The Pooka Problem
by ROY LeBAY

The Thrilling Conclusion! (
Chapter 9)

Circe appeared, and approached the despondant musician. After a moment of hushed conversation, she turned back to the audience. "Don't worry folks, he's fine! Please stay in your seats, as it'll only take a moment to wire up a new string, so thanks for your patience!"

The response from the mob-to-be sounded like an auditorium full of students enjoying a pep rally, only to be told to return to class for a pop quiz. By now, the pool was completely dark, and all of the main spotlights were on the player. He proceeded to again play the first 2 notes of the score. Suddenly, a strobe light pulsed its harsh, strident light on the musician, even as the spotlights simultaneously disappeared. From behind the man arose an immense white-splotched form, with its' remaining black bulk seeming to swallow up the available light. In 3 stop-motion-like blinks, the unlucky musician disappeared into a cavernous gullet lined by thumb-sized teeth with a grotesque SLURP!

Only a few screams escaped the stunned witnesses in the audience. They watched tensely in silence as the whale partially beached itself, and presented its' immense tail to the audience. Meanwhile, the strobelight had been replaced by a wide-beam spotlight on the whale. The huge tail came down with 3 seismic slams--on the cello, reducing it to splinters. The killer whale then pulled out into the water, only to return to beach itself head first--2 feet away from the still-spinning microphone stand. The ponderous jaws opened, revealing an empty gullet,--and spoke. "Well, SOMEBODY had to do it!" Incredulous gasps rose from the audience, and then the jaws closed, and parted again--disgorging a soaked man in a black tux. The man stood as he ducked out from under the jaws, and disgustedly flung saliva off his sleeves as he reached for the microphone. "Bleagh!" He turned partially away to glare at the whale. "Everyone's a critic!" The man turned back to the audience. "So, what did you think? We thought you might enjoy something unique--something that could only happen thanks to the magic of Circe's Funhouse! Come on, be brutal! Anthony and I are paid with applause, although I myself could do without the fish!"

Absolute silence followed. He turned with the mike back to the whale. "Are you hearing crickets too?" Andrew nodded enthusiastically. The musician shook his head as he walked over to his now empty cello case. "I'd hoped that it wouldn't come to this, but even the best actors need their cue!" He opened the case, and held it chest-high for everyone to see. Flourescent green neon tubes spelled out APPLAUSE! within the case. Circe (bless her) started clapping. The applause was picked up by 20--then 80 people, and then the rest of the crowd followed suit with a roar that could've challenged the best booming waves off of S. California's coast. I stood stock still for a minute or 2, enjoying the 'rush' as Wyly absorbed his final 'course' from the audience. I made a standard bow, directed the rest of the applause towards Andrew, and then made my way to the side alley.

The sound of the applause had already tapered off, as Andrew the Orca commenced his 'swan song' performance. We stepped into 1 of the dressing rooms, and faced a convenient mirror--returning to our coyote form. "Well, it was a half of a victory at the very least. Did you enjoy your meal Wyly?" Wyly's reflection grinned. "It was like caviar, double fudge ripple peanut butter ice cream, and sweet and sour buffalo wings all in a row! It was fantastic!" His grin faltered. "Now, what's all this nonsense about a 'half victory?'" I shrugged my shoulders and glanced in the direction of the audience. "Do you remember the complete silence once we'd finished our bit? If it weren't for Circe starting them off with her applause, we would've bombed. I know the idea was for you to feed, and we accomplished that, but at this rate--there won't be any requests for repeat performances out in the world! This could be tougher than I thought."

Wyly cocked his head, raised an eyebrow, and commenced to clean the wax out of our ears. "Am I hearing you right? It sounded like authentic applause to me! The entire audience--to a man, were clapping and cheering! Besides, like we pointed out to them, it was something new; and it takes a few moments for people to absorb and appreciate anything. As far as I'm concerned, we had true applause the moment the laughter started!" I slowly nodded, and reflected on my own grin in the mirror. "I suppose that's true. Plus, I had the experience of transforming into a Remora fish and clinging to Andrew's upper jaw! Still, I won't trust any audience fully until we find 1 outside the Funhouse's influence." Wyly paused in the middle of changing out of the tux. "What's that supposed to mean?" "You've seen it before. With Circe's magic and beauty, any man would almost instantly bend to her slightest whim--including applause. Remember tha seal transformation we saw yesterday? The guy stayed after the show to watch the seals a little longer, and Circe suggested to him that he clap to cause the seals to continue their tricks. He kept clapping all the way through his transformation. It could have happened just like that!"

