DEAD MAN’S DROP • by K.C. Ball

Eddie Horrigan was a ride jock for a carnival. Angela came by the carousel first night in town.

She pulled at the gomer with her. “Let’s ride the merry-go-round, Delbert.”

Delbert studied Eddie. “We’ll ride the Ferris Wheel.”

“I want that one.” Angela pointed at an enameled horse.

Delbert pulled at her. “Paid you to do what I say.”

“You paid me to walk with you. The walk’s over.” Angela jerked her hand away.

Delbert stepped close and raised a fist, but paused at the tap of Eddie’s baseball bat on concrete. “I gave her a hundred bucks,” Delbert whined.

“Here.” Eddie held out five twenties.

Delbert glanced at the bat, then took a longer look at Eddie. “No, thanks.”

“Then get off the lot.”

Eddie touched the bat to the tip of Delbert’s nose, and the gomer forgot about money in his haste to run away.

Angela rode Eddie’s carousel ’til the generators shut down. She gave her body to him, but never offered up her love; then or when the show moved on and left them both behind.

***

For eighteen months, Angela shared Eddie’s bed. She called him Sugar and helped him run small cons. He bought a five-liter Mustang. They looked at houses and Angela collected bridal magazines. She claimed Eddie had won her heart forever, but Eddie knew it wasn’t so. He was a distant second to the dope she bought from Fat Jack Mancuso.

“Someday,” she said, when Eddie begged her to give it up.

Eddie refused to give up, though. He had no credit built up in heaven, but he prayed for her salvation. It didn’t help. Four days before Christmas, high on crystal meth, Angela walked into the path of a bus, right outside Fat Jack’s place.

***

Jack skipped the funeral. At the cemetery, it snowed like hell. Eddie blamed Jack for all of it, so he pinched a case of Jack’s dope on Christmas Eve.

“You’re a dead man, Horrigan,” Jack snarled, when Eddie answered Angela’s cell phone.

***

Eddie rocketed through holiday traffic, with Jack’s Hummer right behind, as if chained to the Mustang’s bumper. He wasn’t certain where he was or how they found him, but no never mind. What he had to do was get away. When he came upon a low bridge he took a chance; stood on the brakes, wrestled the steering wheel, and roared onto a narrow road along the river.

He rolled through gathering night — lights out — for long seconds. Then slammed the Mustang into a tree-shrouded drive, leaped out before the engine stuttered to a stop, sprinted to the road and dropped behind a tree.

Enough time passed for a single breath, then the Hummer roared by. Eddie scurried to the river, eased into the freezing water and nudged the case before him, as he swam.

***

On the far shore, Eddie found a canvas-draped carousel. He slipped inside, taking in the familiar scents of paint, varnish and stale popcorn.

Polished brass and varnished rumps glowed in the soft light of a single lamp. Names were hand-lettered on each behind. Just in Time. Gambler’s Stakes. Longshot Blues. Poor Man’s Bets.

Beyond the carousel, he found a “you are here” map; he was in a larger complex with an open-air aquarium and a zoo. At the zoo, he found towels and uniforms, dry socks and boots. No time to rest, though. Jack was coming.

Eddie set to work.

***

Ninety minutes later, with Christmas dawning, the Hummer muscled through the gates; Jack sat in the front seat. Eddie popped into sight and coaxed Jack and his mooks deeper into the park. For an hour, he reappeared each time they slowed. Finally, he let them catch up at the Great Apes amphitheater. Jack looked rumpled, as if he wore the hide of a larger man.

Eddie held the case like a shield and waited.

“Why?” Jack asked.

“For Angela.”

“Who?”

Eddie whirled, lofting the case over the stone wall. A silver-back gorilla lumbered forward as it fell. Eddie missed the staccato crack of the pistol, but in the strobe of muzzle flash he saw his shadow stretched before him.

And he felt a sledgehammer blow upon his back.

“Get my case.” Jack sounded far away.

“That’s a gorilla, boss.”

Eddie heard two shots.

“It’s a dead gorilla now. Get my case.”

Scrambling feet. Grunts. The soft thunk of leather striking concrete. The sharp, metallic snap of locks.

Jack jerked Eddie from the ground. “Where’s my stuff?” he growled.

“Dropped it.”

Their noses touched. Jack smelled of last night’s liver and onion, of stale cigars. Eddie caught a whiff of fear, too. Even Fat Jack Mancuso answered to someone.

“Where?” Jack snarled.

“Drop your guns!” A new voice. Cops were on the lot.

Timing had been tricky. When Eddie dialed nine-one-one just before he let Jack catch him, he feared Angela’s cell phone had died.

Then the dispatcher had answered, ready to send help.

“Last warning.” Another voice; deeper, more impatient.

Jack let go of Eddie’s coat and stood. “We give up,” he called.

“I love you, Angela,” Eddie whispered.

***

Daylight arrived before the paramedics eased Eddie onto a gurney and snapped their equipment cases shut. One of them leaned close.

“You got an early Christmas present, mister,” she said. “You’re going to live.”

Eddie offered her a loopy grin. He listened as the latches on the gurney clicked; felt the smooth rumble of rubber wheels on concrete.

They rolled past the carousel. Under the canvas, unseen horses stood frozen in a never-ending race. Gambler’s Stakes. Just in Time. Longshot Blues. Come spring, a renamed pony would run the circle, too. By then, no one would notice new paint or varnish or resculpted curves.

Nor the extra pounds of powder packed into the rump of the horse Eddie had rechristened Dead Man’s Drop.


