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Taking Down a Ghost Clown

Written by argonaut :: [Thursday, 30 October 2014 13:01] Last updated by :: [Saturday, 01 November 2014 11:54]

TAKING DOWN A GHOST CLOWN

A Scooby-Doo Mystery

by Argonaut

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Applause filled the circus tent as Velma pedaled off on her unicycle, still juggling the brightly-colored balls.

Outside, a full moon shone in a clear sky and the air was unseasonably cool for mid-summer. Mr. Bernstrom, the circus’s owner, was standing near the exit, watching the performances through a hole in the canvas. “Good show, Velma,” he said.

Thanks, Mr. Bernstrom.” Velma hopped off the unicycle. She was eager to wash the greasepaint off her face and change out of her harlequin costume. “When the others are finished, could you send them to my trailer? There’s been a development in the case.”

Will do.” Mr. Bernstrom went back to watching the show while Velma hurried off to her trailer.

Inside the tent, Fred had stepped forward, resplendent in his ringmaster’s outfit. “Ladie-e-e-s and gentlemen,” he cried, holding up his hand for silence. “Bernstrom’s Big Top is proud to present – the eighth wonder of the world! That captivating combination of beauty and brawn -- that paragon of pulchritude and power -- the mighty Marvella -- world’s … strongest … girl!

Cheers and whistles greeted Daphne as she stepped into the center ring, wearing a skimpy leopard-skin costume that showed off her shapely legs and well-toned arms. A set of dumbbells was lined up on the sawdust, ranging in weight from fifty pounds to one ton. Stooping, Daphne lifted the 50-pound dumbbell with one hand, holding it out on her outstretched arm for a few moments, then pumping it up and down in a set of bicep curls before raising it straight over her head.

There was some polite applause, but Daphne was just warming up. She moved on to the next dumbbell, then the next, murmurs of amazement running through the crowd as she began lifting weights that would have taxed the strength of a professional bodybuilder until …

Boo! Fake!

Heads turned toward the heckler -- a stocky, crew-cut young man who sat scowling in the third row.

Yeah, you heard me!” he shouted. “Who do you think you’re fooling? Those weights gotta be fake.”

Fred stepped forward, holding up a hand to quiet the angry murmur rising from the bleachers.

It seems we have a skeptic in our audience tonight,” he said. “Perhaps he’d care to come down and see for himself whether these weights are real or not?”

The heckler slouched down in his seat, trying to ignore the jeers of the crowd, but at the prodding of his friends he stood up and made his way down to the center ring. He took off his varsity jacket, revealing his broad shoulders and muscular arms, then grasped the bar of the largest dumbbell. He tugged at the weight, but it didn’t budge. Gritting his teeth, digging his heels into the sawdust, he pulled harder, his face red with exertion …

Daphne stepped forward and tapped the heckler on the shoulder. Gently pushing him aside, she reached down and swept the one-ton weight off the ground in one smooth, easy motion, then stood holding it over her head, shoulders back, arms straight, as the young man slunk back to his seat amid the laughter of the audience.

Fred spoke up. “How about a big hand for our volunteer?” he said, leading the spectators in a round of applause. “And now,” he said, lowering his voice dramatically, “what you are about to see will dispel any doubts that may linger. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce … Colosso!

Four stout posts, about five feet high, stood in the center of the ring, supporting the corners of a thick metal plate about six feet square. Billy, the circus’s animal handler, was gently urging a full-grown elephant up a long ramp toward the platform.

And now -- for the first time before any audience --”

Colosso was now standing on the metal plate, his thick legs drawn together. A kettledrum rolled as Daphne ducked under the platform and raised her right arm. Pressing the palm of her hand against the underside of the plate, she pushed upward. Slowly, carefully, she lifted the plate and its eight-ton occupant off the posts and stood balancing it over her head.

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A stunned silence fell over the audience, broken a moment later by an explosion of whistles and applause as Daphne stood, poised and smiling, holding the ponderous pachyderm aloft with one hand while waving to the spectators with the other.

