The Rumplestiltskin Scam
an FTPD: Homicide story
by Lewayne L. White
part 1 of 2
Once upon a time, I said it was always bright and sunny here in Fairy Tale Land, but apparently I was wrong.
Today, the sky was as black as a witch’s heart; and rain didn’t fall from the sky, it plummeted like stones.
So, of course, it was my day off.
My name’s Aislyn Lilly. I’m a homicide detective with the Fairy Tale police department. My partner, Detective Dagan Michael, and I are the only human beings on a force populated by some of the strangest creatures you can imagine.
The criminal element is equally interesting. We’ve busted ogres, trolls, and all the usual fairy tale riff-raff. We’ve also encountered talking pigs, talking bears, and most recently a talking wolf that seemed bent on taking over the criminal underworld. A few weeks ago, one of Big Bad Wolf’s companions, a disturbed young woman named Gretel, broke my arm with a baseball bat when we tried to snatch her up for a couple of murders. Wizards healed the fractures, but the cold rainy weather still makes my arm ache.
I sat on the couch in my apartment, hating the rain, listening to a ‘Wreckage of the Modern City’ CD, and trying to keep up with Schultz’s guitar. My arm felt stiff, and I was getting irritated because I couldn’t move around the guitar neck fiercely enough to capture the sound coming from the stereo.
Luckily for my guitar, the phone rang, and I gave up. I returned the battered Gibson to its stand, and reached for the chirping mobile on the table.
“Hey, Ace. It’s Dagan. Want to catch a flick?”
I shrugged, even though he couldn’t see it. “Anything in particular?”
“That superhero movie?”
“Saw it with Casey.”
“Oh yeah, how are things going with Mighty Casey?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Is that why you really called?”
“Jeez, you’re a lousy liar. That’s why I always have to play ‘bad cop’.”
“That, and the fact that you’re a bigger grouch.”
“Bite me. What’s really going on?”
“Organized Crime has Casey under surveillance.”
“He works for Wolf. He’s always under surveillance.”
“True,” Dagan said, his smile practically audible. “Which probably makes dates sort of interesting.”
Dagan grew serious. “Casey’s not with Wolf. He’s with some chick in a motel room.”
My heart skipped a beat. Casey and I hadn’t been together long, but...
“Wait, when you say ‘chick’, do you mean...”
“Sorry, didn’t mean a bird. A human woman.”
“I don’t know that I feel any better, but why are you telling me?”
“I figured you’d want to come down and listen to the surveillance feed.”
“What kind of weirdo do you take me for?”
A long pause from Dagan.
“All right, where?”
I could hear his smile over the line again. “Nutcracker Sweets. You remember where it is?”
Of course I did. The Sweets was a hot-sheet motel in a seedy part of the city. The memory of kicking in a door expecting to find a homicide in progress and finding half-naked wood nymphs and satyrs doing what they do remained burned in my memory. It was also a reminder that nothing’s as sweet or innocent as it looks here in Fairy Tale Land.
“Be there in fifteen.”
I rang off, grabbed my gun, badge, and raincoat and headed out the door.
Thirteen minutes later, I sat inside a surveillance van marked “Pete’s Pixie Removal.” With Dagan, me, a three-creature surveillance crew and all their equipment, it was close quarters.
Aside from the usual electronic gear you’d expect in a surveillance rig, we also had a crystal ball, scrying glass, a cauldron, and some creepy looking bottles full of stuff I couldn’t identify. A surveillance witch fiddled with the reception on the scrying glass, while the two dwarves turned dials and knobs.
“Anything?” I asked, shaking rain water from my hair.
One of the dwarf techs growled, “He’s activated some sort of spell. All we get is static on audio and video.”
“I can’t see anything either,” said the witch. “The only way I could get through the spell would be a link with one of them.”
“What do you need for that?” Dagan asked.
“In an ideal world, I’d have planted an object on one of them, a talisman, or something. The next best thing would be an object taken from them or somehow connected to them.”
“I’ll be right back,” I said, and ducked out into the downpour. I dashed to my car and back.
“Try this,” I said, tossing the witch the bundle I’d grabbed.
She held it up. “What’s this?”
After a second, she looked at me. “If you stole it, it poisons our warrant.”
