Mr. Cannelloni's Circus
Story by Tuula Pere
Illustrations by Tuula Pere
Layout by Peter Stone
English translation by Päivi Vuoriaro
Edited in English (US) by Susan Korman
ISBN 978-952-325-885-3 (ePub)
ISBN 978-952-325-385-8 (Print)
Copyright © 2018 Wickwick Ltd
Published 2018 by Wickwick Ltd
Printed in EU
Originally published in Finland by Wickwick Ltd in 2010
Finnish “Herra Cannellonin sirkus”, ISBN 978-952-5878-04-2 (Print), ISBN 978-952-5878-35-6 (ePub)
English (UK) “The Circus of Mr Cannelloni”, ISBN 978-952-5878-05-9 (Print), ISBN 978-952-5878-37-0 (ePub)
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Children’s Books from the Heart
Circus owner and director Ernesto Cannelloni
Dog trainer and wife of Ernesto, Madame Rosita Cannelloni
Strongman Budo von Bismarck
Chef Andrei and Nano, his pet monkey
Daredevil horsemen Kasimir and the Pommer Boys
Snake woman Cleopatra and Luxor, her cat
Trapeze artists, The Flying Cosmonauts
Elvira the elephant and her calf
Leopold the lion
Clowns Victor and Hugo
Special Inspector Maximillian Knapp
Former human cannonball, the midget Valeri
Opera singer Boris Bubka
Mr. Cannelloni Wakes to a New Morning
Breakfast at Andrei’s Camp Kitchen
Madame Rosita Does Some Research
The Truth Comes Out
The Scary Future
Operation Hannibal Begins
The Arrival of Maximillian Knapp
Under the Spell of Cleopatra
Elvira Runs to the Rescue
From an Inspector to a Temporary Clown
The Caravan Sets Off
Dawn in the Alps
Showtime for One-and-a-Half Basses
Chase through the Night
Full Speed Ahead
Mr. Cannelloni Wakes to a
Mr. Cannelloni’s circus was on the
verge of bankruptcy. Having endured
countless rains and hot blazing days, the
circus tent’s colors were fading. The tent
had gone through hard times just like the
owner Mr. Cannelloni himself. But he
never complained. This was what he had
always wanted to do for a living, just like his
father, grandfather, and great-grandfather in their times. It
was honorable to continue the tradition that his family had
started one hundred years ago.
Cannelloni felt proud looking at the beautifully framed
pictures hanging on the walls of his wagon. The pictures
portrayed generations of Cannellonis—handsome,
mustachioed men with determination in their eyes. It
seemed as if their eyes followed Cannelloni now as he shaved
in front of an oval mirror.
The circus owner dabbed shaving foam on his
chin and expertly maneuvered the razor.
Once in a while, he wiped off extra foam
with the towel that hung from his waist.
A moustache like his demanded care and
Cannelloni had had a dark moustache since he was a
young man. Now that he was approaching retirement
age, it had streaks of gray, which he carefully covered with
dark wax. He finished curling the ends of his moustache and
splashed some after-shave on his cheeks. Now he was ready
to face the new day ahead.
Cannelloni opened the door of his wagon and stepped
outside into the sunshine. Had there been more money in
the cashbox, it would have been a splendid day. But the fact
was, this summer season might be the last for the circus.
They’d be lucky if they finished the entire European tour
this year. Cannelloni’s gut wrenched at the thought of shutting
down the circus. Up to this point, they had survived by
pinching every penny they had. They had economized on
every imaginable thing, but running a circus was expensive.
The animals ate tons of food. Elvira the elephant guzzled
box loads of vegetables and huge quantities of hay.
Leopold the lion had grown old and lost almost all his teeth.
They now had to feed him the most tender steaks they could
find. And those didn’t come cheap.
The poodles trained by Cannelloni’s wife, Madame Rosita,
constantly needed new barrettes, pompons, and brushes,
and these were not purchased from bargain stores but from
fancy little boutiques.
Poodles are sensitive little creatures who must be treated
delicately. And a certain standard has to be maintained for
the sake of the show, Madame said whenever Mr. Cannelloni
brought up the issue of saving money.
Of course, Madame Rosita was right, as always. Mr. Cannelloni
found it impossible to argue with her when she looked
at him with her rosy lips pursed together. They had been
married for thirty-five years, and Cannelloni knew quite
well that with certain issues, nothing could change Rosita’s
mind. Even as a young girl, she had had an exceptional
sense of beauty and art. It was precisely this that had caught
the attention of young Cannelloni when he’d first watched
her perform—as a graceful tightrope walker high above the
After their children were born, Mrs. Cannelloni had
started teaching acrobatics to new members of the
circus, and to poodles. Rosita’s poodles had become famous
over the years. Right now she had five magnificent dogs,
including Fifi, the pride of the pack with glossy black fur.
Madame Rosita herself was still an impressive sight.
Although Rosita, an avid lover of pastries, had gotten a
tad round, she was as graceful as ever. Her grandeur was
crowned with a high hairdo, which somewhat resembled
Fifi’s hairstyle. Every now and then, Rosita would dress her
dogs in spangled tinsel jackets and she would slip into a fulllength
dress of the same fabric herself. In it, she resembled a
plump mermaid without a tail.
For the most part, Mrs. Cannelloni let Mr. Cannelloni take
care of the daily business of the circus with his loyal crew.
Rosita would much rather focus on her grandchildren and
her poodles. Besides, she was prone to terrible headaches,
which could only be relieved by resting in a dimly lit wagon
with the company of a television and a box of chocolates.
Even now, Mrs. Cannelloni was resting in her wagon and
would continue to do so at least till noon.
Breakfast at Andrei’s Camp Kitchen
Mr. Cannelloni walked through the circus camp. The
circus director followed the scent of bacon, which
led to the kitchen set up on the outskirts of camp. There,
Chef Andrei was serving a hearty breakfast to the circus
crew. His real name was Andrzej, but no one could either
pronounce or spell it correctly, except for his Polish twin
brother, Kazimierz. Everyone called the chef’s twin Kasimir,
since that was also much easier to pronounce.
The brothers were both ardent horsemen. Kasimir performed
with the Polish horse masters, the Pommer Boys. In their
act, riders on black horses and white horses all showed off
their dazzling equestrian skills, but it was Kasimir who
performed the most daring stunts. Whenever his chef’s
duties allowed it, Andrei gladly helped with tending to the
horses. He also cooked nutritious food for the riders, and
often brought dried-up bread crusts and other treats to the
This morning some lightweight tables and chairs had
been brought out onto the lawn next to Andrei’s camp
kitchen. The crew’s chatter was lively and multilingual.
Many of the performers had been with the circus for as
long as Mr. Cannelloni. They even spent the winter season
together, tending to the equipment and the circus animals.
Like migratory birds, other performers joined the group as
the summer season began.
Aside from Mr. Cannelloni’s own family and the Pommer
Boys, the circus crew included a Russian trapeze troupe
called The Flying Cosmonauts; French clowns, Victor and
Hugo; an Egyptian snake woman, Cleopatra; and a German
strongman, Budo von Bismarck. Besides them, younger
gymnasts and dancers traveled with the circus. They had
joined to improve their circus skills with these more experienced
artists and to travel through Europe.
Every now and again, the greasy sausages in Andrei’s
grill set the coals on fire. With swift moves, he
skillfully scooped water from the bucket and
sprinkled it on the flames, which went out with
a hiss. The Pommer Boys needed a heavy breakfast
because jumping on and off of horses at full
speed took a lot of energy. In fact, Kasimir often
said that he couldn’t pull off his daring stunts
if it weren’t for his chef brother who fed him
well. Hearing this always brought a contented
smile to Andrei’s face.
Clowns Victor and Hugo were eating breakfast too, sitting
together on the outermost bench with stuffed baguettes
and coffee with milk. Without their clown makeup and silly
costumes, they looked thin and sad. But when performing,
they were energetic and fussy, making audiences squirm
with laughter. The children especially loved to see the clowns
tripping over their long shoes and failing at almost everything
Snake woman Cleopatra had withdrawn onto a blanket a
little apart from the others. She had already eaten a light
yogurt breakfast, and was now stretching her muscles in the
warmth of the sun. Inch by inch she bent herself into the
odd positions, eventually stopping to read the day’s newspaper
with her legs behind her head. Cleopatra was always
accompanied by her black cat, Luxor, who was now curled
up right beside his mistress.
Despite his classy looks, Luxor was a first-rate mouse hunter
who didn’t care for pampering. He had been found in the
pouring rain near a muddy meadow a few years back, when
the circus caravan had stopped for a break. Cleopatra had
spotted him through the window of her wagon and brought
him in. As soon as he’d dried himself, Luxor had thanked
her by snatching a pesky mouse from under her bed. This
had instantly earned Luxor a permanent home with the
Mr. Cannelloni joined strongman Budo von Bismarck
at a table. The two men had known each other for
two decades. Budo was a kind-hearted giant, literally the
carrying force of the circus. He could effortlessly throw hay
bales to the elephants and horses, erect the tent with its heavy
poles, and pull out wagons that were stuck in mud and place
them back on the road. Cannelloni deeply respected Budo’s
strength. He himself wasn’t brawny—paunchy was perhaps
a better description.
