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The Gingerbread House Caper

Tags: humor

Fairy-tales, in the Jack Vine case books

From The Files 

Of

Jack And The Giant

Private Investigators

Case 17: The Gingerbread House Caper

Beep! Beep! Beep! My eyes opened grudgingly to the sound of the annoying alarm clock. It was one of those windup ones manufactured in China by cheap labor earning a bowl of rice and a couple Yen a day. I promptly hurled it to the floor silencing it forever, thus doing my part to keep those poor peasants employed.

Rolling over I bumped into my gal’s gorgeous body. Mary, I saw was sleeping contently. And why not she had all the covers, which I had concluded, was the reason I was a bit cold. Leaning over I gave her a tender peck on the tip of her nose so light as not to wake her. Even in her sleep, she smiled at my touch. I lay there for a few moments watching the rhythm of her breathing, it was slow and shallow, her face soft and glowing. I wondered just what a dame like her saw in a Joe like me? What ever it was lady luck was shining on me.

It had been only a week as I recall since popping the question of marriage to her. Sure, it had been after Tiny’s proposal to Mary’s younger sister Terri but I, unlike my partner, had made sure I had a rock on hand before I went down on my knee. For Terri that little oversight by Tiny wasn’t even noticed, though I’d be willing to bet my last two bits she’d be rectifying that soon enough.

I remembered when the two had gotten together to share their exciting news there at Jack and Jill’s farm. Each had cried then laughed then cried some more, Dames were like that. Tiny I saw eyed me with surprise when he heard that I too, had popped the big question; it was clear he hadn’t expected that. “You didn’t think I was going to let you one up me, did you sport?” I told him chuckling. He grinned and we both waited patiently for the two sisters to empty their eyes. That turned out to be about an hour later by the way. Afterwards we eighty-sixed the picnic idea in favor of a night out on the town; this was a day to celebrate after all.

As I said, that had been a week ago and Mary was quickly moving her things into my place. I’ve been informed that Terri was doing likewise with Tiny. This was of course had been expected and I had already ditched a lot of old junk we guys collect and never use, i.e. Treadmill, weight benches, that kind of stuff. Mary had utilized that space quickly enough and was now spreading into new territory. Kind a like a viral bacteria or fungus, all-be-it a pretty one.

Eventually I knew I’d have to put my foot down and draw the line, however, we still had some time before I’d need to do so. Dames like Mary I noticed are at their happiest when they are ditching their squeezes things in favor of theirs. Not to mention most of my stuff was obtained from garage sales and thrift stores so didn’t real have any real sentimental value. I believe that line in the marriage vows that goes, “Do you take this woman to be your wife?” infers to most dames that you’re somehow suppose to taking everything she owns as part of the deal. It’s like that fine print you can’t read at the bottom of the TV screen during a commercial, or in legal documents; Oh well.

I rolled out of bed as quietly as I could, shaved, showered, dressed and left for the office. By 6 o’clock, I was sitting at my desk munching on one of those quick all-in-one breakfast concoctions every fast food joint throws together and claims healthy. I would have preferred a jelly doughnut and a cup of Joe but what the heck.

The paper I was reading, ‘The Morning Gazette’, had a nice article in it on our areas newest and only millionaires, a.k.a. Jack and Jill Wellington. Wellington, I reread, was that their last names? Hmm, well I’ll be. The article, as I read on, vaguely stated that the young couple, having invested their life’s savings into purchasing a rundown farm, hit it big when oil was discovered under much of their not-so-fertile land.

Rocci Raccoon, our areas newest DA, it went on to say, was instrumental in negotiating a lucrative deal for the young couple with one of the big oil companies. When asked what they planned on doing with their new found wealth the wife, Jill, had said, “why, ‘ta opens up a couple of Lemon Aid stands here-n-there. This reporter did not have the vaguest idea what she was talking about and didn’t want to speculate. I chuckled when I read that part and raised my Mac Sandwich to salute her.

Farther down the page, another article caught my eye. ‘Woman eaten out of house and home’, was the lead-in line. The article went on to say that vandals were terrorizing an old lady, literally eating parts of her house. It then went on to explain that the woman, locally known as Witch Hazel, had been living in the dwelling, a gingerbread house, for many years without any problems. Now all of a sudden she’s afraid to go to sleep at night. “its juvenile delinquents”, she claims angrily, “and when I catch them I’m going to put a spell on them.” Ok, I thought, another one for the funny farm.

Just then, my partner in crime strolled in reading a small pamphlet and donning a worried look on his face. “Hey Sport”, I greeted him good-naturedly, “Why the long face?” He looked up but I could tell by the look in his eyes that he hadn’t really heard me. My gut told me something wasn’t right so I kept my eye on him. He headed to his desk flopping down in a depressed manner. I asked him once again what was up.

‘Jack”, he said, “I got a problem?” He turned my way and looked me square in the eyes.

