I Love a Parade

Story by Digitaltf on SoFurry

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The Thanksgiving Day Parade finally happens, among some other unusual events. Jack, as usual, has issues with how Jim goes about it.

The intervening days just flew by... I'd arranged for the use of the parking lot of an auto dealership at the head of Main Street for some of the collector cars and vintage tractors. I moved my Case and the cage/water wagon into town and parked it in a nearby gravel lot for what used to be one of the major tractor and implement repair shops in town. Most of the Main Street businesses were happy to oblige my requests for space in the rear lots of their businesses, knowing that the street traffic for the parade would more than make up for the parking impediments - not that it would really matter very much during the parade anyway, as the whole street would be closed for hours.

Bill Peterson's menagerie had arrived the night before, and somewhere Fred Blanchard and his friend Earl had come up with a vintage Diamond T and Mack rigs, which made for an interesting sight having them hauling modern trailers. Gerry Siemens, the head of a historical museum group a short distance away managed to pfenegel a number of interesting pieces of equipment... several of them from a circus museum. Among those were five cage wagons - enough for the bears, hyenas, lions, tigers and cougars - a steam calliope, a musical bell-machine called a Una-Fon, as well as a tableau bandwagon, which would be quite pleasant for the local "Over the Hill" band, comprised of local personalities playing the various instruments. He also managed to get from a different museum a rather unique piece of equipment... a 1900s Ahrens-Fox steam fire pumping engine. Jim Bridger somehow managed to come up with folks with teams of horses for the bandwagon and the steam fire engine. The remaining wagons would be hooked to various pieces of vintage farm equipment, and the Calliope would be up front hitched to the rear of my cage wagon for the water supply... The piece d'resistance remained in its trailer as it pulled in. Zack was there with the mini-Pull and my 105 bandorgan on an appripriately-vintage trailer I'd dug up from a friend's farm fencerow - a little two-wheel trailer made from the rear axle of a Model T Ford.

I pulled in, loaded Jasmine, Hercules, and Xena into the cage wagon from my pickup truck, started firing up the Case, with the help of Julie, of course, and started running about making sure everyone had their unit numbers for the announcer at the stoplight downtown to read off the units' descriptions as they drove by from a script I'd finished off just that morning. The announcer was a local radio celebrity from the town's country-music station, so it fit right in. There was the High School marching band, the High School dance band, on a trailer towed by one of the new trucks from the auto dealer. There were dozens of vintage cars and tractors, all set out in blocks between the music units, with Zack and the Mini-Pull being the next-to-last unit, the bandorgan having both readers loaded with Christmas music rolls. Naturally, the last unit was Santa Claus.

"So... what's the surprise?" Joe Clark asked as he strode up to me in full red-suit regalia.

I smiled broadly. "Got this Julie?" I asked.

"Sure dear. But don't be long, it's nearly 10!" she said, a little concerned about the start time of the Parade.

I dropped off the deck and led "Santa" back towards the parking lot which once held the warehouse for the town's lumber yard. "HENRY!" I called out.

"Over here!" came from behind a long stock trailer with a tarp-awning stretched out.

I led Santa over, and behind the tarp. "They all ready, Henry?" I asked.

Joe nearly fainted. "You've gotta be kidding me!" he said, wide-eyed.

I laughed heartily and Henry did too, as his stumpy form waddle-walked around in a green elf outfit twiddling with the last bits of this-and-that on the rig. "Hey... Good lookin' Santa!" He commented.

"Joe's been doing this for us for years, though I think this is the first time he's rolled like the real thing." I winked as Joe got his wits about him.

"Well, Santa? Want a ride?" Henry said as he literally hopped up to the dash of a large sleigh with caster-plates bolted to the runners, and a team of eight actual reindeer fan-harnessed to the center tug at the front.

"You...." one of the deer sneezed on Joe's outfit and he began chuckling. "Jim... I swear... I NEVER know what you'll come up with next."

I smiled broadly. "That's why there's the canopy and tarps... so no one sees until you pull out, and even then most folks will be out on Main rather than paying attention to anything back here."

"Well... you've sure outdone Jack, that's for sure." He smiled broadly and chuckled.

"Oh... just wait and see. You know where we're going to be ending up, right?" I asked.

Joe shook his head. "No one's told me, but I'm sure we'll find out since you're up front."

"Good... that means no one's heard anything. And yeah... just wait and see. Jack will shit out a whole ostrich rather than just having a bird." I grinned broadly, then heard five short tweets from the mill whistle on my Case. "Almost time for me to go. Henry, Joe... good luck." And with that I quickly hurried back up to my steamer.

I checked my watch as I walked quickly, double-checking the animal units as I made my way up forward. All were milling about in the excitement of the day, though none showed any signs of trouble, save for the male lion trying to squirt-gun folks nearby. I saw Pete up next to the steamer and waved a local officer over. "I know it's not part of your job, but... since you two will be up here, can you help make sure there's about 100 feet between any of the units? They'll get bunched up later anyway, but... it'd help, ok?"

"Sure thing Mr. Peters. Officer Jackson was just telling me what you've gone through to make this happen for all of us because of the zoo backing out." the patrolman smiled. "I'd like to thank you, especially for my kids who are sitting down by City Hall."

"Wait till they see Santa Claus... " I winked.

"Almost time..." the retired Gunnery Sergeant from the local VFW post said walking up to me, the color guard already in position.

I waved for the calliope player to come down. "Ok... at exactly 10 I'll make that locomotive whistle call out loudly. Crossing signal. Step out, fire off, and forward march. I'll start rolling about 20 feet behind you... and... Sam, was it?" I looked to the white-mustached musician "American Patrol to lead off. Military themes throughout, I'm sure you have plenty of marching music." Sam nodded.

I smiled to Gunny. "He'll keep tempo for you, so long as you all can do the three-mile march."

"We're up for it, even if we've been out of action for a few years." he drawled, a twinkle in his eyes.

I checked my watch yet again. "4 minutes... Officer..." I checked his tag. "Everett... it's time to shut off traffic."

"Parade Lead to other units... start closing off the roads." He said over his radio as he walked quickly back to his squad car and pulled it across the abutting highway.

