Sunday, September 1, 2013

Carnival by Whit Walker

Sean is so fed up of dealing with rude Quickie Mart customers that he agrees to join in with Vince's crazy plan for revenge, in Whit Walker's transgressive crime novella.

1

The slow steady grumble of the ice machine had become normal. The whooshing noise of the fountain machine as it pumped out caffeine and sugar to the masses. The 'beep beep beep' the door made when a patron would walk in. Even the fluorescent lights hummed as they lit the place up. I didn't know what quiet was anymore. I couldn't remember silence.

My name is Sean, and I was gainfully employed as the slave of a convenience store. And, not one of those fancy corporate owned convenience stores that offers health benefits, a retirement plan, or even overtime pay. My boss didn't sit at a table with however many other board members and make decisions about a business in which they never really worked. No, I couldn't get that lucky.

My boss was Marge, and Marge was a horrible, horrible person. She had to have been around fifty five years old. She kept her gray curly hair out of her face by wearing a visor every day. Marge was the kind of woman who wore lipstick when she wore sweatpants. She always had a menthol 120 lit and hanging from her mouth. And, for some reason, she thought that all of this was what a man wanted. She thought she was sexy.

The deep growl of the air conditioner kicking on. A baby screaming as its mother ignores it while she barks into her cell phone. Rap music. This was as close as I got to silence. This was normal. I remember at some point being surprised that my ear drums hadn't started to bleed. I became jealous of deaf people. Helen Keller didn't have to deal with this. Lucky broad.

The constant noise was bad, but it wasn't even the worst part of working at Quickie Mart. The worst part was the customers. Day in and day out I had to deal with one ignorant asshole after another. The complaining over prices. The rich kids. The poor kids. The money throwers. One right after the other. In constant rotation like dicks in an orgy. All of this with Marge standing over my shoulder switching between degrading me one second and then pinching my ass the next. Her menthol 120 just inches away from burning my flesh.

Jailed criminals have it better than I did.

I wasn't supposed to end up like this. I was supposed to go to college. Get a degree. Get a life. I was supposed to get a good job. I was supposed to get married. I was supposed to have a nice house with a white picket fence. I was supposed to come home to a nice dinner. Yeah, I was supposed to. But, something happened along the way, and I ended up at Quickie Mart with Marge breathing smoke in my ear while some guy asked me if it was okay to put super unleaded gas in his new BMW.

My only break from it all was night time, but even then it was everywhere. Stupidity, I mean. The car horns. The shouting. Rap music. I became accustomed to sleeping with ear plugs in. The thought crossed my mind that if there was a fire in the middle of the night I might sleep through the smoke detector going off. I couldn't get that lucky.

But, one day something happened. It was a typical Thursday afternoon.

"Hello?"

I snapped back to reality. Reality was that I was standing behind the counter and some woman wearing five pounds of makeup and a pink velour jumpsuit was standing in front of me, chomping away on bubble gum holding her cell phone to her ear.

"Never mind," she said sounding annoyed. "Just ring me up. Oh, nothing. I'm talking to the dumb guy at the register."

With her attention back to her phone call I starting scanning the box of tampons, candy bar, and diet soda she laid on the counter.

"Eight fifty three."

Nothing.

"Ma'am? Your total is eight fifty three."

"Claire, hang on," she said to the phone as she pulled it away from her ear. "What do you want?"

"I want eight fifty three. Your total is eight fifty three."

"Charge it," she said as she popped a bubble with her gum and threw her gold American Express credit card on the counter. "Anyway, what was I saying? I know! People are so rude."

I hated people. I wonder if she would even notice if I charged her card eight hundred fifty three dollars. Probably not. People like that don't look at their receipts. I bagged her stuff and told her to have a nice day. She swiped the plastic sack and was out the door without a second glance.

"People are so rude," I heard a voice mock.

A guy around my age, maybe a little older, was standing at the counter now. I rolled my eyes and asked him what I could help him with.

"Pack of lights," he said as he grabbed his wallet. "And for people like her to..." He mumbled off as he handed me me a state identification card.

"Vincent," I read aloud.

"Call me Vince." He held out his hand.

"Sean," I replied shaking his hand.

He handed me his money and I handed him his change.

"Take it easy, Sean."

"Uh, yeah. You, too."

That's how I met Vincent. And that's where my life started to change.



2

Home back then was a run down apartment near the Quickie Mart. The Indian family that lived above me insisted on clanging around their kitchen cooking horrible smelling food constantly. Sometimes for fun I'd leave packages of beef at their doorstep. A young couple lived next door. They fought continually. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary to have the police visit several times a week. Sometimes I'd leave packages of beef on their doorstep, too. For her black eyes. More often than not, though, for his.

I didn't get the luxury of silence back then. If I tried to think about the last time I remembered quietness I'd be here awhile.

The next day at work it was business as usual. Marge sitting on a stool in the corner smoking her cigarettes and adjusting her culottes where they bunched up around her snatch. Me standing at the register thinking of new ways to kill myself. Asshole after asshole coming in ignoring me. Or worse. Pretending to care. God.

Beep beep beep.

"Hey man."

Vincent.

"Oh, hey. You want cigarettes?"

I turned around and grabbed a pack of lights as he walked up to the counter. Marge saw him approach and immediately stood up and started primping. Like that would do any good. A team of construction workers with bulldozers and wrecking balls couldn't help.

"Who's your friend, kid?" Marge made her way up to the counter. Her lips parted and she smiled as she ran her tongue across her crooked tobacco stained teeth.

"Gross."

"I'm Vincent," he introduced himself. "What's your name?" He leaned on the counter and showed apparent interest. Naturally, Marge fell for this and immediately started blinking her eyes uncontrollably and giggling. I rolled my eyes as I handed him his cash.

"What time you get off?"

"Oh, I can leave anytime," Marge replied.

Vincent chuckled. "I meant Sean, sorry."

"Not soon enough," I said disgusted.

"You wanna go for a beer?"

I agreed and he left. The rest of the day Marge questioned me about him. I didn't have it in me to deal with her, so I just lied and came up with answers for every question she asked.

"How did you meet him?"

"We met at a nursing home. He's into the elderly."

"Does he work?"

"He doesn't have to. He inherited his parents' fortune when they died."

"How did they die?"

"Skiing accident. Yeah, his dad ended up with two broken legs. A bear showed up and started to attack them, and his mom wasn't strong enough to fight it off. They found her arm twenty feet up in a tree." Lucky bastards. I forgot I was lying.

"Have you ever seen him naked?"

"Did I mention his father is black?"

She went back to her office after that and closed the door. Of course everything I told her was lies. The truth was I didn't know anything about this guy besides his name, but when I clocked out a few hours later I got in my car and headed towards Higgins Street following the directions he scribbled down on the back of his receipt. For all I knew he could have been a serial killer. But that would have been too simple.



