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Chapter 8 - Deadly Mistake

He cleared his mind and took a deep breath to relax and was able to stop mid-relief. He made a mental note to get a bigger cup for the future. “Perhaps a coffee can?” He thought.

Fumbling, he discovered the handle on the window and started cranking the louvered window slats open. He managed to get the cup to the bottom slat and emptied its contents down the last slat and outside. Ready to finish the job, he considered where he felt he was at in the process.

“To hell with it.” He full pressed his torso up against the louvers and did his best to finish his relief, poking his manhood out of the opening.

“We’ll that’s dandy.” He said out loud.

He made his way across the confines of the darkness to the small sink in the caravan. He fumbled for the canteen and some water in the canteen to rinse his hands and the cup out. He dried his hands off on a tea towel and returned to his nest.

The roar of twenty diesel engines starting in near unison accompanied by the bang of a backfire. With a jolting tug of his shelter moving forward. Nigel slid off the bench and ended up on the floor as his tin cup rolled around the basin where he had left it in the middle of the night.

“Well, off we go,” he thought.

He gathered his composure as the first three hundred yards were across the grassy field. It was an athletic event to keep himself square as pans and glasses rattled inside the cupboards. The sensation and sound changed after ninety seconds of terrain as the caravan struck pavement.

Now his prison cell was rolling and all that was left to do was peer out of the blinds and see a view of his existing world shutter by in a rolling montage of images, all familiar. The fear welled up in him again. He thought of his life pulling away from him, not the other way around.

After thirty minutes, nothing outside the window was familiar or recognizable. Nigel became aware that he had never actually been anywhere, although his greatest imagination was always captivated with what was “out there”. He would soon know.

He was expecting a long haul but, after only two hours of the winding slow convey, it stopped. He peeked through all the windows and felt perhaps they had gone in a gigantic circle. This place looked just like home, he thought.

Slowly, the caravan inched forward with the screeching and cranking of brakes and transmissions, their heated, oil-laden, stench creeped in through the louvers. It was not an aroma that brought good memories.

After nearly ten minutes, the driver of Nigel’s caravan pulled across the road to the left and onto a field. Nigel’s mobile shelter soon came to a slow stop and then, proceeded to back up. It came to rest.

He fumbled with the lock on the door and opened it to a cool refreshing breeze. He had not realized how stuffy the interior had become. As he stepped out, he was caught off guard by the driver exiting the cab of the pick-up truck. It was the tiny Asian girl who had stacked the chairs and poured tea with her feet.

She immediately, went to work blocking the tires on the truck and his caravan before unhitching it from the truck. She could not have weighed more than eighty pounds, yet she had a clear understanding of leverage and balance to do a job which, he suspected, would have taken a man three times her size to accomplish. She didn’t ask for a hand nor did she say a word. When completed, she simply gave him a small smile and walked off.

Nigel began a tour of the grounds and witnessed what he had seen the day before yet, this time in reverse. Everything went at twice the speed.

Nobody asked Nigel for a hand. No one barked at him for directions. He simply walked and watched as every tent, every trailer and every portable latrine, including the boardwalk, was re-assembled identically to where it had been at the previous location. It struck Nigel that he still had no idea where in all of England he was.

A bulldozer was busy grading all of the turf from the field in a large oval pattern where the big top tent would reside. He could identify the exact dimensions required as the grass was bright green. Fresh turf had grown back where the tent had been placed the previous year giving an instructional pattern for the driver to easily follow.

Behind the latrine tents, a crew of men were busy digging the sewage network which Nigel knew all too well. He walked away, before he could be noticed.

The large circus tent was carried on a massive 60 foot long flatbed truck. The tent was rolled like a gigantic sleeping bag, tight and secure. Next to it, was a series of long crates containing tent poles which had been broken down to various lengths and two more cube shape crates containing hardware. Nigel knew these boxes very well. “Was it possible that only a week had past? It seemed a lifetime ago.” He thought.

A large muscular man, in grey coveralls, was in charge of the unpacking procedure. Nigel had never seen this man before. He spoke with a thick Slavic accent. Was he from Poland? Russia? Maybe, Czechoslovakia? Nigel found it incredibly unusual that he could have missed this character along the way. He was not a man to be missed.

“Nigel, go stand at that end or you will get crushed!” he barked.

“He knows my name?” The thought stopped him cold. The man motioned abruptly and Nigel snapped out of the fog to jump at his command. He went to the back of the large tent and started helping receive the tent as eight men rolled it.

“Move Nigel!” The man screamed.

Nigel scrambled away as the back end of the tent hit the ground. Its weight pulled the rest of the tent with it like a massive fat worm. Nigel realized that his lack of foresight almost killed him.

All eyes fell upon Nigel. He could feel humiliation rising through him. His face flushed beet red. Eyes rolled and shaking heads communicated everyone was thinking the same thing, “What an idiot?”