I made a lasso-like wave to the folks milling about the different units, signalling it was time to "saddle up", so to speak, and watched them quickly orient themselves on the leading units. I climbed back up to the deck of my Case, clutch in, forward gear... my watch was out and both Julie and I paid heed to the inset second-hand as it neared its mark. Grabbing the "loud lever", the old Nathan started clearing its throat right on the dot, then echoed through the valley once again with the call as old as the iron trail itself.

"Tennnnn-HUT! Forwarrrrd..... MARCH!" Gunny called out as the color guard snapped to attention, then started moving out to stand across the head of Main Street. The rifles called out in memory of those lost over the years, keeping the flags flying, and keeping our nation free from oppression. Rifles again shouldered with snap precision, they stepped off in unison with Gunny calling the cadence, and I began rolling. Two peeps on the little mill whistle called out to Sam, who began with The American Patrol March as we trundled out onto Main shortly behind the color guard. The audience cheered....

* * * *

Three miles and nearly two hours later we arrived at the Zoo, the color guard stepping aside as I ran my Case up to the main gate. The turnstiles had been dropped down into their recesses and the huge iron gates were shut, with the large "Zoo Closed - Private Party" sign in the middle.

"Hi there Greg. You ready?" I smiled to Greg Herbine, the head of security at the zoo, who was standing his post at the main gate.

"You betcha, boss!" he smiled to me, and then grabbed the PA mic.

Crowds lined the street, many folks having walking along with us as the parade moved through town.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Children of all ages." boomed out "The zoo has been closed today for a private corporate party...."

The crowd boo'd loudly.

"But thanks to the graciousness of that company, we'll let Head Keeper Jim Peters signal the opening of the Zoo for the community once again!" Greg said. At that, the crowd cheered.

Right at noon, the Nathan started to gurgle... then a low moan started, growing in volume with each second until with a full-throated yell it rattled the office windows and Greg swung the gates open wide. Black smoke belched upwards as I started hauling the parade, which had bunched up behind me just as I'd anticipated, through the gateway into the Zoo itself. With each foot another round black smudge marked the ceiling of the gateway, showing the path my Case took as it trundled through the entryway under the offices and out into the courtyard. Greg then stepped through and flagged units which way to go, the single tractors and cars heading out into the employee parking lot and the connected lot at the Victorian. The cage-wagons and other special units following me to first circle, then line the edge of the courtyard, leaving gaps here and there for the wider paths.

Jack was beside my Case as it ground to a halt near the narrow entry to the employee lot, having circled the outer periphery of the courtyard before all the units had entered the Zoo. "How DARE you bring this mess into the zoo! WE'RE CLOSED! We can't have all these people coming in when we're hosting a private event!"

I chuckled and dropped down from the deck. "Too late, Jack. If you'd like, you can call Reuben Runningbear to confirm, but... he agreed that the public would have a free day after all! So... go whine in your office. Today your mouth doesn't matter. Santa will kick your ass if you keep acting like a bad bad boy." I leered.

"Santa? But the float's locked in the warehouse!" Jack was practically shaking with ire.

"Float? I don't need any halfass float... I have something much, much better! See for yourself!" I smiled broadly as the piping sounds of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" from the 105 started echoing from the masonry of the entrance.... then there he was, Santa Claus himself in all his glory, driving "his" reindeer through the entry, followed by dozens upon dozens of children as he "ho-ho-ho"'d heartily, making their way through the courtyard and along the path towards the powerhouse.

Jack turned a few deeper shades of red, and I really started worrying about his blood pressure as he saw the sign on the back of the sleigh. "Follow Me to the Zoo!"

"you... You... YOU DID THIS ON PURPOSE!" Jack fumed.

I grinned broadly. "Yes, Jack. Yes I did. You didn't want to have the parade and free day, either out of spite to me, or as you said out of concern for the budget. You challenged me to circumvent your ruling, remember? So.... now I have, and it didn't cost the zoo a dime to do it. You DID loose a couple thousand goodwill points for the zoo when you announced the parade wasn't going to happen. But now that it has, and in such a spectacular fashion the zoo has even more public goodwill than before, and the only person that has lost any credibility is you, Herr Direktor. Now... you can do one of three things. You _could_ just enjoy yourself and see some things you've never seen before and just _perhaps_ learn from your mistake. You _could_ quit acting like an ass and try to work with me instead of trying to fight with me and get me fired. Or you can run off to your office to throw a temper tantrum and pout like a 5 year old that didn't get his way. Which of the three will it be?" I folded my arms across my chest as I waited for his reaction and decision, even though I figured which was most likely.

Jack seemed to shake even more, then stomped off in the direction of the main stairs as the crowd kept pouring in.

I smiled and shook my head. "Hey, Sam..." I called out. "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles?"

The white-haired head nodded, and my selection started echoing through the teeming courtyard. Vic was driving on the grass verge in a grunt as he rolled up alongside.

"Holy shit, Jim. I had no idea you had so many toys!" He hollered out over the whistle music, grinning from ear to ear, making his wrinkled complexion even more wrinkled than ever.

"They're not mine, Vic... only a handful..." I called back, and thumbpointed to the cats. "These are mine, though... And a few other trinkets, like that little bandorgan that was heading back ahead of Joe on the sleigh.

"Now THIS has gotta be the best Free Day we've had in... hell... as long as I can remember. It'd take a lot to top this one!" Vic smiled.

"Just keep smiling and don't think of how much garbage there'll be for the morning." I winked.

"Aww..... nuts!" Vic waved me off and started puttering along, gawking at the rows upon rows of vintage autos and tractors.

Chet ambled up. "You weren't kidding when you said for me to keep my dance card free!" He nodded to Julie. "Hi there Julie!"

"Hi, Chet. Having fun yet?" she asked.

"Oh hell yes!" he grinned broadly. "How'd you manage to do all this? Where'd you find all the extra toys?"

"I just.... made a few calls and talked to a few folks as far as the Parade and restoring Free Day goes. As far as the toys, they're from here and there..." I said. "The critters.... might be mine before nightfall. We'll see."

"How ya gonna keep alla 'em?" Chet asked, and Julie shot me a worried look.

"Quit fretting you two... enjoy yourself." I winked to Julie. "Chet, mind taking care of this kettle for awhile? I've got to talk to a couple folks."