3

To describe Vincent's apartment as slummy would be a compliment. Imagine government housing that had been lived in for a hundred years without any repair, upkeep or maintenance. Then, dip that image in mud. Sprinkle hypodermic needles, cut off corners of plastic baggies long since emptied of their contents, and random trash to taste. Bake at high temperatures for God knows how long. Garnish with parsley.

He answered my knock and invited me in.

"You want a beer?"

"Yeah. Sure. Hey, can I use your bathroom?"

"End of the hall," he said as he opened a cooler sitting on the kitchen floor.

Vincent's medicine cabinet was a holy grail of pharmaceuticals. Antipsychotics. Antidepressants. Mood stabilizers. Clonazepam. Valium. Xanax. Adderall. Vicodin. You name it. Vincent had it. I flushed the toilet and while the water ran I took a few pills from each bottle and shoved them in my pockets. It was like grocery shopping only better because I didn't have to cook anything.

"He used to date a nurse."

I slammed the door to the medicine cabinet shut and saw the reflection of a woman standing behind me.

"Jesus Christ! Who are you?" I asked wondering how long she had been standing there.

She walked towards me. Inside my bubble. Nose to nose. Her finger traced the outline of the pocket turned pill fob of my pants.

"I'm Jane."

Jane had long black wavy hair and dark eyes. Her white translucent skin looked like tissue paper covering a skeleton. She looked liked she'd been up for days. She probably had been.

She was beautiful.

"Don't worry. I'm not gonna tell." She opened the medicine cabinet and took two pills from a bottle labeled pimozide. I didn't recognize any of the names on the bottles.

"It's for Tourette's syndrome," she said as she dry swallowed them.

"Oh. Do you have it?"

"No."

"Does he?"

"I don't know. No. Probably not."

"What does it do?"

"We'll see," she said plainly as she shrugged her shoulders.

"Oh, man. Where are my manners?" Vincent said as he joined us in the bathroom. He hit himself in the forehead. "Umm, Sean this is Jane. Jane this is Sean." He tossed me a beer.

"We've met," she told him as she lifted her lace skirt up and sat down on the toilet.

"Really? When?" He sounded genuinely surprised.

"Just now." She started to pee. I looked away.

Jane's story went something like this:

When she was seventeen years old she left home for whatever reason in search of something different. She stole to eat and slept in alleys. She was a street rat. After a couple of months of this she started sleeping with an older man she met named Chuck. He owned a pawn shop. Three months before her eighteenth birthday she moved in with Chuck into his decently sized clean apartment. While he was at work during the day Jane would get on the internet and play around on his webcam.

It was then, after several months of free shows in chat rooms, that this woman named Maureen e-mailed her about a website that was looking for models. Jane sent in pictures and a quick third person autobiography, and a few days later she was getting paid.

This went on for several months until one day Chuck came home for lunch to discover the token of his affection spread eagle in front of a camera smoking a cigarette and touching herself. He flipped out, told her to be out of the house by the time he came back home from work, and then left.

She packed her suitcase, loaded up his computer in a box, and left a picture of herself with her legs spread on his desk with "Thanks for the memories" written on it. She took a taxi to the Diamond Lodge motel, got a room, and has been there ever since.

Once a week Jane did "fetish night" on the website she worked for. She told me about the guys who would want her to wear a diaper, shit in a glass, dress like a wizard. Spank herself with a ruler. Wear a crotchless latex body suit.

Those guys you see on Dr. Phil talking about their internet porn addictions? They're addicted to Jane.

"I get phone calls and e-mails from pissed off wives all the time," Jane told me once. "They find my number on their cell phone bill, or the website in their husband's favorites. This one woman walked in on her husband pounding it while he watched me in a squirrel costume."

She was just that kind of girl.

Anyway, Vincent led me back down the hall to the living room if that's what you could call it. He had a coffee table in the middle of the room littered with papers and sketches. Two lawn chairs on either side of it. A lighter and a roll of aluminum foil were being used as paper weights. The curtains were drawn, but the window was open. The wind kept carrying the smell of rotten cabbage from the Chinese restaurant across the street in the room. It was nauseating.

"What's all this?" I asked pointing to the stacks of papers.

Vincent got a big cheesy grin as he said "plans."



4

I fished around my pocket and pulled out two pills. Two little white ovals. "We'll see," I said aloud echoing Jane as I popped them in my mouth. I replayed the conversation in my head as I walked down the four flights of stairs to my car.

"I used to be you. I used to be just like you," he said as he leaned back in the lawn chair and propped his hands behind his head.

"Huh?"

"People are assholes, man. Anyone can tell you that. I used to run a cash register. And people do some messed up stuff."

"Well, yeah. What are you getting at, Vincent?"

"Vince. Call me Vince. And this is what I'm getting at."

He pulled out a sheet of paper covered in his chicken scratch hand writing. It looked like a schedule.

"What's that?"

"This," he said pausing. "This is Robyn's daily schedule." There he went with the big cheesy grin again. The kind of grin a seven year old gives when he thinks he's done something spectacular.

"Who's Robyn?"

"Robyn Akers. Age thirty two. Blonde hair, blue eyes. Pink jumpsuit. Married with two kids. Lives at 853 Lincoln Avenue."

"You mean the chick from the other day? At Quickie Mart?"

"Her offense?" he continued. "Violation of the right to silence by means of a cellular phone. Among numerous others." He shook his head in disappointment.

He continued to show me about a couple dozen other reports and schedules of other people.

Gregory Fitzsimmons. Aged fifty. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Steals parking spaces.

Laura Adams. Sixteen. Enough said.

Vincent had been observing people in supermarkets, delis, restaurants, hospitals, driving. He stalked these people, making meticulous notes of their routines and daily activities.

"I-I don't get it." It was true. I didn't get it. What was the point of it all? To publish their names and "offenses" or something? To embarrass them for five minutes until they picked their phone back up to text everyone they know about what just happened to them? To blog about it?

"Civility is dying, my friend." He stood up and started pacing. "Fifty years ago we didn't have this problem."

"How do you know?"

"Oh, come on, man!" His voice rose. "The internet. Cell phones. S-social networking! Everyone's become so self absorbed. They are the center of the universe that they create around them. And, of course, everyone must be interested in what's happening to them every single minute of every single day right? Wrong. No one gives a shit about anyone but themselves anymore."

"Yeah, but, come on."

"Every human being has the right to live their life free from the ignorance of others. The inconsiderate need to be punished for their crimes against civility."

"What are you gonna do?"

"It's what we're gonna do. Are you on board?"

"What do you -"

"Are you on board? Yes or no?"

I started to think about it and realized that besides the sounds coming in from the open window, there were no other sounds. No refrigerator hum. No clocks ticking. No violent lovers across the wall beating beating each other senseless. I walked over to the window and shut it, blocking out the only noise that stood between me and- And then something happened. Something that hadn't happened to me in a very long time. Nothing. No noise. Just silence. Somehow in a world full of noise and chaos Vince created silence. I let my head roll back and took a deep breath.

"It's nice isn't it?"

I opened my eyes and looked at him. He was sitting down again with his hands behind his head. The big cheesy smile was replaced by a confident grin.

