Frankie July and the County Fair
Something’s rotten. A big bell pepper, that’s what.
My name’s July, Frankie July. I’ve locked up some of the meanest, dangerous fellas this sun-bleached town has ever scene. You could say I’ve done a damn fine job at it too seeing as how there hasn’t been a violent crime in Middleland for ten years.
Today’s no different, unless you count violence towards potentially prize-winning piece of produce as a violent crime.
The Howe family has lived in this region for nearly a century. They’re good people, hard workers. Hardly ever hear much from them, but they have the longest streak for taking top honors, the Blue Ribbon, in the vegetables category at the annual fair. They were on track to make that fifty straight years, but tragedy struck the most perfect bell pepper.
Bob Howe, the patriarch of the Howe family, insists that someone intended to foil their win, but no one knows why. That streak means a great deal to them and their farm, especially in a time when farmers are struggling to make ends meet.
Mayor James McDonald was one of the judges overseeing the contest. I asked him if he saw anyone get into the produce tent before the judging period.
“No, ‘course not,” he said. “If I did, they’d been disqualified.”
Next I spoke with Rodney Forge. Forge was a real tall fella with a mean look in his eyes and a mustache that looks like it had stories of its own. Only thing was that the man didn’t have a mean bone in his body… and he sure had a lot of body.
“Forge!” I called out to him. “Tell me why you butchered the bell.”
“I kindly request you stop pestering me. I believe my peppers are superior to Howe’s but I respect him and his family and would never think to bring any harm to him or even his peppers.”
Sincere. Heartfelt. Another trail gone cold.
This brought me to Betsy-May Johnson. Ms. Johnson was a small-time farmer. She entered her misshapen, undersized, and generally ugly produce into the contest. She didn’t stand a chance and has never so much as earned an honorable mention in any previous fairs. Could she have finally had enough of coming in last?
“I did what?” Ms. Johnson asked.
“Pulverized the prized pepper produced painstakingly by the Howe farm.”
“What? You’re a proper poet, my puzzling policeman.”
“Ma’am,this is nothing to joke about.”
“Sir, I would not joke about doing such an awful act.”
“But, you always lose Ms. Johnson. You’re a likely suspect.”
“Surely, however I don’t do this for the prizes, or the glory. You know that I own the bookstore in town. Growing vegetables is purely a hobby.”
Sometimes I think I don’t give myself enough credit for eradicating all the crime from this town, it makes it far too difficult to see the dark side.
Who stood to gain the most from this? If the Howe farm lost its standing as the best produce in the county, they would certainly sell less. Given their financial situation, it might cause them to sell land. That land could be developed. Eureka!
I quickly returned to the Mayor for questioning.
“Mayor McDonald, I’ve figured out your scheme!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“If the Howe’s were forced to sell their land, you could capitalize by developing on it, especially with that multi-family housing project you’ve been hoping to have for years now.”
“So it was you who destroyed the pepper!”
I stood, awaiting my applause, my finger extended in accusation at this pig-pocketed politician. No one applauded.
“I certainly did not, detective.”
“You—,” I stammered, “you didn’t?”
“Never. Not to mention that the multi-family housing project already has found a home elsewhere in town.”
I apologized. Detective Frankie July does not get foiled this easily. It was time to go back to basics. I needed to apply the most basic and trusted theory in detective work: the culprit always returns to the scene of the crime.
The produce tent was taped off with yellow police tape. The fair was closed for the night. I set up in the corner with a flashlight in hand.
The night moved slowly.
I was nearly about to slip into slumber when suddenly…
Something rustled the tent flaps. I held my flashlight tight.
A shadow was just slightly noticeable in the darkness of the tent.
I could hear it nearing the table. I jumped out from the corner, focused the blinding light of the flashlight on the table.
The bandit,in shock, raised his hands… or well… paws.
With a mouthful of tomato, the raccoon scurried off, and with it took the mystery, but left another case solved by Frankie July.