Excerpt: Foul Play at the Fair

Chapter 1

Liv Montgomery wiggled her toes in her new Sperry topsiders and breathed in the fresh country air. The day was crisp, the sun was shining, and Liv felt great. It was hard to believe that only a month ago she’d been standing in The Plaza ballroom, sleep deprived and patience hanging by a thread, while the bridezilla from hell ranted at her because the oysters they were serving at the reception were Atlantic not Pacific.

Even after Liv showed her the order sheet where she’d had signed off on Atlantic oysters, she continued to yell. Liv had gritted her teeth and wondered how soon she could get out of her four inch heels from hell.

The bride, now the wife of some poor soul who had disappeared into the men’s room right after the first dance, made one final dramatic gesture, throwing both arms wide and taking out a waiter and two thousand dollars worth of Dom Perignon.

And something in Liv snapped. She’d had enough. She was sick of bitchy bridezillas, desperate housewives, anything-but-sweet sixteens. She wanted a job with normal hours, where she made nice people happy, where she could get out of those damn heels.

She packed up her clothes and her dog and headed north.

Now she was the official event coordinator of Celebration Bay, New York, a town that took its name seriously; where she could wear topsiders and take her dog to work.

“Pretty nice place to live, huh?” she said, looking down at her Westie terrier, Whiskey.

Whiskey pulled at his leash and, after snuffling through a patch of grass, claimed the base of a nearby parking meter.

Celebration Bay was an idyllic village on a lake that, as the locals told her, wasn’t big enough to be “Great,” but was big enough for them. It was big enough for Liv, too.

It was the last week in September, and the month long Harvest By the Bay Festival was culminating in a weekend fair. Up and down Main Street, gaily painted shops sold food, knit goods, coffee, and souvenirs. The surrounding trees were turning golden and red, and the breeze off the lake carried the aroma of baking down the street.

The sound of hammering rang in the air, and Liv stopped to look across the park-like village green where the set-up committee was constructing booths for the one hundred vendors and entertainers who would line the sidewalks that weekend.  A bright, multi-colored tent had been erected at the far end for music, skits, and magic shows.

Nearby, a children’s area would feature bobbing for apples, pumpkin painting and a go fishing booth. There would be a farmers market, hayrides, three-legged races and cider pressing exhibitions. The surrounding stores and restaurants would open early and close late.

Liv let out a satisfied sigh.  Her new life, her new job. It was just perfect.

As she stepped off the curb, Janine Tudor’s cream colored Cadillac sped by barely missing her new shoes. Liv jumped back to the sidewalk. Almost perfect.

She waited until she was sure Janine was not going to repeat the drive by, then she hurried across the street. Recognizing the bakery, Whiskey pulled her along the sidewalk past the dainty tables and chairs outside the Apple Of My Eye bakery and through the open door.

“Morning, Liv,” said Dolly Hunnicutt from behind the counter. She was wearing a pink gingham dress with puff sleeves and a white ruffled apron tied around her ample waist. Her honey-colored hair was pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck. Some of the residents took their reputation as the Soon To Be Most Popular Festival Destination in New York State more seriously than others.

“And don’t you look festive today,” Dolly added.

“Is that a good thing?” Liv asked, wondering if she’d gone overboard with her forest green corduroys and autumn plaid jacket.  Whiskey had refused to participate in her new wardrobe madness, even though in an aberrant moment, she’d ordered him two scotch plaid winter sweaters from an online doggie catalogue.

“Why of course it is. You’re wearing harvest colors. Those trousers bring out the green in your eyes, and your hair shines like burnt sugar.”

Liv wasn’t sure what burnt sugar was, but it didn’t seem too appetizing. She’d always thought her hair was dark brown.

“I have some nice lemon scones this morning. Lord knows we’ll all be sick of apples before we switch over to pumpkin season after this weekend.”

In the last two weeks, Liv had eaten apple pie, apple turnovers, apple sauce, apple butter, and something called apple pandowdy. “Lemon scones sound delicious. I’ll take two, though I can’t keep this up. I’ve already had to increase my daily run from three miles to four.”

“Pooh. The way you run around, you’ll work it off in no time. But if you keep feeding Ted . . .” She clucked her tongue.

“I always treat my assistants well. The secret of my success.”

“Well, bless you. Janine used to run him ragged. But don’t you go overboard and spoil him.”

“I won’t.” Liv glanced up at the pink cupcake-shaped wall clock. “Gotta run.” She took the bag of scones.