"Fuck it. I'm in."



5

Vincent, I mean Vince, told me to meet him in the park at five am the next day. He told me to wear all black. To wear a stocking cap. I was starting to have second thoughts about all of it. Sure, I hated most people. But, was I willing to break the law to get a little revenge?

It was only five am, but already there were car horns. Rap music. Birds chirping. No one was around, though. He was right about that. That part of the park was completely deserted.

"Boo."

"Jesus Christ, man!" I said panicked as he walked around in front of me. "Don't do that."

"Calm down, kitten. You bring the rope I told you to bring?"

"Yeah. Did you happen to bring coffee?"

"Here. This is better for you anyway." He handed me a two-toned capsule filled with little beads. "ADD medicine. Coffee for the 21st century." He grinned.

"So, what's the -"

"Robyn Akers goes jogging every morning in the park. This park."

"Well I figured that much out."

"We're gonna hide in those bushes, jump her when she comes by, and stuff her in the trunk."

"I don't know," I said. "This sounded like a good idea yesterday, but I -"

"Relax," he interrupted.

"Why do you even need me here anyway?"

"Because you need this more than anyone. Plus, some of these fuckers will probably put up a good fight."

He was fit. I'm sure he could have taken care of it by himself. I don't know. Maybe he was just lonely.

"Shit. Here she comes!" he whispered as he pulled me back into the bushes. "Here. Put this on."

He handed me a cheap plastic clown mask. Complete with bright red lips, rosy cheeks, and curly red hair glued to the top of it.

"You've got to be kidding me."

"Put it on. Here she comes."

I peered out through the eye cutouts of the mask and sure enough, right on schedule came Robyn. Bouncing her way towards us listening to what I'm sure was some godawful music.

"You ready?"

I didn't answer. My heart was beating fast enough I could hear it. My stomach was churning. I thought I was gonna get sick right there and ruin the whole thing for him. For me. She, Robyn, probably wouldn't even notice as she jogged by.

"Three... two..."

And before I knew it I was kidnapping someone.

Vince jumped out first and lunged at her. He wrapped his arms around hers as they fell to the ground. I crouched in the bushes still watching it all happen in slow motion like some scene on a television show. She started to scream, but he already had a hand covering her mouth.

"Back pocket! Back pocket!" he quietly shouted at me.

I pulled myself up and quickly ran over to him and grabbed a handkerchief out of his pocket.

"Stuff it in her mouth!"

I obeyed. I kept looking around waiting to see someone running towards us. Waiting to see the flashing red and blue lights. Waiting to hear a gunshot a second too late. But it never came.

"Grab the rope. Tie it around her mouth."

Again, I obeyed. I was on autopilot. A robot. I wasn't in control of my actions. He was. He stated a command and I obeyed.

I wrapped the rope around her arms, pinning them to her sides. Then I tied her ankles together. He was standing at that point. She was still on the ground frantically trying to save herself from whatever she thought we were going to do to her. She had no idea.

As Vince picked her up effortlessly and threw her over his shoulder she kicked him with all her strength right in the junk.

He grunted and dropped to his knees. Ouch.

"Jesus fucking Chri-"

"Please. Um, don't do... that," I said speaking to her for the first time since it all started.

"Fuck, man." He rolled onto his back still cupping his balls and took a deep breath.

I wasn't sure what he wanted me to do next, and I didn't think it was the right time to ask, so I started gathering the extra rope and the few things she had with her that dropped during the scuffle. Typical me. After I picked up her cell phone I turned around to see him on his knees facing her.

"Robyn Akers," he said shaking his head getting his bearings. "Married with two kids. Lives at 853 Lincoln Avenue." He laughed. "I wouldn't do that again if I were you."

She kept trying to scream through the wadded up handkerchief. Her eyes all bugged out and shiny from the tears. Poor Robyn.

He picked her up again, this time cradling her like a baby.

"Let's go," he said and walked to his car.

I opened the trunk of his 1995 Toyota Cressida and he dumped her in.

"All in all, not bad," he said approvingly as he limped towards the driver's side. "You wanna follow or ride with me?"

"I think I need to be alone," I said honestly. I walked back to my car and started to follow him out of town.



Vince owned a compound of storage units outside of the city. A perfect place to commit a crime and not get caught. Right? I got sick twice following him out there. The inside of my clown mask was filled with vomit. My heart was beating so fast it wouldn't have surprised me if I broke a rib. I didn't know if it was because of kidnapping Robyn or the amphetamine he gave me. Probably both.

When we pulled up he got out and lifted open the door to the first unit. Inside was a single metal folding chair and a chain hanging from the ceiling with a hook hanging on the end of it. He walked back to his car, put his mask back on and popped the trunk.

"Hey, Nancy, you gonna help me out or just sit in the car?" he shouted to me. Quickly and nervously I undid my seat belt and hurried over to him.

"What's that smell?" he asked making a face of disgust.

"I-I got sick in the car. I forgot about it and left my mask on the entire drive." I started to take it off.

"Leave it. We'll clean up later. Help me get her out of here."

If you thought Robyn Akers was scared back at the park you should have seen her when we got her out of the trunk. Kicking and squirming and trying to scream. Covered in sweat. The pink jumpsuit clung to her body. Her hair looked like a blonde bird's nest.

We carried her in the unit and cut her arms free. Vince held her while I grabbed more chain from the corner and wrapped it around her wrists, securing it with a padlock. Kicking and screaming, she got hoisted in the air and hung from the metal hook by her wrists. Finally. A break. Vince just laughed.

"Robyn. We are in the middle of nowhere. In a storage unit. Outside of town. No one around for miles. If I take that gag out are you going to scream?" he asked her quizzically. No answer. Just her eyes staring daggers into us.

"Perfect!" He loosened the rope around her mouth and pulled out the handkerchief.

"You stupid fucks! I'm gonna sue your fucking asses! You can't do this! You -"

"And gag back in," he said as he stuffed it back in her mouth. "It's worse than screaming. It's legal talk. Makes me feel icky."

"She's right, you know? We can't do this," I added.

I was sweating bullets. Why did I agree to this? What was I thinking?

"You still don't get it do you?" he asked. "When we're done she'll be thankful. She'll appreciate everything that we've given her. They all will!"

"What do you mean 'all'?" I said in confused horror. "Are there more people here? In the other units?"

"Not yet," he said simply as he spun her around, winding up the chain. "But there will be."

"Goddammit, Vince!"

"What? You didn't think we were gonna stop at just one did you?"

"What are you going to do to them?"

"You'll see," he said as he let go of her. "Everyone will see."

Robyn spun around faster and faster the way a telephone used to back when they had cords.

"Come on. Let's get out of here. You got work in a couple hours. Wouldn't want Marge jumping your ass over being late," he said. The shit eating smirk was back on his face. He turned to Robyn who had stopped spinning.

"We'll be back later to check on you. You want a latte or anything?"

More kicking. More muffled screams. More swinging.

He laughed, "I'll take that as a no."

