Snuffles; A Freedom Lane Special

Your regularly scheduled program will not be seen tonight, so we can bring you this special presentation of Freedom Lane.
 
***
 
Helen Masters and her adopted son, Da’Quarius, were watching TV in the den, having a normal night. “Shut this garbage the hell off!” Helen snapped. “I am not sitting through another one of these movies!”
 
“It’s my turn to pick what we watch,” Da’Quarius retorted, “an’ I wanna watch Luke Cage!”
 
“We’ve already seen two of those friggin’ barber shop movies already!” Helen said, slamming a fist on the arm of her chair. “How many of them have they made?!”
 
“Dis ain’t a barber shop movie!” Da’Quarius shouted. “It’s a show ‘bout a black super hero in Harlem!”
 
“I see a barber shop,” Helen said. She snatched the remote out of Da’Quarius’s hand. “I’m taking over.”
 
“Come on!” Da’Quarius said. “I didn’t say shit when you watched dat old-ass movie ‘bout da’ prison.”
 
“That was lovely,” Helen said. “I’m going to see if Rose saved it for me.”
 
Helen started clicking the buttons on the remote, trying to get into the DVR menu. “What the hell’s is all this?” she asked, scrolling through the shows. “Oops. There it goes.”
 
“You just deleted all my shows!” Da’Quarius shouted. “I didn’t watch dose yet!”
 
“Well I guess you should have,” Helen said with a shrug. “It’s too late now in any case. Look, Misery is about to start. I love that movie!”
 
“Dis some bullshit!” Da’Quarius said, kicking the end table nearest to him the metal lamp fell to the ground, and the lightbulb broke with a pop.
 
“What is going on in here?!” Rose demanded coming in from the kitchen.
 
“This kid of yours is out of control!” Helen said, waving a hand at Da’Quarius. “He’s throwing a hissy fit like a four year old girl over his stupid show!”
 
“Helen took da’ remote from me!” Da’Quarius said, jumping to his own defense. “She shut off my shows an’ deleted e’rything I had saved. It’s my night to pick what we watch!”
 
“That’s it,” Rose said, taking the remote from Helen and turning the TV off. “I’ve had enough of these fights over the television. I’m cancelling the cable first thing tomorrow.”
 
“NO!” Da’Quarius and Helen shouted in unison. 
 
“Yes!” Rose said, hands on her hips. “You let television take over your lives, and you’re fighting and destroying the house over it.”
 
“It’s one lightbulb,” Da’Quarius muttered.
 
“I don’t care,” Rose said. “We can read or play a board game or go for a walk, but the cable is going away for a month or two.”
 
“Fine,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma go read in my room.” He stared to walk up the stairs.
 
“Don’t listen to him, Rose!” Helen yelled. “He knows how to watch TV on his computer. I’ve seen him do it!”
 
“Dammit, biddy!” Da’Quarius said, throwing his hands up. “You can’t even let a mo’ fucker have any enjoyment in life if you can’t have any.”
 
“Damn right, kid,” Helen said. “Remember that.”
 
 
***
 
Snuffles 
A Freedom Lane Special
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
***
 
Rose and Helen got into their car after picking up some groceries from the corner store. “I don’t understand why you have to do that in there,” Rose said.
 
“What?” Helen asked, climbing into her seat with a grunt. “I need some kind of entertainment. We haven’t had the cable in over a week!”
 
“And it’s not coming back any time soon,” Rose said, turning the key. “You don’t need to harass the bag boys for entertainment though.”
 
“He looked like an extra in a gay midget porn,” Helen said with a shrug. “That’s not my fault.”
 
Rose put the car into reverse. “You don’t have to point it out though,” she said, accelerating. “Not everything that pops into your head needs to -”
 
There was a bang behind them, and Rose hit the brakes. “Oh my God,” she said, putting the car into park with a shaking hand. “I think I hit someone.”
 
“You weren’t going that fast,” Helen said. “They’re probably fine.”
 
“I need to get out and check,” Rose said.
 
“You’re too shaken up,” Helen said, putting a hand on Rose’s. “Let me go look. Just pop the trunk.”
 
“Why?” Rose asked.
 
“There’s a first aid kit in there,” Helen said. “He might need a bandaid.”
 
“OK,” Rose said, hitting the button to open the trunk. “If he needs an ambulance ask for his cellphone.”
 
Helen got out of the car, and Rose sat with her hands on the wheel, growing more nervous by the second. The car bounced a bit, and Helen slammed the trunk a moment later. Ten seconds later, she was in the passenger seat. “Drive home,” she said.
 
“Where’s the person I hit?” Rose asked.
 
“He ran off,” Helen said. “Just drive home.”
 
Rose did as Helen asked, driving in the direction of Freedom Lane. She turned onto their street when she head someone talking in a muffled voice. “Helen,” she said, “is that voice coming from the trunk?”
 
“Just drive home,” Helen said. “Trust me.”
 
“Oh, Helen,” Rose said, pulling in their driveway. “I’m putting an end to this.” She popped the trunk and walked tot he back of the car.
 
Helen sighed. “No,” she said. “You won’t.”
 
Rose screamed, stepping away from the trunk and running into her house. 
 
