PAINTBALL JUSTICE • by Nicholas Ozment

Here they come in their Armani three-piece suits: three young studs of Wall Street, American royalty who made their first million before thirty. Been a bumpy ride over on their street lately, so they’re here to blow off some steam. Regulars, get in at least four times a year. Weekend warriors. They bring their own guns. Nicer than my personal Proto Matrix even though I’m the owner of a paintball arena.

They came on the wrong day.

The bank is foreclosing on my business. Plans, dreams, life savings splattered like paint on plywood. And I have two very disgruntled employees. Roger was semi-retired, but now his 401k is gone. Luke has an ailing wife, and health insurance from his other job isn’t covering the cost of her treatment. It’s not difficult to get them on board with my little plan.

I know these customers are just three among hundreds who share responsibility for the state we’re in. But they’re not Ken Lays or Bernie Madoffs. They’re under the radar. Even while Rome burns around them, they’ll pocket their money and walk away, scot-free and filthy rich. So Roger, Luke, and I are going to exact a little justice of our own…

The Wall Street Warriors emerge from the locker room wearing jeans and flannel shirts — the only time they’d ever blend in with us. Unless you look at their hands. Or notice how groomed and coiffed they are — metrosexual or whatever you want to call it — I call it just having more money than you know what to spend it on, so they get manicures, salon treatments, who-the-hell-knows-what.

They don vests and face shields. I open the gate and let them onto the course. We let them blow some steam for a while, unload on each other, laughing and swearing as they dodge and weave among the obstacles. They chose green pellets — not ironic. They spray green paint the way they blow other people’s money.

When they’re empty, they come back.

“Hey, buddy, gate’s locked!”

Buddy? Not in your dreams. They’ve never bothered to learn our names, or ask anything but technical questions pertaining to their equipment. Even then, not a thank you or any show of respect. They treat us like I suppose they treat waiters and masseuses and all the rest of the servant class. Their right, our privilege. Not today, mother******.

I look him in the eyes — a bleach-blond high-roller named Wilson — through the mesh. “Step away from the gate and go back to the center of the arena.”

“What? What the ****, man, I’ve gotta take a piss.”

One of his comrades, William, snickers. “We should just buy this place, for our own private games,” he says, snidely — the only tone I’ve ever heard from him.

“Well, William,” I say, “you’ll have a chance to do that, when the bank puts it up.”

“C’mon!” the third, Bradley, says in exasperation. “Unlock the gate.”

I draw a gun from my waistband, raise it.

“This is not a paintball gun. It’s a .40 caliber Smith and Wesson. Now, back off from the gate.”

Their cockiness melts away. They obey.

Roger, gray-haired but still tough and wiry, unlocks the gate. I go in first, followed by Luke carrying two paintball guns. Roger comes in last and locks the gate behind us.

“What the hell’s going on?” Wilson whines.

“A little bit of justice,” Roger mutters in his gravelly voice.

“Hey, not our fault your business is tanking!” Bradley protests.

“Not directly, maybe,” I allow. “But you’re part of the system that is responsible. You’ve gotten rich off it, while we lose everything. Take off your clothes.”

“What the ****, man?”

I jam the gun in the air persuasively.

They start undressing.

When they’re naked, Luke picks up Wilson’s fancy gun, a Dye Matrix DM8.

“Always wanted to try one of these.” He starts transferring paintballs.

“I overheard you boys,” I say, “your banter in the locker room. What did you call folks like us?”

“We weren’t talking about you!”

Cock the gun.

Wilson shrugs. “Plebs. Pezzes. But, out of context — ”

“What else?”


“We are so going to ******* sue you,” William says. “My lawyer will have all your asses in jail.”

“So sue me. And jail? Not much worse than my roach-infested studio, which I’m losing too.”

“You guys have taken this too far,” Bradley mutters.

Roger folds his arms and says gruffly, “One thing you boys never learned, while you were learning to play the system. You can push people pretty far — but you don’t want to push ‘em too far. Push ‘em to the point where they got nothin’ left to lose… Well, then, how do you keep ‘em in line then?”

William pleads to Luke, hoping maybe the younger man will be our weak link. “Hey, man, you don’t wanna go to jail, huh?”

“My wife is dying.” All he says.

“Roger’s right,” I say. “We worked hard to earn our money, and we handed it over to you in our 401ks and our bank loans for you to play with. You went and got rich with it, but you left us nothing. We do want a little justice before all’s said and done.”

“Aw, this is bull****,” Bradley huffs and heads for the fence.

Luke’s shot catches him in the crook of the knee, raising a red welt that nearly buckles him.

“Do we observe paintball rules?” Luke asks.

