‘A knife-throwing act!’ gasped Elena, looking at the circus poster. ‘I’ve never seen one of those.’
‘I’ve never been to a circus before,’ I stated.
Iris and Nicole nodded. Elena gave us a what-have-you-been-doing-with-your-life look and said, ‘Then we’re definitely going.’
As we started walking towards the next shop, Nicole looked at the nail varnish she’d just bought. ‘If this doesn’t glow in the dark like it says it does, I’ll be pretty upset,’ she said.
I scoffed, ‘I can’t believe you even wear nail varnish. It’s disgusting!’
Nicole shrugged, knowing I wouldn’t let her win this one.
We had walked into a makeup shop. Feeling slightly lost, I followed Nicole to the foundation section, noticing her satisfaction at my discomfort.
‘You wear foundation?’ I asked.
Nicole shook her head, her hair swishing at her jaw line. ‘I came here to see if they sold any for people as white as you.’
Unamused, I pulled a face. Nicole went to the end of the line, picking out the lightest colour. On reading the label, she burst out laughing, ‘It’s called Pale as Death. That sounds about right!’
I tutted, wondering if I should roll my eyes, snort or stick out my tongue at her. Unable to decide, I did all three and noted with pleasure that Nicole’s eyes widened in awe at my feat.
Just then, her phone rang. Checking her screen, she muttered, ‘Gotta take this,’ and turned her back on me. Unfazed, I went to search for Elena and Iris, only to find them in the next section, arguing … in German.
Swearing under my breath, I walked back to Nicole deciding to listen in on her end of the conversation. As soon as I reached eavesdropping range, I stopped dead. She was talking in a language I didn’t recognize…
What had I done to offend the gods? All I’d done was exist and… Ah! I saw what I’d done to offend them.
Nicole turned around a goofy smile splattered across her face. I think she saw the panic in my eyes at being surrounded by makeup and non-English-speaking-friends because she asked a question into the phone that I’m guessing meant ‘Catch you later?’ This was only a guess however. The question could have equally been ‘Do you like stroking aubergines?’ or something as freakily wrong.
Anyhow, she ended the call, grinning. ‘Sorry. My friend from India called and he finds it easier to speak in Hindi than English.’
My eyebrows bounced up to meet my hairline and I felt a warm smile spread across my face. I elbowed her in the ribs, ‘Ooh, it’s a “he”?’
‘Stop it,’ she said, brushing me off while turning a gentle shade of red under her dark skin. ‘He’s a childhood friend.’
Elena and Iris walked up at that point, still talking in German. I sighed.
‘What’s up?’ asked Nicole, slipping her hand into mine.
I nodded at the German duo. Nicole clocked them jabbering and laughed, pulling me into a hug. ‘Don’t you ever wish you could speak another language?’ she asked into my neck.
‘I can barely speak English!’ I exclaimed, getting a mouthful of her hair for my effort. Hastily pulling it out, I said, ‘Your hair doesn’t taste very nice.’
‘Cause it’s not meant to be eaten,’ she said, breaking away from me and playfully flicking my nose.
‘Hey guys,’ said Iris, reverting back to English. ‘Is it okay to meet up this weekend along with the twins for the Circus?’
‘Sure,’ I nodded.
‘Figure out the details later,’ declared Elena.
‘Hey, check this out!’ I said, holding up my phone.
We were in Nicole’s bedroom; I was staying the night at her house. The two of us had just finished a two-hour revision session and my brain was melting. I was sprawled on her bed, checking my newsfeed when I spotted something very interesting.
‘Nicole?’ I raised my head when there was no response and spotted her sitting at the end of the bed.
‘Huh?’ she said, looking up from a book. ‘Check what out?’
I sat up. ‘Look.’
She took my phone and read out loud. ‘Man found dead in field covered in bee stings.’ She scrolled down and then grimaced, ‘There’s a picture.’
‘If you’re going to look at it, don’t wake me up when you get nightmares tonight,’ I teased.
‘Why you little…’ she squealed and hurled herself at me.
What followed was a wicked tickling match that ended with us rolling off the bed and onto the floor, giggling like mad-caps. The fall took Nicole by surprise so I grabbed my opportunity.
