by Gary R. Hoffman
Mystery writer Gary Hoffman shares with KRL a never before published St. Patrick’s Day mystery short story!
It started out as a normal St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the town of Southern, Missouri, but before it was all over, four people ended up being treated at the Anderson Mental Hospital in Columbia. And of those four, three were under arrest for attempted grand theft. As for the rest of the people in Southern, St. Patrick’s Day would never be the same. What had seemed to be “legend” at one time now appeared to be “truth.”
But the real story started at least eight weeks before March 17. That may actually not be accurate either. Attitudes of the people involved were instilled in a series of ongoing events over a period of years.
“Look, we got nothin’ to really worry about. Half the people in town will be drunk, and the other half will be working to control the smashed half. Even if someone sees some leprechauns running around town, they’ll think we’re just dressed up for the celebration.” Wayne tipped up his long-neck bottle of Bud and took another swig. “Ahhh!” He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and then snickered. “Besides, even if someone reports they saw leprechauns doing something wrong, who’s gonna believe them? The cops would probably haul them in for being drunk.” He laughed.
“So where does this happen again?” Fred asked.
“Down in Southern. Southern School of Mines. Big engineering school. St. Patrick was supposed to be the first engineer, so they throw a big bash on St. Patrick’s Day. College lets out for the day, and the townspeople and college kids usually carry it into the weekend, so I figure by Saturday night we can go in and take anything we want. And, what I want is those diamonds out of O’Brien’s Jewelry.”
“I guess you know we’re not built like leprechauns,” Mike said.
“And just how many people in the world do you think know that? We’re about the same height, so that’s all they’re gonna see.” Wayne and his friends had stopped to drink a beer on their way home from an LPA meeting, Little People of America. They had long talked about pulling off something that would make them rich, and Wayne had now developed a plan. “We rent the green outfits or something, start growing our beards now, and we’re in business, and O’Brien is out of business.”
“So just how do we get in this jewelry store?”
Wayne smiled. “Did you forget what I do for a living? I sell and install alarm systems for Pride Security Company. O’Brien refused to buy an alarm system from me. Said he had a good enough one. But, believe me, it’s old and outdated. I can disarm an alarm like his in nothing flat.”
He took a sip of beer. “Bastards at Pride only hired me because of my size anyway. They make me crawl in all the little tight spaces. They don’t give a damn about my knowledge of alarm systems.” He took another drink of beer and drained the bottle. He held up three fingers to tell the waitress to bring three more. “But they’ll think differently after March 17!”
“Well, I’m for it. I’m tired of all this shit of getting pushed around because of my size,” Mike said.
“Granted, people don’t push me around physically, but they sure make all kinds of excuses when I go in for job interviews.”
“I can agree with that,” Fred said. “It’s not our fault we were born the way we are. Some people make it rough and don’t even realize what they are doing. They’re trying to be nice, but they can sure screw that up. I say we go for it.”
“Here, here,” Fred and Mike chimed in. They clinked bottles and each took a long drink.
The following Wednesday night at their After LPA meeting, Fred reported that he had found a seamstress in Kansas City who would make the leprechaun outfits for them, right down to the hats. Wayne and Mike gave him their measurements and enough money to cover the cost of their new “uniforms.”
The following Saturday, Wayne drove down to Southern and picked up maps of the town. He also drove around looking at the actual layout of the town and the relationship of O’Brien’s to everything else. He mapped out a getaway route and several alternate plans. He presented his findings at the next After meeting.
For the next eight weeks, plans for the assault on O’Brien’s was the main topic of the After meetings. St. Patrick’s Day was on a Friday, so Wayne returned to Southern the Sunday before to see what plans were being made for the celebration. He wanted to double check on which streets were going to be closed off for beer gardens or vendors and other information that might be helpful to them.
Their final After meeting was held at Wayne’s house so they could all try on their new green suits. They all agreed they couldn’t look much more like leprechauns.
The following Saturday at 8 p.m., they piled in Wayne’s car and headed for Southern. Once they got to the town, the traffic was a snarled mess, but they finally made it to the place where Wayne had wanted to park. Just as he had suspected, few cars were there because it was back behind a row of stores.
All three men stepped out of the car and looked around for any people who might be in the area. They found none. “Ok,” Wayne told them, “as soon as we cut the electric, we’ve got ten minutes to get into the store and disable the alarm. Should be a piece of cake.”
“Wait,” Fred said. “You guys hear that?”
“Hear what?” Mike asked.
“That tapping sound. Sounds like someone using a small hammer to make something.”
“Hey, come one,” Wayne said. “You’ve read enough about leprechauns you think you’re hearing sounds like they make.”
“Well, I heard it!”
“Come on over here,” Wayne told the other two. “I need to stand on your shoulders so I can reach the electric meter.”
Fred and Mike squatted down so Wayne could get on their shoulders easier. They then straightened up, and he was high enough he could reach the meter. He cut the wire lock on the meter and pulled it out. The meter slipped from his hand. It crashed to the ground.
“Geez, Wayne. Wake up the dead,” Fred said.
