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Chapter 1: 'Mystery at the Circus'

June 10, 2008|by LYDIA HADFIELD/Pulse Correspondent

"Ha! It looks like Zelda is homesick for the jungle!"

The crowd rippled with laughter as the elephant swiped the pith helmet from my head. My cheeks flushed cotton-candy pink. My cool melted.

It can be difficult, even for an ace detective, to remain incognito. Animals sense the subtle, penetrating aura emitted by such persons - and are drawn to it. Perhaps that's why city dogs follow me home from work and whine outside my basement home. As a professional, I was miffed to see my hat on an elephant.

I chose my summer sleuthing uniform carefully. I believed it exuded authority. Plus, it was nice and cool. Pith helmet, white T-shirt, yellow and blue striped vest, black cutoff slacks - I slipped into it every evening after my undercover job. I worked at a canned meat warehouse. A canned meat warehouse seemed like a perfect venue for dastardly doings. For three months I watched for any criminal activity. Unfortunately, I was paid to sweep, not watch. The day the boss fired me, I spent the last of my paycheck on a circus ticket.

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"Give it back, Zelda! Aw, that's nice!"

The crowd cawed approval. The pith helmet returned to my pate.

"That was unkind, and I apologize," a man sitting next to me on the bleachers put a hand on my shoulder. He wore a checked three-piece suit, threadbare yet immaculately pressed.

The man removed his top hat and balanced it on his cane - a crystal knobbed curtain rod. "I like the looks of you. Perhaps you can help me with a little problem."

"I hope I can. I am a detective, sir," I confessed.

"Excellent. I am P. Jaybody, owner of this little circus. I felt this elephant, Zelda, lacked class, and I hoped to ship her to a preserve in Africa."

I whipped my pen out of my pocket, poised to jot notes on my arm.

P. Jaybody continued. "I withdrew a few million to pay the handler to take care of Zelda's business. I put the bills in an envelope. I left the envelope in my locked trailer. I admit, I left the window open a few inches. It was locked in place, so it could not be adjusted up or down. The envelope lay on a desk, in the middle of the trailer, feet from the window. I returned from the Port-o-potty and - gone!"

"That's terrible."

"It is! We leave town tomorrow. I can't take that elephant with us!" P. Jaybody waved his top hat in my face. "The money was stolen between 9 and 10 p.m. last night. You must retrieve the money - and fast! Here's a list of our personnel. Interview them all."

I studied the list: Zelda and Lou, her trainer; Bill the contortionist; Wanda and Earl, the knife-throwing duo; Davie and His Amazing Trained Cats; ValJohn the Clown.

"All I found at the scene of the crime was a small red bow tie. A sweet scent hung in the air," Jaybody dropped the bow tie into my palm.

"I'll find the culprit," I promised.

"That would be optimal," P. Jaybody said. "I'm counting on you!"

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