Chapter Eight: The Ways of Fate
Pal watched the crowd milling around the entrance to the faire. They had just opened the gates, and it looked as if there were already twice as many people out there as there'd been on Sunday. Labor Day Monday was notorious amongst faire workers as the toughest day of the season, and he could see why. Part of it was because the performers gave away free passes to all their friends, and those passes were only good the first weekend. Monday being a holiday, it was natural all those people with responsibilities or plans for the remainder of the weekend would take advantage of the day and their passes.
It was already too hot to breathe, he decided, and wondered if he could stop doing so for awhile. Like those aerobic instructors who remind their pupils to breathe, something Pal had always found as amusing as it was ridiculous -- perhaps he could do the reverse, and stop himself breathing until it was a little cooler. He glanced around to see Cassie watching him curiously.
"What are you doing, hon? You look a little odd."
"Trying not to breathe -- it's too hot."
"Don't blame me when you turn blue and pass out. You know, I have a very strange premonition about today."
"You're just worried because there are gonna be more people here than would fit into the Oakland Coliseum. No way to keep an eye on our target, is there?"
"That's part of it, I guess, but at least she has Ned now as a bodyguard. Have you seen Krystle?"
"She went to the cinnamon bun stall with Zand -- they said they were gonna beat the crowds and bring back coffee and rolls. I hope they bring me two."
"I told you to eat more for breakfast than a banana and some yogurt."
"I need to lose weight."
She regarded him with disbelief. "What makes you think so? You're much thinner than Rob."
"He's all muscle. I feel like there's a load of flab trying to creep up on my waistline. It's so difficult living with a skinny woman."
Cassie kicked him in the shin, which didn't have much effect -- ballet slippers weren't too effective for that kind of thing. "Hey! I'm not skinny -- I'm slender. And don't you forget it. Or I'll take one of your buns."
He grabbed her hand and placed it on his right buttock, holding it in place. "You can have one or both of my buns anytime you ask, sweet thing. Don't forget our date for a walk in the woods."
She laughed, and gave a good squeeze. Zandra and Krystle approached them at that moment, and the teenager seemed particularly interested in what she had just witnessed. Krystle, the sixteen year old daughter of Estelle and Mitchell, was turning out to be gorgeous. This was certainly evidence of evolution at work, Cassie thought -- neither Estelle nor Mitchell could be termed good looking. But at 5'10" with long, blond hair, calm blue eyes and a figure bordering on the voluptuous, sometime in the past year Krystle had become an adolescent wet dream. She seemed unaware of this new power, but the costume Zandra made showed off her charms and caused male heads to turn as she passed by, balancing her cardboard tray of cinnamon buns.
"Here's breakfast, lovebirds," she called out just before she reached them. "Rob said you'd better save him some, or he'll have somebody's hide."
Pal snatched a bun and took a big bite. "Then he'd better be quick -- I'm starving."
"So much for your diet, fatso," Cassie taunted him, accepting her cup of coffee from Zandra.
Krystle fixed her sky-hued gaze on Cassie. "How cruel of you, Cassie. My dad's a fatso, but we rarely tell him."
Cassie laughed. "I only say it because my hubby here is so obviously not fat. He's getting a complex, though."
Rob approached the group, trailed by Ned. Zandra realized just how young Ned was when his eyes widened at the sight of Krystle. His height and build had been deceptive; this could very well be his first season at the faire. Krystle turned with the tray of rolls, and noticed Ned staring at her. She smiled, and Zandra thought Ned might fall into the dirt in a dead faint. "Here's Rob now! Pal said he was gonna try to eat all the rolls before you got back."
"He knows I'd just whine all day and make him miserable, if he did. Do we have enough buns for Ned, too? Phylicia told him to come and stock up, before his ordeal."
"I'll go and get some more. A big guy like your friend looks as if he needs more than one."
Ned grinned at her. "Hi," he said. "I'm Ned -- assigned to guard Phylicia Patrick from the psychotics today. Are you Rob's sister?"
"You saved yourself, there, son," Rob told him. "For a second I was afraid you were about to say `daughter'."
"Oh, I knew she couldn't be your daughter -- you've never been married."
Rob choked on his cinnamon roll. "Do I look old enough to be her father?" he demanded indignantly.
