These meetings are not so secret. Just on my way here I came upon a man with a parked vendor’s cart. One telescoping pole had been put up from a gadget on the cart’s corner and he had a huge red bowler hat balanced atop it.
As I passed he said, “Hey, can you use a red nose?”
I looked at him without changing my direction. “Do I look like I could use a red nose?”
“You all do,” he said, with a smuggler’s glance to both sides. “Just some of you already have one, some don’t.”
“What ‘you’ are you speaking of?”
“You know. You. Clowns.”
And I walked on. The word was out again.
It has been months since our clown meeting has been the secret it is supposed to be. So many clowns gathered in one hall can be a delicious target. There are the people who are afraid of clowns. There are the groupies, who want to sleep with as many clowns as they can. I don’t mind the groupies. There are the wanna-be clowns. There are those who think that clowns have their own comedic plots, who believe our special knowledge of clownery gives us advantages we might press against a blindly serious world.
To many, my oversized shoes hide an oversized agenda. I have to be careful.
I cross the street to avoid another vendor hawking exploding cigars. He demonstrates one on the curb, with a crack and a thump that sneaks along the false brick fronts of this district’s second class establishments.
Some of my ilk buy these things, and then hand them off to strangers, hoping to create a diversion, hoping that if the meeting is common knowledge, at least the exact location remains unknown. A half dozen ordinary citizens scattering in their private ways, each armed with a rubber cane or water-shooting daisy, might confuse the more casual clown hunter.
The professional, however, will still pass through.
At last I recognize the old, un-powered sign I have been told to look for, and then sight directly across the street to the selected alley. Four doors down from the right brick cornice and there, a basement entrance. Knock twice, and then sound the bicycle horn.
I cross the street and head for the door, the latches of my loosened suspenders dragging hotly behind me.
I reach under my coat and feel the calm solemnity of my air gun with its full load of deadly confetti. One of the clowns in this room I am about to enter must be the leak. We have been whittling the list of the suspicious down from the very first time our meeting went surprisingly public. I remember painfully that first unintentionally public meeting. Oh the bother! And how we had to be on our best behavior: all night riding tricycles and tripping over our shoelaces; pouring water into glasses with no bottom, and tipping glasses of imprisoned fluids that were locked on both ends; slapping ourselves with our suspenders and parading duck-waddle about in ankle length trousers. The horror of it! No true clown business could be conducted and for the unwelcome guests, it was nothing but pure matinee slapstick performance.
Even that first night, we started to look for signs of the informant. Here, a tie that matches the shirt. There, a hat that fits the head. Little things, all dubiously wrapped in professional courtesy. From the many that might be suspected, we started to whittle away the dependable. Now we all know that no matter how long the scroll, the same few names repeat.
I make sure no one from the carts has followed me, then reach into an inner coat pocket for my red rubber nose. I knock twice and grab the bicycle horn’s operating bulb with the full cup of my hand, as though palming the unisex breast of an underage hooker. I point the brass at the door and slip the business end bare inches out of my sleeve.
Make ready. Each meeting is an opportunity to eliminate more of the innocent. Soon there will be only the guilty, one name on the scroll: a pretend-clown sitting in pants that curiously fit, shoes that are thinly casual and neutral in color; someone whose hair behaves.
The gun rocks slightly in its tear-away holster. Tonight, the confetti may fly.
Ken Poyner lives in the lower right-hand corner of Virginia, with his power lifter wife, four rescue cats, and two attitude-challenged fish (in their separate but similar bowls). His 2013 e-book, Constant Animals — 42 unruly fictions, is available at all the usual e-book retailers; buy it, and keep a brewery worker employed. Recent work has appeared in “My Favorite Bullet”, “The Legendary”, “Conte”, “Asimov’s”, “Rattle”, and a host of other places.