The Rumpelstiltskin Scam
by Lewayne L. White
|Table of Contents|
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The witch looked up from her crystal ball. “We’re ready. All approaches to the castle can be viewed here.”
She gestured toward the crystal ball, which had a dozen alternating views cycling through it. “Unless he ’ports in, we should be able to see him.”
One of the dwarves waved a walkie-talkie. “We’ve got chase units outside, ready to go.”
“Hounds?” I asked.
The dwarf nodded. “Couple of those Baskervilles. One’s fresh from the academy but the other one’s a bit longer in the tooth.”
“We’ve got something,” the witch said. “Northwest corner.”
We all turned toward the crystal ball. The image flickered, then focused on a tattered, lumpy, hooded figure limping up to the moat’s edge.
“Get to the throne room,” Casey said to Hester. “He’ll be here any second.”
As he spoke, the figure vanished in a large cloud of smoke and flame.
The crystal ball image switched to the throne room, and locked on Hester just as the figure appeared in another cloud of smoke and flame.
“I’ve come for my prize,” creaked the voice of the rumplestiltskin from within his hood. “My name or the child.”
“Couldn’t we strike a different deal?” Hester asked. “Perhaps a dozen sacks of gold instead of the boy?”
“You dare offer me money!”
“Please,” Hester wailed. “Money would be worth more than a child.”
The rumplestiltskin remained silent for a moment, then said, “Today you guess my name. If you fail, we shall discuss money.”
The witch turned to me. “Looks like he’ll deal for money. Guess they didn’t need us.”
We listened as Hester threw out some names, but failed to find the correct one.
The rumplestiltskin cackled, and said, “Twelve sacks of gold, it is. Tommorow at this time, I shall have the money or the child.”
The dwarf looked at me. “You still want us to tail him?”
I thought about it. Nobody was getting paid for this. I was going to owe some major favors. And Casey was going to owe me.
I glanced at Dagan, who shrugged. “He’s using ’port spells. He’d be hard to track anyway.”
“Have a hound near the jump point,” I said. “Make sure he gets a good sniff in case we have to track the guy later. But, for now, I guess we let him go.”
The dwarf relayed the plan, and the rest of us watched the rumplestiltskin disappear, then reappear outside the castle and limp away into the surrounding woods.
My cell phone rang.
“It’s Crow,” squawked the voice in the receiver. “I got the notice you sent, and I have the stuff.”
“Human male, dressed in hooded rags. Playing poor, ’cause his hands were soft and white. Pawned both the ring and the locket.”
“I’ll send someone to get a sketch,” I said.
“I didn’t take nothing stolen did I?”
“Not exactly,” I said. “You’ll get some shiny things for this.”
Crow rang off, cackling.
Dagan looked at me, and I nodded.
“You think Hester would mind if I looked around?” Dagan asked Casey. “I don’t often get to see the inside of a castle.”
Casey shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
“You need us anymore?” asked the witch.
“I guess not,” I said. “Thanks for the help.”
“Looks like you didn’t need it,” one dwarf said. “But, we appreciate you still buying a couple rounds of Purple Zombies like you promised.”
I nodded, and the team began to pack up.
Casey walked over to me. “Thanks.”
“We didn’t really do anything. He agreed to take money.”
Casey nodded. “I’ve already been on the phone with Wolf. He said he’ll loan Hester the money with an appropriate interest rate.”
“Her husband’s due back in a couple days. He’s gonna charge interest on that short a loan?”
Casey shrugged, and fiddled with his mangled right hand. He knew how Wolf handled money. Even though Wolf didn’t wreck Casey’s hand, Wolf wasn’t above using it as an example to those who didn’t pay up.
“Something about this stinks, doesn’t it?”
“Dagan and I thought so, too. But, we didn’t sense any deceit from Hester when we talked in the motel.”
I felt a mind-burst from Dagan. Ace, I might have something. Bring Casey.
I looked at Casey. “Dagan wants to see us.”
Casey blinked. “I didn’t hear anything.”
Then he looked at the FTPD badge dangling around my neck. “I forgot. The badges are hexed.”
After a pause, he added, “And the badges didn’t sense any deceit in the motel because I’d activated a spell damper.”
I nodded. “Dagan realized that on the way over here. We haven’t had a chance to really talk to Hester since the motel, so Dagan decided to snoop around a bit.”
