|Larry Kincaid looked across the midway, his tired eyes squinting against the setting sun and flashing lights. He wasn’t looking for anything, merely passing the long hours, his hand on the worn rubber of the joystick, holding it forward, moving overly excited working class kids around an out-of-date ride. Larry watched the parents watch their kids. He found himself thinking about the thoughts of the fathers, smiling up at their children, who were being pulled and pushed, tossed and thrown by invisible vectors. They were probably worried about their jobs, about keeping food on the table and gas in the tank. This was the county fair, after all, and there wasn’t a six figure guy within twenty miles. He was brought back by the glow of the red light on the control panel, and he looked down at the screen to see a message about low oil pressure. Larry turned and whistled loudly at the Mexican working next door. He slowed the ride; the riders shook their dizzy heads and made their way down the steel steps, walking away toward their parents and the nearest barker. The Mexican waited for the last of the riders to exit before stepping up to the control panel.
“Go find Ken, tell him we’ve got a hydraulic leak on 19.” Larry said, bent down to look at the panel. The Mexican nodded, walking down the steps and across the wet grass towards the service field, where the employees parked their RVs and the large scale work was done on the rides.
Larry lowered himself into an old plastic lawn chair, the back of his neck resting against the warm metal of the railing behind him. He was a slender man of 46, his brown hair graying at the temples, the wrinkles at the corner of his eyes accentuating the fatigued look of his face. A worn white t-shirt hung across his broad shoulders; his long legs were covered by a pair of Levi’s, worn by work, not acid. He wore tan work boots, the laces frayed, the leather pitted and dirty.
Larry brought his hands to his face, and rubbed his tired eyes. As he took them away, out of the corner of his eye he saw a young man approach him, dressed in a short sleeve button down, stained with oil, a pack of Lucky Strikes in his breast pocket.
“Hey Pop,” the young man said, grabbing the railing and vaulting the four steps up to the platform in one jump.
“I aint your damn pop, Ken.”
“Afternoon to you too,” the young mechanic said as he grabbed for the pack of cigarettes, his grimy fingers leaving a visible fingerprint on the crisp cellophane.
“Smoke?” he said with a grin.
“Mmm” grunted Larry, and took the cigarette from Ken’s outstretched hand.
Ken was the only person in the entire American Dream Amusements “family” that Larry could stand for more than a few minutes. In fact, he would have told you he liked him. They parked their trailers next to each other in the service field, and would talk at night about whatever came to mind. Ken was an honest guy, 22, and had dropped out of technical school because, as he had put it one night over a bottle of Jack, they “didn’t know shit about mechanics.” He found a job with American Dream as they passed through Arizona late one fall, and had been with them now for about two years. He was, as Larry put it that same evening, “smart as hell,” and was one of the best mechanics the company had ever seen. That’s why Larry let him get away with talking shit.
“What’s the problem?” Ken asked after he had lit his cigarette, and put the matches back in his breast pocket.
“Hydraulic line must be leaking, got a low pressure light on. Probably that one you pointed out last time.”
“Ahhh, shit. Don’s too fucking cheap to replace what I tell him to, the problems just gonna keep happening if you don’t fix the source.”
Larry got a little nauseous at the thought of the overly sugary persona of their naive boss, one Don Jackson. He had purchased American Dream Amusements Incorporated less than a year ago after the last owner was caught in a scheme buying equipment inspections with sexual favors.
“What else you got tonight?” asked Larry, taking a drag and looking down at the still blinking light.
“Same shit as always, greasing the drive wheels on 15, and 20…oh, and I have to weld that step back onto 9, some damn fat kid put all his weight down in the wrong place.”
Larry gave a wry smirk as he stubbed out his cigarette on the floor, and got up to throw away the butt. Ken followed him down the steps and across the gravel path to the trash bin.
“Hey, you gonna be around later, I wanted to grab that book you talked about the other night, you know the…”
“You’ve read that damn thing six times.” said Larry, bending down to pick up a hot dog wrapper next to the bin, and tossing it in. Larry was impatient most of the time, but it was only off-putting to people who didn’t know him, so Larry never saw much reason to change.
“Yeah, but I like it.” said Ken, unchanged by Larry’s response.
“Yeah, come over later on, I’ll be around.”
“K, see ya Lar…Don’t kill anyone.” Ken said, turning on his heel, the gravel crunching underneath.
“Same to you.”
“Don’t kill anyone” was a mantra they had adopted one night, both agreeing that the last thing either of them wanted was a lawsuit from an accident, and that saying it out loud would keep it from happening.
The book Ken wanted was Rolling Nowhere, a firsthand account of one man’s trip around the country living as a hobo. He left college, and the life he knew to roam around, riding trains to find whatever came his way. The people he met were all there for different reasons, but they had a solidarity that simply didn’t exist in the regular world. Larry had found it in a discount bin when he was Ken’s age, back when there were two ways to escape small town Arkansas: the open road or the open vein. He read it for the first time with a desire to understand his own “path,” and the desire to confirm the good in the world. He saw the same feelings in Ken, and although Larry had read it many times since, each time looking at it with a bit more of the skepticism that comes with age, he figured, “what the hell,” if the kid liked it, the kid liked it.
