When Brin arrived, he was treated to games of billiards, chess and cards; after which the two of them discovered that Brin's car had a flat battery.
"Did you leave your lights on?" asked Percy.
"I might have, but I don't think so."
"You can call for the Motor Association to send a fellow over, while I make us some drinks to pass the time," said Percy.
Brin dialled the number and explained that a flat battery had cancelled his attempts to start his car. Then he hung up and said, "Percy, I'll just have another go at starting it myself. It might not be the battery after all. If we have to wait for them to get here and fix it, we'll never get to the restaurant on time."
"I'll come out and join you, after I keep the waiting liquids on mediocre chill," said Percy.
Five minutes later he walked out to his driveway. He saw that Brin's car was not moving. However, he heard the engine running, and Brin was walking towards him.
"Percy, you won't believe it. I managed to clutch start it on the slightly downhill slope of your driveway, thinking that the alternator would recharge the battery while the car was in motion. I was so excited that I jumped out to tell you, and locked the car, with the keys in it."
"And the engine running," said Percy.
"It's almost laughable," said Brin.
"So are your dreams of becoming the world's best known pilot," said Percy, "Is it possible to do things like this with aeroplanes?"
"By the time they get here to help out, you'll be lucky to have any petrol left, leaving out the previous concerns about the battery," said Percy.
"I'm beginning to think your feeling that you voiced during billiards was right," said Brin in a serious tone.
"You mean when, for some unexplained reason, I said that despite looking forward to the band and greater numbers in the place tonight, I had the feeling that we're just not meant to go to this thing. It's not as though I don't want to go. The novelty of your little haunt in town - or under it - hasn't worn off. I can't explain it."
"It's almost prophetic," said Brin, "They're taking so long to get here, that I don't think we can make it."
The man from the Motor Association finally arrived.
"We've got a new problem for you. I've locked the keys in, with the engine still running. Can you get it open before it uses up all of the petrol?" said Brin.
"I'll try," said the motor mechanic.
He produced a thin tool and began a laborious process of pushing it down between the window and the framework of the car, until he eventually managed to force the lock open.
"We've still got some petrol, but we'll be far too late. I'd better go and fill it up," said Brin, "and then I suppose we'll have to give tonight a miss."
"We could still dress up and cause chaos," suggested the Sneaky Spy in a carefree voice that disguised his true fear of being left lonely and bored that night.
"No. It would be a bit of a step downwards after the restaurant hopes I had," said Brin.
That might have been the end of it; a way to write off a Tuesday night.
On the Wednesday afternoon, Brin rang up the Sneaky Spy.
"Percy, I met a girl the other night at a nightclub. She wants to come out with us on these dress-up nights. I told her what we got up to and she just couldn't stop laughing and laughing."
"Really? Did you steer her on, or did she show an interest of her own accord?"
"I gave her a bare outline of what we had done, and she suggested various costumes she would like to wear. She wasn't just making conversation. She really seems to be interested in doing this."
"What's her name?"
"Amelia. I don't want to start anything with her, but it would be good to have a third party in our mad nights together, if that's all she wants to do."
"And it would mean an element of variety too: the first girl we've found willing to engage in such mobile comedy."
"I'll be seeing her at the Jazz Gems tonight. If it all goes well, we'll get the three of us together with costumes tomorrow night."
"I shall quiver with eager expectancy for twenty-four hours then," said Percy, "I still can't get over your original diagnosis of our activity."
"What was that?"
"Brin, it was you who said that the comedy lay in the fact that everyone out there thinks that we're two lunatics, and we're the only ones who secretly know that we're one hundred percent sane."
"That's it, and when you start your loud harlequin laugh behind that mask, it's even funnier still."
"We're brightening up people's nights. They all show a good laugh themselves, when we go into action."
"You get one or two, who take it too seriously."