"No problem, Jim." he said as he hoisted himself up to the deck and started chatting with Julie.

I strode off to where old #3 was parked. "LEW!" I called out.

"Yeah, Jim?" he came over to where I was.

"I'll need a line from some hydrant to the tanks before too very long. It's been a long three miles through town and both my Case and the calliope are getting a little thirsty." I smiled.

"We'll get right on that, Jim. And.... Damn if this hasn't been the best parade I've seen in a long time. Best one I've been IN in a long time, too!" he was smiling ear to ear. "Where'd you get the actual reindeer and sleigh?"

"The elf with Santa... he owns them. They do a lot of stuff for movies, and parades at Christmas..." I chuckled. "I met him awhile ago when I was repairing some old equipment at a park he was working for."

"Where at?" Lew asked.

"Santa Claus, Indiana, of course!" I winked and Lew walked away, shaking his head.

I made my way around some more and found Bill Peterson over by the bears in the cage wagon.

"Hey there, Bill. Still wanting to sell out?" I asked.

"Well.... yeah. I kinda have to, Jim. It's about time I did something else for the family and all. Or maybe changed a bit or something." he grumbled a little.

"Well.... I've been thinking." I said. "What sort of numbers were you looking at for a buyout?"

Bill scratched his head a bit. "I don't rightly know, Jim. I mean... you're the first to even suggest such a thing so..." he shrugged.

"Let's take a bit of a walk and talk, hm? Maybe we can come up with something that'd work for both of us." I smiled.

* * * * *

I walked back to the powerhouse pondering things, the horse-drawn "hayride" wagons trundling past as I walked along. Three were making the circuits from the clock tower to the powerhouse and back, since officially people couldn't walk back there themselves. Well... not the general public at least.

Henry was outside tending to the reindeer and answering questions. Kids having their pictures taken either next to one of the deer, or on the sleigh, or with Henry, or any combination thereof. Even adults were getting in on the fun with that.

I walked up the steps to the main floor of the powerhouse, there being a chain-gate across the stairs leading down to the tunnels. Chet's office was locked, but illuminated with things semi-visible through the dusty-dirty windows. Out on the main floor the big generator engine was working, the huge four-piece slate control panel with the knife switches, resistor banks and gauges roped off to prevent children having a shocking experience. The "Santa's Workshop" elves were at work as expected, drilling, hammering, painting... the kids gawking at the old-fashioned way of doing things. Toys were made and sold in authentic wooden crates of various sizes with paper labels on the side, the Print Shop actually doing the impression lithography and letterpress printing for the labels. Even the adults were impressed by turn-of-the-last-century manufacturing. I just smiled as folks filed past for their turn to have their picture taken with Santa and lots of flash photography going on in the main hall of the elves working.

I headed back out and met Gerald Siemens coming in. "Hi Gerry... Having a good time?" I asked.

"Having a blast, Jim!" he exclaimed "I didn't know you had all this set up or I'd have tried to get more stuff for you. Like an old chain-drive Mack or the International Auto-Buggy from [name removed] Auto Museum."

"Have you seen Santa's Workshop yet?" I asked. Gerry shook his head. I smiled broadly. "Well... let me give you a grand tour, real shop included." I gestured to the doors to the main hall, through which folks were still filing past.

Gerry's eyes got really wide as he saw all the machinery working, the large generator engine, the smaller one... "Jim.... how did you get all this stuff?" he asked incredulously.

"Well, the boilers and generators were here already, Gerry. But the Santa's Workshop equipment... that was just getting stuff from here and there over the years to increase the display. That and... stuff I have that's on loan to the zoo, kind of like other things around here tucked away here and there." I chuckled. "Parts for the bandorgan, vetmed equipment... stuff the Zoo either couldn't afford to buy, or didn't want to buy. Right now there's even a cougar on display here that's mine... temporarily on display, I should say. Some of the parade units are mine too, but... not that many. The Case and the water/cage wagon foremost... the little miniature Rumely Oil-Pull and small bandorgan too. I think someone drove my old 1948 F1 pickup and my '77 F100 through the parade, too, but I don't know. The Sterling is still back in the shed... I know because I'd have to move the threshing machine to get it out!"

Gerry laughed heartily. "Seems you have enough for your own museum, Jim!"

I nodded. "I probably do, between what's on loan here, there, and everywhere, and what I have back at the farm... yeah... a real tiny museum of this-and-that." I furrowed my brow. "Speaking of museums... how's the circus group doing down by you?"

Gerry shrugged. "Struggling... It's not like just seeing old wagons is too terribly great of a draw, and it's not like they can really do much more."

I canted my jaw. "I know they've got a fairly good location down there..." I pondered. "They have anyone that can handle animals?" I asked.

Gerry laughed. "You've heard of Mark Masters.... right?" he asked. I nodded. "His "retirement" place is not too far out of town... so... I'd say that yes, there's someone who can. Why?"

"Now does your group run them directly, or are they independent or... who would have final approval to make a deal?" I smiled some.

"Well... uh... depends on what KIND of a deal. They sort of operate independently as a separate 501c3 but partially funded by [name redacted] County Museum Group, so large-project funding gets pooled and the like." Gerry explained.

"Who's running it then?" I asked.

"John and Jennifer Plettenberg. Need their number?" he asked.

I nodded. "I... _think_ I might have that draw they were looking for."

"Well... I don't know if they can afford it... tight times all over, you know." Gerry cautioned.

"Somehow I think they'll be able to afford it..." I said, winked and he looked confused. "Wait and see, Gerry."

* * * * *

Back at the Case, Lew had already rolled out the hoses from #3 between one of the zoo's fire hydrants and the water tank, keeping the calliope and my Case well supplied. "Would you mind working here a bit longer, Chet? I've got some business to deal with that's come up, so I have to run home real quick and grab something." I called up to Chet, who was seated on the engineman's seatbox.

"No problem, Jim. This is a picnic compared to firing either of the main boilers. Julie went off to see some things but I expect she'll be back before too long. Should I just let her know you've run home and would be back?" he inquired.

"Yeah... just tell her I had to grab something from the house and that I'll be back right away." I smiled.

"I'll keep the old kettle hot for ya!" Chet smiled and waved as I headed off to find Lew.