But Mr. Cannelloni had other assets. That’s what his mother
had always said. Sometimes he tried to think of his strengths,
but the list never got too long. He’d always believed that he
had succeeded in managing the circus he had inherited from
his father two decades earlier. But now he was no longer
certain of that.
During the past year, the circus had gotten into financial
trouble. They’d had to repair this and that over the winter.
Repair work never comes cheap; that was something Cannelloni
had learned from experience. After all the necessary
renovations for spring had been finished, and it was time to
set out for the European tour, the cashbox was nearly empty.
The circus owner had been hoping that audiences would
fill the stands all summer long. But at last night’s
show—the first of the season—most of the seats were empty.
Even the clowns’ performance had seemed dull and listless
because the applause was so subdued.
Cannelloni sighed. Budo von
Bismarck could tell right away that
his old friend was in distress.
“Let’s go fishing,” Budo
suggested. “We might catch a
few minnows in the nearby
Delighted, Cannelloni lifted
his head. The men grabbed
their rods and worms and put on
their worn-out Panama hats. Madame
Rosita watched from behind a
curtain in her wagon as the
chums took off, heading
toward the river.
Madame Rosita Does Some Research
Madame Rosita glanced at her gold watch. Almost eleven
o’clock. The day looked beautiful and she would have
plenty of time to visit the town for some shopping before
the evening’s show. She never got tired of shopping in new
places, popping into stores and cafes. Now that Cannelloni
had gone fishing with Budo, nobody would miss her for a
Rosita reached for her pearls from the hook above the
dressing table and put them around her neck. With a tilt
of her head, she examined her reflection in the mirror and
nodded contently. All she needed was the handbag and gloves
of similar color to complete her look. She took a peek in her
purse and, to her dismay, found it almost empty. Luckily, she
could go to the cashbox for more money.
Rosita crouched beside the bed. Behind some old hatboxes,
she could see the battered metal chest. She pulled it out and
placed it on top of the bedspread. The lock clicked open.
Dumbfounded, Rosita stared into the box. It was nearly
empty! Where on earth had all the money gone?
Things must be in very bad shape, she realized. Why had her
husband said nothing to her?
Rosita’s eyes teared up. Quickly she closed the chest and
returned it to its place under the bed. She wouldn’t say a
word about this to anyone.
But Rosita was still perplexed.
Had she become poor? She
still was, after all, the wife of
the circus owner, which was
quite a glamorous role. But
what was she supposed to do
when she needed new clothes
and the poodles needed new
collars? And what about the
Belgian chocolate she loved?
She would most certainly get
terrible migraines without
it. Even now, she felt her
head throbbing with all
these gloomy thoughts.
All of a sudden, the air inside the wagon felt stale. Rosita
started to feel queasy; she had to get out to the sun right
away. Had it been a normal morning, she would have made
a grand exit onto the doorstep and stood there, letting her
glance slide across the yard. Today she didn’t crave for attention.
She just went down the wagon steps and dropped into
a rattan chair. From this seat, she could see the circus crew
going about their tasks.
Andrei was bustling about in his kitchen, cleaning up after
breakfast with his pet monkey, Nano, who knew how to stack
up dirty dishes. The scamp would snatch leftovers from the
plates every now and then— bread, shreds of lettuce, and
At the side of the yard Rosita could hear the sounds of water
spraying and elephants honking happily. Elvira was taking a
bath with her calf before the evening’s performance. The calf
loved the cool water and bounced around under the shower
until Elvira took over, holding him firmly but gently with
her long trunk.
Madame Rosita had lost her appetite. She sat in her
chair, squeezing her handbag. The tightrope walker
was rehearsing overhead, on a wire suspended between two
tents. She was a slender girl, almost as attractive as Rosita
back in her day. The girl’s ponytail swayed cheerfully from
side to side as she trotted along the wire from end to end
with a pole in her hands. Rosita opened her handbag and
took out two black-and-white pictures.
One of them portrayed a beautiful young acrobat standing in
a gorgeous costume with a glittering ball in her hand. Rosita
still remembered how wonderful it had been to balance up
high while tossing the ball into the air, the audience below
watching and holding its breath. Rosita had been
the darling of the circus. Night after night, she
was showered with thundering applause and
abundant bouquets of roses.
But those glory days were over. Rosita and
her poodles were well liked
now; they just didn’t
applause after the show,
and there were no more
roses. Most of the
applause and cheers
were for Fifi, the queen
of the poodles.
deep sigh escaped from Rosita’s lips as she looked at
the other picture. She stood as a little girl in front of
her mother’s sewing machine. She hardly ever showed this
picture to anyone because it revealed a secret that only the
senior members of the circus knew. Rosita had led others
to believe that she was of royal descent—or at least from a
noble family. In reality, her mother had worked as the circus
seamstress. She’d been employed by Mr. Cannelloni’s father
and Rosita’s father had been an animal trainer with the
Rosita’s mother had been hardworking and talented. With
her sturdy sewing machine, she had created glamorous
costumes for the circus performers and beautiful parade
rugs for the elephants and horses. She had also fixed torn
seams in the circus tent and worn-out knees of workers’
overalls. Little Rosita would often sit on the floor beside the
sewing table and collect the finest pieces of cloth and silk
braids in a little box.
Madame Rosita slipped the photos back into her handbag,
leaving the one of her mother’s sewing machine on top. It
was time to take action.
The Truth Comes Out
Madame Rosita strode toward the river, where she had
seen her husband go with strongman Budo to fish.
Her steps were determined, much like those with which she
had rehearsed her tightrope performances long ago.
Chef Andrei shouted after her—something about breakfast
waffles that would get cold—but Rosita had something else
on her mind. She paced down the narrow path that wound
its way along the river. Thick beds of nettle lined the path,
but that didn’t bother Rosita. Nor did the muddy soil slow
her brisk pace. With her pretty pumps in her one hand and
handbag in the other, she marched toward the pier.
Bewildered by the sight of his approaching wife, Mr. Cannelloni
blinked in the sun. Budo reeled in his line and mumbled
something about tasks that awaited him back at the camp,
so he could leave the couple alone. A minute later, when
he turned to look back at them, Budo saw Mrs. Cannelloni
waving her hands as she spoke to her husband. She was
clearly agitated by something.
Then, to his relief, Madame Rosita seemed to calm down.
She wrapped her arms around her husband, and they
sat down together on the pier. Pleased by what he saw, Budo
nodded and continued his way up to the camp. Whatever
was wrong, the Cannelloni Circus would surely make it
through this adversity somehow. It always had. Cannelloni’s
father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had experienced
“You should’ve told me sooner,” Madame Rosita said after
Mr. Cannelloni had given her a detailed
account of the circus’s state of affairs.
“At first I wanted to spare you from
worrying,” Mr. Cannelloni explained.
“Later, after things had really taken a
nosedive, I was too scared to tell
“But my darling Ernesto,
you’ve been like a rabbit that
sticks its head in a bush and
waits for the trouble to pass.
You know very well that’s not
the way to deal with things,”
Mrs. Cannelloni went on.
“The situation calls for clearheaded
thinking. We must
immediately draw up a rescue
Back at the circus camp, Rosita went into her wagon and
fetched a notebook. On the cover, she wrote in large
artistic letters: The Rescue Plan for the Circus. On the first
page, she wrote, Assessment of the Situation.
Rosita decided she would start by interviewing the key
persons at the circus. Her husband had given her a lot of
important information, but she needed to investigate further.
Budo knew every nut and bolt of the circus equipment and
devices; Chef Andrei could tell her about things that worried
the crew; and the snake woman, Cleopatra, had an almost
mystical connection with the animals of the circus. Rosita
would definitely need to hear what they had to say. But the
clowns, Victor and Hugo, she would skip. They would just
give her two-syllable answers and keep sighing and looking
at each other. The Pommer Boys and The Flying Cosmonauts
were also impossible to interview because Rosita didn’t
know any Polish or Russian.
serious-looking group had gathered around the oval
table in Andrei’s kitchen. At one end, Mr. Cannelloni
was nervously twisting the ends of his moustache between
his fingers. At the other end, sat Rosita, armed with her
notebook and pen. Mr. Cannelloni blurted out the details
related to the circus’s dire situation and then hung his head.
Madame Rosita gave a cough. Budo, Andrei, and Cleopatra
turned their eyes to the circus owner’s wife. No one had seen
Rosita like this in a long time. Her cheeks burned red with
excitement, and her eyes appeared lively and sharp. Rosita
outlined her plan. She would be interviewing everyone
personally. After gathering all the important information,
she would create a rescue plan for the circus.
Everyone nodded while she spoke. They realized that there
was no time to lose.
The Scary Future
Worried, Budo thought about his future
plans. Although age was getting the
better of him, he still had his physical strength.
If the circus closed, perhaps he could get a
job as a construction worker or a taxi driver.
He would make ends meet somehow, but no
other job could come close to the one he’d
had at the circus for all these years.
Budo had traveled with the circus along the
roads of Europe, from town to town and village to
village, since he was a little boy. The circus trucks and
wagons rode in a long caravan along wide highways, curvy
mountain routes, and bumpy rural roads. These trips
were engraved in his mind, and he had come
to know all the problems that haulers and
wagons could have. Whether it was a
broken axle, a flat tire, or a smoking
engine, he knew how to fix it.