‘Kate, please!’ she groaned, trying to wriggle out of my tickling grasp. ‘You win, let me go!’
I stopped. We lay there panting and laughing till Nicole stood up, wincing as she checked her joints still worked. She looked down at me and grinned.
‘Your hair is out of parting,’ she smirked. ‘Now that’s worthy of nightmares.’
I was about to grab her again and absolutely maul her when my phone rang.
‘Rosalie on FaceTime,’ said Nicole, chucking my phone at me.
‘Ah, the mad twin,’ I said, answering it. Rosalie’s face and wild hair filled the screen.
She didn’t say ‘Hi’ or anything. Instead she went straight to, ‘What’s up with your hair?’
I pursed my lips as Nicole flopped onto her bed, weak with laughter and said, ‘Never mind. Why did you call?’
‘Oh, there was some news about a man who died from beestings near that circus we’re going to on Saturday!’
‘Near the circus?’ I asked, surprised.
Nicole had looked up, curious. I pulled myself up beside her so she could see too.
‘Hi Nicole! Well, anyway,’ continued Rosalie. ‘Can we go there after the circus?’
‘What?! Why?’ exclaimed Nicole, alarmed.
‘Oh, don’t be a scaredy-cat,’ I said, poking her with my foot. ‘It’ll be fun.’
‘See you there,’ said Rosalie. She made as if to ring off but stopped herself. ‘Nicole, your hair is rather messy too. Is there something I should know?’ She grinned wickedly.
Nicole frowned, not understanding.
But I did.
‘Good-bye!’ I said pointedly and cut the line.
‘What did she mean?’ asked Nicole.
‘Nothing,’ I said then changed the topic. ‘Are you scared?’
Sighing, she twisted round and dropped her head into my lap. ‘Last time we got involved in anything I nearly died. Before that Elena got shot. And the time before that, you and Rosette were poisoned! Doesn’t that scare you?’
She looked beseechingly at me and for the first time I realized how dark her eyes were. Ignoring her question, I said, ‘I swear you have pupils.’
‘Argggh!’ Genuinely mad this time, she whacked me on the head with a pillow. ‘Can’t you be serious for once in your life?’
Rubbing my head, I surrendered. ‘Nothing will happen. It was just an accident and we’re just curious! Okay?’
She sighed again, ‘Okay.’
‘The trapeze artist was amazing!’ cried Elena.
‘I loved the acrobats,’ breathed Nicole, eyes shining.
‘And then there was that man juggling with chainsaws!’ exclaimed Iris.
It was the interval of the circus. We were discussing the events so far.
‘I really liked the clown,’ smiled Rosalie.
‘You are a clown,’ I teased.
Everyone frowned at me. ‘What?’ I asked.
Ignoring me, Rosette asked, ‘Should we go now?’
‘So we’re really doing it?’ frowned Elena.
She was as reluctant to go to the field as Nicole was. Understandably so: getting shot in the leg can’t have been a picnic for her.
‘We’ve got fifteen minutes. Come on!’ said Iris.
We left the tent. It was dark outside. ‘Stick together!’ Elena shouted from behind.
I saw the twins merge into one silhouette in front and Iris caught my arm. Two torches flicked on behind us. Twisting around, I saw that Elena and Nicole, although against the idea, had been sensible enough to bring decent lighting.
‘Elena, we need some light,’ said Rosalie. ‘Nicole, you join Kate and Iris.’
As Elena led the way, I felt Nicole’s free hand slip into mine. I squeezed it and then felt her breath against my cheek as she whispered, ‘If anything happens, you’re dead meat.’
So much for being best friends…
We climbed over a fence that separated the field from the circus area and immediately there was a gasp from ahead of us.
‘What is it?’ asked Iris in alarm.
But I’d already spotted it.
Under our feet were hundreds of dead bees. Feeling Nicole stiffen beside me, I put my arm around her waist. In the half-light, I saw her turn to face me and then hiss, ‘I’m going to screw you so hard for agreeing to this!’
Before I could respond, Rosalie flipped around. ‘What did you just say?’
‘Nothing!’ I groaned.
‘What did I say?’ asked Nicole, innocently.
