Excitement filled the air. Today, the residents of Aberdeen would celebrate Mardi Gras. Everyone looked forward to the festival. They loved the parade that started it, the parties that ended it and everything in between.
Normally, the festival was on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. This year, however, things didn’t work out as planned. The first problem began at last year’s festival when the lead float hit a patch of ice, causing the vehicle to spin out of control, and run into the Bank of Aberdeen. Not only did this ruin the parade and nearly kill Mitzi Shapiro, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it also put a real damper on the Bank of Aberdeen’s business that day. Since the incident, City Council decided perhaps it was time to rethink the festival.
The first thing they considered was making Fat Tuesday an official city holiday and closing the schools and businesses in town so everyone could attend. Lyle Pickler, the president of the bank, did not like that idea at all. However, he wasn’t too keen at having another parade float decorating his pristine lobby either. So, Lyle suggested they move the parade to the Saturday before Lent began.
This created a whole new problem. How could you have a Fat Tuesday Festival on a Saturday when the name had Tuesday in it? And what about New Orleans? They always had their Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday. Surely Aberdeen would need their permission before the city could change the day. And what about tradition? Wasn’t that more important than attendance?
For nearly four months everyone in town voiced their opinion. When someone suggested they take the argument straight to the Supreme Court, Ben Jordan, the police chief of Aberdeen, knew things had gotten out of hand. With a very calm and rational approach, Ben stated they weren’t actually moving the day just the festival so that everyone could attend. City Council saw the logic to Ben’s argument and solved the problem by changing the name from Fat Tuesday Festival to the Mardi Gras Festival, thus beginning a new tradition.
Once that had been settled the town began to prepare for the festival. Things were progressing smoothly, until the new Farmer’s Almanac came out and confirmed a blizzard was going to arrive the very day of the event. This certainly put a wrench in the whole planning process. It didn’t matter that the almanac was predicting a storm nearly six months before the festival. Aberdeen couldn’t take the chance of losing out on such an important event. And so another debate ensued.
There were some who wondered whether the festival should be moved back to Tuesday. This went on for a few weeks until Ben once again reminded the council that if a blizzard did occur there was no way the city could expect to have a festival on the Tuesday either. This seemed perfectly reasonable. So, instead of canceling the festival all together, they decided to move the day from the Saturday before to the Saturday after. This way, if a blizzard did hit Aberdeen, surely the town would be ready by the following Saturday.
Come to find out, the town’s worry was unfounded. Not only did a blizzard not arrive but it ended up being unseasonably warm the Saturday before Fat Tuesday. A soft breeze and clear skies greeted the residents of Aberdeen. On the day of the festival, any lingering snow on the ground had melted and people could forgo heavy parkas and fur lined boots for windbreakers and short sleeves.
“Well, it looks like Lyle won’t have to worry about a truck landing in his lobby this year,” Mike Landry, the mayor, told Ben as they walked towards the judge’s platform.
“I’m sure he’s relieved about that,” Ben replied carefully keeping his face impassive.
It wasn’t easy, considering the Aberdeen High School Band could be heard warming up. Loud screeches and wails of the instruments echoed through the surrounding area. The band was expected to lead the parade this year. This was yet another change City Council had made. In the past, the school band would end the parade. However, after last year’s incident, City Council thought it would be best to have the band go first. This way, the floats could only go as fast as the band could march and seeing the band was only adequate at best and could barely march in a straight line, the town figured they wouldn’t have to worry about anyone being run over. At least, that was the hope.
The city square was filled with people. Bleachers, borrowed from the high school, were packed with spectators eager to watch the parade as it passed. Those who didn’t purchase seats in the bleachers, lined the sidewalks surrounding the city square. Between the parks decorations and the beads adorning the necks of the spectators, the sparkle of purple, green and gold shimmered in the bright sunlight.
A platform sat between the metal bleachers. This was for the judges and the news media. No one could figure out why there was even a media section, considering the town had only two news outlets; the Aberdeen Times and the Aberdeen Almanac. Although, there was some who questioned the Almanac as news, seeing the only news it provided was local gossip. Then again, in Aberdeen, gossip held a bit more importance than any kind of world news.
“And we don’t have to worry about Rufus ruining this event either,” Mike added.
Ben looked up at the judge’s platform. There, standing fully dressed, was Rufus Merriweather. The incident Mike was referring to was the Turkey Trot run just this past Thanksgiving. Rufus had crashed the run wearing nothing but a dayglo sock on a prominent appendage, shocking most of the people in town. Since then, in the city’s infinite wisdom, the council had decided the best way to keep Rufus out of trouble and fully dressed was to have him judge the floats. Ben thought that was a good idea. It was one less person he needed to worry about.