* * * * * * * *

ONE WEEK EARLIER …

So that’s why I called you kids.” Mr. Bernstrom banged his fist on the heavy wooden table in his trailer. “I want you to catch this Ghost Clown and put a stop to his shenanigans before he ruins my circus!”

Have you seen this Ghost Clown yourself, Mr. Bernstrom?” asked Fred.

No, but just about everyone on my payroll has. Here’s a sketch I made from their descriptions.” He placed a drawing on the table.

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Like clowns aren’t scary enough,” wailed Shaggy. “Now we’re talking about a ghost clown.”

Scooby-Doo shuddered. “Reepy!

He appears out of nowhere,” said Mr. Bernstrom. “Always after dark. And then he disappears just as suddenly. I’m telling you, he’s got everyone spooked. And that’s not all. Other things have been happening.”

Like what?” asked Velma.

The other day, one of our trapeze artists noticed that someone had cut half-way through one of the ropes. If he hadn’t spotted that --” He shook his head. “And yesterday morning, the door of the lion’s cage was wide open. Billy swears he locked it the night before. Luckily, the lion was still asleep, but

still --”

It doesn’t take a ghost to cut through a rope,” said Velma. “Or unlock a door.”

No -- but circus folk are superstitious. They’re saying our show is jinxed. If anyone so much as stubs a toe, they blame it on the Ghost Clown. And now they’re starting to quit. The fire eater, the human cannonball -- and just this morning our strong man packed up and left. At this rate, it won’t be long before I have no performers at all!” Mr. Bernstrom threw up his hands in desperation.

Cheer up, Mr. Bernstrom,” said Fred. “I’ve got a plan. My friends and I can go undercover as performers to smoke out this Ghost Clown.”

Hmmm.” Mr. Bernstrom regarded them dubiously. “Do any of you kids have circus talent?”

I can ride a unicycle,” said Velma. “And juggle a little.”

And Scooby-Doo can do tricks,” said Shaggy. “Watch this.” He turned to his canine companion. “Scooby-Doo -- beg!”

Scooby-Doo dropped to his hind knees and clasped his front paws in supplication, whimpering piteously.

Now play dead.”

Scooby-Doo jumped up on his hind legs for a moment, then clutched his chest and staggered back before dropping to the floor.

Mr. Bernstrom shrugged. “I’ve seen worse,” he admitted.

And I could replace your strong man.” said Daphne.

Mr. Bernstrom grinned. “Don’t worry, miss,” he chuckled. “We can always find a job for a pretty girl like you. Our knife-thrower is looking for a new assis--Great Barnum’s ghost!

Mr. Bernstrom’s chair clattered behind him as he jumped back in alarm. Leaning forward with her arms stretched wide, Daphne had grabbed the sides of the table and swept it up off the floor. Now she stood with one hand resting on her hip, balancing the heavy table over her head on the other.

Mr. Bernstrom gulped. “Well, miss -- it looks like we’ve found our new strong ma-- I mean, strong girl.”

* * * * * * * *

Bravo, Daphne!” said Mr. Bernstrom as Daphne emerged from the rear exit. “If you ever decide to quit detective work, you could definitely have a career in show business.”

Daphne blushed. “Thanks, Mr. Bernstrom. But I think I’ll stick with Mystery, Incorporated.”

Oh, I almost forgot. Velma wants to see you in her trailer. Your friends should be there already.”

Okay. I want to change out of my costume first. It’ll just take me a couple of minutes.” Daphne hurried across the moonlit grounds toward her trailer.

* * * * * * * *

Let’s get started,” said Velma as Fred took a seat. She’d changed back into her baggy turtleneck sweater and sensible skirt. Shaggy was eating chirros from a paper bag while Scooby-Doo watched hungrily. “We can bring Daphne up to speed when she gets here.’

What is it, Velma?” asked Fred. “Have you got a lead on the Ghost Clown case?”