"They have my deepest sympathy... Brin, I'm getting that wierd feeling again. For no reason at all, I just don't trust this girl you've told me about. She's no danger to me, because I haven't even met her yet. Maybe ... is it possible that she might be attracted to you, and therefore faked an interest in our pantomine clowning, purely to stay in your best books?" asked the Sneaky Spy.
"It's possible, but she seems very keen. She was the one who suggested herself, that we let her come out with us."
"We should probably ignore my premonition, until it proves itself true or false."
"It worries me though. Your one about last night proved true. My car problems stopped us going to the restaurant."
"We'll see. I'll leave you to interview our next prospective personnel then."
Brin laughed and said his farewell before hanging up the reciever.
Percy heard nothing more about the girl, until his telephone rang in the middle of the Thursday afternoon. He discovered that it was Brin.
"So are we in business?"
"No go. She said that she didn't really want to do it. I got a bit annoyed about it, but we're going to the Jazz Gems again tonight and tomorrow night."
"Forgive me if I feel the alarm bells again, already, but I've now felt them accurately twice," said Percy.
"So you have," said Brin, with the utmost sincerity, "but I'll call you on Saturday, and the two of us will do something on Saturday night."
Saturday came, and so did Brin's call. It came later in the day than Percy was expecting, at seven o'clock.
"You believe in leaving it late, don't you?" asked Percy.
"There's another spanner in the works. Amelia says she has to talk to me at the Jazz Gems tonight."
"I don't know. She'll call me whenever she gets off work from the Pizza Parlour. I don't know when."
"So yet another night goes on hold, thanks to angel Amelia. Did her tone of voice give you any impression of whether or not she might have a crush on you?"
"No, but I'll have to find out tonight. If it is that, then I want the chance to say my 'no' tonight as gently as I can, and then you and I can go back to our fun. What I hate is not even knowing when or what it'll be with her."
"Then don't let that happen. Ring the Pizza Parlour, ask for amicable Amelia, and then tell her that you want to to arrange a definite time at the Jazz Gems. Also tell her that you won't be turning up unless she tells you now, on the phone, in verbal preci form, what the blazes this is all about. After that you call me back to appease my curiosity. Only then will I switch off my third round of alarm bells."
All of the time he had been speaking, he had wondered whether or not Brin Decembar would let him dictate such strict terms.
Brin agreed, with enthusiasm.
Half an hour later Brin telephoned Percy back.
"Look Percy, it turns out that there was a friend of Amelia's in the nightclub when I first met her that night. Amelia's friend Felicity wants to meet me. She likes me. It's arranged at the Jazz Gems. Should I go?"
"Do you like her?"
"If it's who I think I saw, then yes, but I'm really tempted to just not go in tonight. When it fouls us two mates up for several nights running, that's when I draw the line."
"Oh go ahead. It might be your chance for much happiness. Why on earth Amelia had to play all those games and then tell you she wanted to join us escapes me. She knew it would raise false hopes on the team comedy front for me. I personally object to that."
"So you should," said Brin.
"It's all because I can't see her laying so many false premises at our feet, when all she really wanted to do was play matchmaker for you and Felicity. I don't mind a little undercover work on the part of any cupid. It can be what makes a set-up work; but Amelia overdid the groundwork to the point of ruining the best part of a week for Percy Dale and Brin Decembar."
"Are you sure you don't mind me going in tonight?"
"It's fine, I suppose," said Percy.
"If you're all fired up to do something funny, I'll come over and pick you up," said Brin.
"No. If young Felicity is all fired up to make you a happy fellow, I would never forgive myself. Besides, I am curious to see how it all turns out now. Anyway, we have killed half the night messing around with Amelia's gameplaying," said Percy.
"Thanks. What I can't get over is three successful premonitions from you, with no reason to suspect anything. You still somehow knew."
"I didn't know. I merely had a strong feeling each time, with no reason to explain it."
"It's this thing you've got," said Brin, "It's proved to be accurate so far."
