"I've got a bad feeling about this."
Jim chuckled as he finished sealing the lasagna and putting it in the refrigerator. "You get a bad feeling every time we go somewhere like this."
"With our track record, do you blame me?" Dean Masterson laughed as he snapped the TV off and stood up. "I swear, the three of us are trouble magnets!"
"Oh, c'mon, we're not that bad," Sandy laughed, coming out of the bedroom fastening her wolf-stud earring.
"No, we're worse," Dean shot back with a grin.
Jim couldn't stop laughing at that.
The Cascade fairgrounds were transformed. The last time they'd been there had been last Fourth of July -- one of their weirdest days yet!
But this time, they were there on pleasure, not business. Sandy's eyes were huge as she stared at the giant tent that crowded the centre of the fairgrounds.
Dean vanished briefly, returning with a steaming covered plate, which he handed to Sandy.
She looked into his grinning face, then lifted the inverted plate and gave a squeal of delight. "How in the world---?"
"Did I know?" Dean laughed. "C'mon, Sandy! Everybody knows that a faire or a circus isn't complete without the obligatory funnel cake!"
Laughing, she broke the hot sweet into three parts and handed one to Jim and the other to Masterson. "What say we wander the grounds awhile?"
"Sounds good to me," Jim said around a mouthful of funnel cake.
Sandy nodded and began to speak again, when a chime sounded from her wrist. "Whoops, got an hour left," she said, glancing around.
"Nobody's watching," Jim said as he and Dean closed ranks in front of her. "Don't make yourself hurt."
"Gonna hurt anyway," came the grumble. A gasp of pain a moment later, then Blair's familiar voice. "Okay, I'm fine now. Gimme back my funnel cake."
Dean grinned as he did so. Sandy had been careful to wear unisex clothes, so Blair didn't look strange. "What say we go to the sideshow?" Dean suggested.
Jim's face darkened. "The---"
"Trust us," Blair grinned. "No human curiosities in this one. Animals only."
Jim nodded quickly and followed them. Sure enough, the sideshow was cage after cage of animals, waiting for show time.
Seeing it was not the kind of sideshow he still dreamed of finding himself imprisoned in one day, Jim relaxed. Blair and Dean both squeezed his shoulders in silent understanding.
They walked past the tiger cages and Blair suddenly jerked, falling backward into Dean's arms as if he'd taken a fist to the chin.
"Blair!" Jim and Dean took an arm each, lifting him back to his feet. "You okay?" Jim asked, looking around to see where the threat was.
Wordlessly, Blair nodded. His eyes were locked onto the great cat's amber ones, and he seemed unable to pull away.
"Blair?" Dean waved a hand in front of his face.
Blair blinked, shaking his head and looking up at the ATF agent. "Huh?"
"Real articulate there, Chief." Jim couldn't resist the tease. "You okay now?"
After a moment, Blair nodded. "I think so."
"Good. Now, what the hell just happened here?"
Blair's eyes moved back to the tiger, which was now pacing its cage, growling softly. Just as softly, Blair whispered, "I'm not... entirely... sure."
The Big Top was jumping. The acts came in dizzying speed and precision, each one whipping the crowd into a higher level of glee.
Jim had his hearing turned completely off, so he could enjoy the spectacle without an auditory spike or zone. Dean and Sandy were enjoying the acts, not even thinking about the earlier strangeness.
Until the tiger tamer brought his animals into the ring. One tiger raised his head, amber eyes scanning the crowd.
Sandy froze, her smile facing. The unnatural stillness beside him caught Jim's attention. "Sandy?"
Her tongue darted out to lick her lips as she stared into the cat's eyes. The tiger's head turned to the side of the giant tent, and like a cog in a gear, Sandy's did the same.
"Holy shit...." And Sandy was on the move. She vaulted over people, weaved between them, until her boot heels touched the sawdust on the Big Top's floor. The instant they did, she began a dead run.
The tiger let out a deafening roar and reared up onto his hind paws, swiping the whip from the trainer's hands. Amid gasping screams from the audience, it climbed and leapt over the enclosure, landing lightly and running in the same direction as Sandy.
By then, Jim and Dean were moving, too. Their calls of "Cascade Police! Out of the way!" and "ATF! Move it!" led to the crowd parting like a modern-day Red Sea.
The ringmaster gave a curt nod to the bandleader, who swung into "Stars and Stripes Forever" without missing a beat. Hearing the traditional cue trouble was afoot, roustabouts began an orderly but swift evacuation of the Bit Top amid the ringmaster's assurances everything was going to be all right and the show would go on shortly.
Sandy didn't waste time shifting to the slightly stronger Blair. She just ran full-tilt to the side of the Big Top, slamming her body into that of the man she'd seen messing with tinder.
He went down with a grunt, and she used her weight to keep him off-balance and down. He began to spit curses at her, struggling in her tight grip.
A tiger's roar shut his mouth. Two massive paws appeared in his field of vision. Slowly, he raised his eyes and found his face inches from a tiger's face. Its lip pulled back from one huge fang, and a low growl emerged.
With a choked gasp, the man fainted.
Sandy smiled. She reached over and lay her and on the tiger's head. It let out a whuffing noise, and turned back toward the tent's centre.
When Jim and Dean joined Sandy a moment later, the tiger loped away. A few moments after that, it was enclosed safely in the cage.
"Sandy?" Dean asked.
Without a word, she handed the man's wallet to Jim. Article after folded article was inside -- all of them about the 1947 circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut.
"Damn," Jim breathed.
"Not gonna happen today," Sandy sighed in relief, as they hauled the recovering man to his feet. "Why?" she asked him.
He looked at her as if she were stupid. "For fame!"
"Figures," Dean sighed.
As the police car sped away with its cuffed passenger and the circus resumed, Jim asked "How'd you know?"
She licked her lips. "The... the tiger told me."
Jim sighed. "Well...."
Sandy blinked up at him.
Smiling, Jim said, "Well, that's not as bad as some things happening around here...."
Sandy thwacked his arm, and they returned to watching the circus. No further strangeness happened.
Except one of the tigers kept looking their way as if keeping a watchful eye on them.
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