Helen sighed again, got out of the car, and walked toward the trunk.
 
***
 
Paulie washed his hands, getting ready to work. He dried them on the towel on the rack and walked out into the pizzeria. He stopped dead when he saw his employee and best friend, Tony, talking to two cops.
 
“I have no idea what you’re talking about!” Tony shouted, arms flailing.
 
“We know you’ve been tormenting people on the internet,” a female, red-headed police officer said. “We have printouts of your accounts.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie said. “What did I tell you about that stuff?”
 
“It wasn’t me!” Tony said. “I use the wifi from the building across the lot. It was probably someone using the same account!”
 
“So you’re not dressing like a clown?”  the male officer, Tony’s friend Rocco Pirolo asked.
 
”No!” Tony shouted. “That’s what I’ve been telling you!”
 
“Look,” Paulie said, approaching the table. “Why don’t you start from the beginning of what you think Tony is doing, and I’ll tell you, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he’s innocent.”
 
“Paulie,” Rocco said, giving him a dire look. “Tony’s wanted for dressing like a clown to torment dogs, harass women, and masturbate onto cars.”
 
Paulie looked at Tony. “You stunad,” he said. “How the frig do you get involved in this shit?”
 
***
 
Rose paced in her den, shaking. She had never been so scared in her life. Even when she had found Helen’s stuffed monkey, Mr. Poopy, she hadn’t been as scared as she was now. There was nothing Rose feared more than…
 
“He’s asleep,” Helen said, coming out of the guest bedroom at the end of the hall. “He said his name is Snuffles.”
 
Rose shuddered. The last thing she wanted to know was the name of the clown Helen had brought inside. “Please, Helen,” she pleaded. “I don’t know if I can stay here with that… that…”
 
“Clown?” Helen said.
 
Rose let out a small scream, and her hands went to her mouth. She nodded once. “Why does he have to stay here?” she asked.
 
“Do you want him to go to the hospital?” Helen asked. “Do you know what they do at hospitals?”
 
“Help people?’ Rose asked.
 
“No!” Helen snapped. “They ask questions. Do you really want this guy to tell them how you ran him over? They’ll take your license away, and then we’ll be two old broads who can’t go anywhere. Is that what you want?”
 
“No,” Rose replied. 
 
“Then let mama do her work,” Helen said, kissing Rose on the cheek. “I used to help women heal away from the infirmary back in prison. Once his bruised hip feels better, he’ll be on his way, and he’ll thank us.”
 
“Alright,” Rose said, “but I don’t feel right about this.”
 
“I know,” Helen said. “It can’t be easy having a clown in the house.”
 
“Please,” Rose said, “don’t use the ‘C’ word anymore.”
 
***
 
Helen walked into the guest room, a plastic bucket in front of her. “Hello,” she said, approaching the bed. “You resting up?”
 
The clown tried to talk, but it was muffled under the strip of duct tape. He was handcuffed to the bed by both wrists, and his legs were tied together and tied to the bottom of the bed with bungee cords.
 
“I’ll take that off,” Helen said, setting the bucket on the ground next to the bed, “but you have to promise not to scream. Do you promise?”
 
The clown nodded.
 
“Good,” Helen said. She ripped the duct tape off. The huge, red lips miraculously stayed on.
 
“Thank you,” Snuffles said. “Are you going to kill me?”
 
Helen laughed. “No,” she said. “Maybe.”
 
“What do you want?” the clown asked.
 
“Well, Snuffles,” Helen said, “two things need to happen before I let you leave my home. One: Your hip is going to feel better.”
 
“My hip feels better!” Snuffles exclaimed.
 
Helen put her hand on Snuffles’s hip, putting her weight on him and pushing him into the mattress. Snuffles winced. “Liar,” she said. “I hate liars.”
 
“Sorry,” Snuffles said.
 
“Two,” Helen said, “I need you to promise to try really hard not to call the police after I let you go.”
 
“I won’t,” Snuffles said. “I won’t call the police, I swear!”
 
“I believe you,” Helen said. “Sit still. I’m going to fix your makeup.”
 
“What?” Snuffles asked. “Why?”
 
“My darling is deathly afraid of clowns,” Helen said. “I don’t need her coming in here and asking questions. As long as your makeup is on, I don’t have to worry about her.”
 
Helen reached in the bucket and pulled out a makeup kit. “Sit still,” she said. “I’d let you watch TV while I did this, but my woman cancelled the friggin’ cable. It’s alright, though. I think I’ll find something to entertain me.”
 
Helen reached over and did Snuffles’s make up while he whimpered in fear.
 
***
 
“Are you nuts?!” Paulie exclaimed as Rocco and the female police officer, Jane, left. “I know there’s a story as to why the police would think you’re this demented clown going around, but I’m not sure if I want to hear it.”
 
“Good,” Tony said, “because I don’t want to tell it.”
 
“Excellent,” Paulie said. “Now lets get to work. We got to -”
 
“It’s this broad I met a week ago,” Tony said, following Paulie to the kitchen area. “She’s into some pretty kinky stuff, but nothing I can’t normally handle.”
 
