It was a rainy afternoon, with clouds that formed and broke up, unsure as to how to proceed, but when the county agent in Mineral called his counterpart in Darlington, it was with news that the sluggish nature of the rain had changed and water had been pounding Mineral Point for ten minutes, making the lowest part of Main Street impassable; more importantly, the storm was making the headwaters of the Pecatonica River awash in runoff.
The Pecatonica began south of Mineral Point where three streams that had seemed content to find their own way down from the hills ran into each other and began to act like a river, winding back and forth through corn and hay fields, past cattle grazing on hillsides, and around farms where the main house, e barn, and outbuildings kept themselves further back from the river than seemed necessary; for while the river appeared to take a more reckless path than necessary toward Darlington, the Pecatonica seldom spanned more than twenty feet from bank to bank, and the water was typically no more than five feet deep in the river’s middle. The Pecatonica appeared, in other words, an unlikely candidate to flood its banks.
So when the Darlington county agent–fresh from his phone call with the Mineral Point agent–arrived at the Lafayette County fairgrounds, on the fourth day of the county fair, and asked at the ticket booth where he could find the manager of the carnival, the agent’s urgency seemed misplaced. “What’s your hurry?” the ticket seller asked.
“There’s been a cloudburst upriver in Mineral Point, and you’re going to have to get everything in the fairgrounds to higher ground–your rides, your games, your food booths, everything has to be moved within the next few hours.”
“And why would that be?” the ticket seller asked.
“Because this will all be underwater by 6 tonight,” the county agent said. “That river over there is going to flood, and unless you tell me where the carnival manager is, there won’t be time to save all your equipment.
Even if he’d shared the agent’s sense of alarm, the man in the ticket booth couldn’t have directed the agent to the carnival manager; for the carnival manager began drinking rye whiskey mid-afternoon and his wanderings by late afternoon were unpredictable.
So instead of issuing directions, the ticket seller leaned out of his booth and looked in the direction that the county agent had pointed. Three hundred feet away, past the midway and on the other side of an apron of grass on which three boys were playing catch with a baseball, the river bank rose slightly and hid the Pecatonica from view. The ticket seller looked back at the agent and then up at the sky which was still gray but no longer in the mood to rain. “Have you been hanging out with my boss?” he said. “This time of day he’s liable to imagine things too.”
“If I had been hanging out with him, I’d hardly be asking you where he is. Are you going to tell me where her is or aren’t you.”
“I’m not,” the ticket seller said and motioned the county agent aside so the customers who had gathered into a line could make a purchase.
The county agent looked out onto the midway, trying to remember the fair manager’s appearance. They had only met once, but the agent remembered that the manager was a big man, and he had a moustache that he smoothed with his hands every few minutes. Armed with those memories, the agent headed past the ticket booth and out onto the midway.