The door to the storage unit rolled to a close and he locked it.

"Seriously," he said as he turned around. "Stop freaking out. I need you in top form or we're never going to be able to pull this off."

"How can I pull anything off if I don't know what the hell is going on?" I'd had it. Enough of being kept in the dark. If he was going to make me be a part of this I was going to demand some answers. "What the hell are you planning?"

"Soon, Nancy. You'll find out soon." He opened his car door and climbed in. So much for me demanding answers.

"Stop calling me that."

"I'll explain everything when you're ready."

And with that he was off. Driving back towards the city. I looked back at the door of the unit. It was locked and Vince had the key. I couldn't do anything if I tried, so I got back in my car and sped off trying to catch up with him.

A few hours later, standing behind the counter at Quickie Mart, I wasn't feeling any better. You always hear on the news about the feelings and emotions of the kidnapped. How terrified they were. How they thought they were never going to see anyone again. How they thought they were gonna die. But what you don't hear is how the person who took them felt. What was going through their minds. What their feelings and emotions were.

I felt like shit. But, back then I always felt like shit.

"Does this come in diet?" a woman shouted from the cooler door across the store. She was holding a bottle of water.

"It's water, ma'am. It only comes in diet."

"Good. I just had a baby. I'm trying to get my pre-baby body back!" she declared excitedly as she hurried towards the counter.

What was it that made her think I cared? People like that shouldn't be allowed to procreate. I hated her, but at the same time I was afraid for her. She fumbled around her designer handbag looking for her credit card to pay for her 99 cent bottle of diet water. I looked around the store and out the windows to make sure Vince wasn't anywhere nearby jotting all of this down.

The rest of the day went by slow like every other day. I managed to avoid Marge for the most part which was a nice change of pace. By the time I got home that evening the 21st century coffee Vince gave me had worn off and I was on the verge of slipping into a coma. A pang of jealousy hit me as I thought about my Aunt Nora. She was actually in a coma in a hospital somewhere. How did she get that lucky?

The neighbors were at it again. It sounded like the TV got thrown against the wall and shattered into millions of pieces that time. People screaming. Cars honking. Maybe Vince was right. Maybe the world did need a wake up call. Maybe we were supposed to be the ones to give it.

And then I passed out.



6

"Good morning. Police are releasing little detail at this time about the disappearance of Robyn Akers. What we do know is that she was last seen by her husband leaving their townhouse on Lincoln Avenue early yesterday morning to go jogging in the park. She never returned home and she hasn't been seen since. If you have any information on the disappearance of Robyn Akers please contact the local police department."

Working under the assumption that Vince was right, I decided to be more involved in our next kidnapping. If we got caught we were already going to jail. I might as well enjoy myself. Plus, he stopped calling me Nancy.

"Who's next?" I asked him the next day. Once the shock of it all wore off it was actually pretty exciting stuff.

"Richard Donaldson. Age fifty three. Salt and pepper hair. Married. Limp dick."

"Limp dick?"

He laughed. "I saw him at a drug store picking up his erectile dysfunction scrip. Anyway, Richard Donaldson. His crime against civility? Not holding doors open."

"Really? Not holding doors open? We're going to nab someone for that?"

"Think about it. Richard is old enough to know better. He was raised better. It's just the polite thing to do."

"You got it, boss," I said shaking my head. It made sense, though. He should know better.

"So when do we get him?"

"You wanna go now?"

"Now? It's like three in the afternoon. Shit. Have you checked on Robyn?"

"Yeah, I went over there earlier. Gave her some food and water. Took her on a walk. Let her pee."

I could just picture him walking her around the parking lot. The chain still wrapped around her waist as he held the end of it like a leash. I'm not going to lie. I laughed at the thought.

"So you want to get him now?"

"Might as well. You can ride with me."



Vince pulled up in front of a small cafe on the corner of 3rd and Mulberry.

"Get out here. Wait for me by the door."

"Where are you going?"

"I'm gonna park the car in the alley."

As he pulled away and rounded the corner I wondered if Richard was there. I didn't look at the photo of him before we left, so I just scanned the area for older men with salt and pepper hair. Limp dick. Poor guy.

"Boo."

"Not falling for it this time," I replied to Vince as I turned around. My arms were crossed across my chest and I had a replica of his shit eating grin on my face.

"Well, well, well. Look who's Mr. Confident all the sudden."

I rolled my eyes. "So which one is he?"

"He's not here yet. He'll be here shortly, though. When he gets here I'll let you know. We'll walk behind him into the restaurant. Wanna put some money down on whether he holds the door open for us?"

"What money?" I laughed. "Marge is holding my paycheck until she think's I've earned it."

"I don't follow."

"Yesterday when I showed up for work after Robyn I was kinda out of it. I didn't think she noticed, but I guess she just sat in the office all day and watched me on camera."

"Bummer."

"Yeah, whatever. I can't stand her. She loves you, though."

He laughed. "Of course she does. I tell her what she wants to hear. Here he comes!"

A black town car pulled up to the curb and an old geezer climbed out of it. I couldn't stand him already. A fat smug face. Business suit. He looked like the type of man you would see and think 'confident.' Two words. Limp. Dick.

He walked up to the door of the cafe and Vince and I quickly followed behind him. And wouldn't you know. No holding the door for us. He didn't even glance back. He just marched straight to a table in the center of the room and sat down. Vince and I went to a corner table at the back by the restrooms.

I watched him look over the menu for a few minutes until the waitress went over to his table. She had her back to us, but she looked familiar. Where had I seen her before?

"Iced tea. Unsweetened. No lemon. Extra ice. God knows half of it will be melted by the time you get back here with it," I heard him grumble off to her.

"Very well," she said artfully as she turned to face us.

Jane. She walked over to our table in the corner.

"Hey," I said. Vince grinned.

"Can I get you boys a drink?"

"No thank you. I don't think we'll be staying that long."

"Very well," she mocked herself as she walked back towards the kitchen.

"Is she in on this?" I asked him.

"Her role is minimal. I've followed Richard for weeks now and he's never gone anywhere completely secluded. So I came up with this. She started here last week to help out."

"With what?"

"Watch," he said as he pointed towards Jane who was walking back over to Richard's table with his drink. As she went to sit it on the table it spilled. All down the front of his business suit.

"Oh, shoot," she said insincerely.

"Goddammit!" he bellowed as he stood up. His chair went flying backwards onto the floor.

"Here, let me help," Jane continued as she grabbed a handful of napkins and started wiping his blazer down.

"Get off me." He jerked away from her and bolted past us towards the men's room.

Jane walked past us and winked. "He's all yours, fellas."

Everyone who was watching had already turned their attention to other things, so we got up from the table and casually headed to the restroom. Inside, Richard was furiously drying his blazer under the automatic hand dryer. Great. More noise.

"Stupid bitch," he muttered as the dryer shut off.

He put his jacket back on and headed over to the urinal. Vince pulled out the clown masks and we slid them on. We took the urinals on each side of him. Apparently he had issues urinating as well.

