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.
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.
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.