“Oh, I replied, “then let’s talk turkey and see what we can come up with huh?” I sat back looking casual and relaxed, I was actually watching him out of the corner of my eyes. He was hesitant for sure; whether that was due to the sensitive nature of his problem or just unsure where to start, I didn’t know. I tried to smile and reassure him that nothing would leave this room; trouble was me and smiling didn’t go together very well; like oil and vinegar or a classy dame and a taco stand, life’s like that

He finally made his move tossing the booklet squarely onto my desk, “This”, he said, pointing at the article. I looked down and read the cover, it said ‘The Giant’s guide to Marriage’. Seeing only the vaguest correlation, I was going to need a bit more information to go on. “And?” I prodded him.

“We Giant’s aren’t like you human’s”, he started to explain, “We have very strict codes and rituals we’re suppose to follow. That pamphlet there was mailed to me by one of the elders of our clan; apparently he got wind of my engagement to Terri.” He stopped, figuring that said it all; unfortunately, I was still mostly in to dark.

“What’s his beef with you?” I asked, there was a feeling in my gut making itself known; it was one I felt before and didn’t like.

“Open to the first page”, he instructed me, so I complied. The very first words, in bold lettering even, read, ‘No Giant shall be allowed to fornicate with nor marry a non.” I looked his way, confusion clearly in my eyes, “A non”, I inquired. “What exactly is a non?”

“You are”, he replied embarrassed, “you, Terri, Mary, anyone not a Giant. You’re all considered non’s according to that booklet there; to put it bluntly your more like cattle or a pet dog.” His face turned beet red with shame and he averted his eyes from my gaze; what I saw in them was dread. I was familiar with dread having tangled with it a time or two in my past. Dread was one badass Momma. He looked back at me as I put in my two cents.

“And one doesn’t marry their pet dog Terri”, I replied harsher than I meant too, “right?” He didn’t answer and I sensing I had struck the wrong person a blow, I backed up. “Look partner,” I told him, “This isn’t about you, it’s about this dribble here.” I said tapped the pamphlet with my finger. “If there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that you’re a good Joe, and not just any Joe either you’re my best friend.” I could see my words had brought some comfort back to him, I hoped he realized I meant every word.

“Does Terri know about this,” I asked hoping she didn’t? He shook his head in the negative, his eyes going wide.

“No way, he replied, “I had gotten the mail that day by chance while she was out. Guess I was lucky,”

“Hmm”, I responded the facts already shifting around in my brain. “Let’s keep it that way for the time being”, I advised him. “No point in upsetting her. Let me look this over and see if it really holds water or if it’s all wet.” I saw his eyes brighten with hope; something he hadn’t had moments before.

“Yeah, Jack, sure thing.” he replied.

I decided it would do him good to get his mind onto something else. Thinking back to the newspaper, I recalled the old lady out in the woods article. “Say partner,” I said. “While I go over this, I’d like for you to research a case I’m curious about, Ok?” He nodded so I handed him the paper and pointed to the article in question. He read it and looked up, a skeptical look in his eyes.

“A Gingerbread house,” he replied. “You’re kidding?”

I snickered and grinned. “That’s how I reacted too,” I told him; “It’s also one of the reason I’d like you to check into it. Besides, it will do you good to get out of the office and into the fresh air for the day. I’m sure this will keep me busy for awhile,” I said patting the pocket the book was in.

“Thanks Jack,” he told me, “you’re a pal.”

“Not according to this book.” I replied while rolling my eyes in jest.

I poured over the text Tiny had given me for several hours; most of that time was spent shaking my head in disbelief. The text I found was old and full of nonsense even a child wouldn’t bye. One in particular puzzled me concerning the shape of the world. It still claimed it to be flat like a pancake even though ships have been sailing completely around it for hundreds of years. I figured if that was obviously wrong then the rest probably was bunk too, I was sure there had to be a solution., hmm. That afternoon Tiny returned with the lowdown on the bogus case that I had put him on, I had almost forgotten about it until just then.

“Hey Jack,” he said as he walked through the door, “that lady in the Gingerbread house is a real witch.”

“Oh!” I replied with a grin, “a real winner huh?”

“No, I mean a real honest to goodness witch as in flies around on a broom and casts spells kind of witch. Not only that but she’s and a loon too.”

What he had said didn’t jibe in my book, I wondered if maybe he had stopped off at one of the local gin joints and maybe had a few to many, that didn’t seem his style however. He must have read my face, doubt clearly in my eyes for he hurried on to explain further.

“I swear Jack,” he told me, “I’m telling you straight. She babbles constantly saying things I didn’t understand; it’s as if she thought someone else was standing next to her, but there wasn’t; like I said a real loon.”

“What did you learn about the case itself?” I asked, putting the old dames mental state on the back burner. My partner began to tick the items off on his hand.

First off,” he began, “her house is made of gingerbread. Tasty looking too, so I can see where someone or something might want a bite. Second, she showed me where her house had been vandalized. A shutter was chewed half off along with some of that fancy scroll kind of decoration on the porch. Lots of frosting missing off of the roof too.”

“Your not yanking my chain, are you?” I questioned him. This case I thought kept getting more and more whacked out, I mean what kind of a nut would use baking goods to build their shack in the first place? Add to that this flying on brooms and twiddling her fingers over some frogs genitals told me this dame was headed to the funny farm.

