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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