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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<strong>Mr</strong>. <strong>Cannelloni's</strong><br />

<strong>Circus</strong><br />

Tuula Pere<br />

W<br />


<strong>Mr</strong>. <strong>Cannelloni's</strong> <strong>Circus</strong><br />

Story by Tuula Pere<br />

Illustrations by Tuula Pere<br />

Layout by Peter Stone<br />

English translation by Päivi Vuoriaro<br />

Edited in English (US) by Susan Korman<br />

ISBN 978-952-325-885-3 (ePub)<br />

ISBN 978-952-325-385-8 (Print)<br />

First edition<br />

Copyright © 2018 Wickwick Ltd<br />

Published 2018 by Wickwick Ltd<br />

Helsinki, Finland<br />

Printed in EU<br />

Originally published in Finland by Wickwick Ltd in 2010<br />

Finnish “Herra Cannellonin sirkus”, ISBN 978-952-5878-04-2 (Print), ISBN 978-952-5878-35-6 (ePub)<br />

English (UK) “The <strong>Circus</strong> of <strong>Mr</strong> Cannelloni”, ISBN 978-952-5878-05-9 (Print), ISBN 978-952-5878-37-0 (ePub)<br />

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted<br />

in any form or by any means, mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior<br />

written permission of the publisher Wickwick Ltd. The only exception is brief quotations in printed articles and<br />

reviews. For details and written permissions, contact rights@wickwick.fi.<br />

Wickwick books are available at special discounts when purchased in quantity for premiums and promotions as<br />

well as fundraising or educational use. Special editions can also be created to specification. For details, contact<br />



<strong>Mr</strong>. <strong>Cannelloni's</strong><br />

<strong>Circus</strong><br />

Tuula Pere<br />

W<br />

ickWick<br />

Children’s Books from the Heart<br />



Characters<br />

<strong>Circus</strong> owner and director Ernesto Cannelloni<br />

Dog trainer and wife of Ernesto, Madame Rosita Cannelloni<br />

Strongman Budo von Bismarck<br />

Chef Andrei and Nano, his pet monkey<br />

Daredevil horsemen Kasimir and the Pommer Boys<br />

Snake woman Cleopatra and Luxor, her cat<br />

Trapeze artists, The Flying Cosmonauts<br />

Elvira the elephant and her calf<br />

Leopold the lion<br />

Clowns Victor and Hugo<br />

Special Inspector Maximillian Knapp<br />

Former human cannonball, the midget Valeri<br />

Opera singer Boris Bubka<br />

Assistant Emilio<br />



Contents<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni Wakes to a New Morning<br />

Breakfast at Andrei’s Camp Kitchen<br />

Madame Rosita Does Some Research<br />

The Truth Comes Out<br />

The Scary Future<br />

Operation Hannibal Begins<br />

The Arrival of Maximillian Knapp<br />

Under the Spell of Cleopatra<br />

Elvira Runs to the Rescue<br />

From an Inspector to a Temporary Clown<br />

The Caravan Sets Off<br />

Dawn in the Alps<br />

Boris’s Houseguests<br />

Showtime for One-and-a-Half Basses<br />

Chase through the Night<br />

Full Speed Ahead<br />



<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni Wakes to a<br />

New Morning<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni’s circus was on the<br />

verge of bankruptcy. Having endured<br />

countless rains and hot blazing days, the<br />

circus tent’s colors were fading. The tent<br />

had gone through hard times just like the<br />

owner <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni himself. But he<br />

never complained. This was what he had<br />

always wanted to do for a living, just like his<br />

father, grandfather, and great-grandfather in their times. It<br />

was honorable to continue the tradition that his family had<br />

started one hundred years ago.<br />

Cannelloni felt proud looking at the beautifully framed<br />

pictures hanging on the walls of his wagon. The pictures<br />

portrayed generations of Cannellonis—handsome,<br />

mustachioed men with determination in their eyes. It<br />

seemed as if their eyes followed Cannelloni now as he shaved<br />

in front of an oval mirror.<br />

The circus owner dabbed shaving foam on his<br />

chin and expertly maneuvered the razor.<br />

Once in a while, he wiped off extra foam<br />

with the towel that hung from his waist.<br />

A moustache like his demanded care and<br />

precision.<br />


Cannelloni had had a dark moustache since he was a<br />

young man. Now that he was approaching retirement<br />

age, it had streaks of gray, which he carefully covered with<br />

dark wax. He finished curling the ends of his moustache and<br />

splashed some after-shave on his cheeks. Now he was ready<br />

to face the new day ahead.<br />

Cannelloni opened the door of his wagon and stepped<br />

outside into the sunshine. Had there been more money in<br />

the cashbox, it would have been a splendid day. But the fact<br />

was, this summer season might be the last for the circus.<br />

They’d be lucky if they finished the entire European tour<br />

this year. Cannelloni’s gut wrenched at the thought of shutting<br />

down the circus. Up to this point, they had survived by<br />

pinching every penny they had. They had economized on<br />

every imaginable thing, but running a circus was expensive.<br />


The animals ate tons of food. Elvira the elephant guzzled<br />

box loads of vegetables and huge quantities of hay.<br />

Leopold the lion had grown old and lost almost all his teeth.<br />

They now had to feed him the most tender steaks they could<br />

find. And those didn’t come cheap.<br />

The poodles trained by Cannelloni’s wife, Madame Rosita,<br />

constantly needed new barrettes, pompons, and brushes,<br />

and these were not purchased from bargain stores but from<br />

fancy little boutiques.<br />

Poodles are sensitive little creatures who must be treated<br />

delicately. And a certain standard has to be maintained for<br />

the sake of the show, Madame said whenever <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni<br />

brought up the issue of saving money.<br />

Of course, Madame Rosita was right, as always. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni<br />

found it impossible to argue with her when she looked<br />

at him with her rosy lips pursed together. They had been<br />

married for thirty-five years, and Cannelloni knew quite<br />

well that with certain issues, nothing could change Rosita’s<br />

mind. Even as a young girl, she had had an exceptional<br />

sense of beauty and art. It was precisely this that had caught<br />

the attention of young Cannelloni when he’d first watched<br />

her perform—as a graceful tightrope walker high above the<br />

crowd.<br />


After their children were born, <strong>Mr</strong>s. Cannelloni had<br />

started teaching acrobatics to new members of the<br />

circus, and to poodles. Rosita’s poodles had become famous<br />

over the years. Right now she had five magnificent dogs,<br />

including Fifi, the pride of the pack with glossy black fur.<br />

Madame Rosita herself was still an impressive sight.<br />

Although Rosita, an avid lover of pastries, had gotten a<br />

tad round, she was as graceful as ever. Her grandeur was<br />

crowned with a high hairdo, which somewhat resembled<br />

Fifi’s hairstyle. Every now and then, Rosita would dress her<br />

dogs in spangled tinsel jackets and she would slip into a fulllength<br />

dress of the same fabric herself. In it, she resembled a<br />

plump mermaid without a tail.<br />

For the most part, <strong>Mr</strong>s. Cannelloni let <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni take<br />

care of the daily business of the circus with his loyal crew.<br />

Rosita would much rather focus on her grandchildren and<br />

her poodles. Besides, she was prone to terrible headaches,<br />

which could only be relieved by resting in a dimly lit wagon<br />

with the company of a television and a box of chocolates.<br />

Even now, <strong>Mr</strong>s. Cannelloni was resting in her wagon and<br />

would continue to do so at least till noon.<br />




Breakfast at Andrei’s Camp Kitchen<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni walked through the circus camp. The<br />

circus director followed the scent of bacon, which<br />

led to the kitchen set up on the outskirts of camp. There,<br />

Chef Andrei was serving a hearty breakfast to the circus<br />

crew. His real name was Andrzej, but no one could either<br />

pronounce or spell it correctly, except for his Polish twin<br />

brother, Kazimierz. Everyone called the chef’s twin Kasimir,<br />

since that was also much easier to pronounce.<br />

The brothers were both ardent horsemen. Kasimir performed<br />

with the Polish horse masters, the Pommer Boys. In their<br />

act, riders on black horses and white horses all showed off<br />

their dazzling equestrian skills, but it was Kasimir who<br />

performed the most daring stunts. Whenever his chef’s<br />

duties allowed it, Andrei gladly helped with tending to the<br />

horses. He also cooked nutritious food for the riders, and<br />

often brought dried-up bread crusts and other treats to the<br />

horses.<br />


This morning some lightweight tables and chairs had<br />

been brought out onto the lawn next to Andrei’s camp<br />

kitchen. The crew’s chatter was lively and multilingual.<br />

Many of the performers had been with the circus for as<br />

long as <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni. They even spent the winter season<br />

together, tending to the equipment and the circus animals.<br />

Like migratory birds, other performers joined the group as<br />

the summer season began.<br />

Aside from <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni’s own family and the Pommer<br />

Boys, the circus crew included a Russian trapeze troupe<br />

called The Flying Cosmonauts; French clowns, Victor and<br />

Hugo; an Egyptian snake woman, Cleopatra; and a German<br />

strongman, Budo von Bismarck. Besides them, younger<br />

gymnasts and dancers traveled with the circus. They had<br />

joined to improve their circus skills with these more experienced<br />

artists and to travel through Europe.<br />

Every now and again, the greasy sausages in Andrei’s<br />

grill set the coals on fire. With swift moves, he<br />

skillfully scooped water from the bucket and<br />

sprinkled it on the flames, which went out with<br />

a hiss. The Pommer Boys needed a heavy breakfast<br />

because jumping on and off of horses at full<br />

speed took a lot of energy. In fact, Kasimir often<br />

said that he couldn’t pull off his daring stunts<br />

if it weren’t for his chef brother who fed him<br />

well. Hearing this always brought a contented<br />

smile to Andrei’s face.<br />


Clowns Victor and Hugo were eating breakfast too, sitting<br />

together on the outermost bench with stuffed baguettes<br />

and coffee with milk. Without their clown makeup and silly<br />

costumes, they looked thin and sad. But when performing,<br />

they were energetic and fussy, making audiences squirm<br />

with laughter. The children especially loved to see the clowns<br />

tripping over their long shoes and failing at almost everything<br />

they did.<br />


Snake woman Cleopatra had withdrawn onto a blanket a<br />

little apart from the others. She had already eaten a light<br />

yogurt breakfast, and was now stretching her muscles in the<br />

warmth of the sun. Inch by inch she bent herself into the<br />

odd positions, eventually stopping to read the day’s newspaper<br />

with her legs behind her head. Cleopatra was always<br />

accompanied by her black cat, Luxor, who was now curled<br />

up right beside his mistress.<br />

Despite his classy looks, Luxor was a first-rate mouse hunter<br />

who didn’t care for pampering. He had been found in the<br />

pouring rain near a muddy meadow a few years back, when<br />

the circus caravan had stopped for a break. Cleopatra had<br />

spotted him through the window of her wagon and brought<br />

him in. As soon as he’d dried himself, Luxor had thanked<br />

her by snatching a pesky mouse from under her bed. This<br />

had instantly earned Luxor a permanent home with the<br />

circus.<br />


<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni joined strongman Budo von Bismarck<br />

