Jimmy kept his arms tucked in tight as he made his way through the thick crowd of people. All around, smiling, happy faces had their eyes trained on the sky, waiting for the show to start. Jimmy snarled as he saw the look of impending awe on their faces.
He looked around nervously, surveying the features of the people around him, looking for anything familiar. He knew no one. The crowd swallowed the noise of his feet on the wooden planks of the pier. He pushed his way against the flow of the distracted mass, nudging people and earning angry glances. But there was only one set of eyes that he was afraid of. And so, he kept moving.
The salty air of the sea blew in, chilling his sweaty brow. Food vendors tried in vein to entice him. Proprietors of the games of chance heckled their best, but couldn’t curry his attention.
Jimmy spun around as he thought he heard his name. The flashing lights of the boardwalk were disorienting. He listened hard, but heard only laughter, the white noise of too many conversations, and the distant roar of a roller coaster. No one was speaking his name.
He began to consider that he was paranoid. Jimmy was a common name, certainly of the thousands here one other person must share it. Yet, he felt eyes on him. Not random strangers contemplating his strangeness, but specific eyes. Ones that imparted the threat of violence. He couldn’t see the man who owned the eyes.
Jimmy surveyed his hiding place once more, and cursed himself. This was no good. Being around so many people wouldn’t keep him safe. There were too many places for an assassin to hide. If he was going to be hit, they could do it right here. They could make it look like an accident, choke him on a corn-dog, even just knife him in the crowd and walk away before anyone realized that something was wrong.
His mind began to swim as anxiety took over. His chest grew tight, his breath caught within it. He began to run for the end of the pier, tossing aside those in his way as he went. Irritated shouts followed him, but he didn’t respond. He ran faster, paying no attention to the world around him until his feet met the sand. He stumbled at the changing terrain, caught himself, and continued on.
He turned sharply, crossing under the pier. The sounds of the people became a quiet hush, replaced by the slapping sound of waves riding up the beach and striking the wooden columns. He bent halfway, breathing deep, trying to replenish his lost breath. A moment later, he started laughing. He felt foolish for letting fear take him over. How would they have found him, with so many people around? He sat down, grinning to himself, and his heart began to settle.
“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy,” a voice said.
His heart resumed it’s rabbit pace. He jumped to his feet and searched against the darkness to find the source of the voice. The slatted wooden planks of the pier allowed the light overhead to fall through, illuminating the area just beyond. At first, he saw nothing. Then a man came out of the shadows.
“It’s not what you think,” Jimmy said.
The man continued walking towards him. He had a chest like barrel and arms to match. His neck looked to be missing a few inches, as his head sat nearly on top of his shoulders.
“It never is,” he said.
“Look, Tony, you don’t have to do this.”
“You’ve got a pair on you, Jimmy. Stealing from the boss. Don’t ruin my impression of you now by trying to beg or barter. You did what you did, now you’ve got to pay the price. See, you’ve got the guts, Jimmy, you just never had the brains.”
“Can’t you tell the boss-” Jimmy started.
Tony interrupted him.
“Come on. Just tell me this, Jimmy. Where’s the money?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tony stepped closer to Jimmy, and landed his fist into Jimmy’s ribs. Jimmy doubled over in pain.
“Where’s the money?”
“There isn’t any money!”
Tony jabbed Jimmy on the opposite side. As he corrected his posture to match the new pain, Tony guided his fist effortless against Jimmy’s chin. Jimmy spit blood as the force of the blow threw his head sideways.
“Please,” Jimmy said.
“Where’s the money?” Tony asked again.
“It’s gone. It’s all gone.”
“What do you mean, gone?”
“Spent it, injected it, lost it, bet it, you name it, I did it. The money is gone.”
“Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy,” Tony said again with a sigh.
“So what now? You gonna kill me? With all those people up there? You don’t think they’d notice the sound? It’s just you and me down here. Someone’s gonna hear it and see you. Then it’s all over for you, too. And I’m not going out of here without a fight.”
Just then, a loud burst erupted above them. It was followed by a sizzle. A collective “ahh” sounded from the crowd.
Jimmy dropped to his knees and hung his head. He had picked the best spot for his own murder.
“Never had the brains, Jimmy,” Tony repeated.
Tony pulled a pistol from beneath his jacket. Another burst sounded above them. Tony situated himself next to Jimmy, placed the gun on the crown of his head, and waited. Another boom sounded above, drowning out the one from his gum.
Blood poured from Jimmy’s skull as the “ooh”s and laughter continued above.
Tony returned the gun to its holster and walked out from under the pier. In the sky above him, he saw the sparkling glint of fireworks. He turned back to the body, barely illuminated through the slotted light.
“Happy fourth, Jimmy,” he said.