Mark stood just inside the darkened performers’ entrance to the circus ring. He was out of the line of sight of the eight hundred people seated around the ring, but he had a view of many of the seats.
Jason had made sure their party had the best seats, directly across from the performers entrance, first and second row. There were no columns to obstruct the view, no dangling trapeze wires nearby.
Chief Anderson and Doctor Nambu sat in the front row. Ken sat to the right of Anderson, June beside him. Tyler had his own seat beside his mother but was currently sitting on her lap, looking around with bright, inquisitive eyes. Joe sat next to Nambu, totally alert yet looking bored out of his mind. Mark was actually surprised he had even agreed to come. Rocky and Jimmy sat in the seats directly behind Anderson and Nambu.
Keyop slunk up to his side. “I don’t see him anywhere,” he reported.
Mark shook his head. “I can’t believe he’d be late for this.”
“He’ll be late for his own funeral.” Keyop rolled his eyes and pulled on the waist band of the tight leotards he was wearing. “This thing’s worse than our uniforms,” he complained, pulling on the band again.
Princess and Tiny joined them, in the same leotards. They were white with swirling designs encircling their bodies in a wash of neon colors. Princess’ long, dark hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, glitter having been added to make her hair sparkle every time she moved.
“I didn’t see him, either,” she said and bit her lower lip.
“His car’s not in the parking lot,” Tiny said.
Mark took a deep breath and blew it out through clenched teeth.
Eleven years earlier, back when Jason had been hospitalized for treatment of his cancer, the clowns from the Big Apple Circus had come to entertain the children. Jason had been so impressed, once he was cured, he’d volunteered to help the circus every year since.
This year, he had asked the rest of G-Force to join him. They had agreed and G-Force decided to use their gymnastics training in a tumbling act.
Except Jason hadn’t shown up yet.
“This isn’t like him,“ Mark muttered.
“Maybe he didn’t like these outfits,“ Tiny surmised, looking down at his own leotard with distaste.
“I’m sure he’ll be here on time,” Princess said, always ready to be the peacemaker.
Mark looked at his bracelet for the time. “He’s only got about two minutes.”
Two minutes passed with no sign of Jason. Mark had gone from worried to angry to livid and back to worried.
Even though it was frowned on, he stuck his head out of the curtain separating the performers from the ring and motioned at their group, getting their attention. He mouthed ‘Where’s Jason?’ and got dumbfounded looks from them.
Mark closed the curtain and ground his teeth. “I don’t like this, not at all.”
The lights dimmed and excited chatter erupted from the many children in the audience. Mark could imagine his nephew Tyler was caught between being excitement and fear. At two, he was a very bold child, but at unexpected times, he cried for no apparent reason, or carried on like a little madman. June called it the terrible Ts, since she suspected it didn’t just end when a child turned three.
A single bright light shown down into the center of the ring, illuminating a man in red tails, a tall black top hat on his head. He raised a microphone to his lips.
“Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, welcome to the Big Apple Circus!” he boomed, moving in a slow circle to take in all of the audience as they clapped. “You will see acts of daring that will leave you breathless, acts of dexterity that will make you wince!”
The director had opened the curtain just enough for everyone to be able to see the ring. Out of the corner of his eye, Mark saw an elderly woman making her way down the stairs towards the closest seats to the ring. Her short hair was curly and was the bluish white preferred by so many older women. She was wearing a small hat with an orange flower in it. Her red dress was more like a potato sack, belted around the waist. Flesh colored knee highs were stretched over her knees and thick soled shoes thumped on the metal of the stairs with every step she took. A large black purse hung from her arm.
Rather than go to the empty aisle seat in the third row, she continued down and carefully stepped over the foot high wall that marked the ring. Oblivious to the ring master, who was still addressing the audience, she began to walk across the ring. The ring master stopped his spiel and asked ’Grandma’ what seat was hers.
Mark knew this was the opening act of the circus. ’Grandma’ was actually one of the clowns who kept everyone’s attention as the acts were changed. His name was Barry Lubin. When Jason introduced them, Mark had liked him instantly.
Mark turned to look at the performers gathered behind him. The other circus acts waited for the signal to parade out into the ring. He still didn’t see Jason anywhere.
“Uh, Barry’s not that tall, is he?” Tiny asked as the ring master brought ‘Grandma’ to the center of the ring. When they stood next to each other, it was clear the Grandma they were seeing was taller than Barry Lubin, even though the person was crouching a bit to appear shorter.
Mark was instantly on alert, watching Grandma with the proverbial Eagle-eye. He instinctively reached for his boomerang, huffing as he remembered he didn’t have it at the moment. He looked through he curtain towards their group. Since they had no idea who played Grandma, they didn’t know something was wrong. He bit his lip and debated trying to get their attention.
The ring master was asking Grandma if she enjoyed parties. Grandma answered in the affirmative in a voice higher pitched than Barry’s even though the voice was trying to imitate that of an elderly woman.
Grandma told the ring master it was time to get the party started.
Pink’s ‘Get the Party Started’, the former theme of the NBA, began to play from the speakers and Grandma began to imitate Chubby Checker - she air guitared and hopped across the ring with much more dexterity than an elderly woman was capable of.
“Oh my gosh! That’s Jason!” Keyop squealed, doubling over with laughter as he pointed at the dancing ‘woman’. Mark, Princess and Tiny exchanged looks of disbelief and gawked at Grandma, realizing Keyop was right.
Jason continued to dance, stopping in front of the flabbergasted Gatchaman team to shimmy and shake. Rocky and Jimmy were practically falling out of their seats, pounding on Joe’s and the Chief’s backs as they laughed. Joe was in shock, his mouth hanging open as he watched his younger brother continue to hop around. Anderson was shaking his head but smiling and Nambu was wiping at his eyes. Ken and June were talking to Tyler, pointing at Jason. Tyler began to hop up and down on June’s lap, hollering ’Jason! Jason!’
The song ended and Grandma stopped dancing, huffing and puffing with exaggerated fanning of her face, swaying where she stood. Another clown rushed past Mark and Princess with a wheel barrel. The ring master thanked Grandma for indeed ’getting the party started’ as the clapping and laughter continued. Grandma fell into the wheel barrel butt first, feet up in the air and was wheeled back into the staging area.
Keyop and Tiny stopped the wheel barrel, simultaneously trying to help Jason up out of it as they laughed.
Jason’s face was beet red from exertion and he was breathing heavy as he finally got to his feet. His blue eyes were sparkling with mischief as he grinned at them.
“Give me…two minutes…to change,” he requested, getting congratulation slaps on the back from the other performers.
As concerned and mad as he had been, now all Mark could do was grin back.
“You could have told us,” Princess chastised and punched Jason in the arm. “We were beginning to think something had happened to you.”
“But it would have…ruined the surprise.” Jason rubbed his arm where she had hit him.
The ring master announced the parade of performers. Mark pushed Jason in the direction of the changing tent as the performers streamed past them into the ring as the band played a rousing tune.
“You better hurry up. We’re act two.”
“I know, I know.” Jason saluted and took off at a run, or at least as much of a run as he could do in women’s shoes. Mark watched him go and felt a tug on his arm.
“Come on. It’s show time,” Princess said. The four of them entered the ring, smiling and waving at the clapping, excited crowd.
Jason certainly had gotten the party started.