by Barbara Schlichting
Enjoy this never before published Halloween mystery short story. Check out more Halloween short stories, with more still to come, in our Terrific Tales section.
My Jingle Dancer figurine was missing!
From the moment I walked into my store I knew something was wrong. I had a small collection of small, antique dolls with historic and cultural significance. Now my collection of figurines arrayed on the glass shelf in the window, was smaller by one, my Jingle Dancer.
I knew better than to touch anything, I’m married to a cop. First, I called the police station and reported the theft. Then I called Aaron’s cellphone and told him what had happened. He always worries about how valuable my various collections are.
“Honey, my Jingle Dancer figurine is missing.”
I heard him suck in his breath.
“Be right there!”
Only twenty-four hours earlier, my previous workday had begun as sedately as Halloween can be.
The business phone rang for my store. I answered, “Good morning! Liv Reynolds, owner of the First Ladies White House Dollhouse Store. How may I help you?”
It was someone looking for directions, which I happily gave.
I realized that today was going to be a busy one. I took a look outside the front window. It wouldn’t be long before the streets would be flooded with young and old dressed in costumes and stopping by for a ‘treat’. Since the street was void of costumed people, I decided it was time to change into my costume.
I had wanted to sew an inaugural ball gown similar to Edith Roosevelt’s since I’d graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School. I decided against dressing in it due to lack of time. Instead, I’d purchased a Ranger uniform, similar to what had been worn in the early days of the National Park System. Much to my satisfaction, the costume matched what was once worn at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a favorite park of mine.
After dressing, I made sure that a bowl of bite size Snickers bars was set on top of the showcase. I also placed a signup sheet for new customers beside it. The showcase displayed my collection of historical small dolls and figurines, including the Jingle Dancer. Jingle dancing is a Native American tradition of the Ojibwe people, and I was so lucky to have the doll. It was left to me by Irene Greenleaf, an elder of a local Native American Indian reservation. She told me before she died that with my knowledge of antiques I would know what best to do with it.
Costumed tricksters burst into my store throughout the late afternoon with the younger tricksters arriving first. As it grew dark older children, along with a few young adults, were out for a good time. The door chimed as four giggling young women dressed up as classic cartoon women entered. Betty Boop and Olive Oyl I recognized, but not the others.
“Betty, you and the other ladies look marvelous,” I said, greeting them.
“Thanks,” replied Betty Boop. She nodded toward the others, “Let me introduce, Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend, Minnie Mouse, Mickey’s girlfriend, and Petunia, Porky Pig’s girlfriend.” Betty look down. “Oh, every girl has a boyfriend except poor little me.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Minnie,” I turned to the one dressed as the famous mouse. “I thought you and Mickey were married.”
“No, Mickey and I aren’t married.” Green eyes that sparkled with passion peeked out from behind her mask. They matched her red hair. “I blame Disney for it,” Minnie declared. “That rat.”
I decided to change the subject and turned to Olive Oyl. I had to look up, and up. My goodness, she was tall. A quick glance at the floor confirmed my suspicions-—heels, at least five inches.
She spoke before I could get a word out. “Popeye the Sailor Man and I aren’t married either, but we’re talking about it,” she winked.
I turned to Petunia the Pig. For someone dressed as a cartoon pig, the young woman had a beautiful mane of long black hair that cascaded down her back.
“Porky the Pig and I are engaged,” Petunia announced. “Really. He told me the ring is in the mail.”
We all giggled.
“Betty Boop, Tell us where you came from.”
“I’m an oldster. I made my first screen appearance in 1930,” she answered proudly. “I quickly became a star.”
“You certainly did! Do you all like history?”
“We’ve talked about coming here to look around for ages,” Betty Boop explained. She seemed to be the group’s leader. “We live not faraway. Our husbands are on the road an awful lot, so we chum together.”
“We love our doll houses and think your White House sets are wonderful,” Petunia said.
I thanked her. The fact is, I am very proud of my shop.
Petunia pointed at the window display. “I noticed the Jingle Dancer figurine in the showcase when we entered. Is it for sale?”
“Nope, it’s part of a collection I recently started.”
“It looks very old,” Petunia said.
“It is. It’s my prize piece.”
“It’s so beautiful.”
“Thank you. Would you like to see it?” I asked, motioning for her to follow me. I leaned over and unlocked the showcase, brought out the little doll. “Isn’t it beautiful?” I held it up so Petunia could get a better look.
“I’m envious,” Petunia said. “Is it easy to buy one?”
“Afraid not. They are sought after by collectors all over the country,” I noticed that the other girls were oohh-aww-ing my First Lady Edith Roosevelt dollhouse. “We better get back to the others.”
“Good idea. Thanks for showing me the doll,” Petunia said. She went to rejoin her cartoon character costumed friends.
“Enjoy and take your time looking around,” I called. The store door opened widely and a half-dozen young women escorted the same number of children wearing matching ghost costumes came in.
High-pitched cries of “Trick or treats!” echoed throughout the small showroom.
Another crowd of tricksters came in, kids old enough to go out trick or treating on their own. I only then realized I was still holding the jingle dancer figurine. I set it inside the showcase and grabbed the candy dish. With it in hand, I began passing around a bite sized chocolate bar to each child.
“You look like a Boy Scout,” a boy said.
“Thanks! You look like a spooky goblin,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of one of the kids going into the store’s workshop.
“Please don’t go back there,” I called. “That’s our workshop.”
The boy seemed startled that I had seen him and quickly turned away.
I looked back down at the spooky goblin and saw that he had been watching the other boy, too—a serious look on his face. Odd, I thought.
He realized I was watching him and tried to explain. “We’re in the same grade at Pillsbury.”
I knew that elementary school. It was near where I grew up.
“Why were you watching your schoolmate?” I asked.