“No Jack.” He replied honestly. “Her place is a real work of culinary art. It took all of my willpower to keep my hands off it; you know how I am with sweets”

I did of course, Tiny was like a big bear sometimes and bears have a taste for honey. I’ve seen him eat an entire jar of grape jam with his fingers, not even bothering to put it on some bread with peanut butter. I shivered at the memory; his dental bill must be enormous. “Hmm, Couldn’t the culprits just be the usual riff-raff you’d normally find in the woods, I asked wondering if this could get any stranger. “You know, deer, rabbits, maybe a wolf or two?”

“You’d think so, he said, “but, I found finger marks from little hands smeared into some of the chocolate coating one of the porch rails, definitely kids. Also, I didn’t see a single bird or animal come anywhere near the place. It’s like there was some kind of wall around the place, that or they know something we don’t.”

“That is odd.” I replied. “I’ve got so many varmints calling my place home I should charge rent.” This case was getting stranger and I decided to look into it myself. “I think maybe I’ll have a talk with this birdbrain myself.” I said. “We’ll go again first thing in the morning after we stop off and have a word with Rocci. I’d like to hear what he knows about this Hazel dame and see if he can shed some more light on the bogus text of yours.” He looked up at me his eyes going wide; I could see he had completely forgotten about it till just then.

“Did you come up with anything?” He asked in a dejected kind of voice. It was like the look a kid has when he realizes the report he hadn’t even started was due the next day, he knew he was in deep manure.

“Only that it’s full of inconsistent nonsense that no one this side of the Dark Ages would believe. I can’t see how an entire race of people can be this backwards.” I told him, “No offence intended sport.”

“Truth is Jack,” I never realized we did. Heck, my mom and dad are some of most levelheaded guys I know besides you. Sure dad still likes to go around the house Fe-Fi-Fo-Fumming, but that’s about the extent of his foolishness. Even that is more out of habit.” Tiny looked back at me and grinned, “You know dad actually likes you.” He confided. “I overheard him tell mom you and me make a good team.”

“Thanks sport,” I replied with a grin of my own, “I’ll try and live up his praise.” Tiny I knew was quite sincere, it was one of the things I liked about him after I got to know him. That Goose, Harp thing, was all in the past as far as Mr. Giant was concerned having given both to Tiny.

The goose was still cranking out an egg or two a week for my partner but she had slowed down some having gotten up there in her golden age. The harp of course was another matter entirely. Having discovered how Christina, that’s the girls name by the way, had gotten bound to the harp by a spell long ago, we were able to end that curse. Well, actually we didn’t, a lad named Tiny Tim did. He and she are now engaged to be married this spring. You can read more about their story in ‘The Case of the Three Fate’s’.”

I looked at my watch and noted the time. “Guess we can call it a day.” I said to Tiny. “Remember, mums the word on this book of yours. We don’t need to upset Terri if we don’t have too, get me. Chances are we’ll find out its all a bunch of hooey anyway and wont mean a thing.” Tiny smiled at my reassurance and stood up.

“You and Mary going to do anything special tonight?” He asked out of the blue. 

“Uh, not that I’m aware of.” I told him wondering what his angle was. “What for?”

“Jack!” He said shocked. “This is the one-week anniversary of our asking Terri and Mary to get engaged. You can’t let that go unnoticed.”

I thought about what he said and it did make sense. Dames had a tendency to place emotional ties to certain dates like that. I could see the yearly thing but week, month, six month, that to me was to much. But to a babe like Mary and Terri, it could mean the difference between a night of wild passionate sex or a miserable lonely night on the couch. I’d play it safe.

“Your right big guy.” I told him. “Thanks for the heads up.” I headed over to the local flower shop and picked up a nice arraignment of Roses in a pink vase. Then I got a bottle of pink Zinfandel with a pink bow tied around it. Did I mention her favorite color is pink? I then headed home.

Thanks to Tiny’s timely advice, it was to be the bed tonight for Mary had made a special meal with dim lights, candles and romantic music. Seeing the flowers and bottle of wine, she jumped into my arms and planted a wet one to my lips. “Oh Jack! You did remember.” She cried, her blue eyes watering up. I almost dropped the vase and wine when she plowed into me, her arms on my neck, and her lips on mine.

Her golden hair was down framing her soft face, her blue eyes sparkling, her lips ripe. The outfit she wore, what there was of it consisted of a pink apron and nothing else, man she was hot looking.

The meal she made, or tried too, was some kind of meat. What she did to it was a crime; I should tell you that we eat out quite a lot. Knowing that she worked very hard on this dinner though, I sat down and choked not one but two helpings down smiling and mmming the whole time. Mary I’m sure wised up after taking her first bite. She made a most unusual face, then artful took her napkin and pretending to cough spit it out. She stuck with the salad for the rest of her meal. I would have laughed if my stomach wasn’t in such turmoil. I sure hoped we had a bottle of that Pink stuff in the medicine cabinet.

After the meal and a quick trip to the john, I helped Mary do the dishes; she washed while I dried. I couldn’t resist occasionally patting her little bare bottom affectionately. I never realized how sexy an apron could be on a dame, especially when her only other clothing was her birthday suit.

“How was your day Jack?” She asked. Setting her washcloth to the side, she turned and embraced me, kissing me deeply; god did she smell good. I wondered if it was a perfume or her natural scent.

