The boys stared as the motorcycle bore down on them. They froze, unable to move. Willie closed his eyes, turned his head, and dropped his hamburger. By doing so, he missed seeing the motorcycle turn slightly to the right, then back to the left, and run over a board sitting on the ground. As the motorcycle hit the board, the motorcycle flew into the air, rising over the boys’ heads. Jack and Calvin gazed as it passed over their heads, tumbled backwards and completed a summersault in mid-air. They turned and watched it land on two wheels. It popped a wheelie and sped off.
"Wow! Did you see that?" Jack, in awe, spoke first.
"Yeah, that was incredible," Calvin responded.
Willie opened his eyes, "Aaahhh, wwwhhhat happened? Are we alive?"
Before anyone could answer, the motorcycle did a 180 degree turn and roared back at them. Willie yelled, "Oh no! Here it comes again."
Calvin tried to calm him down, "I think we’re okay. If he was going to hit us, he would’ve already done it."
"Yeah," Jack interjected. "It’s the circus stuntman."
As Jack finished talking, the motorcycle skidded to a stop, kicking up dust on the boys.
"Wow! That was so awesome," Jack exclaimed.
The rider pulled off his helmet. "Hi, guys. I am Rocky, the circus stuntman."
"I knew it." Jack congratulated himself.
"I heard you were looking for me," Rocky continued. "So, I decided to give you a show."
"That was really good," Calvin chipped in.
Willie shook his head, "I missed it. You scared me to death."
"I didn't mean to scare you. Well, maybe I wanted to give you a little scare. I thought it would add some drama to the stunt. I hope you enjoyed it and that I did not scare you too much."
"It was too much for my liking," Willie complained. He looked down, saw the rest of his hamburger sitting in the dirt, and shook his head. There were still two bites left.
"Never mind him. He’s scared of everything," Jack said.
"I am not," Willie defended himself.
Not liking the direction of this conversation, Rocky interrupted, "Well, I’m glad two of you liked it." He looked at Willie, "And to you, I am sorry I got carried away. I do that sometimes. Well, I have to go." Rocky twisted his right wrist, revving up the engine. The rear tire spun, kicking up more dirt. Rocky sped away.
Jack smiled as Rocky road off. "That was really cool."
Calvin nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah, but if he’s here, then he’s probably not the thief."
Seeing his chance to be right, Willie remarked, "I told you it wasn't the stuntman. It’s the bearded woman."
Not yet ready to jump to conclusions, Calvin cautioned, "We don't know if it’s the bearded woman. She is missing, so it could be her, but the elephant trainer and the clown are also missing. It could be any of them."
Jack, knowing his guess was wrong, wanted to add something to the solution of the crime, "Well, at least we can rule someone out."
"You're right. Now, let's get to the office car and continue our investigation," Calvin instructed as he started walking.
Jack and Willie walked next to Calvin. As they walked, Willie mumbled, "I can't believe I dropped by hamburger."
The boys arrived at the office car and crawled through a window into the car. "What do you want us to do?" Jack asked energetically.
"We need to find files on the missing people," Calvin instructed. "My dad works for companies and he says companies have files for the employees. The files should tell us about the missing people. I hope there is something that will show who the thief is."
Jack found a file cabinet sitting on its side with the drawers partially opened. "Hey, Willie, help me set this cabinet up."
Willie stepped over some debris and joined Jack. They reached their hands under the top of the cabinet and lifted. Within seconds, the cabinet was upright. Jack pulled open the first drawer and found files with the names of different people. "Okay, let's find the file for your bearded woman. Do we know her name?"
Willie pulled out his program and ran his finger down the list of performers. His finger stopped at a picture of the bearded woman. "The program says her name is Ingrid Bergmeyer."
Jack's fingers pulled files forward in the drawer until he found a folder with a label, "Bergmeyer, Ingrid". He pulled it out and opened it. The first page had the title, "Employment Application". A picture of a bearded woman was stapled next to the title. "Freaky," Jack uttered as he handed the file to Willie. "Here is your bearded woman."
Jack turned his attention back to the files. "Does anyone know the last name of the clown? The first name is Rudy. These are filed by last name."
Willie was flipping through pages in Bergmeyer's file and simply shook his head. Calvin responded, "No."
Jack noticed that after the last name, the first name was also on the file. "Okay. I'll find it. It’s just going to take longer." He proceeded to methodically flip through each individual folder searching for the name Rudy. Near the back of the drawer, he grabbed a file, "Got it. Rudy Schneider." He handed the folder to Calvin.
Jack turned his attention back to the drawer. "Who's next? The elephant trainer is missing right? Calvin, did you get the name of the elephant trainer?"