“He left it at my place,” I said.
The witch raised an eyebrow. “I see why you’re interested in what he’s doing.”
“Then get on with it.”
Dagan smiled, and I gave him a rude gesture unique to Fairy Tale Land.
The witch started mumbling some words and dragging the Mudville T-shirt around the perimeter of the scrying glass.
“I’m getting some interference, but I’ve got a connection.”
After a moment she looked at me. “You slept in this, didn’t you?”
I reddened. “Maybe.”
“That explains the interference. The glass is confused about the shirt’s ownership.”
“Well if he’s doing what we think he’s doing, then it’s all his.”
The witch gave me a wicked smile, then resumed looking into the glass. “Yes! I have a connection. Hook in the audio.”
One of the dwarves grunted, and clipped a couple cables into the edge of the glass. Immediately we all heard Casey’s raised voice, “Look, Hester, what do you want me to do? A deal’s a deal. You come up with what he wants, or he takes your baby.”
Dagan blinked. “Wolf’s into baby snatching now?”
“But Casey,” wailed an annoying female voice. “I was desperate. I was looking at marrying a prince, but I had to come up with something that set me apart from all the other little gold diggers. Then dad goes and tells the prince’s dad that I can spin straw into gold.”
I cocked my head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“So I made a deal with this nasty little troll guy,” Hester continued. “He spun the gold, and I figured I was home free.”
Casey sighed. “Nothing’s that simple, Hester. Not in Fairy Tale Land.”
Hester sniffed, and continued. “The first time, he was willing to take that little ring-”
“That I gave you when we were kids,” Casey interrupted.
“In trade,” Hester continued as if he hadn’t spoken. “But the king wanted more gold, so I had to do it again.”
“And you gave up what?” Casey said, scowling.
“Mom’s locket! Hester, what were you thinking? Never mind, I know what you were thinking.”
Casey paused, sighed, then said, “And you had to do it again, but didn’t have anything left to trade.”
“So I agreed to give him my first-born child. I just figured I wouldn’t have one.”
Casey snorted. “You married a prince. He has to have an heir. It’s like a law.”
“I know,” Hester sobbed, “what do I do?”
“Wolf has lawyers,” Casey said. “They’ll get things dealt with.”
“No,” Hester wailed, “I already told you. He said the precedent was set centuries ago. My only defense is to guess his name.”
“Charming vs. Rumplestiltskin,” Dagan muttered. “The troll knows his stuff.”
“Rumple... So this isn’t Rumplestiltskin?” I said.
The witch shook her head. “Not the Rumplestiltskin. He went down on an unrelated kidnapping centuries ago. Cases like these are usually referred to as ‘rumplestiltskins’.”
I raised an eyebrow. “It’s common enough to have a nickname?”
The witch nodded and shushed me.
One of the dwarves added, “Some wizards even speculate that this type of trolls is a separate species they’ve called Trollus Rumplestiltskinus.”
“Look, maybe I do know someone who can help,” Casey said.
We heard him dialing a cell phone. A second later, my cell phone began playing ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’.
Dagan blinked. “I don’t know which is weirder, the fact that he called you while in a hot-sheet motel with another woman, or that you have that ring tone for his number.”
“You should hear what ring tone I have for you.”
I cut him off, and answered my cell.
“Hi, Ace. It’s Casey. You have a second?”
“Maybe, what’s up?”
“I have a problem, and I need some help.”
“What makes you think I can help?”
“Are you nearby with the surveillance team?”
The surveillance team all stared at each other.
“The silence sounds like an affirmative,” Casey said. “You probably heard the conversation with my sister.”
I felt an uncharacteristic rush of relief.
“And,” Casey continued. “I think we can put your pals in the pixie van to better use.”
“All right,” I said.
A few minutes later, we all entered the motel room.
Casey sat on a chair dragged up near the bed. Hester sat on the bed, wearing a frilly outfit and a pointed hat that I associate with playing dress-up as a child. She looked like a feminine version of Casey. Same athletic build, same brown eyes and hair, although she obviously didn’t have the same bushy moustache.
“So what do you want from us?” I asked.