“So-so.” I replied vaguely, not wanting the conversation to drift into the area of Tiny and his potential problem with Terri. “I had Tiny check into a story I read in the paper this morning.” I told her. “It concerned an old lady who lived in a house made out of bread.”

“You mean Gingerbread?” She asked to my surprise.

“Uh, yeah.” I replied stunned that she knew the difference. “You know the old bird?”

“Old lady Hazel.” She informed me. “She’s a witch you know. Been living back in the woods far as long as I can remember. Mom says she’s hundreds of years old.”

“A real witch?” I inquired. “As in, big nose with wart, flying on a broom, kind of witch?”

“Pretty much.” She confessed. “Although I haven’t seen her face up close in a long long time so I’m not sure of the big nose and wart? I suppose she could have though.”

“Hmm.” I pondered. “Tiny said she flew around on a broom too.” I told her. “I thought he was pulling my leg, you know; kind of kidding around.”

“Oh he wasn’t fibbing.” She said, her eyes sparking as she snuggled closer to me. “I’ve seen her flying around the pasture at night in the summer time, Terri has too.” She looked up into my penetrating eyes and cocked her head in thought. “What was the story about?”

“Seems someone’s been giving her a hard time.” I replied. “Kids most likely,” I went on. “Tiny has been out there already and has confirmed teeth marks and hand prints allover the joint. The old dame seems pretty irate about the whole thing too.” I told her about the threat she made in the paper claiming she’d cast some kind of voodoo witch spell.

“Oh my.” Mary said. “I can’t remember ever hearing one of her spells ever working like they were supposing to. That’s why she lives by herself in the woods in the first place. I think the other witches think she’s a disgrace.” She added. “Poor Hazel.” She said, laying her head back on my chest. “Some one should help her.”

Seizing the opportunity I hinted that that was the very reason I had sent Tiny out to check on her story; see if it was on the up-and-up, I told her squeezing her soft frame even closer. Her eyes brightened and I gave her a kiss.

The rest of the night went pretty much like you probably imagined. Mary discarded her apron claiming it was to hot and I followed her lead ripping mine off in record time. The workout she gave me was intense and pleasurable for the both of us but soon we cuddled and went to sleep in each other’s arms.

The next day I strolled into the office a couple hours later than normal. My partner in crime I noticed still hadn’t arrived and I wondered how his and Terri’s night went. Hmm. I sat down at my desk, pulled out my bottle of Scotch and poured my breakfast. Man was I tired. Opening the paper, I noticed the front-page headline. ‘Witch accused of kidnapping’.” It read. My eyes went wide and I read the following article.

“Long time local outcast and self proclaimed witch was accused of kidnapping two youths late last night. The kids in question, Hansel and Gretel, were said to be playing in the accused dwelling by the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Usliss Freeloaders. ‘We know that old hag took them’, the mother, Gertrude cried to reporters. She then fainted and would have hit the floor had her husband not caught her. ‘We’ll get them back.’ The father proclaimed to the reporters. The new DA is expected to bring her in for questioning. Oddly enough, the article went on to say, Hazel’s house was vandalized several times this week.

The hairs stood up on the back of my neck a sure sign there was much more to the parents claim than they were telling. I decided to pay Rocci a visit sooner than expected and maybe shoot over to this Hazel dames joint. There are always two sides to every story and I was beginning to smell like a rat in this one.

Tiny staggered in an hour later, his eyes bloodshot with dark bags under them. He looked like the walking dead and I told him so in not so many words. “How did your celebration go with Terri last night?” I asked with a grin. It was obvious he hadn’t slept much if at all and he sure looked it. Kind a like a weeklong drunk at Marty Gras only Tiny did it all in Ten hours.

He made it to his desk and plopped down in the hair. “Man Jack.” He mumbled, “I don’t know if I can keep up with her.”

“A dynamo, huh.” I chuckled. He nodded then laid his head down cradling his head in his massive arms, closed his eyes and proceeded to snore loudly. I shook my head, grabbed my hat and left him to recover. As a courtesy; I left the ‘We’re closed’, sign on the door and locked it.

Down town at the DA’s office, I saw a smorgasbord of news reporters clustered in one massive pack on the steps leading into the building; like vultures around a dead carcass. I grumbled to myself, readjusted my hat and stomped up though the middle of them with my fists clenched and ready to use. Did I mention reporters and me don’t get along? To my surprise, the pack split in two, like Moses with the Red Sea. To my delight, I continued on unhindered.

Half way through I over heard one slime bag say to another, “That’s the guy who gave Billy an enema with his own mike.” He whispered. I looked menacingly their way and the entire side stepped back even farther. Score one for the good guys, I thought. It was then that I realized this Billy character was that punk kid from, ‘The Little Ms. Muffet Case’. I heard through the grapevine that he still walks kind of funny like. As I scanned the pack, I noted that he wasn’t present.

Once inside I quickly headed to the top floor where Rocci’s new office was. Opening the double glass doors, I strolled nonchalantly over to the thin young kitten sitting behind her desk. The nameplate said Rachel Calico, Secretary. “Hi, ya toots.” I greeted her giving my best smiles. “Is Rocci in his cave?” I asked good-naturedly.

