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Matthew J. Hockey
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Three Shots for a Dollar

 

by 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 foreclosed it.

 

          This jackass 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 beanbags.

 

          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,” Griff said.

 

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.

 

          Fingers grabbed 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 line asked.

 

I climbed out of the tank, dripping wet; water in my ears made the Wurlitzer calliope sound a couple light-years away. 

 

“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 ten.    

 

Matthew 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.

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