at a table. The two men had known each other for<br />

two decades. Budo was a kind-hearted giant, literally the<br />

carrying force of the circus. He could effortlessly throw hay<br />

bales to the elephants and horses, erect the tent with its heavy<br />

poles, and pull out wagons that were stuck in mud and place<br />

them back on the road. Cannelloni deeply respected Budo’s<br />

strength. He himself wasn’t brawny—paunchy was perhaps<br />

a better description.<br />

But <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni had other assets. That’s what his mother<br />

had always said. Sometimes he tried to think of his strengths,<br />

but the list never got too long. He’d always believed that he<br />

had succeeded in managing the circus he had inherited from<br />

his father two decades earlier. But now he was no longer<br />

certain of that.<br />

During the past year, the circus had gotten into financial<br />

trouble. They’d had to repair this and that over the winter.<br />

Repair work never comes cheap; that was something Cannelloni<br />

had learned from experience. After all the necessary<br />

renovations for spring had been finished, and it was time to<br />

set out for the European tour, the cashbox was nearly empty.<br />


The circus owner had been hoping that audiences would<br />

fill the stands all summer long. But at last night’s<br />

show—the first of the season—most of the seats were empty.<br />

Even the clowns’ performance had seemed dull and listless<br />

because the applause was so subdued.<br />

Cannelloni sighed. Budo von<br />

Bismarck could tell right away that<br />

his old friend was in distress.<br />

“Let’s go fishing,” Budo<br />

suggested. “We might catch a<br />

few minnows in the nearby<br />

river.”<br />

Delighted, Cannelloni lifted<br />

his head. The men grabbed<br />

their rods and worms and put on<br />

their worn-out Panama hats. Madame<br />

Rosita watched from behind a<br />

curtain in her wagon as the<br />

chums took off, heading<br />

toward the river.<br />




Madame Rosita Does Some Research<br />

Madame Rosita glanced at her gold watch. Almost eleven<br />

o’clock. The day looked beautiful and she would have<br />

plenty of time to visit the town for some shopping before<br />

the evening’s show. She never got tired of shopping in new<br />

places, popping into stores and cafes. Now that Cannelloni<br />

had gone fishing with Budo, nobody would miss her for a<br />

while.<br />

Rosita reached for her pearls from the hook above the<br />

dressing table and put them around her neck. With a tilt<br />

of her head, she examined her reflection in the mirror and<br />

nodded contently. All she needed was the handbag and gloves<br />

of similar color to complete her look. She took a peek in her<br />

purse and, to her dismay, found it almost empty. Luckily, she<br />

could go to the cashbox for more money.<br />

Rosita crouched beside the bed. Behind some old hatboxes,<br />

she could see the battered metal chest. She pulled it out and<br />

placed it on top of the bedspread. The lock clicked open.<br />


Dumbfounded, Rosita stared into the box. It was nearly<br />

empty! Where on earth had all the money gone?<br />

Things must be in very bad shape, she realized. Why had her<br />

husband said nothing to her?<br />

Rosita’s eyes teared up. Quickly she closed the chest and<br />

returned it to its place under the bed. She wouldn’t say a<br />

word about this to anyone.<br />

But Rosita was still perplexed.<br />

Had she become poor? She<br />

still was, after all, the wife of<br />

the circus owner, which was<br />

quite a glamorous role. But<br />

what was she supposed to do<br />

when she needed new clothes<br />

and the poodles needed new<br />

collars? And what about the<br />

Belgian chocolate she loved?<br />

She would most certainly get<br />

terrible migraines without<br />

it. Even now, she felt her<br />

head throbbing with all<br />

these gloomy thoughts.<br />


All of a sudden, the air inside the wagon felt stale. Rosita<br />

started to feel queasy; she had to get out to the sun right<br />

away. Had it been a normal morning, she would have made<br />

a grand exit onto the doorstep and stood there, letting her<br />

glance slide across the yard. Today she didn’t crave for attention.<br />

She just went down the wagon steps and dropped into<br />

a rattan chair. From this seat, she could see the circus crew<br />

going about their tasks.<br />

Andrei was bustling about in his kitchen, cleaning up after<br />

breakfast with his pet monkey, Nano, who knew how to stack<br />

up dirty dishes. The scamp would snatch leftovers from the<br />

plates every now and then— bread, shreds of lettuce, and<br />

apple cores.<br />

At the side of the yard Rosita could hear the sounds of water<br />

spraying and elephants honking happily. Elvira was taking a<br />

bath with her calf before the evening’s performance. The calf<br />

loved the cool water and bounced around under the shower<br />

until Elvira took over, holding him firmly but gently with<br />

her long trunk.<br />



Madame Rosita had lost her appetite. She sat in her<br />

chair, squeezing her handbag. The tightrope walker<br />

was rehearsing overhead, on a wire suspended between two<br />

tents. She was a slender girl, almost as attractive as Rosita<br />

back in her day. The girl’s ponytail swayed cheerfully from<br />

side to side as she trotted along the wire from end to end<br />

with a pole in her hands. Rosita opened her handbag and<br />

took out two black-and-white pictures.<br />

One of them portrayed a beautiful young acrobat standing in<br />

a gorgeous costume with a glittering ball in her hand. Rosita<br />

still remembered how wonderful it had been to balance up<br />

high while tossing the ball into the air, the audience below<br />

watching and holding its breath. Rosita had been<br />

the darling of the circus. Night after night, she<br />

was showered with thundering applause and<br />

abundant bouquets of roses.<br />

But those glory days were over. Rosita and<br />

her poodles were well liked<br />

now; they just didn’t<br />

receive thundering<br />

applause after the show,<br />

and there were no more<br />

roses. Most of the<br />

applause and cheers<br />

were for Fifi, the queen<br />

of the poodles.<br />


A<br />

deep sigh escaped from Rosita’s lips as she looked at<br />

the other picture. She stood as a little girl in front of<br />

her mother’s sewing machine. She hardly ever showed this<br />

picture to anyone because it revealed a secret that only the<br />

senior members of the circus knew. Rosita had led others<br />

to believe that she was of royal descent—or at least from a<br />

noble family. In reality, her mother had worked as the circus<br />

seamstress. She’d been employed by <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni’s father<br />

and Rosita’s father had been an animal trainer with the<br />

circus.<br />

Rosita’s mother had been hardworking and talented. With<br />

her sturdy sewing machine, she had created glamorous<br />

costumes for the circus performers and beautiful parade<br />

rugs for the elephants and horses. She had also fixed torn<br />

seams in the circus tent and worn-out knees of workers’<br />

overalls. Little Rosita would often sit on the floor beside the<br />

sewing table and collect the finest pieces of cloth and silk<br />

braids in a little box.<br />

Madame Rosita slipped the photos back into her handbag,<br />

leaving the one of her mother’s sewing machine on top. It<br />

was time to take action.<br />




The Truth Comes Out<br />

Madame Rosita strode toward the river, where she had<br />

seen her husband go with strongman Budo to fish.<br />

Her steps were determined, much like those with which she<br />

had rehearsed her tightrope performances long ago.<br />

Chef Andrei shouted after her—something about breakfast<br />

waffles that would get cold—but Rosita had something else<br />

on her mind. She paced down the narrow path that wound<br />

its way along the river. Thick beds of nettle lined the path,<br />

but that didn’t bother Rosita. Nor did the muddy soil slow<br />

her brisk pace. With her pretty pumps in her one hand and<br />

handbag in the other, she marched toward the pier.<br />

Bewildered by the sight of his approaching wife, <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni<br />

blinked in the sun. Budo reeled in his line and mumbled<br />

something about tasks that awaited him back at the camp,<br />

so he could leave the couple alone. A minute later, when<br />

he turned to look back at them, Budo saw <strong>Mr</strong>s. Cannelloni<br />

waving her hands as she spoke to her husband. She was<br />

clearly agitated by something.<br />


Then, to his relief, Madame Rosita seemed to calm down.<br />

She wrapped her arms around her husband, and they<br />

sat down together on the pier. Pleased by what he saw, Budo<br />

nodded and continued his way up to the camp. Whatever<br />

was wrong, the Cannelloni <strong>Circus</strong> would surely make it<br />

through this adversity somehow. It always had. Cannelloni’s<br />

father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had experienced<br />

hardships too.<br />

“You should’ve told me sooner,” Madame Rosita said after<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni had given her a detailed<br />

account of the circus’s state of affairs.<br />

“At first I wanted to spare you from<br />

worrying,” <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni explained.<br />

“Later, after things had really taken a<br />

nosedive, I was too scared to tell<br />

you.”<br />

“But my darling Ernesto,<br />

you’ve been like a rabbit that<br />

sticks its head in a bush and<br />

waits for the trouble to pass.<br />

You know very well that’s not<br />

the way to deal with things,”<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>s. Cannelloni went on.<br />

“The situation calls for clearheaded<br />

thinking. We must<br />

immediately draw up a rescue<br />

plan.”<br />


Back at the circus camp, Rosita went into her wagon and<br />

fetched a notebook. On the cover, she wrote in large<br />

artistic letters: The Rescue Plan for the <strong>Circus</strong>. On the first<br />

page, she wrote, Assessment of the Situation.<br />

Rosita decided she would start by interviewing the key<br />

persons at the circus. Her husband had given her a lot of<br />

important information, but she needed to investigate further.<br />

Budo knew every nut and bolt of the circus equipment and<br />

devices; Chef Andrei could tell her about things that worried<br />

the crew; and the snake woman, Cleopatra, had an almost<br />

mystical connection with the animals of the circus. Rosita<br />

would definitely need to hear what they had to say. But the<br />

clowns, Victor and Hugo, she would skip. They would just<br />

give her two-syllable answers and keep sighing and looking<br />

at each other. The Pommer Boys and The Flying Cosmonauts<br />

were also impossible to interview because Rosita didn’t<br />

know any Polish or Russian.<br />


A<br />

serious-looking group had gathered around the oval<br />

table in Andrei’s kitchen. At one end, <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni<br />

was nervously twisting the ends of his moustache between<br />

his fingers. At the other end, sat Rosita, armed with her<br />

notebook and pen. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni blurted out the details<br />