She looked up from her high-tech console, “Who may I say is calling?” She purred showing a nice set of pearly white teeth, eyes of gold and a little pink nose all framed by multi colored fur of white, brown, gray and black; truly stunning.

“The names Jack, toots; Jack Vine.”

“Oh yes.” She replied sweetly. “Mr. Raccoon said you’d probably be dropping by, Please go right on in.” I wondered how Rocci had known I was coming; not that it really mattered much. I shrugged and did as the skirt had indicated stepping through the highly polished oak and teak doors.

Inside I saw Rocci’s new office was the Ritz to say the least, with various blends of exotic woods forming paneling on all four walls. The ceiling was painted a rich shade of gold with raised scrollwork in an ornate pattern while the floor was a mixture of woods and stone pieces forming the state seal and the words ‘Justice for all’. It was meant to overwhelm the average Joe; to me it was just another waste of taxpayer’s hard-earned dough.

“Hi ya doing Jack?” Rocci asked from behind his massive desk. “Long time no see.” He chuckled with a grin, his eyes framed in a mask of black. What he said wasn’t quite true of coarse having worked on the ‘Ms. Muffet case’ not that long ago. He stood up to his full height of Five feet and some change, strolled around the dark desk and offered me a glass with amber colored liquid in ice; it wasn’t tea. One thing about Rocci, he was a class act always.

“Not bad Sport.” I replied taking the offered glass and sipping it. I watched as Rocci turned around and took a seat in one of two leather chairs; he turned it to face the other, I did likewise and got comfortable. “Looks like you you’ve moved up in the world. I said. “This pads a real cat’s pajamas. Wont be long and you’ll be top dog, huh.” Rocci gazed around his office grinning as he did so.

“Not bad for a Joe like me, eh!” He chuckled. “Beats the heck out of my flatfoot days walking in the gutters. Those were times tough, plenty.”

“Sweet cheeks in the outer office tells me I was expected. I said, taking another sip from my glass; so what gives?”

“Oh I had a man watching Hazel’s house for the past couple of days”. Rocci replied. “He informed me your partner, had been out there snooping around yesterday. Figured you’d eventually show up here sooner or later.”

“Two days huh.” I replied. That means he must have been out there when those two kids were supposedly snatched then, right?” Rocci grinned but didn’t confirm my statement. Our eyes locked and I saw a spark in his eyes. He knew a lot more about this case than I did, that was a no brainer, and whether he’d fill me in was the question of the day. He surprised me by changing the subject.

“Heard you and Tiny are both giving up the bachelor life.” He said, his grin getting bigger. “Mary’s quite a dish you know.”

“I rolled my eyes, seeing he obviously wanted to play twenty questions; I figured I’d play along for a bit. “I suppose.” I answered waiting to see what his angle was.

“Yep!” He repeated. “Quite a dish.” He began to swirl the contents in his glass waiting to see what I’d say next. He didn’t have to wait long.

“Look sport.” I growled, irritated at the game. “You know I’ve been seeing her for some time now. Ain’t like its been a secret; and she’s over eighteen, so what’s your beef? If you got something on me spit it out.” I was annoyed and getting more so as his game went on. I wasn’t sure if I was going to play much longer.

Rocci burst out laughing nearly spilling his drink in the process. “No, no Jack”, he said, holding out his hand to settle me down. “It’s not like that at all. It’s just that… He paused for a brief moment; I guess to figure out how he wanted to put his next line, the smirk on his face never leaving. “It’s just that I’m privy to information that Joe public isn’t, me being the new DA and all. Thanks in part to you by the way.”

I noted the implied gratitude and eased off a bit but only a little. I was after all playing pissed. I didn’t know where this conversation was going nor how long he was going to take to get there. Rocci was like that; always drawing things out well past the time he should have just said his piece. I did let him ramble a bit longer though due mostly to the fact that the Scotch we were drinking was very good. I did look at my watch however hoping he’d get my drift.

“Information that even you don’t know;” He continued. “It does concern you however.” He emptying his glass and setting it down. “Or, at least Mary anyways. Would you like to know what it is?”

His grin was so big as to be painful; he was also enjoying this a lot. “I don’t know.” I replied, do I?” this was ware most people would spill the beans, with Rocci, I couldn’t be sure.

“Only if you’d be interested to know that your girlfriend is a rich dame.” He said. “Her sister too, for that matter”

“What are you talking about?” I demanded leaning forward abruptly and nearly spilling my own drink. “You know Mary and Terri are both nothing more that caretakers for a bunch of sheep. Ain’t no money in that racket.”

“True.” He replied picking up the Scotch bottle and refilling his glass. He looked my way and briefly waited. I downed the rest of my glass and held it out in response; he refilled me and set the bottle back down. “Their parents are however, or will be very soon. Did you know that Charlie owned stock?” He eyed me and sat back in his chair. “Several thousand shares actually, in a small time textile business to be exact.” He was sure enjoying himself; I let him go on. “It was recently acquired by a much larger conglomerate you see; his shares are now worth quite a bit more.”

“Oh!” I asked my curiosity peeked. “How much more?”

“Some where in the ballpark of thirty mill,” he smirked. My eyes nearly shot out of their sockets.

“Holy cow!” I exclaimed. “Do Mary and Terri know about this?”

