Timmy held perfectly still, trying to ignore the noise around him. He felt the weight of the dart — his final dart — in his hand. He studied his target intently and, almost without volition, let fly. The dart flew the short distance and popped one of the few red balloons.
“Hey! You did it, kid! Good work!” the booth’s worker said. “Name your prize.”
Timmy pointed to a jumbo-sized stuffed bunny — the only purple one — that had pride of place in the balloon booth. The worker smiled as he retrieved it and handed it over. “There you go, kid. Congratulations.”
The barker began calling for more players even before Timmy could turn away. “Just had a big winner here! Big winner! You can be next! Step right up! Three darts for a dime!”
Timmy trotted away from the booth, unable to see where he was going for the huge new toy he carried. Heedless of who might be watching he hugged his big rabbit.
The boy looked up and saw his father approaching; he held a pie in one hand.
“Look at what I just won, Dad! At the balloons!”
“Well! That’s great, son. Let’s go put him and this pie in the car. Then we’ll get you some more tickets and you can ride a few more rides before we go home.”
Father and son went off together happily to the parking area at the Purty County Free Fairgrounds to deposit their treasures in the Fairlane.
After the last fairgoer and the sheriff had gone for the evening, the traveling carnival’s boss held his usual meeting.
“All right, that’s a pretty good total for a first day in a rinky-dink place like this. Three more to go. Finally, we come to our Loss Reclamation Unit’s report. Verlin?”
“Mr. Sneedham, the unit recovered four jumbo stuffed bunnies, two large stuffed bears, three medium-size stuffed dogs, and $4 worth of assorted smaller prizes, all from the parking lot. And a harmonica that a kid dropped near the airplane ride. Plus three pies: two apple and one rhubarb.”
“Well done. And the prizes are, of course, already in place as though they’d never been won.”
“Of course, Mr. Sneedham.”
‘But, Mr. Sneedham …”
“I do have to report that we were unable to retrieve Sam. He’s gone.”
A moment of silence filled the trailer.
“Well … that was bound to happen one day. Sam went out and came back, what, 30 times? Forty times?”
“Closer to forty, Mr. Sneedham.”
“One lucky winner finally hung on to him. In memory of Sam, I declare that no more jumbo stuffed bunnies will be won in Purty County this year.”
The booth managers nodded.
“But Mr. Sneedham? The kid didn’t hang onto it. It was in a car in the parking area, just like the ones we retrieved. Only these folks — they had a ’56 Fairlane — locked their doors. Couldn’t get the purple bunny. Or their pie, either.”
Another long moment of silence rang out.
“Boys,” Mr. Sneedham said solemnly, “when the good people of Middle America are locking their car doors ahead of our visits, it is a sign that we should invest our wages wisely, for one day we will no longer be able to grab back our merchandise so easily. This country is going sour and people are becoming mistrustful, even in quaint little locales like this one. It’s a crying shame.” He took a moody puff on his cigar. “So you say there’s a rhubarb pie?”