Chef Andrei reckoned he could open a restaurant of his
own, if his services at the circus were no longer needed.
He would surely manage—there was always a demand for
good food. But cooking in the same kitchen, year after year,
wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as his job cooking for the
In the circus, Andrei had an extended family. It didn’t matter
if they were in the middle of nowhere. He always found a
way to set up his kitchen in a flash, and feed the entire circus.
As soon as they arrived in a new town, he would locate the
marketplace and the harbor, and get food for the circus
crew. But what he enjoyed most were the conversations he
had with people over the food. He would miss all that.
What concerned him most right now was his brother,
Kasimir, and the other Pommer Boys. The daring
horsemen would have a hard time finding new jobs using
their skills. It was difficult to imagine Kasimir teaching children
at a regular riding stable.
Cleopatra petted Luxor, who was sitting in her lap. The
cat gave a sleepy meow. The snake woman was still
young and limber, with plenty of options. She could study to
become a gym teacher, though she was not very interested in
teaching groups of noisy kids.
But what would happen to the animals if the circus closed? she
wondered. Cleopatra helped the animal trainers take care of
all of them. She tended to their little injuries, cleansed their
wounds, changed bandages, cut the poodles’ nails, calmed
down the horses when they were agitated
by storms, and gave the monkey his
worm medication. Even Elvira the
elephant trusted Cleopatra. She
wouldn’t let anyone else wash her
calf. In a word, Cleopatra and the
animals were inseparable.
Budo, Andrei, and Cleopatra waited outside Rosita’s
wagon to speak with her. She had cleared all the lotions
and potions from her dressing table and turned it into
a writing table. With her notebook in front of her, Rosita
waited for the interviewees to enter, one at a time.
Budo came first. The strongman spoke slowly, but every
word he uttered was heavy with meaning. Rosita received
a thorough account of all the equipment used by the circus.
It was obvious that some of the vehicles they used wouldn’t
pass future inspections unless repairs were done soon. The
police could stop the caravan on the road, and fine them
The main circus tent was also a source of worry. The tent
and its ropes had become brittle after having endured all
sorts of weather for years. Even if it didn’t collapse on top of
the audience one day, Budo was afraid the next storm might
sweep up the entire tent.
Rosita asked about work safety. Budo said he knew how
important it was, but too many new regulations had
been added over the past few years. To please the authorities,
Budo had been appointed safety manager. But it was impossible
to keep up with all the new regulations that came in
constantly from all the different countries
to which the circus traveled.
He said he would rather put on his
overalls and work on repairing
the equipment than deal with all
these crazy rules!
Tightrope walkers now had to wear helmets. Clowns
needed ice-hockey pads to prevent bruises, and no more
big clown shoes because of the tripping risk. Moreover, it
was no longer permitted to braid the poodles’ fur or put hair
decorations on them.
At this point Rosita slammed her palm down onto the desk.
“How dare they!” she cried indignantly. “Are we following
all these rules?”
Budo shrugged and explained that the moment of truth
would arrive in a few days. The authorities had decided to
send a special inspector to the circus. If he found any violations
of the rules, he would impose an operating ban.
“A special inspector,” Rosita murmured.
“Hmm . . . “
Cleopatra was next. The snake woman kicked off her
slippers and sat in the armchair. Luxor lay in her
lap, purring. Rosita knew how much Cleopatra loved the
animals. So she chose her words carefully.
How were things in Cleopatra’s opinion—did the animals
get enough to eat? Were they trained with kindness, transported
comfortably, and given enough fresh air and rest?
According to Cleopatra, everything was all right. The
animals had plenty of food and fresh water. The trucks that
hauled the animals were old but working. Budo had seen
to it that they were equipped with good rubber tires and
proper suspensions. New parts had just been installed in the
elephants’ transport truck.
Admittedly, the horses did some pretty daring stunts in
their performances, but Cleopatra reckoned they enjoyed it
every bit as much as the Pommer Boys, who were holding
the reins. Andrei’s monkey, Nano, ate too many treats
and suffered from stomachaches once in a
while, but apart from that, he was
one happy fellow.
The last one to sit down with Rosita was Andrei, who
simply couldn’t hide his emotions. His tall chef’s hat
bobbed as he sobbed uncontrollably. Rosita rose from her
chair and placed her hand on Andrei’s shoulder.
“My dear friend, we haven’t lost this battle yet,” Rosita
consoled him. “I believe we’ll find a way to save our circus.”
Andrei blew his nose into a big white hankie. After pulling
himself together a bit, he started telling Rosita about the
circus crew. Of course, Rosita already knew every staff
member—by name, at least. But the chef knew their habits,
wishes, and fears. They had spent many great moments
The chef knew that it was time to cook soup and bake buns
when the crew, worn out by a long trip, began to squabble
with each other. Clattering spoons and emptying bowls made
small sorrows vanish into thin air. By
the time only sugar crumbs were
left of the buns, even the bigger
sorrows had been forgotten, too.
The interviews in Rosita’s wagon lasted for several hours.
When they were all over, pages of Rosita’s notebook
were filled with her beautiful handwriting.
“Now we have enough information. Next is action,” Rosita
said as the married couple was sipping coffee in Andrei’s
Mr. Cannelloni had examined the accounting books and
unpaid bills again. “But can we possibly do?” he asked his
wife, twirling his moustache nervously. “We have run out
of money. There are a trillion bills to pay. The tent is falling
apart, and that special inspector is on his way here.”
“We still have some aces up our sleeve,” Rosita whispered.
She started playing solitaire on the coffee table.
Operation Hannibal Begins
It turned out to be one restless night. Even the animals
stayed up late. The horses were neighing in their paddock,
and Elvira honked her trunk every now and then. Luxor
climbed up and down the roofs of the wagons while Nano
the monkey hung from the ropes of the tent and made
excited squeaky noises. It was late, but there were still lights
in the windows of the wagons. Finally, the camp quieted
down. The light in Rosita’s window was the last to go out.
In the morning, Andrei’s tables filled up early. The circus
crowd had gathered there to hear how the rescue plan
would be put in motion. Mr. Cannelloni sat with Budo at a
small table, looking awkward and distressed. Everyone kept
glancing at the owner as they waited for him to tell about
But what plan? agonized Mr. Cannelloni silently. He had no
plan whatsoever. And what on earth was keeping Rosita?
Was she going to sleep until noon in her soft bed again, even
though the entire circus was in chaos? Cannelloni feared he
Suddenly the door of Rosita’s wagon opened. Everyone
turned to look as Rosita appeared on the stairs with a
magnificent hairdo and dressed in brown coveralls. Rosita
had gone to the tool shed the previous evening and gotten
herself the cleanest coveralls she could find. In the morning,
she put them on, as well as a pair of comfortable sneakers.
Rosita had taken a moment in front of the mirror to check
her appearance. She’d come to the conclusion that a proper
hairdo and tight belt would probably be needed to enhance
the overall impression. At last, she was prepared for the new
day and new challenges. The plan had matured in her head
during the night. She had summarized it into five main
points on the next page of her notebook, and it was time to
set the wheels in motion.
Rosita strode over to join the rest of the crew at breakfast.
She gave a nod to her husband and sat down at his table.
Cannelloni dried the sweat that had broken out on his brow.
“Just one more moment, my darling. I’ll eat a waffle and
have a cup of coffee first,” Rosita said, trying to calm him
down. “You’ll hear soon enough how we will get this circus
back on its feet.”
“But are you certain it will work?” Mr. Cannelloni asked,
wringing his hands.
“What do we have to lose?” Rosita replied. “This is not the
time to start whining but to take some serious action!”
Others around them had stopped talking. They all burst
into applause at Rosita’s determined tone. Encouraged, she
tossed down her coffee, stood up, and started to go through
her five-step plan.
Rosita had painted the headings in large letters on a white
sheet, which she now hung on the clothesline for all to
1. Prepare for the special inspector’s visit before the
evening show. General cleaning and Potemkin village.
2. Perform a dazzling show for inspector. Obtain the
inspector’s permission to continue circus operation.
3. Take the circus across the Alps in a day and set up
camp on B.B.’s estate
4. Prepare a magnificent gala to perform on B.B’s estate.
Fill the “house” (with B.B.’s help) and fill the cashbox.
5. Complete repair work and pay the bills.
There was a worried buzz among the crew. Some
members were disappointed with Operation Hannibal
while others were confused by the ambitious plan. They
didn’t know who Potemkin was, or B.B., or how they’d
travel across the Alps so quickly. And the special inspector
was arriving soon—how in the world could they prepare for
his visit in time? Their questions went on and on.
Even Mr. Cannelloni was shaking his head incredulously.
But Rosita didn’t falter.
All of a sudden, they heard the sharp lash of a whip.
The crowd fell silent at once. The ferocious horseman,
Kasimir, had climbed onto a table. He lashed his whip
against his leather boot again.
“Madame Rosita’s plan is good!” he called out. “And,
besides, it is the only plan we have,” He looked at Rosita.
“The Pommer Boys are ready to do whatever it takes!”
“We’re ready to defend our circus!” Chef Andrei cried,
waving his pancake flipper.
