I sized up the game. Rows of fuzzy knock-down dolls with crazy expressions painted on their faces lined shelves about fifteen feet away. I played some baseball back in high school and once pitched a shutout. Jane gazed wide-eyed at me, and I gave in. “Maybe I could try one time.” I fished three dollars from my pocket.
“Easy win, captain.” The barker took my money and laid three baseballs in front of me on the shelf, which also served as the pitching line. “Three down gets you a big one of your choice, two a medium, and one a small prize.”
I took the first ball and wrapped my fingers around it. My palm molded to the leather. The stitches pressed against my fingertips. Some things are never forgotten, like riding a bike, shuffling a deck of cards, and throwing a baseball.
Alex flashed a smile. “Go get ’em, slugger.”
“Isn’t that what you tell a batter?”
She mouthed something that I don’t think was you’re right.
I stretched my arm back and threw. The ball missed, sailing over the tops of the dolls.
“Tough one there. Still you get two down and win a medium prize.” The barker handed me another ball.
Another wind up, and I let go. The ball soared between two dolls. The fuzzy hair around the edges barely moved.
“Wow, you almost had that one.” He took the last ball and tossed it to me.
I took a breath. I was seventeen again and my macho reputation was on the line. Get at least one down I told myself. This can’t be too hard.
Again I pitched, letting the ball snap from my fingertips. Like a bullet, it sailed for a doll. Adrenaline surged through my veins. My heart pounded. The ball caught the edge of the doll, making it rock, but it stayed standing on the shelf. “Not fair. I hit it. This thing is rigged.”
The barker snatched a ball from a large basket behind the counter and threw. The ball struck the doll squarely between the eyes, and it fell with a thud. He swung a triumphant fist overhead and roared, “That’s how it’s done.”
“I still say it’s fixed.” I gave Jane an apologetic shrug.
Alex came forward and tossed three bills on the shelf. “I’ll give it a shot.”
“You?” My voice perhaps sounded a bit too surprised.
She flashed me a defiant scowl. “You don’t think I can get three down?”
“They have to fall completely over,” I explained. “It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
“Wanna bet on it?” When I didn’t answer, she pointed at the Galaxy Smasher. “I knock three down, and you ride with me.”
This was a sucker’s bet, and I was taking advantage of her. “What if you don’t?”
She tilted her head and studied me briefly then said, “I’ll take you home.”
We shook hands. She sidled up to the pitch line, seized a ball, and eyed the row of dolls.
“The lucky lady is going to show us how to do it.” The barker flashed a cocky grin and gave me a wink.
Alex’s eyes focused on the target for a moment. A gentle breeze passed over us. Tightening her fingers on the ball, she stretched her arm back and threw. Not impressive by any means, but the ball stayed straight as if it traveled inside an invisible tube. It smacked a doll squarely in the face with a plunk and knocked it off the shelf.
“Holy cow! She got one. Let’s give her a big hand.” The barker applauded madly. Some of the other game operators joined in. A few patrons smiled and shook their heads.
She didn’t seem too pleased with his patronizing. Her eyes narrowed, and she glowered at him. I figured the barker’s plan was to shake her up and get her to throw off.
The next ball left her fingertips, heading straight at a doll. Again it found the sweet spot. With a solid thud, another one toppled from the ledge.
The energy in the barker’s banter waned. “Not bad, sweetheart. Two in a row. Gonna make it three?” The corner of his mouth curled up, and he handed her another ball. Something told me he’d slipped her a ringer.
She threw with the confidence of a seasoned major league pitcher. The ball wobbled and twisted as it sailed. The barker grinned as I was going to protest when the ball clipped a doll, catching it near the edge of its head. The furry figurine wobbled on the shelf.
“Aw, too bad,” he shouted.
But it did fall, tumbling backward and vanishing from the shelf.
A brief glimmer faded from Alex’s eyes, something I’d seen before. Like two red embers, but in a moment, the glow was gone. I figured perhaps it was a reflection of the lights from a nearby ride.
“Too bad for you.” She flashed a crooked grin at the barker, whose mouth hung slightly open. She pointed to the black and white panda hanging overhead. “I want that.”
He hesitated and finally tugged the stuffed animal down. She snatched it and passed it to Jane. “Now you have to name it.” Alex turned to me. “Ready?”
She stared at the Galaxy Smasher and grinned.
I loved writing this scene on many levels.
The games at the carnival are mostly crooked. I recall going to carnivals in my youth and watching people dump tons of money on chances to win stuffed animals. In this particular game, the dolls are weighted and require hitting them in a sweet spot. Anywhere else will merely rock or move them, not knocking them over.
Cavendish is being typical male here thinking macho that he can knock them down. Of course, the odds are against him. Instead of impressing Alex and Jane, he is donating three bucks to the carnival. He even admits the game is fixed.
When Alex says she’ll play, Cavendish is amazed because of her lack of baseball knowledge, having never played. When she says, go get ‘em slugger, he corrects her with “Isn’t that what you tell a batter,” not the pitcher. Also, since he did not win, surely no one else can.
The game operator is just plain sexist, figuring a woman can’t win the game. His comments are to taunt Alex. She shows him and wins in the end.
This scene subtly shows Alex’s witch power, controlling physical elements. In The Witch’s Daughter, she demonstrates her ability to open mechanical locks.
Alex wins the prize and the privilege of taking Cavendish on the Galaxy Smasher, the wildest ride at the carnival. He had wanted to go home earlier, but now was committed to staying.
This scene cut shows the special dynamic between Cavendish and Alex. Being a murder mystery, this makes Cavendish the sleuth and Alex his side-kick, but actually they work more like partners, complimenting each other. And Alex lends her special talent in solving the crime.
Before closing, I wanted to express special thanks to Cassie Knight for her assistance and insights with the edits for The Fortune Teller’s Secret. We had a few discussions and changes to this scene, and I think it worked out quite well.
For now Alex and Cavendish are working on their next mystery, tentatively titled The Thief’s Return.
You can find both The Witch's Daughter and The Fortune Teller’s Secret on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and at the Champagne Bookstore.