“Not a problem. No one’s around to hear us. Get me down from here.”
Wayne started to slide down using his two friends, but he slipped and started to fall backwards. Someone caught him from behind, but immediately dropped him on the ground. He knew his two friends were still in front of him, so he looked behind him to see who was there. He saw no one. He shook his head and wondered how come he was seeing and feeling things. He got on his knees to get up, and someone kicked him square in the butt. He sprawled out on the ground again. “What the hell are you guys doin’?”
“Hey, we ain’t done nothin’. You fell again,” Fred said. He held out his hand to help Wayne up. Wayne quickly moved on to pry open the back door. The jewelry store owners weren’t too picky about strong doors because of their perfect alarm system, so the door came open very easily.
Once the door was open, Wayne went immediately to the alarm box he remembered seeing and opened it. With a couple turns of a screwdriver, the alarm was disabled and would not send a silent signal out to the police department.
“Who’s standing over there in the corner of the store?” Fred asked with a bit of panic in his voice.
“Must be some sort of advertisement, one of those cut-out things,” Wayne answered. He turned to look at it, but he could see nothing. “You drink some before we started out?” he asked Fred.
“Hell, no! I’m tellin’ ya there was somebody standing over in that corner.”
“So what did they do, just vanish?”
“I guess they did.”
“Come on. Knock off that kind ‘a crap. Get them bags over here so we can start filling them. You did bring the bags in, didn‘t you, Fred?”
“No, I thought Mike did.”
“Well, I didn’t.”
“Fred, go back out to the car and get the damned bags, will you? We don’t have all night here, you know.”
Fred left, and Mike and Wayne started prying locks off of display cabinets. Fred quickly came running back into the store. “There’s two guys out in the alley dressed just like we are, and they have the bags. They’re playing keep-away with them. They wouldn’t let me have them.”
“What? Am I going to have to do all of this?” Wayne squealed out. “I’ll go get the damned bags.” When he got to the car, he couldn’t find the bags in the back seat. As he was peering into the car, the door slammed on his hand. “Holy crap!” he yelled out and started shaking his hand. He heard his own voice echoing through the alley. He saw a light go on in the house on the other side of the alley. “Son-of-a-bitch!” he said, still shaking his hand. His hand started swelling and throbbing. It was then he saw a police car coming down the alley.
He turned to run, but tripped over someone’s foot. From the ground, he looked up to see a leprechaun staring back at him. The policeman jumped out of his car. He was holding a riot gun in front of him. “Ok, both of you hold it!” He walked over to the leprechaun and poked him in the side with the gun. “Put both of your hands behind you.” He then looked down at Wayne. “On your feet.” He turned back to the leprechaun, but he was gone. “What the hell?” He looked back at Wayne. “Where’d he go?”
“He was right here. He couldn’t just vanish into thin air.”
“Looks like he did. Maybe he really was a leprechaun.”
“So what are you supposed to be?” the policeman asked Wayne.
“Not that kind of leprechaun.”
Fred came stumbling from the back of the store. He was being held by a leprechaun. “What the hell?” the cop said. “Both of you. Stop right there.” He turned to Wayne. “And you, stay put.” He turned back to Fred and the other leprechaun, but only Fred was standing there. “Where’d he go? Where’d he go?”
“Man, I’d give worlds to know,” Fred said, collapsing on the ground.
They all heard a loud scream coming from inside the store. “Now what?” the cop asked.
Mike came running out of the store holding his head. “One of those little green jerks hit me in the head with a hammer.”
“You, in the store, come on out!” the cop yelled. Of course, no one came out. Another police car came up the alley from the opposite direction. Two more cops jumped out. “You need help, Peterson?”
“Yeah, there’s six of these guys who broke into the jewelry store.”
The other two cops looked around. “So where’s the other three?”
“I got no idea. They keep disappearin’ on me!”
The two cops looked at each other. “You ain’t been down sippin’ some of that green beer at the beer garden, have you, Peterson?”
“No, I’m tellin’ ya, every time I take my eyes off them for a second, they disappear.”
“Peterson, come on over here and sit down in our squad car. I don’t think you need to be driving.”
“Honest, Brady, I know what I’ve seen.”
“He’s seen some craziness here, that’s for sure,” Wayne said.
“You’ve seen people disappearing, too?”
Wayne said nothing. “Well, I sure have,” Fred said.
Wayne, Fred, Mike and Peterson were all loaded into a police van and taken to Anderson Mental Hospital in Columbia for observation. Mr. O’Brien was called down to the store. He looked at his torn up lock on the door. He assured everyone he would take care of it.
When everyone was gone, he took a small pouch out of his pocket and extracted a few particles of silver dust. He threw it at the lock, and the lock looked better than brand new. As he was locking his door for the second time for the day, he looked in before he closed it. “Thanks, boys,” he said. Mr. Loughery O’Brien of Tipperary, town of Thurles, locked his door, did a slight jump to click his heels together, and went home for the night secure in the knowledge he had the best alarm system of any other building in town.