The briefing was soon over. Madame Rosita was used to
ordering people around. Over the years, she had taught
hundreds of acrobats, from beginners to masters of the art,
and she was more than familiar with operating in a disciplined
manner. Now the entire circus crowd, from the
biggest to the smallest members, was ordered to take part in
cleaning up the circus—from top to bottom.
Budo handed out tools and gloves. Animal trainers took
Elvira and her calf over to the wagons, to get their help with
hosing down the vehicles. Everything had to be shining
clean. Andrei even polished the oven hatch; it shone so
brightly that he could see his own reflection, for the first
time in years. Nano the monkey was sent out to pick up litter
around the camp. First Nano was unwilling to take up the
task, but then Andrei came up with the idea of giving him
a nut for every handful of litter. After that, the work started
to flow as smoothly as dancing. Rosita polished the windows
of the wagons with Cleopatra, while Mr. Cannelloni raked.
As he worked, he was sweating so profusely that even his
moustache became wet. It started to droop gloomily.
An hour before the inspector was to arrive, everything was
more or less in order. The crew gathered for some soup that
Andrei had managed to cook in the midst of all of it. Rosita
wiped her hands on her coveralls, and loosened the tight
belt around her waist. She watched the eating crowd around
“In less than sixty minutes, Special
Inspector Maximillian Knapp of the
National Work Safety and Environment
Administration Office will honor
us with his visit,” Rosita called out.
“Despite his silly title, we must all take
him most seriously and welcome him
politely. We will do our best to give him
a positive impression of our circus.”
Cleopatra remembered the first item on Rosita’s plan
“Will he be accompanied by that Potemkin person?”
“Oh no.” Rosita smiled. “Mr. Knapp is coming alone. I just
meant that we need to create a little Potemkin village for
him. If there are some corners that can’t bear the daylight—
they’re too dingy—we’ll put up a facade to cover them. Just
as a wise man named Potemkin did in ancient times, to
make sure that the empress’ visit would be a success!”
Madame Rosita, of all people, knew how to make things
look presentable. It took no more than an instant for her to
turn Andrei’s camp kitchen into a charming little cafe using
tablecloths, scarves, and flower arrangements. She and some
others built a sunshade with a laundry rack and Rosita’s
silky bedspread. They didn’t have time to repair the hole
by the door of the tent, so they just covered it with a
framed photo of Cleopatra.
Cleopatra’s largest plants, in their fabulous clay
pots, were placed on both sides of the main gate.
From a clothesline above it, they hung Rosita’s
colorful silk scarves, which flapped happily
in the wind. The inspector arrived on his
scooter at exactly the hour he had said.
The Arrival of Maximillian Knapp
Maximillian Knapp waited for the dust cloud to settle
before he took off his helmet and straightened his
glasses. It was dead silent as he removed the clothespins
from the legs of his trousers and put them in his jacket
pocket. One of the Pommer Boys started to chuckle—until
Mr. Knapp spun around angrily.
Madame Rosita approached the visitor with a friendly smile.
He had first looked like an older official in his dusty suit,
but now Rosita saw that the man was quite young and thin.
He must be rather new to his position, she thought. With
her head charmingly tilted, Rosita offered her hand for a
greeting. Knapp took her hand and introduced himself.
“Special inspector Maximillian Knapp, from the National
Work Safety and Environment Administration Office,” he
said curtly. “Good afternoon. As you were previously notified,
I have come to conduct an inspection of safety and
environmental matters in your circus.”
Rosita didn’t let his chilly greeting and cold handshake
bother her. She was determined to melt this icy government
By now Maximillian Knapp had launched into a
wordy presentation on the details of the upcoming
inspection. Then he showed Mr. Cannelloni a
long form that he removed from his briefcase.
The situation seemed bleak.
Andrei arrived with a coffee tray, and the visitor was
asked if he’d like to sit down under the sunshade.
Knapp, however, rejected this friendly gesture—as an official
he couldn’t possibly accept it or the objectivity of his inspection
would be compromised! Special Inspector Knapp could
not be corrupted!
Rosita watched as the inspector and Mr. Cannelloni began
circling around the circus area. Every now and then, Knapp
noted something on his forms. He knocked on the walls of
the wagons with his bony knuckles and tugged on all the
ropes. Mr. Cannelloni filled the visitor in on the operations
of the circus while Budo walked silently behind the two men.
Next, the inspector wanted to see the main tent of the circus.
Rosita held her breath, hoping that the photo of Cleopatra
would stay intact over the hole, and that the inspector
wouldn’t notice the fragile condition of the tent fabric.
Then, just as Budo was lifting the flap that covered the
doorway, it happened. The photo of Cleopatra toppled
forward, landing right at the inspector’s feet with a crash.
Rosita rushed to the rescue, but Maximillian Knapp had
already reached down to pick up the photo. Slowly he straightened
his back and stared at the image, dumbfounded. He
barely breathed for a moment. Rosita feared he would lose
his temper, but to her great surprise, the inspector instead
turned to her with a flustered smile.
“Such a beautiful photo,” he murmured. “Luckily the photo
is unharmed, but the glass on the frame has shattered.” He
swallowed. “Perhaps, after inspecting the tent, I might have
the chance to . . . er . . . interview another crew member.”
Dazed, he handed the photo to Rosita.
Madame Rosita stood with the picture frame in her hands,
astonished by her sudden stroke of good luck. She had just
found a soft spot in the inspector!
Under the Spell of Cleopatra
Rosita opened the door to Cleopatra’s wagon. As she sat
down on the sofa inside, its springs creaked under her.
Luxor watched from an armrest as the snake woman looked
at the shattered picture frame in Rosita’s hands.
“There was a lucky accident,” Rosita said mysteriously. “Your
photo saved us from at least one serious warning by Mr.
Knapp in his inspection!”
Cleopatra didn’t quite understand what this was all about,
but she promised to show up at the cafe set up next to
Andrei’s kitchen for her “interview” with the inspector. She
carefully brushed her long hair and rolled it up nicely at the
back of her neck. After just a touch of an Egyptian scented
cream on her wrists, she was ready to meet him.
The scent of the cream made Luxor sneeze, and he turned his
head away with distaste. He seemed to hesitate for a moment,
but eventually decided to tag along with his mistress.
The snake woman strode across the yard and sat down
at the table under the sunshade. After a little while,
Special Inspector Knapp joined her. He didn’t seem to mind
breaking the rules now, when Andrei served them both
coffee and spice cake.
“It is very hot today,” inspector Knapp said and took off his
glasses. “My glasses have steamed up.” He made an effort to
find a clean handkerchief in his pocket, but he was so transfixed
by Cleopatra, he could barely find his pocket.
“Please, allow me,” Cleopatra said. She cleaned Knapp’s
glasses with a paper napkin.
The snake woman noticed that, without his glasses, Knapp
had rather beautiful eyes.
The inspector took out his long list. Over three cups of coffee
and almost an entire spice cake, he talked closely with the
The Cannellonis observed the interview
from a neighboring table. Every
now and again, Rosita nodded meaningfully
at her husband. Contentedly,
Mr. Cannelloni took the ends of his
moustache between his fingertips
and gave them a nice twirl.
Elvira Runs to the Rescue
As the sun set, the scorching day was turning into a
warm evening. Inspector Knapp was still interviewing
Cleopatra. The coffee consumed by the devout tea drinker
had perked him up. But the still blazing sun had made him
feel very hot and uncomfortable in his dark suit. His vision
grew blurry and his tie was starting to feel tight around his
The air was heavy with Cleopatra’s scented cream and the
coffee aroma. Between his closing eyelids, the inspector saw
the circus caravan traveling along a desert and Cleopatra
sitting on a camel with her silk scarf flowing behind her.
Maximillian Knapp blinked, and then fell forward. He had
Madame Rosita ran over to help Cleopatra, who was holding
the special inspector’s head in her lap. The young man was
extremely hot. Strands of hair were glued to his forehead
Suddenly the cafe walls began to move. The elephant mother
had taken care of her calf in the blazing heat and she knew
what to do now. Elvira gently wrapped her trunk around
Maximillian Knapp and lifted him in the air. Calmly, she
walked over to the water trough and put him down.
Elvira filled up her trunk with cool water and sprayed the
special inspector from head to toe until he was soaking
wet. And so were the inquiry forms, which the conscientious
inspector had been clutching in his hands, even when
Maximillian Knapp came to, snorting, and stared at his
soaked uniform and dripping papers in horror. He’d also
been awakened from the spell he was under with Cleopatra.
Now he was really angry. The circus crew would pay for
this humiliation! He sputtered with anger and indignation.
Nothing appeased him, not even Cleopatra’s explanation
that he had sunstroke and Elvira had actually saved him.
Things had taken an unexpected turn, Mr. Cannelloni
thought from inside his wagon. He pulled on his tight white
trousers that were part of his ringmaster’s outfit. He slipped
his arms into the sleeves of his red tailcoat and put a top hat
on his head.
The evening show was about to begin. The main gate had
already been opened, and a few families with children were
arriving. Then came an entire bus full of schoolchildren
on a field trip, as well as a group of cyclists from far north,
wearing blue-and-white caps. This would be an interesting
Behind the tent, Special Inspector Knapp was removing
his drenched clothes. He couldn’t possibly return to the
office looking like this, and, besides, he hadn’t even finished
his inspection of the circus yet.
