Air damp with the night’s rain whipped through the cracked window. I took my foot off the gas to exit I-5 and rode the 179th Street off ramp down, not slowing, hoping to make the green light that gleamed at its base. I grabbed a hard left, straightened the car in the unusual August morning fog, and allowed stanchions and flags to ease me along the familiar route to the county fair grounds.
My fluorescent orange credential parking pass dangled from the rear-view mirror of my white Chevy Malibu. I flicked it with my finger until I got the attention of the safety-vested kid inside the gate. Mid yawn he waved me through.
I took the circle drive around the grounds at a steady five miles an hour above the posted limit and pulled into the parking area closest to the commercial building that housed the office. Avoiding the loose gravel, I steered the car onto the over-sized asphalt sidewalk and peered down each aisle gawking for the first row not roped off. Easy in and out access seemed to be my solitary purpose for this three-year, ego boosting, volunteer position on the county fair board.
Can’t wait for it to be over.
After shifting into park, I glanced in the mirror and mussed my wet hair. Lemon verbena wafted into the space and I closed the window, grabbed my bag, and strode toward my early morning appointment: fair safety meeting.
Nearing the commercial building I passed a handful of carnival workers whose conversations grew silent as the sound of my clicking Ferragamo’s overtook them. What secrets could they have, I wondered, and smiled at my own. Nordstrom Rack coup, clearly a return and deeply discounted. I enjoyed the little flash of toe-buckle with each swish of my cotton cream slacks.
Inside the building I slipped past the rows of canned goods. I slung through the four-foot gate, built to keep the public at bay, and closed in on the bad coffee brewing in the break room. Last year, I’d brought fragrant gourmet grounds for our ten-consecutive day morning meetings, but I had not managed it this year. Bad economy, real job churning in constant crisis, overseeing the active social schedule of a teenager involved with boys, 4-H, and dogs sucked up all available mom brain cells and any extra time.
The round robin report on non-events had already begun. I grabbed a chair at the end of one of the scattered tables and plopped my steaming white Styrofoam cup in front of me. The previous night’s demolition derby had failed to incite any bad behavior, grand stands full, but aggressive competitors failed to pitch the cheering crowd into overload. Next. Vendor heaven after the show. Next. Volunteer Horse Patrol rode a quiet evening, no smuggled in booze. No nothing.
This has got to be the safest place in the state. I sipped the dastardly brew.
Yesterday, largest day in the carnival area, today and Sunday should go gangbusters. Next. Thirty kids participated in the Special Olympics, big thanks to Funtastic Shows for the stuffed animal prizes…
I gazed out the conference room window. I’d have nothing to add when they came to me. The fair scholarships had been awarded, and the account had not been replenished, as I knew they’d hoped. The rich cousins remained on the east coast. The outlaw cousins, my branch of the family, had fled to the wild west and never gained foothold in the lucrative trade that flourished when Fort Vancouver organized commerce in this area.
Welcome to the middle class.
My eyes skimmed over the dock dog set up. A black lab swam circles in the pool nipping at the waves he created. Paddle. Nip. Paddle. Nip. He climbed up the ramp, paused, and flung himself back into the oasis of blue.
“We lost…” I tuned back into the meeting. A lime clad Coast-to-Coast security representative said, “About 150 parking spaces due to tonight’s tough trucks and pro AM. Thirty rigs were here when I arrived at six, and they’re still pulling in.” His voice betrayed his exhilaration for the upcoming big-noise event.
Movement outside caught the corner of my eye and my attention reverted to the open stretch near the swimming dog. A fair Carney in a dirty gray t-shirt spoke with force, fists opening and closing, a dark charcoal, triangle patch visible in his arm pit area when he flapped his limbs. He glanced toward the conference room, gestured my direction.
Is he signaling me? I straightened. No, Carol Jo, it’s not always about you.
I flicked my eyes over the room. The gentle buzz of the reports continued. I twisted my pen, pretended to write and peered through the sparkling window to the glistening outdoors. The gray-shirted Carney muscled in on someone. His scuffed brown boots bit into the grass as he drug his foe into range. The younger, twenty-something kid, yanked off balance, lurched forward and pushed the Carney’s grimy hands off his shirt. He regained composure and jammed his hands deep in the pockets of his ragged jeans. Both men appeared aged by wear and tear, no evidence of the natural progression of comfortable lives. The heated, mostly one-sided conversation continued. The younger pulled his hands out and ran them over his thighs.
“Someone loaded their four-horse trailer through the yellow gate,” chuckled the parking supervisor. “He wound through the back and ended up on the mid-way. We’re marking that as a new path to the horse barn.” The group chortled. Outside the muted shouting of the Carney ramped up. The younger man looked away, rolled his neck, twisted his head, eyes flitting over the grounds, pain or something else. He looked directly at me.
Inside, a fresh scrubbed fireman spoke. I peered at the uniformed man’s bland face, not even a freckle. I looked at my half bare arms, my spattering of freckles had developed into age spots.
Goodbye thirties. Hello forties.
“Three calls yesterday,” the fireman reported, then as an after thought, “Aspirin, band-aid, wrong number.”
The announcements droned. 4-H heifer sale successful, our average price per pound beat out Chehalis’ top price.
Outside the younger man sputtered and shook. His chest heaved. He inhaled a deep breath.
Is he going to cry?
The veterinarian’s voice cracked. “Sent a sick bull cow home. Received a 4 AM call on a crashing goat.” He cleared his throat.