"It could be coincidental. It could be the Holy Spirit's gift of spiritual discernment. I don't know. It could be something else. I don't know if it will stay with me or not, but if it does, I should warn you that I have just had a fourth red alert in my mind's heart about the happiness you're heading for at the Jazz Gems with Felicity tonight."
"Do you think I should miss it?"
"Do that and we'll never prove the accuracy of the fourth suspicion. Go Brin, and pass on my disappointment to Amelia, to let her know that I like people to play straight with me. It seems that the Sneaky Spy I plan to be is never going to be short of naughty ones."
"I'll tell her what you're thinking about all the nonsense we've put up with so far, and I'll let you know on Monday, how it all goes tonight, because I will not make it to church tomorrow night. I have to make a flight. It's part of my job."
"You do that, my friend."
It was not until Tuesday that Brin rang Percy.
"You were dead on target again, Percy. It was all a joke."
"Played by who? Amelia or Felicity," asked Percy.
"Played by both," said Brin.
"So how did they react, when you were upset?"
"Oh just chuckled," said Brin.
Later that day, Brin telephoned Percy to explain that Amelia had since apologized for the 'joke'.
"I first met Freddy under similar circumstances. Did you give her a strong message that such deceptions of the heart are not at all funny?"
"I certainly said it in a way that she will never forget."
"And she got the point?"
"Yes. She was sincerely sorry."
"I just can't imagine that they could plan a joke like that, and not see its definite potential to hurt somebody's feelings."
"I know. We lost out in every way. I had to go in there late at night after four consecutive evenings had been ruined, just to find out the worst possible news."
So it had been for Percy and Brin in those early days. They had no way of knowing that they would each have full-time girlfriends one day, who turned out to be cousins. Laura and Jennifer Winters were so suitably paired with Brin and Percy, that all four were glad that they had never made anything permanent of their previous individual endeavours at romance.
Now Canton Algor and Kyair looked on for a few seconds, as Brin and Percy glanced at each other, their eyes signalling acknowledgements that each of them remembered Percy's quartet of accurate premonitions.
"If he thinks so, then it is highly likely," said Brin at last.
"Let's go over the people of the circus, to test out my theory," said Percy, "Since Freddy remembers all of my close personal performer friends. Mysterialla currently dates Kyair, when they can arrange it. She is past the legal age of compulsory school attendance. I'm sure that the circus can always use a replacement Illusionist some time in the future. I can't really see what Freddy would gain from going after Mysterialla. What else has happened?"
"Stella's strength might be of use to Freddy," said Brin.
"Once he was out, yes, but I don't see how it would get him out of prison," said the Sneaky Spy.
"Maybe the circus team could be used to pull a getaway job," said Canton, "Could Freddy be planning to con them into doing it, using his friendship with you?"
"No. William Charters would never go for it," said the Sneaky Spy, "Anyway, it is too ridiculous for words. Maybe Freddy wants to cash in on their skills by remote control, or on someone else's. I'm going to make some telephone calls, and see if any more has happened concerning Frederick Hailstrum, since we put paid to his abduction racket. Amuse yourselves my friends."
"Well Freddy hasn't done anything to capture the prison warden's attention, but the prison news is nonetheless interesting. Twinkles, the diamond thief was paroled yesterday. It seems that he was eager to get out this week. I wonder what the prison grapevine's like in its chances of having a chain of links between Twinkles and Freddy," said the Sneaky Spy.
"It may be stronger than the links in the chains of your wild hunches," said Canton.
"Call me mad, and I may yet prove you right," said Percy, "but there's no harm in exploring the possibilities at this stage in the likelihood of an impending game."
"So who's next on the Who's Who of the Circus?" asked Brin.
"Jester Junior, but I can't see a young clown being of any use to a diamond thief. Then we have William Charters and Tanya Lane. So what? That leaves the others who have come and gone over the years. No major possibilities there."
"You didn't say much about Madam Swiftrix herself," said Canton Algor.
