Mr. Cannelloni's Circus

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 Circus?

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 Circus?


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Mr. Cannelloni's


Tuula Pere



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)

First edition

Copyright © 2018 Wickwick Ltd

Published 2018 by Wickwick Ltd

Helsinki, Finland

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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Mr. Cannelloni's


Tuula Pere



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

Assistant Emilio




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

Boris’s Houseguests

Showtime for One-and-a-Half Basses

Chase through the Night

Full Speed Ahead



Mr. Cannelloni Wakes to a

New Morning

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

they did.


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

apple cores.

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

receive thundering

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

hardships too.

“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

circus performers.

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

the plan.

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

would faint.


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!”

Everyone laughed.

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

snake woman.

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

with sweat.

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

he fainted.

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

fanfare with

his trumpet,




taking a




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

electronic organ.

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

his waist!

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

school years!



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

flooding rains.

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,

soaking wet.

“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

the truck.

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

performing artists.

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

the crowd.

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.




Boris’s Houseguests

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

a time-out.

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

Latin name.

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

Rosita happily.

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

evening dresses.


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

better life.




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

their mistress.


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

hand personally.

He invited the

Pommer Boys to

watch his next

tennis tournament,

which he was

planning to win,

as usual.


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

for music.

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

life now.

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 background.

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

Boris’s villa.

Mr. and Mrs. Cannelloni sat hand in hand on the steps of

the villa.

“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

tour together.

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



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