All Things Mysterious Volume Fifty-Eight
La Veuve Noire and Brand Step Right Up!
The whistle of the calliope! The smell of the sawdust! And of the elephants!
The barkers’ enticing come-ons! The greatest show on earth--the county fair!
But, a dark side too! Allegations of dishonesty in the games of chance have surfaced, and in her capacity as a private investigator, Ellen Amora, La Veuve Noire, is undercover at the fair.
Undercover agent lost husband in mob wars, vows to fight crime.
Determinedly Ellen Amora strides along the concourse, weaving through the crowds of cotton-candy eating, caramel popcorn munching revellers, until she is in front of the ring toss game. Behind the counter, Brand was making like a Lazy Susan, wishing he had several more arms to collect quarters, hand out rings, and occasionally making his pitch to passers-by.
‘Hurry, hurry, hurry, three rings for a quarter! Toss a ring around a prize and win that prize! Oooh, good shot, so close! Almost! Try again, don’t be discouraged! Just yesterday I had a lovely young lady walk away with this nine-foot stuffed bear! You, sir, won’t you try to win one for your date? You will? Great! Here you are----Nearly! Just a little to the left! That’s it--oh! I thought you had it that time! One more! Darn! Better luck next time!’
County fair under investigation for possible crookedness.
After observing for a while, Ellen knew her suspicions, and those of the County Committee, were right on target. Something was fishy here!
To gather evidence, and also to have a little fun, she pushed a quarter across the counter and received three plastic rings in return. The rings were about half a foot in diameter and brightly colored in red, green, and yellow, respectively. She hefted one and took aim at the pedestals the prizes were on.
Prizes many and varied.
Dead center of the prize area was a camera; looked like a good one, too. There was the usual assortment of lesser prizes, small stuffed animals, water pistols, false mustaches, and the like. Ellen took careful aim at the camera and let the hoop fly. Missed! Still, missing in and of itself isn’t necessarily a sign of cheating. After all, if everyone won there wouldn’t be much point in games, would there? So PI Amora slid another two bits across the chipped, stained counter and got another three bright rings and tried again, for the wristwatch this time. Nothing. Something seemed off kilter.
Fair proprietor denies wrongdoing.
As Ellen prepared to try again, Brand moved over to her side of the counter and winked as he handed over the hoops. ‘One hundred percent legit, ma’am! Inspected by the state each and every month! Step right up and try your luck again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you went home a winner!’
Again the hoops bounced off the pedestals even though Ellen could have sworn that she nailed them dead center. Time to move her investigation up a notch. Sidling up to where Brand was passing out hoops to a passel of teens, she returned his wink and asked, ‘May I come back there to look?’
Brand replied, ‘Are you a state inspector?’ ‘I work freelance,’ came back Ellen.
‘Sorry, I can’t let anyone back here.’ Just then a portly man in suspenders, an enormous cowboy hat, and an unlit cigar came waddling up to them and spittled, ‘Can’t give away any trade secrets, ma’am, I’m sure you can understand that.’
Ellen was more bemused than annoyed, but she was nothing if not persistent and resourceful. Might be time to turn on the charm.
‘Parker Pimm, at your service, pretty lady. May I show you around our fair?’
‘Some other time, thanks. What is your response to the rumors of the games not being on the up-and-up?’
‘Why, pretty lady, my response is just the same as it has always been--we are strictly honest in all of our dealings, and you may quote me!’
‘Good! If you’re strictly honest in your dealings, then you won’t mind if I have a look backstage at the ring toss.’
‘Now, now, pretty lady, can’t have anyone back there--you might be a spy from the competition instead of a reporter!’
Ellen did not disabuse Pimm of the notion that she was a reporter--if he wanted to believe she was even though she hadn’t said one way or the other, well, that wasn’t her lookout, was it?
Another carny was beckoning to Pimm from two booths over, so he bade farewell to Amora and Brand. ‘Duty calls. I’ll be seeing you real soon, pretty lady.’
She muttered, ‘Got that right, pal.’ She turned to see Brand in front of her. ‘So, any chance I can check out the inner workings of the fair from back there?’ Brand shook his head. ‘Sorry, can’t let you. Especially with Himself right over there. But I’ll tell you what--and you didn’t hear this from me. Go to the end of the aisle here and turn left. Check out the goldfish toss.’
‘I will. What’s wrong with it?’
But Brand merely put his hand over his mouth in a ‘nuff said’ gesture, and moved away to the newest batch of suckers. Seeing that there wasn’t much more she could do here, Ellen decided to take his advice and check out the goldfish.
Danger is Afoot!
Approaching from a distance, she saw the usual, a bunch of small glass bowls on a table, a goldfish swimming in each of them. For the usual quarter, you got three ping-pong balls to toss, and if one landed in the bowl, you got to take that fish home in a baggie half-filled with water. Of course, 95% of the poor fish were flushed, eaten by the cat, or belly-up within 45 minutes of leaving their nice safe bowl, but it did teach young people about the Grim Reaper pretty effectively.
Strangely, no one seemed to be winning this game. Ping-pong balls were flying all over the place, and she didn’t see any ten-year-olds proudly clutching baggies of fish.
This time, Ellen decided on a more direct approach. She vaulted over the counter and ran to the first row of bowls on the table. No wonder nobody was winning! There was a clear sheet of plastic wrap over each! The balls just bounced off, thus saving Pimm the two cents that each fish cost.
Here, then was concrete proof of crookedness. But before Ellen could say or do anything, a strong hand clamped down on her forearm and pulled her out the back way, opposite the quarter-wielding customers. Pimm steered her back in the direction of the ring toss, saying, ‘Well, pretty lady, aren’t you nosy! Naughty-naughty!’
They passed the ring toss and the cotton candy kiosk and went to a trailer on the edge of the fairgrounds. Belying both his jolly facade and his portly frame, Pimm yanked open the door, roughly tossed her inside the trailer, then followed himself.
‘Now, pretty lady, let’s chat a sec. I don’t know what you think you saw back there, but you know as well as I do that those poor fish don’t stand a chance getting out of here alive in the hands of those rotten kids. So we just spare them an….untimely death, shall we say?’
‘Hogwash!’ Ellen barked. ‘You’re cheating your customers by taking their money with no chance of winning!’
Pimm’s shark-like smile turned into an ugly snarl in an instant. ‘Listen, girly, keep your nose out of my business! It’s not healthy to go where you don’t belong!’
‘Oh, so it’s not ‘pretty lady’ anymore? That’s a relief!’
‘Just don’t mess with me. I’m telling you it’s not healthy.’
‘Are you threatening---over there!’ She pointed to a spot behind Pimm, he turned to look, and she bolted from the trailer, running back to the crowds on the midway. Incredibly, she heard gunfire and felt bullets whizzing past her ear. What kind of maniac would shoot at her in the middle of a huge crowd?
Join us Thursday for Part 2 of The Midway, in which we may find out what kind of maniac would shoot at a pretty lady in the middle of a huge crowd.
Meanwhile, if you can't get out to the county fair, take a gander at these tales:
Dessa Redd is an acrobat in the circus. Can she find her long-lost brother? Will she help the circus strongman and the juggler to rob the royal treasury?
Zloty Kornblatt is in trouble! As the hapless ringmaster of a down-on-its-luck circus, he inadvertently made his audience laugh, which is a no-no!
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