Slow Dollar (Deborah Knott Series #9)by Margaret Maron
A moonlit autumn night brings out half the county to fill the Tilt-O-Whirl with squealing riders and the dirt around Polly's Pitch Plate with losers' quarters. But in an air nostalgically sweet with caramel apple and spun sugar, one crooked game ends with a brutal death ... and Judge Deborah Knott will discover more than a body. For beneath the carnival's… See more details below
A moonlit autumn night brings out half the county to fill the Tilt-O-Whirl with squealing riders and the dirt around Polly's Pitch Plate with losers' quarters. But in an air nostalgically sweet with caramel apple and spun sugar, one crooked game ends with a brutal death ... and Judge Deborah Knott will discover more than a body. For beneath the carnival's razzle-dazzle surface swirl dark secrets that Deborah has kept hidden for almost twenty years. Now as family loyalties war with the demands of the law, she must struggle to win a carny's trust-before the killer pins a bull's-eye on yet another victim.
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By Margaret Maron
Warner BooksCopyright © 2002 Margaret Maron
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJUDGE DEBORAH KNOTT FIRST WEEK IN SEPTEMBER
I was holding court over in Widdington and it was our fifth drunk-and-disorderly of this hot September morning.
Actually our fifth, sixth, and seventh since there were three men involved in the same incident.
"Call Victor Lincoln, Daniel Lincoln, James Partin," said Chester Nance, the ADA who was prosecuting today's calendar.
If James Partin had ever stood before me, I didn't remember, but the Lincoln brothers, Vic and Danny, were husky young white men whom I'd found guilty of larceny more than two years ago. Itinerant carpenters, they had been stealing appliances from the newly finished houses in Tinker's Landing before their owners could move in. I gazed from one set of bloodshot eyes to the other.
"Time sure does fly. I didn't realize you guys were out already." "Time off for good behavior," Vic said, trying to look upright and respectable. He and his cohorts had already waived their rights to an attorney.
"Too bad your good behavior didn't last," said Chester Nance. "Class-one misdemeanor, Your Honor. Injury to personal property. Misdemeanor assault. Intoxicated and disruptive."
It was the usual story except that this time, the personal property destroyed was the Pot O'Gold Rainbow.
"The what?" I asked. "An inflatable carnival ride, Your Honor." "How do you plead?" I asked the accused. "Not guilty," Vic Lincoln said confidently. "We might've had a couple of beers, but we won't drunk. Just having a good time. We didn't really hurt nothing."
"Just put a three-hundred-dollar cut in my ride," the woman seated at Chester Nance's table observed. "Mr. Nance," I warned.
The ADA stood hastily. "Call Mrs. Tallahassee Ames." The woman rose from the table and moved easily across to the witness stand, where she placed her hand on the Bible.
She looked to be pushing forty-at least three years older than Me-and her slender body had an air of muscular hardness to it. Her shoulder-length dark hair framed a square face that was attractive, if a little weather roughened like farm women who'd sized up too many crops under too many hot suns, which, come to think of it, probably isn't too much different from sizing up crowds in strange towns. The big gold hoops that swung from her ears made me wonder if she ever moonlighted as the carnival's gypsy fortune-teller. Instead of flowing skirts and veils, though, she wore well-cut jeans, highheeled boots of red snakeskin, and a red silk shirt with the top buttons left open. Several gold necklaces encircled her throat and a diamond-crusted cross on one of them dipped down between her breasts. Danny Lincoln was staring at its resting place and breathing with his mouth open.
The tangle of small gold charms on her bracelet clinked and jingled against the Bible as Mrs. Ames placed her left hand on it and swore that she would tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
"You may be seated," said my clerk. "State your name and address," said Chester Nance. "Tallahassee Ames, currently of Gibtown-sorry, I mean Gibsonton, Florida."
Puzzled, Nance looked at his notes again. "Didn't you give the police officers a local address that night?" "I might've told him I owned property in this county, but my legal residence is Florida."
"I see." Again he shuffled papers. "Please tell the court your occupation."
"My husband and me, we own and operate Ames Amusement Corporation." The witness chair was one step lower than mine, and when she looked up at me, her eyes were an unexpected deep clear blue. "Three rides, five games, two grab wagons." "Grab wagons?" I asked.
"Corn dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, soft drinks, okay? Grab-and-go food."
"On July seventh of this year, where were you and your amusements?" asked Nance, virtuously staying on topic.
"Us and another outfit were set up over in the abandoned Kmart parking lot at the edge of town here for the Fourth of July."
I hadn't been to Widdington's Fourth of July celebration since I was a teenager, but I knew they went all out- parade, fireworks, and a ten-day carnival to raise money for their rescue squad.
Under Nance's questioning, Mrs. Ames described the events leading to last month's incident. Her voice had the husky timbre of a heavy smoker.
According to her testimony, it was around eleven o'clock on a Thursday night. Average closing time for a weeknight. Widdington isn't New York. It isn't even Raleigh. The owner of the other rides had already shut down his Ferris wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl, and she herself was in the process of securing her guessing game when she realized there was trouble over at the Pot O'Gold, a contraption that sounded like a large, colorful sliding board.
"It's basically a big plastic balloon shaped like half a rainbow, okay?" She gestured with her hands, and her charm bracelet tinkled like little gypsy bells. "One side looks like a big treetop with clouds over it. Inside, there's a set of spiral steps that go up thirty feet to the top. When you come out of a door in the cloud, you're on top of the rainbow. We've got an air compressor that keeps it inflated. The way it works is that you sit on a slide sack and try to land in the pot of gold at the bottom."