related to the circus’s dire situation and then hung his head.<br />

Madame Rosita gave a cough. Budo, Andrei, and Cleopatra<br />

turned their eyes to the circus owner’s wife. No one had seen<br />

Rosita like this in a long time. Her cheeks burned red with<br />

excitement, and her eyes appeared lively and sharp. Rosita<br />

outlined her plan. She would be interviewing everyone<br />

personally. After gathering all the important information,<br />

she would create a rescue plan for the circus.<br />

Everyone nodded while she spoke. They realized that there<br />

was no time to lose.<br />




The Scary Future<br />

Worried, Budo thought about his future<br />

plans. Although age was getting the<br />

better of him, he still had his physical strength.<br />

If the circus closed, perhaps he could get a<br />

job as a construction worker or a taxi driver.<br />

He would make ends meet somehow, but no<br />

other job could come close to the one he’d<br />

had at the circus for all these years.<br />

Budo had traveled with the circus along the<br />

roads of Europe, from town to town and village to<br />

village, since he was a little boy. The circus trucks and<br />

wagons rode in a long caravan along wide highways, curvy<br />

mountain routes, and bumpy rural roads. These trips<br />

were engraved in his mind, and he had come<br />

to know all the problems that haulers and<br />

wagons could have. Whether it was a<br />

broken axle, a flat tire, or a smoking<br />

engine, he knew how to fix it.<br />


Chef Andrei reckoned he could open a restaurant of his<br />

own, if his services at the circus were no longer needed.<br />

He would surely manage—there was always a demand for<br />

good food. But cooking in the same kitchen, year after year,<br />

wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as his job cooking for the<br />

circus performers.<br />

In the circus, Andrei had an extended family. It didn’t matter<br />

if they were in the middle of nowhere. He always found a<br />

way to set up his kitchen in a flash, and feed the entire circus.<br />

As soon as they arrived in a new town, he would locate the<br />

marketplace and the harbor, and get food for the circus<br />

crew. But what he enjoyed most were the conversations he<br />

had with people over the food. He would miss all that.<br />


What concerned him most right now was his brother,<br />

Kasimir, and the other Pommer Boys. The daring<br />

horsemen would have a hard time finding new jobs using<br />

their skills. It was difficult to imagine Kasimir teaching children<br />

at a regular riding stable.<br />


Cleopatra petted Luxor, who was sitting in her lap. The<br />

cat gave a sleepy meow. The snake woman was still<br />

young and limber, with plenty of options. She could study to<br />

become a gym teacher, though she was not very interested in<br />

teaching groups of noisy kids.<br />

But what would happen to the animals if the circus closed? she<br />

wondered. Cleopatra helped the animal trainers take care of<br />

all of them. She tended to their little injuries, cleansed their<br />

wounds, changed bandages, cut the poodles’ nails, calmed<br />

down the horses when they were agitated<br />

by storms, and gave the monkey his<br />

worm medication. Even Elvira the<br />

elephant trusted Cleopatra. She<br />

wouldn’t let anyone else wash her<br />

calf. In a word, Cleopatra and the<br />

animals were inseparable.<br />


Budo, Andrei, and Cleopatra waited outside Rosita’s<br />

wagon to speak with her. She had cleared all the lotions<br />

and potions from her dressing table and turned it into<br />

a writing table. With her notebook in front of her, Rosita<br />

waited for the interviewees to enter, one at a time.<br />

Budo came first. The strongman spoke slowly, but every<br />

word he uttered was heavy with meaning. Rosita received<br />

a thorough account of all the equipment used by the circus.<br />

It was obvious that some of the vehicles they used wouldn’t<br />

pass future inspections unless repairs were done soon. The<br />

police could stop the caravan on the road, and fine them<br />

heavily.<br />

The main circus tent was also a source of worry. The tent<br />

and its ropes had become brittle after having endured all<br />

sorts of weather for years. Even if it didn’t collapse on top of<br />

the audience one day, Budo was afraid the next storm might<br />

sweep up the entire tent.<br />


Rosita asked about work safety. Budo said he knew how<br />

important it was, but too many new regulations had<br />

been added over the past few years. To please the authorities,<br />

Budo had been appointed safety manager. But it was impossible<br />

to keep up with all the new regulations that came in<br />

constantly from all the different countries<br />

to which the circus traveled.<br />

He said he would rather put on his<br />

overalls and work on repairing<br />

the equipment than deal with all<br />

these crazy rules!<br />


Tightrope walkers now had to wear helmets. Clowns<br />

needed ice-hockey pads to prevent bruises, and no more<br />

big clown shoes because of the tripping risk. Moreover, it<br />

was no longer permitted to braid the poodles’ fur or put hair<br />

decorations on them.<br />

At this point Rosita slammed her palm down onto the desk.<br />

“How dare they!” she cried indignantly. “Are we following<br />

all these rules?”<br />

Budo shrugged and explained that the moment of truth<br />

would arrive in a few days. The authorities had decided to<br />

send a special inspector to the circus. If he found any violations<br />

of the rules, he would impose an operating ban.<br />

“A special inspector,” Rosita murmured.<br />

“Hmm . . . “<br />


Cleopatra was next. The snake woman kicked off her<br />

slippers and sat in the armchair. Luxor lay in her<br />

lap, purring. Rosita knew how much Cleopatra loved the<br />

animals. So she chose her words carefully.<br />

How were things in Cleopatra’s opinion—did the animals<br />

get enough to eat? Were they trained with kindness, transported<br />

comfortably, and given enough fresh air and rest?<br />

According to Cleopatra, everything was all right. The<br />

animals had plenty of food and fresh water. The trucks that<br />

hauled the animals were old but working. Budo had seen<br />

to it that they were equipped with good rubber tires and<br />

proper suspensions. New parts had just been installed in the<br />

elephants’ transport truck.<br />

Admittedly, the horses did some pretty daring stunts in<br />

their performances, but Cleopatra reckoned they enjoyed it<br />

every bit as much as the Pommer Boys, who were holding<br />

the reins. Andrei’s monkey, Nano, ate too many treats<br />

and suffered from stomachaches once in a<br />

while, but apart from that, he was<br />

one happy fellow.<br />


The last one to sit down with Rosita was Andrei, who<br />

simply couldn’t hide his emotions. His tall chef’s hat<br />

bobbed as he sobbed uncontrollably. Rosita rose from her<br />

chair and placed her hand on Andrei’s shoulder.<br />

“My dear friend, we haven’t lost this battle yet,” Rosita<br />

consoled him. “I believe we’ll find a way to save our circus.”<br />

Andrei blew his nose into a big white hankie. After pulling<br />

himself together a bit, he started telling Rosita about the<br />

circus crew. Of course, Rosita already knew every staff<br />

member—by name, at least. But the chef knew their habits,<br />

wishes, and fears. They had spent many great moments<br />

together.<br />

The chef knew that it was time to cook soup and bake buns<br />

when the crew, worn out by a long trip, began to squabble<br />

with each other. Clattering spoons and emptying bowls made<br />

small sorrows vanish into thin air. By<br />

the time only sugar crumbs were<br />

left of the buns, even the bigger<br />

sorrows had been forgotten, too.<br />


The interviews in Rosita’s wagon lasted for several hours.<br />

When they were all over, pages of Rosita’s notebook<br />

were filled with her beautiful handwriting.<br />

“Now we have enough information. Next is action,” Rosita<br />

said as the married couple was sipping coffee in Andrei’s<br />

kitchen.<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni had examined the accounting books and<br />

unpaid bills again. “But can we possibly do?” he asked his<br />

wife, twirling his moustache nervously. “We have run out<br />

of money. There are a trillion bills to pay. The tent is falling<br />

apart, and that special inspector is on his way here.”<br />

“We still have some aces up our sleeve,” Rosita whispered.<br />

She started playing solitaire on the coffee table.<br />




Operation Hannibal Begins<br />

It turned out to be one restless night. Even the animals<br />

stayed up late. The horses were neighing in their paddock,<br />

and Elvira honked her trunk every now and then. Luxor<br />

climbed up and down the roofs of the wagons while Nano<br />

the monkey hung from the ropes of the tent and made<br />

excited squeaky noises. It was late, but there were still lights<br />

in the windows of the wagons. Finally, the camp quieted<br />

down. The light in Rosita’s window was the last to go out.<br />

In the morning, Andrei’s tables filled up early. The circus<br />

crowd had gathered there to hear how the rescue plan<br />

would be put in motion. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni sat with Budo at a<br />

small table, looking awkward and distressed. Everyone kept<br />

glancing at the owner as they waited for him to tell about<br />

the plan.<br />

But what plan? agonized <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni silently. He had no<br />

plan whatsoever. And what on earth was keeping Rosita?<br />

Was she going to sleep until noon in her soft bed again, even<br />

though the entire circus was in chaos? Cannelloni feared he<br />

would faint.<br />


Suddenly the door of Rosita’s wagon opened. Everyone<br />

turned to look as Rosita appeared on the stairs with a<br />

magnificent hairdo and dressed in brown coveralls. Rosita<br />

had gone to the tool shed the previous evening and gotten<br />

herself the cleanest coveralls she could find. In the morning,<br />

she put them on, as well as a pair of comfortable sneakers.<br />

Rosita had taken a moment in front of the mirror to check<br />

her appearance. She’d come to the conclusion that a proper<br />

hairdo and tight belt would probably be needed to enhance<br />

the overall impression. At last, she was prepared for the new<br />

day and new challenges. The plan had matured in her head<br />

during the night. She had summarized it into five main<br />

points on the next page of her notebook, and it was time to<br />

set the wheels in motion.<br />


Rosita strode over to join the rest of the crew at breakfast.<br />

She gave a nod to her husband and sat down at his table.<br />

Cannelloni dried the sweat that had broken out on his brow.<br />

“Just one more moment, my darling. I’ll eat a waffle and<br />

have a cup of coffee first,” Rosita said, trying to calm him<br />

down. “You’ll hear soon enough how we will get this circus<br />

back on its feet.”<br />

“But are you certain it will work?” <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni asked,<br />

wringing his hands.<br />

“What do we have to lose?” Rosita replied. “This is not the<br />

time to start whining but to take some serious action!”<br />

Others around them had stopped talking. They all burst<br />

into applause at Rosita’s determined tone. Encouraged, she<br />

tossed down her coffee, stood up, and started to go through<br />

her five-step plan.<br />


Rosita had painted the headings in large letters on a white<br />

sheet, which she now hung on the clothesline for all to<br />

see.<br />


1. Prepare for the special inspector’s visit before the<br />

evening show. General cleaning and Potemkin village.<br />

2. Perform a dazzling show for inspector. Obtain the<br />

inspector’s permission to continue circus operation.<br />

3. Take the circus across the Alps in a day and set up<br />

camp on B.B.’s estate<br />

4. Prepare a magnificent gala to perform on B.B’s estate.<br />

Fill the “house” (with B.B.’s help) and fill the cashbox.<br />

5. Complete repair work and pay the bills.<br />

SUCCEÉ<br />


There was a worried buzz among the crew. Some<br />

members were disappointed with Operation Hannibal<br />

while others were confused by the ambitious plan. They<br />

didn’t know who Potemkin was, or B.B., or how they’d<br />

travel across the Alps so quickly. And the special inspector<br />

was arriving soon—how in the world could they prepare for<br />

his visit in time? Their questions went on and on.<br />

Even <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni was shaking his head incredulously.<br />