They told me, but I can't remember. It sounded foreign, maybe Indian. I think it started with an A"
"Well, that’s a big help." Jack said sarcastically as he peered at the folders. He remembered seeing a strange name beginning with an A. His eyes scanned the folders and froze on a folder with the name "Assad". He pulled it out and looked at it. It has a picture of a dark skinned man with a turban on his head. The position listed on the application was "Elephant Trainer". Jack exclaimed, "I got it." He closed the drawer and started flipping through the pages. "What exactly are we looking for?"
Calvin continued reading Rudy's file and mumbled, "I don't know. Anything that makes him look like a thief. We already know he works with animals, so he might be comfortable letting the tiger loose. Is there anything else that makes us think he could do it?
"I found something about Ingrid," Willie offered. "She is from Romania. There’s a note in here that says she’s going to quit the circus."
Jack, always skeptical of any contribution by Willie, scoffed, "So what? The lady was going to quit. I hope she shaves."
"If she’s quitting, then she might not care about the future of the circus," Willie explained. "Remember, Mr. Barnes said that everyone is like a family and wouldn’t want to hurt anyone. But, if she’s leaving, she might not care about anyone else."
"And, if she’s leaving," Calvin interjected, "she might want one big pay day before she leaves."
"Her file also says," continued Willie, "she grew up in a circus. Her parents were animal trainers. So, she probably knows the animals well. Her mother lives in Romania and is dying. She’s leaving the circus to be with her mom. She probably needs money to return to Romania and care for her mother."
Calvin nodded, "Sounds like she is a good suspect."
"I hate to admit it, but it sounds good," Jack said reluctantly. Hoping there was a better suspect, Jack asked Calvin, "So, did you find anything in Rudy's file?"
"No. In fact, the circus really looks like family for Rudy. His parents are clowns and his sister is a tight rope walker. If he stole the money, he’d be hurting his family. What about you and the elephant guy?"
"I don't see anything either. He works with animals, so maybe he let the tiger loose, but I can't find any other reason for him to be the thief."
"So, it must be Ingrid,” Willie confidently concluded.
"She’s a great suspect, but I just thought of someone else we haven’t seen."
Now, Willie was disappointed, "Who?"
"Remember the muscle guy who grabbed us earlier? I didn’t see him when we were outside. Did anyone else see him?"
Willie and Jack shook their heads.
Jack, happy there was another suspect, asked, "What’s his name? I’ll get his file."
Willie pulled out the program. On the last page, he found a picture of the muscle bound man. "The program says his name is Buster Lewis. It also says he’s the World's Strongest Man. That's why he has so many muscles."
While Jack flipped through the files, Calvin thought out loud, "When we saw him, I noticed that his belt was worn on two notches."
"So what?" Jack muttered as he pulled out Buster's file.
"I think he’s been losing weight. He used to wear his belt in one notch, so that notch became worn. Then, he lost weight and had to use a different notch, so the belt would be smaller. That notch became worn. He kept losing weight and is now using a third notch. The worn notches show he’s losing weight."
Jack was still puzzled, "I understand what you are saying, but I don't know why we care if he’s losing weight."
"I also noticed his shirt and pants were loose. What if he’s losing weight and his muscles are getting smaller?"
Even though Calvin was not really looking for an answer, Willie was eager to contribute, "Then, he wouldn’t be the World's Strongest Man."
Calvin continued, "Right. Maybe he’s also leaving the circus and he has no reason to keep his large muscles. It’s okay if he loses weight and gets smaller."
"If he’s leaving the circus, he doesn’t care about the future of the people in the circus either," Willie asserted. "Just like Ingrid."
Jack, while reviewing the file added, "There’s even more from his file. He used to be a Marine and was trained in explosives. He could’ve set the bombs."
Calvin gave a little whistle, "Wow, we have two good suspects. Either could have done it."
"How do we know which one?" Willie questioned.
"Let's go to their cars. Maybe we’ll find a clue," Calvin suggested.
Jack threw the file on the cabinet and started climbing out of the window. "Sounds good. Let's go." The other two followed.
Once outside, Calvin instructed, "Let's walk along the train and look for the cars for Ingrid and Buster. Whichever one we see first, we’ll check for clues." The boys agreed.
Willie was the first to see the bearded woman's face painted on the side of a car. "This is Ingrid's car," he claimed as he started running for the car. Quickly, he found a broken window and started to climb through it.
Calvin and Jack trailed along behind him. "We'll let him go first," Calvin said as he put his arm out to slow Jack down. "He hopes Ingrid is the thief so he can be right. Let him have the first chance to find something."
"All right," Jack mumbled, not really wanting to wait.
They watched Willie place his hand on the sides of the window, stick his feet through, and slowly lower his body. Eventually, he let go of his hands, his body dropped, and his head disappeared.
"So, how long do we wait before we go in?" Jack asked.
Before Calvin could answer, Willie scream, "Help! Help! I need help!"