She saw my raised eyebrow and smiled. "Well, actually, the pot's padded and filled with gold-colored sponges that look like gold bars. If you land in the pot, though, you either get a prize or you get to slide again." "Sounds as if you probably hand out a lot of freebies," I said.
"It's a little harder than you might think," she drawled. "But maybe you'd like to try it yourself in a few weeks. We're booked to play the harvest festival over in Dobbs." "As to the night of July seventh?" said Chester Nance. "My husband had gone on up to Virginia to check out a new elephant-ear trailer, okay? So it was just me and my two sons to look out for things."
(At least I didn't have to ask what an elephant ear was. Not with my weakness for fried dough. Hot and crispy, sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar, it's my biggest indulgence when the state fair comes to Raleigh every October.)
"I'd just snapped the locks when I heard Val yelling." "Val being your younger son?" asked Nance. "Yeah. He's only sixteen. Hasn't got his full growth yet or he'd've busted them three's butts." Hastily, Nance pushed on. "When you looked over to where he was, what did you see?"
"I saw them knock him over and start climbing up my rainbow on the outside, but the compressor was still going, so it was twisting enough that they couldn't get a good hold. The plastic's tough, but I was worried they might stomp a hole. Braz and me-" "Braz is-?"
She gave an impatient toss of her head at having her narrative interrupted yet again. "Braz is my oldest boy, Val's the youngest, Binga's our Bozo, and Herve was the one working that ride, okay? The others had gone to the bunkhouse."
Nance nodded and let her keep going. "Braz and me, we ran over. I hollered for Binga to come help, too, but by the time we got there, that one"-she pointed to Vic Lincoln-"had his knife out and before we could get to him, he cut a slit ten feet long and let all the air out. Whole thing collapsed, okay? It was a miracle somebody didn't break an arm or a leg."
A Widdington town police officer who'd been there that night with his wife gave corroborating evidence as to the defendants' presence, general belligerency, intoxication, and possession of knives. He hadn't witnessed the incident, but since the Lincoln brothers and their friend Partin weren't actually denying it, that point was moot. When the prosecution rested, Vic Lincoln took the stand and the oath and asked if he could tell his story in his own words.
"See, Your Honor, we went there to get back the stuff her old man stole from us, but-"
"Stole from you?" I asked. "Yes, ma'am. See, when you put us in jail last time, we rented us a storage locker for our tools and stuff. But Danny's sorry girlfriend that was supposed to be keeping up the payments on it? She went off to Myrtle Beach with another guy, and when we got out, the people at the locker place said they'd sold our stuff off for back rent. Her dude's the one that bought it and we were there to find him. I mean, how can we make a honest living if we don't have our tools?"
"And when you didn't find Mr. Ames at the carnival, you decided to take it out in trade?" asked Nance.
"Well, naw, that just sorta happened," said Lincoln. "Let me get this straight," I said. "You put your tools in storage, nobody pays the rent on it, the company auctions it off, yet you blame the Ameses for your loss? Seems to me, you should be going after your brother's old girlfriend."
Lincoln looked at me as if I were dumber than dirt. "She ain't the one got our tools," he said.
I let him have his full say, then found the men guilty as charged. Because they each had less than five priors, I could only give them forty-five days max for the injury to personal property, same for the simple assault. It was tempting to send them all back to jail for thirty days, but most victims prefer cash restitution over the satisfaction of seeing their assailants do time, so I suspended the active sentence and put them on supervised probation for two years with the usual conditions. This included a fine, restitution for property damage and any medical bills, an injunction to stay away from this carnival, plus an alcohol assessment at the local mental-health clinic.
Despite the unusual property that had been damaged, it was, as I said, a routine case and I didn't give it another thought for the next few weeks.
And then the carnival came to Dobbs.
Excerpted from Slow Dollar by Margaret Maron Copyright © 2002 by Margaret Maron. Excerpted by permission.
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I am a big fan of Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series, I always enjoy myself while I accompany her and her family and friends in their daily lives. Then there is always the murder.
It is rare that I read a book the second time but this is one I will read again soon. Your attention is held with this story with its many twists and turns. Can't wait for her next Deborah Knott book. Will have to read this one again and then wait for the next one. Could not put it down. Read at every opportunity, at lunch, on break,etc.
Judge Deborah Knott of Colleton County, North Carolina first meets Tally Ames in the courtroom when the carnival owner presses charges against three local men who damaged one of her rides. The judge finds in favor of Tally and orders the men to make restitution. The next time the two women meet is at the harvest festival carnival where Deborah is taking in the sights with friends and family. The evening ends abruptly when Tally¿s son is found murdered, his face stomped on and his mouth stuffed with quarters. As the police investigate the carny workers, the judge learns that Tally is her long lost niece, even though Deborah¿s brother refuses to acknowledge her as his own. When another carnival worker is killed, the carny people close ranks against outsiders but none of that fastened tight community ever dealt with the likes of an obstinate individual like the judge. The latest installment in the Deborah Knott¿s here comes the judge amateur sleuth investigation mystery series is a well written novel starring a secondary cast that is colorfully eccentric. The judge agrees to marry a local man who has loved her secretly for a very long time and it will be interesting to see if she, in future books, chickens out before she gets to the altar. SLOW DOLLAR is as much a family saga as it is a clever regional mystery. Harriet Klausner