But Rosita didn’t falter.<br />


All of a sudden, they heard the sharp lash of a whip.<br />

The crowd fell silent at once. The ferocious horseman,<br />

Kasimir, had climbed onto a table. He lashed his whip<br />

against his leather boot again.<br />

“Madame Rosita’s plan is good!” he called out. “And,<br />

besides, it is the only plan we have,” He looked at Rosita.<br />

“The Pommer Boys are ready to do whatever it takes!”<br />

“We’re ready to defend our circus!” Chef Andrei cried,<br />

waving his pancake flipper.<br />

The briefing was soon over. Madame Rosita was used to<br />

ordering people around. Over the years, she had taught<br />

hundreds of acrobats, from beginners to masters of the art,<br />

and she was more than familiar with operating in a disciplined<br />

manner. Now the entire circus crowd, from the<br />

biggest to the smallest members, was ordered to take part in<br />

cleaning up the circus—from top to bottom.<br />

Budo handed out tools and gloves. Animal trainers took<br />

Elvira and her calf over to the wagons, to get their help with<br />

hosing down the vehicles. Everything had to be shining<br />

clean. Andrei even polished the oven hatch; it shone so<br />

brightly that he could see his own reflection, for the first<br />

time in years. Nano the monkey was sent out to pick up litter<br />

around the camp. First Nano was unwilling to take up the<br />

task, but then Andrei came up with the idea of giving him<br />

a nut for every handful of litter. After that, the work started<br />

to flow as smoothly as dancing. Rosita polished the windows<br />


of the wagons with Cleopatra, while <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni raked.<br />

As he worked, he was sweating so profusely that even his<br />

moustache became wet. It started to droop gloomily.<br />

An hour before the inspector was to arrive, everything was<br />

more or less in order. The crew gathered for some soup that<br />

Andrei had managed to cook in the midst of all of it. Rosita<br />

wiped her hands on her coveralls, and loosened the tight<br />

belt around her waist. She watched the eating crowd around<br />

her.<br />

“In less than sixty minutes, Special<br />

Inspector Maximillian Knapp of the<br />

National Work Safety and Environment<br />

Administration Office will honor<br />

us with his visit,” Rosita called out.<br />

“Despite his silly title, we must all take<br />

him most seriously and welcome him<br />

politely. We will do our best to give him<br />

a positive impression of our circus.”<br />


Cleopatra remembered the first item on Rosita’s plan<br />

“Will he be accompanied by that Potemkin person?”<br />

“Oh no.” Rosita smiled. “<strong>Mr</strong>. Knapp is coming alone. I just<br />

meant that we need to create a little Potemkin village for<br />

him. If there are some corners that can’t bear the daylight—<br />

they’re too dingy—we’ll put up a facade to cover them. Just<br />

as a wise man named Potemkin did in ancient times, to<br />

make sure that the empress’ visit would be a success!”<br />

Everyone laughed.<br />

Madame Rosita, of all people, knew how to make things<br />

look presentable. It took no more than an instant for her to<br />

turn Andrei’s camp kitchen into a charming little cafe using<br />

tablecloths, scarves, and flower arrangements. She and some<br />

others built a sunshade with a laundry rack and Rosita’s<br />

silky bedspread. They didn’t have time to repair the hole<br />

by the door of the tent, so they just covered it with a<br />

framed photo of Cleopatra.<br />

Cleopatra’s largest plants, in their fabulous clay<br />

pots, were placed on both sides of the main gate.<br />

From a clothesline above it, they hung Rosita’s<br />

colorful silk scarves, which flapped happily<br />

in the wind. The inspector arrived on his<br />

scooter at exactly the hour he had said.<br />




The Arrival of Maximillian Knapp<br />

Maximillian Knapp waited for the dust cloud to settle<br />

before he took off his helmet and straightened his<br />

glasses. It was dead silent as he removed the clothespins<br />

from the legs of his trousers and put them in his jacket<br />

pocket. One of the Pommer Boys started to chuckle—until<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Knapp spun around angrily.<br />

Madame Rosita approached the visitor with a friendly smile.<br />

He had first looked like an older official in his dusty suit,<br />

but now Rosita saw that the man was quite young and thin.<br />

He must be rather new to his position, she thought. With<br />

her head charmingly tilted, Rosita offered her hand for a<br />

greeting. Knapp took her hand and introduced himself.<br />

“Special inspector Maximillian Knapp, from the National<br />

Work Safety and Environment Administration Office,” he<br />

said curtly. “Good afternoon. As you were previously notified,<br />

I have come to conduct an inspection of safety and<br />

environmental matters in your circus.”<br />


Rosita didn’t let his chilly greeting and cold handshake<br />

bother her. She was determined to melt this icy government<br />

official.<br />

By now Maximillian Knapp had launched into a<br />

wordy presentation on the details of the upcoming<br />

inspection. Then he showed <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni a<br />

long form that he removed from his briefcase.<br />

The situation seemed bleak.<br />


Andrei arrived with a coffee tray, and the visitor was<br />

asked if he’d like to sit down under the sunshade.<br />

Knapp, however, rejected this friendly gesture—as an official<br />

he couldn’t possibly accept it or the objectivity of his inspection<br />

would be compromised! Special Inspector Knapp could<br />

not be corrupted!<br />

Rosita watched as the inspector and <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni began<br />

circling around the circus area. Every now and then, Knapp<br />

noted something on his forms. He knocked on the walls of<br />

the wagons with his bony knuckles and tugged on all the<br />

ropes. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni filled the visitor in on the operations<br />

of the circus while Budo walked silently behind the two men.<br />

Next, the inspector wanted to see the main tent of the circus.<br />

Rosita held her breath, hoping that the photo of Cleopatra<br />

would stay intact over the hole, and that the inspector<br />

wouldn’t notice the fragile condition of the tent fabric.<br />


Then, just as Budo was lifting the flap that covered the<br />

doorway, it happened. The photo of Cleopatra toppled<br />

forward, landing right at the inspector’s feet with a crash.<br />

Rosita rushed to the rescue, but Maximillian Knapp had<br />

already reached down to pick up the photo. Slowly he straightened<br />

his back and stared at the image, dumbfounded. He<br />

barely breathed for a moment. Rosita feared he would lose<br />

his temper, but to her great surprise, the inspector instead<br />

turned to her with a flustered smile.<br />

“Such a beautiful photo,” he murmured. “Luckily the photo<br />

is unharmed, but the glass on the frame has shattered.” He<br />

swallowed. “Perhaps, after inspecting the tent, I might have<br />

the chance to . . . er . . . interview another crew member.”<br />

Dazed, he handed the photo to Rosita.<br />

Madame Rosita stood with the picture frame in her hands,<br />

astonished by her sudden stroke of good luck. She had just<br />

found a soft spot in the inspector!<br />




Under the Spell of Cleopatra<br />

Rosita opened the door to Cleopatra’s wagon. As she sat<br />

down on the sofa inside, its springs creaked under her.<br />

Luxor watched from an armrest as the snake woman looked<br />

at the shattered picture frame in Rosita’s hands.<br />

“There was a lucky accident,” Rosita said mysteriously. “Your<br />

photo saved us from at least one serious warning by <strong>Mr</strong>.<br />

Knapp in his inspection!”<br />

Cleopatra didn’t quite understand what this was all about,<br />

but she promised to show up at the cafe set up next to<br />

Andrei’s kitchen for her “interview” with the inspector. She<br />

carefully brushed her long hair and rolled it up nicely at the<br />

back of her neck. After just a touch of an Egyptian scented<br />

cream on her wrists, she was ready to meet him.<br />

The scent of the cream made Luxor sneeze, and he turned his<br />

head away with distaste. He seemed to hesitate for a moment,<br />

but eventually decided to tag along with his mistress.<br />


The snake woman strode across the yard and sat down<br />

at the table under the sunshade. After a little while,<br />

Special Inspector Knapp joined her. He didn’t seem to mind<br />

breaking the rules now, when Andrei served them both<br />

coffee and spice cake.<br />

“It is very hot today,” inspector Knapp said and took off his<br />

glasses. “My glasses have steamed up.” He made an effort to<br />

find a clean handkerchief in his pocket, but he was so transfixed<br />

by Cleopatra, he could barely find his pocket.<br />

“Please, allow me,” Cleopatra said. She cleaned Knapp’s<br />

glasses with a paper napkin.<br />

The snake woman noticed that, without his glasses, Knapp<br />

had rather beautiful eyes.<br />

The inspector took out his long list. Over three cups of coffee<br />

and almost an entire spice cake, he talked closely with the<br />

snake woman.<br />

The Cannellonis observed the interview<br />

from a neighboring table. Every<br />

now and again, Rosita nodded meaningfully<br />

at her husband. Contentedly,<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni took the ends of his<br />

moustache between his fingertips<br />

and gave them a nice twirl.<br />




Elvira Runs to the Rescue<br />

As the sun set, the scorching day was turning into a<br />

warm evening. Inspector Knapp was still interviewing<br />

Cleopatra. The coffee consumed by the devout tea drinker<br />

had perked him up. But the still blazing sun had made him<br />

feel very hot and uncomfortable in his dark suit. His vision<br />

grew blurry and his tie was starting to feel tight around his<br />

neck.<br />

The air was heavy with Cleopatra’s scented cream and the<br />

coffee aroma. Between his closing eyelids, the inspector saw<br />

the circus caravan traveling along a desert and Cleopatra<br />

sitting on a camel with her silk scarf flowing behind her.<br />

Maximillian Knapp blinked, and then fell forward. He had<br />

sunstroke!<br />

Madame Rosita ran over to help Cleopatra, who was holding<br />

the special inspector’s head in her lap. The young man was<br />

extremely hot. Strands of hair were glued to his forehead<br />

with sweat.<br />

Suddenly the cafe walls began to move. The elephant mother<br />

had taken care of her calf in the blazing heat and she knew<br />

what to do now. Elvira gently wrapped her trunk around<br />

Maximillian Knapp and lifted him in the air. Calmly, she<br />

walked over to the water trough and put him down.<br />


Elvira filled up her trunk with cool water and sprayed the<br />

special inspector from head to toe until he was soaking<br />

wet. And so were the inquiry forms, which the conscientious<br />

inspector had been clutching in his hands, even when<br />

he fainted.<br />

Maximillian Knapp came to, snorting, and stared at his<br />

soaked uniform and dripping papers in horror. He’d also<br />

been awakened from the spell he was under with Cleopatra.<br />

Now he was really angry. The circus crew would pay for<br />

this humiliation! He sputtered with anger and indignation.<br />

Nothing appeased him, not even Cleopatra’s explanation<br />

that he had sunstroke and Elvira had actually saved him.<br />

Things had taken an unexpected turn, <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni<br />

