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Authors: Earlene Fowler

State Fair

BOOK: State Fair
Table of Contents
Titles by Earlene Fowler
The Benni Harper Mysteries
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2010 by Earlene Fowler.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Fowler, Earlene.
State fair / Earlene Fowler. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18762-3
1. Harper, Benni (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women museum curators—Fiction. 3. Agricultural exhibitions—Fiction. 4. Quiltmakers—Fiction. 5. African American quilts—Fiction. 6. California—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3556.O828S73 2010

To Ellen Geiger,
a dear friend, a wise and wonderful agent
and a fellow fair aficionado.
Of course this one had to be for you!
To Janice Dischner and Carolyn Miller,
the “real” Beebs and Millee,
True Friends Forever.
I thank the Lord for you both.
Twins rule!
For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.
2 Chronicles 16:9
Praise always to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Also my grateful heart (alphabetically) thanks:
Charlotte “Bunny” Brown—for your friendship, for always being right there to answer any questions I might have about ranching or horses and for kindly inviting me to tag along on your fun adventures.
Katsy Chappell—talented actress, comedian, quilter and beloved friend who not only loaned me her name but also opened her heart and gave me insight into the African American world. You are one very fine and funny lady!
Tina Davis—dearest and wisest of friends and dedicated Webmaster who is always there for me and, without intending to, gives me some of my best opening scenes.
Jo Ellen Heil, Christine Hill, Lela Satterfield and Laura Ross Wingfield—who patiently listen to me whine and kvetch—you, my dearly loved sisters, are the best!
Jo-Ann Mapson—whose thoughtful critique of this manuscript helped me tremendously—my friend, I dearly miss our shopping trips and our literary lunches at Chester’s.
Pam Munns—who keeps me on the straight and narrow about law enforcement details—your friendship is a treasure.
Jo Ann Richardson—who asked me to speak about quilts at the Mid-State Fair many years ago, thus giving me the idea for this book.
Vivian Robertson—CEO of California Mid-State Fair—thanks for allowing me access to the best county fair on earth. I assure everyone who reads this that my fair and its often dastardly characters are entirely fictional and don’t reflect anybody at the real Mid-State Fair!
Kate Seaver—a wonderful and thoughtful editor whose insights I always appreciate—it is a pleasure working with you!
Jane Tenorio-Coscarelli—a brilliant artist, writer and quilter—thanks for your personal insights, your enlightening stories and your friendship.
Kathy Vieira—Western woman extraordinaire who shared all her years of fair stories and experiences. I picked your brain like a vulture, and good friend that you are, you never once complained. Any mistakes are mine, not yours!
My husband, Allen—who has had a starring part in my story since we were fifteen years old—the best is yet to come!
A Note from the Author
Just so you don’t get confused,
State Fair
takes place in August 1997. While only a little less than five years have taken place in my characters’ lives in San Celina, I actually have been writing the Benni Harper novels for almost seventeen years.
I suppose they are now considered (semi)historical fiction. It is a challenge to try to remember what things were like back in the 1990s, but I’m doing my best!
Though there is an actual Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles, California, this book is about a fictional fair in a fictional town. Back in 1992 when I wrote
Fool’s Puzzle
I never expected it to be published, much less that I would write (so far) thirteen more books in the series. In the first book, because I didn’t know what else to do, I fictionalized all the towns Benni actually went to in San Celina County (inspired by San Luis Obispo County). The towns she just mentioned in passing . . . well, I used their real names not guessing I’d ever actually have to write about them. So I’m stuck with a fictional county with half “real” names and half fictional ones.
Just in case anyone was wondering . . .
State Fair
The English word
comes from the Latin
, meaning “holy days.” Fairs in America first started in the 1620s with the Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam. The Berkshire County, Massachusetts, fair is widely considered the first county fair. It took place on September 24, 1811, and three thousand people attended. Since then, state and county fairs have become a beloved tradition for millions of Americans. For a few days or weeks once a year exhibition halls are filled with the pickles, cakes, pies, pottery, steers, lambs, hogs, giant pumpkins and quilts of hopeful competitors. After their win (or loss), there is then the midway carnival rides and games, fried foods, cotton candy and the ubiquitous commercial buildings selling everything from waterless cookware to genuine Native American turquoise rings.
There is not much history about the State Fair quilt pattern. There are actually five patterns recorded in books that claim the State Fair name. One is a Nancy Cabot pattern. The others were created by unknown quilt makers. Perhaps these anonymous quilt designers were inspired by a local county fair where they showed their first lamb or entered their special chocolate-chip cookies or received their first kiss atop a Ferris wheel. Like so many quilt patterns, its origin will be a mystery. But we can be assured of one thing. Fairs will spin their enchanting dreams for generations to come, because, after all, who doesn’t love the fair?
“Benni Harper Ortiz, step away from that counter,” said my best friend, Elvia Aragon Littleton. “It is only eight o’clock in the morning. It’s too early for anything fried in that much fat.”
“Fat grams don’t count with fair food.” I gazed at the photo menu of Mustang Sallie’s Fried Food Emporium and plotted my snacks for a day I knew would stretch long into the night. Deep-fried artichoke? Or maybe the fried avocado, which I’d tried yesterday. It was tastier than it sounded, kind of like hot guacamole dip. And definitely the fried Oreos again. I’d become addicted to those. They’d tasted like a gooey chocolate cake surrounded by a fresh doughnut. “Besides, I’m only contemplating future meals. They don’t open until eleven a.m.”
Mustang Sallie’s, a mind-throbbing magenta-colored building accentuated with rainbow polka dots and a pink and orange fiberglass pony perched on its roof, squatted in the center of the San Celina County Mid-State Fairgrounds in the North County town of Paso Robles. It was one of the fairground’s oldest structures, and for as long as I could remember the garish snack building had been used as a central meeting place for folks during the fair’s twelve-day run.
The building, along with the fair, held a bittersweet nostalgia for me. Too many times to count I’d met Jack, my late first husband, in front of this very building after showing our 4-H cattle and later, when we were adults, after helping kids in my Gramma Dove’s 4-H club wash and primp their hogs, steers and lambs for a run at that coveted blue ribbon. Back in the 1960s and ’70s Mustang Sallie’s sold grilled hot dogs, skin-on French fries, oak-grilled tri-tip steak sandwiches and onion rings, but in the last few years, they had expanded their food selection to more exotic fried fare. They were locked in a never-ending quest to top themselves. Last year’s fried Coca-Cola was proving hard to beat, at least in terms of originality and sugary “ick” factor.
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