clownJokers to the Right

by Rich Larson

“Prove you’re a real clown or we feed you your balls.”

That’s how the interrogation starts, once the grocery bag duct-taped around his head is torn off and Javier finds himself in some filthy mold-bloomed backroom. If his legs weren’t lashed to a chair with electrical cord, his knees would be knocking together. He is sweating madly under his makeup.

There are two of them, and Javier managed to glean names from their arguing while he was slamming around in the backseat. Nacho is the one who wants to feed him testicles; he’s a wiry type with squinty eyes and a shaved head. Paco is fatter and slightly calmer. Both of them are covered in tattoos Javier recognizes as Mara.

But Javier has had nothing to do with that life for decades. Javier is Bonzo the Clown, now, beloved private performer, and someone has made a gigantic fucking mistake that might soon cost him his genitals. If he’d known, he would have finished off the Don Julio bottle before he left his flat instead of finishing off the Hacienda.

“Why would I not be a real clown?” he says hoarsely.

“Why?” Nacho snaps. “Because a half-hour ago, a hitter dressed up like a clown wasted El Patron at his grandson’s birthday party. His birthday party!” Tears well in the thug’s eyes; Paco puts a hand on his shoulder. “That little kid, he watched his abuelo die right in front of him, and now he gonna be scarred for life, you know?”

“I know, vato, I know,” Paco says gently. Then he turns back to Javier and bares his teeth. “The hitter bails out the backyard, and now we find you a block away. Just a big coincidence, right? Bet you dumped the piece in that manhole on Juarez.”

“I was on my way to a client’s party,” Javier says. “Calle Bombona. I swear to God.”

“Yeah, yeah, you said that, but we drove past Bombona and we ain’t seen no party on Bombona.” Paco points to Nacho, who is still sniffling as he flicks his butterfly knife open. “Why’s that, huh?”

“It was a private thing.” Javier swallows. “You know. Private party.”

“No, I don’t know,” Paco says. “Private parties still have balloons and loudspeakers and shit.” Suddenly, his eyes narrow. “Wait, you mean clown sex?”

“No!” Javier snaps. “Look, I got the call, they paid the deposit, and I was supposed to show up at three o’clock, okay?”

“If you’re a clown, tell us a joke,” Nacho says thickly, holding up the knife. “A good joke.”

“I, ah, I do more physical humor.”

“Like when someone hits you with a hammer? Or slices off your slimy, lying tongue?”

Javier blanches. “How does a Guatemalan get into an honest business?” he blurts. “Through the window! Ha! Through the window, see?”

Nacho frowns. “I got cousins from Guatemala.”

“Yeah, that shit is racist,” Paco chimes in. “Clowns aren’t racist. They’re innocent. They make kid jokes.”

Nacho lowers his voice. “Paco, man, should we try calling Raul again? This has to be the guy, right? You already seen that tat on his neck, bullshit he a clown.”

“I ain’t calling until we’re sure,” Paco whispers back. “Have to make him cop to it.”

Javier is trembling all over as Nacho approaches.

“All right. Physical humor. If you’re a clown, you should be able to juggle.”

“I can!” Javier says, voice stretched to a squeak. “Five clubs, nine balls, just get the stuff out of my bag and I’ll—”

“Balls,” Nacho says, waggling the butterfly knife. “We’re going to slice off your balls, and then you’re going to juggle them for us, okay?” He reaches down and yanks Javier’s bright yellow pants down his hairy pale thighs.

“Wait!” Javier screams. “Wait, wait! I’ll tell you what I know!” He slumps on the chair, heart hammering his ribs.

“Yeah?” Nacho demands.

“You need three balls minimum to juggle,” Javier says slowly. “So one of you will have to contribute a testicle.”

Nacho’s reply is interrupted by the door swinging open behind them, framing a dark-haired man with a janitor’s mop and shocked expression. Javier pleads with his eyes.

“Perdón,” the janitor mumbles, skewering Javier’s last hope. “I’ll…go.”

“Fucking right you will,” Paco says.

Then his head blows apart, splattering Javier’s lap with greasy blood and gray matter. Javier, stunned, watches him rag doll to the floor. He’s so deafened by the first shot that he doesn’t realize there was a second until Nacho falls, too.

Javier looks up, and the dark-haired man is striding forward, cupping a black handgun. He pauses to put another bullet into Nacho’s head, then sets to untying Javier.

“Gracias a Dios,” Javier mumbles, realizing he’s been saved. “Oh, my God, they were going to kill me. Thank you, thank you.” He can’t actually hear himself speak through the ringing in his ears, but the man gives him a perfunctory nod. As he yanks up his pants, Javier notices a telltale smear of dark makeup around the man’s eyes, some red still ringed around his mouth.

The man says something to him, and it takes a few goes before the indistinct burble turns into “Do you have wipes? Wipes in the bag?”

“Yeah,” Javier says shakily, standing up. “It’s a bitch to get off, isn’t it?” His head is a carousel, and he asks, almost giddily, “Are you a clown, too? What are the chances?”

The man goes to the bag and uses a tuft of wet wipes from Javier’s Ziplock stash.

“Thanks,” he says.

He picks up Nacho’s dropped pistol and shoots Javier in the head with it before setting it back down. Then he swaps his own weapon into Javier’s twitching fingers, bundles up the electrical cords and briefs, and hurries out into the San Cabo sunshine.


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