Along with Rufus as a judge was Father Frank and Charles Bird. All three stood on the platform next to Mack Olsen, the fire chief, Rose Smith, the owner, writer and editor of the Aberdeen Almanac and Jonah Walkman, the editor of the Aberdeen Times.
Ben was just about to climb the stairs to the platform when Mike’s words stopped him. “What the heck . . .”
Ben turned to see his cousin, Maybelline walking towards him. It wasn’t the sight of Maybelline that concerned Ben but the sight of his elderly uncle and aunt, Burt and Kitty. Or more specifically what they were wearing. Kitty had nothing more than a royal purple house coat on and what could only be called fluffy green slippers. She had a glittery gold boa around her neck and her hair was dyed purple and green. If that wasn’t startling enough, the sight of Burt nearly threw Ben over the edge. Burt was dressed in nothing but his grey and purple flannel robe. On his feet were black socks and white sneakers. His hair wasn’t painted purple or green, but his face was. And instead of a boa there were several long gold necklaces which looked suspiciously like some of Ben’s mother’s jewelry.
“What the hell are you wearing?” Ben demanded as soon as they reached him.
“I’ll have you know this is a very expensive coat!” Maybelline shot back.
The coat Maybelline was referring to just happened to be a bright orange with an intricate design of peacocks embroidered on it. The coat, in Ben’s opinion, was the ugliest thing he’d ever seen.
“Not you!” Ben snapped. “Them!”
Relief flooded Maybelline’s face. It was quickly replaced with annoyance. “I know, right? You do someone a favor and this is what you get stuck with!”
“Hey! I’ll have you know that this is all we could find to wear to the Mardi Gras festival,” Kitty retorted.
Ben closed his eyes and prayed for patience. It didn’t arrive. “Kitty, this isn’t a costume contest. You don’t have to dress like it’s Halloween. You don’t even have to dress in the colors of the festival . . .”
“You don’t have to yell at me,” Kitty grumbled. “And we’re wearing this to enhance our enjoyment of the festival. You should try it sometime,” Kitty sniffed irritably.
The muscle flexed in Ben’s cheek as he shot Maybelline a hot look. “Mom let them leave like this?”
“Your mother doesn’t know,” Kitty interjected. “She home sick. Frankly, I think she’s going to die.”
Ben rolled his eyes. “She’s got the flu, that’s all.”
“That could be death for someone as old as her,” Kitty reminded Ben.
“You’re older than Mom and you survived it,” Ben pointed out. He turned to Maybelline. “You need to take them home.”
“Yeah right,” Maybelline retorted. “I tried to get them to stay home. They wouldn’t listen to me. They were going to walk to town. You mother told me not to worry about it. They’d be okay. Honestly, I think she just wanted to get them out of her house.”
Ben couldn’t blame his mother. Burt and Kitty were a handful on most days. When she was sick, they were probably impossible. However, he wasn’t exactly happy either. Maybelline watching Kitty and Burt was like asking the fox to watch the hen house. Trouble was going to happen and Maybelline would be involved.
“We’re not the problem,” Kitty retorted. “She’s the troublemaker,” she said, pointing to Maybelline.
“Hey!” Maybelline protested. “I might have had a few incidents recently but there’s no reason to call me a troublemaker.”
Ben could argue that point for both women. The last time Ben had seen Maybelline, her car had been tattooed into the side of her ex-boyfriend’s brand new truck. The time before that, she had gotten into a fight with her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend who just happened to be Maybelline’s arch enemy. As for Kitty, there was too many stories to remember in one day, not that Ben wanted to remember any of them. And he most certainly wasn’t in the mood for either Maybelline’s or Kitty’s antics.
“I expect you to be on your best behavior . . .” Ben said, giving both a stern look.
Maybelline threw her hands up in protest. “How can I get into trouble when you took my taser gun and my car is destroyed? Without them, I’m virtually trouble-free.”
That’s what worried Ben. Virtually trouble free for Maybelline meant the same as being in trouble. “I mean it, Maybelline. If you cause any problems I’m going to lock you up.”
Maybelline let out an offended gasp. “You’re my cousin for goodness sake! I should get some benefit out of it.”
The muscle flexed in Ben’s jaw. “You have. Twice now. The third time won’t be a charm for you,” he assured her as he and Mike started to leave.
He didn’t get very far when Abe came up to. “I’ve secured the area,” Abe told them.
Ben looked at Abe in confusion. “Secured the area from what?”
Abe gave Ben an exasperated look. “Are you kidding me? Don’t you remember what happened just a few weeks ago?”
Remember? How could Ben forget? It had been beyond embarrassing to find out that the town had gotten swept up in the ridiculous rumor that the end of the world was coming and it was landing in Aberdeen. Not only had they gone into a full panic but they also had called the media outlet in Albany and the New York National Guard.
