A Ride on the Wonder Wheel
Here’s an excerpt from Whiskey’s Gone. It’s the third book in the Fina Fitzgibbons Brooklyn mystery series, and it’s about a missing single mom, Whiskey Parnell. In this monologue, Whiskey shares her diary.
A Sunday in August
My first job after high school was nothing much, a gig in Coney Island selling hot dogs at Nathan’s Famous. Not the main stand, but one in the northwest corner of the park hidden away and known only to a few luckies, frequented mostly by employees. The lines were nonexistent. Most of the dogs were overcooked. They rode around on their silvery bars, sweating and shriveling. We sold them for half price. One of my friends who worked for the fat lady came every hour. “I want two dogs, hot and sizzling not shriveled. They’re for the lady, you know who.” She always paid full price.
While we talked, I saw a guy out of the corner of my eye. Kind of stringy, not bad looking, sparkly eyes, red hair sticking up like a brush. I didn’t give him a second thought.
So I kept up with the questions to my friend all the while sneaking looks at the guy, a lusty-looking dude if I ever did see one.
The next day Mr. Nothing came around again. This time his hair was slicked down so it was real dark red, but blue in spots where it caught the light off the ocean. He bought two dogs and an egg cream. As he slurped, he looked at me with his sparklers and his smile.
“Care to take a ride?” He licked some mustard off the bun with a tongue full of purpose.
I looked straight at him and said, “My ma doesn’t allow me on dates.”
He smiled but said nothing, biting into his dog and chewing ever so slow.
I thought that would be the end of him, but he kept coming back. Finally I gave in when he told me he’d seen my ma working Brighton Beach Avenue underneath the el.
“You’re a liar. She’s not even Russian.”
He shrugged and told me his name was Arthur Victor. I didn’t believe him. Said he worked at Shoot the Freak and part time for the fat lady and did I want to accompany him on the Wonder Wheel or maybe even the Whip and did I know that Fatty Arbuckle rode the Whip.
From the giddyup, Arthur used big words.
“You talk funny,” I told him, but he stared at me like I was naked as a jaybird or something. My interest perked.
“I drive a bread truck and read in the back warmed by all the loaves.” He pointed to the Wonder Wheel. “Built in 1920 by the Electric Ferris Wheel company,” he said, chomping on his dog.
As if I cared.
“Give it a whirl.” He gulped his cream and wiped his hands on his pants. “My treat.”
His treat, all right. When we got to the top I looked down to see his fingers creeping up my skirt. I get the spooks every time I think of that first time. I was a goner. After that he was a regular at Nathan’s Famous, two dogs and a cream and a real good ride, don’t mind saying it.
When I got home that first day, Ma asked about my windblown hair and flaming cheeks and I shrugged. I told her I had a ride on the Wonder Wheel.
“So that’s what they call it,” she said and went back to polishing her nails and sipping her whiskey. Ω
Photo: cover, Whiskey’s Gone. Design, Avalon Graphics; Coney Island at Sunset, drpavloff, Flickr, Creative Commons.