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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Life Stories

Shoot Out at Conner's Arcade
Anne S. Armand

"Stop or I’ll Shoot." It was in all of the papers. Made the headlines in the SHORE TIMES. Even saw it on the news channel from Boston. Oh, yeah, our town was famous for a short time in July of 1965. We had reporters asking everyone about Toby. They all came down to the beach with TV cameras. There were cables everywhere like hundreds of snakes all over the ground.

I told one reporter that Toby was my best friend, but he was also a little crazy. And that is the absolute truth.

Most of the kids were hanging around the arcade, waving and jumping around behind the news people so they might get seen on TV. May Beth said she was hoping a talent scout would see her ‘cause she looked like Audrey Hepburn.

STOP OR I’LL SHOOT was Toby’s favorite game. "On account of it ain’t for sissies," he used to say. Toby acted like it was still the 50's. He dressed like James Dean and listened to Buddy Holly. He never wanted to grow up. He was fine with the way things were.

This is how the game was played. You had to draw faster than the sheriff every time the game voice call ed out: "Stop or I’ll Shoot." But there was a hitch. The machine kept track of your score. You had to sign in and after so many points, for hitting the sheriff, he got quicker. You really had to get your thumbs ready to pounce on the button, before he drew his gun.

Toby said he had the fastest thumbs at the arcade. It was a joke. You know, like the ‘fastest gun in the west’. He should have had fast thumbs He spent every day down at that arcade trying to beat the sheriff. Spent all his money there too.

Now when Toby started to beat the sheriff all the time he said he thought he saw something weird going on. He said the sheriff was looking a lot meaner "on account of being beat". And he could hear him making a growling noise when he put his quarter into the machine. Nobody believed him, because we couldn’t see any difference. And anyway, Toby was weird.

I swear we all said he was getting totally mental, like he was on something. He said he was gonna kill the son-of –a-bitch dead and he didn’t care if he broke the machine. It was gonna be like the old western movies: High Noon or OK Corral.

Anyway, Toby kept playing. He couldn’t stop. You’d find him there playin or sweeping up every day after school. He sort of became some kind of assistant for Mr. Conner who owned the place. Stayed there after it closed. He even had his own key.

Didn’t surprise anyone that Toby was found dead at the arcade when Mr. Conner opened up one morning. He was shot once right through the middle of his stupid forehead. Right in front of the stupid game. The police said it appeared as if he was there alone. No signs of a struggle or a break-in.

Like I said, it was in all the papers. There was a cartoon of Toby and the "Sheriff" in a fake shoot out and another one of Toby shooting with his thumbs, you know, like bullets coming out of them. It was really creepy.

Toby’s mom and dad said it wasn’t unusual for Toby to stay out late. And they had gone to bed early that night, so they never checked to see if he was home.

My mom would have killed me if I were not home by eleven o’clock. The police asked me a lot of questions but I had, what they said, was an airtight alibi. Besides which, I had no beef with him.

They never found the killer or the gun that was used. And Mr. Conner got to keep the game down at the arcade, like a curiosity. It wasn’t evidence, they decided. After all, how could a game kill someone?

People started coming from all over the county to see if they could play STOP OR I’ll SHOOT, but Mr. Conner just collected a dollar a head to peek at the thing. Some even said that maybe Conner did it for the money and the fame.

But I know better. Toby did it, by obsessing. He willed it to happen. He was so dumb.

He never stopped, like the game said. He pushed the sheriff to kill him. It was his sworn duty. That sheriff warned him, hundreds of times.

© Anne S. Armand September 2009

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