‘The Coin Toss’
Ringo, past and present …
The big tent was a smorgasbord of boondogglery. Mechanically winged men fought mid-air with flashing swords. Collared fire and ice elementals danced, trying not to kill one another, to the tune of instruments that appeared to play themselves. The mermaid that townies had gawked all evening in the geek tent rose out of her aquarium prison in a globule of water that floated, intact, over the crowd. Acrobats made a bridge, gripping one another’s shoulders, muscles twitching, for the sabertooth that walked across, pursuing her nightly dripping ration of meat, on a platform at the other side.
Ringo swaggered on stage, carrying twin single-action revolvers named Faith and Reason. His thrower, a long-legged juggler dressed in top hat and a short flouncy clown skirt, strutted to the center after him. She set plates spinning on batons, then tossed them up high. Ringo, twirling the revolvers ‘round his trigger fingers, wasn’t much of a show in comparison to the thrower until the first plate exploded mid-air into tiny ceramic shards.
Tightrope walkers quivered above; the strongman lifted benches full of giggling, terrified minions overhead. If the thrower tossed too high or too low, it’d all go to hell, and that was part of the appeal. Ringo stumbled about like he’d been sauced for hours, swaying, one eye closed for focus, leering at his thrower’s gams, but when the plate flew, his guns paused cold at his hips and BANG: Whatever the thrower launched was destroyed.
Children crowded up front, holding out coins they’d pilfered from generous parents: “Me! Me! Mister Ringo, please, me!” The thrower made a big show of plucking up coins from their sticky fingers, then she twirled, tossed… BANG, and then she caught that same coin out of the sky, returning it to the lucky child with a perfect bullet hole through its center. Two at a time she threw – BANG-BANG – then caught one in each palm.
For the finale, she tied a blindfold around Ringo’s head and spun him some. The terrified crowd went silent. Some ducked behind their seats; some ran out. The thrower girl tossed three coins. Arms crossed, aiming over his shoulders, sightless Ringo fired: BANG-BANG-BANG. The thrower whirled, danced, then returned three coins (with faces blasted through) to their rightful owners.
The crowd exploded into standing applause.
How? they bellowed to one another. Impossible!
All the while, the carnie kiddos slipped purses from townie pockets, invisible as ghosts.
Outside the tavern, the broadside is still littered with half-ripped posters of Ringo, two-armed, whole, a perfect shot. Inside, at a round table of mean eyes glaring out over fanned cards, Ringo stares at a blasted coin, rubbing its indentations with his remaining thumb. “Heads, he says, “and I quit gambling.”
The coin flips away from his long fingers, spins fast in the air, lands in his palm and slams down on the table. He makes a show of peeking at it then grins, tosses another chip on the center pile. “I’m in,” he says, and while they deal, Ringo flips the coin again.
“Heads,” he says, “and I stop drinking.”
The coin flies, lands, slams home under his cupped palm. He peeks again, then calls out for another round.
The cards aren’t in his favor, but the cards rarely are. When the pint is empty, Ringo mumbles, “Heads, and I stop fighting. Get a legitimate job, pretty wife, babies, hang up old Reason for good.”
The coin flies, a faint whistle sounding through the hole in its center.