All good things come to an end, especially vacations. For most circus performers there's the annual circus performer's conference.
I had been the only one in my family to participate in the competition since I succeeded my dad as a ruling medallist.
Jean and Sheridan delivered my cats and luggage to my room at the Coliseum while I did some last minute shopping for the circus season which starts immediately after the conference.
Between loads of tigers, luggage and other paraphernalia Sheridan got permission to watch some reporters in the parking lot.
Leon Gaelan turn off that stupid game and come watch. The US. National Circus Performer Conference is on."
"What?" Leon said, "Oh that. That's supposed to start tomorrow."
"Well they're talking about it now."
"Ok, I'm coming," Leon said.
"Mom, why can't I watch my movie?" wined Mackenzie.
"Because Leon asked first, besides your cousins might be on."
"Cousins?" Leon said "Why would they be on?"
"Aunt Glenna Gallagher, my sister, her family."
"Cousins! Cousins!" chanted Mackenzie jumping.
"Be quiet so I can hear the announcer," Leon said.
"We are here outside the coliseum where the shows will take place." droned the announcer.
"Leon!" Mrs. Gaelan exclaimed, "That boy right there I think that's one of them."
"One of who?" Leon said.
"One of the Gallaghers, I couldn't say which."
"Oh," Leon said, "Hmm. He's about my height. Aren't the Gallaghers all older than me?"
"Some of them are but Garvey is about your age. Or was it Galvin?"
"Garvey is definitely the oldest," Leon said "It must be Galvin."
"Right now there is hardly anyone here but tomorrow when the shows start the parking lots will be packed," continued the announcer.
"So will the stands," added the other announcer.
"Oh, hey Neil, you made it," said the first announcer shaking hands. Then they started asking each other questions, so that they could answer them and show off statistics about previous circus conferences. "Most of the performers will be arriving here this evening, but some are already here."
"Technicians have been setting up for weeks," countered the second, "Let's hear from this bystander."
"You look a little young, who are you and what events are you performing in?" asked the first announcer.
"I'm Sheridan Gaelan, I don't think I'm performing. I'm just here with Jean to help his sister, Michelle Aubrey, with her tigers."
"Sheridan, my baby!" gasped Mrs. Gaelan.
"Michelle Aubrey and her tigers have taken medals in the big cat performance at every conference she has attended for six years running." stated the second announcer.
"Who is it, Mom?" Leon said.
"I know that Michelle first entered a conference when she was 18, but you seem a little young. can you tell us a little more about that."
"I'm 12. Jean and Michelle helped their dad before that I think."
"Your brother," said Mrs. Gaelan, "even the age is right."
"I have a brother," bragged Mackenzie.
"Now you have two brothers again," said Mrs. Gaelan.
"I told you he looked like Dad," Leon said.
"You, did not!" said Mackenzie.
"That's an interesting point. It is generally impossible for children under 16 to get workman's compensation because they can't work full time. So you will rarely see a child working with the dangers that circus performers face everyday, except by parental consent," explained the second announcer.
"Who are these people and why do they have my Sheridan?"
"Are you related to Michelle Aubrey or her brother?"
"Not that I know of."
"What do your parents think about the dangers involved?"
"I don't know what they think. I have never met my people parents. I can talk to my friends the tigers better than Michelle can. They are less dangerous to me than they are to her."
"You say you can talk to the tigers and you call them your friends, Why?"
"I grew up with them. I didn't know that I was a people -- I mean a person until Jean found me. Right now he's trying to find my parents."
"So where did you grow up?"
"Jean called it Nepal. At least that's where he found me. But I wasn't where I usually lived when he found me."
"So you don't know where your parents are?"
"Jean knows what country they live in, but not where they live in it, or if they are home now."
"How is Jean going about finding your parents?" asked the second announcer.
"He said the Emp ... Emd ... I can't say it, is looking for them. Then it will tell Jean when and where they want to get me."
"The Emperor? An Empathic? An Emerald?" prompted the second announcer.
"I don't know, ask Jean."
"The Embassy!" said the first announcer, "at least, that's how I would try to find someone in another country."
"That is what it was, the Em---. What you said."
"Where is Jean now?"
"He's over there getting 'The Luggage' and the food to take inside. It's almost time to feed the tigers, so I'm going to go help now."
"There goes Sheridan Gaelan from Nepal, who is enthusiastically helping Michelle Aubrey until his parents are located." said the first announcer.
"He's just one of the interesting characters that will be here this week for the fourteenth US. National Circus Performer Conference," said the second announcer, "We'll be right back."
"Mom, so I, I mean, We, have always had another brother that you and Dad never told us about? And he just happened to turn up at the National Circus Conference claiming to be better than one of the best tiger trainers?"
"I have too, told you about him. Don't I always tell you 'I have already lost one child on a mountain climbing trip and that's more than enough'."
"Oh, I thought you were talking about a time I got lost before I could remember."
"I'm afraid not."
"So tell me more about him."
"His name is Sheridan. He wasn't very old when we lost him in Nepal on a little sight seeing jaunt after climbing Mt. Dhaulagiri and Mt. Annapurna. Apparently he somehow survived."
"So do you think they'll find us and bring him here before school gets out?"
"I don't know," sighed Mrs. Gaelan. Then with sudden decision she sprang up from the couch and headed for the telephone. "I intend to make sure. Even if it means going and getting him."
"When can I watch my movie?" asked Mackenzie.
"After the ski wax commercials quit so I can see if there's anything else about the circus conference."
When I arrived Jean was gone, and Sheridan had fed the cats per Jean's permission and was working on his number puzzles. Grids of numbers and operators that when all the squares creating correct equations are filled in create a maze pattern. To consequently be solved. He had finished the basic math concepts book the week before and was working on the pre-algebra book.
"Michelle, When do you show everybody your tigers?"
"Tomorrow and the next day the acrobats and the tight rope walkers perform. The day after that, Wednesday, is all clowns. Thursday is magic. Friday is when I perform and other people with cats. The beginning of Next week will be other animal performers, Horses, dogs, elephants. There will also be side show contests and JP competitions. And at the end will be the awards ceremonies."
"Alright, so you won't be doing anything until Friday?"
"I will be practicing each day just like always, but we can go see the other performers too if you would like."
"I would like to, I think."
"Good, right now why don't you unpack your stuff, and I will lock the door and let the tigers out."
The next day I practiced with the cats while Sheridan looked on and, as always, asked questions. I also practiced navigating with the cats from our room to the approach tunnel. This Year I hadn't been able to get the room that I asked for so I made sure that I knew the way. After I felt comfortable with everything we went and watched the acrobats. During one of the shows I noticed that Sheridan wasn't watching the performing acrobats but the place where they got on to the trapeze. "What are you looking at?" I asked.
"The lady that helps them on. I think I know her," he said, "I don't know where from."
"You might be able to talk to her after the show."
"I would like to see her closer. Maybe I could figure out who she is."
"If you hurry you can get down over there where everyone goes in and out before this troupe leaves."
"Where you kept taking the cats and bringing them back from?"
"Yes, that's where they will leave. They might come back out later to watch the other acrobats."
"Can I just go over there and wait?"
"Yes, you may. If you remember the way to it. You may not just climb down to it from here."
"I remember the way."
"Meet me here when you are done or back in the room when it's time to feed the cats."
"Alright, Bye," he said and made his way to the nearest vomitory, and then through the maze of back halls to the entry tunnel. He wondered if he was too late and decided to look into the stadium. A guard stopped him.
"It's not time for the next group yet," said the guard, "Hey, who are you anyway? What are you doing here?"
"I'm Sheridan. I'm with Michelle Aubrey," He said "but I wanted to talk to one of the acrobats when they got done."
"Oh, well I guess that's ok. Just stay in the tunnel and don't get in the way of the next troupe of acrobats."
"Thank you sir," He didn't have to wait long. Soon after the next group arrived the others made their exit.
The lady of interest stopped to talk to a news anchor while all the others made their escape. When she continued on her way, Sheridan likewise intercepted her.
"Hello, Do you know me?" he asked, "I thought I recognized you from somewhere."
She looked at him for a minute. I don't think I know you. "You might have seen us at a circus or on TV before."
"What's TV?" Sheridan asked, "Oh yeah, I don't like TV it's too small and noisy. This is the first circus I've been to, but the more I look at you the more I think I've seen you before."
She studied him again "Your face looks familiar. Almost like my dad's"
The idea that he, Sheridan, like everyone else, had parents was not hard to grasp. In fact When Jean mentioned it, Sheridan had accepted it without second thought. But now, with a family Christmas celebration fresh on his mind, he became aware of the magnitude of its ramifications. He had a family, a real family that cared about him, or at least, he had had one at some point in the past.
Then he remembered something. "I know!" he said. Then he asked mysteriously, "Is your name Shauna?"
"No, I am not Shauna, why do you ask? Nobody ever confused us before. Do you know her?"
"You look like my mom. I've never met her. No, I mean, I didn't know what she looked like until looking at you made me remember her.
"Never met your mother? That's crazy! How do you know her name is Shauna."
"Jean says her name is Shauna."
"And who, may I ask, is this Jean?"
"He found me in Nepal."
"Oh," she said "That's an original."
"Do you know her? She looks like you but her hair is brown not black, and a little shorter."
"Sounds like my sister. What's your name?"
"Jean said my name is Sheridan Gaelan, and that he will take me to my family when he finds them. He says they live in Switzerland."
"Yes, I think your mom is my sister Shauna. She does live in Switzerland. She moved there after she married Kyle Gaelan," the woman explained, "Yes, You do look a little like Kyle. What do you remember about her?"
"I only remember her putting me down and smiling. She said something but I don't remember the sounds. Just her lips moving."
"Do you remember your dad?"
"I don't think so, but maybe if I see him, I might."
"How did you get separated from your parents?"
"I don't remember. I just remember the tigers, growing up in the jungle, Gentle Teeth dying from Leopard slashes and sending me off to hunt for myself."
