Crime du Jour: 31 Days of Malfeasance, Misconduct, and Immorality
One crime story per day, all the way through October. Ebook to be published Nov 1. This will be under my mystery/crime pen name, Diane R. Thompson!
Crime du Jour #18: Manslaughter (Involuntary)
AT THE CARNIVAL, NIGHTTIME IS THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
It’s one of those traveling carnivals that sets up in open fields or parking lots of dead shopping malls. It doesn’t have a big top or sideshows. It isn’t a traveling circus. It has a single Ferris wheel with twelve topless double seats that creak as they swing. There’s a merry-go-round with plastic horses on it. Some of the paint is chipped all the way down to the gray plastic, but the fabric top is still immaculate red and white. The music comes from a DVD player. The whole carnival smells of diesel fuel and burnt sugar. A million cords have been gaffed down to the cracked asphalt of the parking lot. You can get cotton candy, carmel apples, sno kones, popcorn, corn dogs, hot dogs, hamburgers, soft pretzels, and all kinds of big cold drinks. It’s hot enough, and dry enough, that sweat tacks down the hair on your arms, straight onto your skin.
If you’re lucky, you win an orange stuffed orangutan. A sports jersey. Or a rubber duck.
At the carnival, nighttime is the same, but different.
The lights come on.
Some of the lights are regular lights. There are regular socket bulbs, neon lights, fluorescent lights hanging inside the ticket booths, washing the color out of the ticket-takers’ faces. Then there are the LED lights. They sell hand-held mini fans with LEDs all around the outside edges of the fan blades. The lights show patterns as they spin. More LEDs race each other around the outside of the tent awnings. They dance between the hanging stuffed animals. Frogs with their arms outstretched, zebras, pink bears with smaller stuffed animals, monsters mostly, behind a plastic window in their bellies. All those eyes watching you, once the lights come on. Some of the eyes have lights inside them. At night the air turns cold, colder than it really is, so you end up wrapping your arms around your shoulders and shivering. People are everywhere and nowhere all at once. One second you’re surrounded. The next, suddenly you’re by yourself, everyone looking at you.
I have two tickets and no money. The cheapest ride is three tickets, except for the kiddie rides, and I’m too tall for those. Three tickets for the fun house. I need four tickets for the Sizzler, or the Pharaoh’s Fury, or the Gravitron. I walk around the edge of the carnival, looking for someone who wants to get rid of their leftover tickets. I’m shivering. I’m wearing shorts and a yellow ramen-noodle t-shirt. I told my mom I wasn’t going to bring a sweatshirt. My friends already went home. I have to leave soon too, on my bike. Maybe I’ll find some other kid to give my leftover tickets to.
Then this guy pushes past me, wearing running shoes, no socks, black shorts, and a long-sleeved black t-shirt that sticks to his front. He has a hemp necklace with cowrie shells on it and a goatee. He looks at me. He looks at me on purpose.
I hear something rattle on the asphalt. Then the guy jumps over the aluminum fence at the edge of the carnival and is gone.
On the asphalt is a curling coil of tickets. I pick them up.
They’re sticky and dark.
I find a mostly-clean paper napkin and wipe them off.
A dozen tickets! With my two other tickets, that’s fourteen. That’s three four-ticket rides, with two left over. Or two fives and a four, with nothing left over.
I walk to the Sizzler. It pulls at me, swooping and turning. It isn’t the most dangerous ride. It isn’t the tallest ride. But I like it. It has three arms with four carriages on each arm. It turns like crazy, throwing you back and forth and switching directions. Then, just when you start to get used to it, it starts throwing you up and down. No seat belt, just a grab bar that fits in front of you. I get in line.
A big guy is taking tickets, the kind of guy who can throw a kid a hundred feet into the air all by himself. I hand him my two clean tickets and two of the least yucky ones. He starts to take them, then looks down at the tickets. “What the hell did you spill all over these, kid? I can’t be taking these.”
He shoves them back at me and pushes me out of line. I howl in protest.
“They’re fake! Nice try, kid. Next!”
He’s lying. Those tickets are real. He just doesn’t want to gunk up his ticket pouch.
Two guys behind me hand over their tickets. They climb into a seat and pull the bar in front of them and put the pin in, even before the ticket taker comes. For a second the music on the merry-go-round goes silent, and I hear one of them say, “But I know I got him.”
“He’s still moving,” says the other, banging his hand on the arm of the safety bar.
“We’ll find him. Time to start searching—” says the first one, and then the music comes on again.
A few seconds later, the Sizzler starts up. The two guys are still talking. Their heads lean one way, then the other. They’re wearing matching dark-blue polo shirts and khaki pants.
I see something dull and silver lying on the ground where they climbed in. The ticket taker sees the silver thing too, then does a double-take.
His hand moves for the lever, but it’s too late.
One of the polo shirt guys screams. Then—
Nobody ever finds out how the guy on the inside end of the seat gets thrown, but not the one on the outside. It’s a freak accident. The big guy is arrested for involuntary manslaughter, but they let him go again.
I keep my mouth shut when they ask me.
Even though I never get to use the rest of those tickets.
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