“I thought you weren’t going to tell me,” Paulie said, looking through his supplies in the refrigerator.
 
“Well this sick bitch has a clown fetish!” Tony exclaimed. A customer who had just walked in turned around and left.
 
“Oh!” Paulie said, slamming the fridge door. “Lower your voice. It’s a shame your mother never taught you shame.”
 
“I can’t help it,” Tony said. “That part always comes out loud.”
 
“So what did you do?” Paulie asked. “You put on some makeup and give it to this broad?”
 
“Not just the makeup,” Tony said. “Full suit, floppy shoes, red nose, the whole nine yards!”
 
“So why do the police think you’re this sick clown fuck out there?” Paulie asked.
 
“I don’t know,” Tony said with a shrug. “Someone must have seen me in my outfit or buying makeup. Everyone is up in arms about clowns right now. Friggin’ cops think they all look alike. It’s a goddam tragedy the way these cops treat them.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie said, walking away from Tony.
 
“What?!” Tony called. “What I say?”
 
***
 
Da’Quarius returned home from school. He hung up his Vagabond Saints hat and walked to the couch, where Rose was sitting. She had a full up of tea on the table in front of her, and she was staring at the wall. “Rose,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You alright.”
 
Rose jumped. “Yeah,” she said, forcing a smile. “I’m OK. Everything’s OK.”
 
Da’Quarius looked at her. “Where’s Helen?” he asked.
 
“She’s taking care of the… him,” Rose said with a shiver.
 
“Who’s ‘him’?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“He’s a…” Rose said. “He’s in the guest room. Helen must be with him.”
 
Rose picked up her tea and took a small sip. Da’Quarius watched her for a moment longer before heading upstairs to check on Helen. He was thoroughly confused. He walked into the guest room and opened the door. Inside, he found Helen, spoon-feeding a clown cold baked beans directly from the can. The clown was cuffed and tied to the bed. 
 
The clown saw him, but Helen hadn’t noticed. Da’Quarius closed the door slowly and backed away. He went into his room and sat on his bed, absently rubbing his dog’s ear while he stared out the window, trying to figure out what was going on in his home.
 
***
 
Helen put Rose to bed (she had slipped some sleeping medicine in her dinner), and she walked across the street. Da’Quarius had protested staying in the home with Snuffles, but she had explained why he was there, and he relented. She lent him her crowbar, and he was to use it if Snuffles tried to escape.
 
Helen knocked on the door of the Garcia brothers, and Manny Garcia opened it after a short time. “Helen!” he exclaimed. “What’s up?”
 
“Can I watch your TV?” Helen asked. “Our cable is still out, and Rose won’t put it back on. I have no idea what’s going on.”
 
“You want to watch our TV?” Manny asked. “That’s weird.”
 
“You got a problem with that, muchacho?” Helen asked.
 
“No,” Manny said, stepping aside to let Helen in. “Come on in.”
 
Antonio, Manny’s brother, came in from another room. “Oh,” he said. “What’s going on?”
 
“She’s here to watch our TV?” Manny said.
 
“Watch our TV?” Antonio asked. “Why?”
 
“Look,” Helen said. “I can see you’re already two bongs deep, so just show me to the TV and go do whatever it is you do in your free time.”
 
“We’re working,” Antonio said. “We run our site, GarciaTube at night.”
 
“I didn’t ask for your life story,” Helen said. “Just let me watch the news so I have some idea on what’s going on in this crazy world.”
 
***
 
The bedroom door opened, and Snuffles craned his head to see who was coming in. He expected the plump old woman who had gotten him here and cuffed him to the bed. Instead, he saw the young, bald, black boy who had peeked in before. He was carrying a crowbar and looked angry.
 
“You a bitch-ass mo’ fucker,” the boy said.
 
Snuffles gulped. He had no idea what was about to happen to him, but he was sure it wouldn’t be good.
 
“You da’ clown dat’s been threatenin’ schools?” the boy asked.
 
“No,” Snuffles said, shaking his head. “That wasn’t me.”
 
“Dat bitch hid behind his computer an’ threatened my school,” the boy said. “I dared dat mo’ fucker to come up in dere and start some shit. I wish he did. I’d’a fucked him up.”
 
Snuffles just watched as the boy walked around to the side of the bed, lightly tapping the crowbar onto the palm of his left hand.
 
“I never got my wish,” the boy said.
 
“I’m sorry,” Snuffles said.
 
“Not yet, you ain’t,” the boy said. “I may just pretend dat it was you who made dose posts an’ come in here at night. I’ll hand out da’ ass-whoopin’ I never got to.”
 
The boy looked intently in Snuffles’s eyes and backed away, closing the door with a click. Snuffles cried, tears falling down his white, painted cheeks. He vowed never to torment dogs or jerk off onto cars ever again if God got him out of this place alive.
 
***
 
Helen settled in, watching the news from the Garcia brother’s couch. They were off selling their fuck videos online, so she had the whole room to herself. She turned the volume up and leaned back.
 
“Our top story tonight comes out of New Haven,” the anchor said, looking into the camera, “There’s a man in a clown outfit causing trouble near the East Rock neighborhood.”
 
