Read September Fair Online

Authors: Jess Lourey

Tags: #soft-boiled, #mystery, #murder mystery, #fiction, #amateur sleuth, #mystery novels, #murder, #regional fiction, #regional mystery, #amateur sleuth novel, #minnesota, #twin cities, #minnesota state fair

September Fair (8 page)

BOOK: September Fair
4.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

“Excuse me, what’s a German meat roll?”

“Sliced beef rolled around diced pickles, sautéed onions, and spicy mustard.”

My mouth watered a tang, but it had been years since I’d eaten red meat. Swallowing something that was smart enough to find its way home creeped me out. “Thanks.” I moved on to the adjacent booth as twenty people took my spot.

The next stall featured blood sausage. On a hunch, I walked around to the back of the booth, where I saw empty boxes that had once contained beef blood, heavy cream, and lard. My stomach twisted, but I decided that if I walked away from everything I wouldn’t eat, “Battle Lake Bites” would never have become the popular column it was. A woman walked out the rear door and tossed an empty pig intestines box on the pile.

“Hi! Sorry to bother you. My name is Mira James.”

She shook my hand. “Karen Hipple. What can I do for you?”

“Can I ask how you make your blood sausage? I write a column for the
Battle Lake Recall
, and I’d like to feature your recipe in our State Fair issue. I’d give you credit.”

She smiled. “Sorry. It’s a secret.”

“Not even a hint?”

She indicated the boxes. “Not beyond what you see here.”

“Thanks anyways.” On my way back to the thoroughfare, I almost bumped into a fairgoer cradling a cardboard plate full of the sausage. It looked like coiled, bloody slugs. Gagging, I made my way to the Scotch eggs on a stick booth. “Excuse me, how do you make your eggs?”

“They’re pork sausage over hard-boiled eggs, fried and put on a stick.”

Of course they are. “What do you put in the pork sausage?”

“Are you allergic?”

“No, I’m writing a recipe column.”

“Sorry. Trade secrets.”

Ach. This was going to be harder than I thought. I dragged my feet to the Schraufnagel’s Famous Loaded Brats booth, not feeling hopeful. “Hi. Yeah. I’m writing a recipe column. I need your recipe. I’ll give you credit. You in?”

The kid behind the counter looked confused. “They’re just brats.”

“What kind?”

“Pork. The cheapest.”

Lips and buttholes
. I pulled out my notepad and wrote that down. “And what do you do with the brats?”

“You can come in back and I’ll show you, if you like. The owners won’t be back until the suppertime rush.”

I raised my eyebrows. I’d been invited behind the wizard’s curtain. “Thanks!” I let myself in the back door and was rewarded with the acrid smell of sauerkraut and mustard blended with the primordially delicious aroma of cooking bacon. If that smell could be canned and put into a hair dryer, there’d be a lot more happy women and well-coiffed men in the morning.

The booth, which was really a trailer outfitted to be a kitchen, was crammed tight. I squeezed between boxes and deep fryers to interview the kid, who didn’t look more than seventeen. I read his name tag. “This your summer job, Greg?”

“Yeah. My parents own the business. They make me work every State Fair. I’m missing a canoe trip with my buddies this week. Last summer it was baseball camp.”

Ooh. Bitter son. Perfect source for secret family recipes. I prodded him. “So, first you take a cheap pork brat.”

“Yup. From Sam’s Club. Generic sausages.”

“Then what do you do with it?”

“It’s gotta be raw.” He grabbed a sample sausage from a plastic bin. It was limp, grey, and would get a XXX rating if it starred in its own movie. He slapped it on the white laminate countertop. “You slice it the long way, like so. Then, push the insides as far into the skin as you can.”

The pallid meat made a gooshy sound as he shoved it around with his fingers. I smiled wanly at the line of people outside lining up for their very own tube steak. They poked their heads up toward the window like chickens trying to see into the corn bin, but the trailer was set four feet off the ground, and they couldn’t view much past the front counter.

“OK, then load the channel you just made with sauerkraut. The more, the better. It kills the aftertaste on the sausage. Once it’s full, you pinch it closed and wrap the whole brat, stuffing and all, with raw bacon. You gotta use toothpicks to keep the bacon in place at the ends. If we have time, we grill the whole works on low heat. If we’re busy, we deep fry it.” He dropped it into a fryer basket, and the grease sizzled and spat angrily at him. The smell of frying bacon doubled.

“How do you know when it’s done?”

“It floats, like so.” The enhanced wiener rose to the top, the toothpicks and ends of the bacon black and crispy. He grabbed it expertly with a pair of tongs and inserted a stick into the bottom. Juices ran down the circle of wood, and he handed the whole package to the grateful woman at the front of the line. I watched her slide him a five as she bit into the volcanic bratwurst. She opened her mouth to let heat escape and then bit down again, the bacon crunching in her teeth.

“Do you want me to use your name in the article?”