He was over at #3, talking to folks and getting his picture taken a couple thousand times with kids on the seat of the old truck. "Lew... got something you can help me with." I smiled.

"Uh-oh... what now?" he asked, teasing.

"How fast can you get me home and back here?" I asked, smiling broadly.

For a couple moments Lew looked confused, and then he smiled. "Swing up, Jim! Let's see what the old girl can still do!"

Hitting the starter the old Ford roared to life, and I tugged on the bellcord with quick jerks signaling we were about to move. The crowd backed up some and we started puttering towards the main gate. Folks cleared the way for us as we made our way across the courtyard and then through the entryway... the moment we hit the streets Lew flipped the switch for the auto-ringer on the bell, and I trod on the siren's floor button, the old Spencer winding up to a throaty yowl as the clanging of the bell echoed from the brickwork of the office structure as Lew swung the truck out onto the street and trod on the accelerator.

We threaded our way through town without much incident, even though it was inappropriate to run out to my place with full lights and siren as though it were an emergency. "You know you're going to hear about this back at the fire station, right?" I hollered to Lew over the wind whipping us in the truck's open cab.

"Well, as far as he knows something was going wrong with your steamer that needed immediate attention... so I figure I won't catch too much hell." Lew smiled as he jerked the steering wheel this way and that... it seeming abnormally large compared to modern vehicles because of the lack of power steering.

Once we got through downtown the traffic lessened significantly on my road so the bell was turned off and Lew just kept his foot to the floor, the truck governed to 50 miles per hour anyway - which WAS a significant speed for the roads of that time. He took it easier on my farm lane, probably because he HAD to, but we arrived at my door shortly, with the wolves stepping out to howl their greeting.

"How much more you got here?" Lew asked.

I chuckled. "Three lions, one cougar, and these wolves that showed up and decided to stay." I smiled. "Oh, three cubs from the lioness and 6 dogs." I continued as an afterthought. "I'll be right back."

I dashed into the woodshed, heading for my office. It wasn't very long before I came back out and swung back up on the passenger seat of the old truck. "Ok, Lew. Back to town." I smiled.

"What'd ya get?" he asked.

I shook my head as I tapped the right hip pocket of my overalls, a boxlike bulge slightly visible. "You don't want to know, Lew. It'd make you want to visit all the more."

Lew looked confused but backed the truck up, watching for the wolves, and we headed back into town.

* * * * *

"Hi there Pete! Did the QVC Queen come out with you?" I asked as I looked over the engineman's seatbox to see Pete Johnson looking at the engine.

Pete turned around and chuckled, shaking his head. "I'm not used to seeing you in THAT getup, but it looks good on you, Jim." I smiled as it WAS unusual of me to be at the zoo in anything but my regular work clothes.

"Just touristing today, or mix of business and pleasure?" I asked.

"Mix... since Peterson here had that cougar escape I decided to see what his caging was like... only to find out it's your old toys and his animals." Pete chuckled.

"They're not mine, actually. Apart from the farm-wagon one behind my steamer here." I smiled, thumb-pointing to Jasmie and her grown liger cubs. "The others belong to the circus museum just south of Monroe."

"Ah... guess that's why I've never seen them out at your place... I know I'd remember the calliope!" Pete winked and smiled broadly.

"Well, I DO have one, but it's an air calliope rather than steam. That one with all the brass whistles in the center of the carousel? That's mine personally. On loan to the zoo." I chuckled.

"Well..." Pete smiled. "I guess you do have good toys I've not seen yet."

I chuckled. "And a cougar too. I'm just running out the official hold on him here before taking him to my place. Let the county get their dollar's worth out of the zoo."

"Oh, well just file the amended inventory when you get to taking... him?" Pete inquired and I nodded. "... taking him home."

"I was wondering..." I started talking as I dropped down from the deck. "Hypothetically, if I bought out Peterson and had the animals at a different location than my place, would that be a separate permit or would that be part of my license?" I asked.

"That'd be a separate inspected location so a separate permit. You could be signatory just like you are here as well as at home." Pete rattled off. "You're... thinking of buying Bill out?" he asked curiously.

I nodded. "Giving it serious consideration... yes. Anything I should know?"

Pete shrugged. "All his animals are used to handling... you'll see that there's one smaller female hyena there that... could probably do with being separated from the others in the colony. Low rank, y'know. She's always getting beat on." Pete smiled. "Knowing you, she'd become a house pet."

I chuckled. "That's always a possibility."

Pete furrowed his brow. "One of the bears is getting up there in years, if I'm not mistaken, so probably a short-timer. The zeeb mare isn't a bad one... easily spooked but you know how that goes. Um... The aardwolves I _think_ were indeed raised in his home so they'd possibly have indoor manners, if I'm not mistaken.... They're easy-going anyway, what with their little teeth."

"Do you know if the cats know any tricks?" I asked.

Pete shook his head. "I don't know that right off, but they're reasonably friendly. Not like yours... I'd personally think twice of going in the cage with these guys, but they seem to enjoy attention through the fences and probably wouldn't be any fuss for someone like you."

I pondered. "Was halfway thinking of displaying the 'yenas and aardwolves here. Zeeb maybe in the petting zoo... or maybe a pet-a-zebra... " I furrowed my brow as I smiled. "Hm... that'd be an attraction, too." Pete looked at me curiously so I explained. "I was planning on buying out Bill Peterson and loaning them to the circus museum to see if they can get more folks coming in. From what Bill said, there's a reasonable sized tent, enough for a small performance top... let things build from there if they can. That'd keep the animals from getting split up, help out the museum, and... get some more species here that we don't have. Petting a zebra for a fee would be just the kind of photo-op thing that would help the museum too."

Pete smiled broadly. "I know they've got some good retired folks down there that certainly know which end is up, and if his caging is up to spec, I'll look at whatever you get set up and it'll all be official."

"You know me, Pete... I'm not one to skimp on caging. Especially since I still make those panels now and again." I chuckled.

"Fort Knox Fencing?" Pete smiled back. "I remember your roll cages and those panels... first time I saw them I figured someone was overselling people. You weren't kidding abuot the durability since I still see parts and pieces now and again. Haven't seen any complete arena sets in quite some time, but I don't go looking for them either.

"So I'd just file a whole 'nother certificate, or do I just file for a second location?" I asked.