No,” said Velma. “But I’ve stumbled on another mystery.” She opened her laptop and began tapping on the keyboard. “I’ve been reading some of the local newspapers on-line -- and it seems that there’s been a major robbery in every town this circus stops at. Take a look.”

She pointed at the screen. “Ten days ago, the circus was in Ogdenville when a local jewelry store was robbed. The police say that the thief must have entered the showroom through the ceiling after crawling through the heating ducts -- except that the ducts are to narrow for anyone to wriggle through.”

She tapped at the keyboard again. “Three days later, the circus was in Haverbrook when a ten thousand dollar cash deposit disappeared overnight from the town’s largest bank. The police can’t explain how the thief got into the bank -- but I’ve got a hunch he got in the same way the cash did.” She pointed to a photograph of the bank building on the screen. There, at one end of the facade, was a night deposit drop.

Shaggy scratched his head. “But, like, no one could fit in that.”

No one -- except …”

Fred snapped his fingers. “Max the Midget!”

Velma nodded. “Exactly. And who’s the only person who could have crawled through that maze of narrow ducts?”

Ralph the Rubber Man!”

Bingo.”

So this circus is a front for a gang of thieves?”

That’s what I thought, at first,” said Velma. “But things got even stranger after we came on board.” She resumed her tapping. “Five days ago, we stopped in Brockton. And that night, a silver bowl was stolen from the town’s museum by someone who managed to hack its security system.”

More tapping. “Which brings us to Thursday night, when somebody stole a rare first edition of Moby Dick from the home of local millionaire Emerson Palmer -- after snaring the estate’s security guard in a net.”

Let me see that,” said Fred. Gazing at the photograph on the screen, he let out an appreciative whistle. “Whoever set that trap really knew his stuff. That looks like Acme 40-mil mesh. Good trapping wire -- strong yet flexible. I use it myself. Remember the time we --”

Velma broke in on Fred’s reminiscence. “Listen to yourself, Fred. How many people have the know-how to set a trap like that?”

Besides me? Not many,” said Fred proudly. Then his jaw dropped. “You mean --?”

Exactly. And who do you know besides me with the skills to hack a state-of-the-art security system?”

What are you saying?” asked Shaggy, taking the last chirro from the bag. “Hey!” he exclaimed as Scooby-Doo lassoed the chirro with his tongue and swallowed it whole.

It means,” said Velma, “that somebody is using hypnosis or mind control to make people steal for him.”

Gosh!” said Fred. “So now we have two mysteries on our hands?”

Maybe not,” said Velma. “Whoever is behind the Ghost Clown’s hijinks might be responsible for those robberies as well.”

Man,” said Shaggy, staring morosely into the empty paper bag as Scooby-Doo sat giggling. “It’s a good thing this hypnotist didn’t do his mind-control hocus-pocus on Daphne. With her strength --”

Hey!” said Fred. “Where is Daphne?”

Good question,” said Velma. “She should have been here by now.”

They all exchanged uneasy glances.

Ruh-roh,” said Scooby-Doo.

* * * * * * * *

Daphne made her way across the moonlit circus grounds, past shuttered booths and the looming shadow of the Ferris wheel. She climbed the steps of her trailer and took the key from under the mat. She was just about to open the door when suddenly …

Eek!” She let out a stifled shriek as she felt something serpentine slither along her back and coil itself around her neck.

Turning, she smiled with relief. “Oh, it’s you, Colosso.” Gently, she removed the elephant’s trunk from her shoulders and reached up to scratch his forehead.

I think Colosso’s got a crush on you, Daphne,” said Billy. “I was taking him back to his pen when he saw you about to go into your trailer. He just had to come over and say good-night -- isn’t that right, Colosso?”

That’s so sweet,” said Daphne, as Colosso nuzzled her cheek with the tip of his trunk. “I like you, too. But you have to go to your pen now, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Come on, Colosso,” said Billy, leading him back to his enclosure. “I’ve got a nice fresh bale of hay waiting for you.”