“This is a Mardi Gras parade,” Ben stated. “Nothing is going to happen.”
“That’s what you think,” Abe replied. “But you never know. Look at all these people. Any one of them could be ready wreak havoc.”
“Well, it certainly would make the parade a bit more exciting,” Mack interjected.
“I think last year’s parade was exciting enough for all of us,” Ben replied dryly.
“Oh Lord, wouldn’t it be something if George ran over his wife,” Abe said.
After last year’s debacle when Tipper Jones lost control of the lead vehicle in the parade and drove through the bank’s window, City Council had asked George Shapiro to drive. They thought it was the least they could do seeing as it was George’s wife Mitzi who was nearly splattered into the front end of Tipper’s car.
“Now why the hell would George do that?” Mack demanded.
“Who knows,” Abe said. “They’ve been married forty years. He might have a lot of reasons to run her over.”
“Well, as much as I don’t like writing stories about death and general sadness, I’ve got to say, that would be a scoop too hard to refuse,” Rose said coming up to the group. She flipped open her notebook, her pen poised over the paper in eager anticipation.
“George isn’t going to run over Mitzi,” Ben snapped. He could never figure out how he got involved in these ridiculous discussions.
“You better hope not,” Charles said. “Seeing as she is sitting in the bleachers. If George targets her, he’ll be taking out half the town.”
“Do you think I need to alert the fire department that a massacre might be happening at any moment?” Abe wondered as he grabbed his walkie-talkie.
Ben let out a sigh of annoyance. “I’m certain things will be just fine.”
It didn’t take long for the parade to make its way towards the judge’s platform. Everyone held their ears as the Aberdeen Marching Band screeched and wailed its way past them. They then held their breath as George Shapiro and the first float drove by without incident.
Abe was frowning as the lead float passed Mitzi without incident. “Well, now that was disappointing. I expected to have some excitement.”
“Yeah, so far, this parade is boring,” Rufus grumbled. “All I see is floats, floats and more floats.”
Ben had to agree with Rufus. The parade was boring. Then again, boring was far better than having a car run off the road and hit another vehicle or someone getting tased or Rufus running naked down the streets.
“I’m sure things will pick up soon,” Ben replied.
He wasn’t wrong. No sooner had he said it when Maybelline ran up the stairs of the judge’s platform and announced, “I’ve lost Burt!”
Ben spun around to see Maybelline, her hair a disheveled mess, dirt smudged on her face and her bright orange coat ripped at the pocket. Kitty wasn’t looking much better. She had a bruise on the side of her face, the gold feathers that once adorned her boa were now a bit tarnished and stuck in her hair, and her once questionable housecoat had a tear in the side.
“What the hell happened to you two?” Abe burst out in alarm. “Was it a terrorist?”
“Your darn right it was,” Maybelline burst out. “And his name is Crazy Eddie!”
Everyone breathed out a sigh of relief. “Crazy Eddie isn’t a terrorist,” Frank said. “He’s just an old homeless man.”
“Yeah, who thinks he’s a dog!” Maybelline protested. With a wild look in her eyes she turned to Ben. “He scared the hell out of me when jumped out from behind at dumpster, dressed in an old, dirty dog’s costume and chased after the three of us. I was running so fast, I tripped over a curb. Kitty landed on top of me.”
“What happened to Burt?”
“How the heck should I know,” Maybelline retorted. “I was hoping maybe you had seen him.”
“How could Burt get away from you so quickly?” Ben wondered.
“I don’t know, but if you ask me, it has something to do with a crazy homeless man dressed like a dog, chasing after you and growling, that will make you move pretty fast,” Maybelline reasoned. “I’m telling you, for a man that’s eighty-six years old, he sure is fast.”
“Well, he does try to keep in shape,” Kitty told them. “He’s always reading women’s fitness magazines,” she added.
“Women’s?” Mack asked with a laugh.
Kitty shrugged. “He said they give him inspiration.”
Ben was about to tell Abe to have his officers search for Burt when Mack nudged him in the side. “I think we’ve found Burt,” Mack laughed.
Sure enough, running down the middle of Main Street, was Burt with nothing on but his black socks, white sneakers and gold chains around his neck. Chasing him was Crazy Eddie, still dressed as a dog with Burt’s robe between his teeth.
“Maybelline . . .” Ben ground out in horror.
“I knew you’d blame me for this!” Maybelline cried out.
“Woo wee!” Kitty said, clapping her hands in excitement. “Burt was right. Those magazines really did the trick!”
Rufus shook his head in disgust. “When I said exciting, I didn’t mean Burt or Crazy Eddie.”