor and his head ached, but suddenly none of that mattered. In spite of the near-disaster they’d just lived through, he knew this was going to be a damned good night.

“Feeling a little bit of an adrenalin rush, are we?” he asked, backing his way toward the stairs.

Timmy advanced on him, the spark in his eye turning to a leaping flame. “What do you think?”

Moving as quickly as he could without falling on his ass, Donald scaled the staircase in reverse with Timmy in hot pursuit. “Sure you don’t want to clean up the back yard first?” he asked, grinning. “Wash some dishes, mop the floors, maybe throw in a laundry or two?”

“You know exactly what I want, and it has nothing to do with housework.”

When they reached the upstairs landing, Donald backed down the hallway and scuttled into their room, stopping short when the back of his leg bumped the bed. “Gee, honey, I don’t know. It’s been a long day. Maybe….“

A firm hand caught him center-chest and pushed him unceremoniously onto the bed.


Timmy pounced on top of him, pinning him to the mattress. “Watch it, mister. The police may have confiscated the helium tank I used on Kilroy, but I still have a spare in the garage, and I know how to use it.”

Donald laughed softly, the fire in his own eyes matching his partner’s. “Forget having bad guys shoot at you. We’re going to have to pit you against demonic shape-shifters in grease paint and bad wigs more often.”

“Send in the clowns,” Timmy said. Then their lips met, and neither of them said anything else for a very long time.