Entering her trailer, Daphne opened the door of her wardrobe. Eight identical purple dresses hung in a neat row; eight identical pairs of designer shoes were lined up on the shelf. Daphne stood by the open door, trying to decide which dress to put on, when a gloved hand suddenly emerged from the darkness of the wardrobe, dangling a large gold coin from a thin chain. The coin swung back and forth as a sinister voice intoned:

Watch the pretty coin of gold,

And you will do as you are told!”

Daphne’s face became expressionless, her eyes went blank. “I will do as I am told,” she repeated in a monotone.

* * * * * * * *

When Daphne’s friends came running to her trailer, they found the door open and nobody inside.

We’re too late,” said Fred.

Velma was inspecting the ground outside the trailer with the help of a flashlight. “Look!” She pointed to a pair of mismatched footprints in a patch of soft earth -- the dainty imprint of a slippered foot and the trace of a long, narrow shoe.

That footprint is Daphne’s size,” said Velma.

Yeah,” quavered Shaggy. “But whoever made that other one must be, like, seven feet tall.”

Don’t be silly,” said Velma. “That’s a clown shoe.”

So the Ghost Clown is the hypnotist,” said Fred. “And he’s gone off with Daphne.”

Scooby-Doo put his nose to the ground and began tracking Daphne’s scent. The others followed their canine comrade through the deserted midway and across the parking lot, where Scooby-Doo halted by a vacant spot in a row of trucks belonging to the circus.

They must have driven off in one of the circus trucks,” said Velma.

But which way did they go?” asked Fred, pointing to the two-lane road that ran past the circus grounds and across the moonlit countryside.

For once, Velma didn’t have an answer. But a loud trumpeting sound suddenly broke the quiet of the night. Startled, the teenage sleuths turned around and saw the shadowy bulk of Colosso the elephant moving about restlessly in his pen. As they came running, Colosso raised his trunk and pointed urgently to the left.

It’s like he’s trying to tell us something,” said Fred.

Too bad animals can’t talk,” said Shaggy. “Isn’t that right, Scoob?”

R-r-right, Raggy.

Fred rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Do you suppose he saw the Ghost Clown drive off with Daphne -- and he’s trying to tell us which way they went?”

Velma shrugged. “We’ve got nothing better to go on.”

Come on!” Fred was already running toward the shed where the Mystery Machine was parked.

A minute later, with a squeal of tires, the Mystery Machine sped out of the parking area and went careening off through the night.

* * * * * * * *

The trees were black silhouettes against the starry sky, but a mist covered the ground as the armored truck made its way along the road by the lake.

The guard in the passenger seat was gazing morosely out the side window. “We could have been in Capital City and dropped off this payroll half an hour ago,” he grumbled. “I don’t know why the dispatchers make us take these detours. This road gives me the creeps.”

The driver kept his eyes on the road. “Relax,” he said, pointing to the GPS on the dashboard. “We’re right on schedule. We’ll be back on the highway in -- holy smoke!

Someone was standing in the middle of the road ahead. The figure was indistinct in the mist, but a moment later the truck’s headlights revealed that it was a girl -- a redhead in a skimpy leopard-print costume. The driver blew the horn as he slammed on the brakes …

But the girl didn’t even flinch. She leaned forward with her bare arms extended as the truck came screeching toward her. The front of the truck crumpled like an accordion against her outstretched hands; the rear end bounced upward with a jolt; and airbags ballooned from the dashboard, pinning the unconscious guards back against the seat.

The girl walked round to the side of the truck and plunged her slender fingers into the thick steel plating, peeling it aside like the lid of a sardine tin. Leaping into the truck’s dark interior, she tossed out a large canvas sack stuffed with currency. A second sack followed, then a third, as a shadowy, rotund figure stepped from the darkness of the trees, cackling gleefully as he loaded them into a pick-up truck parked a short distance down the road. His white face and white gloves gleamed in the moonlight …

There was a sudden screeching of brakes and slamming of doors as the Mystery Machine pulled up alongside the armored truck and Daphne’s friends jumped out. Daphne took no notice of them as she continued to fling sacks full of money from the back of the truck.