I wondered aloud what ‘crashing goat’ meant, imagined small hooves kicking the slats of the pen until the wood cracked and splintered, a goat crashing out onto the mid-way heading straight for the misdirected horse trailer, and spearing it with its tiny goat horns.
“Dying,” the woman to my right answered.
“Oh.” I said
Back outside, the younger man exploded, shouted lip readable obscenities exposing a huge gap between his teeth. He puffed his cheeks and pounded his hands on his thighs. His head bobbed between me and the Carney.
The Carney glanced my way and stepped back. The kid jumped forward and pushed the gray shirted man in the chest. They scuffled out of sight. I signaled the security guy across the room. Danny, the captain. He smiled, waved back, made a motion as if writing, and moved his right hand to his ear as if holding a phone.
Shit. He wants my number.
“Down hill from here,” the marketing manager wrapped up.
“Let’s hope not,” replied the executive director.
Meeting over, I moved quickly out the side door directly into the break room. I dumped the remnants of my bad brew into the sink, not bothering to rinse the tinted brown stream down the drain, tossed the cup, and ran to the door leading into the hall. The handle twisted in my hand. The door opened. I stared straight into the name tag: Danny Stevens, Security Captain. My eyes crept up his barrel chest to his slow grin.
“Gotta run,” I stammered. “Catch you later.”
“Where you headed?” he asked, a lazy smile stretched his chubby cheeks. His shirt microphone crackled. He plucked at it and pressed a button on the mic. “Be right there.” He clicked the switch off. “I’ll see you in the dog barn.” I groaned, covered it with a cough and rushed the front door. “What color do you call that?” He said, pointing to his head. “Your hair color.”
“Auburn,” I said, and then to myself, flecked with gray.
I dodged the growing flood of incoming vendors and two slow moving electric wheel chairs. The disabled pair squeezed hands, and I felt a pang of jealousy. What the hell’s wrong with me? I sighed took a breath and relaxed to a normal pace. A crash to my right startled me. Too much coffee makes a jittery morning at the county fair. My ankle twisted on the gravel path when the metal cracked against metal a second time. My eyes tore through the carnival area as the non-rhythmic clanging continued. I searched for where it reverberated.
The Carney stood with his back to me and swung a shovel between the Ferris wheel and the Tilt-A-Whirl, sinewy arms slicing through the air, more muscle than I imagined. The younger man dodged the make shift weapon, screamed, and thrust his arm my direction. The Carney turned and stared. Twenty-something cracked Carney’s jaw just then. The Carney crumpled into himself and the shovel thunked on the ground. The kid retreated hopping and flipping his hand.
Must have hurt.
The crowd, who had hovered on the edges while the shovel swung, drew close, a growing murmur. I heard heavy boots pounding behind me. A county sheriff crashed past. His protruding elbow hit my shoulder and knocked me to the ground. My arms flew out and my bag flipped out of my hand. An angry ‘hey,’ stuck in my throat. I swallowed when I noticed the officer’s hand reaching to his holster and unsnapping the clasp.
The two fighting men were at it again, grunting, wrestling, pulling apart, panting. I surveyed the contents of my bag strewn about, moaned and brushed at the dirt and grass smudges on my slacks. I stood, shook my pants only to be knocked down by the next officer to run past.
What am I? Invisible?
Shouts. Commands. Escalating orders. I crouched, gathered my spiraled contents, rolled my feet under me and rose. The Carney stilled with his hands in the air. The young man lay on his chest. He held a dark… walkie-talkie? His hands shook. He pointed it my direction.
I noted the flash of the camera and thought the noise that followed bizarre. A burning split me sharp as any migraine, creased my hip, and pitched me into a spin. My head jerked. My knees buckled. For a third time I thumped to the ground. Fireplay of flashes blinged. Pop. Pop. Pop. Dazed, I watched with curiosity a spurt of leaping blood. Whose is that? I reached for where my side stung. My hand felt sticky, warm.
I think…it’s…my blood.
I wobbled and attempted to stand. A shooting stab blinded my vision. I sank. My forehead hit something solid. Earth. I rolled on my back. Someone spoke. My eyes fluttered. Danny knelt beside me and stared all color drained from his cherubic cheeks, his hands reaching toward my arm. I was twenty pounds overweight and didn’t want him to figure that out when he pulled me up, so I pushed his groping paws away. I heard the cart before I saw it. A wheel of the stretcher came into view along with the paramedic’s boots. Someone behind him stumbled, the cart plowed into the paramedic, he fell into Danny, who thundered on top of me.
My head lolled to one side. I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed I’d be able to breath again. The pain was horrific. I struggled to refill my lungs and caught a glimpse of the great beyond past Danny’s ear. Heaven? The blue of the sky steered into focus and wisps of clouds drifted. No, heaven would be a man in Danny’s position, except it would feel good.
Our eyes locked. He stuttered, but I understood his sentence. “Why was the guy aiming at you?”
The paramedic’s hand twitched and grabbed my wrist.
“Get off,” I said to Danny, and I wasn’t polite. I heard the splash at the dock dogs pool, coughed and then the real pain started. I grimaced.
I’m going down in fair history as the director who took a bullet, if that’s not a reason to quit, I don’t know what is.
Danny fondled my hand. I wanted to pull away but lacked the strength. I wished I could have spit when he ran his fingers through my hair. “You’re going to need to wash it again,” he said. “What is that fragrance?”
I started to speak, but another odor hit my olfactory, and a cold muzzle snorted over my cheek. “Dog shit.” I whispered, and passed out.