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The Pink Balloon Caper


Tony Vallecillo

The balloon showed bright pink under the circus lights.

Down below in the circus ring to the left was the lion's cage and Paulo knew Fergie's high-powered rifle was focused directly on the lock. All Paulo had to do was let go of the large pink balloon and that would be the signal. He looked at the row in front of him and there sat the old broad, the big gray purse strapped around her shoulder; she was laughing and pointing out the clowns to her two little grandchildren who sat next to her.

Paulo was about to let the balloon go, when on sheer impulse, he took a final look around the crowded arena, packed with a yelling crowd having a good time.

And Paulo spotted him in the next section, looking directly at him. It was Montpellier, the cop, the big bastard with the broad shoulders and hard fists, who sat there just waiting, seeming to know something was going on. Sylvie had to have finked, the double-dealing asshole; he needed to get out of that three year sentence, so he must have spilled to Montpellier what he knew about the scheme. Paulo vowed that if he ever got out of this, he would cut off Sylvie's nose for getting into other people's business.

However, that didn't help with his present dilemma. He knew Fergie would fire only if he saw the pink balloon floating up to the ceiling. Hell, it was a no-brainer, you had a cop only forty feet away, you called off the job. But Paulo knew this was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.

You couldn't expect that an old broad like that would have a quarter of a million dollars in her purse, all contained in an envelope and comprised of 250 one thousand dollars bills, that her son asked her to give to some man during half-time intermission of the circus, the old coot never in a million years aware she was being used as a courier for drug money. You couldn't expect that this information would be discovered under the wildest of circumstances, from a phone call he accidentally heard standing next to a phone stand on busy Market Street and then being able to put two and two together after following the guy and doing some pretty intensive investigation.

Then telling Fergie the wild plan of him sitting up in the rafters with his high-powered rifle and shooting the lock off the lion's cage, the lions jumping out all scared and setting the whole crowd off in panic, and during the ensuing chaos he'd grab the purse off the old broad and that would be that. Except Sylvie had walked in that one time and obviously was able to figure out enough of what they were doing to report it to Montpellier.

Paulo would've given it up in a second, if the stake weren't a quarter of a million dollars. This was his big break that would never come again. Even after he gave Fergie fifty grand, that left two hundred for him. Get out of here, go to Mexico, make some investments, drink tequila, bed all the pretty senoritas.

He let the balloon go.

The shot echoed so loudly through the rafters, there was immediate silence in the noisy arena.

Then the lock of the lion's cage exploded off and the door sprung wide open. The lions roared and jumped inside. The trainer unwisely ran to shut the door, further frightening the lions so that one jumped out and swiped his paw against the trainer's neck, slashing an artery and causing blood to spout. The other lion leapt out of the cage and onto the area outside the ring and roared.

Paulo couldn't have wished it better - the panic was a completely visceral thing that was immediate and all-powerful. Screams, then everyone rushing from their seats, the crowd so fierce Paulo knew it blocked Montpellier's way. Paulo jumped to the next row, surging bodies crashing into him. He swam the human tide and got his hand on the purse strap, and fortunately the old broad was too concerned about her grandchildren to worry about the purse, so with his face turned away Paulo ripped it off her arm and now had it in his hands. He ran and stumbled with the panicked crowd hearing the roar of the lions above the screaming turmoil. Very excitedly he reached in the purse, grabbed the bulky envelope and threw the purse down, holding on to the envelope for dear life.

He was elated because the rushed trampling meant Montpellier didn't know where the hell he was and couldn't catch him. Paulo couldn't control the crowd, but went with it and let the wild flow eventually take him down to ground level.

There he was able to get on his feet and run, dodging all the pitiful bastards around him. Pathetic bastards that didn't have a quarter of a million in their hands.

He felt so good he actually laughed out loud.

Montpellier couldn't stop him. No one could.

In fact why even give any to Fergie?

He saw the exit and ran to it.

The enraged lion appeared in front of him, biting him viciously on the arm. The envelope flew out of his hands, ripping open as it hit the ground and scattering the money. As Paulo dove to the save the money, the lion pinned him to the ground and lowered its head to take a chunk out of his neck.

The last image Paulo retained of his short violent young life was the money laying on the ground being trampled underfoot by the hysterical


Tony Vallecillo is a writer and lives in San Francisco. He is a lifelong movie fanatic with particular affinity to film noirs such as Out of the Past and Sweet Smell of Success. He has just completed his first novel, a private eye thriller entitled Kathi, and is actively seeking a publisher. You can read another of Tonyĺs stories, The Performer, in the fiction archives of 3 AM. He can be reached at

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