"Most of it was happy except Gentle Teeth dying. She had taken care of me and the others. Hunting for myself was not sad. Except. --"
"Except what happened right before Jean found me."
He looked up at her wondering how to explain, wondering if he should try, whether she would understand. "I was hunted, but not for food," he said at last.
"Was it Jean who hunted you?"
"No, he didn't look like Jean, Jean hunted to put cats to sleep so he could see if they ate enough. He got me too because he was afraid I might hurt him. Then he decided I shouldn't be in the Jungle, I think."
"Where is Jean now?"
"I don't know," Sheridan said, "I'm staying with his sister and her tigers. He said he probably won't come back until he finds my parents."
"How soon will that be?"
"I don't know, He hopes he hears from them soon, Michelle hopes that they're on vacation for awhile."
"Michelle likes you then? Who is she?"
"Michelle Aubrey is Jean's sister."
"Oh, her. Where is she?"
"She is watching the acrobats. She said I could come down and look for you. She did not know you are my mom's sister."
"That means I'm your Aunt Glenna, Aunt means one of your parents' sisters, and one of your parents' brothers is called an uncle."
"Hello Aunt Glenna," Sheridan said, "Should I tell Michelle that I met my Aunt Glenna?"
"If you want, but not yet. I want you to meet the rest of my family."
"Where are they?"
"Come along and I'll introduce you," she said and led the way down a few halls and to their rooms. "This is my husband, Your Uncle Gannon," she said after they arrived, "and these are your cousins Gainor, Galvin, and Garvey is in the other room."
"Hello everyone," Sheridan said, "Hey you are the whole acrobat troupe aren't you?"
"Yeah, we are the entire troupe," said Gainor, "All in one family, Mom throws and Pops catches. Galvin doesn't perform yet but his timing is getting better."
"Don't call him 'Pops,' Galvin," said Aunt Glenna.
"Hey, who's the cousin?" asked Garvey coming in.
"This is your cousin Sheridan Gaelan. He's helping Michelle Aubrey, you remember, she was the tiger trainer for the last couple of years until the technicians went on strike."
"Yeah she was cool. She didn't use a whip or bait," endorsed Galvin.
"What's a whip?" asked Sheridan.
"Watch the other trainers and you'll know," Garvey said, "Most of them use them except Michelle."
"What do you do to help?" Galvin asked.
"Whatever I remember to do before she does it, except the trick practices," Sheridan said, "I can feed them, clean their cages, and brush their fur, but she won't let me help with the tricks or with trimming their claws."
"Aren't you afraid of them?" Garvey asked.
"No, I'm not afraid one will turn on me for violating their territory because I can talk to them in their own way and ask permission first. I'm not afraid I'll be eaten by one of Michelle's because they are fed enough. I'm not afraid I'll be eaten by any one else's tiger because I can fight one and prove that I'm not a helpless morsel. I have never lost which you can see by the fact that I am still here, but usually it isn't necessary to win, only to prove that your food value is less then the effort it would take to kill you. Other times you just have to prove that you don't intend to be chased off your territory. I would rather be in a fight to keep territory than be in a fight to not be food for two reasons. The first is that neither of us is fighting for our life, so neither of us is likely to make any move that would endanger the other's life, until there is little chance of fighting back. But when the fight is about food. The prey is fighting to keep from being eaten and the hunter is very likely fighting to keep from dying from starvation." Sheridan explained, "The second reason is that because you're already fighting for life both use the most destructive attack they can. Usually biting the head or neck or ripping apart limbs."
"How did you survive then?" asked Galvin.
"Come on let's go in the other room you're making mom sick," said Garvey and led the procession.
"I learned to fight along with Gentle Teeth's other kittens. My first fights after Gentle Teeth died I probably survived by luck. After a while I got better at keeping from being hurt in a fight. I also learned when to avoid fights and how it's possible to avoid them.
"Gentle Teeth, of course, taught me to ask permission for anything I didn't need bad enough to fight for. And she taught me that a tiger that I didn't want to fight I probably couldn't outrun although I might get away from it a little for a while. I learned for myself that when I don't want to fight I must run first then climb and then keep moving that way I don't run until I get tired before it can catch up and if it does catch up it probably won't climb up after me. If I keep moving they won't think that they have me trapped with no way down except past them. That's not true of the smaller cats but it's generally true of tigers.
"Another thing that helps is that when I can see who I'm fighting, I can see where a strike will come and begin to get out of the way before the cat begins to strike at me. This is important because often you can't see their claws coming."
"Sounds like a Jedi," Gainor commented, "seeing something before it happens."
"How can you predict where they will try to scratch you?" asked Galvin.
"They all think different, but they all are shaped the same, and the best first strategy is usually the same. After that every fight is different. But my mind works so much faster than theirs or at least it works faster than they can move. In a fight everything slows down and you can plan and think about why they might be attacking the way they are, as long as you don't decide to wait for a certain thing to happen; when you do that your brain may still be working faster than your body but you my be paralyzed waiting for something that may never happen."
"I understand what you mean," Galvin said, "Sometimes during a triple somersault or something everything slows down until I grab Papa's wrists."
"Right," said Garvey.
"Yeah," agreed Gainor, "It's like Mr. Spock says most people's conception of time is subjective and based on what's happening around you, inside you, and what you're doing, but your brain can and sometimes does work much faster when not tied to any one of those things."
"I thought you said one of you didn't, err, jump yet." Sheridan said.
"What? Oh, we all can do trapeze tricks and other things," Galvin said, "But I still need more practice before I'll do it in front of other people."
"Oh, I see,"
"Have you considered doing a routine with the tigers?" Garvey asked.
"No, I haven't," Sheridan said, not realizing that he might be bringing his respectability into question.
"Why ever not?" Garvey said, "You sound like you would relate better to them than Michelle, and she's the best or at least the coolest."
"I've never seen Michelle do one in front of other people," Sheridan said, "I just know that they love her and would protect her, even if it meant death."
"Oh, well if you've never seen one then you couldn't think about it," Garvey conceded.
"What do you mean she's 'the coolest'."
"She is my favorite to watch," said Galvin, "except maybe for Hogan Gladwin."
"Hogan is just so hilarious!" Gainor said, "Even his cats realize it I think."
"Yes, but Michelle is better in other ways," Garvey said.
"Well, Dempsey always wins," Galvin said.
"No," Gainor said, "I think he means, you can tell that her cats are important to her and vise versa, and that adds another dimension to her performance."
"Oh, yeah I guess, Dempsey Gallard's cats hate him," Galvin said.
"What is hate?" Sheridan asked.
"It means you don't like someone," Gainor explained.
"More than that, it sometimes means you wish you could kill them," Garvey supplemented.
"Oh, I've only felt that way once, at first, I was just afraid, later when I couldn't stop being afraid I wished I could kill him so that I could stop being afraid," said Sheridan sincerely, "I'm not sure when I stopped, it's like it never happened."
"That sounds like real genuine hate to me," Garvey said. "Usually when people say they hate someone they don't really want to kill them, it's just what they say."
"What do you like best in a tiger performance?" Sheridan asked, hoping not to get asked about the details of his ordeal. He wanted to save that to talk about with an adult, but he wasn't sure who.
"I like the trainers that talk to the audience while they do their routine," Gainor said, "I think it shows something about how well they've trained their cats besides."
"I like ones that tell funny stories," said Galvin, "or pretend to make mistakes."
"I enjoy learning about raising and training big cats," Garvey said, "but I think it must be hard for them to work something like that into their routine."
"So you like learning about the cats, and the performance to tell a story, and you like it to be funny," Sheridan summarized.
They went on to discourse on the subjects of trapeze tricks, parents as model performers, and parents, or adults in general, as worry-warts. Until at last Aunt Glenna stopped their dialogue.
"Children get out of those uniforms," said she, coming into the room, "Sheridan you should be going. I don't want Michelle to start worrying about you."
"As we were saying," whispered Gainor.
"She said I could be gone until supper and won't miss me for a while yet," Sheridan said, "but I would like to see the rest of the acrobats."
"Ok, you go along and watch. you might see us around."
"Alright," Sheridan said, "Good bye."
He got back to the room just as I was unlocking the door.
"Who was the lady?" I asked.
"My Aunt Glenna."
"Your aunt, what was she doing here?"
"She and Her family are acrobats, I guess."
'Well, that would make sense considering where we saw them,' I thought. "So where did you meet her before?"
"I don't think I had," He said, "but I figured out that she looked like my mom."
"I thought you couldn't remember your mom."
"I couldn't until I saw Aunt Glenna up close," Sheridan explained, "Now I can only remember one picture of her. She was putting me down and moving her lips. I can only tell one word and that is 'love,' but the other things are harder to hear from just the lips and teeth."
"Did your Aunt tell you anything about her?"
"Just that she lived in Switzerland." Sheridan said.
"So what did you do?" I asked trying to find out what he had been doing for the hour or so that he had been gone.
"We talked -- err, She showed me to the rest of her family," He explained, "She has three boys. All their names start with G - a -"
"Did you have fun?" I asked
"I guess, until Aunt Glenna told me to come back so that you wouldn't worry."
"She probably didn't want to feed you lunch."
"Maybe so, I hadn't thought of that."
"So what did you do?"
"Talked about tiger fights and tiger training."
"Oh, so you dominated the conversation?"
"You did all the talking."
"To start with, they kept asking me questions. We talked about trapeze tricks too and other things."
"What kind of 'other things'?"
"Grownups making you do something that you might not even want to do by pretending to think you can't or won't."
"But, --" I said, I wanted to defend adults, but I had just spent a week at my parents house being subtly accused of refusing to grow up and accept the fact that tigers can't be communicated with in their own way. "I think that they really don't want you to do it. They just don't realize that by mentioning it they force your hand."
"Are you sure?" Sheridan asked incredulously, "Why do you think that?"