We headed through the castle to a large dining room. Dagan stood at the far end, near a fireplace the size of a small cottage.
Casey and I crossed the room, and Dagan held out a small plastic sleeve containing a charred piece of paper. “Check this out.”
I took the paper from him and scanned it.
“A bunch of numbers and letters.”
Casey looked over my shoulder, and I kept getting distracted by the tickle of breath near my ear.
“It’s teams, points, and money,” he said. “Someone’s been placing big bets and losing.”
I raised an eyebrow, and looked around the nearly empty room. “I’d guess Hester or her hubby.”
Casey nodded. “I’ll check with Wolf. Some of these bets are so outrageously stupid, his people will remember them if they took them.”
Casey walked away and placed a cell call. A moment later, he returned, nodding. “Someone going by the name ‘Stinger’ placed all the bets. It’s the prince.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s a nickname he had when he was a kid. He showed me a scrapbook of his sports achievements, and I remember seeing the name.”
“Showing off for the Mighty Casey?” Dagan asked.
Casey shrugged. “Hester probably thought it would help us bond.”
“Do I hear disdain?”
Casey looked at me and scowled. “No, you hear the sound of a guy who’s going to kick the dung out his brother in law.”
Dagan said, “So he’s in the hole, and they’re unloading anything of value.”
“Then somebody figures they can get me to pony up some cash to keep my nephew from getting snatched,” Casey said. “To add insult, I have to get the money from Wolf.”
“To whom they owe the money,” Dagan said.
Casey nodded. “Funny, isn’t it?”
Casey smiled. “We find my brother in law and kick the dung out of him?”
I smiled back. “How about we find him, and snatch him up for extortion or fraud or whatever else we can come up with?”
Casey nodded. “Then I’ll kick the dung out of him.”
Dagan sighed. “You realize that for this little conspiracy to work, Hester has to have been in on it.”
Casey nodded again. “Probably her idea.”
“If we’re working on the premise that Hester’s husband is the rumplestilksin, then we need to figure out where he’s hiding,” Dagan said. “Then we snatch him up.”
Hester entered the dining room toweling water out of her hair. She had changed clothes and hairstyle again. She began to speak, then stopped when we all turned to stare at her.
* * *
I kicked in the door of the abandoned gamekeeper’s cottage near the edge of Hester’s property. Dagan pushed into the house, gun up. I followed, ready for anything.
Except an empty house.
“Clear!” Dagan yelled from the only other room.
We met back in the main room, a kitchen/ dining / living room. Dagan used a pen to move around a few empty packages that lay on the table.
“Generic porridge, squirrel jerky, water bottles,” Dagan said. “He’s been hiding here a while. And eating cheap.”
Dagan shrugged. “Adds veracity to the story that he’s out of town.”
I nodded. “It seems that way, but, why? They dismissed all their servants, the castle’s secure enough to avoid casual visits. He could have stayed somewhere in that outrageously huge castle, and at least stayed warm and dry. No one would have known.”
Dagan looked around. “Maybe there’s some trouble between the prince and princess. Banishment to the gamekeeper’s hovel might be the Fairy Tale equivalent of the ‘dog house’.”
I looked around the room, and my eyes settled on the floor. I toed the rug on which the table rested.
Dagan uttered a word you learned shortly after arriving in Fairy Tale Land. He flipped back the corner of the rug, revealing a trap door.
Dagan and I shoved the table and chairs away. The Crime Scene Witches were gonna pitch a witch, but I didn’t care right then.
I hoisted the trap, and Dagan aimed his pistol and a flashlight at the opening.
Hester’s husband lay folded into the cramped cellar.
A small circular hole glistened between staring blue eyes. Several more holes dotted the ragged clothes of his rumplestiltskin costume.
I shook my head. “No powder near the wounds.”
Dagan leaned closer, shining the light on the prince’s forehead wound.
We both realized what had killed him.
I started dialing Casey’s number.
I held up my hand when Casey answered, “Yeah?”
“You got your nephew?”
“Yeah, Hester had him stashed upstairs. He’s fine. Why?”
“Because his mom’s a widow, and she’s going down on a murder rap.”
Casey said, “What?”
“I’ll explain when we get back to the castle. Don’t let Hester leave.”
I looked at Dagan who closed his own phone.
“CSW team’s on the way,” he said. “Along with backup, and a Child Services Sprite.”