Snap out of it, Daphne!” shouted Velma.

Like, you’ve been hypnotized!” Shaggy chimed in.

There was no sign of recognition in Daphne’s eyes as the Ghost Clown pointed at her comrades. “Destroy them!” he snarled.

Daphne sprang from the back of the truck, landing with feline grace by the front of the Mystery Machine. Her friends stepped back in alarm as as she reached down and lifted the front end of the van off the road. Next moment, she’d hoisted it effortlessly up over her head.

Daphne, no!” shouted Fred. “Not the Mystery Machine!”

But Daphne paid him no heed. She let out a low growl, swinging her upraised arms back, still holding the Mystery Machine overhead as she charged toward the others …

Zoinks!” quavered Shaggy. “Daphne’s gone berserk!”

Run for your rife!” barked Scooby-Doo.

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Daphne’s friends scattered as she rushed forward, smashing the Mystery Machine against an outcropping of rock by the road. It fell sideways, its front end crumpled, its windshield shattered, its rear door hanging on one hinge, and Fred’s trapping gear strewn all over the ground.

Fred dropped to his knees and raised a despairing face to the starry sky. “Why?” he wailed.

Velma grabbed his arm and pulled him back on his feet. “Get a grip, Fred,” she said. “It’s trapping time!”

There was a feral gleam in Daphne’s green eyes as she looked around her. Her lips curled in a malicious smile as she spotted Shaggy and Scooby-Doo cowering under the armored truck. Stepping forward, she pressed one shoulder against the side of the truck and pushed. Slowly, the truck began to tilt sideways. Another moment, and she would have tipped it over. But just then a voice rang out.

Hey, Daphne!” shouted Velma. “1969 just called. They want their shoes back!”

Daphne set the truck down and turned, scowling. Fred and Velma were standing by an enormous oak tree near the side of the road.

And your boutique ran out of purple polyester!” Fred shouted.

Daphne charged toward them, roaring with fury. Closer and closer she came, her lips twisted in a snarl, but Fred and Velma stood their ground.

Wait for it,” said Fred quietly. “Wait for it … Now!

He tugged at a rope slung over a stout, low-lying branch. Velma did likewise. And the next moment, Daphne was dangling from the branch, trussed up in a net like a Thanksgiving turkey.

Good work, Velma!” said Fred. Shaggy and Scooby-Doo had crawled out from under the armored truck and joined them. “Yup -- you can’t go wrong with Acme 40-mil. It’s the perfect combination of flexibility and strength. Now all we have to do is --”

But he didn’t have a chance to finish his sentence. Growling, Daphne had thrust her fingers through the gaps in the net; now she drew her hands apart, snapping the wires as if they were gossamer and tearing the net in two. Dropping to the ground, she reached up and broke the branch off the tree with a tug of her arm.

Grasping the branch like a baseball bat, she swung it in a swift arc. Her friends threw themselves on the ground as the branch went whistling over their heads. Daphne stumbled for a moment, thrown off balance by the momentum of her swing, then flung the branch aside. She strode toward Fred, her eyes gleaming with menace as she leaned over and hooked a forefinger around his ascot, yanking him up off the ground as if he were a ragdoll. Fred clutched desperately at his knotted neckware, his feet flailing helplessly as Daphne raised her arm higher …

Oh, man,” wailed Shaggy. “What are we gonna do, Velma?” But before Velma could reply …

A powerful jet of water burst from the woods and struck Daphne in the face. Gasping, sputtering, she dropped Fred and staggered back a few steps. As her friends scrambled to their feet, Daphne stood shaking water from her arms and wringing it from her hair.

Ewww!” she exclaimed. Then, blinking, she looked around her in bewilderment. “Where am I? And why am I still wearing this costume? Fred -- Velma -- what’s going on?”

Jinkies!” exclaimed Velma. “Daphne’s back to normal!”