Thankfully Elena interrupted at that moment. ‘Why are there so many bees?’
‘After bees sting something,’ explained Iris, ‘they die. All these bees must have stung the man. Wonder what triggered them.’
‘I found the hive!’ called Rosette from under a tree.
We joined her, cringing as with every step we knew we were crushing several bees to a pulp. The hive was empty. Curiosity getting the better of her, Nicole crouched down and picked it up. ‘It’s a bell hive,’ she said holding it up. ‘It didn’t fall on its own. Look at the top! It was cut!’
She pointed to the top of the bell-shaped hive and sure enough, it had been sliced clean. Shining her torch upwards, Elena pointed out where the top was still attached to the tree.
‘Did the man cut it himself?’ quizzed Rosette.
No one answered. Nicole swept her torch around the field. Suddenly, I saw something glint.
Taking the torch, I pointed it in the direction of the gleam and walked towards it. Bending down, I brushed aside some bees and picked up a syringe with a needle – which was what had reflected the light.
Rosalie joined me and grimaced, ‘There’s dried blood on it.’
Turning around, I saw everyone walking towards us. ‘Elena just climbed up the tree,’ said Iris. ‘There’s a notch in the trunk where the hive was cut. It proves it was done on purpose.’
‘So it was murder,’ said Nicole, her mouth set in a grim line. ‘Well, we’re going to have to get to the bottom of it then.’
As we set off back for the second half of the circus, Elena leading the way again, I pulled Nicole back and whispered, ‘If there’s one thing I can count on you for, it’s to do the right thing.’
‘Thanks,’ she laughed.
And as we followed, I saw Rosalie turn around and give me a cheeky thumbs-up.
Oh, good grief…
We arrived early and easily bagged six seats in the front row. ‘Can I see the syringe?’ asked Iris, while we waited.
‘Sure,’ I said, taking it out, wrapped in tissue, of my jeans’ pocket and handing it to her.
She, Elena and Nicole pored over it.
‘The plunger is quite loose,’ said Iris. ‘And the needle’s quite thick.’
‘That generates low pressure so the liquid can quickly be injected,’ stated Nicole.
‘So the murder could quickly inject the man with poison, cut the beehive and run away?’ asked Elena. ‘That doesn’t make sense.’
‘The bees could throw investigators off,’ suggested Rosette.
‘But then he’d hardly leave the bloodied syringe!’ quipped Rosalie.
I watched, my eyes moving from one to another till I spotted Nicole giving me an excellent dead-behind-the-eyes look. ‘Anything to add?’ she asked.
‘Yes actually,’ I said, to everyone’s – including my own – surprise. ‘Why don’t we picture the scene? We’d understand it better.’
‘Good idea!’ said everyone.
We all huddled together and I started. ‘So there’s a man walking in the field. Another man comes up and quickly injects him with poison, then drops the syringe, cuts the beehive and runs away.’
‘There’re problems with that,’ said Iris. Firstly, the bees would’ve stung the second man. Secondly, the poison…’
‘Wait,’ I interrupted. ‘How do we know it was poison?’
‘We assumed…’ said Iris.
‘Pass me the syringe,’ asked Nicole, catching on. On getting it, she pulled out the plunger and sniffed the barrel. ‘It’s bee pheromone! We did it in science the other day.’
She looked around at our confused faces. ‘Oh right,’ she said, realizing something. ‘The twins aren’t in our science and Iris and Elena were on a Geography trip.’ She then looked at me expectantly. ‘You were there.’
‘Pheromones?’ I repeated blankly.
She rolled her eyes before continuing. ‘They provoke bees. Sir brought some into class the other day and we all got to smell it.’
‘Oh, I remember,’ I said. ‘It was in a little bottle. He sprayed some into a glass box with some bees and they went bonkers!’
‘So this man was injected with pheromone, then the hive was cut and the bees attacked him instead of the murderer,’ said Elena.
‘But why did he leave the syringe?’ asked Rosalie.
‘Shh, the performance is starting,’ said someone from behind us.
Sure enough, the famous knife-throwing act had begun. I saw Elena look star-struck as the man in the black cape swept out with his assistant.