“Holy shit!” Helen said, sitting up and giving the anchor her complete attention.
 
“The clown goes by the name Snuffles the Happy Clown on social media,” the anchor continued, “and he’s been apparently harassing dogs, flashing women and minors, and masturbating onto cars.”
 
“That explains why his dick was out when Rose hit him,” Helen muttered.
 
“The police are following some leads to find Snuffles,” the anchor said, “but they’ve come up short so far.”
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “Because he’s in my guest room, you idiot.”
 
“A reward of five thousand dollars has been issued by the East Rock Neighborhood Organization,” the anchor said. “The reward will be given to anyone who apprehends Snuffles and turns him in.”
 
“Five thousand dollars!” Helen exclaimed.
 
“The police want to urge everyone not to approach or attempt to apprehend -”
 
Helen turned the TV off. “Five grand,” she said, placing the remote on the table in front of her. “Shit. I bet if I wait another week they’ll up it to ten.”
 
Helen laughed to herself.
 
***
 
“Did you see the news last night?” Tony asked as he and Paulie set up the pizzeria for the day. “They say their zeroing in on this perverted fuckin’ clown.”
 
“So I should expect the cops here today to arrest you,” Paulie said. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
 
“No!” Tony said. “Wait… Shit. Do you think they meant me?!”
 
“Of course they meant you!” Paulie said. “You’re their prime suspect. They’ll probably be back with a warrant to search your place.” 
 
“Oh shit,” Tony said. “Should I be worried?”
 
“Nah,” Paulie replied, “as long as you have no evidence in your apartment you’ll  be fine.”
 
Tony looked worried.
 
“Are you shitting me right now?” Paulie asked.
 
Tony shook his head.
 
“Go upstairs,” Paulie said, “get any clown shit you got, get it far away from my place, and burn it.”
 
Tony looked flustered. “But, boss -”
 
“Tony,” Paulie said, ready to lose his patience. “Do what I said, and do it now.”
 
“Right,” Tony said. He turned and went toward the stairs leading to his apartment.
 
“Friggin’ stunad,” Paulie said. “He’s gonna end up with cuffs added to that clown getup if he’s not careful.”
 
***
 
Helen put a blanket over Snuffles’s wrists, hiding the metal cuffs. “There you go,” she said, patting them gently.
 
“You know,” Snuffles said, “my hip feels a lot better. It’ll probably be good for it if I got out of this bed.”
 
Helen pushed down on Snuffles’s hip. He didn’t wince this time. “See!” he said. “And you know I won’t go to the police.”
 
“No,” Helen said, going through her supplies in the bucket. “I know you won’t.”
 
“Then how about you let me go,” Snuffles said. “I’ll be on my way, and we’ll never see each other again.”
 
“Sorry,” Helen said, getting out a rag and the makeup, “but I don’t negotiate with clowns. Stand still. I need to clean your bedpan.”
 
Snuffles did as he was told, looking at the ceiling.
 
***
 
Rose turned the page of her book as Helen came downstairs. “You were up there a while,” she said. “Is everything OK?”
 
“Yeah,” Helen replied, sitting down. “I’m just tired. Changing the bedpan, bringing the food, and applying the makeup is too much for an old woman pushing eighty.”
 
“How much longer will he be with us?” Rose asked.
 
“Hopefully I’ll be able to unload him at the end of the week,” Helen said.
 
“Well you take your nap for now,” Rose said, turning another page. “You’ve done plenty.”
 
“What is that your reading now?” Helen said, squinting at the book.
 
“It’s called ‘Facing your Fears: Ten Easy Steps to Overcoming Phobia’,” Rose replied. “It’s a self help book.”
 
“Self help book,” Helen scoffed. She started drifting off. “Who needs that garbage?”
 
Rose smiled as Helen fell asleep and snored. She turned to the next chapter. “With luck,” she said, “I’ll be able to get over my fear of clowns and help you a bit with our guest.”
 
***
 
Tony came downstairs with a black garbage bag. “Paulie,” he said. “You gotta help me.”
 
“Get that shit out of here!” Paulie shouted. “I don’t want that in my restaurant!”
 
“Come on!” Tony exclaimed. “They’re here, Paulie. I shoved as much of my shit in this bag as I could, I just need to stash it down here.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie said, glancing out the window to see the police approaching. “Throw it in my office and lock the door on your way out. They shouldn’t search in there.”
 
“Thanks,” Tony said, rushing toward Paulie’s office with his garbage bag. 
 
“And I don’t know a thing about it if they find it!” Paulie called after him. 
 
A moment later, the door opened with the jingling of bells. Officers Rocco and Jane came in, looking around. “Good afternoon,” Paulie said. “Here for lunch?”
 
“Maybe in a bit,” Rocco replied. “Is Tony around?”
 
“He should be around here somewhere,” Paulie said, feigning ignorance. “How about a slice while you wait? Its on me.”
 
“Don’t stall us,” Jane said.
 
“There’s no rush,” Rocco said. “We’ll take you up on that, Paulie.”
 
“Coming right up,” Paulie said, giving Rocco a small wink. Jane sighed, crossing her arms.
 
“What?” Rocco asked. “Rule number one of police work: you never pass up a free slice.”
 