“You want to secure the scene, or secure Hester?”
We threw for it. Dagan got Rock. I got Scissors.
I used a few choice fairy words, and headed back through the rain to the castle.
* * *
Hester stood in an FTPD interview room, looking at her tearful reflection in the wall-length magic mirror. She rested her forehead against the glass and stared at the poison-apple green tile floor.
I glanced at Dagan and nodded.
He sighed. “So what happened, Hester?”
Shrugging with one’s hands cuffed can be challenging, but Hester managed it.
“You’re broke,” Dagan said. “Your husband gambled away every penny.”
Hester shrugged again.
“He talked you into this plan,” Dagan continued. “Came up with the story, and told you to beg Casey for the money.”
“Casey’s been covering your butt all your life,” I added. “The prince knew he’d help. Casey used to be famous, so maybe he’s got money somewhere. If not, he can always ask his boss for cash, right?”
Hester started crying harder. Her shoulders shook, and she made loud weepy wailing sounds.
“Cut the dung, Hester,” I snapped. “We saw you at the motel, you can turn on tears like water from a tap. It’s not going to get you out of this.”
Dagan rested a hand on my shoulder. “Hester, we know it’s tough. You’re broke. You’re scared. It makes sense to blame the guy that got you into this mess. We understand how mad you had to be.”
Hester spun around, and screamed, “We were supposed to live happily ever after, dammit! Instead, he gambled away everything.”
She kicked a chair away.
“The last valuables he hocked were the ring from Casey, and mom’s locket. I couldn’t take it. He came up with this rumplestiltskin scam to try and get out from under everything.”
“When I went out to that hovel to tell him things were going our way, he told me he was going to take the money and bet it all on some stupid ‘sure thing’.”
She kicked the chair again, and screamed “A sure thing? He always bet on sure things! That’s why we’re broke!”
“Then he tells me,” Hester said, sobbing, and leaking real tears. “If Wolf didn’t pay out, we could always sell the baby.”
“Sell the baby!” she screamed. “Just sell him, and blame his disappearance on the rumplestiltskin!”
She fell to the floor on her knees, wailing. “I lost it. I lost everything! Then he was going to give our baby away!”
Hester wailed and sobbed.
Dagan approached cautiously and placed a hand on Hester’s shoulder. “And you stabbed him.”
“With the little swords you had in your hair,” I added. “Then you came back in, and changed because you’d gotten soaked in the rain.”
Hester nodded again.
Eventually, we got her to quit crying. She signed a statement admitting that she’d killed her husband in a blind rage.
I wasn’t so sure it was blind.
Someone had conveniently left enough of that burned betting sheet for us to find. Wolf’s numbers guys couldn’t confirm the sex of “Stinger,” and we only had Hester’s word that the prince was going to sell the baby.
But suspecting Hester set her hubby up to get whacked and proving it were very different things. For all I knew it went down the way she tells it.
I figured it wasn’t going to matter much. Even with a good lawyer, she was going down for at least humanslaughter.
After a matron escorted Hester away, Dagan and I left the interview room, and headed out into the main offices.
“Technically, we still have the day off,” I said. “You want to catch a movie?”
“I would,” Dagan said. “But, I think you have other plans.” He nodded to the waiting area past the desk sergeant.
Casey sat on a bench with a trio of succubi and their pimp on one side, and something drunk and furry on the other.
When he saw me, Casey stood and waved his crippled hand.
“See you tomorrow,” Dagan said. “Maybe once we’re on the clock, it’ll be a quiet day.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Me either. Later.”
He walked off, pretending he had somewhere to be.
Casey opened the waist-high wooden door that separated the public area from the offices.
“She did it,” he said, not really asking.
We walked toward the doors leading out of the building.
“She says so. Evidence is fairly conclusive, but I don’t think you’ll want the gory details.”
He shrugged, then said, “Child Services won’t let me have my nephew. Seems my association with a ‘known criminal element’ is an issue. The boy goes back to his fairy godmother until arrangements are made.”
“I’m sorry, Casey.”
He shrugged again.
“She says she did it to keep from losing her son,” I said.
“Didn’t help, did it? She still lost him, and everything else.”
I took Casey’s damaged hand in mine.
“Not everything, Casey. She still had you.”
Copyright © 2006 by Lewayne L. White