“Please. It might piss off my parents enough to fire me.”

“Deal. Thanks for your time, Greg.”

He didn’t respond, already too busy frying up brats to sate the hungry crowd outside his window. These sausages were preloaded, so he just pulled them out of the fridge and dropped them in the hot grease.

Outside, I noticed the smell of frying oil clung to me even after I put distance between me and the Schraufnagel booth. I decided to distract myself with a deep-fried Nut Goodie. “Any chance I can get back there and see how you make the magic?” I asked when I reached the front of the line.

The woman laughed as she traded me heaven on a stick for a fiver. “No chance.”

“Thanks anyways.” I walked and munched, making my way back to the Airstream. I hadn’t showered that morning, so my plan was to rinse off, and prep myself for The Thumbs’ State Fair debut tonight. Johnny and I were just friends, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to look good.

In an unusual turn
of good luck, Mrs. Berns and Kennie were nowhere in sight when I returned to the trailer, though their presence lingered in several unpleasant ways. I grabbed a pair of cutoff jean shorts, a white T-shirt, hairbrush, shampoo, toothbrush, and towel, and headed to the public showers. The water pressure was good, though the floor had that slime of the perpetual wet. I made it quick, got myself toweled and dressed, and headed back to the trailer smelling like cucumbers and sandalwood.

I brushed my hair and braided it so it’d dry wavy. Slapping on a single coat of mascara and some lip gloss, I settled in to organize my notes and type the “Battle Lake Bites” column, which I thought turned out quite nicely:

State Fair Food Edition: Fry, Baby, Fry

For those of you who couldn’t attend the Minnesota State Fair this year, the
is bringing the fair to you. Today’s issue reveals the secret family recipe for Schraufnagel’s Famous Loaded Brats, a State Fair standard, shared with us by Greg Schraufnagel. The recipe is simple but delicious. One bite, and you’ll be hooked.

Schraufnagel’s Famous Loaded Brats

6 servings

¼ cup olive oil

6-pack uncooked bratwurst (pick your favorite brand)

6 slices bacon

1 16 oz. can sauerkraut


Slice open the bratwurst the long way. Push aside the innards. Stuff each wiener with sauerkraut and squeeze shut. Wrap the whole brat in bacon, starting at the top end and working your way down. Pierce the bacon with a toothpick at each end so it stays tight. Using olive oil, cook over medium heat on stovetop, covered. When both bacon and wiener have lost their grayish hue, place them on a grill for 5 minutes or until crispy. The broiler setting on your oven will do the same. When cooked to your desired crispness, place in a bun and serve. Or, if you want to do it the State Fair way, insert a popsicle stick and enjoy!

I considered sitting on the article. The
only came out once a week—Mondays—and so I technically had only one deadline, which was noon on Saturdays. I figured if I parsed the articles out all week long, though, Ron would think I was working extra hard. I decided I’d rather just get it out of the way and e-mailed him the recipe before settling in to read for two peaceful hours. That’s what I told myself anyhow, but in the back of my mind, I was hoping Johnny would track me down at the Airstream. To that end, I practiced various provocative poses as I read until I got bored with being a silly girl and just fell into the story.

A half an hour before Johnny’s band was supposed to go on, I unbraided my hair, ran my fingers through it, and stepped into the still-warm night. The sun was settled on the horizon, throwing out tangerine and purple shadows. The air smelled like caramel apples and clean straw, and all around the campground, people laughed and talked about the fair. Because the campground was really just a designated parking lot, campfires weren’t an option, but some people had brought their own barbeque grills and were clinking beers in a toast and passing the ketchup. It felt very communal and summery, and I strode to the concert site with a spring in my step.

Just going to hear good music, in the open air, on a balmy, late-summer evening, at the State Fair. What wasn’t to like? When I arrived at the bandshell, I looked around to make sure I didn’t see anyone I knew before buying a mineral water. Being incognito felt good after so many months in the fishbowl of Battle Lake. I stretched a little mentally, relaxing into the evening.

I was paying for my water when I felt the tap on my shoulder.

“I told Mrs. Berns that you’d come dressed like a refugee. Would a little makeup kill you?” Kennie’s face wasn’t helping her argument, as it appeared to be drowning in green eyeshadow, blue mascara, peach-colored blush, and coral lipstick.

Mrs. Berns popped up alongside her. “You look fine. You look like you. It sure is fun to fart in a crowd, by the way. No one knows where it came from.” Mrs. Berns effortlessly illustrated her point, and sure enough, the people around us began wiggling their noses and looking suspiciously at one another.

“What’re you two doing here?”

“Moral support,” Mrs. Berns said, grabbing my arm. “Now let’s get up close where we can see that boy shake his moneymaker.”

I let them lead me through the crowd, disappointed but figuring it was better to go quietly. They jostled through the audience until we were positioned front and to the center, where we were surrounded by pretty young things. I looked around for Brittany, Christine, and Megan, but didn’t see them. A sound check drew my attention back to the stage, where Johnny was entering with his band mates.