“Avoid their eyes, I guess, but don’t sweat too much about the groin area. I really don’t care if they can’t produce a Wilson the fourth to inherit their wealth. Now, boys, you’d better run.”

They dart around the course, vainly seeking shelter behind plywood replicas of forts and bunkers. We follow, getting some meaningless satisfaction from hunting stock-market predators.

When the thousand-round bag is empty, we’ll grab another. When we’re done, there won’t be an inch of their bodies free of welts. The pellets we use are red, white, and blue.

Nicholas Ozment teaches English at Winona State University. His stories and poems continue to appear in numerous magazines, book anthologies, and online zines. He is a co-editor of Every Day Fiction’s sister publication, Every Day Poets.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Can’t add a word to that. Perfect, Nick. Five from me. 😉

  • I enjoyed this, other than veering a little too close to over-moralising in some of the dialogue – the ‘little guys fighting back’ message is strong and has the reader on board even without the verbal contest with the bankers. Good read. Satisfying outcome.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The story kinda gets lost in emotion.

  • Celeste

    I agree wtih Martin, but still a good story. Enjoyed it.

  • Oscar Windsor-Smith

    The only place on earth this story won’t raise a cheer is Wall Street and its equivalents. I’m with K.C. on this, Nicholas. High five from me too, in both senses.

    😉 scar

  • Jim

    Very 2009, very here and now. Will we remember Bernie Madoff and how he out ponzied Charles Ponzi? Maybe and maybe not but Ponzi is the eponymic one!

    Loved it!

  • Very good and, of course, very relevant. I especially liked this line: Push ‘em to the point where they got nothin’ left to lose… Well, then, how do you keep ‘em in line then?” Makes me wonder how far away that point is. The story needed a satisfying ending and it pulled through in that regard too. Good job.

  • Love the red white and blue. “These are the colors of freedom, bitches! Bask in it! Swim in it! Bleed with it!”

  • JohnOBX

    A catharsis. A flash piece with 6 + characters starts to feel a bit crowded. But I did like the ending since from the start I figured the money-men were going to be killed. “Meaningless satisfaction” indeed. It won’t change anything tomorrow, but it sure feels good in the moment.

  • I liked the story, but I was kind of turned off by all the ****ing asterisks. If the story requires cusswords, then use the ****ing cusswords. This is sort of like watching an R-rated movie on TV, where they bleep all the ****ing bad language. I’d rather see ****, ****, mother****ing, and all the rest than a bunch of ****ing asterisks.

  • Great provocative flash.

  • Very time-appropriate. Like someone before me said, it won’t fix anything tomorrow, but for today, they’re really going to be able to forget about foreclosure and 401K’s and bring ‘the man’ to his knees. Interesting and well done.

  • I was with them all the way, Nick – straight for the gonads! 🙂

  • Jen

    Not my type of story.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    Silly story of a business man (an Italian one is possibly suggested with the words “Armani” and “Rome burns”) who is suffering hard times and probable loss of his business. He blames those few customers who still have enough money to spend at his gaming arena for the reason that they have enough money to spend at his gaming arena and therefore have more than their fair share of money. He winds up pelleting them, in their forced nakedness, with game pieces of their own flag’s coloration. These people are further disliked because they say things like “****” instead of “shit” or the elevated “feces” and he intends to bring the men to begging humility.

  • Alan W. Davidson

    I enjoyed the story as a basic revenge piece that hits home to the currnent global situation. Maybe this is just my Canadian showing…but the reaction to these rich and arrogent men seems somewhat excessive and disproportionate to their crime. These men are only a symptom of a very large disease. It would have worked better for me if the men had been directly involved in the economic plight of the paintball trio. I saw a comment about the Armani guys being killed…I can’t tell from the story if they died or not in the end.

    My 2 bits on the 4 letter words: if it’s relevant to the story, use it. Most people in the real world use them from time to time.

  • Bob

    Seemed like a fun piece to write, and emotionally it was a satisfying read. Stylistically, though? A little trite. The armani boys were too pat, too easy to hate.

  • A non-spec-fic story that I actually ended up liking.

    Now I know the world’s coming to an end. lol!

  • Wish fulfillment — very gratifying… Probably something a lot of people would like to do right now!

  • Certainly fits the national(worldwide?) mood of today. You know Ozzie Osbourne prefers to watch his show on American TV because he finds the *bleeps* funnier than the curses.
    And yeah, autoworkers are demanded to give back and NYC bankers are getting another hundred billion–go figure.


  • A story of our time. Nicely done Nicholas!

  • Sharon

    Agree with Martin and Celeste. 4 from me.

  • Nicholas

    Thanks, everybody, for all the comments–much appreciated, and gratifying to see it rouse such a response.

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