***
 
Snuffles opened his eyes when he heard the door slowly creek. Broken sleep came and went. He had no way of telling what time it was. All he knew was that it was day. He thought the old woman who had tied him to the bed would come in, and he was surprised to see that it was the other one, the lady with the red hair. The other, the one with the gray, curly hair, couldn’t have known she was in there.
 
“Hi,” the lady said, moving slowly. “Helen is napping, so I wanted to see if you needed anything.”
 
Snuffles’s heart beat faster. Now he knew the other’s name. If she found out he now knew, she might kill him.
 
“You’ve been cooped up in here so long,” the lady said, her voice quivering. He remembered how the other, Helen, had said she was afraid of clowns. She must have come in out of some kind of moral duty to help him.
 
Snuffles had a decision to make. He could tell the lady his situation, revealing that he was bound to the bed under the blanket concealing the cuffs and bungee cords. There was a chance she’d let him go while Helen wasn’t around. Or she’d alert Helen to her knowledge of what she’d seen, and Helen would be forced to kill him.
 
He wished he never learned his captor’s name.
 
“I can make you a bowl of soup or a sandwich,” Rose said. She was looking away as she spoke, still afraid to look at him. Fear of the one called Helen had taken over, and Snuffles decided on how he wanted to act.
 
“Honka,” the clown said, smiling a toothy smile.
 
The woman took a step backward. She was looking at him now, fear on her face.
 
“Honka,” Snuffles repeated. “Honka-honka.”
 
Rose walked out of the room, closing he door behind her. Snuffles breathed a sigh of something between anxiety and relief. He relaxed in the bed, waiting for the other, Helen, to return.
 
Snuffles shivered.
 
***
 
Rocco and Jane finished their pizza while Paulie pretended not to know where Tony was. He was only suppose to stash the bag of clown shit in Paulie’s office, so he didn’t know what was taking him so long.
 
“That was great,” Rocco said, rising from the small booth.
 
“Thank you,” Paulie said. “Come back any time!”
 
“Don’t forget why we’re here,” Jane said, addressing Rocco. “We need to speak to Tony Baloni.”
 
“Yeah,” Rocco said. He couldn’t help Paulie delay any longer. “We need to have a look through his apartment.”
 
“Are you Tony’s landlord?” Jane asked.
 
Paulie sighed. “Yeah,” he said. “I guess I am.”
 
“Then I have to insist that you let us search Tony’s apartment,” Jane said. “I can have a warrant issued if you’d like.”
 
“No,” Paulie said. “I’m sure there’s nothing up there incriminating. Let’s make this quick. I got a business to run here.”
 
Paulie led the two officers to the stairs leading up to Tony’s apartment. They were stopped by tony, who was standing next to the door with his ear against it. “There you are!” Paulie said. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
 
“I was just coming down,” Tony said. His face was covered in sweat. Paulie wanted to ask why he was upstairs when he was supposed to be hiding the garbage bag in his office, but he decided not to. 
 
“Tony,” Rocco said. “We need to take a look through your apartment. I take it you want to cooperate with us.”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said nervously. “Come on up. I got nothing to hide.”
 
Tony led the way and the two officers followed. The door opened with a jingle, and Paulie went to go wait on the customer, nervous for whatever was going on upstairs. 
 
“Hey,” Manny Garcia said, carrying a black garbage bag, followed by his brother. “Someone left a bag of clown shit and dildos outside your pizzeria.”
 
“Get that shit out of here,” Paulie said through gritted teeth. “Why’s he tossing that out of the window?”
 
“Hey,” Antonio said. “We’re here for lunch.”
 
“Go throw that off the freeway, and your pizza is on me,” Paulie said.
 
“Free pizza?!” Manny said, nearly pushing his brother to get outside. “Let’s go throw this shit off ninety-one!”
 
“Friggin’ Tony,” Paulie said as the Garcia brothers left. “He’s gonna put me out of business if I have to keep giving away pizza to cover his ass.”
 
***
 
Helen woke up with a snore. “How long was I out?” she asked.
 
“A few hours,” Rose said. Her book was on the coffee table, closed. 
 
“Done reading?” Helen asked. She remembered asking about the book before she fell asleep. It was a self help book about facing her fears. “Shit.”
 
“What?” Rose asked.
 
“Nothing,” Helen said. “Anything happen while I was sleeping? Did our guest make a fuss at all?”
 
Rose waited to speak. “I went to check on him,” she said, looking down.
 
Helen stopped herself from swearing. “Oh yeah?” she asked, trying to feel out if Rose saw Snuffles, bound to the bed.
 
“Yeah,” Rose said. Helen could tell she was fighting tears.
 
“What happened?” Helen asked.
 
“He…” Rose started, her lip quivering. “Don’t be mad at him.”
 
“What happened?”  Helen repeated, her concern turning to anger.
 
“I went in there to see if he needed anything,” Rose said, talking a bit quicker. “He started making honking noises at me. I got scared, and I left.”
 
Rose was crying. Helen got up and sat next to her, putting an arm around her. “It’s OK,” Helen said. “He’s just being silly. He’s a big, silly clown, that Snuffles.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Rose said, crying into Helen’s bosom.
 
