Tilting at Wrong Conclusions
The fairgrounds were deserted. A crumpled Ye Olde Paper Napkin tumbled past to land next to the remains of a turkey leg at the corner of an abandoned booth.
“Where is everyone?”
“At work, I assume, sir.” Earhart stood next to me, his nose wrinkled against the onslaught of waste, both human and animal.
“Isn't this where they work?”
“Not all of them, sir. Many of them spend their days at mindless desk jobs, calculating large numbers or writing meaningless reports for their superiors while dreaming of the next time they can step back in time and be free.”
The wistfulness in his voice caused me to turn and face him. The wrinkle had gone from his nose and taken up residence on his forehead. His eyes stared out across the faded banners and merchant tents.
“You certainly know a lot about this, Earhart.”
“Huh? Oh, right. I, uh, went quite a bit when I was younger.” My junior detective wouldn't meet my eyes, locking them instead on some distant building. “I think we might try there. Horses stay in the barns and there's bound to be someone watching over them at all times.”
I followed his gaze. “Yes, of course. I was about to say the same thing myself.”
Earhart didn't respond. He was already down past the tent marked 'King's Ransom Hats and Doublets' and bee-lining for the stables.
“Right, then. The stables it is.”
I reached the stable door only to find Earhart muttering and clinging to the outside wall.
“Everything alright, Earhart?”
“Oh, splendid sir. I think you should handle this one yourself.”
“Nonsense. How else are you going to learn to deal with a case?” I grabbed his arm and dragged him along behind me.
The barn smelled of hay and manure. Mostly manure. I scrunched up my nose in a vain attempt to ward off the stench. The smell affected Earhart more. He tugged his arm away, trying to escape to fresh air.
“It's just horse shit,” I told him, and tightened my grip. If I was going to be subjected to this, so was he.
Four stalls contained horses. Big horses. Like, giant man-eating horses. The brown one nearest me turned its head and snorted, no doubt breathing in the scent of its next meal.
I took a step back towards the doorway and snapped my arm back to me when Earhart made another break-away attempt.
He wasn't leaving me alone with these monsters.
The stall at the far back opened and my muscles tensed, ready to run if the horse back there got loose.
I mean, run after the horse, of course. To catch it. Don't want one of these beasts terrorizing the whole town.
A woman came out of the stall and closed the stall behind her. No need to worry about a horse bolting, only Earhart, who didn't make it far since I still retained my hold on him.
“Excuse me, Miss. We have a few questions we were hoping you could answer.” The woman's head snapped around at the sound of my voice. I couldn't be sure, but from our end of the barn it looked like she squinted and stalked forward. A cat in human form.
“I'm Detective Summerton.” I held out my hand, which she ignored completely. She focused in on Earhart instead, a slow cat-and-mouse chase around me as my junior detective squirmed and circled around me. Having tangled us both up right proper, he bowed his head and pushed his cap down to cover his eyes.
“Ah, yes. This is my junior detective ---”
The woman straightened up with a shriek and tugged Earhart away from my grasp. “Bobsy, is that you?”
“Uh...” Earhart, safe from my clutches and trapped in hers, looked to me for help.
“It is you!” The woman had taken off his hat, revealing his crimson face
“It's me,” Earhart squeaked.
The woman finally turned to acknowledge my presence. “Bobsy here plays court jester for us on the weekends. Helps muck out the stalls, too. Didn't he ever tell you?”
“Ah, yes, of course. Bobsy.” 'Bobsy' twisted away, avoiding my gaze. “While it's all well and good what Bobsy does in his free time, it's not what we're here to speak to you about.”
The woman released Earhart and wiped her hands on her jeans, which I suspect resulted in her palms picking up more dirt rather than less.
She offered a pre-mucked hand to me. “Betty Oswald. I'm one of the jousters here.”
I shoved my hands into my pockets, discovered a handkerchief which I convinced myself was cleaner than Ms. Oswald's hand, scrunched it up in my palm and accepted her handshake. “Lovely to meet you.”
“What can I help you with?”
“We're here on a murder investigation.”
Betty raised an eyebrow, her gaze drifting from me to Earhart and back to me. “Murder? Here?”
“Oh, gods no,” Earhart said, stepping forward. “In town. We had a girl run through the chest with some sort of weapon. The resulting injury looks like it was made by a lance.”
Betty's eyebrow traveled higher. “And you think it was a jouster?”
“Not necessarily. The wound could have been made by someone else who had access to the lances. Or a copycat jouster.”
“And you think all this because of the way this girl was killed? That's a lot of assumption to base on the wound.”
“There were hoof prints, too!” I added. Earhart tended to leave out the important details.
Betty blinked, snorted, then threw her head back and let out a laugh that startled the horses. She took a couple deep breaths, wiped away some tears, turned to face me, and burst out laughing again.
“I fail to see what's so funny about this. A girl is dead and all the evidence currently points in your direction.”
“Sorry. Sorry.” Betty regained control of herself, with the exception of a snort or two. “It's just, you can't be serious. You don't really think a jouster ran down that girl, do you? Someone riding a horse, brandishing a ten-foot pole, in the middle of town. Wouldn't someone have noticed that?”
I straighten my jacket and put the handkerchief back in my pocket. “It was dark.”
Betty snorted again. “If you say so, Detective. If you want to have a look around, be my guest.” She stepped out of the way and gestured to the rest of the barn with a sweep of her arm. The brown horse near the front swept his head over his gate in the opposite direction to stare me in the eye.
“Earhart, if you would go and check the weaponry for damage, I'll wait outside for your report.”
“Hurry. We have a lot to do today.” I ducked out of the barn before he could argue further.
Or the horse could make good on the threat I saw in those big, brown, bloodshot eyes.
I leaned against the side of the building and waited for Earhart to join me, which he did a few minutes later.
“Nothing missing and nothing broken. Looks like this was a dead end, sir.”
“Nonsense, Bobsy.” I pushed away from the wall and headed for the fairground exit. “We now know it wasn't a jouster. Or, at least not one of these jousters. We've eliminated one possibility.”
“Of course, sir.”
We climbed into the car in silence as I tried to imagine what, or who, else could have left a wound like that. Which was difficult to do as the image of Earhart in a jester's outfit continually pushed its way into my mind.