“It is evident,” said Mr. Moyne, “that the counterfeiters get a bunch of the fake tickets and sell them in large lots to some men. These men, in turn, dispose of them at reduced prices to others, and perhaps the persons who use the tickets do not know they are counterfeits. I believe the swindlers go to the big factories and stores, and sell the tickets at a slightly lower price than we ask.”
“We ought to be able to put a stop to that,” said Joe.
“We’ll try it!” said the treasurer. “It seems the only way—that and having the detectives stop the fraud at the source. You see, we can’t tell which are the counterfeit tickets until after we check up the serial numbers—that’s what makes it so hard.”
And so, in spite of the success of Joe’s acts and The success of the show in general, there was this element of annoyance. Joe wished the mystery could be cleared up. He had received back from the chemist the two tickets sent on last, and the counterfeit was marked. This was sent to the paper mill and the detectives notified. That was all that could be done for the present.
“Well, how’s Coal-fire Logan making out?” asked Bill Watson of Joe one day, just before an afternoon performance.
“Very good,” was the answer. “He’s faithful and steady, and he’s good help to me. He certainly knows the fire-eating stunt.”
“Well, as long as he doesn’t do any fire-drinking maybe he’ll be all right,” said the old clown.
“I haven’t noticed any lapse,” said Joe. “I have great hopes of him.”
But that very afternoon, during the performance, Joe felt doubt beginning to creep over him. He caught Ham in several mistakes—slight ones—but enough, if not noticed in time, to have spoiled the act.
“I wonder what the matter is with him?” mused Joe. “He doesn’t seem to have been drinking, and yet he acts queer. I wonder if he can be using drugs.”
It was at the close of the act and the wind-up of the circus for the afternoon that Joe told Ham to put away some of the apparatus until evening. Joe was called away from his dressing room for a moment and when he came back he saw Ham hastily throw away a dark brown bottle which struck on a stone and broke. Immediately a queer odor filled the air.
“I wonder if that was liquor he was taking, and if he threw away the empty bottle,” thought Joe quickly. “I’m going to find out, I’ve got to stop this thing at the start.”
He hurried to the place where Ham had tossed the bottle. The fragments lay there, and the queer odor was more pronounced.
“Don’t touch that! Let that bottle alone!” suddenly cried Ham Logan, as he became aware of Joe’s intention. “Don’t touch it!”
A NARROW ESCAPE