Madame Rosita tried to calm down the man. She promised
she would dry his soaked papers and clothes after the
evening’s show. Until then, Mr. Knapp would have to wear
Hugo’s spare costume, as it was the only extra garment she
could find at the moment that fit him.
“A clown suit?” the inspector sputtered again. “You expect
me to dress in this clown’s suit?”
“I’m very sorry,” Rosita apologized. “But the
show must go on for now. Please feel free
to stay and watch the performance from
this spot behind the curtains. “
Maximillian Knapp sizzled
with anger. But when Budo
blew the opening
From an Inspector to a Temporary
Special Inspector Knapp had been to a circus only once
before. More than twenty years earlier, little Maximillian
had sat on his mother’s lap in the front row, terrified
of the horses trotting around the ring. That was about all
he could remember. Other than a funny clown consoling
the crying Maximillian with a lollipop he’d found by magic
behind the boy’s own earlobe.
Now Maximillian stood behind the curtains of the Cannelloni
Circus in a clown’s costume, trying to grasp how in
the world he had ended up there. Today’s inspection was
supposed to have been a regular day on the job. But soon
after he’d arrived at the circus, everything had gone haywire.
Maximillian reached up to touch the clown hat on his head.
Slowly, he lifted his feet, covered with striped socks and the
longest shoes he had ever seen in his life. He flushed, glad
that no one he knew was there to see him in this ridiculous
In the ring Madame Rosita and her poodles were
performing. Fifi balanced on a ball, and then jumped
through several hoops. The schoolchildren loved her performance.
Next came the daring horse stunts of the Pommer
Boys. Enthralled, the young girls in the crowd returned the
kisses that Kasimir blew as he rode and stood in his saddle.
”Whoa! Amazing!” Maximillian blurted out. He couldn’t
help clapping along with the rest of the audience for the
horsemen, before he realized what he was doing.
The Flying Cosmonauts left the spectators gasping, so
breathtaking were the stunts of these acrobats in their
shiny spacesuits high above the stands. Cosmonauts and
spacecraft flew through the air in time with music from an
Suddenly a spaceship came off its mounting and hurled
through the air with one of the cosmonauts aboard. Horrified,
Maximillian closed his eyes. The rest of the audience
gasped. Only after he heard applause, did Maximillian dare
peek through his fingers. The smiling cosmonaut was safe,
and jumping up and down on a net, waving to the audience.
Next, Mr. Cannelloni called Cleopatra to the arena, the
amazing snake woman from Egypt. Inspector Knapp
felt his heart race wildly. The lights were dimmed.
As if by itself, an object covered with a silk cloth slid to the
middle of the ring. The silk cloth was then yanked aside
to reveal a box. The box’s lid opened, and a hand emerged,
followed by another hand. The hands swayed in the air for a
moment before disappearing again. Then a long leg sheathed
in a shiny stocking stretched up from the box. Little by little,
an entire woman came into view. Cleopatra—dressed in a
shimmering snake costume!
Maximillian shook his head. It was incomprehensible to
him. How could anyone fit into such a tiny space? But that
was precisely why Cleopatra was called a snake woman.
Maximillian was enthralled, his eyes glued to Cleopatra’s
performance. Finally, she finished her last stunt, one with
a rope that hung from the ceiling. Cleopatra stood onstage,
taking her bows before the audience. The inspector himself
burst into loud applause, cheering wildly. In his enthusiasm,
he tripped over his long clown shoes. As he pitched forward,
he grabbed wildly at the curtain and ropes in front of him.
The audience watched with surprise as the next act rolled
into the ring. It was a large object covered with a curtain
and ropes, its huge wriggling feet dressed in striped socks
and long clown shoes.
People began to laugh.
“Look at that!”
“What is that thing?”
By now Special Inspector Knapp was in a full-blown
panic. Frantically, he tried to free himself from the
curtain and ropes, but he ended up tangling himself
even more tightly.
The audience howled with laughter.
Victor and Hugo, the real clowns
of the circus, dashed onto the
stage to help Maximillian. But,
just as he thought he could run
offstage, Maximillian felt the
clowns slap a red round nose and an
orange curly wig on him.
Maximillian tried to wriggle free. Finally,
he gave up and relaxed his legs, hanging
like a sandbag in the grip of the clowns.
They dragged him to the middle of the
ring and sat him up on a throne.
Before he even had a chance to take a breath, a crown was
placed on his head and a scepter in his hand. Then the
throne began to rise—going higher and higher into the air.
Maximillian was terrified of heights. He tried to yell to
Victor and Hugo, but his voice was lost among the
hysterical shrieks and laughter of the crowd.
As Maximillian squirmed, the throne started to sway. The
pole supporting it was like a giant pendulum, swinging the
chair back and forth above the stage. Maximillian clutched
the throne’s armrests, but as the throne gained momentum,
he couldn’t hold on any longer.
Suddenly he flew from the seat. “Agghh!” he screamed,
bracing himself for the fall.
But to Maximillian’s surprise, something stopped him from
plunging down onto the stage—a safety belt attached around
Maximillian soared above the arena and the audience. Relax!
He tried to calm himself down. You’re not going to fall.
To his own amazement, the temporary clown actually
began to enjoy his surprising new role. He stretched out a
foot, and then ran in the air with his long clown shoes. The
audience laughed hysterically at the sight. Next Maximillian
pretended he was swimming, waving to the laughing spectators
below as his arms circled through the “water.”
When it was all over, Maximillian stood beside Victor
and Hugo, and bowed courteously to the audience.
As he started to dash offstage, he stopped for a second—to
shake pretend water out of his ears from his midair swim.
What a blast! thought the inspector. He
hadn’t had this much fun since his
The Caravan Sets Off
The special inspector cautiously opened one eye. He was
lying on a bed that was moving. The bed was in a room
that was moving. He could hear the hum of an engine in
the background. Inside the dim room, he could make out a
small window, through which he could see the dark night,
lit only by the moon and stars. A gloomy suspicion filled his
Maximillian’s performance the previous night had been a
huge success. The other performers had gathered around
him to pat him on the back afterward. He had felt proud—
and wild, which was a completely new feeling for him. Budo
had carried him on his shoulders to Andrei’s kitchen for an
evening snack with the entire circus crowd.
By the time they had gotten to dessert, the group had abandoned
all formality, and Special Inspector Maximillian
Knapp had become Maximillian. After dessert, he’d become
“Max.” Flustered, he remembered how snake woman
Cleopatra had tousled his hair playfully and called him her
own little Max.
Something else had clearly happened during the night.
Max got up and peered out the widow. He was in a circus
wagon, which was being pulled by what was likely the noisiest
truck in Europe. As the road curved, he could see that
his wagon was part of a long caravan. The caravan was slowly
climbing a steep mountain slope.
Max was being held captive by a circus! There was no hope
of anyone’s hearing his screams, he realized. The wind was
whipping and the area was deserted. It was better to close
the window and get back into bed. While he was sleeping,
the unusual convoy continued its journey up and down the
mountain roads and across bridges that arched over valleys.
Leading the caravan was the Cannellonis’ old Jeep. The
original paint on its dented sides had completely worn away.
Inside Madame Rosita was dozing with a woolen blanket
over her shoulders. Mr. Cannelloni clutched the wheel
tightly. There was no blanket on his shoulders, but they felt
heavy with responsibility.
“I’m convinced that you will pull this off, Ernesto,” Rosita
had said emphatically as the caravan was about to set off, and
they had been sitting in their car—first in the line. “Budo
has showed us the straightest route across the Alps. Just wait
and see. By dawn we will have reached the other side.”
Mr. Cannelloni had stepped on the accelerator and waved to
Budo, who followed the owner with the longest truck of the
circus. Inside were Elvira the elephant, the horses, and the
other animals of the circus.
Once in a while Cannelloni glanced at his dozing wife next
to him. Although he felt burdened, he also felt quite pleased.
Here he was, leading a long circus caravan that followed
his Jeep along these dark mountain roads. The first phases
of Madame Rosita’s rescue plan hadn’t played out quite as
expected, but the circus still had its license to operate, for
now at least.
The inspector himself had transformed into a rather
passable guy named Max. After the exciting performance,
and a long evening snack, Max had passed out
happily in one of the wagons.
Cannelloni had worried about dismantling the circus and
setting off without waking up Max, but Rosita had convinced
him that it was the only way. So, Max’s belongings had been
neatly packed onto the roof of the wagon, and the exhausted
clown himself had been placed in the guest bed to rest.
In the truck behind the Cannellonis’ Jeep, Budo was worried.