Well,” he said. He looked like he was trying to gather the courage to tell me something, and at last he did.
“That kid, the one over there, well he’s always in trouble from the teacher ‘cause he steals stuff. He sits in timeout all the time. Mom has to watch him after school, so we’re together every afternoon. I guess I’m in the habit of watching him.”
“Have you ever caught him stealing something?”
“Oh, yeah,” the boy replied with surprising casualness. “All the time.”
“Well, what happens?” I was incredulous.
“Nothing. I tell him that I saw him, and he puts whatever it is back.” He leaned forward “I don’t think he actually wants any of stuff he takes. He just likes taking it.”
I was still trying to come up with an answer to this young Freud, when his other friends called, “Let’s go!”
The boy and his friends headed for the door, including the one who liked to steal.
For the next hour, a line of people in costume paraded through my store. Before I knew it, it was time to close for the day, and I had trouble ushering everyone out. After the door was secured, I turned the sign to read ‘closed’ and breathed a long sigh of relief.
There was one remaining bite-sized chocolate bar, and I relished it. The sugar gave me enough energy to put on my walking shoes and head for home.
The short walk took only fifteen minutes, but sadly, I arrived to an empty house. My policeman husband, Aaron, had asked to work late because of a recent string of neighborhood burglaries. He wouldn’t be home for few hours.
I prepared my supper by throwing a frozen chicken pot pie into the microwave. I don’t cook much because I tend to burn things. Fortunately, Aaron is a great cook. We split our household chores that way, too. I cleaned up the kitchen and did laundry. He vacuumed and took care of the bathroom. It was a great setup. Aaron wants us to have kids. I am not sure if the baby would survive me as a mother, but I know Aaron would make a good father. I have to admit that I’ve been giving the idea a lot of consideration.
I wondered if I should I take cooking classes and if that would help.
I finished my dinner, still waiting for Aaron. I decided to take a quick shower. The garage door made its rumbling sound as I was slipping into my sweats, and I hurried downstairs to greet my handsome husband. We shared a kiss before pouring a glass of wine for me and beer for Aaron. We took our drinks to the comfy sofa in the living room where we told each other about how our days had gone.
Morning came and I was up and out the door with Aaron soon to follow.
There were a few minutes before the store opened, so I used the time to straighten up the dolls and houses. The crowds from the day before had managed to make everything out of order. Edith Roosevelt’s house was a disaster. “Edith? You must do something about that husband of yours. Teddy keeps wrestling with them. That bear rug always knocks over furniture,” I scolded. Jackie Kennedy’s White House was next, especially the Rose Garden that she’d added to the White House.
When that bit of housekeeping was finished, I went to the backroom and found two new First Ladies heads, ready for their figures. My employee, Max, did all the carving. It wasn’t unusual to find his finished work left for me in the middle of the night as he likes to work late. He roomed upstairs, which was great because he kept close eye on the business during the off-hours.
These doll heads were of Eleanor Roosevelt and Mamie Eisenhower. Their husband’s heads were already carved. That morning it would be my job to paint them, and sew the inaugural ball gowns. All my first ladies wear gowns identical to the original, at least as much that is known and that I can make. Their husbands get store bought clothes. I laid out the paints I would need, along with my brushes and other tools. I couldn’t work on them right away, though I wanted, but I needed to check the store’s email and open the shop. I went out to the showroom and sat in front of the computer. From where I sat, the showcase in the middle was right in view—and there was something missing. I got up and slowly walked to the showcase and surveyed the dolls, though an empty spot near the front already betrayed the truth.
I had been robbed. I fought back tears and reached for my cell phone.
It wasn’t long before the police arrived and started fingerprinting the dolls, the cabinet doors, and pretty much everything else, based on the amount of fingerprint powder spread around my showroom.
When asked who had been in the store the day before, I almost laughed.
“Pretty much everyone in town, or so it seemed. And don’t ask me what people looked like. Almost everyone was in costume. I tried to remember who had shown an interest in the jingle dancers.”
“We’ll keep you updated,” an officer told me when we finished.
Aaron arrived as the other police officers left. He reminded me of what he’d told me the night before about the recent rash of robberies. “Halloween, costumes, how are we supposed to find them?”
“I forgot to report about the person asking for directions,” I said. “The number should still be in the phone, if you want to look it up.”
“Might as well.” Aaron pressed a few buttons to retrieve the number and wrote it down. “I’ll give it to the sergeant, he can pass it on to the detectives.”
Aaron headed to work, leaving me alone in the store. I wanted to go home and curl up in bed, but I had a store to run. I turned the sign to ‘open’ and unlocked the front door. Grandma found out about the break-in and brought me a thermos filled of hot chicken soup for lunch. It was her remedy for everything.
At the end of the day, as I went to turn the sign yet again, my cellphone buzzed. It was Aaron.
The case was solved when the thief walked into the police station and handed my Jingle Dancer figurine to the desk sergeant, explaining that they felt bad at having stolen it.
“Well,” I asked.
“Well, what,” Aaron teased.
“Well, who took it?”
It was the young woman dressed as Petunia, Porky Pig’s girlfriend. Her name was Patricia, and she had recognized the Jingle Dancer figurine from her childhood. Her grandmother was a friend of Irene Greenleaf, the tribal elder who willed it to me. Patricia grew up hearing stories about how when Irene was a little girl she would dress in a beautiful costume just like the doll’s and dance in the Jingle Circles with the other women of her tribe.
Unfortunately, the temptation to take the figurine and have a physical link to her childhood memories had been too great for her to resist.
I decided not to press charges since she brought the figurine to the police station and confessed. I considered her an honest thief, if that’s possible.
Irene Greenleaf told me that I would know what best to do with the antique figurines, and the old woman was right.
I gave it to Patricia.
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