Looking at that poster, William remembered a hand-lettered sign announcing "The Great Willini", sitting on a makeshift stage. He remembered the smell of the grass in the field, and the cool morning breeze.
They had made a fortune teller's booth out of sheets and poles. And the ride—they had tied ropes to a wooden crate, and fastened pulleys in the old tree. They had a lemonade stand and a ticket booth.
William had been ten years old.
He had one foot on the tightrope which they had stretched between a discarded clothesline pole and a branch of the old tree. His other foot was still planted safely on the thick branch the rope was tied to, and he held a broken broomstick in his hands for balance.
A little blood oozed from the scab on his knee.
He held his breath, and transferred his weight to the rope. His friend Sam watched from the ground.
Then he saw something at the edge of the field.
"Wait, Sam, I'm coming down."
"I knew you wouldn't do it."
"In a minute. I will. My dad's over there. Take this."
He handed the broomstick down to Sam, then dropped to a lower limb, hung upside-down by his knees for a moment, grabbed the limb with both hands, swung his legs free, hung full-length, and dropped.
The two sprinted to the driveway, where William's father was just getting out of his car.
William arrived first, panting, to lean against a pine at the edge of the driveway-and the poster for "William and Sam's Circus" which was tacked to it.
"Well Dad," he said with as much cool as he could muster, "how do you like my circus?"
* * * * *
Standing in his study, William glanced down at the contract in his hand, and shook his head, to clear the memories. Then he called for his house boy.
Nick, who was everything William wasn't—short, thickset, amply supplied with hair, and constantly amused—appeared instantaneously.
"Make sure there are five complete sets here. Tonight is the night. Everything will be signed, sealed, and delivered."
"You got it."
"Signed! Nick! Did my pen come back?"
Nick held up a small box.
"Right here. Good as new."
William pulled the pen from the box and examined it.
It was a fountain pen, the kind you fill from an inkwell with a little lever on the side. It was not a particularly expensive pen, but it was the one he had signed the first circus contract with, and, after that, almost every contract of importance.
"Excellent. I particularly want my lucky pen tonight: we're signing the deal tonight, and I don't want to take any chances."