Friday, June 22, 2012
Billy tried to wiggle out of the lady's arms without kicking her in the shins. Before the Duesenberrys adopted him, he would have done just that to get away. She finally let him go enough for him to back away.
“You aren't my ma. My ma is Kate Duesenberry. She and Will adopted me and I'm their boy now. I don't have a real ma. What kind of a dumb name is Philippe anyway?”
“Oh my darling Philippe. Don't you see? You were stolen from me when you were just a wee babe. I named you Philippe after your brave deceased father, Philippe Le Claire the famous tightrope walker who fell during his performance and landed in the jaws of a nasty old lion.”
Butch and Kenny shuddered at the thought. Anton, the instigator of the scam just shook his head hoping the dumb woman would just stop with her stories. He couldn't wait until he had the money from this scam in his pocket. He had no intention of keeping his promise to marry the wretched woman.
Anton stepped out from the shadows. “My dearest, what have we here? I can't believe my eyes. Could this possibly be your long lost son Philippe? Young man you look exactly like my fiancee. You surely are her beloved son.”
“This is crazy. I'm not your son. My name is Billy Duesenberry. I was adopted fair and square.” Billy started running and didn't stop until he got to the only home he'd ever had. He ran past Alma, Kate and Melvin who were sipping tea at the kitchen table. Without a word he went to his room and closed the door. He couldn't let anyone see him crying. He didn't ever want to go back to the circus and that woman and her lies. She was not his mother.
Butch and Kenny came running in behind him. Butch said “Billy's ma is in the circus. She said his real name is Philippe and someone stole him when he was a baby. He ran away from her because he said she was lying. She looks like she could be his ma though.”
Kate went to Billy's room and knocked on the door. “Billy, let's talk about this. I know you are upset but hiding in your room won't make the problem go away.”
Kate could hear him whimpering and knew Billy well enough to know he would not leave the privacy of his room until he had cried it out.
“Come downstairs as soon as you are ready Billy. Butch has gone to find your pa. We love you and will find an answer. If this lady is truly your mother, it will be a blessing that she found you. You will never stop being our son. No matter what.”
A worried Kate walked back into the kitchen. Alma and Melvin understood that Billy needed to be alone right now. “We should leave and let you and Will handle this without our interference.”
“Grandma please don't leave. You and Melvin are our family too. I don't know what we will do if we have to give Billy up. I know I should be rejoicing that he and his birth mother have found each other but I can only think of the void it will leave in our family if he is separated from us.
“Child, you don't know that this woman is who she claims. I'm often mistaken for Thomas Jefferson's son but I can assure you he is definitely not my father.”
The women laughed and hoped he was right.
“Just in case this woman is up to no good, I think I'll take a stroll over to Oscar Crowley's and see how he suggests we handle it.”
Butch came back shortly with Will. “Butch filled me in. I saw Melvin on the way here and he told me he was going to ask Oscar his opinion. That's a good idea. My first inclination is to pay a visit to this woman who claims to be Billy's mother but I think I will wait to see what Oscar recommends.”
“Kate are you doing alright? I don't want you overly stressed with the baby coming so soon.”
“Don't worry about me. I just wish I could hold Billy in my arms but you know how he is. He would rather die than let anyone see him cry.”
“I'm not crying Ma.” Billy said
He ran into his mother's arms. “You are my only ma and I don't want to see that lady ever again.”
Kate tried not to let the tears flow but she couldn't hold them back. She loved her boy and she couldn't bear the pain he was feeling.
“Pa, do you think she could take me away from you?”
“I don't know Billy. First we have to find out if she really is your mother. We have never really talked about what you do remember about your life. I know you said you never saw your mother but what are your first memories?”
“I remember being in an orphanage with a bunch of other kids. One of the older boys told me he was going to run away. He said I could go with him so I did. We were running down the street together but he ran too fast for me and I couldn't catch up. I was sorry that night because it was cold and I didn't have a bed to sleep in. I couldn't find my way back to the orphanage and I was afraid I'd get a whipping for running away if I did.”
“Do you remember what city the orphanage was in?”
“I think it was in Pittsburgh. I remember seeing that sign when I was outside playing on the lawn. The train station was on the next block and there was a big sign that said Pittsburgh. I didn't know it was a city until a few years later.”
“That's a big help Billy. It may be a clue to your identity.”
Melvin came back with Oscar. Will could tell by the expression on Oscar's face that this situation could put Billy's adoption in jeopardy.
Will told him what Billy had said about Pittsburgh. “It's a start. I think our first step should be to visit with the woman who claims to be Billy's mother.”
“I don't want to see her.” Billy said
“Billy, your pa and I will go to see her. You stay here with your family. Do you remember if the lady said her name?
“I think the slimy guy called her Marzetta,” said Kenny who didn't miss a trick. He was standing behind a post when the lady was holding onto Billy. He came out and acted surprised, but he was watching all along so he wasn't really surprised.
“That helps Kenny, thank you.”
“Be careful you two. If this is a scam maybe we should call the sheriff to go with you.” Melvin said.
“I don't think there will be a problem. Kate, I will invite Marzetta back here if it's alright with you. I think we will be able to get to know her better if we have her in the house.”
Kate shook her head in agreement and gave her husband a hug.
Will and Oscar climbed down from Oscar's carriage. They parked far enough away from the big tent so they could observe the circus people before they stated their business and because they didn't want the horses to be spooked by the other animals. Will spotted Marzetta right away.
“Oscar look at that woman, she does look like our Billy. I can feel Billy slipping away from us.”
“Don't jump to any conclusions, Will. Do you see that fellow lurking in the background? He saw us pull up and I think he may have been expecting us. I agree with Kenny's assessment. He is a slimy guy.”
