Mostly naked and shivering in my underwear, I contemplated the dark river below. The same choppy waves were behind Evie when we’d last talked, right before trouble found her (and it always did). Although the circus entrance was just yards downstream, walking through the front door wasn’t a remote possibility. Lights made sparkling constellations on the surface of the watery abyss. I noticed crude strips of wood, meant for emergency ladders, were nailed to the dock supports but the swelling tide gave me second thoughts on my absurd plan. I’d left my clothes in a heap on the dock and wrapped the photo and knife into the black leather mask. Parcel clutched in my fist, a thunder of applause exploded into the night as I dove into the black water. I told myself it was for Evie, but was I making another huge mistake?
“Call me inflexible, Evie, but participating in a contortionist’s orgy was never on my bucket list.” I grinned into the camera lens on my phone.
Typically, she would’ve laughed. Evie hadn’t called for weeks, since she’d left town to join a traveling circus. I came to a standstill on the trail. She’d texted during my evening run and I called her back on FaceTime just to lay eyes on her again, if only for a few minutes.
It looked chilly in Portland, compared to Berkeley. Framed by a stormy river in the background, Evie stood directly under a pulsing neon sign, so her image onscreen alternated from a cold blue twilight to a fierce red glow. Her disappointed pout flashed in the neon strobe and she actually looked serious about needing my help. I tried enlarging her image, wished she weren’t so far away.
“I’ve only heard rumors about the after-hours show. I hadn’t even known where it happened, but I think I found it.” She twisted her pink pigtail into a tight knot. “Anyways, you’d be an observer not a participant.”
“I won’t be able to un-see it.” I wiped my hand across my face. “I’ll be complicit.”
It’s not that I was prudish. Artists are fine with risqué, I drew nude figures in art school and between art performances and Burning Man, I’ve seen plenty of edgy stuff—but something told me an illicit, erotic sideshow had the potential to go too far.
“I always thought it would be fun to run away with the circus but, you were right, entertainment can be a dirty business.” Evie zipped her windbreaker to her chin.
“You ran away from me. Just come home, Evie.” Damn. I hadn’t meant to be sullen. Right from the start, it was plain to me Evie wasn’t the type to settle down but it hadn’t mattered, I loved her anyway. I couldn’t refuse her request; she’d once saved my life and that bound us. Forever. Now, she was far away and, despite my protest, I knew I’d fly to her side.
“I didn’t run away from you.” She smiled that smile. “Besides, I can’t go until I know Kai’s okay. I’m trapped.”
Footsteps sounded on the trail and I spun around. The jogger stopped in her tracks and then ran down the wooded path away from me. I felt bad about scaring her; I’m six four with a muscular frame, longish hair, and tattoos—all of which make me the type that causes others to, when they see me coming, cross the street. Evie didn’t want me for my artistic side this time and it worried me.
“Evie, I just don’t …” The list of things—I didn’t want, didn’t know, or didn’t care—about Evie had grown too long, but I wouldn’t argue. As long as she kept to the daytime circus, she wouldn’t be in real danger (beyond the usual risks involving knife-throwing routines). I didn’t care about her friend.
“Kai is a good kid.” Her gaze lifted toward the harsh red light, illuminating the worry lines around her eyes. “He trusts me, never flinched even the first time I flung my knives at him. Come on Truitt, Tru, my dream come Tr-u-u,” she sang the riff on my name and the remaining shell of my resistance melted, “just watch my back. Things are bad here. I have to find him.”
Something off screen made her flinch. “Gotta go,” she whispered.
A man shouted and the phone hit the ground. My vision skittered along the pavement with the camera lens until the screen went black.