"First that idiot waitress spills my drink all over me, and now I can't piss," he grunted. "Can this day get any worse?"

"Actually," Vince said as Richard looked over at him with a look of confusion at the mask.

"It can," I finished his sentence.

I was already behind him and had his mouth duct taped shut before he knew what happened. He tried to fight, but was no match for either of us. We wrestled him to the floor and tied his arms behind his back.

"We're gonna go for a ride, Dick," I told him.

Vince put a black bag over his head and we each took an arm to walk him out. Jane peeked in the door and signaled that the coast was clear. We walked right out the back door without anyone noticing and shoved Richard into the trunk of Vince's car.

I felt alive for the first time in a very long time.

Vince handed Jane Richard's keys and asked if she'd get rid of his car.

"I know just what to do with it," she said with a gleam in her eye.

"Thanks, doll. I'll see you later?" he asked as he kissed Jane on the cheek.

"Don't be out too late, Ward."

"Don't worry, June. I'll be home before you know it."

"And bring Beaver with you, too," she said referring to me with a smile.



"You're a fucking pig!" she screamed at me. Her body writhed and swung through the air as she tried to free herself from the chains around her wrists hanging from the ceiling. "What are you gonna do to me?"

"You know, I'm not sure," I replied calmly.

Vince was in another unit getting Richard set up in his new living space.

"You could let me out you know. He wouldn't have to know. Just tell him I broke free!" She was crying now. Begging me to let her go. It was true. I didn't know what we were going to do with her.

"That's not gonna happen. Sorry."

"Fuck you!" she screamed. And then she spit in my eye.

"Do you want to eat or not?"

"I'd rather fucking die."

"Suit yourself."

I tossed the bowl of dry cereal I was prepared to spoon feed her into a garbage can and walked out the unit. Robyn Akers was a still a cunt.



7

The next few weeks we continued our spree of abductions. Sarah Tuttle. Age twenty six. Fake blonde hair. Fake tits. Her offense? Dressing her dog in clothes.

"Animal cruelty," Vince said.

We nabbed her at a hair salon. Ceremoniously we burned the dog clothes in the alley before we turned the dog over to some kid walking down the sidewalk.

Gregory Fitzsimmons. Age fifty. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Steals parking spaces. We got him in a parking garage. Imagine that.

Laura Adams. Sixteen. Texting while driving. This one was probably the most fun. I had the great idea to get a blue light that volunteers use to get through traffic easier. We followed Laura in her new yellow sports car that I'm sure daddy paid for on the freeway for a few miles as she swerved in and out of every lane. She went down a quiet road apparently on her way home when Vince threw the light on.

"Do you know why we pulled you over?"

"No," she replied still texting. She didn't even notice the clown masks.

"I'm gonna have to ask you to step out of the car, Miss."

"Why are you wearing clown masks?" she laughed. "Are you even real cops?"

"Nope."

With each kidnapping we did it became easier. I became more confident in what we were doing. I still didn't know exactly what Vince's plan was, but I trusted him enough to know it was something I'd be game for. He kept telling me he'd fill me in when I was ready.

One night in his apartment I found out what he meant.

"You've done very well. We got off to a rocky start, but you've really come around to this."

"Thanks," I said as I drank my beer. I didn't know why I needed it. I still don't know why I need it. But his approval meant everything.

"However, up until now everyone we've taken has been a stranger."

"What about Robyn?"

"Basically a stranger. You didn't even know her name. She misses you, by the way. She says you're nicer than I am."

"Fuck her."

"Anyway, up until now you haven't really known any of these offenders."

"So, what are you saying?"

"I'm saying that soon," he paused. "We grab someone you know."

Outside of him and Jane I didn't have any friends. Before I met Vince I never went for beers with anyone. Never played on a softball league. Never did anything. The only other person I even remotely knew was -

"Marge." He had a serious look about him. I could tell he didn't know how I was going to react. I didn't know how to react.

"Marge? You really think we can teach her a lesson?"

"It's not a matter of that. We'll worry about that later. We've got one more unit to fill before the show, and it's reserved for Marge."

"Wait. Show?"

"Told you you'd slip up," Jane said as she sat down on the floor. She undid the twist tie on the little baggie of coke she had in her hand and sprinkled some out on the coffee table. "You guys want any?"

Jane has always been very generous with her drugs.

"No, thanks," I said as I reached in my pocket. "I've still got a ton of Adderall. What do you mean 'show'?" I turned my attention towards Vince.

"First, are you ready to take down Marge?"

I thought about it briefly.

"Of course I am."

"Okay. We take down Marge, and then I'll tell you everything you want to know."

"Consider it done."

We decided the sooner we got her the better. It was all over the news and in the newspapers about people randomly disappearing. We had nineteen people, not including Marge, safely tucked away in the storage units awaiting their punishment. The police were everywhere, though, and it was making kidnapping much more difficult than it should have been.

The easiest place to take Marge down would be the Quickie Mart. She got there around five in the morning which would give us an hour before the store even opened. That was plenty of time to take the old broad down. We also decided it would be easier to get her if we didn't wear the masks. Now obviously this was a huge risk, but sometimes you just have to take risks when you're abducting someone.

"So, tomorrow morning then?"

"Tomorrow morning," I smiled.

When I left Vince's I didn't feel like going home, so I headed back out to the storage units to check on the criminals.

She was still crying. Laura. The sixteen year old we jacked just off the freeway with the volunteer light on top of my piece of crap car.

"Please," she sobbed. "Please let me go."

"Not gonna happen," I said stoically.

I was still getting used to the fact that I was a kidnapper. A criminal. And even though she was annoying, no one wants to see a sixteen year old girl hanging from chains in an abandoned storage unit. Unless you're into that sort of thing.

"B-b-b-but why," she continued. "I didn't do anything wrong."

"Look. I'm not letting you go. So you can either shut up, eat your food, and I'll take you out to pee, or you can go without and I'll just leave. Your choice."

She wiped her face on her arms and calmed down enough for me to spoon a few Jell-O squares in her mouth.

Once she was done eating I wrapped a chain around her waist and attached a longer chain to it with a padlock.

"Come on," I said.

"W-w-where are we going?"

"I'm taking you to pee."

She started crying harder than ever as we walked out of the unit and I pointed to a grassy area in the corner of the property.

"Don't worry," I said as she hesitated. "I won't watch."

I locked Laura back up and headed over to the next inmate.

Robin Akers had seen better days. Her pink sweatsuit was stained and filthy from sweat, tears, dirt. God only knows what else. Her roots were showing and she had bags the size of suit cases under her eyes.

"I heard you missed me," I laughed smugly.

"Fuck you," she hissed back.

I laughed.

"Why do you wear those stupid clown masks?" She was doing her tricks again. You know the ones. Where she swung her legs around and jerked her arms trying to break free.

"I think that's a pretty ridiculous question."

"You're a fucking pussy. That's why."