A knock on the door interrupted us, and I cracked the door slightly to reveal the polar bear mascot. "Yes?" "Roy? There are a few people on the stage floor who would like to speak to you." I grunted as I struggled with the collar of my 'monkey suit.' "Thanks, I'll be out in a minute as soon as I'm
done changing!" I closed the door, and started to change into our 'off hour' clothes. Simply choosing something that felt comfortable with our new body had only been 1/3 of our final decision. Wyly, of couse, had wanted to wear something that would attract attention. I was more concerned with comfort, and I have at least a slight sense of a matching 'I'm-not-colorblind' style (really, I'm not; and I've got decent night vision too). Fortunately, Wyly had unwittingly provided an inspiration in style the second time I'd seen him before we'd physically joined. The result looked like a 3-way pileup between the 1930s, the '50s, and the '70s.

I pulled on a long-sleeved emerald green polyester shirt, and tucked it into a bright-white pair of bell-bottomed slacks (thank-you, Mr. Travolta) that were held up by a pair of yellow 'Have A Nice Day' smiley-face suspenders. At my waist I wore a modified handcuff holster, which held an slightly oversized ornate silver and gold pocket watch; complete with watch chain and fob. I slid a ACME Co. leather vest over the shirt, allowing enough looseness even for a gesturing, emotional Italian (Wyly wanted space to move our arms to attact attention). Emblazioned on the side of the vest was a lounging Wile E. Coyote, dressed up in early '50s gangster clothes. I hefted my cane, with a sterling silver pouncing coyote handle, and various desert animals carved along its' shaft. Careful! Its' got a hare trigger! (I might explain later). The final touch was a white straw hat, with a green band. It was the typical type that you might see in political rallies. In fact, the complete outfit resembled: a typical carnival barker, a traveling snake-oil salesman, or a member of a barbershop quartet. In human form, i wore wingtips, and as a coyote--I went barefoot. We'd be just another face in the crowd in Vegas or Hollywood (I'm guessing we'll fix *that* later).

Ensemble complete, I stepped out, and scanned the stage floor for the visitors in question. Two men in casual clothes were engaged in a lively conversation, while a woman in mostly white business attire stood stiffly to 1 side, all only a few feet from the whale pool. I swaggered over to greet them, twirling my cane as I went. "Howdy folks! How can you help me today? Was there something wrong with the performance?" Their conversation ended abruptly as they were suddenly forced to take in my drastic change in appearance, and answer my odd questions at the same time. Before they could blurt out any kind of response, I made a point of giving each of them a hearty handshake--complete with joy buzzer. The 2 men grinned as they wrung their hands, but the woman gave no sign of having felt it as she stepped forward to address me--flipping back her shoulder-length platinum blond hair when it briefly blinded her. "Mister LeBay?" I bobbed my head as I jerked my thumb in the direction of the park entry. "That's me! However, I leave that name at the entry. While I'm here on the grounds, please call me Wyly! And you are..?" By way of response, she bent down to open a leather attache case at her feet. I crouched down to peer into its' dark recesses, then angled my head up to grin at her. "Do you always keep your name in a bag?" One of the men beside me snorted with barely repressed laughter as a slight blush crept into the woman's face. "I'm sorry, this is the first time I've done this." She offered a small, nervous
smile as she handed me a handful of pamphlets. "I'm Laura Egress, and I've just been hired to recruit entertainment for Pearly Shores Seaside Spectacular, which opens in a month. I wanted to see what the competition was drawing the crowds in with." I smiled knowingly. "And you're wondering if my Performance, and my fellow aquatic animal actors were available for your park to borrow?"

She hesitated, then nodded. "Yes, but just for the first month of the grand opening. Are you...under contract here?" I shook my head as I turned her by the shoulder to face the now empty pool behind her. "I'M not, but the wet wonders you saw me working with are another story. They have a contract of sorts with their teacher, Circe--who also happens to be the owner of the entire Funhouse, and its' related attractions. If you want the animals as well, you'll have to speak with her. She's extremely attached to all of them. I, on the other hand, she would be ecstatic to get rid of!" Laura continued to stare at the empty
pool, lost in thought. "There's no harm in asking for the loan of the animals. I myself will be available for *anything* in about a week. Personally, I've given a free sample of my services to Circe's Funhouse as a troubleshooter, and Circe will verify that I'm very...'thorough.' If her unique entertainment can't be rented out to you, my services for troubleshooting measures will always be available, and in a pinch; I could always throw a few acts together! Would you like to speak to Circe now?"

She turned back to me with a hopeful smile. "I think that's what I should've done in the 1st place! Where will I find her?" I caught the attention of an otter mascot closing up the snack bar. As he walked over, I gestured to Laura. "This young lady would like to speak to Circe on a matter of business. Could
you please escort her?" He nodded, and started to lead her away. "Wait a minute!" They both turned back. "I have your number on the pamphlets, but here's my card, just in case!" It read, LeBAY and TALE, TALE OF TROUBLE INC., TRICKS and TROUBLESHOOTING--then the phone number. She thanked me as she took it, and hurried on her way to meet Circe. I turned to the 2 remaining gentlemen. "So! Who's my next victim?"