"Because I've taken care of my little sister enough that I can think like an adult, but my parents still try to think that I can't talk to tigers."
"Oh, I see, you can think like an adult and a kid," Sheridan said, "Like I can think like a tiger and a little like a person."
"Pretty much, I said, "Many grown ups still can, and on occasion do, think like kids."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course, Why don't you feed the cats and I'll get out some lunch."
"I woke up last night and you weren't in your bed." I mentioned as I sat down on the floor for lunch.
"I was just snuggling with the cats."
"I know, that is what you were doing, until you fell asleep."
"I don't usually fall asleep." Sheridan said putting the tigers' food away, "I usually go back to my bed before that."
"Usually?" I said, "Do you usually, err, snuggle with them?"
"Well not at your parents house, but on the ship I guess I did." he sat down across from me. He didn't usually eat lunch unless he was hungry which happened twice that I could think of, but he usually sat with me if he didn't have something better to do.
He looked up at me and shrugged "It's just normal for tigers that live in the same place to sleep where they keep each other warm, I guess. Sometimes when I sleep inside I get lonely and like to snuggle a little before I go to bed." I had gotten so used to him signing his thoughts quickly before he said anything that the inconsistency between the two as he said this took several moments to sink in. He began pouring himself a glass of water.
"Who is Gentle Teeth and how does it remind you of her?"
He stared at me in bewilderment for a moment then giggled and finished pouring his water. "I thought she was my mother until the soldiers turned on the light and I saw that men looked like me and I was not a tiger. I didn't believe her when she told me I wasn't her kitten. I don't know if any of them knew that I was a man; although, some did think that I wasn't a tiger."
"What are you going to do when there aren't any tigers around?" I asked, thinking that his mother might perhaps consider this a more inexcusable dependency than I did.
"I hadn't thought about it. I usually don't. It's just when they start talking to each other that I get lonely for the feeling of protection."
"Oh," I said. That was somewhat relieving, if listening to tigers talking was what made him lonely for tigers, maybe it wouldn't be a problem anywhere else. "I hope you don't try it anywhere else. You're a little big."
He looked bewildered for a moment and then shrugged. "If you say so." and we dropped the subject.
The next day, he asked me to do a full routine with the cats which, I had been planning on anyway. He didn't have much to say about it, probably because he didn't know what he was looking at. After that, we went to watch the Magicians, All of which, I thought were amazing; most, funny; a few, unbelievably gross. Sheridan saw through half the tricks because his attention couldn't be directed to a small area, but instead he watched the whole scene. His cousins came and watched with him, and he tried to get them to see everything that he saw, but they couldn't either. They invited him over after supper and I gave him permission.
My parents came that evening while Sheridan was with his relatives. My father hadn't entered the conference since my second year when I placed second, pushing him down to fourth. He always came and supported me. And he always said that as long as there was an Aubrey with a medal each year he was happy. I had always been careful not to point out that eventually there wouldn't be any more Aubreys unless Jean had kids that wanted to be trainers. My parents were staying somewhere in town, but had stopped by the coliseum complex to say hello. We talked for along time about growing up at a circus, about tiger training, and what the audience liked in a show. They were getting ready to leave when Sheridan came back.
"Hello Michelle," Sheridan said as he opened the door. Then coming up short in front of my departing parents "Oh, Hello Mr. and Mrs. Aubrey."
"Michelle informs me that you located your aunt," my dad commented after greetings were exchanged. The huddle of people trying to get through the door was slightly unpacked back into the room.
"Yes, her family is an acrobat troupe. Garvey and Gainor showed me how to time a jump. I completed two of the three I tried."
"What?" I gasped, "you went on the trapeze without asking me?"
"They seemed like good teachers to me," Sheridan replied offhand, "It's not like I could land wrong falling from that height if I wanted to."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Mom asked nervously turning to me.
"I have no idea," I replied, "Sheridan, what are you talking about?"
"It is my suspicion that he is over estimating his ability to emulate a feline and perpetually alight on his feet." suggested Dad who was standing between me and him.
"What?" said Sheridan looking up at him.
"He says you think you will always land on your feet," I interpreted while Sheridan edged slightly around my dad so that he could see me.
"As long as I'm not asleep," Sheridan theorized, "predicting how soon I'll get to the ground is simple compared to watching all four paws of a tiger during a fight."
"It had escaped my mind that you considered tiger fights to be everyday matters," Dad said.
"I don't," replied Sheridan, "I'd hate to have to do it more often then twice a week."
"I'm appreciative to learn that you don't conceive yourself to be invincible," Dad said not sounding relieved at all. "I crave that you will in the future recollect to acquire consent from Michelle or another competent authority before you attempt anything minutely dangerous. I conceive that there exist diverse hazardous pastimes that you will indubitably encounter that your extensive woodland education has not prepared you for."
"Huh?" said Sheridan looking at me, "Is that English?"
"Yes," I said, "he said you should remember to ask me or a responsible adult before you do anything possibly dangerous because otherwise you will eventually find that being able to fight or talk to tigers won't always help keep you from hurting yourself."
"Did you really say that?" Sheridan asked looking curiously up at my dad.
"Indubitably, I did intend that sense." said Dad nodding with mirth in his eyes.
"Why do you talk different then everyone else?" Sheridan said "and where do you learn the, err, 'coolest' words?"
"People and books contain my lone reservoir," I mouthed as Dad spoke his usual answer to the question for what must have been somewhat past the hundredth time in my life, "If you should come upon a comparable origin of lexicon I would be indebted to be acquainted with the information."
"Sheridan, Where did you learn 'coolest'?" I asked without taking the time to consider the few possibilities.
"From Garvey, He used it to describe you until his brothers didn't think so and he said that the fact that your cats love you makes your performance nicer."
"I appreciate the complement," I said, "but you might find that it is child's slang and doesn't carry that meaning in all English speaking countries."
Mom yawned, Dad glanced at her and said "I await my witnesses' authorization to commence departing for a more appropriate position to take the night's peaceful repose, that everyone has considerately cited I believe."
"Good idea," I said, "Good night."
"I quite agree. Good bye everyone," Mom called as she went out.
"What?" asked Sheridan totally mystified.
"He said he's going to go to bed," I said as Dad went out to join Mom.
"Oh," Sheridan said then turning called after them, "The Creator feed and guard you."
"I sense you are quoting someone. I beseech you to enlighten me as to your source."
"That's what the tigers say," Sheridan remarked.
"Oh please!" Mom said.
"You'll ostensibly find me impervious to that conviction," Dad replied, "Michelle did you entice him to say that?"
"No, I could never translate the first noun," I confided, "You shouldn't be surprised that he can communicate with tigers. How else would he have survived. What should amaze you is that I was also able to discover some of the rudiments of their language. Besides you just begged him to inform you of any new sources of language. Although it won't give you what you might consider a larger vocabulary. It will give you some interesting phrases."
"Your point shall be considered with utmost care," was the reply and they left. Then I made sure that Sheridan went to bed and went myself, I hoped that I was getting enough sleep for my big day.
The next day, I told the cats that we would perform today and put them in cages. When my parents came, we all went to the stadium. I drew a time slot near the end, so I would be able to watch some of the others before I had to go and get my cats ready.
Sheridan watched all the activities closely until Hogan Gladwin started. I was too busy laughing to notice Sheridan, but he later said that he thought it was funny too. I wished he did more technical things he deserved to win more than either me or my arch rival, Dempsey Gallard.
The insanely technical Dempsey, the only trainer that I had never beaten and the one that desperately needed to be beaten once in his life. His time slot was three slots before mine, two is just enough time to get the cats to the ring without hurrying.
"That might have been his best performance ever, for the conference," Mom said.
"In that I am inclined to agree," Dad said, "But you disregard the fact that last year artistic scores were added in hopes of encouraging opposition."
"And Gladwin and others have gotten perfect artistic scores by all normal standards," I commented.
"You know, Michelle," Sheridan commented, "Almost all the trainers have learned to sign 'Now', 'Begin', or 'Go' at the beginning of each trick in their routine."
"Yes," I said, "But they don't know what it means, I doubt that most of them are aware they are doing it."
"I for one have been conscious for a considerable duration that I must, err, 'hold my mouth right'" Dad said.
"Of course you do," I said, "but when you do it right, it means something, to the tigers at least."
"Oh, Byron you forget yourself," Mom said.
"You are quite mistaken, my dear. I believe I have just remembered what I've been trying to understand while disbelieving for many years."
"Last time you said something like that you tried to write a tiger training textbook."
"This time I don't propose to construct a nincompoop of myself for the general amusement, but to stop being the dunce I have been for my entire career."
"I'm exhilarated to oblige you in such rapid succession" Dad said as he pulled himself as far out of the way as he could.
"Thank you," I said and squeezed past.
"Me too, I guess," said Sheridan following.
"You don't have to come," I said, "Why don't you watch from here."
"Oh, alright," Sheridan relented and sat back down.
My routine went perfectly and received satisfying marks, during my absence Dad tried to remember and duplicate facial expressions for Sheridan to translate.
As Sheridan said, He knew three 'go's, a 'wait', a 'do that', and a 'try it like this'.
That evening after Mom and Dad had gone back to their hotel room, Sheridan asked me about making a routine and teaching tricks. I was happy that he was looking forward to maybe being a responsible person among tigers rather than subconsciously being just one of the group. I told him all the wisdom I could think of, some of which was my own and some I had heard from others.
The next day Sheridan went to visit his cousins with the strict command that he wasn't to climb any ladders or sneak anywhere with his cousins. I stayed in the room and practiced with the tigers and generally thanked them for doing so well. Dad came over later and tried to convince me that my marks were close enough to Gallard's that I could conceivably have won even though he hadn't actually paid close attention to his total he was sure that he hadn't gotten above a four point six from any of the artistic judges. Dad also apologized for not believing that I could figure out a way to talk to tigers.
When Sheridan returned, I was feeding the cats and Dad was trying to decide if he should leave or ask to help.