“I doubt it.” Rocci replied lifting his head and thinking for a moment. “This has all gone down rather quickly. In fact I’m not even sure Charlie and Clare are aware it’s a done deal. Heck I just found out for sure just an hour ago myself. Planned on going over to congratulate them this after noon.”

I sat back and mulled over this new information. A little voice in the back of my head wondered if this was somehow connected with those missing kids and the old dame in the woods. “What are the odds you’re holding back on me.” I asked, eyeing him intently. His smile grew bigger but he remained silent. “U-huh, I answered my own question. “You planning on filling me in or should I just blunder around, maybe even mess something up you don’t want me to.” I could see he was considering my statement.

He leaned back farther in his chair propping his feet up on the edge of the expensive desktop. “Hmm.” He pondered my statement for a few moments. Finally, he looked me in the eyes. “You know Charlie’s last name of course.”

I nodded; I was after all dating his daughter. “Sawyer.” I replied for the record. “Why’s that important?”

“Do you know the old lady in the woods last name?” The smirk returned with a vengeance.

“You’re kidding.” I said my jaw nearly hitting the floor. That Hazel dame is related to Mary’s dad?” I asked not really needing an answer. Rocci provided one anyway.

“I believe she’s his great aunt.” He told me. With a few more greats added on for good measures. You do know she’s suppose to be a witch don’t you?”

I rubbed my hand down my face and took a deep breath. “Someone mentioned that a time or two.” I informed him. “What’s she got to do with Charlie being rich?” I asked.

“She’s the one who has the stocks.” He said. “Some of them are hers I’m told; probably half. They both pooled their money a long time ago and bought the stock in question. She’s been keeping them at her place in the woods all this time.”

“Does she know about the stock buyout?” I inquired.

“The company that bought out that smaller company has communicated with her about a week ago.” He said. “Fact is, a day or so later some one tried to break into her place. Tried again the next day too, this time vandalizing her house. Appears to have been kids but…”

“But she didn’t think so and she called on you.” I finished for him. “And you had a man out there keeping an eye on the place because of the previous attempt., right?” Rocci grinned then continued his narrative.

“My man observed four shadowy figures slinking around the premises. Two appeared to be adults while the other two, younger adolescences.”

“The newspaper article claims only two missing kids.” I proclaimed. “What happened with the two adults?”

“They had disappeared around the back while the kids headed to the front porch.” He explained. “But before he could react, Ms. Sawyer, aka, witch Hazel, heard the kids ripping more stuff off the house and eating it, stormed out the front door and started yelling at the little brats to leave. They basically ignored her, being in a state of sugar-induced lust. The taller suspects, probably the parents of the two brats, must have heard the commotion and beelined it for the woods.

“And the kids.” I asked. “What happened to them?”

“Hansel and Gretel Freeloader, aka the kids in question, were easily apprehended by my man.” Rocci told me. “Didn’t even try to run; my man simply cuffed the both of them and drove them here. I still have them on ice down in Juvenile. They’ve told us they were suppose to be looking for the stocks,” he went on to elaborate, “but got sidetracked. How the parents found out about the stocks, I haven’t determined yet.”

I smiled and slid my now empty glass back over for another refill; he obliged me. “So the parents got away did they?” I said as an idea forming in my head made me grin. “Maybe we can do something about that.” I pitch my idea to Rocci , who I saw mirrored my grin.

“Your something Jack.” He chuckled. “ A real card. He then raised his glass and said, “Here’s to crime.”

“And those who stop it.” I finished for him.

We drove out to Hazel Sawyer’s Gingerbread house out in the woods and pitched the dame our idea. She agreed but only after arguing with herself for half an hour. I saw what Tiny had meant about her split personality. She eventually disappeared back into the house then came back out to the porch we were standing on and handed me a small metal box.

“I’m trusting you boys on account of what my incubus tells me. “She whispered. “I’m not altogether sure of your intent gentleman but Sasha hasn’t steered me wrong since she came to me years ago.”

I scratched my head wondering who this Sasha dame was and what her relevance was with this daffy dame. “Hmm.” I mumbled but decided to keep quiet. This bird was way out there.

“I’m going to warn you both,” she went on to say, “if your planning on pulling a fast one on me I’ll hex you something terrible understand?”

“Not to worry.” Rocci reassured the old hag. “This here is Mary’s fiancé, Ms. Sawyer.” He informed her. “He’s a good guy all the way.”

Her eyes lit up looking me over. “Your little Mary’s Beau?” She asked happily. “I didn’t realize she was of marrying age. Why it only seems like yesterday I bounced her on my knee. Did you hear that Sasha?” She said turning to her left and talked to no one. I looked over at Rocci who shrugged his shoulders. “No!” She exclaimed in surprise; “You don’t say.” She turned back and faced me, her eyes sparkling like Mary’s did. “Little Terri is getting marred too.” How she knew that I couldn’t guess and I was leery to ask figuring I mightn’t like the answer. This lady was definitely giving me the willies.

“Was that big fella that came out here the other day, Little Terri’s catch?” She asked. “Good looking sort of man; a big’un though. Is he a giant by chance?”

“Uh, Yes Mame.” I told her on both accounts. I was one-step closer to believing she really was a witch.

