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Tuesday Afternoon

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

I DROVE WEST, WITH THE AFTERNOON SUN SHINING brightly in my eyes. The peach stands were all closed, of course, for it was well past peach season. But I guessed that the second one was probably the home of the best peaches, because that's what the sign out front said. I turned right, I turned left, I backed out of someone's driveway, I tried again, and soon I found myself at a black mailbox with the name Hostet-tler printed on it in white letters. Set back from the road was a brick farmhouse, looking like many others I'd seen around Lickin Creek. It stood two stories high, had a small balcony with a white railing opening off a second-floor room, and a small front porch. I also noticed it had no power lines going out to the road, which meant it was most likely owned by an Amish family.

I knocked on the door. Waited. Knocked again. Heard a dog bark. Then the door opened and a slender middle-aged woman smiled out at me. She wore a long, full-skirted purple dress with a black apron over it. Against the black background, I could see the glint of the straight pins that held her clothes in place. I'd heard once the Amish don't use buttons. And they always wore the pins pointing inward so they wouldn't scratch the babies. She had blond hair, pulled straight back, and a rosy complexion that could only come from drinking milk and eating healthy foods. Although I didn't think she looked old enough to be married, a toddler peeked out at me from behind the skirt. She bent to stroke his head, and I saw the net bonnet covering her hair in back. She dried her hands on a blue crocheted dishrag and said, We do not want any more magazines.

I'm not selling anything. I'm looking for someone I was told lived here. A Darious DeShong.

Oh yes, the Englishman.

I knew the Amish and other Plain People liked to refer to the rest of us as the English, so I didn't really expect to find someone from Great Britain on the farm.

She gestured to her left. He rents the old barn from us. Down in the hollow. The road needs work. You will have to walk, but you can leave your automobile here.

Thank you. Is it safe to go down there? From a distance came the sound of more dogs barking, and I was hesitant about marching alone into the Pennsylvania Dutch equivalent of a wolf pack.

The dogs will not bother you. They are all penned.

Feeling reassured, I thanked her again, and walked behind the house The barn was at the foot of a hill, and as I started down the footpath the barking grew more frantic. To my left I saw several rows of cages, and walked over to take a peek. What I saw there was nearly undescribable. The dogs, mostly little white puppies, were covered with their own filth and many had large open sores. The runs were so dirty, I knew they couldn't have been cleaned in more than a week. I made a mental note to report this to someone.

The barn was about a hundred yards away from the dog runs, and it was immense. The largest I'd seen in the area. Its faded, red-painted walls rose three stories above a stone foundation at least ten feet high. There were louvered windows on each level, once painted white, now gray and peeling. High up on the top level was a door. What use, I wondered, was a door that opened forty feet above the ground? It certainly was a case where the warning watch that first step had real meaning.

As I drew closer I saw one end of the barn had been painted with a giant advertisement for Mail Pouch chewing tobacco. I also noticed that there was a power line running into the building. Evidently Darious De-Shong did not share the Amish farm owner's distrust of electricity.

I walked around two sides of the barn, looking for a way in. There had to be a door in the stone wall somewhere. I couldn't believe Darious swung open the huge double doors on the end of the barn every time he wanted to go in and out.

In back, I finally came upon a wooden door. Before I knocked, I put my ear to it trying to determine if anyone was inside. I thought I heard music, but it was so faint, I couldn't tell what it was.

I knocked, I pounded, and finally I yelled, Hello, as loudly as I could. Just as I was about to give up, the door opened a crack, and I could see and smell a lighted cigarette.

Yeah?

I'm looking for Darious DeShong.

Yeah?

I tried another approach. Are you Darious DeShong?

Yeah.

I was making progress. My name is Tori Miracle. I'm looking into Mack Macmillan's death. Woody

Woodruff gave me your address and said you'd be glad to help me out. That was a fib, but just a little one. After all, why would Woody have given me Darious's address if he didn't think the man would be willing to answer questions?

The door opened a little wider, just enough for the man to squeeze through. Before it closed behind him, I heard music again.

I was now able to get a good look at him, and I have to admit I liked what I saw. He was about six feet tall, and had a mop of curly blond hair much like Roger Daltrey in the movie Tommy. Eyes the color of dandelion leaves were fringed by long, dark eyelashes, and his skin was a rich golden brown, reminding me of Garnet, who always looked tan. He wore tight jeans, very tight I couldn't help noticing, a white dress shirt unbuttoned halfway to the waist, and white high-top sneakers.

While I was admiring-I mean studying-him, he appeared to be looking me over. His gaze moved slowly from my head to my feet, then back up to meet mine. His smile revealed the whitest, most perfect teeth I'd ever seen off a movie screen.

Tori. Pretty name for a pretty girl.

Oh God, there was that inane giggle again. Would I ever learn to control it?

Can you keep a secret? he asked.

Not if it has anything to do with Mack Macmillan's death, I replied in all honesty.

It doesn't. If I let you in, will you promise me you won't tell anybody what you see here?

Cross my heart and hope to die.

He opened the door. Come in, he said.

As I stepped across the threshold the music grew louder, and I realized what I'd been hearing was a calliope playing In the Good Old Summertime. Odd choice of music for a man of about my age to be listening to, I thought.

The room we were in was very small, no more than ten feet square, with a lot of old gear hanging from hooks on the walls. I recognized rakes, shovels, and harnesses, but there were many things there that I'd never seen before. Lined up on the dirt floor against the walls were old crocks, farm machines, and wooden crates. A small wooden staircase of only four steps led up to another door.