"Hello Michelle," He said, "Hello Monsieur Aubrey."
"Regards," I said.
"And felicitations," Dad added, "I perceive you perpetuate the furtherance of your lexicon."
"Whatever," Sheridan said, "Would you watch my routine?"
"Yes, if you have one," I said.
"But of course, most estimable feline instructor." Dad assented.
"Yes or no is plenty," flashed across Sheridan's face.
I giggled and nodded.
"All right," Sheridan said, "let me set up."
He pulled all but one of the cages into a semicircle against one wall and gathered some odds and ends. Then he roared, actually it was almost like a meow but more reminiscent of a big cat than a small cat. Napoleon who had finished eating and was licking his paws and cleaning his face over to the side came and got in his cage, the only one that Sheridan hadn't used for the ring. Dad and I moved to an appropriate audience position.
Sheridan closed the cage and brought it towards the opening in the ring. "The top ten things you must remember to be a good cat trainer," he announced.
"Number 10," he said bringing Napoleon into the ring. "You most definitely must get a cat," he proclaim pulling the cage across the ring and turning it around "or," he continued in a confiding voice, "more than one."
"Number 9, you must feed your cat," he announced getting a food bowl from on top of the cage and pretending to put food in it. Then he placed it at the far side of the ring and walked back to the cage.
"Some people don't like Number 8," he announced getting a bucket and sponge and placing them near the door of the cage, "you should clean up after your cat," he continued. Then he opened the door so that it formed a ramp. Napoleon launched himself across the ring and set upon his invisible food. Sheridan, meanwhile, began hurriedly to clean the cage.
"Number 7," He said looking up often to check on Napoleon and working himself into the cage and turning around, "you must always keep an eye on your cat."
Napoleon finished eating and stretched. Sheridan finished cleaning the cage and reached around to put the bucket down beside the cage, out of the way of the door. The noise of the bucket attracted Napoleon's attention who turned to look at Sheridan. Sheridan looked steadily back.
"Number 6, you must never show fear." Sheridan said in a even-tone, "Cats can't resist fear." but Napoleon growled and crouched.
"Number 5," Sheridan said, "you must under all circumstances keep control of your cats."
Napoleon sprang forward with a roar only to come to pause just before reaching the cage and stuck his nose under the door of the cage and stepped forward lifting the door until it latched.
"Number 4," groaned Sheridan rattling the door, "you shouldn't teach your cat tricks you don't want it to perform." Napoleon picked up the handle in his teeth and backed toward the opening in the ring pulling the cage with him.
"Number 3," Sheridan said crouching further in the cage, "you must keep the respect of your cats by friendship, discipline, or prowess." Sheridan crouched in the cage more than he already was, then he snarled. Napoleon stopped pulling and blinked at him. Sheridan roared louder than I had heard for a long time. Napoleon dropped the handle and slunk humbly behind the cage. Sheridan struggled a few seconds and opened the door and climbed out of Napoleon's cage.
"Number 2," Sheridan said, "you must always be courteous and respectful to your cat," Then he bowed to Napoleon and held out his hand to the open cage door.
Napoleon strutted around the ring until Sheridan stopped bowing and put his hands on his hips. Then Napoleon quickly got into his cage.
"And the number 1 thing you should remember while training your cats," concluded Sheridan, "you shouldn't take yourself too seriously, your cats may not be taking you seriously either," and he pulled Napoleon out of the ring.
We clapped, "I couldn't have done better with three cats," Dad said with uncharacteristic enthusiasm.
"Really?" Sheridan asked, "It was good?"
"Good?" I said, "It was great!"
"Good," said Sheridan and turned to let Napoleon out and began putting the cages back in order. Napoleon came over and rubbed against my leg. I sat down to complement his performance. Dad followed suit with the former and was as usual, oblivious to the later.
"A most commendable exhibition," Dad said, "Do I recall correctly that there are children's performances intended prior to the closing ceremonies?"
"I think so," I said trying to make sure that Bridget, Samuel, and Amy had comfortable places to lay against me, always part of my "sitting down" ritual.
"With that eventuality in view," Dad said, "I greatly endorse that you enlist his presentation."
"Good idea," I said, "but only if Sheridan wants to perform in front of everyone, and --"
"Yes, I would like to!" Sheridan said, "Please."
"I perceive an over-enthusiastic confirmation," Dad said, and he was right, Sheridan hadn't bounced up and down chanting, "Please, please," but he most likely had carried out the tiger equivalent to the fullest. He reminded me of the tigers waiting to dodge around me and grab a mouthful of some special treat before I'm done serving it.
"As I was saying, And if Napoleon doesn't mind." I finished.
"Oh," said Sheridan turning to look for him, "I don't think he minds."
"He's over here," I said, and called Napoleon's signal.
"Oh," Sheridan said turning back around.
"Would you like to do that performance again in the real big cage with Short Ears?" I signed to Napoleon.
"I would do it again in the big cage," Napoleon said, "Even with Short Ears."
I wondered if this was real reluctance or a veiled complement.
The next morning we all went to see the performances. The lion tamers finished about noon, after which Sheridan went off with his cousins and some friends they had picked up during the week. I can still remember looking forward to the circus conference when I could see the other kids that used to be a part of the same circus troop my parent's had been in but whose parents had been transferred to another show. I had stressed the fact that he should get back to the room before feeding time so that he could practice, but he didn't get back until I was done feeding the cats and had started to make our supper.
"Sorry I didn't get back sooner," he muttered as he walked over and fell in a heap on his bed.
"Did you have fun?" I asked, hoping for an explanation why he was later than usual tonight especially.
"Maybe earlier I can't remember," he said.
"When did you stop having fun?"
"Sometime in between when we got in trouble for running around in the dark halls and when we got a guard to give us a supervised tour."
"So what happened?"
"The guard already knew where all the light switches were and showed us everything."
"That was nice."
"Well, most of it was interesting."
"Well, I guess all of it was interesting," Sheridan said, "but there are some things I wish I didn't know."
"Nobody else understands tigers."
"What is 'nobody else understands tigers' supposed to mean?" I asked.
"He showed us where the other tigers were, and no one else knew what they were saying, it was like they didn't care that cats were being mistreated behind some of those doors and were being loved behind other ones. It was like they didn't even hear the sound, like I was in two places at once."
"Oh Sheridan I'm sorry," was all I could say.
We ate in silence for a while.
"I signed you up to do your routine with Napoleon," I said, trying to change the subject.
"If that's what trainers are like I, Short Ears, will never be one."
"Huh?" I said, "Oh, but Sheridan I'm not like that, and Marguerite couldn't be like that either."
"But you're different," he said, "You aren't like them at all."
"I'm like some of them in that I love my cats, and there are some that like me request a room that isn't near the others, so you don't know how many there are like me."
"But there are so many of the others."
"We must show them that our way is better. You would be perfect to help with that."
"Hmm," he said.
After supper he went to bed without so much as a math puzzle or a conversation with the cats.
Sheridan's big day, when I woke up he was sitting with his back to one corner of the room looking across at the cats. He had been crying but wasn't any more. I tried to get his attention but he kept looking straight ahead totally expressionless, which meant he wasn't thinking about anything that could be expressed with signs or that he had already signed a question to himself and had no answer and no more ways to restate the question.
About breakfast time he got up and moved to the other side of the room and sat down as if he was going to eat, but he didn't notice that he had walked the wrong way.
"Sheridan it's breakfast time," I called a few moments later, but I got no response, "Short Ears," I said still no response. When he did move he changed from looking across the room to looking down at the floor. Then I couldn't even intercept his line of vision and sign to him. In desperation I told Napoleon to roar at him. Finally he moved. He looked up at Napoleon who signed that I wanted him to come and eat. He looked around and came over to where I had set breakfast, where I had been setting it all week.
"Sorry," he said, "I was thinking."
"Not very hard," I said.
"I was thinking very hard, just not about very much."
"Whatever, would you like orange juice?"
He said, "Yes," so I poured him some. He drank it slowly but made no move to eat the rest of his food.
Thinking that maybe he needed to voice his thoughts, I asked him, "Are you going to perform this afternoon or shall I cancel your thing?"
"I don't know," he said, "I want to be like you but I don't want to ever be like the other trainers."
"Some of the other trainers you should try to be like," I said, "Like Gladwin."
He smiled, I hoped that it was a good sign. Then he ate his meal. When he was done I told him it was time to practice.
He got to number five but wasn't paying attention. As Napoleon was ducking under the door to close it he signed to me "Make him stop. Don't you always say that practicing wrong is worse than not practicing?"
"Sheridan," I said, "If you think you know your routine well enough that you won't forget in front of everyone why don't you just stop since you aren't paying attention right now?"
"Alright," he said and crawled out of the cage and sat down on top and continued thinking.
"Would you like to go and see the animal trainers. There are horses, elephants, and dogs today. They say that dogs are easier to train than cats."
"Not really," he said in a tone that told me that he was responding to my question not disagreeing with my assertion.
"Well then why don't you put the cages back where they go and pack up your stuff except for what you are going to wear in the car tomorrow."
"Oh yeah, we're leaving tomorrow."
"Alright," he said and started putting the cages away and packing up. When I was almost ready to go and watch the animal trainers his cousins knocked on the door.
"Hello," I answered it stepping outside the room.
"Sheridan didn't come; so, we thought we would come and see if he changed his mind about wanting to go with us today, or if he just forgot where we were going to meet?"
"Sheridan has been quiet since he heard the tigers being mistreated yesterday. If he does want to go with you would you please try to convince him that the world needs more nice trainers. That will show beginning trainers the best way."
"Of course," they all said.
"Doesn't he think so?" said Galvin.
"He isn't sure that he wants to be a trainers if animal mistreatment is associated with it."
"Oh," Garvey said, "I can understand that he might group trainers together that way."
"Thanks," I said opening the door, "Now, I suppose I should hear if he wants to come with you."
"See, I mean... to find out."