“Oh but I am a witch.” She replied to my unsaid thought. “Not the best mind you, but a certified witch of the realm.” She insisted proudly.

“Ok.” I responded, figuratively stepping back to where I was moments before.

“Mary and Terri both engaged to be married.” She said dreamily. “Where has all the time gone?” She asked aloud. “Seems like only yesterday that I came over on that boat with that nice young Spaniard.” she babbled on. “Chris I believe his name was. Yes, that’s it Chris Columbus.” She eyed me with a wicked smirk on her face and said to the both of us. “ Sasha, you know really had the hots for that one.” She winked and turned to her left again. “Well you were!” She told the air next to her.

“Uh, yeah.” I replied wanting to get things back on tracked. “What say we move our little act along, shall we.” She nodded and took a big breath.

“Oh thank you so much!” She said louder than she needed to while placing a hand dramatically across her forehead. “I feel much better letting you keep my shares of stocks in your safe Mr. Vine. I’ve been so worried someone might try and steel them from me.”

Boy was she hamming it up I thought; Bogart she wasn’t. She smiled at me and winked, I could still see that sparkle in her eyes reminiscent of Mary’s and had to grin back She did have spunk I’ll give her that, I concluded to myself. Rocci and me eventually headed back to the car but not before the old dame pulled one more over on us. As we walked away, I distinctly heard two separate voices call out us. “See you later boys / Yeah see ya soon Rocci.” I quickly turned back around only to see Hazel waving meekly.

“Guess I should have warned you about the old gal.” Rocci chuckled. “She’s really a nice old lady when you get use to her unusual eccentricities.” He said. “Actually I find her interesting.”

“Sure, sport,” I replied. Letting that subject drop, I asked him if he thought the parents of two little brats would take the bait.

“We’ll see.” He replied. “We’ll see.”

Back at the office, I woke Tiny up from his dose. He was still a bit groggy, a sure sign Terri had put him through one tough workout. Handing him a cup of the black bean brew extra strong I informed him of the latest scoop on the Gingerbread case and the facts leading up to the present. Even the one about the old bird knowing Terri and Tiny were engaged.

“It was just like you said.” I told him. “She kept who-hawing as if someone was standing next to her. Claims it was some spirit type skirt named Sasha.” I shook my head and rolled my eyes just to let Tiny know I wasn’t really prepared to buy the act just yet. “Not sure how much of that was true versus imagined but the old gal did seem to know things I can’t quite explain. What do you think?” I asked him.

Tiny rubbed his jaw in thought, “Well I didn’t say anything to her about Terri,” he replied, “and that’s a fact. Maybe this whole witch thing is for real, ya know. Like she’s been telling us. Mary and Terri both claim they’ve seen her flying around at night so who’s to say the rest ain’t true too.

“Well, anyways,” I went on, putting the old dame’s story on the back burner, “Rocci and me decided to see if we could set a trap for those Gretel, Hansel parents. I believe their last name is Freeloaders. Fitting name wouldn’t you say?” He grinned and nodded; I did so too.

“So we going to keep these stocks of hers here in the safe?” He asked me. “Then wait and see if they show up to snatch them.”

“Yes and No.” I replied with a slight grin. “There’s nothing in that metal box but a bunch of cut up newspapers. We didn’t need the real McCoy’s so I told the hag to just fill it up with paper.” Tiny eyed me but remained silent. “Not to worry old buddy.” I said. “I understand she has the real ones stashed real good like.” I handed him the box and indicated for him to stash it in the safe, he did so and turned my way with eyes that asked me what was next.

“Now we turn the lights out, lock up and drive off as if we was going home.”

“Then come around to the back?” He speculated.

“Not before meeting up with Rocci.” I replied. “Then we park one street over and hoof it.” Tiny cocked his head so I explained further. “No point in advertising we’re still hear by leaving our cars in the ally.” I told him. “Probably be the same way they’ll do themselves, see.” He nodded and we grabbed our hats and left as planned.

It only took a few minutes to pick up Rocci; inside of ten we were once more in our office. This time however the lights remained off. We each took a spot on the corners crouching down behind whatever piece of furniture was handy and got as comfortable as one could on a stakeout.

[CREAK]

My eyes popped open having briefly dozed off. I berated myself for my previous night of fun in the sack with Mary vowing it wouldn’t happen again; yeah right. Looking down at my Casio watch, I noted the time on the luminescent dial, 3:20 AM it read. Hearing the same noise as before, I looked over to the window noticing a shadowy form working on the frosted pain of glass. Wait, I then realized, that glass wasn’t frosted at all but was a layer of grim built up over the years of neglect. I made a mental note to myself to call a window cleaning service soon.

Moment’s later two forms climbed noiselessly through the opened window. The prowlers then split up, the smaller one heading to the desks while the other moved silently to the wall with the bookshelf. They held very small flashlight with a dim tight beam to see with. For the most part the room still remained dark and I was impressed with their technique. The one nearest me slide his hand up and down the shelf feeling each book, he stopped when he found what he was looking for and pulled the false door open. I frowned having timed how long it took him, 23 seconds. Hmm. Another mental note, move safes location. With in 30 seconds making a total of some 53 seconds the safe door was opened and the contents in his hands. That’s when Rocci flipped on the light switch.