It’s okay, Daphne,” said Fred. “The Ghost Clown hypnotized you into robbing that armored truck -- and then attacking us --”

What?” Daphne’s eyes flashed indignantly.

But you’re okay now,” said Shaggy. “There’s just one thing that’s bugging me -- who gave you that cold shower?”

Isn’t it obvious?” said Velma. “Listen!” Noises were coming from the woods -- heavy footsteps, a rustling of leaves, a snapping of twigs and branches. A moment later, Colosso the elephant stepped out onto the moonlit road.

Colosso?” said Shaggy.

Exactly,” said Velma. “He must have broken out of his pen after we drove off and followed us.”

Daphne stood on tiptoe to give Colosso a kiss on the forehead. “Thanks, Colosso.” She turned to the others. “So where’s the Ghost Clown now?”

Uh-oh,” said Fred. “We forgot about him. He was right --” The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the sound of an engine starting up and a squeal of tires.”Jinkies!” said Velma. “He’s getting away!” The hum of the pick-up’s motor was fading as it sped back along the road toward the circus.

Daphne frowned. “Not if I can help it.” Turning, she ran off in pursuit, her footsteps beating a rapid cadence against the asphalt..

Man,” said Shaggy. “Do you think she’ll catch up with him?”

I’m not sure,” said Velma. “But I’d hate to be in his oversized shoes if she does.”

We’d better follow her,” said Fred.

But how?” asked Shaggy. “I mean, with the Mystery Machine totaled --”

I think we’ve got a ride,” said Velma. “Look!” Colosso was kneeling on the road, gesturing with his trunk as if to invite Daphne’s friends to climb on his back.

Thanks, Colosso,” said Fred, clambering onto the elephant’s back. Velma hopped on behind him. Shaggy scrambled up after her, holding on for dear life as Colosso stood up and began lumbering down the moonlit road with Scooby-Doo running along beside him.

* * * * * * * *

As Colosso came to the top of a low hill overlooking the circus, Fred pointed to a dark figure standing in the parking area below. “There’s Daphne!”

Colosso ambled through the opening in the fence and knelt on the ground. Fred and Velma jumped off and ran to where Daphne was standing. Shaggy limped along behind them, rubbing his sore backside, with Scooby-Doo trotting at his heels.

So where’s the Ghost Clown?” asked Fred. “The way you took off after him, we figured you would have caught him for sure.”

Daphne scowled. “I would have -- if I hadn’t taken a wrong turn. By the time I got back on the right road, he had too much of a head start. But I was in time to see him pull in here.”

Oh, man,” said Shaggy, looking nervously around him. “There must be a million places he could be hiding by now.”

Maybe we should split up to look for him,” suggested Fred.

But Scooby-Doo’s ears had pricked up. He tugged at Shaggy’s T-shirt, pointing down a shadowy alleyway between two rows of shuttered concession booths. “Rook!

The four sleuths peered in the direction of Scooby-Doo’s extended foreleg. The Ghost Clown was standing at the far end of the alley, next to the balloon stand, bending over what appeared to be a canister of helium gas.

What’s he doing?” whispered Shaggy.

I’m not sure,” said Velma. “It looks as if he’s connecting that canister to his costume.”

The Ghost Clown began to swell, growing rounder and rounder before their astonished gaze. Within moments, his costume had ballooned into a sphere. Standing on tip-toe, he pushed himself up off the ground -- and began floating up, up into the night sky, a rotund silhouette against the full moon, his gleeful cackle growing fainter and fainter.

Ingenious,” said Velma. “He had a getaway worked out in advance. His costume must be lined with rubber, so he could fill it with helium and float away.”

Well, he won’t get far at that speed,” said Fred, watching the round figure drifting on a light breeze. “I’ll call the police. Maybe they can send a helicopter to capture him.” He reached into his pocket for his phone..

Daphne laid a hand on his arm. “No, Fred,” she said firmly. “This is personal. Follow me.”