thought from inside his wagon. He pulled on his tight white<br />

trousers that were part of his ringmaster’s outfit. He slipped<br />

his arms into the sleeves of his red tailcoat and put a top hat<br />

on his head.<br />

The evening show was about to begin. The main gate had<br />

already been opened, and a few families with children were<br />

arriving. Then came an entire bus full of schoolchildren<br />

on a field trip, as well as a group of cyclists from far north,<br />

wearing blue-and-white caps. This would be an interesting<br />

evening.<br />


Behind the tent, Special Inspector Knapp was removing<br />

his drenched clothes. He couldn’t possibly return to the<br />

office looking like this, and, besides, he hadn’t even finished<br />

his inspection of the circus yet.<br />

Madame Rosita tried to calm down the man. She promised<br />

she would dry his soaked papers and clothes after the<br />

evening’s show. Until then, <strong>Mr</strong>. Knapp would have to wear<br />

Hugo’s spare costume, as it was the only extra garment she<br />

could find at the moment that fit him.<br />

“A clown suit?” the inspector sputtered again. “You expect<br />

me to dress in this clown’s suit?”<br />

“I’m very sorry,” Rosita apologized. “But the<br />

show must go on for now. Please feel free<br />

to stay and watch the performance from<br />

this spot behind the curtains. “<br />

Maximillian Knapp sizzled<br />

with anger. But when Budo<br />

blew the opening<br />

fanfare with<br />

his trumpet,<br />

Maximillian<br />

couldn’t<br />

resist<br />

taking a<br />

peek.<br />



From an Inspector to a Temporary<br />

Clown<br />

Special Inspector Knapp had been to a circus only once<br />

before. More than twenty years earlier, little Maximillian<br />

had sat on his mother’s lap in the front row, terrified<br />

of the horses trotting around the ring. That was about all<br />

he could remember. Other than a funny clown consoling<br />

the crying Maximillian with a lollipop he’d found by magic<br />

behind the boy’s own earlobe.<br />

Now Maximillian stood behind the curtains of the Cannelloni<br />

<strong>Circus</strong> in a clown’s costume, trying to grasp how in<br />

the world he had ended up there. Today’s inspection was<br />

supposed to have been a regular day on the job. But soon<br />

after he’d arrived at the circus, everything had gone haywire.<br />

Maximillian reached up to touch the clown hat on his head.<br />

Slowly, he lifted his feet, covered with striped socks and the<br />

longest shoes he had ever seen in his life. He flushed, glad<br />

that no one he knew was there to see him in this ridiculous<br />

outfit.<br />


In the ring Madame Rosita and her poodles were<br />

performing. Fifi balanced on a ball, and then jumped<br />

through several hoops. The schoolchildren loved her performance.<br />

Next came the daring horse stunts of the Pommer<br />

Boys. Enthralled, the young girls in the crowd returned the<br />

kisses that Kasimir blew as he rode and stood in his saddle.<br />

”Whoa! Amazing!” Maximillian blurted out. He couldn’t<br />

help clapping along with the rest of the audience for the<br />

horsemen, before he realized what he was doing.<br />


The Flying Cosmonauts left the spectators gasping, so<br />

breathtaking were the stunts of these acrobats in their<br />

shiny spacesuits high above the stands. Cosmonauts and<br />

spacecraft flew through the air in time with music from an<br />

electronic organ.<br />

Suddenly a spaceship came off its mounting and hurled<br />

through the air with one of the cosmonauts aboard. Horrified,<br />

Maximillian closed his eyes. The rest of the audience<br />

gasped. Only after he heard applause, did Maximillian dare<br />

peek through his fingers. The smiling cosmonaut was safe,<br />

and jumping up and down on a net, waving to the audience.<br />


Next, <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni called Cleopatra to the arena, the<br />

amazing snake woman from Egypt. Inspector Knapp<br />

felt his heart race wildly. The lights were dimmed.<br />

As if by itself, an object covered with a silk cloth slid to the<br />

middle of the ring. The silk cloth was then yanked aside<br />

to reveal a box. The box’s lid opened, and a hand emerged,<br />

followed by another hand. The hands swayed in the air for a<br />

moment before disappearing again. Then a long leg sheathed<br />

in a shiny stocking stretched up from the box. Little by little,<br />

an entire woman came into view. Cleopatra—dressed in a<br />

shimmering snake costume!<br />

Maximillian shook his head. It was incomprehensible to<br />

him. How could anyone fit into such a tiny space? But that<br />

was precisely why Cleopatra was called a snake woman.<br />

Maximillian was enthralled, his eyes glued to Cleopatra’s<br />

performance. Finally, she finished her last stunt, one with<br />

a rope that hung from the ceiling. Cleopatra stood onstage,<br />

taking her bows before the audience. The inspector himself<br />

burst into loud applause, cheering wildly. In his enthusiasm,<br />

he tripped over his long clown shoes. As he pitched forward,<br />

he grabbed wildly at the curtain and ropes in front of him.<br />



The audience watched with surprise as the next act rolled<br />

into the ring. It was a large object covered with a curtain<br />

and ropes, its huge wriggling feet dressed in striped socks<br />

and long clown shoes.<br />

People began to laugh.<br />

“Look at that!”<br />

“What is that thing?”<br />

By now Special Inspector Knapp was in a full-blown<br />

panic. Frantically, he tried to free himself from the<br />

curtain and ropes, but he ended up tangling himself<br />

even more tightly.<br />

The audience howled with laughter.<br />

Victor and Hugo, the real clowns<br />

of the circus, dashed onto the<br />

stage to help Maximillian. But,<br />

just as he thought he could run<br />

offstage, Maximillian felt the<br />

clowns slap a red round nose and an<br />

orange curly wig on him.<br />

Maximillian tried to wriggle free. Finally,<br />

he gave up and relaxed his legs, hanging<br />

like a sandbag in the grip of the clowns.<br />

They dragged him to the middle of the<br />

ring and sat him up on a throne.<br />


Before he even had a chance to take a breath, a crown was<br />

placed on his head and a scepter in his hand. Then the<br />

throne began to rise—going higher and higher into the air.<br />


Maximillian was terrified of heights. He tried to yell to<br />

Victor and Hugo, but his voice was lost among the<br />

hysterical shrieks and laughter of the crowd.<br />

As Maximillian squirmed, the throne started to sway. The<br />

pole supporting it was like a giant pendulum, swinging the<br />

chair back and forth above the stage. Maximillian clutched<br />

the throne’s armrests, but as the throne gained momentum,<br />

he couldn’t hold on any longer.<br />

Suddenly he flew from the seat. “Agghh!” he screamed,<br />

bracing himself for the fall.<br />

But to Maximillian’s surprise, something stopped him from<br />

plunging down onto the stage—a safety belt attached around<br />

his waist!<br />

Maximillian soared above the arena and the audience. Relax!<br />

He tried to calm himself down. You’re not going to fall.<br />

To his own amazement, the temporary clown actually<br />

began to enjoy his surprising new role. He stretched out a<br />

foot, and then ran in the air with his long clown shoes. The<br />

audience laughed hysterically at the sight. Next Maximillian<br />

pretended he was swimming, waving to the laughing spectators<br />

below as his arms circled through the “water.”<br />


When it was all over, Maximillian stood beside Victor<br />

and Hugo, and bowed courteously to the audience.<br />

As he started to dash offstage, he stopped for a second—to<br />

shake pretend water out of his ears from his midair swim.<br />

What a blast! thought the inspector. He<br />

hadn’t had this much fun since his<br />

school years!<br />



The Caravan Sets Off<br />

The special inspector cautiously opened one eye. He was<br />

lying on a bed that was moving. The bed was in a room<br />

that was moving. He could hear the hum of an engine in<br />

the background. Inside the dim room, he could make out a<br />

small window, through which he could see the dark night,<br />

lit only by the moon and stars. A gloomy suspicion filled his<br />

mind.<br />

Maximillian’s performance the previous night had been a<br />

huge success. The other performers had gathered around<br />

him to pat him on the back afterward. He had felt proud—<br />

and wild, which was a completely new feeling for him. Budo<br />

had carried him on his shoulders to Andrei’s kitchen for an<br />

evening snack with the entire circus crowd.<br />

By the time they had gotten to dessert, the group had abandoned<br />

all formality, and Special Inspector Maximillian<br />

Knapp had become Maximillian. After dessert, he’d become<br />

“Max.” Flustered, he remembered how snake woman<br />

Cleopatra had tousled his hair playfully and called him her<br />

own little Max.<br />


Something else had clearly happened during the night.<br />

Max got up and peered out the widow. He was in a circus<br />

wagon, which was being pulled by what was likely the noisiest<br />

truck in Europe. As the road curved, he could see that<br />

his wagon was part of a long caravan. The caravan was slowly<br />

climbing a steep mountain slope.<br />

Max was being held captive by a circus! There was no hope<br />

of anyone’s hearing his screams, he realized. The wind was<br />

whipping and the area was deserted. It was better to close<br />

the window and get back into bed. While he was sleeping,<br />

the unusual convoy continued its journey up and down the<br />

mountain roads and across bridges that arched over valleys.<br />

Leading the caravan was the Cannellonis’ old Jeep. The<br />

original paint on its dented sides had completely worn away.<br />

Inside Madame Rosita was dozing with a woolen blanket<br />

over her shoulders. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni clutched the wheel<br />

tightly. There was no blanket on his shoulders, but they felt<br />

heavy with responsibility.<br />



“I’m convinced that you will pull this off, Ernesto,” Rosita<br />

had said emphatically as the caravan was about to set off, and<br />

they had been sitting in their car—first in the line. “Budo<br />

has showed us the straightest route across the Alps. Just wait<br />

and see. By dawn we will have reached the other side.”<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni had stepped on the accelerator and waved to<br />

Budo, who followed the owner with the longest truck of the<br />

circus. Inside were Elvira the elephant, the horses, and the<br />

other animals of the circus.<br />

Once in a while Cannelloni glanced at his dozing wife next<br />

to him. Although he felt burdened, he also felt quite pleased.<br />

Here he was, leading a long circus caravan that followed<br />

his Jeep along these dark mountain roads. The first phases<br />

of Madame Rosita’s rescue plan hadn’t played out quite as<br />

expected, but the circus still had its license to operate, for<br />

now at least.<br />


The inspector himself had transformed into a rather<br />

passable guy named Max. After the exciting performance,<br />

and a long evening snack, Max had passed out<br />

happily in one of the wagons.<br />

Cannelloni had worried about dismantling the circus and<br />

setting off without waking up Max, but Rosita had convinced<br />

him that it was the only way. So, Max’s belongings had been<br />

neatly packed onto the roof of the wagon, and the exhausted<br />

clown himself had been placed in the guest bed to rest.<br />

In the truck behind the Cannellonis’ Jeep, Budo was worried.<br />

He could sense that the horses were growing restless in the<br />

back. He could hear them shuffling their feet and kicking the<br />

sides of the truck. Some dark clouds had started to gather in<br />

the sky, which was always a bad sign. After a few more bends<br />

in the road, the caravan would arrive at a pass between the<br />

mountains. A huge bridge stretched across the dark mountain<br />

pass.<br />


Just as the entire circus caravan had reached the bridge,<br />

the heavens opened. Huge bolts of lightning slashed the<br />

dark sky, and rain poured down. All the vehicles had to stop<br />

because the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the<br />

flooding rains.<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni calmed his wife who had woken up, startled<br />

by the first peals of thunder. All her life the Madame had<br />

been very afraid of thunder. She shuddered at the terrible<br />

storm.<br />


Budo gazed at his nervous animal passengers and decided<br />

to fetch Kasimir to help him calm the horses. As the<br />

soaking men reached the back of the animal truck, the back<br />

doors suddenly flew open on their own. The horses had<br />

kicked hard, breaking the truck’s rusty latches. Two of the<br />

horses managed to jump out of the wagon before the men<br />

got the doors closed again. Strongman Budo quickly tied a<br />

thick steel chain around the handles to serve as a temporary<br />

lock.<br />

The chaos on the bridge escalated. Kasimir was trying to<br />

catch the horses. One by one, the doors of the vehicles in<br />

the caravan opened, and the bridge was soon crowded with<br />

people running around in panic. Inside the Jeep, Rosita was<br />

crying and squeezing her husband’s arm.<br />

“Please, Ernesto, don’t go out there and leave me. You know<br />

I can’t stand this thunderstorm alone,” she pleaded between<br />

sobs.<br />

“Rosita, you’ll be fine. Right now my place is out there with<br />

the crew.” The circus owner pulled out a large megaphone,<br />

normally used for advertising the circus when they arrived<br />

in new towns. “I’ll send someone to keep you company.”<br />


<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni leaped out into the rain with his megaphone.<br />