He had on worn Levis which hung low on his narrow hips. His faded Rolling Stones T-shirt did more to define than cover his broad shoulders, accentuating the tanned lines of his arms and the muscles in his chest. He pushed his hair out of his eyes and looked into the crowd as if searching for someone. I ducked reflexively. Mrs. Berns whistled. “She’s over here, Johnny! She got as close as she could.”

Johnny looked over, a little smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. His gaze locked with mine, and I melted in all the right places. I waved weakly, and he waved back before finishing his sound check. Soon, the band was in full swing. The music rocked the night and got the audience dancing. Johnny’s quiet confidence translated well on stage. He walked from end to end like a prowling lion, tossing his hair and singing about love and loss. His voice was deep and full, with a rumbling, sexy rasp.

Every fiber in my brain was trying to pull me away from that stage, reminding me that I was the gal who has trouble expressing serious emotion, that relationships end badly for me, that Johnny was too good for me, I wasn’t meant to be one of the happily ever afters. My heart wasn’t paying attention, though, and my body was being oppositionally defiant. Dang. Johnny looked good on stage.

I decided to let my body run the show, at least for a little while, and shook my ass alongside Mrs. Berns and Kennie, reveling in the moment. A screaming ovation brought The Thumbs out for one, and then two, and then three encores, and it wasn’t until midnight that it was all over. I was hoarse from singing along, and Mrs. Berns and Kennie looked as spent as I felt. “Should we head back to the trailer?” I asked. I felt warm and happy with just a tinge of loneliness.

They nodded. We were on our way when Steve, one of Johnny’s friends and occasional roadie for The Thumbs, jogged out from backstage. “Hey, ladies. You wanna come back? You know, have a Battle Lake get-together?”

In the first subtle act in their combined lives, Mrs. Berns and Kennie turned him down and pushed me forward. “We won’t wait up,” Kennie said.

I followed Steve, suddenly shy, and hung on the perimeter of the backstage area while everyone packed up. Johnny jogged over. “You made it! What’d you think of the show?”

Sweat had curled his hair around the nape of his neck and pressed his shirt to his firm body. My mouth was suddenly dry, so I licked my lips. “It was great. You are rock hard.” He blinked oddly at me, and I realized what I had said. “I mean, you rock hard. Really good. Good show.” Aah. Kill me now.

“Do you want to go for a walk? We had to unload and set up as soon as we got here, and I haven’t had a chance to see the fair. It’s probably mostly closed down, but we could check?” He raised his voice hopefully. What he saw in me escaped me, as it always had, but we were friends, and friends walked around together at midnight, didn’t they?

“Sure. I know my way around pretty well by now.” We took off, our shoulders almost touching as I brought him up to speed on Ashley’s death, seeing Mrs. Pederson, and rooming with Mrs. Berns and Kennie. Talking to Johnny had always been easy, once I got past the nerves his sexy smile and sunbrowned hands gave me. He was sympathetic at all the right spots and laughed when I mentioned my roomies’ bad habits. As we cruised the fair, I kept surreptitiously pinching my thigh to remind myself that Johnny and I were focusing on building a friendship, but the air between us was electric. I just wanted to pull his firm body against mine, get on my tiptoes, and kiss him right on that strong mouth. I looked around to break the spell and realized we were near the campground.

“Um, this is where I’m staying. It’s getting late, you know? I should probably go in.”

He was looking at my mouth as I talked. “Sure.”

I turned my head to the side. “Where’re you staying tonight?”

“The band and I are at a hotel in one of the suburbs close to the fair. I have to leave early tomorrow to get back to the day job.” He stepped in closer. If I let myself, I could put my hand on his chest without leaning forward. “How long are you staying?” he asked.

“Another week or so.” Could he hear my heart beating? Could everyone? “Ron wants me to cover all the Battle Lake stuff going on here. And like I said, I promised Mrs. Pederson I’d see what I could find out about Ashley.”

“I can come back next weekend. You could show me the fair in the daytime.”

“That’d be great,” I said, drawn to his mouth as he leaned in to kiss me. My pulse hammered. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. One of his hands pushed my dark hair from my face and the other slid to my lower back, pulling me gently forward. I could feel blood pounding in my toes, my fingertips, between my legs. My knees buckled slightly at the smell of him this close, clean sweat and fresh-cut grass. He was going to kiss me. He was really going to do it.

“Mira,” he whispered, his voice husky. His mouth was inches from mine, and I imagined the softness of his lips. I let him pull my hips to his, shivered at the strength of him when our bodies met. I saw him close his eyes and bridge the final distance, and I couldn’t do it. I pulled away. This wasn’t meant for me. It was a mistake.

“Good night,” I said as I darted toward the trailer. “I’m sorry.” I didn’t turn back.

BOOK: September Fair
4.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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