“Don’t be sorry,” Helen said. “I’ll take care of this.”
 
***
 
The door opened again, but it wasn’t the red-haired lady who came in this time. It was the other one.
 
Helen.
 
“Hello, Snuffles,” Helen said, walking toward him. She had no food or water.
 
“Hello,” Snuffles replied, wishing he could shrink back from her glare.
 
“I know what you did,” Helen said. “How dare you frighten my woman like that.”
 
“I didn’t mean to!” Snuffles blurted. “She came in on her own accord, and I didn’t want her to find out I was chained. I was helping you!”
 
“You could have been polite,” Helen continued. She was walking in a slow arc around the bed. Her hand lightly caressed its edge. “You could have told her you weren’t hungry. You could have told her you weren’t thirsty. You could have told her your goddamn pillow didn’t need to be fluffed.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Snuffles whimpered.
 
“But no,” Helen said. “You had to be a silly clown and make like a horn. Let me hear it.”
 
“What?” Snuffles asked.
 
“You heard me, clown-man,” Helen said, standing near Snuffles’s chest. “I want you to make me laugh. Make like a horn and honk for me.”
 
Snuffles swallowed.
 
“Honk,” Helen said.
 
“Honka,” Snuffles said, his throat threatening to close. “Honka-honka.”
 
Helen’s hard frown did not change. “Pathetic,” she said. “You are a guest in our home, and I would appreciate it if you didn’t go out of your way to scare my woman.”
 
Snuffles nodded.
 
“I think you got it,” Helen said, “but I need to know you got it.”
 
Helen turned away, rummaging through a drawer. Snuffles tried to see what she was doing, but he couldn’t. He could only guess what she was looking for. She finally turned around, a thick, leather belt wrapped around her left fist.
 
“No,” Snuffles pleaded.
 
“You’ve done enough talking,” Helen said, approaching Snuffles. She let the belt unravel a bit, raising her fist. “Honka-honka, you perverted, white-faced bitch.”
 
Helen was done with her task less than five minutes later, but if felt to Snuffles like it lasted a lot longer than that. “I’m sorry about your tooth,” Helen said with a smirk. “Put it under your pillow. Maybe the tooth fairy will give you a nickel.” She left, closing the door with a click.
 
“I’m going to die here,” Snuffles whispered to the empty room. He cried.
 
***
 
“I guess you’re done here,” Paulie said as Rocco, Jane, and Tony came down from his apartment.
 
“All set,” Rocco said, smiling. “No evidence of clowning around.”
 
“Really?” Jane said. “We’re making jokes about this?”
 
“What?” Rocco asked.
 
“We’ve wasted two days investigating this guy,” Jane said, “and I think you’re doing more to cover for your old buddy than you’re letting on.”
 
“Oh,” Tony said. “I’m not dressing up like that damn clown, and I’m especially not hooking up with any broads with a clown fetish.”
 
“Madon,” Paulie groaned.
 
“We’ll be on our way,” Rocco said. “Come on, Jane. Let’s follow some more credible leads.”
 
Jane sighed. “Fine,” she said. “But if I find out this guy is in any way connected to -”
 
“Hey guys!” Manny Garcia said, running back into Paulie’s Pizza, wearing Tony’s discarded clown outfit, brandishing two large, red dildos like swords. “Look at me! I’m Dildo the Clown!”
 
Jane drew her gun and pointed it at Manny’s head. “FREEZE, MOTHER FUCKER!” she shouted.
 
Manny put his hands up, dropping the dildos in front of him.
 
***
 
Rose stirred in her sleep. She couldn’t stop thinking about Snuffles and what she had done to him.  He was slowly convalescing in her guest room, and she had done little to help Helen with his care-taking. She was beginning to wonder if it would be better to let him go to the hospital and take her punishment for hurting him. She was wracked with guilt, wanting him out of her home. It felt haunted with a clown sleeping just two doors down from her.
 
She had taken a couple of pills to help her sleep, given to her by Helen before bedtime, but they had done little to ease her troubled mind. She knew what she had to do. In the morning, she’d tell Helen they needed to call an ambulance and have Snuffles moved to a hospital. She was sure the punishment wouldn’t be too severe, since they tried to help when Snuffles had asked to recover with them. She’d even pay his hospital bills if he didn’t have insurance.
 
Rose felt a little more at ease with herself with this decision. She rolled in bed, putting her arm over toward the middle. She felt out for Helen, but her nightgown felt weird. The fabric was too slippery under her hand. She opened her eyes to see that it wasn’t Helen’s nightgown she was touching. It was the rainbow colored tunic of Snuffles the clown.
 
“Honka,” Snuffles said, smiling from his place on the between between Rose and Helen. “Honka-honka.”
 
Rose was too scared to move. She opened her mouth to scream, but only a squeak came out. Helen turned, smiling. “Honka-honka,” she said, smiling a toothy grin. She was wearing a red nose.
 
Rose sat up, waking herself from her nightmare. Her body was moist from sweat, and she felt her heart racing. She looked over to Helen, who was sleeping and snoring soundly. She got up from the bed, put her slippers on, and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.
 