Rosita wrapped herself even more tightly in<br />

the woolen blanket and waited. Lightning lit up the sky,<br />

revealing where the caravan had stopped—on a treacherous<br />

bridge high above the mountains. A river snaked far below<br />

them. Soon the door opened and chef Andrei slipped inside,<br />

soaking wet.<br />

“Madame is safe now. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni will surely handle the<br />

situation,” Andrei said, consoling the trembling Rosita. He<br />

removed a package of biscuits and some juice from inside<br />

his jacket. “Let’s just relax and wait for him.”<br />

Outside, the circus director expertly took charge of the situation.<br />

Using his megaphone, he shouted orders to everybody<br />

present. Those who were just running around for<br />

no reason were ordered back into the cars to wait for the<br />

situation to calm down—there was no place for panic. The<br />

runaway horses would never relax if the bridge were filled<br />

with screaming people dashing around.<br />

Kasimir was sent to Cleopatra’s wagon to have her tend to<br />

the open wound on his forehead. The trailer door had given<br />

him a nasty blow on the brow.<br />


Finally, it was only Cannelloni and Budo out on the<br />

bridge. The two men saw the horses standing ahead<br />

on the bridge, but the animals wouldn’t let themselves get<br />

caught. Suddenly Budo came up with an idea. Elvira had<br />

experienced so many thunderstorms during her life that she<br />

wasn’t easily frightened. Budo opened the door to the trailer<br />

and let Elvira out in the rain.<br />

First, the elephant looked around in bewilderment. But then<br />

she noticed the horses standing on the bridge, shifting their<br />

hooves nervously. With slow strides, she walked up to the<br />

horses and trumpeted calmly. Minutes later, when Elvira<br />

turned around, the horses followed her—all the way back to<br />

the truck.<br />

Sighing from relief and exhaustion, the men locked the rear<br />

doors and shook hands. The rain had lightened up, and they<br />

could now continue their journey.<br />



Dawn in the Alps<br />

The circus caravan descended toward a valley. Around<br />

them were fields, groves, and small villages. Watching<br />

the view, Rosita felt sentimental. B.B., a friend from her<br />

youth, was somewhere out there, waiting for her. He had<br />

been very pleasantly surprised at Rosita’s call after so many<br />

years. Rosita blushed now, remembering his delight at<br />

hearing her voice.<br />

“You know, you really could tell me more about this plan,”<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni said, noting his wife’s expression. “Who is<br />

this B.B., anyway?”<br />

“I used to be quite pretty when I was young, Ernesto, and I<br />

had many suitors. B.B., also known as Boris Bubka, was one<br />

of the most ardent ones.”<br />

“Are you saying that Boris Bubka, the world-famous Russian<br />

opera singer, is an old acquaintance of yours?” Cannelloni<br />

asked in amazement. Jealousy stabbed him in the heart.<br />

“Why haven’t you told me about him before?”<br />


Rosita looked at Ernesto with<br />

concern. What would happen<br />

when the two men met each other?<br />

Rosita started to explain how Boris<br />

had once courted her, drowning her with<br />

roses after her tightrope performances. Eventually,<br />

Rosita went on, she had been compelled to ask Boris to<br />

stop sending flowers because her heart belonged to someone<br />

else.<br />

“Your heart belonged to someone else?” <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni<br />

repeated. “Who was it?” he demanded.<br />

“You, my darling!” Rosita flashed him an irresistible smile.<br />

“I just thought it was time to call Boris for help, in the name<br />

of our old friendship. If anyone can help us, it’s Boris.”<br />


Rosita thought back on her phone call to Boris. First,<br />

she’d had to talk to an irritated assistant who refused<br />

to let her talk to the star himself. According to the assistant,<br />

calls from fans had become a nuisance. It had taken a lot of<br />

persuasion from Rosita, but finally the assistant had agreed<br />

to ask the singer himself if he’d consider talking to her.<br />

“She calls herself Birdcrumb, Boss,” the assistant had<br />

snapped.<br />

“What do you mean would I consider talking to her?” Boris’s<br />

bass voice had rumbled. “Of course I will consider it. In fact,<br />

I want you to hand me that phone right now!”<br />

Birdcrumb was the nickname that Boris himself had given<br />

the tightrope walker. Old memories had instantly flooded<br />

his mind. Rosita—his adorable Rosita—had called him!<br />

The old friends had talked for an entire hour. Rosita had<br />

given him a detailed account of the circus’s desperate situation.<br />

Without a doubt, Boris was prepared to help! Participation<br />

of the beloved opera singer in a gala event would draw<br />

many fans—and sell many more tickets. The gala could take<br />

place on the grounds of Boris’s mountain estate. In fact,<br />

Boris would love to host Rosita at his luxurious villa, and<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni naturally, too.<br />



In the valley all the vehicles halted at a rest<br />

stop. The crew, strained by the thunderstorm,<br />

freshened up and ate breakfast. They didn’t want<br />

to show up at the villa of the world-famous star<br />

famished and dirty. The crew wanted to present<br />

themselves at their best, and bring honor to all<br />

performing artists.<br />

The dented Jeep was the first vehicle to arrive<br />

through the gates of Boris Bubka’s mountain<br />

estate.<br />

A surveillance camera monitored the caravan’s<br />

arrival. In the control room of the villa,<br />

the singer’s personal assistant, Emilio, watched<br />

the ten black-and-white monitors in disbelief.<br />

Shaking his head, he wondered how it was<br />

possible that Boris knew these people.<br />

The battered trailers, trucks, and wagons filled<br />

the yard. On a monitor Emilio spotted an<br />

elephant trunk dangling from one of the trucks.<br />

Unbelievable!<br />


Boris had been waiting for hours in the music room. He<br />

was supposed to be preparing for his upcoming performance<br />

at an acclaimed opera house nearby. However, the<br />

rehearsal hadn’t gone well, and the opera singer had sent his<br />

rehearsal pianist home for the day.<br />

A pleasant sense of anticipation took hold of Boris. He<br />

enjoyed some green tea and muffins with honey. Finally, his<br />

patience was rewarded. His own Birdcrumb had arrived!<br />

And peeking from the window, Boris could see that his<br />

beloved Rosita had matured into a beautiful mama bird after<br />

all these years.<br />

Under normal circumstances, Boris waited for Emilio to take<br />

guests to the study before notifying Boris of their arrival.<br />

But today Boris hurried to greet the guests personally at the<br />

door. The doors to the music room opened directly to the<br />

front yard, so it took only a second for the singer to reach<br />

the crowd.<br />

Rosita and snake woman Cleopatra received charming hand<br />

kisses while all the other guests ended up in Boris’s bearlike<br />

embrace. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni forced himself to smile as he<br />

twisted the ends of his moustache restlessly.<br />




Boris’s Houseguests<br />

Emilio was nervous. The Cannelloni <strong>Circus</strong> had invaded<br />

Boris’s entire villa. In the stables’ vacant stalls, there<br />

were peculiar animals that smelled bad. All kinds of mounts<br />

and platforms had been set up between buildings so that the<br />

performers could practice their stunts and rehearse their<br />

numbers.<br />

In Emilio’s opinion, the peaceful mountain villa felt more<br />

like a swarming anthill. The boisterous performers gathered<br />

in the large dining room to eat, and it was impossible to<br />

keep that annoying monkey from climbing up and down<br />

the velvet curtains. The rascal hopped about on the curtain<br />

rods and used the tassels to swing from window to window.<br />


Andrei, the circus’s chef, had taken over the villa’s<br />

kitchen, which the cook resented deeply. Boris normally<br />

followed a strict vegetarian diet. But Chef Andrei certainly<br />

didn’t skimp on meat or fish. He also put loads of butter on<br />

everything, and poured cream into sauces as well as desserts.<br />


Boris was in an excellent mood, however. The circus guests<br />

were delightful, and he was being served delicious food<br />

for a change. But there was a small glitch in his promise to<br />

help Rosita. His assistant, Emilio, had found a clause in the<br />

contract between the singer and the opera house—it forbade<br />

him to perform solo anywhere besides the opera house for<br />

the entire summer.<br />

The opera star had called his lawyer across the ocean<br />

and received some useful advice. If Boris performed with<br />

someone else, rather than solo, there was no breach of<br />

contract. Immediately the search began for a suitable singing<br />

partner for him from among the circus crew. The performance<br />

was scheduled to take place in just two days—this<br />

partner would have to be found fast.<br />



Meanwhile an advertising campaign for the circus<br />

performance was in full swing—Boris had set the big<br />

wheels turning. First, the circus had put out a press release<br />

about the unique collaboration between the world-famous<br />

opera singer and the acclaimed Cannelloni <strong>Circus</strong>. Colorful<br />