The Slav approached, “If you don’t absolutely know what you are doing here? Shut up, listen, watch…and stay the hell out of the way.”

Nigel’s shame spoke. “Yes sir.”

He did as instructed. The crew unloaded the crates and placed them on the ground. The Slav jumped back into the cab and fired up the engine. The diesel pipes blasted a black cloud of oil straight up into the sky.

He slowly drove off around the outside of the grounds then, backed the truck to about eighty feet from where he had dropped the crates. It would serve as a barrier on the backside of the tent.

The tent was laid out and unfolded. It was remarkable how much ground it eventually covered, nearly an entire acre. The crew of men were laying stakes in the ground near the large flatbed as the strongman, from the freak show, willfully hammered in steel stake after steel stake.

One of the Bolshevik brothers would hold the stake to get it started and then, get out of the way as the real swinging started. The instant he was done, the Bolshevik would rapidly wrap a tent rope to the stake. The speed at which he tied it and the intricacy of the knot itself could have been its own act in the circus.

Meanwhile, the other Bolshevik brother and, their father, removed the tentpoles and joined sections which telescoped together. A series of bolts were added to make two sections one. Another truck pulled up with the parts, pieces and planks which were clearly the bleacher components. They would eventually support the entertained throngs. The whole organization and orchestration of the entire group was impressive.

Nigel walked down through the food tents to the midway where a continent was unhinging the mechanical fair rides from their vehicles, one by one.

They were, apparently, members of one entire family, mostly men with wives and children. They operated the rides and the midway tent games as well as serving food and collecting ticket money.

They spoke a language completely unfamiliar to Nigel. It was not Slavic or Germanic or Russian. It was a strange tongue with rolling r’s and guttural sounds which sounded as if they were inhaling while speaking instead of exhaling.

He had discovered they were called the Romans by making the mistake of asking one of the young girls earlier, if they were Gypsies. The girl’s fiery green eyes lit up furiously at the suggestion as she snapped, “No we are the Romas! Are you an orphan?”.

When the fair was operational, this family was everywhere. Nigel knew who they were because they held a strong resemblance, that being, olive skin and piercing eyes…blue, black or green. They seemed a culture inside their own world and really never interacted with the rest of the troupe.

A commotion stirred at the raising of the Big Top tent. There was a scramble of workers, mostly clowns who, ranged in size from four feet to six feet tall, diving and slipping under the flattened tent. They popped and slithered, lifting the canvas with their stature giving the appearance of headstones. It looked like someone had dropped the largest parachute ever, on top of a cemetery.

The Bolshevik family inserted the two shorter tent poles into the tent from the opening at an approximate forty- five degrees. The poles were grabbed and disappeared under the canvas.

A huge, trumpeting roar, from the circus elephant, came from behind Nigel. He spun to see Zeus and his trainer appear. Zeus was a marquee draw for the circus. The image of him on the whitewash posters, used to advertise the circus, were impressive. Feeling the thunder of his step and hearing his blazoning hornlike holler was impressive.

Nigel was captivated as Zeus sauntered by. Nigel wondered. “Why do we see every creature as a reflection of our own qualities? The elephant doesn’t know we think of him as similar to us. The elephant is just busy being an elephant. In fact, if anything, the elephant must be amused thinking, ‘Why do I let these little creatures pull me about?’”

The answer was standing in front of him. The trainer was a very small African man. His skin was as black as any person Nigel had ever seen. On the famous circus poster, the trainer was atop the elephant who was standing on its back legs.

As he watched them pass, the trainer held a bright red apple in one hand and a whip in the other. He’d show the apple in front of the elephant and then, snap the whip very near both of its ears. “Perhaps, elephants were just like people after all.” Nigel thought.

The elephant trainer corralled Zeus in front of the tent opening and stood in front of the pachyderm, raising his left hand while lowering the apple with his right near the ground. The elephant gracefully kneeled on its front legs and lowered its back. The trainer gave the animal the apple, then adroitly ran around to one side and climbed to the back of its head. He stood at the neck facing the tent as the Ringmaster emerged with a long rope end and tossed it up to the trainer. He tied it off to the elephant harness rapidly.

The trainer cracked the whip and the elephant rose to its feet. The trainer sat down and gently patted him, slapping his hand on Zeus’s back to get him moving either left or right. With every step, the tent pole on the left side rose further and further as muffled yelling came from inside the tent. The tent itself created suction with the ground as a huge rush of wind came from behind Nigel, causing a viable bluster which made a low tuba like sound as the air rushed through the doorway opening.

A sudden massive steely clink alerted everyone that the tent pole slid into its interior base. This started a scramble. Men tugged on lines and the “strong man” wielded his giant sledge hammer faster than ever. The post needed to be secured fast before any actual breeze compromised the lack of sturdy reinforcement. The men held the ropes fiercely against the tension caused by the weight of the tent. The ropes and stakes were secured in three minutes.