Give me a minute, Darious said. He ground out his cigarette, opened the door, and disappeared into the black void on the other side. The door closed behind him. After a short interlude it opened again, and his voice called out, Come on in.

I climbed the steps and cautiously entered the dark, silent interior of the barn.

Stop right there.

I was glad to stop. I don't like dark places. They could be full of snakes, or bats, or rats, or maybe even something worse.

The calliope began to play again. This time I recognized the music as After the Ball Is Over, and it was quite loud, as if I were standing close to the source.

Now! Darious said. And suddenly, looming up before me, all was flashing lights and swirling colors. It was all out of focus, as my eyes made the sudden transition from darkness to light, and I grew giddy as I tried to figure out what I was seeing. Then a horse went spinning past me, his front legs raised as if he were about to jump, and I realized I was seeing a carousel.

One after another, the animals leaped, spun, jumped, and twirled. Horses, giraffes, bears, unicorns, sea monsters, all covered with glass jewels and gilt and flowers, paraded past me, then disappeared into the darkness only to reappear a few moments later. I felt as if I'd been transplanted to another world: a fairyland or perhaps the Twilight Zone.

Do you like it? Darious had come close to me as I stood transfixed by the vision before me, and now when he spoke I could feel his breath on my ear. It gave me goose bumps, a sensation I didn't find unpleasant at all.

It's breathtaking, I said, reluctantly moving an inch or two away from him.

Would you like to ride?

Please!

He took my hand and helped me jump onto the moving platform. He then led me past several spectacular horses to a sea horse, painted with the luminous shades of blue and turquoise usually found in tropical seas. The hippocampus. It suits you. I can imagine you as a sea nymph, rising naked from the coral sea.

There was that giggle again. I tried to pretend it hadn't come from me and settled myself in the gilt saddle, then looked around in amazement, at the wild-eyed pinto pony next to me with one foot perpetually raised, at the tiny lights twinkling overhead, at the center of the carousel where sparkling mirrored panels reflected the animals and lights to eternity. I turned to see where Darious had gone and saw him sitting behind me in a golden chariot, a modern-day version of Apollo the sun god. As my mythological creature moved up and down on its brass pole, I surrendered to the sensation and let the carousel whirl me back to the magical world of childhood. It was a happy place where I'd never heard of cancer, my brother still lived, and a relationship was simply something to be enjoyed, not worked at.

When the music had faded and the carousel slowed down, I reluctantly returned to the present. Darious was right there at my side, helping me to dismount.

What did you think?

There aren't enough words to describe it. Where did it come from how did it did you? What I mean is, how can something this wonderful be in a broken-down old barn on an Amish farm in south-central Pennsylvania?

It's my one passion, he said, staring down at me in a way that made me hope he had room for more than one in his life. I've been working on it for years. Restoring the animals one by one. It's a slow process, but I was lucky to find a carousel that hadn't disintegrated too badly. Want to see my workshop?

I nodded and followed him to the back of the barn. I moved slowly, afraid of stumbling on something, because the only light in the vast space came from the carousel itself. There wasn't even any daylight coming through the windows. Why don't you put in some lights? I asked. You've got electricity. Or at least open some windows.

They're boarded up. I don't want anybody to see inside. Obviously you have no idea what a carousel like this is worth. Besides, I like it this way.

We stepped inside a large room, made bright by the fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling. We were surrounded by carousel animals in various degrees of disrepair. Darious stroked the carved mane of a statuesque horse. One more coat of varnish on this beauty, and he'll be ready to join his friends on the carousel.

What do these letters stand for? I asked, pointing to the monogram on the figure's saddle.

PTC stood for the Philadelphia Toboggan Company. It was founded in 1903 and was one of the most important of the carousel manufacturing companies. This particular carousel is an early one, probably most of the carving was done in 1904.

Aren't carousels hard to come by? Where did you find this one?

That, dear Tori, is my secret.

There can't be many as complete as this.

I'm afraid you're right. In the golden age of carousels, 1905 to 1925, there were thousands of them. Only about three percent have survived.

What happened to the others?

Fire, mostly. Neglect. Natural disasters. But I'd say there are probably still a few more carousels rotting away in barns, waiting to be discovered.

He moved over to a bench where a creature lay on its side. Even my untrained eye could see it had been sloppily painted. I'm going to start stripping this baby next. It looks like it's got a dozen layers of paint over the original.

Do you use chemicals?

Darious shuddered. No. I use a heat gun to melt the enamel. It gives me more control, and I don't have to worry about damaging the wood.

For the next hour he proudly showed me animals in various stages of restoration. Some had been badly rotted in places, and he'd had to carve replacement pieces. With others, he'd blended oil paints to fill in worn areas. He showed me where he had applied real gold leaf to a horse's mane. The nearly finished figures didn't look new, they still showed signs of imperfections, but he assured me that he did that on purpose so they would retain their antique appearance.

It was all so fascinating, I would have stayed hours longer listening to him describe his work. But he put an end to it by saying, I'm sorry, Tori, but I've got an appointment I have to keep.

I need to get going anyway.

He walked me to the door. While I stood blinking in the sunlight, he asked, Will you come back for another ride?

Just try to keep me away!

I drove back to town, humming, In the good old summertime, in the good old summertime It wasn't until I turned into Moon Lake that I realized that while I had learned a lot about carousel restoration, I had not asked Darious DeShong any of the questions I'd gone there to ask!


Tuesday Morning | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Wednesday Morning