Something in my head snapped. When I told Vince about this later he said that was the moment he knew I was really in this thing and not just along for the ride. I grabbed Robyn by the throat and pushed her up against the wall.

"You kiss your kids with that mouth?"

"Don't you fucking mention my k-"

"You think I'm a pussy? Really?" I was screaming at that point. "You are chained up inside this tiny room. You have been here for weeks. You are miles away from the city and no one is going to fucking find you.

She tried to scream.

"You think I'm pussy?" I asked her again as I took off the clown mask. "Think again."

I let go of her neck and she swung back to the middle of the room. She was quiet. I turned away and started packing things back in my bag when she finally spoke up.

"You're the guy from Quickie Mart," she said quietly.

I walked out without saying another word leaving her hanging with her head facing the floor in the silence.



8

Amber Alert - Laura Adams. Sixteen. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Last seen driving a yellow sports car. Missing for 18 hours. Please call 1-800-555-5632 with any information.

Marge was in her office counting money from the day before when Vince and I cut the power to the building. We snuck in the back door, scaled down the cooler aisle and tip toed across the sales floor.

"Hey, Marge," I said with an upbeat voice. "What's up?"

She swung around in her chair.

"Jesus fucking Christ, kid. You scared the shit out of me." Her menthol 120 hanging from her lips like always. "The power just went out. And you ain't supposed to be here until nine."

"I know, but I was up and thought I'd come pay you a visit."

"Take it easy, man," Vince whispered from outside the doorway.

No. Fuck that. I was gonna have fun with it.

"What's going on?" she asked. "You're acting funny."

"Honestly, Marge, I brought you a surprise."

"Now I know something's going on."

Vince walked around the corner into the doorway. "Hey, Marge."

That perked her up. She purred her hello as she straightened up in her chair and crossed her legs. Again, a team of specialists with three liter syringes full of botulism, industrial strength fat vacuums and blow torches couldn't do anything to fix her appearance. She kept at it, though, despite her futile efforts.

We started slowly walking towards her.

"So, Marge, Sean here tells me you've got a thing for me," Vince said with his nine year old smirk face.

"It's true, isn't it, Marge?" I asked her.

She started to mumble and fall all over her words, but I interrupted her.

"You know, Marge. You're not exactly Vince's type. He prefers his dates to have pulses."

"Now, Sean," Vince added mockingly.

Marge was definitely suspicious now. We kept walking towards her slowly.

"It's true, though. I do enjoy a good pulse. You know what else I like?"

"What is going on here?" she asked as she started to rise from her chair. She took a big long drag of her cigarette and as she exhaled I lunged forward and grabbed her.

"What the fuck are you doing?" she screamed as she tried to wrangle free from my arms. We fell to the floor.

"God, Marge! Nobody wants you!" I laughed as I wrestled her onto her back. Then, out of nowhere, a hell-like burning pain in my face where she pushed the still lit stub of her cigarette into my cheekbone.

Fuck that hurt. I screamed in pain. Somehow she managed to push me off of her and started to get up off the floor. Vince was quicker than she was though and had her tackled and back on the ground before she knew what hit her.

"Marge," he said forcefully. "You're not going to win this. Give up."

"Why are you doing this?" she pleaded.

"We're doing this because you've misbehaved. And what happens when we misbehave?"

"We get punished," I said looking her dead in the eyes. "I'll go get the rope."

Marge was gagged and bound in a matter of minutes just like the rest of them.

"Marge Lanzone, manager of Quickie Mart, 56 years old. You are hereby charged with being a bitch."

The trunk of Vince's car was really starting to stink from all of the sweat and tears and vomit. Oh well. What's one more, right?

Now, this might sound crazy to you. It might sound completely unsettling, but kidnapping was starting to give me a sense of peace. For the first time I felt like I was doing something to combat everything I hated in the world. The more we did it the easier life got. It was like a high. The greatest high you could possibly get. And shutting Marge in the trunk of Vince's car pushed me right over the edge.

"That was amazing."

"Not bad, Beaver. Not bad at all. I didn't think you had it in you."

"I feel like I can move mountains. Walk on water."

Vince laughed. "Well, a promise is a promise. You ready to hear the plan?"

"Yes. I'm ready."



9

LOCAL RESIDENTS WORRIED AS NUMBER OF DISAPPEARANCES INCREASES.

Police encouraging people not to travel alone and to be aware of your surroundings.

It was genius. Vince's plan was genius.

"It's a fairly simple concept," he explained as he outlined our plan. "We get the word out through the right means, and people show up to a meeting spot which will be determined later. Everyone will be loaded onto a bus and will be instructed to put on blindfolds. As a secondary precaution the windows of the bus will be blacked out. The bus will bring them here, to the carnival."

He pulled into the small parking lot of the storage units.

"Wait? Carnival?"

"Carnival," he replied. "It's perfect."

He was right, too. It was perfect. He had plaques made up with each person's name, age, and their offense on them. We'd put them up at the front of each unit, throw up the doors, and put them on display for the public.

"It'll be interactive, too," he said as we walked towards the unit occupied by Devon Chesterfield. "Take this guy for instance." He unlocked the door and swung it up revealing Devon hanging pathetically from his chains. "Devon here was apprehended for something as simple as throwing change at cashiers. Minor, some would say, but annoying and unnecessary none the less. But, here at the carnival, our patrons will give Devon a taste of his own medicine."

Queue the seven year old smirk.

The tortured face with the puppy dog eyes.

"A taste of his own medicine?" I asked cluelessly.

"See that bucket over there?" he asked as he pointed to the corner of the storage unit. "It's filled with change. Do you think he's is going to be a repeat offender after he gets change thrown at him all night?"

"Oh, I get it," I replied as I started getting a clearer picture. "Their crime is also their punishment."

"Exactly. Crime and punishment. You ready to eat you fat fuck?" he asked as he turned his attention to the squirming blob of human flesh hanging from the chain.

"Hey, let's not forget about Marge."

My cheek hurt like hell from the cigarette burn.

"Ha! Let's go get her. He can eat later."



Later that night we met back up at Vince's apartment to finalize plans and have a few drinks. Jane greeted me at the door with a handful of Xanax and kiss on the cheek. "I missed you," she said as she walked down the hall towards the living room, arms out with her fingers dragging along the walls on either side of her.

"Look, Ward. Beaver's home."

"Hey, man," Vince said looking up from a stack of papers on the coffee table. He was bug eyed and sweaty. A cigarette hung from his lips and as he spoke he got ash everywhere.

"We're all set for Saturday night," he said beaming with pride.

"Are you sure we're gonna get away with this?" I asked. "I mean, how are we gonna get people there without the cops or somebody finding out?"

"Simple. Know your audience."

"What does that mean?"

"Patrons of the carnival will all work in the public. Cashiers, servers, salespeople. People like you. Jane's already been spreading the word."

People like me. Of course.

"How do you know they won't go and nark on us when they leave?"