Caught in the act the first burglar, Mrs. Gertrude Freeloader, instinctively made a dash for the window dropping the contents of Tiny’s desk drawer. Tiny had stepped in front of her escape route however and the stick like woman bounced off like a beach ball against a brick wall. The man, Mr. Usliss Freeloader, raised his hand high over his head. “Don’t shoot!” He cried.

Rocci held his 38 snub-nose special casually in his right hand. “Mr. and Mrs. Freeloaders.” he said in an even tone. “You are both under arrest for unlawful breaking and entry, and attempted burglary.” He strolled over to the man and patted his pockets finding a small hand pistol. “Lets add armed robbery to that list.” He grinned. Nodding over at Tiny, who, likewise reliever the crow of her weapon, it was a lady’s two shot Derringer. “Looks like you two just bought yourselves an eight by ten room in the federal pen.” He chuckled.

The next day Rocci had everyone involved meet at his office. I was there with Mary along with Tiny and Terri. Charlie, Clare and Hazel strolled in an hour later. Rocci then filled everyone in on what went down earlier that morning as well as the details on the Freeloaders. “They somehow got wind of the stock acquisition,” he told Charlie and Hazel, “and decided to help to get in on the deal. A shame too for they’ll be locked up for a long time. Those little brats of theirs will probably end up at juvenile and spend some time doing community service for their part. Serves the punks right.” He finished.

“All’s well that ends well.” He told me and handed me a glass of the same Scotch we had previously. “Mmm,” it was good. I looked over to Tiny intending on asking if he’d like a drink to. He had a look on his face as he eyed me, gazed over at Terri, then back to me. I got the message loud and clear pulling Rocci over into the corner for a private jaw session.

“Say Rocci.” I stated, “What can you tell me about this?” I pulled out the old pamphlet and handed it to him, he seemed very curious as he first looked over the cover then scanned some of the pages. “Hmm,” he said as he pondered what he read. “Don’t know what to tell you Jack. Seems pretty old though; you sure its still a valid copy?” Just then, Hazel snuck up on us. She sure was a sneaky old gal.

“You might as well throw that relic away.” She cackled in that way she had. “That copy is so out dated it isn’t even funny. Only one that thinks that is still good is that goof of a Giant Tek; then again, he still thinks it’s the 1700’s. Lands-sakes, that pamphlet has been revised at least five or six times that I know of.” She then turned to the air next to her and said, “What’s that?” followed by, “I do?” with a frown, she looked down at the pocket in her dress and patted it. Reaching in she pulled out what looked to be the same book Rocci still held in his hand, only newer. “Why, your right Sasha; I do have one on me, how strange.” She handed it over to Tiny who took it. “Sasha says to tell you what you want to know is still on the first page.” She whispered confidentially. Tiny looked down at the cover: ‘The Giants Guide To Marriage revision 9’. His eyes going wide he opened the book and read.

He then got a smile bigger than any I’d ever seen on him, “What’s the story?” I asked, probably as curious as the rest.

“All right!” he cried ignoring or not hearing me. Instead, he enthusiastically turned to Hazel, picked the old girl off her feet and planted a kiss of gratitude to her lips. My eyes went wide for with that kiss both Tiny and Hazel were enveloped in ball of pure light. When it faded, Tiny held not an old hag but a young and quite beautiful girl still in the same dress. I rightly concluded that magic had occurred and the dame still in Tiny’s arms was Hazel. “What the H…” Tiny stopped himself, realizing the girl in his arms was quite young and quickly set her down.

It was Rocci who spoke next; well, babble would be more accurate. “Mmmiss Hazel, he stuttered, his eyes bulging out. Yyyour gggorgious!”

I had to agree the old hag truly was one hot looking cookie. Rocci I saw was clearly stuck on the tomato. He stepped up to her and with a jittery squeak to his voice asked her out.

“Would you care to, you know, maybe like grab o bit or something?” he stumbled. It was the first time I ever saw him at a loss for a swell line and found it funny.

Blushing she reached out and took his hand in hers. “Why, I think I’d like that.” she responded with a smile. It was one of those smiles one girl let another see to show off a fella. I assumed that since Mary, Terri and Clare were still occupied on the other side of the room that I would have to do. I guess that was swell at that. I’d have to give Mary the buzz later of course.

Charlie was the next to say something having caught the transformation out of the corner of his eye. “Is that you Aunt Hazel?” he asked somewhat surprised but not nearly as Rocci had been. “First time one of your spells actually worked.” he chuckled as the he and the others came over.

“Well, actually,” she whispered to Charlie, though everyone could clearly hear, “I believe this was Sasha’s doing.”

“Well you can thank her for me.” Rocci blurted foolishly.

Hazel blushed under his increasingly bold stare. “Shall we go?” she asked him coyly. Rocci turned his head just before the door closed and grinned to me.

“Well toots,” I said to Mary, “What say we head home for another one of your special meals.”

“Um, Well Jack.” she answered with a frown, “lets just get some Chinese take-home and jump in bed; OK?”

“Anything you say, Blue-eyes.” I told her with as straight a face as I could. “Anything you say.”

THE END

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