Percy had not thought of a lot that he could say about the lady who had brought his younger self into a close friendship with key people at the William Charters travelling circus. Canton was a few years older than Percy. Even now he was almost ahead of the Sneaky Spy going over the names of circus people like a detective sifting through various suspects in a murder case. The difference was that they were only making unsupported guesses about the likelihood of a crime that had not yet been committed.
"Have we any other ideas to work with?" asked Percy.
"If we do, I can't think of them at the moment," said Canton, "I just wondered why you sort of skipped Madam Swiftrix's own rather obvious talents."
"To avoid making any speculations involving her, which might only be my own personal bias forcing me to bring my old time mentor into the pseudo plot that we have here so far," said Percy.
There was nothing else that they could do. It was all guesswork. For the moment, they satisfied themselves that the immediate threat of anything that Freddy could plan from within a prison cell was over, and went back to their business of living.
Several days later, Percy was answering a telephone call which came from Tanya Lane, his former preparatory school teacher.
"Hello Tanya. I didn't think your crowd would hit Sydney until tomorrow."
"It won't, but when it does, it will be one key performer short. Madam Swiftrix has disappeared."
"You're joking. Can I talk to William?"
"I'm afraid not. He's busy adjusting the next show's program to try to cover her absence. We may have to use Mysterialla and hope that Swiftrix taught her well. William told me that he needed me to make this call to you, to enlist the Sneaky Spy's help."
"You'll have it," said Percy, "but if you had called a few days ago, I would have needed your help. Several of my close friends were doing involuntary fades of their own, until I ambushed the naughty ones in Canton's house. I found out that Freddy Hailstrum had organised the disappearances from within a jail cell. I cannot see why he would be silly enough to already start up on the same game again. The only prison news to date is the release of a diamond thief named Twinkles. I'm sure it was a mark of affection."
"You should have seen the act Madam Swiftrix's been doing lately. She has had the wealthier members of our audiences stepping forward to produce their baubles, jewels and trinkets, and palming them before their very eyes."
"Now I'm getting ideas that sprout the leaves on the rare premonition plant that I grow in the soils of my mind. If you do not believe in mixed metaphors, don't forget you've retired from teaching," said the Sneaky Spy, "If anyone took Madam Swiftrix, they just might have arranged it through a knowledge of her strengths, weaknesses and habits. They could have used underworld channels to get that knowledge through convict Hailstrum.
"Where does Twinkles fit in?" asked Tanya.
"My chance to teach the teacher," laughed Percy, "The friends of a diamond thief might see great possiblities, if they saw the stage skills of a circus Illusionist, who could make gems disappear in front of an audience."
"They would use her in a robbery?"
"Oh yes. I know of a rare expensive diamond on show in the museum in the city. I dismissed it as impossible for Twinkles to go after that one. The place is alarmed at night, but a captive Madam Swiftrix with a gun held on her from inside a criminal's pocket might be able to hide it on any unsuspecting member of the audience during a broad daylight showing. No. They would be searched. She would have to hide it on the guard himself. Then once outside, the picks the guard's pocket, or Twinkles does that himself. Of course! That's when Twinkles enters the picture. He would not be seen inside. They let Swiftrix put all the suspicion on herself, but it cannot be proved. She does it all so fast, with a sleight of hand that prevents anyone from seeing her transfer it from the stand to the guard's pocket. He'd be close to the stand at the time. No matter what they think, they won't find it on her. Outside, Twinkles reveals himself, as the guard takes a break or something, and makes conversation while lifting the gem. The guard suspects nothing, and feels no loss, because he never knew that he had the diamond to start with."
"So you will have to rescue Swiftrix in time to prevent them from doing it," said Tanya, "If you guessed right."
"No. We rescue Swiftrix while they try it on. That diamond has its first showing tomorrow. I'll be there as a casual observer in the crowd every day from eleven to twelve and three to four (the two showing times), until I see Madam Swiftrix. I think we will have her back in time to perform in Sydney. Pass all this on to William only, but have him keep it hushed up. We don't know who we can't trust in circusville yet."