"You can come in if you want." I said, "Sheridan, your cousins are here."
"Hey, Sheridan, come on, what's keeping you?" Galvin said.
"Hello guys," said Sheridan, "I was thinking, I guess."
"Go on and have fun," I encouraged, "Get back in time for lunch."
"Lunch," he said as he followed his cousins out the door, "Alright, I'll try to remember." I wondered if he would remember. Or even if he would be able to judge noon. Lunch being a meal he usually skipped; although, he ate enough morning and night to make up for it.
"Come on," Garvey said, "lets go see if we can find Hogan Gladwin!"
"Alright, sounds good to me," chimed in Gainor and Galvin, and they were off.
"Why did you leave in the middle of the tour yesterday?"
"I could understand the tigers and I didn't know that they were treated like that; although, now that I think about it. It might not be much compared to what they get from other tigers in the jungle."
"I didn't think of that," Gainor said, "I was thinking that the ones that were happy wouldn't be making any noise, and we did pass a lot of rooms that had tigers or lions in them that weren't making much noise."
"That's true I suppose," Sheridan agreed.
"I think I can hear them from here," said Galvin, "Can you tell what they are saying from this far away?"
After a moment Sheridan replied "Yes, sometimes, when we aren't talking louder than they are. Some are complaining about being hurt, some about being worked too hard, and some about the others making too much noise. "
Gainor giggled, "too much noise?"
"Some tigers like to talk more, some less. Like people I guess."
"You say tigers are like people in that they fight, eat, talk in their own language, and can have preferences," Garvey said. "So how are tigers not like people?"
"They are stronger, usually faster and more agile, have sturdier claws, don't have good hands, don't plan for the future farther than what they are going to do next." Sheridan said, "Monkeys do have hands but also don't plan much farther ahead than what they are going to do next; although, I think, a monkey may plan out how it will accomplish what it is trying to do."
"You mean to say 'God has placed eternity in the hearts of men,' " Gainor suggested.
"You always do bring in the metaphysical," Galvin complained.
"Alright. here we are," Gainor said, "Which room is Hogan's?"
"627 I think," said Galvin.
"Now if people that were just starting to train big cats saw that the trainers that were decent to their cats were the ones that won the conferences," Garvey theorized, "then more of them would be that way with their cats. And the halls would be quieter."
"Give me that map," demanded Galvin.
"No 627 is that way," Gainor replied.
"All right! lets go,"
"Wait a second let me check--" Gainor said, "Yea, 627 is Hogan's room."
"Oh yeah," Galvin said, "It would be bad to get there and it be someone else's room."
"Alright, here we are," Garvey said, "I don't hear anything. Which in Hogan's case might not mean anything. What do we say to get him to talk?"
"I don't care just don't lie," Gainor said.
"Oh I've got it. I'll just introduce us," Garvey said and began to knock.
"Who's there?" came a voice and then footsteps.
"Three of your fans and a peer," Garvey said.
The door opened. "Come in then," invited Hogan after a closer inspection he asked, "Which one is the peer?"
"Him," said Garvey pointing, "This is Sheridan Gaelan he can talk to tigers better than his friend Michelle."
"Better than Michelle? I find that possibility hard to grasp." said Mr. Gladwin.
"He started younger," Galvin explained.
"Ah, that might do it," Hogan said, "Where did he go?"
"He has taken the liberty of interviewing your fellow actors over there," Gainor said.
"Fellow actors?" Hogan asked turning to look where Gainor was motioning, "Oh them, Hmm, I might have to use that. 'Written and directed by Hogan Gladwin, starring Sydney Rochelle, cast also includes Remy, Renee, and Sydel Rochelle and of course Hogan Gladwin'."
"That might add something," Garvey said, "But you would have to be careful not to over use it."
"No no, Not more than once per show unless used as a cover to repeatedly allow the cats to sabotage a tableaux or something."
"Now that would be funny," Galvin said.
"Enough of this. What did you come here for?" Hogan asked, "Autographs? Postcards?"
"We came to listen to you and Sheridan talk technique."
"Sheridan, That's what his name was!" exclaimed Hogan, "I've got to remember that. Sheridan, friend of Michelle, better than Michelle, younger than Michelle."
"Did you call me," Sheridan asked walking back from the tiger cages.
"I was about to," Hogan said, "any suggestions for my performances or training methods?"
"You might consider their grammar structure is simpler than yours. They've been able to learn their names and a few verbs from you. But sometimes you tie two actions or two ideas together in ways they aren't sure what to do with."
"They don't understand me when I use if then or wait until complexes."
"Oh, now I know why they couldn't learn to recognize the words. because they didn't understand the concept," Sheridan explained, "They don't understand the if-then or wait-until structures because, they can only make decisions and think about doing things but they can't think about making decisions. So they can't understand being told how to make the decisions."
"Ah, Is that why. I've heard that they can't think about thinking but I didn't understand how it applied to anything."
"And if you can't think about making decisions then you can't think about making decisions in the future." Gainor said.
Hogan looked puzzled. "Previous conversation," explained Garvey.
"So Sheridan, when am I likely to see you perform?"
"Tonight I think."
"Ah, the children's competition."
"Who's starring in your performance?"
"Is it a story or just tricks?"
"It's not really a story but it isn't just tricks."
"Hmm, Sounds more and more interesting."
They talked about stories, plots, tricks, teaching tricks, performing tricks, et cetera. Garvey was relieved that Sheridan was planning on performing. Gainor and Galvin were so interested in the conversation that they didn't get bored for quite a while. It was Hogan who first realized that they were being left out of the conversation; although, he didn't point this out. "Hey, I bet you would all like to meet a friend of mine," he said, There were no objections so he led them back out into the hall where Sheridan stiffened again.
"Good grief!" Hogan exclaimed, "What in the world is wrong."
Sheridan opened his mouth to reply but didn't say anything.
"He can understand the cats," Garvey explained motioning to the door that the most noise was coming from.
"Oh," Hogan said and watched Sheridan wince at a few of the especially loud screams, "For once I think I'm glad that I can't understand cats."
They walked on for a few moments, Hogan giving directions at the corners but walking slowly so that he could watch Sheridan as they moved along.
Suddenly Sheridan brightened and let out a loud and long but somehow harmonious call. Because it wasn't muffled by walls or doors, it was louder than the rest and brought the rest of the party up sharp.
Sheridan was busy with his call and didn't notice that everyone had stopped until he had finished the sound. When Sheridan's call had died away there was a complete silence. Then Sheridan called again slightly different. To everyone's surprise he was joined by cats here and there among the rooms. Even some cats that hadn't been screaming before. The third call came before Sheridan had finished catching his breath, but he joined in again when he was able. Volume grew with every call until the fourth call it became obvious that every cat had joined in. Then Sheridan was silent and looked around at the others in the little party.
"What does it all mean?" asked Garvey and Hogan together.
"Obviously they are praying or singing," Gainor said.
"What's praying?" asked Sheridan.
"Hmm. how would you understand?" said Garvey.
"Praying is talking to someone you can't see, because you know for some reason that they can hear you." Gainor said.
"Like asking who's knocking on the door?"
"No, talking to someone who can't be seen."
"Like the old man in the jungle. He sat and talked often to nobody, but none of us understood him. We didn't know that he was a man because he never made a fire and he never hunted."
"What was he like?" asked Mr. Gladwin.
"He had a little house he slept in when it rained or snowed. He was careful not to scare off the animals, but it became obvious that he didn't like to have the wolves around. When they realized that he didn't like them they stopped coming. Sometimes he read a book."
"He sounds like some sort of hermit," Gainor said, "One that didn't mind company."
"So when he wasn't trying to talk to the animals do you think he was praying?" Sheridan queried.
"Probably, but in Nepal I wouldn't venture to guess who he was praying to," said Mr. Gladwin.
"Who is there to pray to besides the Creator?" Sheridan asked.
"Some people think that they can prey to their parents or friends after they have died."
"The Creator could do anything to what he made. or make an animal to come and help you." Sheridan said, "but what help can a friend be after they die?"
"I don't know," said Mr. Gladwin, "I don't remember having ever died."
They all laughed and walked on to the accompanying sound of the cats.
"What's that noise?" asked Galvin.
"I can't hear anything except the cats singing."
"No, I think some are singing something different."
"Lions, they have their own version of the song." Sheridan explained, "They also seem to have a terrible accent."
"They probably think that tigers have an accent," Mr. Gladwin laughed.
"Probably, but I've never tried to talk to one," Sheridan declined.
They arrived shortly at the door of Mr. Gladwin's friend. Mr. Gladwin knocked loudly.
"Don't try to interrupt my lunch Peter, You know it takes a lot to keep a body like mine running."
"This is Hogan Gladwin. I came to introduce some friends," Mr. Gladwin said, "We're just little bodies compared to you so we didn't realize it was lunch time."
"I don't think it's lunch time yet," Sheridan whispered.
"Don't tell him I said so but Mr. Fergus eats lunch twice or three times a day," Mr. Gladwin confided.
The door opened, "I heard that Hogan. I'd rather eat lunch three times a day than eat it all day like some people."
"That's true enough I suppose," agreed Mr. Gladwin.
"By the way you can all call me Flynn," Mr. Fergus said, "Mr. Fergus makes me feel anticlimactic."
"Hate to violate your sense of presentation," warily said Mr. Gladwin eyeing his bulging muscles. Turning back to the children he said, "This is my friend, I mean acquaintance, who is the strong man for the circus that I work for. I've only seen him mad once and I don't particularly want to see it again."
"Ha, you needn't fear me. What would I gain from hurting anyone not near my size except a bad name. Besides those were induplicable circumstances."
"Huh?" said Galvin.
"If I beat you up, for example, everyone would call me a bully. If I picked a fight with you and lost, it would be even worse. Either way I don't gain anything from picking a fight with anyone smaller than me, except maybe a bad reputation."
"Right; Although, I never thought about it quite like that. I like you," Sheridan said, "you're smart."