"I'd just file a second certificate, that way it'd make differentiating the inventory easier." Pete suggested.

"Will do... head on back to the powerhouse on one of the hayride wagons... there's eight real reindeer back there owned by an elf." I smiled.

"You're joking, right?" Pete asked with a hopeful expression.

"Nope! Henry Arneson has been a midget all his life, and an elf every Christmas season since he was 12." I smiled. "And he DOES own a sleigh with eight reindeer."

"This I've gotta see.... I'll catch you around, Jim. You said that cougar is in the cathouse?" Pete asked.

"Yep... in one of the vacant displays. Check him out if you like... His name's Raleigh. If you need to see him closer come find me and I'll let you up to the cages." I suggested and Pete waved as he strode off.

* * * * *

Chet spelled me on the Case for a washroom break and to check on everything, as I passed the wagon with the hyenas in it, I did notice one cowering in a corner away from the rest. I moved around back and put my fingers through the cage wire - something that should never be done - to scritch her side. She jumped away for a moment, but, seeing that it wasn't one of the other hyenas nor something that would injure her, she came back to nuzzle and lick at my fingers. She then pressed herself firmly against the wire panel for all the scritches and attention she could acquire.

"I don't rightly know what to do about Squeaker..." Bill said as he walked over, apparently having seen me.

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"Well... she's just the odd one out. None of her sisters like her, they only tolerate her at best. I have to feed her separately so she can even get something to eat." Bill shrugged and sighed. "Perhaps I should have just put her down awhile ago when Mandy there tore into her. Mandy's the big female. Sammy's the middle. Then Becca. The bigger male is Jack and the smaller is Harry."

"So she's... relatively tame? Squeaker I mean." I asked.

"Oh, yeah... she's spent a fair amount of time in the house... now and again. She's not entirely housetrained but my girls would let her in all the time, feeling sorry for her." Bill smiled.

"The others?" I asked.

"Not so much... they're pretty much on their own as they're kinda destructive in the house. They'd be ok out in the pen and they're pretty content with themselves there. They don't bother people so much, but... yeah, it's not pretty what they'd do with a couch." Bill chuckled.

"Any of the animals not handleable?" I asked.

"Ike and Tina are a little pissy at times, but they're tigers, so that figures." Bill chuckled heartily. "I named them that because they were always beating on each other as cubs. I'm sure you're old enough to get the reference."

I winked and nodded. "Easily. Now... Raleigh, Bozeman and Helena... Do they get along well together?" I asked, curiously, while still scritching Squeaker.

"Well.... eh." Bill made a wavering motion. "Raleigh's sort of the odd one out a lot of times, that's kinda why he took off. He escaped while Bozeman was bapping at him and I went in to break it up. He plowed past me out the gate before I could get it shut behind me."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that... save you the fine." I smiled.

"Well... yeah. But... I guess it doesn't matter much now anymore." Bill chuckled.

"Oh, if that was part of the official report they'd go after you for money regardless of whether you kept your cert or not." I cautioned.

"Really?" Bill asked.

I nodded, frowning. "Really. But... let's talk turkey. It'd take you awhile to sell off all these animals... and realistically there won't be many buyers for some. Like the hyenas and bears especially. Cats, maybe... but probably not the cougars as they're regulated separately a lot of places. The aardwolves and the zebra would be your most marketable, but that still leaves the rest."

Bill started thinking when I said that. "I guess you're mostly right there." He looked at me curiously. "So why are you interested if they're not that marketable."

I chuckled "Anyone around here would tell you I'm a sucker for a pretty face... or throwing a lifering to someone who seems to need it." I shrugged a bit. "Realistically, I needed animals for a parade, and Raleigh here wasn't bad so... figured I'd give it a shot since Pete Jackson - the local animal control officer - told me you were going bankrupt which is why you didn't want Raleigh back."

We walked over to a nearby bench and sat down. "I... I don't really know you, I don't really know your animals so I'm just flying blind here. I don't usually do this sort of stuff, and it's not like I really need more mouths to feed myself, but... I have a deal I think I can work that'd help you, the critters, and another group all at the same time, with me taking on only a couple, and maybe some more animals for the zoo here. That last bit would have me even further out on a limb than you may expect."

Bill looked at me curiously. "Whatcha mean by that?"

I chuckled. "The director of the zoo here is trying to get me fired. Only the Board of Directors can do that, but equally he's... mismanaging the place because of his personal animosity to me. He's went to them asking to sell off some of the animals here, and insisting that there's a budget deficit when it's only on paper, so for me to bring more animals in...."

"I see..." Bill said. "So... you'd possibly end up footing the bill AND losing your job?"

"It's unlikely, but it is a possibility. Though..." I thought a bit.

"So... you're not wanting the animals?" Bill asked.

I chuckled a little. "Oh... anyone would tell you that I say this old phrase often too... "In for a Penny, in for a Pound."... yeah, I'll take them. But... we've still not talked numbers."

Bill looked at me for awhile. "You seem to care, which... I know is somewhat unusual these days. I can see you already care for the animals by the way the cats are taken care of here, and how Raleigh doesn't seem to mind being caged up again." He pondered. "I don't really know what to ask on anything, as you pointed out they're good animals but... the market isn't there right now. For the right folks, yeah... but... finding the right folks... that'd take a good while."

I sighed. "I'm gonna lowball you, but... it's the best figure I can manage right now, ok? I know it's low, I know it's probably not what you'd want, and I know I couldn't assemble a setup like this for that amount even if I tried... and that'd be ME trying."

Bill looked at me as I said all that. "What sorta number are you thinking?"

I fished the brick out of my right pocket and set it on his lap. "10 grand, cash and carry. We go up to my office and sign a binding bill of sale, and you bring up the signed titles for the trailers and anything else that's registered the next chance you get."

Bill looked at the stack of Franklins and thought for a good while. "Mister... I figured you were bullshitting when you said you'd buy me out. And truth to tell I wasn't even thinking I'd ever just sell out completely. That there'd always be something hanging around. But... " he turned to look at me. "You care. You seem to be good with the animals, and... that's better than sending them off to who-knows-where. I know I got a lot more than this invested in them, and the trailers, and... everything else. But... I know that each day I dally it'll just keep costing me money. Money I don't really have the right to commit to putting this all to bed."

