THE INFORMATION #908
It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money. –William Claude Dukenfield
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART NINETY: KINGDOM COME
As the sun was setting on the last day of summer, Count Victor Justin took a break from advising me in the ways of the world and addressed the loochers at the Seven Stars Saloon regarding a Carnival sideshow he had recently witnessed, “way below the good old Mason-Dixon line”.
“Yobs, let me tell you: I have seen the elephant, and have heard the hooty owl. I’ve been to the other side of the mountain and heard the eagle scream. I’ve even felt, smelt and dealt with the farting angels. But not too long ago I was working as a mentalist down South with a traveling carnival that was touring only the hickest of the hick towns. And they had themselves a sideshow that you wouldn’t believe. Not because it was so astonishing–but because it was just so downright mediocre. As a matter of fact, it was so awfully bad that I reckon that it won’t be too long before the rubes catch on and the whole kit and caboodle goes out of business. Maybe the lucky performers will land a berth with the Red and Black Carnival, or some other reputable traveling outfit. The rest of them–well, who knows? Maybe they’ll make a new start and be able to somehow prosper in civilian life…though I rather doubt it.
“How bad could it possibly be, you’re probably saying to yourself. Well, if you were to judge from the banners alone, and you were a certified freak trick, you would think you were in for something pretty special when you passed your dime along to the outside talker. Somebody put a lot of effort into that banner, that’s for square. There was an illustration of stampeding rogue elephants with fearsome tusks with the legend Thundering Pachyderms! There was a fight between an enormous octopus and a giant squid with the legend Monsters of the Deep! There was even a picture of a two-headed baby, sitting on a cushion being tended by a uniformed nursemaid, with the legend beneath reading Alive-O!
“They also advertised on their banner the usual attractions, such as miniature horses, plus so-called human oddities, like a Juggling Fire Eater, a Champion Sword Swallower, the Genuine Really Real Mermaid…also, a Tattooed Man, a Gypsy Fortune Teller, Abraham lincoln’s Valet, and so forth.
“But the climax of the proceedings was the aftercatch. The talker would come out at the end of the ten-in-one, looking incredibly furtive. He wore a long coat and was twirling his thin black moustaches.
“‘French postcards,’ he whispered, with a lascivious sneer, to build the tip. It was almost worth the price of admission just to hear the way he rolled the ‘R’ around on his tongue. ‘Fahh-r-r-rench. Post. Cards. Psst! Listen. I’ve got the famous French Postcards. Right here. You’ve all heard of ’em. Well, here they are. You want ’em? You need ’em? I got ’em. Got ’em all right here. Right. Here. You know the kind I mean. The kind men like. The kind with the Oo-la-la. The kind with the Churchy La Fem. The sophisticated type. The kind that are devoted to Amour. Are you looking for another word for the Exotic? The Erotic? The Concupiscent? The Lascivious? The Salacious? The Authentically Risqué? THESE Fahh-r-r-rench. Post. Cards–THEY have ’em. And HOW! Friends, I will tell you from the bottom of my heart that these here original French Postcards are proven to be better than a ten thousand dollar vacation. They’re guaranteed to put some starch in your step–or you can double your money back. They are filled with the razzle AND the dazzle.’
“‘Friends, I will now ask all of you red-blooded he-men who aren’t afflicted with a mincing happy gait–are you man enough to step up and buy these postcards? Well, then, Step Right Up. These are the certified, authentic, and genuine Fr-r-rench Postcards. They are rarer than rooster’s teeth around THESE parts–but we got ’em. Only one dollar, ten thin dimes.’
‘BUT…wait! Wait! Hold everything!’
‘I like you. Looking out upon this sea of distinguished faces, I can see that, unlike the folks over in Gibsonia, you’re MY kind of people. Red-blooded he-men. Real Meat and Potato Men. No cake-eaters or a creampuff inhalers here. Nope–I can see for dead sure that we have nary a sob sister in the bunch. So, for the first twenty customers only, I will reduce my fee to only fifty cents. First twenty customers only, please, for at this low, low price I’m practically GIVING them away for free, gratis. Absolutely nobody under twenty-one, please. And please–as a personal favor to me–please keep these under your coat, and refrain from opening the envelope with its interesting contents until you are well away from the premises I beg this great favor of you, for I wish to avoid any entanglement with the local constabulary, who are said to be exceptionally strict when it comes to this Extra Special variety of Red Hot printed matter–intriguing, compelling, absorbing, captivating, riveting, and utterly, utterly enthralling–the sort which absolutely, positively cannot be sent through any kind of official United States mail!’
“Yobs, I’ve never seen anything like it. The marks would be practically clawing at one another in order to be the first to hand over their half buck.
“As for the freak show itself? Such a sorry assemblage as I have never seen before or since! The man as run it made money hand over fist, and yet the whole damn sideshow was gaffed from top to bottom. The so-called Thundering Pachyderms? They showed you a trash can made from an elephant’s foot. The Monsters From the Deep? Two sickly-looking jellyfish in a large goldfish bowl. The two-headed baby? A pickled pig fetus in formaldehyde with a vestigial head growing out of its neck.
“The miniature horses weren’t even horses–just one sickly-looking and spavined pony. Looked like he hadn’t had a square meal since Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. The Juggling Fire Eater was just some fat old duffer who smoked three cigars at once, while tossing a rubber ball from one hand to another. The Champion Sword Swallower was a high school amateur who would gag and puke with every other attempt. The so-called Really Real Mermaid was what they call ‘a legerdemain condition’–basically, it was a dead monkey mounted on a plaque, with a rotting fish tail sewn onto it. The tattooed man was a lumpy-looking sailor with a couple of anchors on his chest, and that was it. The yellof who was billed as Abraham Lincoln’s valet was a negro bedlamite and confirmed rummy who spoke in the thickest and most impenetrable southern accent you ever did hear–he would mutter something about ‘Marse Lincom done freed me’ and as for the rest, I couldn’t make head ner tails of it. He was obviously a fake. I’m sure he wasn’t a day over 60. But he looked downright frightful. He was black as melted midnight, and had a shiny bald head with tangled white wool on the fringes, plus he had maybe one solitary orange snaggletooth in his rotting skull. In any other Carnival, he would have been the geek. At this pathetic ten-in-one, he was practically the star attraction.
“Haww…! And here’s the kicker! The Gypsy fortune teller couldn’t even be bothered to tell anybody’s fortune. She just took your quarter, mumbled some curses in Hungarian, and then shooed the marks away. Were they sore? Haw! To say they were sore would be the understatement of the year!
“But the ladies who went to see the Gypsy were likely nowhere near as sore as the yellofs who’d sprung four bits for the French postcards. When they got them home and opened the envelope, presumably in the privacy of their own lavatories, what they found wasn’t the dirty pictures they were expecting. The cheap bastard had simply written a few French words on a couple of filing cards! Haw! I’m sure the marks were furious. Only–how could they complain? Who could they complain to? The police? Aw haw haw haw!”
Everybody at the Seven Stars laughed along with Count Victor Justin. And every one of them probably made a mental note to themselves to never buy a set of French Postcards from a traveling quacksalver.