"That is one thing I can't remember being complemented on before," Mr. Fergus said, "If you think I'm smart you should talk to Hogan here. He knows what makes kids laugh and what makes adults laugh."
"What's harder than making adults laugh is making the kids laugh without being so stupid that the adults won't laugh," Mr. Gladwin pointed out.
"That makes sense," Mr. Fergus agreed, "But you haven't introduced the rest of your party. Why don't you come in too."
"Oh. permit me, everyone, to beg your assorted pardons," Mr. Gladwin said.
"Well, I did interrupt," Mr. Fergus said.
"Anyway, this is Sheridan, My superior in knowledge of the tiger psyche. The other three young gents are his cousins and I believe are also acrobats; although, I haven't gotten around to asking."
"Yes, that is right," Garvey agreed.
"Which means, of course," Mr. Fergus said, "that they are well timed, agile, and strong whereas I am merely strong."
"But you are very strong," pointed out Galvin.
Very soon the conversation split and Mr. Gladwin talked with Sheridan about tigers while the Gallaghers talked with Mr. Fergus about other things.
Sheridan did manage to get back in time for lunch; he did, however, walk down the hall where the other tigers were, to see what was happening. The tigers were still singing here and there, but most of the trainers were out in the hall discussing what it might possibly mean.
When he did get back; however, he didn't sit down to lunch until he had done his routine twice with Napoleon. He did it perfectly the first time and the second time he added a jump on to the cage between closing Sheridan in the cage and pulling the cage toward the door. He also had Napoleon close the cage door on himself before Sheridan pulled him out of the ring.
"Well done," I complemented.
"Thanks," he said, "I'm hungry,"
"Good," I sighed, "It's about time."
"I thought it was past time," He objected.
" 'it's about time,' sometimes means 'it's past time'." I said, "It's called an under-statement."
"Oh," He said, "Like an overstatement except the other direction?"
"Right," I agreed, "Both are called sarcasm or to use them is to be sarcastic."
Sheridan's performance went perfectly until Sheridan bowed for Napoleon to enter his cage, but instead of lifting his nose and defiantly parading around the ring. Napoleon walked straight over and
sat down in front of Sheridan. Sheridan did what he had trained himself to do for exasperation. He straightened up and put his fists on his hips. but before he had stood up all the way, while he was still of balance Napoleon put a big paw on his leg and pushed him over. Sheridan tried to scramble back up but Napoleon was already on top of him and gave Sheridan a big lick on the cheek somehow managing to make it appear slimy.
Sheridan sat up again his hand covering the kissed cheek. He glared at Napoleon but Napoleon had already darted into the cage and shut the door behind him.
gave Sheridan, whose head was just within reach, a huge lick on the cheek and darted into the cage and shut the door behind him. Sheridan staggered back in surprise.
When the laughter died down Sheridan delivered his last line and pulled Napoleon out of the ring.
As he left the ring he was escorted back to the Junior Performers' area. The JP section as it is scornfully referred to by circus children. Many children of circus performers do perform in the JP trials but none expose themselves twice to the slander of letting themselves get escorted there by mistake.
The next Performer came out. I counted tricks carefully I wasn't sure how much Sheridan's gab was worth against no gab at all, and three more tricks, but as usual I had ignored the marks and could only wait for the awards.
As the other contestant went back to the JP section I realized, just before the guards did, that most of the kids were crowded in one aisle. What I could see that the guards couldn't was that Sheridan had Napoleon out of his cage and was letting the other kids pet him. I suppose that it goes without saying that I got there as fast as I could. By the time I got to the JP section there was a steady stream of children from the rest of the audience coming to pet Napoleon. It was at that moment that I realized that children flow like a liquid, filling every likely looking space; whereas, Adults flow like sand only filtering through where there is nothing in the way. When I finally got to the hall into the JP section my progress was barred.
"Sorry madam," the boy said, "No grownups."
"What?" I asked confused.
"He has no reason to put the tiger back in the cage unless we spook the tiger or someone tells him to stop. So we, him and I," he pointed to another boy who was standing on the other side of the narrow hallway letting in a single file line of children while he kept a wary eye out for me or another adult to try and slip past his guard, "We are making sure no grownups get close enough to tell him to stop."
"But it's my cat," I objected.
He looked at me in a fatigued sort of way, "You grownups just don't get it. Even if I did believe that one, I would be less likely to let you in because he would have to stop if you told him to, but we might possibly convince him not to listen to you if you were someone else."
"I trust Sheridan to tell the kids what not to do to avoid making Napoleon nervous," I said, "But I don't trust the kids to obey him, or Napoleon not to get scared for some reason Sheridan didn't think of."
"Don't worry some other kids put themselves on detail keeping the line moving and keeping kids from getting where he says they might make the tiger nervous."
I stared at him shrewdly, realizing I had only four options. Fussing and scolding wouldn't get me anywhere, but they would raise his expectations of me as a probable killjoy. I could of course force my way in like any normal exasperated adult. or climb around him like any normal spiteful child. I decided that either of these would work but only as a last resort. The former would give Sheridan ammunition that I thought like an adult and only that way. The later would give Marguerite reason to say that I wasn't noticeably more mature than she was.
That left me the sole recourse of talking myself in using the best childlike logic I could call up. I must of course do so without violating my integrity or bringing my willingness to fulfill my adult responsibilities into question which would brand me as a hypocrite.
"How about," I proposed, "If I promised not to shut him down as long as my cat is happy and the security guards haven't gotten in. I wouldn't possibly be able to support myself for not shutting him down against a guard's say so. I don't, after all, want a guard shooting at my cat, even with darts, if I can help it. Besides if it looked like I, the owner, was on my way the guards might not be overly anxious to get closer than they have to."
He eyed me with growing respect.
"Any reason why we should keep the parents of the audience kids out?" asked the boy guarding the other side of the walkway.
I heard the tone and read the new more thoughtful look on my diminutive sentry's face. A new meaning presented itself. The other sentry wasn't asking if reasons existed but which ones should be used and how they should be presented.
"Tell them the truth," I suggested, "Tell them the tiger's owner is in there and everything is under control but that I say that adults make Napoleon nervous."
The eyes of the Guard who stopped me came back into focus, "Right lady," he said moving aside, "You're in."
"Will wonders never cease," he muttered as I slipped past him, "a logical grown-up."
"Of course," I smiled, "all it takes is a good memory."
As I worked my way forward I heard a new sentry being consigned and briefed also a messenger being dispatched to another entrance of the JP section. I pressed on through the turbulent flow of bodies, suddenly I realized that the keeper of the other side of the hall had passed me and was moving rapidly away with seeming ease. I passed a group of children telling what the sign of being able to pet a tiger meant for them. For two it was God's proof of his existence in spite of public education. For another it was proof that he should join the circus, but it convinced two more that circus life wasn't all it was cracked up to be. A few found themselves bound by the most solemn oaths they knew to do chores without complaining or befriending a new kid or some other seemingly mundane problem that were elevated to the status of minor miracles by some fluke of nature, or was it more than that?
I noticed a Hispanic child standing close to the group opening her mouth with every lull in the conversation but never finding the words to say until another piped up about the peculiarities of their request of the supernatural for a sign.
I wanted to stay and see if there was a noticeable pattern not only toward the supernatural but toward one particular belief system, but I had a minor miracle to keep under control.
Finally I worked my way to where I could see Sheridan. It was on the far side of the line of approaching children, but I would be cutting in if I got in line there and they obviously weren't planning on letting me.
Sheridan saw me as he glanced up to survey the oncoming line, then he looked again surprised to see me.
"Well?" I signed or its close equivalent.
"We can't stop yet!" Sheridan signed, "It isn't time."
"What?" I gasped then I signed since he couldn't hear me over the crowd.
"I don't know," he signed looking almost panicked, "Just wait! please? only a little longer I think."
"That's alright," I signed hoping to calm him before Napoleon noticed his agitation, "I won't make you stop until Napoleon wants to or guards come. He relaxed visibly which caused me to also, I suspect. Anyway I sat back to wait for guards to show. When I glanced back Sheridan was glancing off into space by my ear. He sat up straighter and glared again almost like he was listening for something.
Suddenly he looked at me, "That's all the important ones, we can stop now," he signed.
"Whatever," I signed back.
He started and looked down, at Napoleon. I tensed.
He smiled and looked back up at me, "Friendly Fighter must have thought so too," He signed, "He just got back in the cage."
"What gives," cried a boy in a Brooklyn accent. I turned to look. He looked about twelve or thirteen, he wore a baffled expression, not the envious or enraged one I expected, "My hand was nine inches away and he gets up and leaves."
I looked at him a second my mind racing for an excuse I could make for Sheridan and Napoleon's odd behavior. The words leapt out before I knew what they were. "Look, I don't know what your question was or what answer you think you almost got, but He is obviously giving you the other answer so loud you can't deny it."
We both blinked at each other. He paled slightly. Apparently I had stood up to face him. "What did I say?" I asked.
"Je ez a provitez!" said a Jewish boy I hadn't noticed before.
We blinked again. His already ivory face turned albino. "Women shouldn't prophesy with their heads uncovered!" he accused.
"Huh?" I said.
"Ha, You vould cvote ze Torah but you voen't ekzplain ze zimboles," said the Jewish boy elbowing his friend.
Ah, I thought, We studied Jewish culture one semester. Circus tutors do have some advantages however slight they may appear at the time. What, I tried to remember, did head covering mean for a woman?
"Don't vorury," the boy was saying, "Ivv je owns as many veding rings as je 'as on now, 'er 'ead is covered by deevalt, I zink."
What was this about wedding rings? I didn't have any of course. Oh! of course. "Not quite," I said, "but you will be relieved to hear my father and I were reconciled just the other day," I didn't mention who did the reconciling, but I was forgiving. "besides I've never had occasion to own a wedding ring."