I looked to see just which way he was leaning on the offer, but I couldn't really tell as he reminisced and waffled.

"Well..." He put his hand on the wrapped stacks of bills, then turned to me and smiled. "Don't think I'm a sellout for giving up my animals and the whole show so readily but... it's time I hung it up. Both for my kids and for my marriage. We might get a little something later on when they get a wee bit older and can tend to things, but... the road's no place to grow up. Not flirting with being broke around every turn. It's not like it was years ago." He chuckled.

I nodded. "Nothing is like it was. Gas prices keep going up, it seems... more regulation on everything... but... yeah. I know a number of folks who grew up in traveling shows who think quite fondly of it, and they see what they missed out over those years. Some feel they've been cheated in some respects, others feel they had something quite special that no one else had. Flying through the air on a trapeeze, working animals no one else would consider being pets... seeing lots of places throughout the nation without worrying about anything. The downside being they never got to go to an actual school, except during the wintertime hole-up. They didn't really get to make friends anywhere they went because it's just a couple days or a week at best at any one stop. Never had a real house to go home to... either a railroad car compartment in the way-old shows or a camper in the modern ones." I shrugged and sighed. "It's a helluva way to live life. I know a little 'cuz I did it for awhile. But... everyone has to live things their own way and not everyone's cut out to be on the road for 8 months of the year in a new town every couple days."

Bill nodded. "Don't I know it. Jean... when it was just her and I... no problems. But she's kinda changed. And... I can't fault her for wanting the kids to have a house without wheels under them. A school where they can make friends. Or being able to invite friends over. There's some who can and most who can't because ... well, we both know what can happen when kids see a lion or tiger up close."

I nodded and frowned a bit. "Yeah... bad things can happen, even with good kids and good Cats."

Bill looked at the bundle of currency and chewed his lower lip a little. "A good part of me wants to say no... not because of the amount but because of what it means to me. But... part of me is yellin' at me to say yes."

I smiled. "It's wholly up to you, Bill. I wish I could give you more but... times have been rough for all of us. Even us who work the regular jobs and seem to have a whole lot more going for us."

Bill chuckled. "I didn't think that of you... at least not since I saw you in person. Over the phone when you said you might buy me out, I figured you were some rich fuck in a high-paying job at a zoo. But... I can see with you and your lady there on the engine, and how you are with the animals and arranging things for the parade that... you work, and work hard. And from what I've been hearing folks say, you don't usually take much time for yourself. I know what it takes to keep my little show rolling, and seeing this place..." he jestured to the whole area "... I'm thinking there's a lot more to keeping this from falling apart, not to mention what all you'd have to do back home if what that USDA inspector told me about you is true, having cats yourself as well as all these other projects."

I chuckled a bit. "Yeah... the Zoo takes a lot to keep it right-side-up, but there's a helluva lot support staff here, and good people in nearly every position that are dedicated to the animals or whatever task they're assigned to. Chet the powerhouse chief who is on the engine for me right now, Vic the maintenance and groundskeeping head, who you see puttering around on one of the glorified golf carts. The other keepers... Sam with the wolves, Jerry with the bears... everyone else. This place would have a hard time limping along without any one of them. And yeah, Jasmine, Hercules and Xena are mine personally, as well as... well, now 5 others since I guess I'll be taking Raleigh home and see if he'll fight with my cougar Peaches."

"My point being... you're a bit older than I figured on, you're a damned lot smarter than I figured on, and I can tell you've got a lot on your plate... even more now that you told me you're feudin' with the director of the zoo." Bill smiled. "I'll give 'em to ya for this. If I could afford to, you've got me wanting to give you an even bigger break, but..." he patted the money. "This is damned near already spoken for to clear off my books and give Jean and I a clean start doing something else."

I thought for a moment. "What would you like to do?"

Bill furrowed his brow. "I hadn't really thought about that..." He scratched his head a bit. "Don't rightly know what I'll end up doing."

I thought for a moment and then smiled broadly. "Would you mind driving and hour each day to and from work?"

Bill quirked an eyebrow, "What sort of job are you talkin' about?"

* * * * *

"Hey PETE!" I hollered out over the strains of The Thunderer from the calliope.

Officer Pete Jackson turned his head and came towards me on the Case.

"Like the parade?" I called down to him.

"Best I've seen in a long time, Jim." Pete smiled. "I really liked the Santa rig... was back to see it here on the grounds and..." he shook his head smiling. "After all this time with you I still don't know how you come up with all of this stuff."

"Well... I think I got one more for you." I smiled.

"Uh-oh... should I be scared?" Pete asked, half-jokingly.

"Got the engine for a bit, Julie?" I asked.

She smiled. "Go off and have fun, dear. You've worked hard enough at all this."

I kissed Julie's cheek and dropped to the deck, leading Pete off in the direction of the old cars in the parking lot.

"So whatcha need, Jim?" Pete looked confused.

"Harris County... got any friends down there?" I asked.

"What kinda.... ohhhhhh." Pete scratched his cheek. "I know the head ACO but.... why?"

I chuckled. "Might start having another place on a route. I remember their shelter isn't much more than a shed with runs, but if I remember it's also right in sight of a caretaker's house."

Pete shook his head. "Used to be the ACO's residence, but it got taken over as office-space awhile back. I'd imagine he still sleeps there when he's fighting with his wife, but... You mean you've got someone that would... do that run?" Pete looked at me curiously. "Think we could manage that many more?"

I sighed and shrugged. "Depends... Harris is far more rural than here so if I'm not mistaken they're mostly cases for special handling, and strays rather than surrenders."

Pete nodded, "That'd figure."

"Think the ACO might go along with things like you do?" I asked.

Pete rubbed the back of his neck. "I.... don't really know how to approach him about that, Jim. Honestly."

I pondered.... "That can be a little dicey, indeed." I canted my jaw.

"Especially with Judge Clemens still being up in the air. He's not visited since your little to-do, but... that doesn't mean he can't change his mind." Pete offered.

"This is true, but... we'll see." I said.

Pete sighed. "Wish I had better answers for you, Jim. I really wish I did."

I pondered. "Maybe I should take a trip down there sometime..."

