Fonda Fair Butter Sculpture 2009 by Randy Cockrell
Here’s the final third of the story with the whole thing in place so you don’t have to look for it. This is my first experiment with the cosy mystery genre. It’s a lot of fun. What do you think? Are you interested in hearing more about Jean Hays? Leave a comment!
Sweat rolled down the side of Jean Hays’ face, her short graying brown hair stuck to her forehead. The sun beat down out of a cornflower blue sky while end of the monsoon season thunderheads built up into towering blinding white and ominous portents of future rain. Rain every year for the fair, she thought as she trudged to the storage container where the plastic tubs of left over ribbons, banners and other fair paraphernalia resided the rest of the year. She wiped her face and hoped the units were unlocked. The Fair Board President, Arris Van Horn wasn’t answering his phone. He should have them open by now.
She wiped the sweat from her face and lightly touched the metal handles of the shipping container. The front of the unit had been in the sun all day but while it was hot to the touch, she could grab the lever and pull it up. Must be ninety degrees out here. She swung the door open with relief that she wouldn’t have to trudge all over the fairgrounds looking for Arris and stepped inside. It was dark just a few feet inside the metal box and at least a hundred and twenty degrees. Sweat began dripping in earnest. Smells like mice in here, hope they haven’t gotten into the tubs, she thought.
Winding her way past safety cones, stacked tables, buckets of rope, steel cable and broken metal chairs, she stepped over a pile of rebar to reach her stack of tubs. One, two, three, four, she counted, where’s the fifth tub? The heat was giving her a headache. Maybe it’s farther to the back. A pile of cardboard boxes labeled, Mud Run, blocked her way. The storage container held material for several events that occurred on the fairgrounds during the year. Jean moved the three boxes behind her and stepped over a pile of rusting chain. Wish I’d brought a flashlight, she thought. It’s dark back here.
Squinting, she saw the medium blue tub four feet away on top of another stack of bins. There you are. She wiped her face again and held her breath. The smell of dead things was over whelming. I hope nothing crawled into my bin. The ribbons will be ruined. She picked her way past boxes, rusting metal things she couldn’t identify and a broken ladder. She pulled the tilted bin toward her and the pile of bins it was on fell over. Her bin slid to the floor, taking part of her thumbnail with it. “Owww,” she cried as she jerked her hand away. In front of her, the two doors of a metal cabinet creaked open and a desiccated human body fell out on top of her bin. She shrieked and scrambled outside.
She stared, panting, at the open door of the container then dialed 911. “This is Jean Hays. I’m the VP of Exhibits for the fair. I just found a dead body in the storage container on the fairgrounds.”
Standing inside the yellow crime scene tape, Jean watched what looked like complete chaos as an EMT bandaged her thumb.
“That should do it,” he said as he smoothed the tape. “You should get a tetanus shot, too. The Emergency Care place over on the corner of the Highway and Longview Street can take care of you. If you go to the hospital emergency room it’ll cost more.”
“Thanks.” Jean examined her thumb. “I’ll do that.” She nodded toward the crowd of milling police and coroner and EMT’s. “Crime scenes always look like this?”
He shrugged. “Don’t know. There hasn’t been a murder in town since I started working, eleven years ago.”
They were interrupted by a uniformed officer. “Who said it was a murder?”
“It looked like a murder to me.” Jean nodded her thanks to the EMT who left. The officer’s tone annoyed her. She held out her right hand. “I’m Jean Hayes.”
He shook her hand, after a look of suspicion. “I’m Chief of Police Nick White. You found the body?”
“Scared the crap out of me. Fell out of the double door cabinet. Stuff was piled in front of it that held the doors closed. If it was a suicide, how’d stuff get piled in front of the door?” She jerked her chin at the small crowd gathering outside the tape. “The press is here.”
Chief White turned to see a photographer taking pictures with a long lens. “That’s Scott Duley, works for the town newspaper. The editor will be calling me soon for the story.” He turned back to her. “Did you recognize the body?”
“No.” Jean was hot and wanted a drink of water. A whole bottle of icy cold water sounded really good, what with the sun beating down on her head. “It was too dark in there and I was busy getting out. I’ve only lived here a year, anyway. Most people are still strangers.”
His left eyebrow cocked up. “You’re on the Fair Board.”
Jean shrugged. “Not hard. They needed volunteers and I’m a good organizer.”
Nick eyed her then said, “The body had ID, Ida Grange.” He studied her reaction.
She shook her head. “Sorry, Chief, It doesn’t ring a bell.”
“She and Arris Van Horn were an item last year.” He adjusted his equipment belt.
It was Jean’s turn to raise an eyebrow. Why would he share that information? she thought. “You think Arris did this? A poor place to hide a body since he’s in charge of the container.”
The Chief sniffed. “Maybe.” He looked around and waved an officer over. “Take Ms. Hays statement and let her get back to her business.”
“What about my bins?”
He looked directly at the officer. “Check the bins and if they’re clean, let her have them.” He never looked at her, just turned and walked back over to the gurney where the body lay covered.
After an eternity of questions and a maddening examination of the bins, Jean was released. In the Exhibits building the Superintendents surrounded her.
“What happened?” was the primary question. She told them what she knew and they drifted off to complete their set up.
Karen Carver, Superintendent of Homemaking Arts, approached her half an hour later as Jean reviewed paperwork for the exhibits. She handed Jean an icy bottle of water. “I expect they kept you standing in the sun. You’re probably thirsty.”
Jean took the bottle and untwisted the cap. “They did.” She drank half the bottle then her right eye squinted. “Sorry, ice cream brain.” She recapped the bottle. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” Karen glanced around the building. “Um, did you hear anything?”
Jean cocked an eyebrow. “As in?”
“You know; any suspects?”
Jean didn’t really know these people. While they’d had a few planning meetings, she wasn’t friends. She wondered how much to say. “Well, the Police Chief asked probing questions.”
Jean asked, “What do you mean?”
Karen shrugged. “Well, you know, it’s a small town. A body was found in one of our storage containers. It’s got to be a short list of suspects.”
“Do you have a theory?”
The woman looked around again. The fans that moved the hot air drowned out any nearby conversations. “Well, Ina George has been missing for months.”
“What do you know?”
“Maybe I shouldn’t say.”
Jean’s military training kicked in. “If you know something, you need to say so, to the authorities.”
“Well,” she tugged at the hem of her sleeveless blouse. “I don’t know for sure.”
“Come with me,” Jean said in her best Master Sergeant voice.
Karen fidgeted but after a command wave, followed Jean to the crime scene.
“Chief White,” Jean called from the outside of the crime scene tape.
“Yeah.” Annoyance spread across his face.
Jean had the urge to say “FU” and turn away but she held her ground. No small time police chief was going to intimidate her. “It’s important.”
He said something to the officer beside him and strode to the tape opposite them. “I’m a little busy, Ms. Hayes.”
“I understand that, Chief.” Her voice rose slightly and he scowled. “Ms. Carver is one of my Superintendents and I believe she has some pertinent information.”
He questioned Karen, then called an officer over to take her information while he stepped away to make a call on his radio. Two squad cars raced off, dust spewing into the air.
It wasn’t until the next Tuesday that she read in the paper that Arris had been arrested for the murder of Ida Grange.
A week later she bumped into Chief White at the local grocery. “Ms. Hays.”
“Thank you for the tip last week.”
“My pleasure, Chief.”
He looked uncomfortable. “Uh, have a good day.”
“You too, Chief.”
She rolled her eyes when they parted. “What a clown,” she muttered.
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