* * * *
The last of the crowd had moved off, and Larry, having enjoyed a somewhat abbreviated night due to the hydraulic leak, took the long way back across the service field to his trailer. The light was off in Ken’s next door, and Larry paused for a minute to check his phone, the bright LED shining against the painted aluminum siding. 1:43 AM, usually Ken would be back by then. Larry decided not to read too much into it. He continued his walk, having picked up a cigarette on his way out the door. The midway was dark, empty, and oddly mechanical looking; without the flashing lights, the skeletons of the rides became visible in the moonlight. Larry liked this time, and he walked slowly down the gravel path, his boots kicking aside stray pebbles. As he walked he thought about the book, about Ken, and about his own potholed path that brought him to this moment. He had left in his twenties too, mostly to get away from Joan, the semi-delusional woman hell bent on becoming his bride. He had romantic ideas about traveling around with American Dream, and dreams about the people he would meet, and the places in the country that made it unique. Though now, after 26 years of traveling around, all Larry saw were people who couldn’t afford a real vacation and boring stretches of land that looked more and more the same. The irony of the likelihood of a white picket fence was not lost on Larry as he aged along with the rides he controlled.
Larry was brought back to the present by what sounded like Spanish profanities coming from behind the large ticket booth off to the left of the path. He made his way to the edge of the booth, his hand supporting his weight on the rough wood as he peered around the corner, trying to hear the dispute. Under a dim, flickering streetlight a Mexican stood, clearly angry at someone blocked from Larry’s view by a large banner: “American Dream Amusements: The Friendly Face of Fun!” The Mexican continued to yell, and although Larry was by no means fluent, he was able to pick out cocaina from the flood of words. Larry was a firm believer in the idea that trouble comes to those who pry, and not wanting to get involved in a drug dispute, he turned to leave. He walked back to the path, pausing to pick up an empty Pepsi can and toss it into the bin ten feet away. It was then that he knew who was behind the banner, and realized it a split second before he heard Ken yell:
“Get that fucking thing out of my face! I didn’t take your fucking blow…I’ve never gone near your fucking trailer!!”
Ken stayed away from drugs, and Larry had no idea why or how he had gotten in the middle of a dispute with a drug crazed Mexican with a gun. Larry hung back, behind the ticket booth, having no desire to get shot, but not wanting to leave Ken alone. He heard more shouting on the part of the Mexican. In respose, Ken moved closer to the Mexican, clearly not intimidated by the gun still held to his chest. Ken yelled what sounded like a final rebuttal right in the Mexican’s face, and turned his back on him, taking three steps before the bullet entered his lower back. Larry ran towards the two as soon as the gun went off. He saw Ken fall, as he tackled the Mexican from the side, hitting his temple with one hand and knocking the gun away with the other. Larry didn’t know how many punches he threw, and didn’t care. He pounded, beating the Mexican’s face as if it were no more than a pillow, spraying red feathers in an arc ten feet on the trampled grass and tire tracks. He felt the Mexican’s broken teeth cut through his index knuckle, felt his jaw broken by the heel of his left hand while he punched with his right. His eyes swam with tears and spattered blood as he swung his fists and hit wet earth, missing his target completely. The Mexican didn’t move as Larry lost consciousness, falling on top of his broken, battered face.
* * * *
Larry awoke to a white light above, cold metal around his wrist, and a Black Suit sitting in a chair beside his bed. Larry came to realize his surroundings as he became aware of the tubes snaking to his nose, through his arm, into his urethra. He became aware of his hands, wrapped tightly in gauze.
“It’s holding three of your fingers on…you cut tendons in there doctors didn’t know you could get to without a scalpel,” the Suit said, placing his newspaper on the end of the bed. “You went pretty crazy back there, messed Juan Doe up pretty bad. I get it though. You saw your friend shot and lost it…sucks for you, you took it a little too far.”
“How is he?” Larry said softly, through cracked lips.
“Juan? He’s bad enough to have you booked for Attempted…”
“No, Ken…is he ok?”
“Your druggie pal? He bit it just after you were brought in here, lost all his blood, bullet nicked an artery in his chest. Turns out he was ripping the guy off, we found a few bags of the stuff in his trailer.”
Larry didn’t respond, he merely looked ahead, at his feet under the thin blanket, at his chart stuck crookedly into the holder at the foot of the bed, and at the door, slightly ajar as if tempting him out of the room, away from the stale air, away from the Suit and his naïve predictability. He didn’t give a shit about Larry or Ken or Juan Doe, it was all business to him. Larry turned his head away, pretending to sleep, and heard him sit back down in his chair. Eyes wide open, a single tear shook at the tip of Larry’s eyelash, and dropped to the pillow, remaining there, intact, for a few seconds before disappearing into the blank white.