King’s Ransom

In the soft light, under some trees in the amusement park Janie and Bill stood sweating in their wool suits. Her face was powder and fine creases and some chemicals to prop it up and hold it together. Her eyes were glazed over. But she started dancing to the piped-in music, started moving her hips, her cold expression unchanging. Bill stood there and looked out towards the tourists. Do you think he’ll show up this time? he asked.

Oh, he’ll show, Janie said. That’s the problem. She stopped moving and went at her phone, texting away. Bill stared at the side of her head like he was going to tell her something but his mouth didn’t open -it only twitched a little. He was a good ten years younger than her and coincidentally had just gotten his hair cut that morning.

When Peter finally arrived they were numbed both by the heat and the waiting and moved in slow-motion. He was on his way to the escalator: giant crown, robe flowing, looking like the perfect cartoon king. It’s Peter, Janie growled to Bill and they both shuffled in place. Meanwhile the king Peter was getting further away. Bill… Fucking–. And she pinched his arm hard, jolting him out of his stupor. Ow! I am! He now walked briskly toward the king, swinging his arms, with Janie following too closely. Peter!

The big king face turned, solemn expression, grey beard. The crown could not have been bigger and more bulbous on his head. Bill kept coming, now invading the king’s personal space. The king put hands on both of Bill’s shoulders to keep him back. Janie leaned in. What is this? Peter said.

He must have been prepared for them though. In 65 seconds he had slipped back into the crowd going down the escalator and Janie and Bill were stumbling around in circles. You fucked it up, Bill, Janie said. You moron. Bill paced around, glancing now and then at the king’s crown bobbing away from them through the throngs.

Shut up Janie! SHUT UP! Bill’s face had become an almost fluorescent, sweaty pink. He grabbed her shirt and leaned into her face. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP! Security moved in, and a crowd formed. Some people even walked the wrong way up the escalator to get back into the commotion.

When the guards got up to Bill they had to pry his fingers from around Janie’s neck. On the pavilion below, Peter, the king, stopped and stared up, his benevolent kingly expression replaced with a grimace. His brow furrowed.

Janie leaned, gasping, over the railing, her shirt torn, her neck red and bruised. Their eyes met for a second before Peter took off running, robes flowing, pushing people out of the way. His crown fell off as he went around a corner and a little kid instantly picked it up. But the kid’s angry dad made him drop it.

Above, security guards and medics pushed in at Janie, all talking at once. She ignored the chatter, pointing down to the lower pavilion. She finally spoke, her voice quavering, Get… me… that… crown.



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