"Ah, je ez right you know," he elbowed his friend in the ribs, "je knows ze culture but not ze literature. besides you jould not cvote se zcriptjures unlez you know vat zay mean," and off he dragged his friend who kept staring back at me.
"Come on miracle worker, this prophetess is ready to get back to work she understands," I said as I turned to look for Sheridan. He was working his way through the crowd with a caged tiger in tow.
"Don't let it go to your head, or it likely won't happen again," advised a voice. I turned, It was the shy Hispanic girl.
"Right now that would suit me fine," I said but I realized what she needed was some one to talk to. She had already listened to enough people. "Sorry," I apologized, "I'm just nervous. What were you saying?"
She opened her mouth and closed it again three times.
"Don't worry," I reassured, " I don't bite, and my tigers don't usually."
She smiled and relaxed a little, "I'm Cuban, My parents brought me over when I was little so I don't remember much." she wasn't very big now but I decided not to interrupt, "I want to be a missionary to India."
"I've been to India," I said, "You don't want to go there. I'll bet it's the only place communism could not make worse."
"Don't say so," She gasped, "I don't remember much but communism is hell on earth."
"So is Hinduism," I said grimily, "communist atheists at least believe in science."
"Hindus at least believe in spirits and the value of life," She argued.
"But human life has the lowest value. They live life at the cost of decay, disease, and starvation," I countered.
"Better than starvation and, depending on regime, decay and disease enforced at the cost of human life."
"I guess maybe you're right," I said, "Human life valued just below the rat's might be better than no value at all."
She nodded and went on, "My father says I'm ungrateful among other things. I know deep down inside I would be more ungrateful not to go."
"Not as ungrateful as the rest of us," I suggested.
"They," she said, "aren't my problem. Anyway Dad said I should distract myself and go to the circus. I don't know where the money came from," The Conference is cheaper than a regular circus, I thought, the performers only get paid enough for insurance. Still with this number of performers it could be hefty. "I asked God to show me a sure sign that he wanted me to go to India, the only thing I could think of that had anything to do with India was --"
"Let me guess," I said, "If you got to pet a tiger."
"Right," she smiled, "but does God want me to disobey my parents?"
I thought of my conversation with the Jewish boy. "I would doubt it seriously," I said, then considering that if I was the one answering the question for someone else I would try not to sound authoritative. "although it is possible, I suppose. If I were you-" I started but there was no reason to tempt the supernatural "No, I mean, 'If you ask me' you should tell him what happened today so you know that you are supposed to go, BUT that he is your father and you will obey him while you are young. You might also ask for advice about how you should prepare yourself to be a missionary. That way maybe he can see why you should go. Also asking his advice and saying that you are going to obey him will prove to him that you are serious and let him change his mind by himself."
She brightened, "Okay." She agreed and hurried off.
I wondered what she would be teaching. Not communism definitely, likely not Hinduism either if she was looking for converts in India. Probably something monotheistic from the way she used the word god without an article or quantifier, more like a name or title than a rank.
It occurred to me that I hadn't heard anyone talking about Allah but then we were closer to Brooklyn than to Texas, to say nothing of the fact that most circus children wouldn't be caught dead in the JP section, which ruled out the children of the Arab performers.
I caught up with Sheridan, and we took Napoleon back to the room. On the way I asked Sheridan why he had let the kids pet Napoleon, but he couldn't explain any better than he had before.
The Evening of the awards ceremony we both got dressed up. I told him what would happen so that he wouldn't be surprised. Then we went to the train station to meet my parents and pick up Jean and Marguerite.
On the way back Jean and mom and I discussed Jean's brightening career possibilities. Meanwhile Dad, Marguerite, and Sheridan, discussed tiger training; although, towards the end of the trip I had the feeling from occasional glances in their direction that Marguerite and Sheridan were carrying on a private conversation about the jungle life of the tiger.
For all dad's encouragement I was pleasantly surprised to be called up for first place. I was too dazzled at that point to remember whether Mr. Gladwin or Dempsey Gallard was awarded second and which received third.
What I do remember vividly was watching the appalled expression steal over Mr. Gladwin's face to replace the one of awe that had occupied it previously. I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was to the effect that I knew he was astronomically better than me, and the judges must have made a mistake, and that we should trade places on the podium. He declined with some comment about giving away free lunch on an empty stomach.
"Miss Aubrey, We know that you have been working toward this moment for most of your career. Now that you have all our attention is there anything that you would like to say?" The Master of ceremonies asked after he had handed me my medal.
"I guess, thanks to all of you for being a willing audience, Thanks to my tigers who will enjoy most of the benefits of my winnings. and most of all to my dad for everything he has taught me about tiger training and about life."
"Did the national champion big cat trainer just say that there was more to life than tigers?" He asked jokingly.
I shrugged and he went on. "Mr. Gladwin, I don't know why I'm doing this from side to side not from the top or bottom but here we are. What will you spend your winnings on and what will your strategy be for the next year?"
"Well, my strategy has always been to help my audience laugh and forget their own problems as they watch me with my problems. And I will keep that as my primary goal, but I've been thinking about taking lessons from Michelle if she's available."
"Whoa there, Sharing answers, Is that cheating? Are there rules against that?" The master of ceremonies joked. "All right!" He continued, "We've heard some revealing testimonies from our witnesses. Next case: Dog trainers."
"Where does he get his stuff?" muttered Mr. Gladwin as we made our way off the podium. "Do you mind if I sit with you?" he asked a few moments later as we made our way up to our seats.
"I guess not," I said remembering what he had said on the podium. After we sat down I apologized for what I said and that I hoped that he wasn't offended and that I really did think he was the better of the two of us and that I should be respectful of the judges.
He said that he hadn't been offended after he realized that I really meant it, but he agreed with the judges since the awards were for tiger handling not for plot construction.
I was surprised when Sheridan was the first one called up at the beginning of the Junior Performer awards, but he had been unanimously voted Favorite Junior Performer. I can only guess it was for his ability to work a compromise between Napoleon and what in any other circumstances should have been a mob.
When Sheridan was called up for a prize I wasn't surprised. He was one of only five contestants and I couldn't imagine him getting fourth of fifth; although, he would have gotten a participation award anyway. I was surprised though to realize that he had not just placed but had won the National Junior Performer Big Cat Event.
"Sheridan Gaelan, you have won first place in your class at the National Conference. What do you have to say?"
"I don't know." He said with a forced shrug. I knew there was something I had forgotten to tell him about the ceremony.
"What are you going to spend your winnings on?" prompted the Master of Ceremonies.
"Hmm, I don't know what I would spend it on," he said. Money of his own was obviously a new idea to him, "I think I'll keep them until I have something important to spend it on." he said.
"Save it for something important. That's wise beyond your years don't you think?" the Master of Ceremonies said "You are on Television, do you have anything you would like to say to our international audience?"
I could see his eyes get big even from where I was sitting. The MASTER OF CEREMONIES pointed out the camera. "Mom," he said, "I love you, too."
The audience loved it. I was glad that, that was over. I was afraid that he would say something he might live to regret all his life but this was normal enough for a JP that it would not be his most famous words. I wondered how many knew that he hadn't seen his mother for years. I wondered if his parents were watching.
I thought I saw him signing something while the MASTER OF CEREMONIES was interviewing the other medallists, but I couldn't make out what. As he made his way back up the bleacher steps I turned to Marguerite and signed "What did he sign about? I missed it."
"He wants to give me his catch," she signed back, "He says that I deserve it more."
So Sheridan also thought that he wasn't the best and wanted to give his prize to Marguerite.
"Did he want to give you the meat or the bones?" I signed back.
It took her a moment to interpret this back into English, "I didn't ask, I just told him to keep his hunting," then she said aloud, "I don't know which he would be more likely to keep, the proof or the practicality."
That was a fateful moment, when everyone looked inquiringly at Marguerite for an explanation to the conclusion of a conversation. A conversation that they hadn't been aware of. There was a startled staring silence among my family during which second hands seemed to tick hours, winding the spring to the breaking point, I tried to glance casually to where Sheridan should have been. "Where's Sheridan!" I exclaimed, and the spring recoiled violently.
For several minutes we were scrambling madly over each other to see where he wasn't, that he should have been. Order was finally restored by Mr. Gladwin; although Mom was standing calmly by until she could make herself heard over our voices.
"Ok," Mr. Gladwin said, "I know, I would have guessed that he was planning on coming back to where we were sitting. Where else would he have gone?"
"That is most plain," Dad said, "He would proceed back to his room, or seek out and associate with those disreputable friends of his."
"Those are his cousins and they are only slightly more or less responsible than he proved himself to be this morning," I said, "Besides I was very clear about whether he was allowed to leave the auditorium before the ceremonies were over."
"I didn't find anything wrong with the Gallagher children when I met them," said Mr. Hogan.
"Might he have gone off with them anyway or gone off to another part of the coliseum?" Mom suggested.
"Maybe," I said, "He might hide with them somewhere inside the coliseum just because I didn't say that he couldn't."
"The Gallaghers, right?" asked Jean. I nodded. "I saw where they were sitting as we came in," he continued, "I'll go check to see if they're there or if they are missing also."
"He wouldn't go off with them, today," Marguerite said. Luckily Dad was trying to imagine how Sheridan had proven himself as irresponsible as he imagined the Gallaghers to be, so he didn't have time to wonder how she was so sure about his cousins or his customs when she had never seen either. I on the other hand was not preoccupied with my own cryptic comment.
"What? Why not?" I signed, not like a cat but with that exaggerated puzzled expression that is so often but not always accompanied by a mouthed "What?"
She blushed slightly, "He wanted me to meet them. He wouldn't have gone off with them with out me," She said, I knew she was leaving something out, but unlike Sheridan, she didn't broadcast all her pieces of thoughts so I couldn't make out what.
"Where would he be then?" I asked trying not to make it sound like it was aimed at her.
"If he wouldn't have gone out of the coliseum and he wouldn't be with anyone inside the coliseum; Except, for maybe a brief chat or autograph," reasoned Mr. Gladwin.