Peaceful rest was not going to find her on this night.
 
***
 
The door opened in the middle of the night, and Snuffles woke in fear. It was the boy again, without the crowbar this time. “I know who you are, bitch,” he said. “You’re dat perverted fuck who’s been fuckin’ with dogs, whippin’ yo’ dick out, an’ jerkin’ off on cars.”
 
Snuffles didn’t speak. He didn’t know where admitting to this would lead.
 
“Dey think it’s a friend of mine,” Da’Quarius said. “Whatver da’ biddy’s been doin’ to you is gonna be nuttin’ if he goes to jail fo’ yo’ ass.”
 
Snuffles watched as the boy walked toward the door. “She probably gonna kill you, doe,” he said. He returned to the dark hallway, silently closing the door.
 
***
 
Paulie was getting ready for the day. He had knocked on Tony’s door, but he didn’t seem to be home. Around ten thirty, he came walking in from State Street. “Where the frig have you been?” Paulie asked.
 
“Down at the police station,” Tony replied. “I had to get Manny out of trouble.”
 
“Oh,” Paulie said. “After all that, you ended up turning yourself in. I’m glad you’re not in lockup.”
 
“Me too,” Tony said. “They had no case other than that stupid clown outfit. That Jane chick was pretty pissed that Rocco was trying to help cover for me. She said she was going to report him to their supervision or something. She’s probably just on the rag.”
 
“So I hoped you learned your lesson,” Paulie said. “Enough with any woman who wants you doing anything crazy like that. They aren’t worth the trouble.”
 
“You’re telling me!” Tony said. “I’m done. No more clowning around with screwed up women.”
 
Paulie looked at Tony with his arms crossed. “Really?” he asked. “‘Clowning around’?”
 
Tony chuckled. “You never appreciate my wit,” he said, going toward the kitchen.
 
“You stole that from Rocco, you friggin’ stunad!” Paulie shouted.
 
***
 
Snuffles shifted in his sleep. An hour or two may have passed since breakfast. He hadn’t slept much during the night, not since he heard one of the women scream. He tried to put it out of his mind, but he kept circling back to the same thought: “she was screaming because of me.”
 
Helen would return soon enough, and maybe she’d have something harder than the belt. Maybe she’d have that crowbar the kid had threatened him with. Maybe she’d have a knife. Whatever the case, he had to escape before he was dead.
 
He pulled on the cuffs, and he could feel his skin pull with them. He stopped before he cut his wrists. It would be a shame to die while he was trying to escape death. He moved his head, looking to the bed where he was cuffed. It was the wooden frame, and the other side of the cuff was on a plank that looked old.
 
Snuffles pulled again, summoning whatever strength his laze-weakened body would allow him. He heard the wood crack, and he put more strength into his arm. If he could get the one hand freed, he’d have a chance.
 
Finally, the plank broke with a snap. He stopped moving, listening to hear if Helen had heard. Silence answered him, so he moved his body, sore from being still for too long, working on getting the other cuff off. This one was looser, and he was able to squeeze his hand out of it. 
 
Snuffles flexed his fingers and sat up. His hip was still sore, but he’d be able to move, but he didn’t know how quickly. He only had this once chance to escape, and he didn’t plan on wasting it. He moved his hands to his legs, untying the bungee cords.
 
***
 
“I want to have Snuffles brought to the hospital,” Rose said during lunch. They were sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying some leftover pasta with meat sauce, one of Helen’s specialties.
 
“What?” Helen asked. “He likes it here. He said he’ll be fine soon.”
 
Dutchie barked from the living room. “What the hell is that mutt barking at now?” Helen asked. “Friggin’ dog.”
 
“Don’t change the subject,” Rose said. “I’m not sleeping. I can’t think. All I see when I close my eyes is his face. All I hear when there’s silence is ‘honka-honka’.”
 
“I’m gonna get him for that,” Helen muttered, clenching her fist under the table.
 
“I don’t want to fight about this,” Rose said. “I’ll take whatever punishment happens for hitting him, even if I lose my license.”
 
Helen sighed. “I’m not convincing you otherwise, am I?” she asked.
 
“No,” Rose said. “My mind is made up.”
 
“Fine,” Helen said, getting up. “I’ll let Snuffles know that he can go.”
 
Rose gave Helen an odd look.
 
“I mean he must go,” Helen said.
 
Helen got up and shuffled into the living room. “I should have taken the five grand,” she muttered. “Things always go sideways when people get too greedy. Amateur move, Helen.”
 
Snuffles was by the front door, a hand on the door knob. Dutchie was jumping around him, biting at the frills of his outfit. He turned and saw Helen, a look of pure terror on his face.
 
Helen put her finger to her lips. She then ran it across her neck and pointed to the door. Snuffles didn’t acknowledge it. He left, closing the door with Dutchie scratching at it.
 
“I forgot,” Helen said, going back into the kitchen. “Snuffles left rights after I gave him breakfast this morning. Said he felt as right as rain.”
 
“Really?” Rose said, perking up.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said, sitting back down in front of her lunch. “Sorry I didn’t say anything. You know how this old brain of mine can be sometime.”
 
