Three Shots for a Dollar
Matthew J. Hockey
It never did make any sense to me that
the tank was painted blue. I guess it was supposed to look like the sky, and
there were fluffy white clouds dabbed on with a sponge. Except we hadn’t done it dark enough and anybody could see the rust
spots where they’d yanked the neon tubing off of it.
It held five feet
of water and had a Perspex viewing window below the dunking stool where the
winner could watch me struggling and spluttering. My gig was to sit on the
stool in the outfit of whatever hate figure was popular at the time; Osama Bin
Laden towels, Catholic priest robes, LAPD dress blues, and that sort of thing.
Meanwhile, my partner would bark up
custom: Step right up, three shots for a
dollar, three bucks gets you ten, hit the bull with a beanbag and the midget
goes in the drink. All that crap.
I pulled that gig
eight years, no problem, until one fair—upstate New York, in the depths of the
banking collapse—I was up on the stool, wearing a black suit and shiny shoes,
plastic cufflinks, and a one-third scale briefcase we’d had made special. My
carney that day was Griff, the bearded lady’s husband. His barking wasn’t for
shit and our line barely stretched to the whack-a-mole game in the next stall.
The few people
that had showed up all looked like pieces of rawhide somebody’s dog gnawed on.
They’d all lost cars, businesses, homes, boats, kids, you name it—the banks
steps up: John Deere cap on backwards, shirt tied around his middle, fists like
ham, neck like beef, whiskey making the air wave around him. He laid ten
dollars down on the lip of the tank. Griff brung him a rubber bucket full of
His eyes rolled
around all over—one eye going to the shops, and the other already coming back
with the groceries—as my dear, departed Scottish mother used to say. No way was
he going to hit. Never in a million years.
What do you know?
He nailed it first try. Still had my mouth open when I landed—greenish water
rushed down my throat.
“Little freak moves like a seal.” He
laughed. A beanbag slapped against the wall while I was still on the ladder.
“Hold on, while he gets hisself sat,”
I had one of my legs in the chair. The
bell rang—Ding-ding-ding! Back in the water. Burning cold in the eyes and nose.
My foot tangled in the straps. Bubbles streamed out of my mouth.
under my arms. Up out of the water. Thought it was Griff come to help me out.
No such luck. John Deere. He tossed me in the chair like a rag doll.
“Thought you could get away from me?” He
threw another beanbag.
In again. My
knees hit the bottom. When I came up, he was walking away. Laughing. Drying his
hands on that shirt around his stomach. Griff had given the son-of-a-bitch his
ten dollars back.
I leant on the
side of the tank, coughing water out of my lungs.
“What you waiting for?” The next guy in
I climbed out of the tank, dripping wet;
water in my ears made the Wurlitzer calliope sound a couple light-years
“Get back here.” That sounded like
Griff, but surely not, he wouldn’t be such an asshole. We freaks are supposed
to stick together.
I went back
behind the horse shed. Found a length of scaffold pipe.
John Deere staggered to his Ford. Dropped
his keys trying to get the door open. Bent down to pick them up.
I’ll never forget the sound of the bar
splitting his skull open. Not unlike a wet beanbag hitting a board.
He had sixty-eight
dollars in his wallet. If I’d taken all of it, I probably wouldn’t have been
caught. Just some random mugging. I only took the ten. I figured I’d earned it.
Circuit judge thought so too, gave me
J. Hockey has been
previously published in Ghostwoods books, Thuglit,
All Due Respect mag, Bete Noire, and
Crime Syndicate magazine. He has flash fiction available online at Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Press, and Akashic books.