Whiskey, who had been sitting patiently at her feet, his face upturned to the counter, barked.

Dolly laughed.  “I would never forget such a sweetie.” She handed Liv a smaller paper bag.

“Just a little d-o-g biscuit recipe I’ve been working on. Shaped like little bones, they’re so cute. And no sugar.  I’m going to talk to Sharise over at the Woofery about maybe stocking them for her clients.”

“That’s a great idea.  You may have a whole new industry on the horizon,” Liv said.

Dolly beamed, and Liv and Whiskey hurried next door to the Buttercup Coffee Exchange. The proprietor Betty Ford, known as BeBe to distinguish her from the other Betty Ford, was waiting at the door with a large latte and a decaf tea. BeBe was a lush thirty-something, half county girl and half urban entrepreneur. She and Liv had bonded the first day Liv had come into the store.

“Saw you coming. Knew you’d be in a hurry this morning.”  BeBe handed Liv the cardboard carton of drinks. “And I saw what Janine just did. Somebody oughta tell her nobody wants sour grapes at a harvest festival.”

“Well, I did take her job.”

“No reason to try to run over you. If she wanted to keep being the town’s event co-ordinator, she should have done a better job.  She was driving us to the poor house, and everyody knows it, whether they say so or not. I’ll put the coffee and tea on your tab.”

“Thanks, BeBe. You’re a dream.”

She'd made the right decision to move here, Liv thought as she hurried toward her office in town hall. Celebration Bay was the epitome of Yankee ingenuity. It had survived several wars, the depression, a flu epidemic, and two recessions. When the cannery, the major source of employment in the county, closed they threw a party. Fifteen years later, it was a thriving destination vacation spot, delivering family entertainment at affordable prices.

But the festivals had grown too big for volunteers, and when Liv saw the ad for a full time event coordinator, she jumped at the chance to do something really worthwhile. For the most part, people were congenial, helpful, and polite. And if they liked getting their own way, well who didn’t.

Ted Driscoll was already at work in the outer office. He was a man of a certain age; tall and thin with thick white hair, mild blue eyes, and a dry sense of humor. He also had his finger on the pulse of Celebration Bay gossip. That alone made him indispensable. His computer skills and willingness to work on Saturdays made him a gem.

He stood up as Liv entered and Liv, being a well trained dog owner, dropped Whiskey’s leash.  Whiskey darted forward, and Ted leaned over and vigorously scratched behind both doggie ears.  “Who’s my favorite daw-aw-awg,” Ted yodeled.

“Arr-Roo-Roo-Roo.”

“My favorite daw-aw-aw-g.”

“Arr Roo—”

Liv rolled her eyes, deposited the scones and coffee on Ted’s desk, and picked up a thick manila envelope.

“I’ll be in my office when you two goofballs are finished,” Liv said. Neither goofball paid any attention to her as they yodeled through their morning ritual.

Liv’s office was a big square room with two tall sash windows and a high ceiling. The walls were painted an unwholesome beige, though someone had tried to spiff things up with travel posters of Bermuda. Liv meant to do a little redecorating as soon as she got this first festival under her belt.

Ted came in with a tray, set it on her desk and sat down across from her. Whiskey followed, his treat from Dolly held delicately between his teeth.  And finally remembering that he’d been trained at a very expensive obedience school, he headed for his pillow where he stretched out and made short work of Dolly’s dog delicacy.

Liv glanced at the tea tray.  In addition to the hot drinks, the scones arranged on two china saucers, the knives, forks, and paper napkins, today a folded newspaper lay on top. “We’re getting way too civilized, Ted.”

“Never, but the newspaper is strictly business.”  He handed it to Liv who unfolded it to the front page. It was the local weekly, the Celebration Clarion.

“Fishing Suspended to Protect Spawning Salmon?”

“Next page.”

Liv opened the bi-fold paper. An article on tractor advancements, a report on the county fair, a Weight Watchers meeting announcement, a twofer coupon for Otis Deal’s Texas Wieners. On the opposite page was an article about arrowheads found by a Boy Scout troop while hiking in the foothills. And below it was a half page advertisement for the Harvest On The Bay Festival and a listing of the weekend festivities.

The ad was strictly clip art, designed by her predecessor, but there were no obvious mistakes; dates, times, activities were all there. She lifted her eyebrows at Ted.

“As I understand it, the ad should have been a whole page, not half.”

“I don’t suppose there’s an invoice?”

Ted shook his head. “Janine didn’t keep records.”