“I want your help protecting my nephew,” Casey replied. “If this troll follows the ‘rumplestiltskin’ pattern, he’s going to come to claim the child. Hester will beg and plead, and he’ll give her three chances to guess his name.”
Casey looked at Hester. “She’ll fail. He’ll laugh then leave and promise to return the next day for her second attempt.”
Dagan nodded. “But, you want us to tail him when he leaves, and get his name.“
“Why can’t we just arrest him for attempted kidnapping?” I asked.
Dagan shook his head. “Charming vs. Rumplestiltskin. The Fairy Courts have ruled that a contract even one like this is binding. If Hester breaks it, she’s the one breaking the law, not the troll.”
Casey glared at Hester. “Which anyone who grew up in Fairy Tale Land could tell you.”
I sighed. “No exceptions?”
Casey shook his head.
“Actually,” Hester said. “I heard that if the troll was willing to accept money rather than the child, it would satisfy the contract.”
“If that’s true,” I said, “Then why don’t you just pay him off?”
Hester glared at Casey. “I was trying to get money together to do that.”
Dagan cocked his head. “You married a prince. He doesn’t have enough money?”
Hester put her face in her hands and began crying. “He’s out of the city and I can’t reach him. He’s the only one with the key to the vault.”
Casey looked at me. “Can you please help?”
“When’s the troll due?” I asked.
“He’s supposed to come to her palace at three this afternoon.”
I glanced at my watch. “That gives us a couple hours to get set up. We’ll pick him up at the palace and follow him until we get a name.”
I looked at Hester. “All she has to do is give him a name, right? Then she’s free of the contract?”
Hester sobbed, “Unless I ca- ca- can find a way to p- p-pay him off.”
“Look, Hester,” Casey said. “These cops are the best around. They’ll get the information we need.”
Hester cried louder. “But, wha- wha- what if they ca- ca- can’t?”
Casey sighed. “While they’re getting set up, I’ll talk to Wolf. Maybe he can lend you some money until your husband gets back.”
Hester immediately perked up. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. I’ve been bailing you out this long. What’s one more time?”
Hester gave Casey a scowl, but didn’t say anything.
I looked at Hester. “Where’s your baby?”
“With his fairy godmother.”
“He’ll be safe there?”
Casey nodded. “Nothing can happen to him while he’s with her.”
He paused to glare at Hester again. “Unless we can’t fix the arrangement with the troll. Then she’ll have to give him up.”
We all went our separate ways, collected our gear, and headed to Hester’s palace.
Fairy Tale Land is loaded with castles. They come in all shapes, sizes, and values. They’re almost so common that they’ve nearly lost whatever status they might once have had. Even my apartment is in a castle, albeit one divided into multiple residences.
Hester’s castle was definitely built during one of the castle booms, when everyone seemed to have a goose that laid golden eggs. Spires reached for the sky, stones glistened in the rain, and every bit of metal seemed to be gold, even the portcullis and the chains on the drawbridge.
Dagan whistled as we rolled up.
“Whoever owns this castle could definitely pay off a rumplestiltskin,” I said.
“Except there’s never been a case where one of them has taken a payoff,” Dagan said.
“Always the child?”
Dagan nodded. “Unless someone guesses the name.”
“So, if they follow the same pattern, why doesn’t each victim just follow the rumplestiltskin and learn his name?”
We concealed the unmarked in an empty stable, and headed into the main hall.
“Seems awful quiet,” I said, as we walked down a crushed velvet runner.
Dagan nodded. “You think it’s odd that the walls are empty? I mean, you can see the outline where paintings and tapestries used to hang.”
Before I could comment, Casey pushed open a pair of doors from another room. “We’re setting up in here.”
We followed him in and saw Hester and the surveillance team. Hester had changed from her frilly dress to something vaguely kimono-styled. She’d also pulled her hair up in some sort of complicated knot, pinned with a pair of miniature crossed swords.
The witch and dwarves had commandeered the only table in the room to hold their respective equipment. Each stood, shaking off water, and getting their gear together.
I surveyed the room. “Sort of bare, isn’t it?”
“We’re redecorating,” Hester replied. “We’re between furniture. Donated the old stuff, and the new stuff hasn’t arrived.”
Copyright © 2006 by Lewayne L. White