His face was a blur in the night. I didn't recognize him, yet there was a sense we knew each other. "Don't tell anyone," he said just before they drove off. He waited for an answer, but I stood stock still.

I'd come upon the six men as they'd gathered in the parking lot behind the Arcade to put something in the trunk of an old white Ford. A voice echoed across the lot..."We'll bury it in the..."

I stood maybe fifty feet away. Their flashlights splashed into the trunk, spilled onto the ground. I couldn't make out what was wrapped in the burlap lump they heaved in.

Weeks after I couldn't concentrate at the office. Each night I'd stare at the ceiling of my bedroom as if the flashlights flickered there, straining to see what the men had so furtively handled.

One evening a detective came to my door. Hair combed straight back, he wore a blue suit and a red tie. "There's evidence of a crime," he said. I motioned him in, stuffed hands in pockets to hide my trembling fingers. The detective leaned in the doorway to study me through round rimmed glasses. He slipped an index card from his suit to read a list of six suspects. "Somebody said you know them. Are you aware of anything that may have happened on the night of...." I didn't catch the date.

I shook my head, and my complicity with the crime was established for ever. The detective seemed to lose interest, but he must have watched my every move.

"These men work at the Arcade, " he said. "Perhaps there's a connection."

"Been past there," I croaked. "Don't think I've ever been inside."

"Don't think?" The detective looked at me sharply. "Don't you know?"

"Maybe a time long ago...I ca..can't remember."

The detective put the note card back in his pocket. He turned to go.

"Unnh..." I said.

He looked back.

"The evidence..." I cleared my throat, "wha..what was it?"

"Piece of a skirt was found in the parking lot." Magnified eyes peered at me through the lenses. "With specs of blood."

"Unhh..unhh..."

The eyes opened quizzically. He waited patiently. But when my stuttering made it impossible for me to speak, he lost interest.

"You should go to the Arcade." He turned to go. "It's an interesting place."


************


Amime led me from the parking lot through a warm, still night toward the Arcade. He --at first I thought it was he-- had emerged from the shadows along the walk. Clouds had obscured the moon. Yells echoed from carnival rides. Rows of Ferris Wheel lights revolved slowly above the trees. The mime skipped from globe to globe cast by lamps along the path, as if from stone to stone across a stream. Honeysuckle was hidden somewhere behind the boxwood that lined the walk. One side of the mime's face was white the other black. Two coal eyes stared at me. From a few feet I could only see the eye in the field of white.

Prancing ahead, he urged me to walk faster. Then hands clasped behind his back, he slowed to a stroll. Up close I wondered if it was a woman. Her shirt was black-white, too, but the fields were reversed from the face, then reversed back again on her leotards. With white gloves it seemed a hand was missing on the white arm, and the black shoes made a foot seem missing on the black leg. The deceptive colors made the mime seem to float above the walk.

Suddenly the gaping jaws of an enormous skull loomed twenty feet above me. Eyes were dark holes. The mime shrank back, hands clutched under her chin, then strode forward, arms swinging boldly, motioning me to follow.

Teeth were giant candles that blazed like meteorites as I followed the mime inside the jaws. The walls were made of mirrors that reflected the candle teeth. An aging debutante dressed in flowing gown and with bright red lipstick lips stood at the center. Large green eyes opened wide.

"Oh dear...you've come!"

The mime was suddenly still like a flag hanging without a wind.

"Do I know you?"

She waved off my question with fingers that fluttered like birds.

"The detective'll come to arrest you."

"For what? Wha..what happened?"

"Don't have the vaguest." She picked at bauble jewelry. Matching earrings dangled. "Hope the detective doesn't ruin my party." She peered out the entrance. "Guests should be here momentarily."

"Don't you know anything?"

"Whatever it was," she pulled a handkerchief from her bodice to wipe mascara from the corner of an eye, squinting in a mirror, "you should've been more like the gladiator."

"Who's he?"

She pointed toward the arcade...a rattle of pistols, glimpses of patrons passing inside the gate.

"Can I get some answers there?"

She shrugged.

"Wouldn't it be simpler if you waited for the detective in the parking lot?"

I stood my ground.

"Go in if you must." She looked over my jeans and favorite T-shirt. "A change of clothes and you could serve cocktails at my party."

I shook my head.

"Then you'll have to make the best of it." She dabbed at the mascara again. "Introduce yourself charmingly. When eating always keep your elbows off the table."

The mime beckoned me to follow.

"Don't pay attention to him," the Debutante said, "he doesn't matter."

I followed the mime anyway. A lipstick-lipped image revolved slowly around the mirrors. With each revolution her skin peeled like the layers of an onion until she was withered and hunched.

"Don't forget your elbows," she croaked.

Her head toppled from its neck to roll across the path like a lopsided soccer ball. I turned back to help but the mime pulled me into the Arcade.

Two lines of arches lit with rows of glistening lights faced each other across a promenade. Families decked out in fancy T-shirts and brightly colored shorts, reds..blues..yellows, clustered around the booths or streamed in two directions along the middle of the way. Buttered popcorn smells..the pop of pistols..clang of bells. In the distance a car careened around the high curve of the roller coaster sending screams to penetrate the Arcade's mumbo-jumbo. Spinning cabs from other rides appeared and disappeared above the trees that separated the Carnival and the Arcade.

The mime, arms akimbo, waddled beside a portly clown who mouthed a huge pink cotton candy. Close up I saw sweat trickle down the clown's neck.

"Hour to quitting time," he said, sitting on the bench with a sigh, "then my day off."

The mime plucked an imaginary piece of cotton candy, eating on and on as if it'd ballooned gigantically. The clown motioned for me to take a piece. It melted in my mouth like sugared air.

"Is there a gang here?" I asked.

"The six?" The clown nodded. "They're not so bad. Just a little spirited."

He looked down at me with one large eye. His real lips were turned down beneath the perpetual smile painted on his cheeks.

"This place isn't as innocent as it looks though." The clown mopped his neck with a polka dot handkerchief. "Maybe it started down hill when the Debutante got involved with...."

"What's going on here!"

We looked way up into the Barker's mustached face...seven feet on stilts with military epaulet shoulders and a barrage of medals on his chest.

The clown scuttled away.

The mime jumped around the barker's stilts like a yapping dog.

"Don't sit idle." The Barker glared at me, "get up and participate."

He kicked the mime aside with a stilt to wave grandly at the array of booths where people tossed hoops, hurled balls, swung strength hammers, had their weight guessed, played electronic games. There was a tunnel of love, a magic show, a water-skiing lake where divers leaped from a tower and many more too far for me to see.

"The best is the rat..tat..tat." The barker pointed to the shooting gallery where pellets pinged against metal ducks.

"Hit the target and you get a prize," he said. "What makes the world go round."

"Don't like violence," I said.

"But the prize..the prize!" The barker held hand to chest beneath the shiny medals.

"What is it?"

"Well...it's not stuffed animals!"

"Do you know the gang of six?"

The barker wrinkled his nose.

The mime nudged me, holding up six fingers.

"Don't follow her," the Barker snorted, "get involved in the rat..tat..tat."

As the mime and I jostled through the crowd I looked back to see the Barker shake his head in disgust.


 

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