Liv sighed. “I’ll go have a talk with . . .”  She looked at the masthead. “Mr. Bristow. I should meet him anyway if we’re going to be doing business in the future.”  She checked her Blackberry. “I have to go out to Waterbury Orchards. Joss wants me to see the antique apple press exhibit that he’s put together before he opens it to the public this weekend. Then I’ll stop by the Miller farm to get an ETA on the corn maze for Haunted October, but I can drop by the newspaper office this afternoon.”

“Be sure to get there before three or he’ll have closed up to go fishing.”

Liv rolled her eyes. “So that’s why festival news got bumped for salmon eggs.”  She entered the Clarion’s address into her address book.

They worked their way through the folder, dividing up jobs until there was one paper left. “Zoldosky Brothers,” Liv said thoughtfully. “The jugglers?”

“Yep. I saw their Airstream drive by on my way to work. Probably going out to Andy Miller’s farm. That’s where most of the vendors and entertainers camp.”  Ted reached for the paper. “I’m glad they got here early. I’ll have to get out there and remind them that they’re paid a very nice fee and panhandling is strictly forbidden. I’d ask Bill Gunnison to go out but he’s down with sciatica.” 

“A hell of a time for the sheriff’s back to go out,” Liv said. “Do you think he’ll be okay by Saturday?  I might be a bit overzealous, but Manhattan doesn’t have the monopoly on perverts, pickpockets and psychopaths.”

“No,” Ted agreed. “But we usually lock ours in the attic.”

Liv choked on her coffee. “Don’t do that,” she said, blotting coffee off the manila folder.

Ted raised his eyebrows, all innocence.

“I’ll talk to them. I’m going out there anyway.”

Ted hesitated. “Okay, but make sure to take Andy with you. The Zoldoskys are ex-carnie folk. They come every year and never cause any trouble, but they’re a bit rough around the edges.”

“Not to worry. You should have seen some of my clients in Manhattan. Money and an East Side address don’t automatically give a person good taste or good manners.”

Ted barked out a laugh. “Hon, you’re a breath of fresh air.  But you don’t need to do everything yourself.”

“I know. It’s a nasty habit I intend to break . . . once the harvest festival is a resounding success. Then I’ll go into the strong-arming-for-help mode for Halloween.”

Liv gathered up hardcopies of the permit forms and added them to the manila folder which she slid into a canvas shoulder bag.

“If I leave Whiskey here you have to promise not to keep feeding him.”

Ted widened his eyes innocently.  Whiskey cocked his head—innocently.

“If you get fat, I’ll have to send you to doggie boot camp.”

“Maybe we can get a twofer,” Ted said, patting a nonexistent stomach.

“Behave.  Both of you.”

Liv managed to hide her grin until she reached the hallway.  She couldn’t imagine  any of her former Manhattan colleagues, even the dog lovers, putting up with a dog at work, much less enjoying him.  She loved her new job.

She stopped in the ladies’ room for a quick look in the mirror: makeup, neat, understated; slacks, loose jacket, casual but business-like; hair . . . burnt sugar?  Whatever.   She twisted it onto the top of her head and fixed it there with a claw clip. Even more businesslike, in case she needed the extra clout with the Zoldosky brothers.

Her first stop was Waterbury Orchards, two miles out of town on the county road. It was a working farm, but its claim to fame was the Waterbury store. The store had taken over the original cider mill when they built a larger, updated mill a mile away. There was still one huge, working press housed behind a plate glass window where visitors could watch the apples being pressed into juice. The mill’s fresh cider and cider donuts had been reviewed in magazines up and down the east coast.

Liv pulled into a parking space at the front of the red clapboard building. Even on a midweek morning there were several cars in the lot. There was an additional parking area around back. Plenty of room for the weekend overflow. And if they had someone directing traffic, things should go smoothly.

That was the area Liv was most concerned about. Ted had told her of gnarled traffic jams and fumes smelling up the park as cars waited for parking spaces.

Not on my watch, she told herself. She didn’t have much experience directing vehicular traffic, but she had a plan that she would present at the Traffic Committee meeting that night.

She slid her bag across the car seat and went inside. She was immediately surrounded by the sweet aroma of apples and frying donuts. Joss Waterbury, dressed in denim overalls and a red plaid shirt, was a walking advertisement for the American Farmer. He was manning the donut maker, but he handed off the job to his teenage daughter, Roseanne, when he saw Liv.