posters had been put up along roads, featuring large photos<br />

of Boris, smiling from ear to ear. In the background was<br />

an image of the Cannellonis’ shabby circus tent. It looked<br />

as good as new, after the advertising agency airbrushed it a<br />

little.<br />

But whom could be paired with Boris? At last it was decided<br />

to have an audition. One by one, crew members stepped into<br />

Boris’s music room, where the rehearsal pianist sat behind a<br />

white grand piano. Boris personally welcomed every candidate,<br />

asking them what they wished to sing.<br />

Clowns Victor and Hugo insisted on performing together.<br />

They had chosen to sing such a melancholy lullaby that they<br />

both burst into tears in the middle of the song. Boris patted<br />

them both and handed them handkerchiefs. It was surely for<br />

the best if they concentrated on their own clown show.<br />


Snake woman Cleopatra had a beautiful, but feeble, voice.<br />

Clearly, it would get lost under Boris’s own grand bass.<br />

Chef Andrei desperately wanted to perform, but unfortunately,<br />

his ear was no better than a frying pan’s. His twin<br />

brother, Kasimir, was just as unmusical. The horseman’s<br />

repertoire was restricted to a few Polish drinking songs. The<br />

situation was growing alarming by the time Boris called for<br />

a time-out.<br />

Boris asked the Cannellonis to join him for a walk in the<br />

garden. He wanted to show them the orchid greenhouse,<br />

his pride and joy. The garden path twisted among the circus<br />

wagons parked all over the lawn. Boris gestured left and<br />

right as they strolled along: over there was the largest oak<br />

tree of the garden, and over there, were the prize-winning<br />

roses. Right in front of them was the lovely greenhouse filled<br />

with exotic orchids. Boris knew every variety, including its<br />

Latin name.<br />

In the middle of his excited tour, Boris froze. With his arms<br />

still raised, his gaze was fixed on an open window in one<br />

of the circus wagons. Low-pitched singing, accompanied by<br />

splashing sounds, drifted outside. A wonderful singer lived<br />

in that wagon!<br />



“To whom does that<br />

heavenly bass voice<br />

belong?” Boris cried.<br />

“That voice is untrained,<br />

but his interpretation is most<br />

compelling!”<br />

“It is Valeri, the midget of our<br />

circus,” answered <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni. “He’s been a<br />

little depressed since we had to cancel his act. Unfortunately,<br />

the new regulations ban the use of human cannonballs.”<br />

“How marvelous!” Boris declared. “A midget bass! We<br />

can form a duo. Our team will be called ’One-and-a Half<br />

Basses.’”<br />

Valeri was less excited about the idea than Boris. In fact,<br />

Rosita had to work hard to persuade Valeri to even go to the<br />

opera singer’s music room to talk to Boris. She promised the<br />

former human cannonball that he could do something that<br />

would remind him of the good old days. The rest of the crew<br />

would have to wait to see what it was.<br />

The day before the show turned out to be a busy one. Rosita<br />

sat in the garden and listened to the duo rehearsing. Luckily,<br />

both singers seemed to be in good spirits.<br />

With the assistance of the rehearsal pianist, they had found<br />

a collection of arias and songs that brought out the best in<br />

both of their voices.<br />


The audience is in for a performance of a lifetime! thought<br />

Rosita happily.<br />

At nightfall a trailer arrived in front of Boris’s house. Musicians<br />

from a chamber orchestra climbed out with their<br />

instruments. In an instant, the hall was filled with dozens<br />

of cases—from brass, woodwind, and string instruments—<br />

and piles of garment bags.<br />

By now Emilio was ripping his hair out in frustration. Now<br />

they had to accommodate even more people in the villa’s<br />

guestrooms! It also meant more trips to the village to get<br />

help with ironing and cleaning of performers’ tailcoats and<br />

evening dresses.<br />


Emilio sat by the window in his dark room, staring glumly<br />

at the starry sky. Living with the quirks and demands of<br />

an international star wasn’t particularly easy. One moment<br />

he’d have to conjure up fresh mangos—in the middle of a<br />

Nordic winter. The next moment he’d need to find Black<br />

Sea caviar served on crushed ice somewhere in the heat of<br />

Australia.<br />

Once Emilio had been forced to sit through an entire intercontinental<br />

flight, holding expensive glass candlesticks that<br />

Boris wanted to place on the mantelpiece of his main residence.<br />

After finally setting the candlesticks down, safely in<br />

their place, the opera singer had abruptly decided that they<br />

were the wrong shade of green.<br />

The years he’d spent working for Boris had been fascinating<br />

but they were full of tasks and chores that nobody seemed<br />

to notice or appreciate. Emilio had finally had enough. He<br />

decided he’d stay through the end of the circus show. After<br />

that, he would pack up his belongings, and depart for a<br />

better life.<br />




Showtime for One-and-a-Half Basses<br />

The day of the show dawned misty, but soon the sun<br />

brightened up the entire landscape. Madame Rosita<br />

woke up in the most beautiful guest room of the villa and felt<br />

happy. Beside her in the huge four-poster bed, <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni<br />

was still sound asleep, his long moustache fluttering to<br />

the rhythm of his breath. Her rescue plan was going along;<br />

there was still hope for the circus.<br />

Quietly Rosita got up, put on a silk dressing gown, and<br />

opened the door to the balcony. There, in the warmth of<br />

the morning sun, she let herself imagine what it would be<br />

like living as the wife of a famous opera singer. The world’s<br />

finest stores and cafes would be part of everyday life. The<br />

best tables at restaurants would be reserved just for her. She<br />

would have a gigantic walk-in closet filled with glamorous<br />

gowns, embroidered handbags, soft leather shoes, and cashmere<br />

scarves.<br />

Behind her, Rosita heard familiar snoring. She went inside<br />

and gently woke her husband up to a new day.<br />


After a frantic day of preparation, everything was just<br />

about ready for the circus show and the debut of the<br />

singing duo. A stage had been built next to the circus tent,<br />

the roof of which would cover both singers and the chamber<br />

orchestra.<br />

A temporary parking lot had been set up outside the gates,<br />

and next to it was a colorful tent for ticket sales. Already<br />

the advance sales had been a big success, but no one could<br />

foresee what was still to come.<br />


As night fell, cars flowed toward Boris’s villa. Torches<br />

lit the way to the circus tent in the garden, which was<br />

soon packed with people.<br />

Some of the spectators sat outside on blankets laid out for<br />

them, enjoying the performance from a giant screen set up<br />

on the wall of Boris’s villa. Andrei sold snacks from his camp<br />

kitchen, and the cook dispensed cold juice from a metal<br />

container. The monkey hopped around, giving out napkins<br />

and collecting empty dishes.<br />

Backstage, the performers anxiously waited for Budo’s<br />

opening fanfare. <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni straightened the tails of his<br />