“Good afternoon ma'am. My name is Will Duesenberry. My son Billy was here this morning and told me someone here claims to be his mother.”
“How do you do vicar? My name is Marzetta Le Claire. I am so happy to have found my long lost son. You have to admit he does look like me. You know he was stolen from me when he was a baby.”
“Mrs. Le Claire, I'm Oscar Crowley, a friend of the family. I wonder how long ago was your son stolen.”
“Oh I don't remember it must be about twelve years now.”
That foolish woman, she is going to ruin everything.
Anton stepped out from behind the post. “Gentlemen. I am Mrs. Le Claire's intended. You can imagine she doesn't have her wits about her after discovering her son today. I'd rather you didn't ask her any questions in her fragile state.”
Oscar didn't think the woman looked very fragile and appeared to able to resume her normal activities shortly after discovering her child who had been missing for twelve years.
“I understand Mrs. Le Claire. I would like to invite you to our home for supper this evening. It will give you a chance to get to know Billy.”
“She and I will be there.” said Anton
“Supper is at 5:30 and we are in the church house next to St. Peter's. I am the vicar there but then you already knew that, didn't you Mrs. Le Claire?”
Oscar was wondering if Will had picked up on Marzetta's slip. She called Will vicar. How did she know that unless she had gotten some information from someone.
Oscar and Will walked around to the elephants. They pretended to be admiring the huge animals but kept their eye on Anton as he grabbed Marzetta's arm roughly and practically dragged her to his trailer.
They heard a rustling sound and looked up to see a man in a clown suit. “Meet me over behind the concession stands. I have information for you.”
Oscar and Will walked leisurely to the concession stand which was open and selling lemonade. They bought a couple of drinks and walked behind the stand where Chuckles was waiting for them.
“Your boy Butch was here earlier. A nice kid. He told me all about him and Billy and how you adopted them. I've known Marzetta for the last fifteen years and she never had a baby or even a husband. Marzetta Le Claire is her stage name. She is Edna Mason and she is from a small town in Texas called Paris. That's the closest she's ever been to France. Anton is a con man. I'm sure he overheard my conversation with Butch. Marzetta does look a little like your boy but I can assure you she is not his mother. All the girls around here fancy themselves in love with Anton Hamlin. If any of the others resembled either of your boys they would have been the one he selected to con you. Anton probably promised Marzetta he would marry her if she went along with his scheme. Marzetta is a sweet kid but not too bright. I suspect she will be out of a job when this whole thing is over and Anton will be on to his next victim. Just give him time. He'll be asking for money soon.”
Oscar and Will thanked Chuckles for his help. Their next stop was to Sheriff Mendenhall's office. The sheriff changed out of his uniform and would be joining the Duesenberrys for supper.
“I hope Alma has prepared enough food for all of us Will. Do you mind if I stop by to pick up Nettie as well. She would love to watch the likes of Anton try to weasel his way out of this one.”
“The more the merrier. I can't wait to tell Billy he doesn't have anything to worry about. This whole thing has made me wonder if maybe we shouldn't check a little more into both boy's backgrounds. We don't want this thing to happen for real in the future.”
All the way to the Duesenberry home, Marzetta was begging Anton not to make her go through with it. “I just have a bad feeling about this Anton. What if they want to get rid of the kid and then I'll be stuck with him.”
“You're not going to be stuck with the kid. That vicar guy won't give the kid up. His friend looked like he had money. Did you see the fancy carriage he had. I'm sure we hit the jackpot with these two. That reminds me. Watch what you say. You called the guy vicar and you wouldn't have any way of knowing that. I don't think they caught it but be careful tonight.”
As Will predicted, the whole family celebrated when they were told Marzetta was not Billy's mother. They agreed to go along with the charade until Anton offered to sell the boy and that is when Eb Mendenhall would become the sheriff again.
Anton didn't like so many people sitting around the table when he got there. The more people the more chance Marzetta would spill the beans.
Billy was very polite to the guests. He held the chair out for Marzetta when she sat down and even referred to her as ma at one point. Everyone was full of questions. The questions seemed innocent enough but were all meant to catch Marzetta off balance. It worked. As much as she prided herself on being an actress, she couldn't keep her story straight. Anton was afraid she would ruin everything if he didn't act quickly.
“Vicar Duesenberry, I wonder if we could have a little chat in the other room.” said Anton.
“Anything you have to say may be said in front of our friends and family. Go ahead sir. Let's chat here.”
Anton didn't like it but it was now or never. “I can see you are a happy family and dear Philippe seems to be an important part of it. As much as Marzetta's heart will break, she is willing to let Philippe stay right here with you. Of course, she will have much pain and suffering and I'm sure you would be more than anxious to compensate her for that.”
“Compensate her in what way, sir?”
“Oh $20,000 should cover it.”
Marzetta choked on her glass of wine but said nothing.
Sheriff Mendenhall brought out his badge and showed it to a stunned Anton. “Anton Hamlin, you are under arrest for attempted extortion.”
Anton felt the metal of the handcuffs around his wrists. “How did you know? Did that stupid woman give it away when she called you vicar?”
“No, you gave it away when you were lurking behind the post in the tent this afternoon. A decent man would have been standing beside his fiancee not hiding in the shadows.” Will didn't think it was necessary to tell him that Chuckles was the one to fill them in.
Anton and Marzetta were hauled away. Billy was especially happy to see them go.
He changed his mind about going to the circus and along with the rest of the town had a wonderful time watching the performances. Butch introduced him to Chuckles. The entire Duesenberry family was grateful to Chuckles for telling the truth about Anton. Billy was glad there wasn't any one else in the circus who looked like him.