Fortune Funhouse (Miss Fortune Mystery #19) by Jana DeLeon

Chapter One





“Hurry up before the line gets too long!” I yelled as I grabbed Ida Belle’s arm and pulled her through the crowd.

It was carnival time in Sinful, or as the residents called it, ‘the fair.’ Basically, that meant that a traveling carnival had set up rides, games, and tons of fattening food stands on a huge patch of open land just off the highway from downtown. The carnival came to Sinful every two years and was a huge draw for anyone within an hour’s driving distance. The place was absolutely packed.

“This obsession you have with funnel cake isn’t healthy,” Ida Belle said when we came to a stop in front of the stand that sold the yummy goodness I craved.

“I have news for you—most obsessions aren’t healthy.”

Walter, who had taken a more leisurely tack at approaching the stand, chuckled as he stepped up behind us.

“Besides,” I continued, “I ran an extra three miles every day for the past two weeks just to prepare for this.”

“That’s your third one,” Ida Belle said. “Maybe you should have made it an extra five.”

“Oh, leave the girl alone,” Walter said. “She looks great and I haven’t heard Carter complaining.”

Ida Belle gave her new husband a withering stare. “That’s because she can outshoot him. And I couldn’t care less what Carter thinks. I want Fortune to be in excellent shape because we never know when she might have to run from a bear or gator or bullet.”

Walter’s smile faltered.

“Don’t worry,” I told Ida Belle. “I plan on staying alive long enough to eat my weight in these.”

Ida Belle shook her head. “You and Gertie…planning on living forever.”

“You wouldn’t want to live forever?” I asked.

“Heck no!” Ida Belle said. “God didn’t make these joints to last that long.”

“Actually, people in the Bible lived for hundreds of years,” Walter said.

“Yeah, then at some point in the New Testament, God started subbing out parts to the Chinese, which is why we don’t last as long anymore,” Ida Belle said.

I grinned and handed a woman some money in exchange for the funnel cake. As we walked away, I offered some to Ida Belle and Walter but they both refused. I guess sharing two was their limit.

It had been about six weeks since Ida Belle and Walter had tied the knot and this was their first official outing as husband and wife—at least, the first outing that involved something other than Francine’s Café or fishing. Aside from Walter moving into Ida Belle’s house, not much else had changed. Most days, Ida Belle, Gertie, and I met for breakfast at my house or the café to work on PI business or gossip in lieu of having no PI business, while Walter set off every morning to open the General Store.

So far, their marriage seemed without issue but then, the only cases we’d had lately were about lost items and sketchy spouses. Nothing remotely life-threatening—except to the sketchy spouses after delivery of proof—which meant nothing remotely exciting. It would be interesting to see how Walter got along when the dynamite and high-speed vehicle chases were part of our daily fare. Not that we admitted to those things, of course, but it was Sinful. Things had a way of circling around. Or winding up on YouTube.

“So where is this talent contest?” I asked.

“In the big tent at the end of the fairgrounds,” Ida Belle said.

“And what is Gertie doing for her talent?” I asked.

Ida Belle gave me a grim look. “She wouldn’t say, which concerns me. And since we’ve been busy getting things sorted with Walter moving in, I haven’t been keeping up with her movements as much as usual. Now I’m afraid something that I could have prevented is going to blow up in our faces.”

“Then why do you want front-row seats?” I asked.

“In case people need to be rescued,” she said.

“Ah.”

Walter adopted a slightly pained expression. Since marrying Ida Belle, he’d probably found out far more about Gertie’s somewhat daily exploits than he’d ever wanted to know. Rumor was one thing. Validation required more mental processing. I wondered briefly if Ida Belle had ever told him about the rocket launcher in her SUV but figured she probably hadn’t. I’d seen him riding with her and he didn’t look remotely panicked. If he’d known what kind of hardware was resting a couple feet from him, he would have had an eye twitch, at least.

“Carter said neighbors have made noise complaints for the last two weeks,” I said. “Maybe she’s going to do a duet with Francis.”

“That wouldn’t be so bad,” Walter said. “I mean, not in the big scheme of things.”

“Have you forgotten the Christmas Gala?” I asked.

Last year, Francis had single-handedly stolen and closed the show at the annual Christmas event. Well, until Santa was murdered. That kind of topped Francis and his antics. But since we couldn’t count on a murder to distract from what Francis and Gertie might get up to, it was probably a good idea to have the closest seats possible.

“Is Jeb coming?” I asked.

Jeb and his brother, Wyatt, were Vietnam vets and had recently helped us out on a big case. Jeb had taken a shine to Gertie and suggested they get together after we’d brought down the bad guy. Unfortunately, he and Wyatt had gone to north Louisiana shortly after to see to their aunt, who must be somewhere around Sheriff Lee’s age, and Jeb had strained his back while they were there. He’d been laid up ever since.