coat and checked his moustache in the mirror. Before stepping<br />

into the arena, he turned to look behind him.<br />

His loyal friends were once again ready for the challenge.<br />

The dark hair of the Pommer Boys glistened;<br />

The Flying Cosmonauts sparkled<br />

in their silver costumes; and Rosita’s<br />

poodles sat obediently, eyes fixed on<br />

their mistress.<br />


Cleopatra petted Luxor, who sat in her lap. Right next to<br />

her sat the new clown of the circus—the former special<br />

inspector, Maximillian Knapp. By now he seemed to feel<br />

perfectly comfortable in his clown’s costume and wig. His<br />

anger had faded after thinking things over. He’d decided that<br />

in two ticks, his life had become much more fun. He tapped<br />

his long clown shoes, eager to get the show started. Victor<br />

and Hugo nodded encouragingly to their new colleague.<br />

Cannelloni smiled at his wife, and gave a thumbs-up to<br />

the entire pack of performers. After Budo blew the trumpet<br />

fanfare, the circus director stepped through the curtains<br />

onto the stage and opened the show.<br />

The Cannelloni <strong>Circus</strong> had an unusual audience tonight.<br />

There were the usual families with children, groups of<br />

schoolchildren, grandparents and grandchildren, as<br />

well as aunts and uncles with their godchildren.<br />

But among this crowd were also many of<br />

Boris’s acquaintances, as well as opera<br />

lovers.<br />


Emilio had arranged a special parking lot behind the villa<br />

for the extra-stretch limousines and the very expensive<br />

cars. From there, women in their evening gowns and<br />

gentlemen in their tailcoats were escorted along a red carpet<br />

to their box seats. One could spot a few movie stars and a<br />

world-famous tennis player among them. Even a couple of<br />

prime ministers attended the event with their spouses.<br />

Binoculars and programs decorated with tassels were<br />

handed out to those with box seats. Receiving this special<br />

treatment cost three times the regular price, which would<br />

certainly help to fill the empty cashbox.<br />


The performers all rose to the occasion. The audience<br />

burst into wild applause again and again. Even the<br />

guests who’d paid for the expensive box seats were delighted.<br />

They had never seen anything quite like this.<br />

A famous actress was so charmed by Fifi, she wanted to<br />

adopt the poodle after the show. Rosita politely declined<br />

the offer. She smiled politely in response, but she was angry<br />

that anyone would dare to even ask such a thing! The actress<br />

already had six other pets. Besides, Fifi was not an average<br />

poodle.<br />


The star actress quickly noticed her faux pas, and to make<br />

up for it, she took a bobby pin adorned with jewels from<br />

her hair, and gave it to Fifi as a memento. Rosita softened a<br />

little at this gesture—maybe she could even borrow the hair<br />

ornament sometime. Before leaving, the star planted a kiss<br />

on Fifi’s fur with her red lips, which Rosita wiped carefully<br />

away with a moist towelette.<br />

The Pommer Boys were magnificent that night. The horses<br />

trotted around the ring while the riders stood on the<br />

animals’ backs, defying danger. The ground rumbled under<br />

the horses’ hooves, and the air was<br />

heavy with sawdust.<br />

The tennis star, who<br />

had ridden horses<br />

as a child, wanted<br />

to shake Kasimir’s<br />

hand personally.<br />

He invited the<br />

Pommer Boys to<br />

watch his next<br />

tennis tournament,<br />

which he was<br />

planning to win,<br />

as usual.<br />


Max stepped onstage with Victor and Hugo. To his great<br />

horror, he saw many familiar faces from the National<br />

Work Safety and Environment Administration Office in the<br />

front row. Luckily, no one recognized Max behind the red<br />

round nose, the wig, and the clown’s costume. The clowns<br />

started romping about the stage.<br />

As part of their act, Hugo baked giant pancakes—and set his<br />

apron on fire. Victor and Max, gesturing loudly, ran toward<br />

the fire. Then, ignoring the danger to Hugo, Victor quickly<br />

saved the pancakes and syrup, and began feasting on them.<br />

Max dashed here and there with a bucket and a hose, eventually<br />

tripping over his long shoes. The hose swirled in his<br />

hands, and, as if by a miracle, the water sprayed directly<br />

into the faces of the visitors from the National Work Safety<br />

and Environment Administration Office! Madame Rosita<br />

hurried to them with a stack of towels in her arms as the crowd<br />

roared with laughter.<br />


After the enchanting acrobatics show of the snake<br />

woman, everyone was ready for the final act of the<br />

night. The chamber orchestra had already taken their places<br />

on the stage, and were tuning their instruments as the audience<br />

started to flow from the circus tent out onto the grass<br />

field. The duo, One-and- a-Half Basses, let themselves be<br />

waited for a little while longer.<br />

More torches had been lit on the grounds, and spotlights<br />

were shining directly on the stage. At one end sat an old<br />

cannon, and a large net was suspended behind the orchestra.<br />

Everyone began murmuring about these strange props—did<br />

they have anything to do with the singers’ performance?<br />


Onto the stage stepped Boris Bubka, the king of opera<br />

houses and concert halls, who greeted the audience<br />

in six languages. The crowd jumped to their feet to applaud<br />

him. At last, Boris raised his long arms to quiet the crowd.<br />

The opera singer thanked them for coming and explained<br />

what an important part they were playing in saving the<br />

grand traditions of the Cannelloni <strong>Circus</strong>.<br />

At last Boris began to introduce the midget, Valeri, calling<br />

him a rare natural talent. “And there is only one way that<br />

my new partner dares to enter the stage—the way he’s done<br />

it for fifteen years!”<br />

The lights were dimmed and then there was a loud rumble.<br />

With a burst of light, the human cannonball, Valeri, rocketed<br />

from the old cannon and into the safety net. The astonished<br />

audience leaped to their feet again, rewarding the stunt<br />

with more enthusiastic round of applause.<br />

Valeri walked up to Boris and stood beside him shyly. The pair<br />

could not have looked more different. Opera singer Boris was<br />

an international star. For him, this was just another performance,<br />

and he didn’t have to feel nervous about anything<br />

like this anymore. Beside Boris stood Valeri, half Boris’s size<br />

and for the first time in his life dressed in a tailcoat—sewn<br />

specifically for him. He felt weak at the knees.<br />



Singing had always been the love of Valeri’s life, but as a<br />

midget, he had found a job at the circus. After the human<br />

cannonball performance was banned from the program,<br />

Valeri had sunk into despair and shut himself in his wagon.<br />

Now Valeri, with his perfect pitch and exuberant voice,<br />

stood onstage next to the singer he had greatly admired for<br />

years. The midget bowed to the audience. Then he glanced<br />

up to Boris and nodded. He was ready. He was more than<br />

ready, in fact; this was what he had been longing to do for<br />

his entire life.<br />

The orchestra played a sweet melody, filling the darkening<br />

night. Boris started singing the “Song of the Volga Boatmen.”<br />

Gradually Valeri joined in, and the song rose and dipped in<br />

volume and force. The magnificent music flowed over the<br />

audience.<br />


The bass virtuosi performed several arias and songs, some<br />

as a duet and some in solo For the closing number, they<br />

had chosen a sentimental melody in which an old prince<br />

confesses his love for a young girl.<br />

No one had ever seen such a small prince onstage. The<br />

midget sang so sensitively and deeply, most of the women in<br />

the audience were brought to tears. Everyone could see that<br />

his magical voice came straight from his big heart and a love<br />

for music.<br />

At the end of the concert, the duo stood together onstage<br />

to receive applause and flowers. The old cannon boomed<br />

one more time, hurling a colorful cloud of silk flowers<br />

over the crowd. The<br />

successful night was<br />

coming to an end.<br />

It had exceeded all<br />

expectations.<br />



The audience gradually departed. Only the parking lot<br />

for the fancy cars and extra-stretch limousines was still<br />

packed. Boris’s villa shined like a giant torch in the evening<br />

light. The host had invited the performers and the remaining<br />

people to enjoy some food after the show. At the height of<br />

the party, the French doors to the hall were suddenly flung<br />

open.<br />

Boris’s chauffer rushed in, followed by Max. “Someone stole<br />

the circus cashbox!” Max cried.<br />

“I’m afraid that <strong>Mr</strong>. Bubka’s limousine has disappeared,<br />

too!” added the chauffeur. “The spare keys are no longer on<br />

the wall of the control room!”<br />

”The cashbox? Stolen?” Madame Rosita fainted, but luckily,<br />

Boris managed to grab her in his arms. The guests rushed<br />

to the windows of the dining room and saw a light-colored<br />

luxury car—Boris’s limousine— slip through the gate. There<br />

was no time to waste.<br />



Chase through the Night<br />

The name of the traitor was soon on everybody’s lips.<br />

The only person who had access to the control room<br />

and Boris’s car keys was his assistant, Emilio. Shortly after<br />

the end of the performance, Emilio had gone to the ticket<br />

booth, offering to take the cashbox to the villa’s safe.<br />

Now, tight-lipped, the assistant raced in the stolen luxury<br />

car along the mountain road. The cashbox from the Cannelloni<br />

<strong>Circus</strong> bounced on the seat next to him. Emilio silenced<br />

his conscience, which was trying to scold him for the theft.<br />

You’ve paid your dues, he told himself. It’s your turn to enjoy<br />

life now.<br />

First, he would drive the limo across the mountains to the<br />

nearest train station. Then he would take a bullet train to the<br />

coast. He could easily blend into tourist crowds there. He<br />

would check into the finest room of the finest hotel under a<br />

false name, and order breakfast in bed every single day!<br />


Emilio was very familiar with the area roads. The trip to<br />

the train station wouldn’t take long. After a few miles,<br />

however, he spotted detour signs and a barrier blocking the<br />

road.<br />

Hmm, he thought. That’s strange. He hadn’t heard about<br />

any roadwork. When he saw another blockade, he started to<br />

get worried. The detour road was quite narrow, almost too<br />

narrow for this large car.<br />

The fugitive was oblivious to the fact that he was being<br />

followed by the circus Jeep. Strongman Budo had set off<br />

after the thief. These roads were like home to him after years<br />

upon years traveling with the circus. Budo was also friends<br />

with the road crew around here. All he’d needed to do was<br />

make a few phone calls. His friends had been delighted to set<br />

up road barriers at all the major intersections.<br />

Meanwhile the movie star couple had become very excited<br />

about the chase. For once, they had a real-life adventure as<br />

thrilling as their hit movies! Together with a press photographer,<br />

the couple hopped into a private helicopter piloted by<br />

their bodyguard. After putting on more lipstick, the actress<br />

allowed the first pictures to be taken. The helicopter lifted<br />

up from Boris’s yard. Amazed, the other guests gaped as the<br />

helicopter flew off toward the mountaintops.<br />



From the helicopter, the actors, bodyguard, and photographer<br />

could see the headlights of the cars racing below.<br />

Budo got closer and closer to Emilio. Suddenly the headlights<br />

of the first car disappeared and so did the lights of the<br />

second one. Something unexpected had happened!<br />

Emilio sat gloomily behind the wheel. He was trapped. He<br />

could have somehow managed to drive along the narrow<br />

road, but the narrow tunnel was too much. The big limo<br />

had gotten stuck at the entrance, and now it wouldn’t move<br />

forward or backward. His flight was over.<br />

But maybe he still had a chance! Emilio grabbed the cashbox,<br />

climbed over the backseats, and managed to open the trunk.<br />

Just as he was stepping out with his treasure, he was blinded<br />

by the Jeep’s headlights. Budo dashed after the thief as he<br />

slipped off into the dark bushes.<br />

There was a loud clatter of a helicopter engine above. A bright<br />

beam shined right at Emilio, who was crouching under the<br />

branches of a mountain pine. It was all over for the fugitive.<br />


Budo gripped Emilio firmly, and wouldn’t let go until<br />

after the helicopter had landed and the bodyguard had<br />

handcuffed the assistant. The movie stars stood on either<br />

side of the thief while the photographer snapped pictures.<br />

The next day the whole world would learn how their favorite<br />

actors had captured a dangerous criminal and saved an<br />

entire circus from ruin. The pictures would show two<br />

smiling stars, one scowling thief, and Budo’s bald head in<br />

the background.<br />

The helicopter took off with Emilio, heading for the police<br />

station of the nearest town. The actors headed for their yacht<br />

in the Mediterranean. But it was Budo who was certainly<br />

the happiest of the group. He turned the Jeep back toward<br />

Boris’s villa, where the circus crew and Boris were waiting in<br />

anticipation. The stretch limousine, now dented on its sides,<br />

had to be left for now in the mountain tunnel.<br />


Back at the villa, Budo got a hero’s reception. The circus<br />

cashbox was returned to its place under the Cannellonis’<br />

bed in the wagon. The celebration party continued until the<br />

wee hours—it was dawn when the last limousine finally left<br />

Boris’s villa.<br />

<strong>Mr</strong>. and <strong>Mr</strong>s. Cannelloni sat hand in hand on the steps of<br />

the villa.<br />

“Ernesto darling, I am so proud of you!” Rosita said.<br />

“And I am so proud of you,” the circus director replied<br />

contentedly. “After all, it was you who came up with this<br />

entire plan. In fact, I’ve been thinking that from now on our<br />

circus should be called ’<strong>Mr</strong>. and <strong>Mr</strong>s. Cannelloni’s <strong>Circus</strong>.’”<br />

Rosita smiled. “The old name is fine. But I do have a different<br />

reward in mind for myself—we will buy a new mahogany<br />

closet for my dressing room!”<br />

Opera singer Boris watched the happy couple from afar and<br />

heaved a sigh. He would have to find another assistant and<br />

take his limousine to the repair shop. But still he was glad<br />

that he’d been able to help his dear friend and her husband.<br />




Full Speed Ahead<br />

The next day, the circus was prepared to get back on the<br />

road. The tents had been dismantled, the equipment<br />

had been packed, and the area cleaned up. The cashbox<br />

was almost bursting its hinges with money. New plans were<br />

already swirling in the owner’s head. In the next town, he<br />

would get a chance to take care of his stack of unpaid bills.<br />

He could also plan the repair work on some equipment with<br />

Budo.<br />

They said sad farewells to Boris and Valeri, who had decided<br />

to accept the opera singer’s proposition that they make an<br />

album together. After that, the duo would go on a concert<br />

tour together.<br />

Rosita’s eyes filled with tears as she waved good-bye to<br />

the One-and-a-Half Basses, the cook, and the chauffeur,<br />

who were all waving back at her from the<br />

porch.<br />


The caravan drove down the driveway and turned onto<br />

the road, which was a long and winding one. As usual,<br />

the Cannellonis led the caravan in their Jeep, followed by<br />

Budo in his long truck, with the horses already stamping<br />

their hooves impatiently. Kasimir was steering the Pommer<br />

Boys’ trailer with his brother Andrei, who was digging<br />

into his bag lunch. Nano hung from the rearview mirror,<br />

munching some nuts.<br />

Last in line, on his scooter, was the former special inspector,<br />

Maximillian Knapp. Sitting behind the man now known as<br />

Max, the circus clown, was the snake woman Cleopatra.<br />

Her long arms were wrapped tightly around his<br />

waist.<br />

Elvira said good-bye with a cheerful honk.<br />

The young calf tried to imitate her mother,<br />

but she could only make a few squeaky sounds.<br />

That was alright. As the grand traditions of the<br />

Cannelloni <strong>Circus</strong> continued, the young elephant<br />

would learn everything that she needed to learn.<br />



<strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni’s circus has been operating for<br />

generations—ever since his great-grandfather started<br />

it one hundred years ago. But with ticket sales dropping<br />

and the circus equipment falling into disrepair, the future<br />

of Cannelloni’s <strong>Circus</strong> looks bleak, especially when a strict<br />

special inspector arrives to look things over.<br />

Luckily <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni’s wife, Rosita—once a daring tightrope<br />

walker—has some new bold stunts in mind. With the help of<br />

a snake woman, a strongman, daredevil horsemen, and other<br />

circus performers, Rosita launches “Operation Hannibal.” Will<br />

her risky rescue plan be enough to save <strong>Mr</strong>. Cannelloni’s<br />

<strong>Circus</strong>?<br />


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