"In the eventuality that all our assumptions are correct," concluded my father, "He is much sought after, or he is somewhere or with someone against his will."
"If he was signing autographs one of us would have seen him," Mom said quietly.
"Which seems to leave the possibility that he was kidnapped against his will, or at least what we would like to think is his better judgment," continued Mr. Gladwin.
Jean came back during this speech, "Well," he said, when he could do so without interrupting "he's not with the Gallaghers. You did say that they were his cousins? They haven't seen him. What's funny is that I wouldn't know who they are except I recognize them from other conferences and one of you mentioned them by name, and they don't know me from Adam."
"Or from Noah even, I suppose?" suggested Mr. Gladwin with overdone dryness.
"I don't know why," I said, "but I think that we should check the room," everyone agreed. On the way I realized that Sheridan had the key. I had given it to him that afternoon so that he could put Napoleon back in the room, but I had never gotten it back from him. Nor had I thought anything of it when I let him lock the door before we left to the train station.
When we got to the room the door was still locked and there was no answer to our knocking. I was about to feel relieved when Marguerite noticed the key lying on top of the door frame.
I hurriedly unlocked the door after retrieving the key. I stepped inside, and in a moment had taken in the fact that all of Sheridan's things were gone.
"Hold it right there!"
"Hold it right there!" exclaimed Mr. Gladwin.
"Indisputably excellent advice," reassured my father.
"Definitely a kidnapping," said Jean.
"How do you know," I asked starting to turn around.
"Don't move! I said," repeated Mr. Gladwin.
"Procure me a pair of tweezers someone and I should me more than obliged to explain," Dad said.
Nobody said anything.
"Alright, it shall be explained without tweezers," Dad sighed, "First of all, there's a ransom note between your feet, you haven't stepped on it yet. Please keep it that way." I looked down there was the note all right I had stepped all the way over it, but dad was talking again, "Second, you are holding the door by the knob right where Sheridan would have held it when opening and locking it. Not where a our kidnapper if he's normal, would hold a door that has already been opened, when he held it open waiting for Sheridan to retrieve his bag."
"Nice of him to not put it in an envelope so that we can read it without getting fingerprints all over it," Jean commented.
"How do you know that it's a ransom note?" I asked.
"Because Sheridan wouldn't type a runaway note," Mr. Gladwin said, "Neither would a rank amateur unless he had read enough mystery stories. Will someone please go and call the police?"
"Right away," Jean said, "Not the nearest pay phone, the next one." we heard him mutter as he strode away.
I stepped back outside the door, careful not to brush the note with my foot. "Marguerite," I said "Go get one of my slippers and prop the door with it. Try not to touch anything else. Then ask the tigers what they saw. I want to read this note."
"Don't tell me she can talk to them, too." said Mom and Mr. Gladwin together.
"Like Sheridan, Marguerite understands a larger vocabulary than I do. Unlike Sheridan she doesn't know how to form the imperative structure, a must for training."
I read the note aloud
"To whom it may concern:
I have become increasingly concerned for the continued emotional, physical, and psychological health and safety of Sheridan Gaelan.
I don't claim the legal authority to make decisions of this type on his behalf; however, I do feel that it is my duty as a normal and responsible member of society to remove him from the care of Ms. Michelle Aubrey and take him with all due haste to his rightful parents and give them a full account of what I have witnessed."
I straightened up, "I hate normal people," I said, "We're all a little weird or crazy in our own way. People who say that they are normal are just repressing it."
"How is it signed?" asked Mom.
"A normally nosy and sadistic psychiatrist," I guessed and bent over it again, "Nope it's signed 'A Responsible Human' as if I'm not human or not responsible," I muttered, "Somewhere, somehow I hope that this 'Responsible Human' learns very quickly that one can't be totally responsible for Sheridan without either a steal chain leash or being both omniscient and omnipotent. The later two aren't human and the former isn't humane."
"Well you seem to have managed well so far," Mom said, "There must be another method that you used."
"It's a method I learned from my parents," I said, "It's called love, It makes him think that I'm omnipotent. It gives me the patience to become omniscient as it pertains to his wants, needs, practices, and thought habits," I paused, "And," I sighed, "Somewhere in the middle it works like a steel Bungee cord."
"Bungee cord?" Mr. Gladwin asked, "Steel?"
"Elastic," I said, "and almost unbreakable. Used for attaching things. Unfortunately it's a more accurate analogy than we could wish for. It would seem to mean that it is only a matter of time before it snaps back. Either dragging us together again, or wounding us both when the time comes to part forever."
"I always knew you'd be a good mother," mom said, "I just expected you'd be ... Ahem ... Normal, and get married first."
"There are a trio of other procedures I can think of that could be employed to keep Sheridan sedate," Dad said, "methods that I anticipate managed to avoid your grasp, they are, a cage, a lie, and a singular or a plurality of drugs. The former pair Sheridan might prove too intelligent for."
When Sheridan was led firmly out of the coliseum he fully expected to be facing a security guard when he was allowed to turn around. "Who are you?" he demanded when he realized his mistake.
"A friend," the man said, "Now let's hurry before Michelle can get into more trouble," and he started off down the hall.
"Michelle didn't look like she was in trouble a moment ago," Sheridan protested looking back.
"She doesn't know it yet either," the man said turning back to Sheridan, "Can you walk by yourself or should I hold your hand?"
"What?" Sheridan asked, but the man didn't answer he just demonstrated the amazing speed that can be attained by a nervous man dragging a confused and slightly reluctant child.
They encountered no one except one guard who was satisfied with, "He really needs to go!" Is this the right direction?" The guard nodded with a friendly smile and went back to his business. and they proceeded without breaking pace.
"I don't suppose Michelle leaves her door unlocked," the man said at length. They had just entered the maintenance corridor.
"No, she doesn't," Sheridan said, "but she let me carry the key today. She didn't expect the security guards to get confused about where I was supposed to go after my performance."
"Ah," said the man, "Then we will go and get your clothes."
The next day we managed to pack up and leave before any reporters showed up to congratulate Sheridan on his victories. Everything was soon packed up and ready for the train, the circus train that is. Three quarters of the nation's circuses park their trains right there in town for the holidays for the convenience of all those performers who compete at the conference. After all my stuff was on the train I said good bye to my family, I helped Mr. Gladwin with his packing and gave him his first lesson in cat signing.
For three days nothing happened because there was nothing that could be done. The police followed all the leads to dead ends, no finger prints. They did find another version of the note typed on the back of a conference schedule though the major difference was a request to send Sheridan's belongings to his parents and gave their address.
"We're not dealing with an amateur here," the detective said, "He left no evidence that could point to him, also he planned on not being able to get Sheridan's belongings from your room. Somehow he was able to find out enough about Sheridan and locate his parents, we may be able to back track and find out who has been looking for that sort of information other than your brother. Above all he tried to cast doubt on your character and maybe even blame you for his actions. Of course it isn't my place to pass judgment on your choices concerning Sheridan. That authority lies with his parents. Of course if you broke the law then I would have jurisdiction."
"But what can we do?" I asked.
"We are doing all we can, but you might be able to help us with the suspect list. We're trying to think of all the people who could gain something from him, and that could have been in the coliseum on the closing night, especially those that weren't there the next day. Your dad for example, except that he was accounted for during the occurrence. That leaves all the fans that either love cats, train cats, or think that a public figure that can tell a tiger's point of view in captivity could help or hurt their cause."
"How many people is that?" I asked.
"Ecologists, like your brother, except he is mostly accounted for; Although he could conceivably have vanished him if he found him somewhere while checking to see if he was with his cousins. Your dad didn't leave your sight and neither did Mr. Gladwin. But there was a whole group of animal rights people there protesting as usual, three cat trainers that left early to go home to their families, and six trainers that haven't entered for years because the competition has been too stiff since you moved the Aubrey name from third to second and fourth."
"If you were trying for flattery you came dangerously close to succeeding," I teased, "Now that they have made the rules more inclusive some of the ones that quit might come back and knock Dempsey down where he belongs."
"Dempsey?" he said with a frown, "Oh, Dempsey Gallard. Just because he beat you doesn't mean that you have to begrudge him your old place when he can make it that high and Gladwin's place the rest of the time."
"Meddles aren't like homesteads," I said slowly, "five years occupation does not confer rights of ownership."
"Exactly, He deserves a fair chance just like you," he said, "Whatever the rules of the game might be."
"He deserves to be eaten by his cats," I blurted out.
He looked at me in total shock, "Now Miss Aubrey," he scolded, "If they did that they would have to be put down. And that would be at the very least a waste of six good tigers. A species we don't have an overabundance of. Besides what can possibly make you hate him so much?"
"I hate his attitude about winning and his attitude toward his cats," I said, "If I die childless I will leave my money to a deserving animal rights group."
"They would love to broadcast that, or they would hate you for casting doubt on their stereotypes which they must indoctrinate the public with in order to fight their crusade against circuses."
"It would have to be a worthwhile group," I qualified, "One that puts human rights before their beloved animal rights."
"That might be hard to find," he said, "And you will be interested to know that Mr. Gallard checked out just before the frequency-of-checkouts bell-curve peaked. Of course, if you take standing in line into account he got there at peak time or just after it, but my data analysis software can't register a drop in pressure until the line actually goes away."
"So when can we expect to track down the kidnapper?"
"To be honest with you: When a ransom note, a witness, or Sheridan himself shows up," he said, "In the mean time we will continue to be checking up on everyone suspicious, but we don't have much to go on."
"Why, or how, would Sheridan show up?"
"The kidnapper claims that he will take him to his parents and he has their address, but none of our suspects have visas to Switzerland. Therefore we have reason to believe that he will not take Sheridan back to his parents. Although he may try to obtain a visa, so we will be watching for something like that also."
"Short ears" "His surrogate called him that because his ears were shorter than those of his fighting mates."