‘Welcome,’ he said with a strong accent. ‘I am Anthony and I will throw knives at my beautiful assistant today. Enjoy.’
The girl stood against a board and almost immediately, five blades flew through the air and landed around her. This continued until she walked back, leaving a perfect outline of her on the board. Anthony began to pull the blades out, one by one, leaving shallow notches in the board.
Suddenly, I gasped. Notches! Like on the tree with the hive. ‘Quick,’ I said to Rosalie, who was at my side. ‘We need to go now.’
‘Don’t question. Just go!’
She passed the message along and we all shuffled out, getting dirty looks from the people behind us.
‘What is it?’ hissed Elena, mad at being made to leave during the knife act.
‘Anthony is the murderer!’ I said. ‘He threw the syringe at the man, got the pheromones into him then threw a knife at the hive. The bees got mad and were attracted to the victim while he escaped.’
‘Yes,’ breathed Rosette. ‘The low pressure would allow the pheromones to enter with the sheer velocity of the throw!’
‘Why would he do it though?’ asked Iris.
‘That’s why we need to search his room,’ I said darkly. But Rosalie had to go and kill my vibe.
‘Um, circus performers have caravans,’ she put in.
‘Whatever,’ I snapped. ‘Let’s go!’
We hurried along in the darkness, torches searching, till we found the caravan that said Anthony.
‘Elena and Rosalie, keep watch. If he comes, talk to him about circuses or something till we have time to escape,’ I whispered.
The rest of us hurried to the caravan; the door wasn’t locked. The inside was unlit. With just one torch between the four of us, it was quite hard to get anything done.
‘Oof, sorry,’ I said, bumping into Rosette and then tripping over Iris and falling into Nicole. I somehow got to his desk and began rummaging around the drawers, hoping to find something although I couldn’t see much.
Ping went something beneath my fingers. I jumped and my friends crowded around me, startled.
‘It’s a false bottom!’ cried Rosette. She pulled it up and underneath there were lots of papers. I grabbed the top few and inspected them under the torchlight. Then I groaned: ‘Anyone speak Russian?’
I wasn’t expecting an answer; but I certainly wasn’t expecting the door of the caravan to burst open as Rosalie and Elena hurtled in, slamming it shut behind them. ‘He started throwing knives at us,’ panted Rosalie, eyes wild in the semi-light.
‘He saw you enter!’ gasped Rosette.
Nicole and Elena flicked their torches off and, in the blackness, we all leant our combined weight against the door so that this mad knife thrower didn’t enter and kill us all.
‘Why is it so quiet?’ I asked, suddenly smelling a rat.
No sooner had I said this then another door, which we had not spotted before, creaked open and there were three thuds around us. Guessing that they were blades being thrown, I felt all my friends roll away to different corners of the caravan.
Anthony couldn’t see us and we couldn’t see him. I felt a hand on my arm and, looking down, started on seeing the nails glowing. Looks like Nicole’s fluorescent varnish had worked; but that meant Anthony could see her!
Grabbing her, I pulled her down to the ground just as a blade whipped passed where her head had been. With a sudden burst of rage, I rolled in his general direction and kicked upwards hard. I caught him between the legs.
With a moan of anguish, he fell to the ground and we all piled on top of him, rendering him helpless. Elena flicked on her torch – Nicole’s had rolled away when we’d ducked – and Rosette was calling the police.
Later that night, as we waited to get picked up, we talked with the Inspector.
‘Why did Anthony kill him?’ I asked.
‘From the papers,’ said the Inspector. ‘It seems that Anthony belongs to the Mafia and this guy double-crossed his boss. Anthony has committed murder in the past. We’ve just never been able to frame him.’
‘Now you have,’ said Iris, grinning like mad.
A car honked not far off. ‘That’s us,’ said Elena, getting up and nodding at Nicole who was getting a lift.
The pair began walking towards the car when Nicole ran back and hugged me. ‘Thanks,’ she whispered. And then she was gone.
I sat there smiling; until I looked at Rosalie. She wiggled her eyebrows in Nicole’s direction and then pumped her fist in the air, mouthing, ‘Go Kate!’
Oh, good grief…