Monday, August 5, 2013
Testing ... Testing ...
Gil consulted the crude map drawn up by the Talbot’s Peak Fair Committee and compared it to the reality. So far, so good. Which, experience had taught him, was usually the point when things started to go down the toilet.
Not this time, he vowed. Lives were at stake.
He rolled up the map and approached Ride Team Alpha. “How’s it going?”
“Like a dream,” Hank, the foreman, told him with breezy whinny. At six-foot-six, Hank towered over Gil as well as his fellow laborers, even the oxen. Every one of those inches was muscle. Hank’s Percheron-shifter ancestors had carried swords and sometimes knights in the Crusades. These days he plowed fields and pulled hay wagons for extra cash, when he wasn’t working his own spread. Between his strength and that of the oxen, they would have the fair’s rides up in record time.
But would those rides stay up? That’s what worried Gil.
Reading the look on his face, Hank added, “Lighten up. They’re sturdy. Dante sent a couple boys over to handle the fine-tuning. They’re mechanical-minded.”
“Who? Oh, them.” Gil followed Hank’s gesture to a pair of hunched figures fussing over a kiddie ride featuring flying zoo animals. He vaguely remembered them from the meeting: Lutz and Bortz, European wolves somehow related to the Hancock pack. In his mind Gil had named them Nutz and Boltz, given their inclinations. The two kept tractors, cars, and anything else with an engine running in Talbot’s Peak. Last Halloween they’d disassembled ex-Mayor Link’s beloved banana-yellow Cadillac and rebuilt it on top of City Hall. Gil couldn’t remember how they’d gotten it down again. This had happened before the election, and hadn’t been his problem at the time.
The kiddie rides, however, were his problem, and his responsibility. Usually when an adult got hurt on a carnival ride, it was their own stupid fault. If a kid got hurt, there’d be hell to pay, especially if the parents were shifters.
He waved the wolves over. Lutz came trotting up; Bortz continued to tinker with the struts. “Is that thing safe?” Gil asked.
“Ja, is zafe. Run goot.” The wolf looked offended that Gil would question him. “You vant to test?”
“Isn’t that up to the safety inspectors? For that matter, aren’t there supposed to be outside crews who come in and set all this stuff up?”
“Well, yeah,” Hank admitted. “They’ll be here the day before we open, make sure everything’s shipshape. We just figured we’d, y’know, get a jump on it.”
The light dawned. “You guys want to get your rides in before the fair opens.”
Hank shrugged massively. “Won’t be time during.”
Of course. It wouldn’t be Talbot’s Peak if somebody didn’t try to milk something out of it. “Okay, okay. Take me on the grand tour.”
Since the town had no actual fairgrounds, the Committee had put the food and game stands along the streets, entertainment in the town square, exhibits and contests in the fields on the outskirts, and rides wherever they could squeeze them in. Luckily most would be child-sized and would fit in blocked-off side streets and parking lots. “Where’d you put the Ferris wheel?” Gil asked.
“Behind the hardware store. It’s only thirty feet high, but—aw, no! Andy! Get off there!”
Gil looked up to see a hefty man the size of an ox pumping his fists in the air at the top of the Ferris wheel. One of his brothers manned—or oxed?—the controls. “Get down!” Hank bellowed. “Rufe and Rafe are supposed to check that one.”
“Rufe and Rafe?”
“Golden eagles. Won’t matter if they fall off. Stu, I sure hope you didn’t test-drive that tiny little carousel.”
The ox-man at the controls looked nervous. “Of course not,” he said hastily.
The mini-carousel appeared intact, except for one horse with a stuck pole. Gil made a note for Nutz and Boltz to check it out. As they walked down the block toward the next ride, another ox came staggering off a side street. He lurched up to a trash receptacle and bent over it. The sounds he made required no explanation.
“Tilt-A-Whirl’s working,” Hank observed.
“That reminds me. We’re going to have a ton of sweet and greasy foods, and little kids of both species. We’d better be ready for the inevitable. We’ll need a cleanup brigade, plenty of buckets and mops and bleach and what else, oh yeah, sawdust or maybe cat litter. You and your team—hey! Where you going?”