The circus allowed Sandra to bring her boy with her when we were touring. His name was Darrell and he must have been around seven years old when I first got to know him well. He had the curiosity of a real little ape, forever climbing into trailers through half-opened windows or squeezing into various nooks and crannies. In honour of these activities he acquired the nickname ‘Darrell the Squirrel’, which didn’t upset him in the least.
Now I don’t want to speak ill of Sandra, a single mother with the stressful job of attending to her career and raising a child in a highly unsettled environment. But it must be said that she didn’t bear the burden of motherhood lightly and sometimes expressed her frustration in a manner that Darrell, young as he was, could understand. This was a pity, for he was a delightful little lad who brightened the life of all who knew him. So it warms my heart to recall an incident in which Darrell the Squirrel proved his worth to his mother and all right-thinking humans.
At one of our venues in England, the ringmaster was given custody of a bungalow at the edge our allotted area for use as an office. He moved some documents into this building and would go there alone, every morning, to attend to various administrative tasks. One day he arranged to meet an accountant there, supposedly to review a pension plan for the circus employees. Soon afterwards we noticed that this accountant, a woman called Miss Wilcock, was turning up for regular meetings, always scheduled when Cécile, the ringmaster’s wife, was out on some errand. It wasn’t difficult to guess what was going on, and one of the girls confirmed the obvious by sneaking over to the bungalow during one of these trysts and listening to the ringmaster grunting like an overheated warthog.
Sandra was a good friend of the ringmaster’s wife and wanted to tell her everything. Aware of the distress that this would cause Cécile, I advised her to adopt a more subtle strategy.
“What do you have in mind?” asked Sandra.
I started by broaching a delicate subject: “I don’t mean to pry, Sandra, but have you or any of your friends recently received an unwelcome letter from a clinic specialising in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.”
“You nosey ape! What do you want to know that for?”
“I have no interest in the identity of the sufferer,” I assured her. “I propose that with the aid of a Xerox machine and typewriter we use that letter to create a similar one addressed to Miss Wilcock.”
A faint smile crossed Sandra’s face, but then she shook her head: “I couldn’t do that to another woman. Besides, she’d know it was a hoax if she hadn’t been to the clinic.”
“We wouldn’t send it to the accountant,” I said. “We’d leave it in the bungalow for the ringmaster to find so he’d think she had mislaid it during one of her visits.”
Sandra grinned appreciatively, but still wasn’t sure: “A woman wouldn’t leave a letter like that lying around. And what if he asks her about it?”
“My judgement is that he won’t,” I replied. “He’ll have other things on his mind. We’ll put the letter in an envelope marked ‘PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL’ so he’ll be sure to read it. You are familiar with the character of the man.”
Sandra laughed and said: “All right, GB, let’s give it a go. You are one devious gorilla!”
“Thank you Sandra,” I said. “I do my best to be of service.”
Funnily enough, Sandra didn’t need to ask her friends about their visits to the STD clinic. For she had kept the letter that she herself had received after conceiving young Darrell, possibly in the hope that it would remind her to behave with due care and attention in any subsequent liaisons with the coarser sex. The forged letter was quickly manufactured. The only remaining problem was how to get it into the bungalow, given that the ringmaster retained the only set of keys. I decided it would have to be a break-in, so I cased the joint after the ringmaster had locked up at mid-day. There was no easy way in – the only point of weakness was a small ventilating window that had been left open. Too small for anyone but a midget or a monkey – or Darrell the Squirrel!
I told Sandra about our dilemma when she was giving Darrell his lunch, and the little rapscallion was positively thrilled by my suggestion that we could put his talent to good use. His mother was less certain.
“I don’t like getting him involved in all this, GB,” she said. “Suppose he gets stuck or something?”
“Oh please, Mum, let me do it!” piped the intrepid youngster. “I NEVER get stuck in windows!”
If only to keep the boy quiet Sandra acquiesced, and we resolved that if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly. So after he had finished eating, the three of us went to the bungalow, where I showed Master Darrell the open ventilator.
“That’s easy, I’ve done harder ones than that!” chirped the little one confidently.
Inspired by his bravado, we stuffed the envelope into his shirt and told him to leave it lying on the carpet. I hoisted him up to the window to set him on his way and he clambered into the bungalow with extraordinary agility. Like an experienced cat burglar, Darrell the Squirrel was in and out of there in a few minutes – with mission very much accomplished. I helped him out of the ventilator and into the arms of his anxious mother.
“Good boy!” she said, kissing him on both cheeks. “Now remember! You’re not to tell anyone about what you’ve just done!”
I got up early next morning to watch the ringmaster’s movements. He left his trailer for the bungalow at the usual time. I didn’t bother to follow him, reckoning that he would soon be back. So I sat down, reading a newspaper, in front of the entrance to his trailer. A little while later I saw him trotting towards me, probably as fast as a man of his constitution could manage without endangering his health.
“Get out of my way GB, I need to get my car keys,” he panted.
“Good Morning, ringmaster!” I exclaimed. “Tell me, will Miss Wilcock be visiting today?”
His face reddened: “Miss Wilcock,” he mumbled. “What do you want with her?”
“I was hoping she could give me some investment advice,” I replied. “I’ve got some spare cash I want to invest in the stock market.”
“Well that’s too bad because she’s finished her work and won’t be returning,” countered the ringmaster.
“What a pity!” I said, resting my chin on my fist. “Perhaps you could give me her card so I could ask her back for another visit.”
“No, no, that’s out of the question!” said the ringmaster getting flustered. “To be perfectly frank I’m not happy with the quality of her work. In fact she’s been damned unprofessional. I wouldn’t think of anyone here having further dealings with her. I absolutely forbid it! Now get out of my way!”
“She’s been unprofessional!” I said in exaggerated horror. “Well that’s just terrible. Someone really ought to report her. You seem in a hurry, ringmaster. Are you going anywhere in particular?”
“If it’s any of your business, GB, I’ve got an appointment with my doctor,” replied the ringmaster getting irritated. “I think I may have picked up a chest infection.”
“A most vexatious affliction,” I murmured sympathetically, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on his groin. “You’d better get it treated before it spreads to other parts of your body.”
He gave me an unpleasant look as I got out of his way, and I watched him hurry in and out of the trailer and off to his car. After he had driven away, I went over to see Sandra, who had been watching the exchange from the window of her own trailer. I found her laughing hysterically and pumping her fist like a celebrating sportsman.
“That’ll teach the fat bastard!” she said uncharitably. “Great work GB!”
Just then Darrell emerged from his bed, rubbing his eyes, and was immediately hoisted aloft by his exultant mother, who smothered his head in tender kisses. Human infants are sometimes embarrassed to be caressed in this way by their parents, but Darrell showed nothing but pleasure as he wrapped his arms around his mother. It was a sweet start to the day.
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