He could sense that the horses were growing restless in the
back. He could hear them shuffling their feet and kicking the
sides of the truck. Some dark clouds had started to gather in
the sky, which was always a bad sign. After a few more bends
in the road, the caravan would arrive at a pass between the
mountains. A huge bridge stretched across the dark mountain
Just as the entire circus caravan had reached the bridge,
the heavens opened. Huge bolts of lightning slashed the
dark sky, and rain poured down. All the vehicles had to stop
because the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the
Mr. Cannelloni calmed his wife who had woken up, startled
by the first peals of thunder. All her life the Madame had
been very afraid of thunder. She shuddered at the terrible
Budo gazed at his nervous animal passengers and decided
to fetch Kasimir to help him calm the horses. As the
soaking men reached the back of the animal truck, the back
doors suddenly flew open on their own. The horses had
kicked hard, breaking the truck’s rusty latches. Two of the
horses managed to jump out of the wagon before the men
got the doors closed again. Strongman Budo quickly tied a
thick steel chain around the handles to serve as a temporary
The chaos on the bridge escalated. Kasimir was trying to
catch the horses. One by one, the doors of the vehicles in
the caravan opened, and the bridge was soon crowded with
people running around in panic. Inside the Jeep, Rosita was
crying and squeezing her husband’s arm.
“Please, Ernesto, don’t go out there and leave me. You know
I can’t stand this thunderstorm alone,” she pleaded between
“Rosita, you’ll be fine. Right now my place is out there with
the crew.” The circus owner pulled out a large megaphone,
normally used for advertising the circus when they arrived
in new towns. “I’ll send someone to keep you company.”
Mr. Cannelloni leaped out into the rain with his megaphone.
Rosita wrapped herself even more tightly in
the woolen blanket and waited. Lightning lit up the sky,
revealing where the caravan had stopped—on a treacherous
bridge high above the mountains. A river snaked far below
them. Soon the door opened and chef Andrei slipped inside,
“Madame is safe now. Mr. Cannelloni will surely handle the
situation,” Andrei said, consoling the trembling Rosita. He
removed a package of biscuits and some juice from inside
his jacket. “Let’s just relax and wait for him.”
Outside, the circus director expertly took charge of the situation.
Using his megaphone, he shouted orders to everybody
present. Those who were just running around for
no reason were ordered back into the cars to wait for the
situation to calm down—there was no place for panic. The
runaway horses would never relax if the bridge were filled
with screaming people dashing around.
Kasimir was sent to Cleopatra’s wagon to have her tend to
the open wound on his forehead. The trailer door had given
him a nasty blow on the brow.
Finally, it was only Cannelloni and Budo out on the
bridge. The two men saw the horses standing ahead
on the bridge, but the animals wouldn’t let themselves get
caught. Suddenly Budo came up with an idea. Elvira had
experienced so many thunderstorms during her life that she
wasn’t easily frightened. Budo opened the door to the trailer
and let Elvira out in the rain.
First, the elephant looked around in bewilderment. But then
she noticed the horses standing on the bridge, shifting their
hooves nervously. With slow strides, she walked up to the
horses and trumpeted calmly. Minutes later, when Elvira
turned around, the horses followed her—all the way back to
Sighing from relief and exhaustion, the men locked the rear
doors and shook hands. The rain had lightened up, and they
could now continue their journey.
Dawn in the Alps
The circus caravan descended toward a valley. Around
them were fields, groves, and small villages. Watching
the view, Rosita felt sentimental. B.B., a friend from her
youth, was somewhere out there, waiting for her. He had
been very pleasantly surprised at Rosita’s call after so many
years. Rosita blushed now, remembering his delight at
hearing her voice.
“You know, you really could tell me more about this plan,”
Mr. Cannelloni said, noting his wife’s expression. “Who is
this B.B., anyway?”
“I used to be quite pretty when I was young, Ernesto, and I
had many suitors. B.B., also known as Boris Bubka, was one
of the most ardent ones.”
“Are you saying that Boris Bubka, the world-famous Russian
opera singer, is an old acquaintance of yours?” Cannelloni
asked in amazement. Jealousy stabbed him in the heart.
“Why haven’t you told me about him before?”
Rosita looked at Ernesto with
concern. What would happen
when the two men met each other?
Rosita started to explain how Boris
had once courted her, drowning her with
roses after her tightrope performances. Eventually,
Rosita went on, she had been compelled to ask Boris to
stop sending flowers because her heart belonged to someone
“Your heart belonged to someone else?” Mr. Cannelloni
repeated. “Who was it?” he demanded.
“You, my darling!” Rosita flashed him an irresistible smile.
“I just thought it was time to call Boris for help, in the name
of our old friendship. If anyone can help us, it’s Boris.”
Rosita thought back on her phone call to Boris. First,
she’d had to talk to an irritated assistant who refused
to let her talk to the star himself. According to the assistant,
calls from fans had become a nuisance. It had taken a lot of
persuasion from Rosita, but finally the assistant had agreed
to ask the singer himself if he’d consider talking to her.
“She calls herself Birdcrumb, Boss,” the assistant had
“What do you mean would I consider talking to her?” Boris’s
bass voice had rumbled. “Of course I will consider it. In fact,
I want you to hand me that phone right now!”
Birdcrumb was the nickname that Boris himself had given
the tightrope walker. Old memories had instantly flooded
his mind. Rosita—his adorable Rosita—had called him!
The old friends had talked for an entire hour. Rosita had
given him a detailed account of the circus’s desperate situation.
Without a doubt, Boris was prepared to help! Participation
of the beloved opera singer in a gala event would draw
many fans—and sell many more tickets. The gala could take
place on the grounds of Boris’s mountain estate. In fact,
Boris would love to host Rosita at his luxurious villa, and
Mr. Cannelloni naturally, too.
In the valley all the vehicles halted at a rest
stop. The crew, strained by the thunderstorm,
freshened up and ate breakfast. They didn’t want
to show up at the villa of the world-famous star
famished and dirty. The crew wanted to present
themselves at their best, and bring honor to all
The dented Jeep was the first vehicle to arrive
through the gates of Boris Bubka’s mountain
A surveillance camera monitored the caravan’s
arrival. In the control room of the villa,
the singer’s personal assistant, Emilio, watched
the ten black-and-white monitors in disbelief.
Shaking his head, he wondered how it was
possible that Boris knew these people.
The battered trailers, trucks, and wagons filled
the yard. On a monitor Emilio spotted an
elephant trunk dangling from one of the trucks.
Boris had been waiting for hours in the music room. He
was supposed to be preparing for his upcoming performance
at an acclaimed opera house nearby. However, the
rehearsal hadn’t gone well, and the opera singer had sent his
rehearsal pianist home for the day.
A pleasant sense of anticipation took hold of Boris. He
enjoyed some green tea and muffins with honey. Finally, his
patience was rewarded. His own Birdcrumb had arrived!
And peeking from the window, Boris could see that his
beloved Rosita had matured into a beautiful mama bird after
all these years.
Under normal circumstances, Boris waited for Emilio to take
guests to the study before notifying Boris of their arrival.
But today Boris hurried to greet the guests personally at the
door. The doors to the music room opened directly to the
front yard, so it took only a second for the singer to reach
Rosita and snake woman Cleopatra received charming hand
kisses while all the other guests ended up in Boris’s bearlike
embrace. Mr. Cannelloni forced himself to smile as he
twisted the ends of his moustache restlessly.
Emilio was nervous. The Cannelloni Circus had invaded
Boris’s entire villa. In the stables’ vacant stalls, there
were peculiar animals that smelled bad. All kinds of mounts
and platforms had been set up between buildings so that the
performers could practice their stunts and rehearse their
In Emilio’s opinion, the peaceful mountain villa felt more
like a swarming anthill. The boisterous performers gathered
in the large dining room to eat, and it was impossible to
keep that annoying monkey from climbing up and down
the velvet curtains. The rascal hopped about on the curtain
rods and used the tassels to swing from window to window.
Andrei, the circus’s chef, had taken over the villa’s
kitchen, which the cook resented deeply. Boris normally
followed a strict vegetarian diet. But Chef Andrei certainly
didn’t skimp on meat or fish. He also put loads of butter on
everything, and poured cream into sauces as well as desserts.
Boris was in an excellent mood, however. The circus guests
were delightful, and he was being served delicious food
for a change. But there was a small glitch in his promise to
help Rosita. His assistant, Emilio, had found a clause in the
contract between the singer and the opera house—it forbade
him to perform solo anywhere besides the opera house for
the entire summer.
The opera star had called his lawyer across the ocean
and received some useful advice. If Boris performed with
someone else, rather than solo, there was no breach of
contract. Immediately the search began for a suitable singing
partner for him from among the circus crew. The performance
was scheduled to take place in just two days—this
partner would have to be found fast.
Meanwhile an advertising campaign for the circus
performance was in full swing—Boris had set the big
wheels turning. First, the circus had put out a press release
about the unique collaboration between the world-famous
opera singer and the acclaimed Cannelloni Circus. Colorful
posters had been put up along roads, featuring large photos
of Boris, smiling from ear to ear. In the background was
an image of the Cannellonis’ shabby circus tent. It looked
as good as new, after the advertising agency airbrushed it a
But whom could be paired with Boris? At last it was decided
to have an audition. One by one, crew members stepped into
Boris’s music room, where the rehearsal pianist sat behind a
white grand piano. Boris personally welcomed every candidate,
asking them what they wished to sing.
Clowns Victor and Hugo insisted on performing together.
They had chosen to sing such a melancholy lullaby that they
both burst into tears in the middle of the song. Boris patted
them both and handed them handkerchiefs. It was surely for
the best if they concentrated on their own clown show.
Snake woman Cleopatra had a beautiful, but feeble, voice.
Clearly, it would get lost under Boris’s own grand bass.