"When they arrive at the bus we check their I.D.'s and take down their information. If they nark, we'll have everything we need to get retribution. If cops show up we simply don't say where we've got the little bastards until they give us what we want. If cops make it to the carnival, well," he paused as he laughed to himself. "We'll deal with that if it comes up."

He'd thought of everything.

"I'll explain the rest of it as we go."

Vince got up and walked in the kitchen to get another drink. Jane was dancing in the corner by herself. She had on a little black flapper dress that hung loose over her skeletal body.

"Damn," Vince said from the kitchen. "We're out of whiskey. I'll be back." He walked out of the apartment quickly leaving the door to swing shut on its own.

Jane slinked over to the coffee table.

"So what's your story?" she asked as she lit a cigarette. She took a long deep drag and inhaled slowly.

It was around 11:30 at night, but she had on big round sunglasses.

"You don't have to wear those," I said pointing to her sunglasses. "We're just as fucked up as you are."

"You're avoiding my question," she replied. She left the sunglasses on.

I stood up from the plastic lawn chair and walked around the coffee table to stand in front of her.

"I don't know," I said as I took her cigarette and took a drag. "What do you want to know?"

She leaned forward with her elbow on her knee and her chin in her palm.

"Everything," she replied. She stood up and started pacing the room. "Start from the beginning."

I scoffed. "Well, I was born."

She rolled her eyes. "Come on. I told you about me. About my mom, and about Chuck. The website."

"I don't know. I had a good childhood I guess. My parents worked, I went to school, and when we all got home we were a family."

"Where are they now?"

"They kicked me out the third time I dropped out of college."

"Why?"

"I was supposed to turn out a lot different than what I did. I was supposed to get good grades, graduate high school, go to college. Get married. Have kids. Have a respectable job. I was supposed to make them proud."

"And?"

"And, I didn't."

"Boo fucking hoo," she said as she lit another cigarette.

"So, I moved out here to start over. I got a job at Quickie Mart and... the rest is history."

"It's funny isn't it?" she asked as she stared at the ceiling.

"What is?" I was sitting back down. My body started to loosen as the muscle relaxers we snorted earlier started to take full control.

"Nothing," she said as her head rolled over to her right shoulder to look at me. "Everybody starts out equal. With the same chance. But one wrong turn and you're a failure. Cast aside with the rest of the misfits. Left to figure the rest of your life out on your own."

"Oh well," I said as I laid down on the floor in the middle of the room.

"It's so quiet here," she said.

"I know. I've been searching for this for a really long time."

"You're doing something great, you know," she said suddenly. "With Vince, I mean. You guys are doing something great."

"You think?"

She didn't answer. She just drifted off to sleep.



10

FBI CALLED IN as number of kidnappings and disappearances in the city continues to increase. "It's very odd even for our city. There aren't any ransom calls. There aren't any threats. There's not anything. Just people disappearing and then nothing." While the police are stumped, Rev. Tom Freelance of The Lord Above Us Gospel Church encourages people to pray for the safe return of these victims and for swift justice.

I woke up the next morning back in my apartment to a pounding on the door.

"Police. Anybody home?"

Fuck. Were they on to us?

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

"Police! Open up!"

I crawled off the couch and walked across the room to answer the front door.

"Good morning, officers," I said through a yawn as I rubbed sleep out of my eye. I decided to play it cool and see where it went.

"Took you long enough. Are you Sean?"

"Yeah."

"You're very hard to get a hold of, Sean."

"I'm sorry?"

"We tried calling your cell phone several times yesterday."

"Oh. I threw it away a few weeks ago. I got tired of it ringing."

The two officers standing in my doorway looked at me like I was speaking a different language.

"It was very liberating."

"I'm sure it was."

Clearly they didn't get it.

"Can I help you with something?" I asked curiously, wanting to get to the bottom of their visit.

"We're investigating the disappearance of Marge Lanzone."

"Disappearance? Marge is missing?"

This was good news. I was prepared for a conversation with the police about Marge.

"We received a call yesterday morning from a Randy Collins. I believe he's a coworker of yours."

"Yeah, I know Randy."

"Anyway, he showed up to work yesterday and the power was out, behind the counter was trashed, and Marge was missing."

"Shit. Who would take Marge?"

"That's what we're trying to find out."

"Well, whoever did it will probably return her pretty soon. She's annoying as fuck."

Don't get cocky, I told myself.

"Where were you yesterday? The schedule hanging in her office says you were supposed to work."

"Oh, I called her night before last and told her I wouldn't be in. Stomach flu."

"So where were you yesterday?"

"I was here. I was with a few friends."

"How did you call her if you threw your phone away?"

"I used my friend's phone."

One of them handed me his card and told me to call him if I thought of anything useful. I closed the door as they walked away and slid down to the floor. That was close. I messed up with the phone thing, but I figured they bought it. I threw on some clothes and headed over to Vince's apartment.



"Good work," Vince said after I told him about the cops.

"You think they suspect anything?" I asked.

"They have no reason to. You're just paranoid."

"Whatever. So what now?"

"Today," he paused, "Today is the day, my friend. We'll head over shortly to get everything ready, hose off the animals, and prepare to meet the patrons of our carnival."

"I can't believe this day is actually here," I said smiling. "You know, when you told me to meet you in the park that morning we jacked Robyn I thought you were nuts. Fucking crazy. I just wanted some peace and quiet at first. But now I can't imagine doing anything else."

"We were meant to do this," he said. "We were meant for greatness."

He grabbed a pill bottle off the counter and dry swallowed a handful of whatever.

"Let's go."



11

Inside the fence of the storage units had been completely transformed. There were a couple popcorn machines at each end of the lot. Balloons were tied everywhere. That creepy carnival music was playing from speakers hidden somewhere I couldn't see. At least it wasn't rap music.

The body and windows of the bus that pulled into the parking lot had been spray painted black. Jane sat behind the wheel with her giant Jackie O sunglasses over her clown mask. She had cut a hole in the mouth of the mask and was smoking a cigarette. The bus rounded the corner and came to a quick stop right in front of the first set of units.

"Everyone stay here," I could hear her saying inside the bus. "And don't take your blindfolds off."

She pulled the metal lever opening the door of the bus and stomped down the steps in her white knee high pumps.

"Well, well, well. Look at you," I said admiring her outfit. She was wearing a short silver dress that was covered in rhinestones and sequins. Her hair was clean and curled and hung loosely over her shoulders.

"Thanks," she said as her head rolled from side to side. "I thought it looked good on the mannequin so I borrowed it. Where's Vince?"

"Gagging everyone so they can't speak to anyone."

"Ah. Good idea," she said as she looked around. "So this is what you boys have been up to."

"You've never been out here?" I asked curiously. I had just assumed that she had been.

"No."

"Oh. Well, you want a tour?"

"There's no time," Vince said with the smirk as he came up behind us. He pulled his mask down over his face and put a top hat on. "It's showtime."

He had found a couple of black suits in a trash dumpster behind a funeral home. Jane found the top hats in a costume store she was casing a few weeks before for jewelry. "We're ringmasters of this carnival. We gotta look the part, man," he said to me when he showed me what we were going to wear the night of the show.