"I'd like to come too," said Canton.
"They will have real guns," said Percy.
"That won't discourage me."
"Less than a week ago, you thought that I only had a wild hunch."
"It could still be one, but I wouldn't miss this action for anything. I'll take time off work, if I need to."
"If you think it's worth it," sighed the Sneaky Spy.
He appeared on time as planned with Canton at his side. He could see everything that there was to see about this case. The angle of revenge for Freddy against a Sneaky Spy who refused to break him out of jail was merely a front. He should have seen that before. Freddy could never have seriously expected Percy to help him escape the due punishment for assault and malicious wounding.
The rest was just part of an elaborate act, to have Percy think that he had forestalled a remote controlled vendetta. If Percy and all his friends had been successfully removed, it would have been even better. Percy would be unable to even guess at the truth, let alone prevent a diamond theft. Now, even when that game had failed, the disappearance of Swiftrix was supposed to be seen as merely another attempt at abducting close friends of the Sneaky Spy. The previous kidnappings would support that theory. The one weak link in the plot was a magazine, which was circulated to various places. One of these places was the Art & Antiques shop owned by Laura Winters, who sent a copy to Percy Dale. It happened to publicize the showing of the diamond.
"The one thing that confuses me about this case is why it should fascinate Canton enough to take him away from work. He was even doing late shifts when the abductions were going on. Lately, he's been involved in fewer Sneaky Spy adventures than he used to. I just can't see what is so important to him about a simple case of forcing a mistress of illusion tricks to aid a diamond thief in a museum robbery."
"Hey Percy," whispered Canton, "It looks like you guessed correctly. They're not waiting for the three o'clock showing. There's Madam Swiftrix and company now."
Madam Swiftrix gave nothing away, showing no sign of recognition, when she saw Percy and Canton in the crowd.
"Shall we toss for naughty ones?" whispered Percy.
"I want the one with the gun," said Canton.
"Oh yes, he won't discourage you," said Percy.
"That's not what I meant," said Canton quietly. Then he strode towards the three of them, somewhat ahead of the subtle schedule that Percy had planned. Noticing the gun bulge inside a certain pocket, Canton was happy. He had never seen Swiftrix's company before. Chances were that they had never seen him. He had the element of surprise, and seemed to enjoy using it, as he grabbed the gun hand and twisted the accompanying wrist horribly until the
fingers released their hold on the gun. The man winced.
"And the top of the morning to you too Sir," said Canton, with the trace of a snarl in his voice, "Now by the power vested in my fist I do hereby write fini to this attempt at forcing an abducted Illusionist to lift a museum showpiece."
The other man had seized Canton from behind before Percy had covered the remaining distance, but Percy and Canton came out of the struggle ahead on points before the guard intervened.
"It's true, officer," said Madam Swiftrix, "They snatched me away from my circus. These friends of mine must have been looking for me."
"We'll take the thieves away," said the guard.
"No. Take them into a room and hold them inside here, until you're approached by a pickpocket during your lunch break. I think you will be. See if he answers to the name Twinkles."
"I've a confession for both of you," said Canton, "It should explain why I came on this venture and jumped the gun, Sneaky Spy. The truth is that Madam Swiftrix's safety is very important to me."
"How about that. I was so busy drawing lines of inference between Freddy, Twinkles and Swiftrix, that I completely missed the reason for your involvement," said Percy.
"It was brave, Canton," said Swiftrix.
"Here's where I have to find out if bravery will be enough."
"It's more than what was necessary. It's nice to find out this way, but you could have told me earlier, if you wanted to," said Swiftrix.
"We had only just met. Some girls tend to object to the immediate attraction that we boys are known to feel."
"Oh, I'm just some girl, am I?" laughed Madam Swiftrix.
"You're some girl, alright, but not just that."
"Well if you'll permit me French leave until Jenny comes back, I'll let you get on with telling her whatever else she is," said Percy, and he left them to it.