Rose leaned over and kissed Helen on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said.
 
“Don’t mention it,” Helen said, smiling.
 
***
 
Paulie came into the main area of his pizzeria from the restroom with his newspaper tucked under his arm. He was greeted by a man in a rubber clown mask and rainbow outfit, carrying a single, red balloon, staring at him.
 
“Come on, Tony,” Paulie said, tossing the paper on the counter next to his register. “Enough with this clown nonsense. It’s gone on way too long. Haven’t you been in enough trouble?”
 
Paulie turned to look the clown in the face. He just stared, unspeaking.
 
“Don’t pull this mime act with me, Tony!” Paulie said, getting annoyed.
 
“What⁈” Tony said, coming from the kitchen. “I couldn’t hear you from back… Who the hell is that?!”
 
“I thought it was you!” Paulie said, turning to his friend.
 
“Well it ain’t!” Tony said, coming from behind the counter.
 
Paulie threw a jab, hitting the clown on the chin. He fell to the ground. The balloon floated to the ceiling. “Friggin’ asshole,” Paulie said, flexing his fingers. “Don’t come into my joint with this shit.”
 
Someone else moved. A teenage boy who was hiding in the booth in the corner and taping with his cellphone camera ran toward the door. Tony tackled him. They both fell to the floor, and the phone slid to Paulie’s feet.
 
“What are we doing with these kids?” Tony asked, struggling to hold the kid down. “Want to take them out back and knock some sense into them?”
 
The boy under Tony squealed, and fought to get away, but Tony was too much for him. The one dressed as the clown stirred. Paulie walked to his soda fountain an poured a cup of water. He pulled the clown mask off the kid, set it next to him, and dumped the water on his face. “Wake up,” he said.
 
Paulie took out his own cellphone and took a picture of each of the boys. “Now I got you two on camera,” he said. “I’m keeping your phone, too. Come back with your parents if you want it back. Let him go Tony.”
 
Tony did as he was told, letting the kid up from the floor. The kid helped his friend up, and they scrambled out the door.
 
“That phone locked?” Tony asked.
 
“Yeah,” Paulie replied, trying to guess the passcode. “We’re not getting that video out.”
 
“You’re really gonna give it back if he comes in with his folks?” Tony asked. “He’ll just post it online later.”
 
“I said I’d give it back,” Paulie said. “I’m a man of my word. I just didn’t say what kind of condition it would be in.”
 
Tony laughed. “You want to cook it up for him?” he asked.
 
“Sure,” Paulie said. “I say we batter and deep fry it.”
 
“Good thinking,” Tony said, walking toward the kitchen with Paulie.
 
***
 
Snuffles walked as fast as he could, putting as much distance between himself and the house in which he was held captive as he could. His hip was sore, and his legs still had some numbness in them. He walked toward his home, wondering where exactly he was. He tried to look up at a sign as he crossed a street when he was struck by a car.
 
The car skidded to a halt as Snuffles lay in the road, looking at the blue sky.
 
“Oh my God, Harold!” a voice exclaimed.
 
“What did you hit, Lee?” a nasally voice asked. Snuffles heard the car doors slam.
 
“Is that a clown?” Lee asked, stepping close to Snuffles.
 
“Get in the car,” Harold said.
 
“But, Harold -”
 
“Get in the car,” Harold said. “We’re leaving.”
 
Snuffles heard Lee sigh. The car doors closed and the car sped off. He continued to watch the sky as his vision faded to black.
 
***
 
Helen and Da’Quaruis sat on the couch. Da’Quarius was flipping through a book while Helen worked on the crossword puzzle in the TV Guide. Rose walked in from the kitchen. “Guess what, guys?” she asked. “I got the cable turned back on!”
 
“Whoa!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat was fast.”
 
“Don’t question it, kid,” Helen said, scrambling for the remotes.
 
“I figured we can all use a distraction right now,” Rose said. “Put on something we can all watch.”
 
“After the evening news,” Helen said, flipping the channel. “I need to be informed, after all.”
 
“OK,” Rose said. “I’ll go get some popcorn for us.”
 
Helen turned the volume up as the anchor told a story. “A clown was found dead in the streets of a New Haven neighborhood today. He was identified as Snuffles, and he’s believed to be -”
 
Helen turned the TV off. “Don’t you say a goddam word,” she said, not taking her eyes off the blank screen.
 
“I ain’t sayin’ shit,” Da’Quarius said.
 
Helen nodded.
 
“What happened?” Rose said, coming back in the room.
 
“I don’t really feel like watching TV,” Helen said. “How about we play a game. It’s been forever since we played Monopoly.”
 
“Do you promise not to cheat?” Rose asked.
 
“I promise nothing,” Helen replied.
 
Rose sighed. “Fine,” she said. “But you know the house rules. You go to jail for three turns every time I catch you cheating.”
 
“That’s soft time,” Helen muttered, getting up. “Come on, kid. Let me teach you how to become a slum lord.”
 
“Cool,” Da’Quarius said, getting up. He followed Helen to the dining room table while Rose went to the closet to get a taped-together Monopoly box.
 
Nobody brought up clowns.
 
 

 

The End
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