The king of sideshow alley

Custer sleeps all day, waiting for the first spruiker, the diesel splutter, the disco blare, the crowds. There’ll be hot dog stumps in the dust soon enough. He’ll swagger beneath the crush.

He nuzzles Mikki’s legs as she’s unhooking a giant panda from her top row. Someone’s got lucky. Someone’s calling themselves the King of the alley. Someone’s got a girl beside him with cropped hair and platform shoes and a panda under one arm and she’s pulling him close with the other. Custer watches.

Custer follows them. The King and his girl. He slinks past the fake tattoo tent. Ten year-olds clammering to look like B-list heroes. The King and his girl buy fairy floss and smoke cigarettes and flick their butts onto the dodgem track.

At the ferris wheel Custer trots forward to greet the King.

‘G’day fella,’ says the The King, scruffing Custer’s nut. Gotta be good with dogs and guns, he reckons. Yeah. Mongrel dogs and slug guns and tin ducks in a row. Ping, ping, ping, ping. Sweet.

Custer notices the ride attendant distracted by cackling teenage girls. The King sees too.

‘Quick.’ He jumps past the queue of outraged families, dragging his girl with him. She yells and pulls her arm away and calls him stupid.

Custer bristles. Readies himself. The crowd parts as the wheel advances. The King and his girl still arguing as they start to move. The panda is mute at the girl’s side, its legs hanging limp. Custer picks his moment well. He leaps as the big wheel jerks to a stop.

Hot dog stumps might be good enough but Mikki’s treats win every time. As she lifts the returned Panda back into the top row Custer settles under the whirring arms of the Twister with his new bone.

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