Vince climbed the steps of the bus followed quickly by Jane and I.

"Alright, everybody. You can take your blindfolds off now."

The bus was filled to capacity. Young and old. Black and white. Some people had their children with them.

"I hope they're not expecting something different," Vince said quietly to me as he looked around the bus.

"Where are we?" asked a man four rows back. He was in his early twenties and was still wearing an apron from his job as a cook.

"Where doesn't matter," Vince said to everyone. "Most of you heard about our little show tonight through word of mouth. You're all servers. Cashiers. You work with the public on a daily basis. As I'm sure you've all noticed, civility is dying. Having good manners is dying. Common courtesy is dying! What we're trying to accomplish here tonight is to slow the hemorrhage. At first you will be shocked at what you see. But keep an open mind. These people are here for a reason. And with any luck, after tonight, they won't ever need to come back."

"So what do we do?" a blonde at the back of the bus shouted.

"Next to every unit is a plaque," I said. "Each plaque has all of the information you need to know on it."

"Just remember, everyone," Vince said. "Their crime is their punishment."

With that he motioned for everyone to stand up. I left the bus last. When I hopped off the last step I saw a group of college aged kids wearing barista uniforms heading towards the first unit.



12

At first people were a little standoffish. They didn't quite know what to do. They walked to and from the different units with a variety of looks on their faces. They read the plaques and saw the offenders. But they needed someone to make the first move. They needed a leader. I walked up to a man who looked like he was in his forties.

"Do you believe that?" I asked him pointing at a woman named Ashley Cook. "She's twenty eight year old and has six kids by five different men."

"So?" he replied unmoved.

"So? Tell me, what kind of car do you drive?"

"A Pontiac."

"Well, Ashley here drives a shiny new Buick. She doesn't work, though. And she gets $1200 in food stamps every month. How much assistance does your family get?"

Jackpot. I struck a nerve.

"We don't get any goddamn assistance. I work sixty hours a week in a fucking factory not making shit and we don't get any help!"

"Exactly," I said evenly. "Doesn't it make you angry?"

"What do I do?" he asked angrily. He stared into the eyes of Ashley Cook who was trying desperately to free herself from the chains that held her.

"Well, Ashley's brand new car is parked about 10 feet behind you. Why don't you start by keying it."

Without another word the man reached in his pocket and took out his keys. He walked over to the red Buick's driver side and squatted on the ground. I walked over to get a better look and was thrilled. On the door of the car he keyed "WELFARE QUEEN."

A couple of women who were standing nearby had heard me tell the man about Ashley.

"You know, I'm all about helping people who need it," said a woman still wearing her apron. "But I don't see any reason why this chick can't work." The woman walked over and picked up a can of black spray paint sitting near the car and went to town. On the other side of the car she spray painted "I DON'T WORK BUT I DRIVE THIS CAR."

A crowd had formed at that point around the car, and word was spreading fast.

"You see?" I shouted at everyone. "These people aren't victims. We are! And they're never gonna learn unless they're punished!"

The transformation was complete. I used to be a quiet guy who would take crap from just about anybody. But not anymore. I had turned into someone completely different. Someone who saw things clearer. Someone who saw that a change needed to be made. And we were the ones who were going to make it. It wasn't just about the slow death of civility. It was about everything that had gone wrong in the last fifty years. It was about trying to correct it.

"How many of you hate people who are always on their cell phones?" Vince shouted from the other side of the compound. He pointed inside one of the units. Robyn Aker's unit. "This lady is one of them. She can't put her phone down long enough to pay at the gas station. To take care of her kids. How does that make you feel?"

The group of people moved down to Robyn's unit and crowded around the entrance. They were shouting and screaming at her. It was beautiful.

There was a box of cell phones we had lifted off of people on the streets sitting at the front of the unit. Someone grabbed one and started talking in it. Vince walked in the unit and took the gag of out Robyn's mouth.

"Help me!" she screamed. "Call the police!"

But no one heard her. Everyone had taken a phone and put them up to their ears.

"How does it feel, Robyn?" Vince asked. "They'd rather be on those phones right now talking to no one than deal with you. Sound familiar?" He put the gag back in.

Something similar was going on at Laura Adam's unit.

I walked by Marge's unit. No one was there, so I walked in. She was just hanging there.

"You see, Marge?" I said. "No one wants you. Not even now."

I walked the crowd and watched people throwing change at Devon Chesterfield. Slapping Daphne Manchester in the face and complaining about anything they could think of. They were opening and closing the door to Richard Donaldson's unit as he begged for their help. At Sarah Tuttle's we had set up a trunk full of clothes and accessories. People were inside dressing her up and dressing her down at their own leisure.

Vince, Jane, and I stood back and reveled in it all. Watching everyone go to work on these violators was a thing of art. They needed it as much as the people hanging from chains needed to be taught a lesson.

"What's that?" Jane asked suddenly turning her attention to off in the distance.

"What's what?"

A couple of college guys standing near us must have heard it, too.

"Oh, shit!" one said.

"Cops!" the other screamed.

Everybody stopped moving. Stopped throwing money. Stopped spray painting. And listened for a brief second. You could hear it clearly.

Sirens.

And then chaos.

Everybody dropped everything and started running towards the exit of the compound.

"Come on," Vince said confidently.

We followed him behind the storage units to the gate in the fence. There was a wooded area about one hundred feet away.

"We're on the lam now," he said with the sirens in the distance.

"Why? Nobody saw us." Jane said as she took her clown mask off. She pulled a small metal tube from her cleavage and unscrewed the lid. "Anybody want a hit?"

"Marge saw us," he informed her. "We took her without the masks."

"Robyn saw me," I added. I knew it would happen like this. From the beginning I knew something would go wrong. But I didn't care anymore. I didn't want to go back to my old life of standing at a register and taking people's guff.

"Are you coming with us?" Vince asked her as we reached his car. The sirens were getting closer.

"Nobody saw your face," I told her. "Nobody knows you were here."

"What else am I gonna do with myself?" She smiled slyly.

"Everybody take your clothes off," he said as he pulled out a duffle bag from the back seat. "Leave your clothes and the masks here and change in to these."

We got in Vince's car and he pulled out onto a back road and started driving. I looked in the side mirror. Behind us several police cars were pulling up to the compound. Guns drawn. Voices shouting. Lights flashing. But no one following us.

A few miles down the road Vince merged onto the interstate. He reached over and pulled a map out of the glove compartment.

"So where are we going?" Jane asked from the backseat.

"We could set up another carnival," I added.

"We could go anywhere," Jane said with a smile.

"Yes we could," Vince said. He laughed quietly. "Yes we could."

4 comments:

  1. very clever idea, i guess we´ve all felt like doing something similar.
    like the idea of freedom they feel, srikes a chord.

    lot of truth to this.
    well done

    Michael McCarthy

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  2. The best medicine is a little taste of their own medicine. Michael's nailed it, we've all had that moment. Nice little story.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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