Chef Andrei desperately wanted to perform, but unfortunately,
his ear was no better than a frying pan’s. His twin
brother, Kasimir, was just as unmusical. The horseman’s
repertoire was restricted to a few Polish drinking songs. The
situation was growing alarming by the time Boris called for
Boris asked the Cannellonis to join him for a walk in the
garden. He wanted to show them the orchid greenhouse,
his pride and joy. The garden path twisted among the circus
wagons parked all over the lawn. Boris gestured left and
right as they strolled along: over there was the largest oak
tree of the garden, and over there, were the prize-winning
roses. Right in front of them was the lovely greenhouse filled
with exotic orchids. Boris knew every variety, including its
In the middle of his excited tour, Boris froze. With his arms
still raised, his gaze was fixed on an open window in one
of the circus wagons. Low-pitched singing, accompanied by
splashing sounds, drifted outside. A wonderful singer lived
in that wagon!
“To whom does that
heavenly bass voice
belong?” Boris cried.
“That voice is untrained,
but his interpretation is most
“It is Valeri, the midget of our
circus,” answered Mr. Cannelloni. “He’s been a
little depressed since we had to cancel his act. Unfortunately,
the new regulations ban the use of human cannonballs.”
“How marvelous!” Boris declared. “A midget bass! We
can form a duo. Our team will be called ’One-and-a Half
Valeri was less excited about the idea than Boris. In fact,
Rosita had to work hard to persuade Valeri to even go to the
opera singer’s music room to talk to Boris. She promised the
former human cannonball that he could do something that
would remind him of the good old days. The rest of the crew
would have to wait to see what it was.
The day before the show turned out to be a busy one. Rosita
sat in the garden and listened to the duo rehearsing. Luckily,
both singers seemed to be in good spirits.
With the assistance of the rehearsal pianist, they had found
a collection of arias and songs that brought out the best in
both of their voices.
The audience is in for a performance of a lifetime! thought
At nightfall a trailer arrived in front of Boris’s house. Musicians
from a chamber orchestra climbed out with their
instruments. In an instant, the hall was filled with dozens
of cases—from brass, woodwind, and string instruments—
and piles of garment bags.
By now Emilio was ripping his hair out in frustration. Now
they had to accommodate even more people in the villa’s
guestrooms! It also meant more trips to the village to get
help with ironing and cleaning of performers’ tailcoats and
Emilio sat by the window in his dark room, staring glumly
at the starry sky. Living with the quirks and demands of
an international star wasn’t particularly easy. One moment
he’d have to conjure up fresh mangos—in the middle of a
Nordic winter. The next moment he’d need to find Black
Sea caviar served on crushed ice somewhere in the heat of
Once Emilio had been forced to sit through an entire intercontinental
flight, holding expensive glass candlesticks that
Boris wanted to place on the mantelpiece of his main residence.
After finally setting the candlesticks down, safely in
their place, the opera singer had abruptly decided that they
were the wrong shade of green.
The years he’d spent working for Boris had been fascinating
but they were full of tasks and chores that nobody seemed
to notice or appreciate. Emilio had finally had enough. He
decided he’d stay through the end of the circus show. After
that, he would pack up his belongings, and depart for a
Showtime for One-and-a-Half Basses
The day of the show dawned misty, but soon the sun
brightened up the entire landscape. Madame Rosita
woke up in the most beautiful guest room of the villa and felt
happy. Beside her in the huge four-poster bed, Mr. Cannelloni
was still sound asleep, his long moustache fluttering to
the rhythm of his breath. Her rescue plan was going along;
there was still hope for the circus.
Quietly Rosita got up, put on a silk dressing gown, and
opened the door to the balcony. There, in the warmth of
the morning sun, she let herself imagine what it would be
like living as the wife of a famous opera singer. The world’s
finest stores and cafes would be part of everyday life. The
best tables at restaurants would be reserved just for her. She
would have a gigantic walk-in closet filled with glamorous
gowns, embroidered handbags, soft leather shoes, and cashmere
Behind her, Rosita heard familiar snoring. She went inside
and gently woke her husband up to a new day.
After a frantic day of preparation, everything was just
about ready for the circus show and the debut of the
singing duo. A stage had been built next to the circus tent,
the roof of which would cover both singers and the chamber
A temporary parking lot had been set up outside the gates,
and next to it was a colorful tent for ticket sales. Already
the advance sales had been a big success, but no one could
foresee what was still to come.
As night fell, cars flowed toward Boris’s villa. Torches
lit the way to the circus tent in the garden, which was
soon packed with people.
Some of the spectators sat outside on blankets laid out for
them, enjoying the performance from a giant screen set up
on the wall of Boris’s villa. Andrei sold snacks from his camp
kitchen, and the cook dispensed cold juice from a metal
container. The monkey hopped around, giving out napkins
and collecting empty dishes.
Backstage, the performers anxiously waited for Budo’s
opening fanfare. Mr. Cannelloni straightened the tails of his
coat and checked his moustache in the mirror. Before stepping
into the arena, he turned to look behind him.
His loyal friends were once again ready for the challenge.
The dark hair of the Pommer Boys glistened;
The Flying Cosmonauts sparkled
in their silver costumes; and Rosita’s
poodles sat obediently, eyes fixed on
Cleopatra petted Luxor, who sat in her lap. Right next to
her sat the new clown of the circus—the former special
inspector, Maximillian Knapp. By now he seemed to feel
perfectly comfortable in his clown’s costume and wig. His
anger had faded after thinking things over. He’d decided that
in two ticks, his life had become much more fun. He tapped
his long clown shoes, eager to get the show started. Victor
and Hugo nodded encouragingly to their new colleague.
Cannelloni smiled at his wife, and gave a thumbs-up to
the entire pack of performers. After Budo blew the trumpet
fanfare, the circus director stepped through the curtains
onto the stage and opened the show.
The Cannelloni Circus had an unusual audience tonight.
There were the usual families with children, groups of
schoolchildren, grandparents and grandchildren, as
well as aunts and uncles with their godchildren.
But among this crowd were also many of
Boris’s acquaintances, as well as opera
Emilio had arranged a special parking lot behind the villa
for the extra-stretch limousines and the very expensive
cars. From there, women in their evening gowns and
gentlemen in their tailcoats were escorted along a red carpet
to their box seats. One could spot a few movie stars and a
world-famous tennis player among them. Even a couple of
prime ministers attended the event with their spouses.
Binoculars and programs decorated with tassels were
handed out to those with box seats. Receiving this special
treatment cost three times the regular price, which would
certainly help to fill the empty cashbox.
The performers all rose to the occasion. The audience
burst into wild applause again and again. Even the
guests who’d paid for the expensive box seats were delighted.
They had never seen anything quite like this.
A famous actress was so charmed by Fifi, she wanted to
adopt the poodle after the show. Rosita politely declined
the offer. She smiled politely in response, but she was angry
that anyone would dare to even ask such a thing! The actress
already had six other pets. Besides, Fifi was not an average
The star actress quickly noticed her faux pas, and to make
up for it, she took a bobby pin adorned with jewels from
her hair, and gave it to Fifi as a memento. Rosita softened a
little at this gesture—maybe she could even borrow the hair
ornament sometime. Before leaving, the star planted a kiss
on Fifi’s fur with her red lips, which Rosita wiped carefully
away with a moist towelette.
The Pommer Boys were magnificent that night. The horses
trotted around the ring while the riders stood on the
animals’ backs, defying danger. The ground rumbled under
the horses’ hooves, and the air was
heavy with sawdust.
The tennis star, who
had ridden horses
as a child, wanted
to shake Kasimir’s
He invited the
Pommer Boys to
watch his next
which he was
planning to win,
Max stepped onstage with Victor and Hugo. To his great
horror, he saw many familiar faces from the National
Work Safety and Environment Administration Office in the
front row. Luckily, no one recognized Max behind the red
round nose, the wig, and the clown’s costume. The clowns
started romping about the stage.
As part of their act, Hugo baked giant pancakes—and set his
apron on fire. Victor and Max, gesturing loudly, ran toward
the fire. Then, ignoring the danger to Hugo, Victor quickly
saved the pancakes and syrup, and began feasting on them.
Max dashed here and there with a bucket and a hose, eventually
tripping over his long shoes. The hose swirled in his
hands, and, as if by a miracle, the water sprayed directly
into the faces of the visitors from the National Work Safety
and Environment Administration Office! Madame Rosita
hurried to them with a stack of towels in her arms as the crowd
roared with laughter.
After the enchanting acrobatics show of the snake
woman, everyone was ready for the final act of the
night. The chamber orchestra had already taken their places
on the stage, and were tuning their instruments as the audience
started to flow from the circus tent out onto the grass
field. The duo, One-and- a-Half Basses, let themselves be
waited for a little while longer.
More torches had been lit on the grounds, and spotlights
were shining directly on the stage. At one end sat an old
cannon, and a large net was suspended behind the orchestra.
Everyone began murmuring about these strange props—did
they have anything to do with the singers’ performance?
Onto the stage stepped Boris Bubka, the king of opera
houses and concert halls, who greeted the audience
in six languages. The crowd jumped to their feet to applaud
him. At last, Boris raised his long arms to quiet the crowd.
