The Zoo Man, Pt. 4

A bearded lady stood smoking cigarettes and laughing and talking to a group of men. Two Chinamen no taller than Hannah herself stretched in preparation for some kind of acrobatics routine. There were a few children her own age and younger running about, each trying to gather up groups of people to come and see some amazing tonic or device or pill that would change the very way they lived their lives. There were a few animals about, dogs and cats that must have been pets, and a cage with an old, tired looking mountain lion in it, but no real lions. No lions, no tigers, no elephants, no nothing big and impressive that she had only heard about in stories or read in books.

Why’d everyone call him the Zoo Man if he didn’t even have a proper zoo?

“This is boring,” David said, his voice rising in a whine. “I want my candy!”

“You ain’t earned it yet. Now hush.”

“But I want it!”

“You keep hollering, and we’re going to go back to the house and you won’t get anything.”

The chubby little boy stamped one foot on the ground. “I want some! Buy me some now!”

Hannah ground her teeth. This had been a bad idea, if for no other reason than she couldn’t trust David not to squeal or scream or cry or cause a fuss. All she needed was one of Mama’s friends to hear him and see the two of them there and then bring it up to Mama later. “There ain’t no candy here,” she said through clenched teeth. “I will buy you some the next time I’m in town. Now hush.”

“Miss,” a deep voice from behind her rumbled. “I’m afraid that’s simply not true.”

Hannah turned and found herself staring into the gut of a tall man, impossibly tall, taller even then her Pa. He looked at least as tall as their house, like he’d hit his head if he were standing on their porch and stood up straight. He was dressed in East Coast finery, and he had a waxed mustache and a pocket watch with a chain poking out of his vest, a fine felt hat and a monocle. He looked important and famous and kind of like a character from the newspaper funnies all at once.

He looked like trouble.

“Oh, don’t mind us, Mister. We were just… We were going to–”

The man reached into his vest in a single quick motion. Hannah yelped, startled and not sure what to expect. David just stared up at the man with wide-eyed wonder. He pulled out a bulging waxed paper bag and held it out for Hannah and David to inspect.“Here you go, children. Peppermint sticks and taffy. That’s all I have on me at the moment, but if you come back tomorrow when we’ve set up proper, there’s all kind of treats and sweets to be had.”

David reached forward with both hands, grabbing in the back and drawing it back to his stomach. He opened it just enough so that only he could see into it, and he grinned. He didn’t even eat any, Hannah noticed. He just stood there staring and smiling, like a pirate with his treasure. He didn’t even say thank you. The man said nothing, though. He just stood there smiling gently behind his mustache. His eyes twinkled behind his monocle like he saw something that amused him, and after a moment he turned his attention to Hannah. He held out his hand, and she saw that he was wearing a soft velvet glove. “Doctor Clarence Holloway at your service,” he said.

She stared at his hand for a moment before shaking it. “My name’s Hannah. Hannah Haller. That’s my brother, David.”

The man shook her hand and gave deep bow, waving one arm out in a flourish. “What a pleasure to meet you, Miss Haller.” He stood up straight, his eyes locked on David greedily popping piece after piece of candy into his mouth, and he smiled. “And what a pleasure to meet you brother. What a charming young boy he is.”

Hannah looked over her shoulder at him and sniffed. “If you say so, Mister.”

“Doctor, please, Miss Haller. Call me Doctor. Or Clarence.” He grinned, his teeth bright and white behind his moustache. “Or the Zoo Man, if you like.”

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