The clown pulled a funny face, made another balloon animal, and all the children laughed. Especially the pretty blonde girl whose fourth birthday party it was. Her blue eyes sparkled with merriment. Her rich father laughed. So did her well-dressed mother, who smiled at all the children. Mr Giggles, as the clown was known, pulled one colourful scarf out of his sleeve, then another and another. Each scarf was tied to the next, and when he had enough, the clown used them as a skipping rope, tripping over his size-nineteen feet. Mr Giggles fell on his face! The children howled with delight.
‘Having fun, sweety?’ whispered the rich man. For once, he wasn’t thinking about his large house, palatial grounds, influential friends or the business he’d begun as a start-up that these days brought in nothing but money. He cared about his daughter too, and today was all about her.
‘Yes, Daddy,’ said his daughter. ‘I love the clown!’
‘We all do,’ said the girl’s mother, who sometimes wondered if her husband loved anything other than cold cash. Would he trade it for his family, give it all up and go back to square one as long as he could be with them? She didn’t think so. Not that their life together wasn’t comfortable. But it often seemed to lack warmth. She touched her daughter’s soft blonde hair.
Standing, the clown pulled Monopoly money out of his pockets and threw it in the air. ‘There’s some pocket money for you, kiddies - think of how much cake you could buy with that!’ The children went wild, trying to catch the fake tens and fifties and hundreds.
‘And now, my lovely assistant,’ said Mr Giggles, dusting himself off, ‘will bring on ...’ He looked around, scratched his red nose, and shrugged. ‘My lovely assistant …’ He pulled a string and his bow tie spun around. ‘Well, how do you like that? My lovely assistant, Annabel Lee, was going to help me with the disappearing cabinet. Maybe I should give her a pay rise to stick around, because it looks like she’s already disappeared! Jeepers creepers. Well, never mind.’ He bowed and the top hat fell off his head and into his white-gloved hands. ‘If I can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, maybe I can manage to pull a hare out of my---’
′Ahhhhhh!′ A dishevelled woman ran in from the direction of the swimming pool. Having passed the greenhouse, topiary and bird-feeders, she was almost out of breath. ‘Help! Quickly! I think she’s ...’ The woman started to cry.
The birthday girl’s mother went to comfort the weeping woman. The girl’s father, looking worried, ran in the direction of the pool. He hoped nothing had happened; he might get sued. If he did, maybe his powerful friends would help him. Where was the mayor? He was supposed to have brought his son today.
Mr Giggles also ran in the direction of the pool, pulling off his shoes so he could run faster.
But they were all too late. When they pulled the teenage girl out, she was already dead. Drowned.
The rich man looked at Mr Giggles, who started to sob. These were not fake tears or in any way part of his act; he was crushed.
The rich man squeezed the clown’s shoulder and wondered how much he earned in a year. If he was performing at birthday parties, it couldn’t be much. ‘Old man, we’ll make it right,’ he said. ‘I promise.’
All the clown could say was: ‘Annabel Lee ...’