The opera singer thanked them for coming and explained
what an important part they were playing in saving the
grand traditions of the Cannelloni Circus.
At last Boris began to introduce the midget, Valeri, calling
him a rare natural talent. “And there is only one way that
my new partner dares to enter the stage—the way he’s done
it for fifteen years!”
The lights were dimmed and then there was a loud rumble.
With a burst of light, the human cannonball, Valeri, rocketed
from the old cannon and into the safety net. The astonished
audience leaped to their feet again, rewarding the stunt
with more enthusiastic round of applause.
Valeri walked up to Boris and stood beside him shyly. The pair
could not have looked more different. Opera singer Boris was
an international star. For him, this was just another performance,
and he didn’t have to feel nervous about anything
like this anymore. Beside Boris stood Valeri, half Boris’s size
and for the first time in his life dressed in a tailcoat—sewn
specifically for him. He felt weak at the knees.
Singing had always been the love of Valeri’s life, but as a
midget, he had found a job at the circus. After the human
cannonball performance was banned from the program,
Valeri had sunk into despair and shut himself in his wagon.
Now Valeri, with his perfect pitch and exuberant voice,
stood onstage next to the singer he had greatly admired for
years. The midget bowed to the audience. Then he glanced
up to Boris and nodded. He was ready. He was more than
ready, in fact; this was what he had been longing to do for
his entire life.
The orchestra played a sweet melody, filling the darkening
night. Boris started singing the “Song of the Volga Boatmen.”
Gradually Valeri joined in, and the song rose and dipped in
volume and force. The magnificent music flowed over the
The bass virtuosi performed several arias and songs, some
as a duet and some in solo For the closing number, they
had chosen a sentimental melody in which an old prince
confesses his love for a young girl.
No one had ever seen such a small prince onstage. The
midget sang so sensitively and deeply, most of the women in
the audience were brought to tears. Everyone could see that
his magical voice came straight from his big heart and a love
At the end of the concert, the duo stood together onstage
to receive applause and flowers. The old cannon boomed
one more time, hurling a colorful cloud of silk flowers
over the crowd. The
successful night was
coming to an end.
It had exceeded all
The audience gradually departed. Only the parking lot
for the fancy cars and extra-stretch limousines was still
packed. Boris’s villa shined like a giant torch in the evening
light. The host had invited the performers and the remaining
people to enjoy some food after the show. At the height of
the party, the French doors to the hall were suddenly flung
Boris’s chauffer rushed in, followed by Max. “Someone stole
the circus cashbox!” Max cried.
“I’m afraid that Mr. Bubka’s limousine has disappeared,
too!” added the chauffeur. “The spare keys are no longer on
the wall of the control room!”
”The cashbox? Stolen?” Madame Rosita fainted, but luckily,
Boris managed to grab her in his arms. The guests rushed
to the windows of the dining room and saw a light-colored
luxury car—Boris’s limousine— slip through the gate. There
was no time to waste.
Chase through the Night
The name of the traitor was soon on everybody’s lips.
The only person who had access to the control room
and Boris’s car keys was his assistant, Emilio. Shortly after
the end of the performance, Emilio had gone to the ticket
booth, offering to take the cashbox to the villa’s safe.
Now, tight-lipped, the assistant raced in the stolen luxury
car along the mountain road. The cashbox from the Cannelloni
Circus bounced on the seat next to him. Emilio silenced
his conscience, which was trying to scold him for the theft.
You’ve paid your dues, he told himself. It’s your turn to enjoy
First, he would drive the limo across the mountains to the
nearest train station. Then he would take a bullet train to the
coast. He could easily blend into tourist crowds there. He
would check into the finest room of the finest hotel under a
false name, and order breakfast in bed every single day!
Emilio was very familiar with the area roads. The trip to
the train station wouldn’t take long. After a few miles,
however, he spotted detour signs and a barrier blocking the
Hmm, he thought. That’s strange. He hadn’t heard about
any roadwork. When he saw another blockade, he started to
get worried. The detour road was quite narrow, almost too
narrow for this large car.
The fugitive was oblivious to the fact that he was being
followed by the circus Jeep. Strongman Budo had set off
after the thief. These roads were like home to him after years
upon years traveling with the circus. Budo was also friends
with the road crew around here. All he’d needed to do was
make a few phone calls. His friends had been delighted to set
up road barriers at all the major intersections.
Meanwhile the movie star couple had become very excited
about the chase. For once, they had a real-life adventure as
thrilling as their hit movies! Together with a press photographer,
the couple hopped into a private helicopter piloted by
their bodyguard. After putting on more lipstick, the actress
allowed the first pictures to be taken. The helicopter lifted
up from Boris’s yard. Amazed, the other guests gaped as the
helicopter flew off toward the mountaintops.
From the helicopter, the actors, bodyguard, and photographer
could see the headlights of the cars racing below.
Budo got closer and closer to Emilio. Suddenly the headlights
of the first car disappeared and so did the lights of the
second one. Something unexpected had happened!
Emilio sat gloomily behind the wheel. He was trapped. He
could have somehow managed to drive along the narrow
road, but the narrow tunnel was too much. The big limo
had gotten stuck at the entrance, and now it wouldn’t move
forward or backward. His flight was over.
But maybe he still had a chance! Emilio grabbed the cashbox,
climbed over the backseats, and managed to open the trunk.
Just as he was stepping out with his treasure, he was blinded
by the Jeep’s headlights. Budo dashed after the thief as he
slipped off into the dark bushes.
There was a loud clatter of a helicopter engine above. A bright
beam shined right at Emilio, who was crouching under the
branches of a mountain pine. It was all over for the fugitive.
Budo gripped Emilio firmly, and wouldn’t let go until
after the helicopter had landed and the bodyguard had
handcuffed the assistant. The movie stars stood on either
side of the thief while the photographer snapped pictures.
The next day the whole world would learn how their favorite
actors had captured a dangerous criminal and saved an
entire circus from ruin. The pictures would show two
smiling stars, one scowling thief, and Budo’s bald head in
The helicopter took off with Emilio, heading for the police
station of the nearest town. The actors headed for their yacht
in the Mediterranean. But it was Budo who was certainly
the happiest of the group. He turned the Jeep back toward
Boris’s villa, where the circus crew and Boris were waiting in
anticipation. The stretch limousine, now dented on its sides,
had to be left for now in the mountain tunnel.
Back at the villa, Budo got a hero’s reception. The circus
cashbox was returned to its place under the Cannellonis’
bed in the wagon. The celebration party continued until the
wee hours—it was dawn when the last limousine finally left
Mr. and Mrs. Cannelloni sat hand in hand on the steps of
“Ernesto darling, I am so proud of you!” Rosita said.
“And I am so proud of you,” the circus director replied
contentedly. “After all, it was you who came up with this
entire plan. In fact, I’ve been thinking that from now on our
circus should be called ’Mr. and Mrs. Cannelloni’s Circus.’”
Rosita smiled. “The old name is fine. But I do have a different
reward in mind for myself—we will buy a new mahogany
closet for my dressing room!”
Opera singer Boris watched the happy couple from afar and
heaved a sigh. He would have to find another assistant and
take his limousine to the repair shop. But still he was glad
that he’d been able to help his dear friend and her husband.
Full Speed Ahead
The next day, the circus was prepared to get back on the
road. The tents had been dismantled, the equipment
had been packed, and the area cleaned up. The cashbox
was almost bursting its hinges with money. New plans were
already swirling in the owner’s head. In the next town, he
would get a chance to take care of his stack of unpaid bills.
He could also plan the repair work on some equipment with
They said sad farewells to Boris and Valeri, who had decided
to accept the opera singer’s proposition that they make an
album together. After that, the duo would go on a concert
Rosita’s eyes filled with tears as she waved good-bye to
the One-and-a-Half Basses, the cook, and the chauffeur,
who were all waving back at her from the
The caravan drove down the driveway and turned onto
the road, which was a long and winding one. As usual,
the Cannellonis led the caravan in their Jeep, followed by
Budo in his long truck, with the horses already stamping
their hooves impatiently. Kasimir was steering the Pommer
Boys’ trailer with his brother Andrei, who was digging
into his bag lunch. Nano hung from the rearview mirror,
munching some nuts.
Last in line, on his scooter, was the former special inspector,
Maximillian Knapp. Sitting behind the man now known as
Max, the circus clown, was the snake woman Cleopatra.
Her long arms were wrapped tightly around his
Elvira said good-bye with a cheerful honk.
The young calf tried to imitate her mother,
but she could only make a few squeaky sounds.
That was alright. As the grand traditions of the
Cannelloni Circus continued, the young elephant
would learn everything that she needed to learn.
Mr. Cannelloni’s circus has been operating for
generations—ever since his great-grandfather started
it one hundred years ago. But with ticket sales dropping
and the circus equipment falling into disrepair, the future
of Cannelloni’s Circus looks bleak, especially when a strict
special inspector arrives to look things over.
Luckily Mr. Cannelloni’s wife, Rosita—once a daring tightrope
walker—has some new bold stunts in mind. With the help of
a snake woman, a strongman, daredevil horsemen, and other
circus performers, Rosita launches “Operation Hannibal.” Will
her risky rescue plan be enough to save Mr. Cannelloni’s