“I got the back room all set up for the antique exhibit. I think you’re really gonna like it. Educational as well as fun.”

He led her down an aisle between wooden shelves that were filled with food stuffs, books and kitchen wares and past the electric cider press. Liv couldn’t help but slow down to watch the chunks of apples rushing out of the giant delivery tube into the cloth-covered frames, the juice running out the bottom into troughs that would carry it away to be processed.

“Kinda mesmerizing, ain’t it?”  Joss said.

“It’s fascinating,” Liv agreed.

They stood watching for a few more seconds, then Joss started off again.

“You’re about to step back into history,” he said, gesturing to a room which until a few days ago had held quilts, tee shirts, and homespun linens, as well as a huge granite apple mill.

“I hope you’re going to lead the tour yourself,” Liv said. “You just sent a shiver up my spine.”  She stepped inside and took in the collection of old and unusual devices. Machines with slatted barrels, metal colanders and giant hand cranks. An apple saucer, a fermentation vat, and a row of pottery cider jugs.

“This baby,” Joss said, stopping by an old cast iron and wooden press, “dates back to the late 1800s.”  He ran a hand lovingly over the round press wheel. “Took three of us to get it in the truck.”

“Where did you find it?”

“Buddy Powers’s got an “antique” place over on Route 9. Mostly junk and such a mess that you couldn’t find nothing if you tried. Except I knew he had this; tried to sell it to me for a fortune years ago. Course nobody ever bought it. When you got this idea for an exhibit, I remembered him. Went over there and got it for a song.

“Now this one,” he said, moving to a much larger contraption that was about five feet high and spread out over several feet, “is on loan from Fenway Farms up the road. Belonged to Fenway’s grandfather. He don’t want it, but his wife won’t let him get rid of it. So he was happy to oblige.”

Liv peered into the collection barrel, then examined the heavy iron press and the  series of cogs and wheels along the side.

“How exactly does it work?”  she asked.

“It works on the same principal as the big electric press, only you do it by hand.” Joss flipped a heavy iron latch. “You put your apples in this funnel. Then you position the stone disc on top.” He grabbed hold of a heavy looking crank handle. “You turn the crank which presses the stone down and crushes the apples. Takes forever. Even with the big double ones.”

“They’re safe, aren’t they?  No kid could get a mashed finger or anything.”

“No,” Joss said, as he returned the latch to the iron eye. “I’ll have them locked off, though I’m thinking about having hourly demonstrations on the weekends. Just a little added attraction.”

A man after her own heart, Liv thought.

“I think this is going to be real interesting.”  He shoved his hands in his jeans pockets and looked around. “Might even build on an extra room and keep an eye out for some unusual mills to add to the collection. Found something real nice on EBay the other day. Shipping it would break the bank. But you never know.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s going to be a big hit,” Liv said.

 

No one was home at the Miller farm, but Liv could see the field where a handful of trucks and trailers were already settling in for the weekend.

A battered silver Airstream trailer was parked at the farthest edge of the field near the woods and away from the other vendors. She drove across the field, following the tracks made by the trailer. She parked several yards away and read the sign painted on the side in large black letters. Zoldosky Brothers. And underneath, Juggling, Tumbling, Balloon Animals. She beeped the horn to warn them they had a visitor.

When no one appeared, she got out of the car.

The trailer had two metal steps leading to the door and two small windows on either side, covered by thick curtains. There was a pickup truck parked next to the trailer, so someone must be home.

“Hello?” she called as she approached the trailer. “Hel-lo-oh.”

The hair on the nape of her neck lifted; she could feel someone watching her, but when she turned around, no one was there. She suddenly felt very isolated at the edge of the woods; the few other vehicles were too far away to even hear her if she screamed.

Wuss, she thought. She turned back to the trailer; the curtain abruptly fell back across the window. So, she hadn’t imagined it; someone was watching her.

She climbed the two metal steps to the door and knocked. “Mr. Zoldosky?  Anyone home?”

Nothing. But she knew someone was in there, and now that she’d made the trip she wasn’t going away without talking to one of the brothers.

She knocked again, louder and more persistent.

This time she heard movement inside. A scrape, a crash as if something heavy had fallen over. Another crash. Maybe this wasn’t a good time to be calling. Bill Gunnison would just have to hobble his way out here or wait until Saturday when they would be in town.

Liv backed down the steps and turned to go.

The trailer door crashed opened. A blood curdling scream split the air. Liv whirled around as a body rolled down the steps and fell in a huddle at her feet.