Turning, she ran across the circus grounds, her long, swift strides taking her past tents and trailers until she came to the spot where the Human Comet’s cannon stood, raised at a forty-five degree angle against the night sky.

By the time the others caught up with her, she was already shinnying up the barrel. “Wait till I’m inside,” she told them. “Then fire me straight at him.”

Are you sure about this, Daphne?” asked Fred.

Daphne was perched on the muzzle. “Just do it,” she said. “If anyone’s going to take that character down, it’ll be me.” She swung her legs into the cannon’s mouth and disappeared into its bore.

The others swiveled the cannon around until it was pointed directly at the balloon-like figure of the Ghost Clown. Velma pulled on a cord … there was a muffled burst of flash powder, a hiss of compressed air … and Daphne shot from the cannon’s mouth, her red hair streaming behind her, flying straight as an arrow toward the floating felon. Nearer and nearer she came until …

Gotcha!” Daphne threw her arms around the Ghost Clown’s inflated costume. “Hey!” sputtered the Ghost Clown, squirming helplessly in Daphne’s embrace as the two of them tumbled about in mid-air. “Let go of me, you henna-haired harpy!”

Hush,” said Daphne, squeezing tight and wrapping her legs around the costume’s waist. “Do you realize how many fanboys would love to be in your position? And for your information,” she added haughtily, “I’m a natural redhead!”

Daphne could see that her weight was not enough to overcome the costume’s buoyancy. More drastic measures were needed …

Daphne drew her right arm back, then plunged her forefinger into the inflated costume. There was a hiss of escaping gas as her manicured fingernail sliced through the rubber lining like a knife through butter. The costume shriveled as Daphne and her captive began falling, faster and faster, toward the circus grounds below.

Are you crazy?” shrieked the Ghost Clown. “You’ll kill us both!”

But Daphne merely smiled. She’d timed it perfectly. They were falling toward the sloping canopy of the main tent. She let go of the Ghost Clown as she landed on the springy canvas and began sliding toward the edge, where Colosso stood watching with her teammates.

She slid off the canvas and landed on Colosso’s back. The Ghost Clown, screaming with terror, was tumbling after her. As he bounced off the edge of the canopy, Daphne snagged him by the collar of his deflated costume, dangling him from her fingertip like a damp washcloth.

And now,” she said, “let’s see who this Ghost Clown really is.”

She pulled off the clown’s rubber mask, revealing the sharp features, the deep-set eyes, the untidy grey hair of …

There was an awkward silence.

Shaggy was the first to speak. “Isn’t this where we all say the guy’s name together?”

Well, yeah,” said Fred, scratching his head. “But I’ve never seen him before.”

Me, neither,” said Velma.

Hey!” Mr. Bernstrom was hurrying toward them. “I know who that is. That’s Harry Driscoll -- a.k.a. Mento the Mystic. He used to perform for us as a hypnotist and illusionist until I caught him with his fingers in the till. I didn’t press charges, but I fired him -- and I warned every other circus owner to steer clear of the guy.”

I see,” said Velma. “He blamed you for destroyng his career, so he decided to get even by ruining your circus. Since he’d worked here, he probably knew lots of hiding places. He’d sneak out at night, using his illusionist’s tricks to create the character of the Ghost Clown. He was hoping to scare off your performers and force you to shut down.”

But you called in Mystery, Incorporated,” said Fred.

Right,” said Velma. “So he came up with a back-up plan. He started hypnotizing your performers into pulling off robberies for him. If the robberies were successful, he’d keep the loot … but if the robbers got caught, they’d have no recollection that they’d been hypnotized -- and Mr. Bernstrom’s circus would be discredited.”

It was a perfect plan,” Driscoll snarled. “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for --”

Yeah, yeah, we know,” said Shaggy. “If it hadn’t been for us meddling kids.How many times have we heard that one, gang?”

The hypnotist’s lips curled in a sneer. “I was about to say -- if it hadn’t been for this Titian-tressed termagant -- and that infatuated elephant!”

THE END

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