There’s hardly a soul in Carding who’s not caught up in making the town fair happen.
And like the course of true love, events of this magnitude never run smooth.
As Carding’s chief of police, Charlotte Davenport has an important role to play in the logistics of the fair, and every year, that includes coordinating the delivery and pickup of the carnival rides.
I have to report that it’s not going well this year at all.
Welcome to Carding, Vermont, the small town that no one can seem to find on a map. If you want to visit regularly, please subscribe to the Carding Chronicles or delve into the Carding novels. You’ll find all the details at the end of this story.
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August may have a reputation as the laziest and haziest days of summer but the imminent start of the Carding Fair meant anything but lazy days for Carding’s chief of police, Charlotte Davenport. She looked at her calendar and sighed. One more week and the craziness would reach its peak.
“Might as well get this conversation over with,” she said to the empty room as she picked up her phone. Of all the items on her list of things-to-do, coordinating the delivery and pickup of the fair’s carnival rides was dead last.
“New England Midway Entertainment.”
“Ah, yeah, I need to speak with Gary Miller. This is Chief Davenport from Carding, Vermont,” Charlotte said.
“I’ll tell him you’re on the line. Can you hold please?”
Charlotte barely managed to suppress her sigh as she said: “Sure, sure.” No matter when she called, the Midway people always put her on hold.
As soon as the company’s muzak came on—a wandering saxophone number in search of a melody—Charlotte pressed her speaker-phone button and laid the phone on her desk. Experience told her that this would take a while, and she had a report to finish.
Charlotte had just reached her concluding sentence when the Carnival King’s joyful boom broke the silence in the police station.
“Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte, so sorry to keep you waiting.”
The chief glanced at the clock.
“I think you broke your record, Gary. You only kept me on hold for eleven minutes this year,” she said.
“Ha, what a kidder. I see from my schedule that we’re headed up your way on Wednesday,” Gary said. “You still holding this fair thing on that pokey little green in the middle of town? Heckuva place to get in and out of, you know that, don’t you? Every year, my trucks get bigger. I’m not sure we can make it down those narrow roads into the center of Carding.”
“Now Gary, we have this same conversation every year,” Charlotte began.
“Yeah, but this time I mean it, Charlotte.” Gary’s voice became a bit less blustery, and that caught the chief’s attention. “It’s all these new regulations for safety-this and safety-that. Our rides are quality—top quality—and they pass every inspection that the states put us through. But all these new requirements mean bigger pieces of equipment and it’s getting harder to get them from here to there just like it’s getting harder for us to find drivers. There’s a national shortage of truck drivers, you know. That’s what I’m tellin’ ya, see? I’ve got three new drivers to haul our stuff up to Carding, and they’ve never seen anything like that Meetinghouse Road of yours. One way and narrow, narrow, narrow.”
“How many trucks are you sending in all?” Charlotte asked.
“So you’re telling me that every one of those drivers is a newbie? No experience necessary?”
“Yeah, that’s what I mean to say.” Gary let the air hang silent between them for a long moment before he added. “You sure I can’t persuade you folks to move that fair to the high school? It’s a much easier place to get in and out of.”
“Now Gary, tell me this—would you be willing to tell Edie Wolfe that you want her to change the location of the biggest event in Carding a week before it starts?” Charlotte asked.
Now it was Gary’s turn to sigh. “No, I guess not. So can we get in and out of town earlier in the day?”
“How early is early?”
“Well, the sun rises about six in the morning at this time of the year. How about we get our trucks onto Meetinghouse Road no later than five?” Gary asked.
This time, Charlotte didn’t bother to suppress her sigh. “How about this? You get your people to the high school parking lot by that time in the morning, and we’ll guide them into the center of town one at a time.”
“One at a time? That means unloading could take all day.”
“All day? I’ve watched your folks unload a truck full of ride equipment in an hour. If we bring one truck into the center of town at a time, you should be unloaded by noon,” Charlotte said.
“Ah, well, we’ve got another difficulty. All of my more experienced crews are on other jobs that day so that’ll make the set-up process slow,” Gary said. Charlotte didn’t detect any notes of regret in his voice.
Charlotte looked out the window where a breeze jostled the leaves of the big sycamores in the center of Carding Green. What in the heck is going on here, she asked herself. “I’m going to have to get back to you on this, Gary. I need to talk to Edie and our town manager.”
“Sure thing, Charlotte. Nice talkin’ to ya.”
Carding’s police chief stood in the doorway of the station and took a few moments to take in the sweep of the town’s center. The green was an imperfect oval, a bit wider on its east end than its west. At this hour of the morning, vehicles of all sizes circled it slowly, the parking spaces nearest the Crow Town Bakery were all full, and the two mothers who ran the Rainbow Daycare Center were escorting their tiny charges down the sidewalk to the library for story hour.
Charlotte knew that local logging trucks and construction vehicles bypassed the center of Carding. But that was to avoid traffic and not because of Meetinghouse Road. That’s why Gary’s reluctance to have his trucks unload the Fair’s carnival rides in the center of town made no sense to her.
Gideon Brown was just coming out of the bakery when he spotted Charlotte. “You look deep in thought,” he said as he approached.
Charlotte smiled. “You are just the person I’d like to talk to,” she said. “Have you got a minute?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
Gideon’s eyebrows inched higher and higher as Charlotte described her conversation with the carnival ride provider. “Oh, that’s complete nonsense,” he said when the chief finished her story. “I’ve driven all types of trucks through the center of town. I agree it’s better if it’s early in the day because the foot traffic is lighter. But if you take it slow, there’s no problem here.”
“That’s what I thought,” Charlotte said. “So why is Gary Miller making such a big deal out of this?”
“I don’t know. Something else must be going on. We’d better find Edie, and let her know what’s going on,” Gideon said.
“Yeah, I guess.” Charlotte shook her head as they walked off together. “No matter how hard we try, the Carding Fair never runs smoothly. There’s always something.”
You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, will be available for your reading pleasure later this month.
You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.
If you’d like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.