"Just pulling your leg, old man." Ned waited expectantly for an introduction to Krystle.
"This is Krystle," Zandra told him with some amusement. "Her mom works for SuperGirls. I have the impression you'd like to go with her to get more rolls."
"Yes, please! I can carry them."
"Well, of course we wouldn't want the poor child to sprain her wrist, would we?" Pal asked Ned with every semblance of being serious. Cassie elbowed him in the side. It didn't matter, really. Ned and Krystle were already on their way in the direction of the cinnamon roll booth.
By this time the place was filled with people, and Rob glanced around disgustedly. "And we thought the last two days were crowded. If it's gonna be this bad all the time, I resign." He took a big bite of his roll.
Despite Rob being convinced the whole day was going to be a trip through history via hell, they had a good time until lunch, with no mishaps. They made a trip up to Allandra's stall, where she left her clients to come rushing out into the lane, draperies flying and her little crocheted hat attempting to fall into her eyes.
"Does Phylicia have a bodyguard today? Both your partners are with you!" She seemed more than usually distracted.
"Yes, of course. Don't worry, Allandra -- you look like you're about to have a nervous collapse. One of the security guards volunteered to guard Phylicia today. Why? I know you said something would happen this weekend, but time is getting pretty short."
"Whoever it is has until 6 pm tonight," she retorted grimly. "I've seen it in the cards, Zandra -- something will happen." She drooped visibly, the peacock feather on her little hat curling over her dark hair. "I don't know why I'm trying to circumvent something that's destined to happen."
Rob snorted. "I don't believe in this destiny garbage." He turned and stalked in the direction of the privies.
"You know, " Allandra said, watching him go, "He asked if he could interview me for his magazine. I wonder if he just thinks he's going to expose me as a fraud."
"In this case, wouldn't you rather be wrong?"
"Well ... I wouldn't mind if she was just mauled, a little." She grinned impishly up at Zandra from her 5'2".
"Ned, why don't you get some lunch?" Phylicia suggested. "I'm going to, so I'll be safe out in that crowd. And I'm sure you have a young lady waiting for you somewhere on the faire grounds."
The flush that ran up Ned's neck verified this. "Run along with you, then. I'll follow as soon as I can find my damn headache pills." As Ned turned to go, Phylicia frowned at the mess on her desk. Why was she having so many headaches? Why had this year's faire turned out to be one long headache, thus far? Perhaps it was time to retire, and let Carl take over. He'd certainly been angling to do so for long enough. Ah! There they were! Phylicia cursed as the bottle tipped over and the pills scattered out amongst the debris. She hated those child-proof caps, and never put them back on the bottles.
Ned went dashing through the faire, looking left and right for long, golden hair and a flowered chintz weskit. She was the prettiest, sweetest girl he'd met in a long time, and he was hoping to buy her lunch. It did seem a little strange that one of the first things she'd asked him was whether or not he was a Christian -- there weren't many people like that who worked the faire. But with the single-mindedness and arrogance of youth, Ned decided that Krystle was young yet (he, himself, was nineteen and to be a sophomore in college next semester) and she would soon grow out of her odd beliefs.
There she was! Watching one of the plays from the sidelines. The fact that Krystle had chosen one of the bawdiest and more suggestive of the theatre companies to occupy her time would seem to bear out Ned's assumption. He approached her, waving when he caught her attention.
"Hello, Ned!" She said, smiling and bouncing up and down. He appreciated the way this made her bosom rise and fall in the weskit. "What're you doing here? I heard Rob tell you not to let Phylicia out of your sight today."
"She wanted to go get lunch, and figured I needed some, too. Then she suggested perhaps I had a girl I'd like to buy lunch for, and I, uh ... thought of you." Ned flushed, looking away to the stage.
"Thank you -- I was just thinking about getting something to eat. What would you recommend?"
"Oh, the mushroom pies; bangers; toad in a hole; crepes; fried cheese sandwiches ... and then there's fruit ices, fudge, strawberry shortcake ..."
Krystle laughed. "I see! Well, I'll take just one of those things and perhaps one dessert -- you get the rest and I'll taste them."
"I didn't mean you had to have `em all! Let's walk about and you can take a look in the booths -- then decide."