"That wouldn't necessarily be a bad idea, Jim. Talk to him yourself but... in civvies and not this stuff." Pete chuckled as we walked back towards the Case.

"Yeah... I guess this makes me look kinda odd, and I can't really deny who I am in my work uniform." I smiled.

* * * * *

The sun was setting low, and slowly people started trickling home. I made a final check of the cathouse, and we started trundling everything back towards the powerhouse. I'd arranged for Greg to have a guard back there all night to keep an eye on things, even though nothing was really expected to happen. Bill had signed the bill of sale and I told him I'd be down to collect the titles and other materials sometime the next week, to which he'd responded it'd be no problem... Sam, the calliope player, told me he hadn't had more fun in quite some time, and he was glad to see the cages with something more in them than stuffed toy animals. I quipped that shortly there might be a surprise for him and the other volunteers down at the museum. Gerald Siemens just smiled broadly and shook his head when I said that. There were a couple of the older gas tractors left so with them we towed the other circus wagons back to be parked around the powerhouse lot and oriented so they could both be easily loaded onto their trailers for the trip back to the museum and for Bill to move the animals into their trasport cages and trailer.

"Thanks for coming out, Henry," I said, as the elf finished loading his trailer.

"Oh, it wasn't really that big of a deal, Jim. I wasn't booked yet and you've helped me out a time or three with things, including getting replacements for these guys a couple times." Henry said, waddling up to me.

"Think you'll want to come back next year?" I asked, smiling.

"You bet! For one of the smaller parades, you sure put on quite a show." he was grinning broadly. "And that Joe is one of the best Santa's I've worked with... all natural and has the personality to match the part."

I smiled. "You should see him with one of my other hobbies." I pondered. "You still got that one lame female that you had to retire?"

Henry nodded. "Yeah... really wish she'd not fallen and broken her leg like that. She never really recovered from it."

I pondered. "Think you'd be willing to part with her?" I asked.

Henry looked at me, then smiled. "For you, yes. Others... not as likely."

I chuckled. "I'll let you know about that. It may be a bit because of some things festering around here..."

Henry laughed. "You mean like that director guy trying to get you fired? I'd wondered who he was when he came stomping around here but not saying hi to anyone. Then your inspector, Pete something, told me who he was and how he was being a pain in the ass."

I nodded. "Yeah... that sorta stuff. I was kind of thinking of her for the petting zoo."

Henry smiled broadly. "She'd be good for that, as she's calmer than some of the others. Then again, with having that busted leg she'd gotten a lot more attention over it."

I nodded, and pondered. "She's breedable too, right?"

Henry nodded. "Oh yeah... even thought a couple times of AIing her myself but... I come up a little short on that one." He grinned broadly at his own pun.

I chuckled. "Oh? That reach extension arm you have doesn't work for that?" I winked.

Henry playfully punched me in the back of the knee. "Bastard." He winked.

"Well... if you need anyone to do that for you next go-round, just let me know and I'll make a trip down if you'd like." I chuckled.

"Yeah, you were good with the ones at the Park, but I don't have anything like their setup for a squeeze chute." Henry said.

"Just need a couple gate panels and a couple hands to help who can take orders." I smiled.

"I'll think about it, Jim. Anyway... see you either in the spring, summer, or next Thanksgiving." Henry chuckled and proffered his hand.

I shook it heartily. "See you around, and say hi to the rest of the folks."

Henry climbed up to the cab of his truck and started the engine, the raised seat and pedal extensions made for a rather comical sight, but that sort of thing happens when one's a dwarf. "Will do... and let me know about Velvet when things settle out enough. She'd be a good one for you personally, too."

I stepped back as he shut his door, and I waved as he started out down the service road along the railroad siding.

I walked back to where Bill was getting his stuff settled in. "So where to now with these?" he asked, meaning the animals. Fred Blanchard and Earl were nearby.

"Um... my place I guess for the time being. Will they be good in their transport cages overnight?" I asked.

Bill nodded. "Never had trouble before with that."

I thought. "What sort of containment do you have for on-site time? Just the transport cages, or something bigger?"

Bill smiled "Ah, that's right... I didn't set up so you've not seen anything. Um.... got about 60 by 100 of reasonably flat ground at your place?"

I nodded. "Out beyond the drive behind the chicken coops... or the old grainery lot might be big enough between the scalehouse and sawmill shed."

"Got someone to show us the way there, Jim?" Fred asked. "I..." I thought for a moment. "Julie!" I called out.

"Yes?" Julie came down from the deck of the Case.

"These gentlemen will be taking the trailers to the farm and setting things up there. Think you could ride with Bill to show him the way?" I asked.

"What about you and the Case and all?" she asked, somewhat worriedly.

"If no one brought the old Ford through the parade, or the '77, I'll just have Chet drive me to where they're at so I can load the Cats after I button up the Case for the night. Greg will have someone here to make sure nothing gets stolen overnight so I'm not terribly worried about that here." I then thought of something more. "Will even let them know they can keep a fire burning overnight to keep the water warm and themselves as well."

"Ok dear." She smiled and kissed my cheek. "Don't be too long, ok? I'll get started on supper once things settle down a little."

I smiled and gave her a half-hug. "Thanks hon. See you back at home."

She walked off with Bill, Fred and Earl towards Bill's rig, set to head into town and collect the other two trailers, if I wasn't mistaken. I headed up into the powerhouse and called the front gate extension from the modern phone in the main hall, which was rapidly emptying of people after the closing announcement.

"Herbine here." came the reply.

"Greg, are you planning on anyone guarding the equipment in the back lot tonight?" I asked.

"Yeah... one of the younger guards is set to take over shortly, why?" Greg asked.

"Well... he any good with fires?" I asked.

"I... don't rightly know, but I think he was a boy scout once upon a time." Greg said.

"Have him meet me back here at the Case when he comes on duty. I'll give him a crash course and he can keep a fire burning in her overnight so he can stay warm as well as keep the water warm for me in the morning." I said.

"OH! Yeah, he should be able to do that. He should be showing up anytime now, really. If he comes here I'll send him back to you right away. I'm sure you're more than ready to head home." Greg said.

"Yeah, it's been a rather busy day today." I chuckled. "Ok, catch you later." I said and hung up the phone.

