Falling Off the Wagon

A crowd gathered around The Wagon Wheel, a hundred foot tall ferris wheel at the Franklin County Fair. A passenger, twenty eight year old Rory Daniels, fell from one of the upper gondolas to his death.

The other passengers remained on the ride until police arrived to question witnesses. All the passengers stayed except Rosemary Wynn that is.

Rosemary, Daniels’ girlfriend, rode with him when he fell. The attendant let her off The Wagon Wheel, concerned keeping her on the ride in her hysterical state might result in another accident.

At least he assumed it was an accident. That’s what the police came to find out.

The Wagon Wheel’s record was clean: no injuries and no deaths, until that night. The gondolas didn’t pose a risk, as long as you followed the rules. No standing. No leaning over the edge. No shaking or swinging your car. For an accident like this to happen, the victim or someone else on the ride had to ignore those safety precautions. The police needed to investigate anyway.

They spoke to Rosemary first. She gave her account of what happened.

“I asked him to stop. I begged him to stop.”

“Stop what?” asked the officer in charge.

“Stop shaking the car.” She paused, trying to fight back tears. She lost that fight. “I asked him to stop shaking the damn car. He knew I was terrified of heights.”

“Then why did you get on the ride?” asked the officer.

“I didn’t want to. Rory wanted to go on The Wheel before we left, and they don’t let you get on alone.”

The officer looked at the ride’s operator who nodded to confirm the “no single riders” policy.

“I asked him to stop,” Rosemary said again. Her tears flowed harder as the emergency medical personnel moved Rory’s covered body into an ambulance. “I screamed at him to stop, but he wouldn’t quit messing around.”

It was clear he wouldn’t get much else out of the traumatized girlfriend, so the officer left her with a colleague while he talked to other passengers. Those not in a position to see or hear anything from their seats were sent on their way.

He started by talking to the riders in the cars on either side of Rory and Rosemary’s. They both confirmed Rosemary’s account of her shouting at her boyfriend. But other than hearing her screaming “Stop!” they couldn’t offer more insight into the conversation. Neither could view the victim’s gondola from their positions above and below. The riders above didn’t even realize what happened until the cars rotated so Rosemary could get off the ride.

The only other passengers who witnessed anything included three high school students whose car sat across from them, on the other side of the wheel. They heard Rosemary screaming but sat too far away to hear what she said. The girls did notice the car shaking though, with both Rory and Rosemary on their feet.

“I think they were fighting,” said one of the girls. The other two shook their heads in agreement.

“She was holding on,” said the second teen. “He kept grabbing her arms.”

“Maybe he tried to scare her,” said the last of the friends. “Like something my idiot brother might do. Then he fell.”

The officer glanced at the other girls and they continued to nod, signaling they witnessed the same incident. It sounded to him like Rory’s death was nothing more than an accident with a young man horsing around trying to freak out his girlfriend. He fell backwards out of the gondola while she held on and begged him to stop.

After offering condolences to Rosemary, the officer sent her home.

He went back to the scene the next day to meet with members of the forensics team. Mechanical failure and negligence on the part of the fair staff needed to be ruled out. But with consistent witness statements it seemed, to him, like an open and shut case.

That opinion was about to change.

Not fifty feet away from The Wagon Wheel, he noticed a familiar face: Rosemary’s. He didn’t think anything of it at first. She was just a grieving girlfriend, visiting the place where she last saw her boyfriend alive.

Then he caught it. A hint of a smile crossed her face before she finished off an ice cream cone and got in line for the fair’s biggest attraction, The Wooden Racer. It was the fair’s roller coaster, the tallest one in the state.

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