"Sounds like a plan." He held his arm out for her, just like men did in a novel he'd read. She put her's through it with a little curtsey. "Where do you live, Ned?"
"Cotati -- I'm starting my second year at Sonoma State. What about you?"
"Rohnert Park -- but I still live with my parents. I'm in high school."
"Really? I would've thought you were a first year college student. I still live with my parents, too -- who can afford not to?"
Krystle nodded, relieved that he didn't seem disappointed to learn she was still in high school. Now she had to figure out how to break him to her mother. "Ned, would you like to come to my church?"
"Do I have to, just to get you to go out with me?"
"It would certainly make it easier."
"I'll think about it. Here's the toad-in-a-hole booth."
Zandra finished her lemonade and tossed the paper cup into a bin. "Listen, I think I'll check in on Phylicia now; it's been a couple of hours."
"I'm sure she's in good hands with Ned -- let's go take in a show." Rob put his arm around her and nuzzled her neck. "We can sit in the back row and neck."
She giggled, pushing him away half heartedly. "What is it about dirt and heat that makes men feel amorous?"
"It's the animal in us ..." with a growl, he snatched her off her feet and hugged her.
"After we check on our client, Tarzan. Have you seen Krystle lately?"
"Nope, but I haven't looked for `er, either. She could be with Cassie and Pal."
Zandra checked her watch. "We're supposed to rendezvous at the Ben Jonson Theatre in half an hour, anyway. Come on ... we just have time to get down to the front of the faire and back again."
Rob groaned as she tugged him along behind her. "Nobody told me this job involved so much walking."
They were moving against the flow of the crowd now, which didn't make it any easier. Still, they were back at the faire center in ten minutes. Zandra walked through the center to where Phylicia's little office was located, in the rear of the building. There was no door, only a curtain to separate the cubicle from the rest of the building. She frowned -- hadn't they agreed that Phylicia would keep the curtain open, so Ned could see her? He could keep people from wandering back and bothering her. And where was Ned, anyway? This last question was answered just as she raised her hand to knock. The guard and Krystle appeared behind her, hand in hand.
"Hi, Zandra," Ned said. "We saw Rob outside and he wanted to know why I wasn't on duty. Phylicia gave me a break for lunch -- maybe she's not back yet."
Suddenly, Zandra was hit by a wave of ice that travelled up her spine and threatened to knock her head off. She knew something was wrong -- they had failed. Pulling the curtain back so abruptly she tore it off the rod, she went dashing into the little cubicle. Phylicia was sitting at the desk, and appeared to be reading some papers. But she was stiff, right down to the fixed smile on her face, that was looking out at the entrance-way to the office. Someone had stepped through there, and Phylicia looked up to ... what? Welcome them? Help them? If she had wanted to shoo someone away, she probably wouldn't have been smiling. And despite her fear and paranoia, she hadn't been afraid of this particular person at all.
Zandra put her arm across Krystle and Ned so they couldn't rush over to her. "Don't touch anything," she said. "One of you go call the police. She's already dead -- only poison could have made rigor mortis set in so quickly. She's already freezing-up, and it could only have been a few minutes. Wait a minute ... that's impossible, even for fast-acting poison. Ned, it's two-thirty. How long have you been at lunch?"
"No, it can't be! Oh, lord -- I've killed her!"
"Don't take the dear lord's name in vain, Ned -- and don't blame yourself. Whoever it was had decided to kill her, that was obvious. He would've gotten to her eventually, and she did tell you to go to lunch." Krystle smiled serenely.
Zandra was wishing they'd never brought this idiot child with them. "Ned, go call the police. Krystle, find Rob and tell him what's happened."
"But what did happen?" Ned asked her. "How did she die?"
"I was afraid you'd ask me that," she sighed. Cautiously, she circled the tiny office, examining the body for outward signs of a struggle. There were none, but Phylicia's neck above her shirt had started to swell and was discolored around a tiny hole, a hole that looked as if it could have been made by an insect. "There -- it looks like something bit her. Or it could have been made by some kind of a dart."
"You mean it was blown at her through a tube -- like some Amazonian tribes use?"
"No telling until there's an autopsy. I think you might be looking for another job after today, though."