Not long after the younger security officer showed up, I gave him a brief round of instruction on the fire in the engine, and he said he'd keep it going overnight for me. I cautioned him not to let it get too hot because of the water required in the boiler, and he said he'd do his best. Someone had driven my '48 Ford through the parade so it was in the employees' lot, but the '77 was nowhere to be seen. I got in my older Ford just as Jack was coming down the stairs from the office. I hit the second horn button on the dash and an ancient Eaton Mileaway horn sounded out a gggoOOOOOOOOOOOGah, making Jack jump a little as he was heading over to the Victorian parking lot.

"MR. PETERS!" he exclaimed.

I waved from the window. "Have a good day, Jack?" I asked.

"You... and this mess... how on EARTH do you think you can get away with it all?" Jack fumed.

"It's after Closing, Jack. You can save the bluster and bullshit for tomorrow... or the next time you see me. I think I might take a couple days off." I smiled.

"You've gone behind my back for the last time, Mr. Peters!" Jack sniped.

"Really? Does that mean you're going to stop balking at everything I try to do?" I asked, a smug smile on my face.

"Hardly, Mr. Peters." Jack grunted.

"Oh, well... ok. I'll stop going behind your back. Next time I'll run right overtop of you." I teasingly hit the starter and the engine of the Ford roared to life. Jack jumped out of the way, I winked, and put it into first, released the handbrake and let out the clutch to putter slowly towards the road.

I parked the F1 in the auto-dealership lot, figuring they wouldn't mind its being there overnight or a wee bit longer. I took the key with me this time, though, and got into my F100, grabbing the keys from the dash and the newer and larger V-8 engine burped to life. It wasn't difficult to collect the cats and head back to the farm. By the time I got there a yellow-and-white two-pole tent had been erected in the space the old grain bins had once occupied, the trailers and rigs parked on the lawn next to the driveway, and I heard jostling about as I backed my truck up to, and then into, the old machinery shed to unload Jasmine, Hercules, and Xena. After getting them in their cage I went back out to look at what Bill had set up.

There were sections for each animal, all appropriately sized, and the Zebra mare on the end just had an open-fenced area with some hay strewn about for her to munch on amid the sawdust. "Not bad..." I reached over to check on the wire-gauge of the fencing panels, and found they were indeed 9ga, so sufficient for certification.

"Well, I guess it's all yours now. I'll help you when you want to roll up the tent so you know how it all goes together and what's easiest." Bill said and smiled.

"There somewhere we can wash up and get some grub?" Earl grunted, earning a half-smack from Fred.

"Be nice to him! You had a fun time at the zoo, and don't be tellin' me you didn't!" Fred chided Earl.

"Dinner is on me... Julie probably has something good cooking. Hope you folks don't mind dogs cuz I have 6 around right now." I said. "And if you don't mind some cobwebs, I'll show you where you can sack out if you like."

The three followed me through the open door of the machinery shed, which I then closed behind them. I led them past the cages with the cats, which Earl eyed cautiously, I then showed them the bathroom and unlocked the office. "I'll ask you not to fuddle with anything, but here's a couch and I'll grab a couple old army cots from the house for whoever choses what. It's warm, got a shitter right there, and no real worries about anything."

"Looks alright to me." Fred said, and Earl reluctantly agreed.

"I'll wash up and then we'll see about supper." Bill said, heading for the washroom.

"And I'll go feed my hungry cats so they don't go prowling for midnight snacks." I said. Fred laughed heartily as Earl blanched at the thought.

* * * * *

After I'd showered up to remove the layer of carbon from working on the engine, we dined on a simple fare of chicken patties on a bun with lots of crispy seasoned steak fries. Bill, Fred and Earl ate their fill, and didn't seem too bothered by Cleo munching on her chicken legs watching us with her thousand-mile stare, or the dogs when they were milling about waiting for their kibble. The wolves, thankfully, remained hidden in the pumphouse, which was just fine with me while the guests were here. They soon were tired and excused themselves to their sofa and cots in the shop office. I pondered whether to lounge in my easy chair and watch some TV or just turn in for the night, but apparently that decision had been made for me.

"Let's snuggle and watch some TV, dear." Julie said and took me by the hand.

I chuckled and followed. She put on some of my usual programs and snuggled up beside me. "Thanks for helping today, Julie." I said, smiling.

"You're welcome, dear. I like being able to help out since I don't really do much these days around here apart from... well... keeping the dogs happy. At least the males." Julie blushed and I laughed.

"Ever thought about trying the wolves at the zoo?" I asked.

Julie shook her head. "Not before Sam and Gwen visited... Gwen kinda told me... what Sam liked to do with her and them."

I nodded. "I think Janus was pretty restless the other day. I wondered if I should help him out or not, but then I decided against it since that's sort of Sam's fun and I'd not talked with her about it yet."

Julie blushed. "I kinda wondered what it'd be like to... tie a male dog like that, and force him to cum like... we... kinda did with Larry."

I chuckled. "Well... "force" isn't quite the right word when they enjoy it, but... I think that could be arranged if you don't mind me wondering what it's like bottoming for Sam and her toys. I've kinda been wondering what that'd be like myself. And how Athena or Thor feels like on the inside. I kinda poked around a bit and hinted at things one time with Sam so... I think they'd enjoy having us have fun alongside them."

We chatted for a bit longer and I must have fallen asleep snuggling there with Julie as I woke with the early light to see her snuggled atop me with a blanket over both of us. I looked over at the time and figured I'd snooze for another hour or so before starting on things. Julie must have felt me moving as she murphled something unintelligible and cuddled closer to me. I just closed my eyes and dozed off again.

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Sam was unusually quiet as we rode in to work... "Penny for your thoughts?" I offered. Sam just turned to me and stared for a bit, likely pondering things. I turned for a moment and smiled at her, and she smiled back. "Just thinking about last...

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Transcending the Past

I must have been the first one up the next morning... at least the first of the humans. The sun was streaming in through the big picture window, Julie and Gwen were still snuggled together on the floor. Sometime overnight Reggie must have joined them...

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The Best I've Been In Years

"I don't know why I can't just drive myself, Jim..." Sam started complaining as we drove towards my place. "Easy... you're broke, I have gas, and we're going to the same place now, and we'll be both going to the same place in the morning. Julie has...

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