K.C. Ball lives in Seattle with her wife, Rachael, and a fussy cat. She is a 2010 graduate of the Clarion West writers workshop and won the Hubbard Writers of the Future award in 2009. Her fiction has appeared online and in print here at EDF and at Analog, Lightspeed, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Daily Science Fiction. Her first collection of short stories, Snapshots From A Black Hole & Other Oddities, was published in 2012 by Hydra House Books. Her novel, Lifting Up Veronica, was published by Every Day Publishing that same year.


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 average 3.8 stars • 32 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    …and a steward of the environment,too!

  • S Conroy

    Rivetting up to somewhere around the middle – up to “Eddie set to work” or even a bit earlier. I found the second part slightly longwinded and was a much bigger fan of the harsh realism of the beginning than the gangsta slapstick of the second half. Half 5 star, half 3 star so my maths says 4.

    • MPmcgurty

      Unsurprisingly, you expressed my thoughts about the shift in tone better than I. 🙂

  • MPmcgurty

    Not my favorite of K.C.’s stories, but it held my interest. Stumbled a bit in the drawn-out chase sequences.

    The diction in K.C.’s stories is second to none. I always enjoy reading them.

  • I’m a big fan of noir and was thrilled to see this infrequent appearance here. I enjoyed the romp. I thought the reliance on the cops save the bacon a bit too convenient.

  • Sean Monaghan

    Stark and pared back. Really enjoyed this one. Thanks KC

  • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

    I’m glad I went along on this ride. Good one.

  • Jack Tilley

    Toward the end it started to feel a bit like a just-so story, where the narrative twists and turns were mainly tasked with explaining how the enamelled horse got his rump smacked.

    But I enjoyed the ménage a trois between Eddie, Angela and Fat Jack Mancuso. Fat Jack’s smack represented the command centre of libido in this story. Angela, typical druggie, has the emotional development of a pre-schooler (“I want that one”), blasted and gone-to-seed as she tries to snuff out her sexual maturation with the white powder. She simply flops inert into Eddie’s bed and lets him go through the physical motions. It’s only when she’s high on Fat Jack’s good stuff, and moving in his dangerous aura, that she’s able to experience the ultimate little death.

    Eddie’s love for Angela is quite capacious, but a loose and watery thing – it seems to gush out onto her of its own accord, for no compelling reason. She was in the right spot at Eddie’s ripe time. It’s hard to imagine their sex life as anything other than flaccidly uninspiring.

    Eddie worries that he’s “a distant second to the dope she bought from Fat Jack Mancuso.” But who does Eddie really want to be first with? His obsession with Jack after the funeral is a little odd. His plan to steal the dope even odder. It hints at unrevealed details, unconscious motivations. And as the action suddenly explodes between them, warping the very structure of the story and containing a curious mix of violence and flirtation (“Eddie popped into sight and coaxed Jack”), Eddie gains a very close first-place with the dope. I think Eddie is exhilarated to have finally found the locus of Angela’s stymied animality. There was something a bit wan and unrealised about him before this.

    The final scene is the clincher: after his fling with the dope, after being sledgehammered from behind, Eddie lies back peacefully wearing a “loopy grin”: the first – and quite arresting – moment of joy in the story.

    Well anyway, if I bought the film rights to Dead Man’s Drop, that’s the interpretation I’d run.

    • Gay Degani

      K.C. Ball!!!! Enjoyed reading your stuff again, all so your style, funny and serious.

    • JAZZ

      I liked K.C.’s version much better……

    • K.c. Ball

      Wow! I thought it was just an exercise in tone.

      • Jack Tilley

        But then who would believe an author’s comments on their own story? 🙂

        I was to a certain extent indulging in an exercise at the expense of your exercise, but honestly.

  • Michael Stang

    When ever I read Carney it’s like it’s in the blood. This ain’t no Bradbury but I could feel the pulse in the beginning.

  • I think I’m a little out of step here. I’ve read this a few times now and I can’t fault the tone, the consistency, or the flow, but it felt to me that Christmas (and snow) had been shoe-horned in. Unless I’ve missed something, they weren’t really relevant and didn’t add anything to the story. Eddie still having, and answering, Angela’s phone seemed a convenience, a device placing it with Eddie so it didn’t have to be pulled out of the hat in the last scene. And I’m not sure why Jack would call her number about the missing drugs when he knew she was dead. I can see that he might but I’d have liked a tiny hint that he suspected Eddie still had it and was also responsible for the theft. Otherwise, cracking stuff. [pun not intended but as it’s here..!]

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      Jack calls Angela’s phone because that’s the only number he has to try and reach Eddie, who he’s guessing will have kept it.

      • Well yes.What I’m saying though is that there’s not even a tiny shadow of that before it happens.

        • JAZZ

          Sarah’s answer was correct. And why foreshadow Eddie having the phone when it isn’t important.

          • “Timing had been tricky. When Eddie dialed nine-one-one just before he let Jack catch him, he feared Angela’s cell phone had died.” Doesn’t this make it important, or is there another phone that I’ve missed?

          • MPmcgurty

            I’m okay with Eddie having and answering Angela’s cell without my knowledge of its existence. Jack supposes Eddie has it on him because he was last with Angela. But to your reference to Angela’s phone dying, I wondered why Eddie didn’t have his own phone to call 911, especially if he thought Angela’s might be close to dying.

  • Michael Ehart

    Brilliant KC. Just plain damn brilliant.

  • John Towler

    Stellar storytelling. This moved along at a crisp pace but I never felt lost and the characters were compelling. Well done.

  • K.c. Ball

    Thank you all for your comments! 😉

  • Gustavo Bondoni

    Powerful story – nice one!

  • I really liked this one. Even though there was a significant shift in pace and tone, it didn’t ruin the story for me. Good descriptive writing without going overboard, and just enough character development to understand a bit more of what was going on. Nicely done. Thanks for sharing.