Mystery at the Fair

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Chapter Three

Jean finished giving her statement, then stomped back to the Exhibits building. She was hot and thirsty and her thumb hurt. The doors to the building were open, letting in light and air but there was no air conditioning. She went straight to the cooler she’d brought this morning for the volunteers. It was full of bottles of water on ice. She grabbed one, twisted the cap off and started gulping it down. The water was so cold it made her teeth hurt and gave her instant brain freeze. She winced and pressed her hand to her forehead.

She heard a laugh behind her. “You shouldn’t drink it so fast. You’ll have a stroke or something.”

Jean turned around. It was her new friend, Karen Carver, the Superintendent of Homemaking Arts. Karen was grinning, her blue-gray eyes crinkled in the corners. A smudge of dirt ran from her cheek to her chin and her blond hair was coming loose from her pony-tail. It fell in wisps all around her face. “I’m so thirsty.” She held the cold water bottle to her temple. “I stood around out there in the sun for over an hour.”

“You should get a hat.”

“Tell me about it.” Jean sipped some more of the water. “And I ripped half my thumbnail off.” She held the bandaged thumb up for Karen to see.

“Did you find the bins?”

Jean moved aside as two men carried a display case past. “Thought we’d try putting the case in the center of the floor,” the tall, gray-haired one of the two said. John Gonzales was the Superintendent of Gems and Minerals, and had been with the fair in that role for decades. “Seems like people just walk down the middle of the room and never look at what’s displayed on the sides.”

“Sounds like a plan, John. Go ahead and try that. We just need to be sure there’s four feet of space all around it, otherwise the Fire Marshal will make us move it.”

“Sure, I’ll make sure.”

She and Karen watched them carry the case another twenty feet and set it down. Sounds of hammering, people chatting and discussing display arrangements filled the warehouse-sized building. Lucky for Jean all of the Superintendents had been doing this for years. They didn’t need her to tell them how to set up. She sat down on the cooler lid and finished the water.

“So what happened out there?” Karen tried to smooth all of the wisps of hair back out of her face.

“Well. After I found four of them, I spotted the last bin on top of a wobbly stack of boxes in front of a two door cabinet. I pulled it toward me and the whole stack toppled over. The bin took a chunk of my nail. While I was nursing that, the cabinet doors creaked open and this dried-up old body fell out.”

Karen gasped, hand over mouth. “So that’s what all the commotion was about. I wondered about all the cop cars. When I saw the ambulance I figured someone in Livestock got hurt.”

“Scared the crap out of me. I shrieked like a little girl and ran out of the container. I’m lucky I didn’t skewer myself on some rusty piece of junk that’s piled in there.”

“I’d have screamed, too.” Karen shook her head. “Then what?”

“I called 911. The first cop car showed up in just a few minutes. Then it was a zoo–ambulances, more police cruisers, then gawkers. I saw the photographer from the paper trying to get pics from outside the crime scene tape.” Jean got up and pulled another bottle of water out of the cooler. She sipped it this time. “I’m still dehydrated. And I’m supposed to get a tetanus shot, too.”

“Go to the Emergency Care place.”

“Yeah, that’s what the EMT told me.” She looked around at the activity.

“But what about the bins?”

“Oh!” Jean snorted. “They’re being held as evidence. I asked the officer who took my statement how long they’d be held, and he said,” she put on a drawl, “‘I don’t rightly know, ma’am. I s’pect the Chief would have a better idea.’” Jean rolled her eyes. “Good night. Do they teach them that drawl in cop school?”

Karen laughed. “I don’t know. But we need those ribbons. What’ll you do if we can’t get them back from the cops?”

“When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”

Karen stared. “What?”

It was Jean’s turn to laugh. “An old Air Force quote we used to say when it was hitting the fan and we had to improvise. I guess we’ll think of something.” She stood up, drained the bottle of water and dropped it in the trash bag she had next to the cooler. “Tell you what. I’ll go get my shot and afterward I’ll stop by the police station and see if I can’t get an estimated time of release on the bins. Are you all okay here? Need me to get anything?”

Karen waved her off. “Go, get your shot. We’ll be fine here. I’ll ask around and see if any of the other Superintendents have ribbon ideas.”

Jean grinned. “Thanks, you’ve got my cell number if you need anything while I’m gone.”

As Jean drove to the Emergency Care office she thought about the Police Chief’s insinuation about Arris. The man didn’t strike her as a murderer. Months ago when she’d answered an article in the local paper, The Green Valley Gazette, she’d walked into the meeting at the high school Agricultural class room where the fair board meetings were held. A man at the front of the room had stood up. He had a sun-reddened face with bright blue eyes, tall, about six foot two, wearing jeans, a denim shirt, cowboy boots and a wide friendly grin, and there wasn’t a creepy, killer-vibe about him. At the time she’d noted everyone else in the meeting room for the fair board was smiling, too.

When the board discussed whether to approve Jean as VP of Exhibits, Arris sat at the front of the room, waiting quietly for the group to come to a consensus. She’d liked that. It had shown a level of confidence and competence that had been quite reassuring.

Jean shook her head. If Arris was a killer then she was a ballerina. Jean put on her turn signal and pulled into the Emergency Care store-front parking lot. She turned off the engine and sighed. Her thumb throbbed. She decided that after the shot, she’d go home and swallow a couple of ibuprofen. There was no way she wanted to meet with that arrogant Police Chief without some pain killer in her system.

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