The story so far:
Between sobs I noticed the fat man looking at me suspiciously. After hanging up the phone he moved away, casting an occasional disapproving glance over his shoulder. I ignored him and stared at the bank of phones, willing the preacher to call.
The odor of my own sweat mingled with the scent of stale cotton candy, hot dogs and foamy beer that was drifting in from the Halloween carnival. My stomach objected and expelled its contents onto the ground in front of me. A witch's brew of Jack Daniels and gastric fluids assaulted my throat and sinus cavities. A few dry heaves later, one of the phones began to ring. I rose and wiped my face with my sleeve, them stumbled over and snatched up the ringing phone.
"Where are you you son of a bitch?" I tried to yell, but my voice came out raspy and weak.
"Close, John, very close," said the Preacher, and he laughed.
"Where is the girl?" I demanded.
"Oh, she's nearby. She's very cute when she screams. Do you want to find her?"
"You bastard," I said, and my voice dropped. I felt anger rising in me once again. My mind felt suddenly clear and my thinking sharpened. I had something now I hadn't had for six months. I had purpose. I had focus.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'," he laughed.
"You can take it and shove it up your ****. WHERE IS SHE?"
"Now-now, if you're going to be rude I'll have to hang up."
"N-no," I stammered and immediately cursed myself for it "just tell me what you want."
"You know what I want. I know what you want. The girl wants this to end but she still has a part to play. To find her you must look further than you think. Have you been crying John? I think you have. Take a deep breath and look behind the tears of the clown."
"What the **** are--" I started to ask, but the phone was dead. The smell of my own vomit washed back into my face and I dry heaved again. I dropped the receiver and let it dangle.
I thought about what the preacher had said. It was obviously some sort of clue. The oblique reference to this being my fault was just a dodge. The reference to the clown was the real clue. I looked toward the midst of the carnival. This was a Halloween event, not a circus. What the hell could it mean?
My sense of purpose was still strong, so I resolutely began to walk toward the throngs of people who were oblivous to the real horror going on right under their noses. Halfway down the midway I saw a clown. Three clowns to be exact. They were painted on the front of balloon game. The clowns had a blue balloon beside each eye and children were squirting water into their hollow noses, causing the balloons to inflate; they looked like tears. Tears of the clown.
"Look behind the tears of the clown...," I muttered to myself. No one heard me, in fact people were generally giving me a rather wide berth. My disheveled appearance and the odor of whiskey probably made me look like one of the carnys. I decided to use that to my advantage and slipped between the balloon game and an empty kewpie doll stand.
Behind the balloon game was a tented area containing water hoses and power cords, a potentially lethal combination. In the midst of it all was a large open water tank that supplied the ammunition to the water pistols out front. There was no sign of the girl.
I ran the preacher's words over in my mind again. He'd said something else, something before the 'tears of the clown' comment. "take a deep breath"
"****!" I shouted, and leapt into the water tank. I swam straight to the bottom, feeling around for the girl; hoping I would be in time. Nothing; I felt nothing. Suddenly, rough hands seized my ankle and began to drag me out of the tank. I clutched at something that brushed my hand and held on to it as I was hauled out.
I hit the ground hard, then sputtered and coughed. I looked up into the eyes of a very pissed off Carny.
"Whatchoo doin back o'my stickhouse?" he demanded.
"Uh...," I managed.
"Mark's not allowed back here. Get out fo' I whup ya!"
I did not have to be told twice. I scampered out the way I came, and only then looked to see what I'd brought up from the depths. It was a small metal box with a spring hinge. Inside was a slip of paper and something small. On the paper was scrawled "Come home"; the other item was a child's tooth.
I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut. In a daze I made my way back to the Toyota. I'm not sure how I drove home; it was a blur. When I stopped in the driveway I noticed his van was nowhere to be seen. Was this another game?
I got out of the car and water was still dripping off me; I made my way in through the kitchen door. The lights were still on and they seemed brilliant compared to those are the carnival.
There were two drops of blood on the kitchen counter. The looked like two eyes glaring at me acusingly. I ran my finger across them and they smeared, leaving two dried rings. Now I had blood on my hands. There were three more drops on the floor, leading away from the counter. I followed them. Another at the threshhold to the hallway. I was following a blood trail.
I found more blood down the hall and at the end of it there were several drops by Krystal's room. I held my breath and opened my daughter's bedroom door.
The child lay unmoving, tied to Krystal's bed. She was dressed in some of Krystal's clothes. A pink top and brown skirt she'd gotten last Christmas. A detached part of my mind noticed they did not fit her well. Her eyes were closed and a trickle of blood had dried on her chin. I saw the floor coming up to meet me and I knew no more.