The process was repeated for the tent pole on the right. This was an incredibly impressive orchestration of man versus the laws of physics, not to be accomplished without the strength of a very seemingly docile elephant. The second pole went up easily as the stakes were placed and tied off. The drama of construction was profoundly interesting and captivating to Nigel. All that was left was the grand center pole in the middle of the big top. It took ten men to lift and insert the pole through the tent door. The remaining fabric still shrouded the ground inside covering the center portion of the tent. This time, however, there was no hand-off. The pole was far too heavy and big for all and most of the men disappeared under the fabric with the steel shaft.

A full two minutes went by. Nigel started to wonder if anything was wrong as progress seemed to have slowed. The Bolshevik brother and the Strongman both prepared a new type of stake. It was a very large stake with a big ring at the top. The rope was different, too. At the end of this huge center rope was a large steel ring attached for rigging. On the other end of the rigging, three normal sized ropes were tied to the ring. Nigel could see the engineering in his head.

As a child Nigel, had made model ships where, a large rope was attached to smaller rigging. The engineering effect was to displace the energy from one large source of tension through several smaller ones. One large screw on a boat could tear away from weak wood. However, smaller screws fastened in different locations, could handle more stress. He would soon realize this was a tent was also a massive sail.

When everyone was satisfied that the large rig with the ring was safely driven by its three foot spike into the soil, the elephant trainer made the creature kneel as the Slav emerged and climbed aboard and straddled the hindquarters. The Bolshevik threaded the three loose smaller ropes into the ring topped spike buried in the ground and handed the three loose long ends to the Slav. He threw them under his seat. The trainer took the three loose ends and tied them to the harness. The trainer hollered and Zeus gently stood and started pulling.

It was obvious, the heft of the center tent pole plus the weight of the canvas was easily rising. The three rope ends slid through the ground ring slowly as the pole forced the tent top skywards. Once completely vertical, the tent pole settled and the tent had its full shape.

The trainer released one of the ropes. It was fed back from underneath as the Slav, the Bolshevik and, the Strong Man waited. A stake was firmly driven into the ground and the line tied off securely. The process was repeated as a cool stiff breeze blew up.

Suddenly, yelling came from everyone near the elephant. Nigel looked around to see what was causing the alarm. There was nothing to be concerned about from what he could tell, but the chatter was in everyone’s native tongue. Six or seven different languages were being spoken and everyone seemed very nervous as they doubled their pace.

The second line was tied off quickly and the Strong Man had already begun driving the third stake. A sudden incredible gust of English wind changed everything as it slammed the big top.

The third line was in a trainer’s hand. He held it in a life or death grip. Suddenly, he was jerked by the rope and was thrown into the back of the Slav who in turn fell forward off the back of the elephant’s hips. This alarmed Zeus. The elephant stood on his front feet and, kicked his back legs rearward. He connected with the Slav mid-air and knocking him ten feet further than gravity was taking him.

The Bolshevik grabbed for the free rope end and caught it. His grip was solid, but with not nearly enough weight or foothold to manage the rope. A second gust came just in time for the Slav to get his second wind as well. He jumped towards the Bolshevik placing himself in front of him and grabbing the rope.

The tent heaved as the wind pulled it away from them both. The strength of the tension instantly yanked both of the, previously buried, stakes out of the ground. Now, the only thing holding the entire center of the tent upright was the Slav who, despite his size, was not a match for nature and the weight of the tent.

In that moment, time seemed to stop for, what seemed like, an eternity as Nigel witnessed the Slavs arm and hand being pulled through the center ring attached to the ground. His progress was stopped when his bicep became lodged within the ring.

The Slav’s grip released. The rope accelerated freely between his massive bicep and the steel ring. Smoke emerged as his flesh and muscle were torn leaving a trail of blood on the rope. The wind paused. Everyone stood mouth agape. The third gust of wind made the first two look like child’s play.

It hit as the big top sagged to the east fully filled with air due to the lack of tension on the rope. The Slav made eye contact with Nigel for but a second, his upper bicep nearly gone, raw bone showing. The rigging with the ring slid right out of the earth. The ring, rope and Slav were now airborne.

15) Never underestimate someone’s capability based on your prejudice. Lilly drives and manages heavy machinery at a tiny size and weight. She understands confidence and leverage both physically and psychologically.

16) If you are near the boss. People know who you are. It does not take long for Nigel’s name to spread around hanging near the Major. Even the Slav knows his name and he’d never seen him before.

17) Teamwork lifts big objects- strategy is a fulcrum and enables small forces to create larger outcomes. No-one person can raise a circus tent. Teamwork and credit should be spread around fully.

18) Just because you’ve done it 100 times doesn’t mean 101 can’t kill you . Never get complacent. Do the routine stuff well. Pay attention and save the heroics.

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