A tall and slender black-haired man stepped up who vaguely resembled Dean Cain, except for a broken nose and a scar under his right eye. He waved his hand before my eyes as I watched a business card 'magically' appear in it. "A true pleasure to meet you Wyly! To shame your stage name, I'm Thaddeus (Tad) Strangge, and I own a string of public magicians' clubs throughout California and Nevada. Now, I've seen people swallow things without a trace before, but never a man swallowed by and disappear into a whale like that! I can't help but ask--HOW?!" I grinned as I pressed his card between my palms, and then slowly opened them. With Wyly's help, in place of his card were 52 of my own. "As a late, great magician used to say, "It's Maaagic!" "Pick a card, any card!" I fanned out the cards for him. He gingerly selected 1, and jerked back with a start as it burst into flame! I threw the whole handful into the air, and each 1 burst into flame--disintigrating like shooting stars before they hit the ground.

He grinned as he placed his hands on his hips. "So, after all that, where's your calling card?" I scratched the tip of my left ear. "Check behind yours!" His hand automatically slapped his left ear, and came away with a card. He glanced at the card, and nodded as a wry grin curled 1 corner of his mouth. "Not bad! Listen, we've got a meeting to get to, but I just wanted you to know that you're welcome at all of my clubs. We'd love to have you perform a few tricks, or just hang out in the audience!"

I held up my hand to restrain them for a moment. "Wait a moment! Who's your friend?" The man beside Tad stepped forward, his face beaming. It wasn't intentional. He was permanently inflicted with a rosy nose and cheeks (thanks to the condition of Rosacea) that almost matched his short, curly red hair. His being slightly overweight completed his appearanceas an off-season, beardless Santa with 'Striking Red' hair dye. "Blarney B.' Golly!" He gave me an affectionate slap on the shoulder that could've split a 2x4. "Excuse me?" Was he introducing himself, or critiquing our name choices? "Since you both like mysteriously memorable names, I thought I'd get in on the fun! Blarney's fine. Tad's clubs and mine are often side-by-side, a Tad O' Blarney as it were, and together we're the last stand in clean public entertainment! We usually get together and brainstorm to help each others' business. I own a number of stand-up comedy clubs that are only just getting by." I couldn't believe my luck, and I told him why. "Oh, happy day! By chance, just this week I started to consider getting in on the power of public entertainment. Would you have enough fun and attention to spare if I were to stop by to give and take a few laughs?" Blarney laughed, and pointed at Tad. "Absolutely! You know, you're party to a funny coincidence. Tad and I have been called the Chance Brothers--Slim and Fat, because luck seems to be the only thing that keeps our collective clubs afloat! I don't have a card, so just call his club, and they'll give you what they need. Say, what time have you got?"

I pulled out my pocket watch, and sprang the cover open for them to see. The instant I'd opened it, I realized that I'd forgotten this 'trick-ticks' main purpose. An intense flash of white light instantly blinded both Tad and Blarney. They staggered back blinking, and after a full minute, they'd recovered. Tad shouted, "What the heck was that?!" "Why am I still seeing the word 'sucker'?" questioned Blarney with a puzzled squint. I could only shake my head. "Jeeze, sorry about that guys, it really was an accident! This watch and cane are a couple of specialized props I've just had made--part of my shtick as it were. I accidentally set the watch off by opening it the wrong way. See, look here." I held the watchcase open for them to inspect. "The inside of the case is highly reflective, and at it's center is a small charge of old-fashioned flash powder. The word 'sucker' is hinged and outlined in black over the inner curve of the case, and it shows up as a negative after-image on your retinas after the flash. Since I'm also aspiring to moonlight as a door-to-door snakeoil salesman supreme, these props posses new, and sorely needed tricks of my trade. Would you forgive me of this gentlemen?"

The Chance Brothers considered the watch for a moment, glanced at each other, and then simultaneously burst into laughter. "That's a fantastic gag! You've got to show up at my comedy clubs now, that is, if you expect me to forgive you!" "That goes ditto for me as well! With that outfit, plus a few of those tricks, all you'll need is a mustache to twirl! O.K., now we really have to go!"

The pair waved goodbye as they power-walked towards the exit. I watched them go, grinning even as I reset my watch. "Wyly?"

"Yes?"

"You were right."

"About what?"

"I'm actually looking forward to those 'interesting times!'"

"I told you so!"

I could go on about Wyly's antics, and my efforts to keep up, But that--is another story!

The End!

Special thanks goes to Myron Comus (especially for finding space for this monster!), Socks the Cat, Odis Holcomb, and especially Pohl Anderson--father of St. Klutzus from Operation Luna. Feel free to use any of the other characters as long as proper recognition is given. Any Questions? Comments? Or Criticisms? Email me at: bayleroy@hotmail.com

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