by John M. Floyd
Trick Or Treat by John M. Floyd is the second of three original mystery/fantasy Halloween short stories going up this week! Enjoy!
The telephone and the doorbell rang at the same time. Retired schoolteacher Frances Valentine finished drying the last of her supper dishes, picked up the cordless phone, said “Hello,” and headed for the front door. It was just past seven o’clock.
“Mother?” said the voice on the phone line.
“Hold on, Lucy. I have visitors.”
A shrill chorus of “Trick or Treat, Miss Fran!” greeted her when she opened the door, along with half a dozen small, grinning faces. With the telephone held between her shoulder and her ear Fran dispensed six big handfuls of candy, waved to the costumed kids as they left, and closed the door.
“Now,” she said into the phone. “To what do I owe this honor?”
“You’re always telling me I should inform you about police business,” Lucy said. “Well, I’m informing you.”
Fran’s daughter Lucy Valentine was also Sheriff Valentine, a title that had once belonged to Fran’s late husband. Fran was still surprised that Lucy had been elected and hadn’t yet decided if she was pleased with her daughter’s choice of careers. Not that that mattered to Lucy. “Informing me of what?” Fran asked.
“We found the person who stole the money from the school’s Halloween program. And you were right—it was Victoria Pratt.”
Victoria. Fran felt anger, but also a grim satisfaction. A real-estate developer, Victoria Pratt was about as generous as Ebenezer Scrooge. It was one of the reasons Fran had been suspicious when Victoria offered to help with fundraising for the elementary school. Victoria was usually “far too busy” for such matters. Which was true, Fran thought. Too busy with country clubs and golf lessons and dinner parties.
But Victoria had volunteered, and two weeks later the proceeds of last Saturday’s Halloween Carnival had turned up missing. And only three people had known the location of the envelope containing the money: the school superintendent, Fran, and Victoria Pratt.
Which is why Fran had alerted the sheriff.
“All this for about five hundred dollars,” Lucy’s voice continued, as Fran returned to the living room and dropped into her recliner. “Why in the world would somebody as rich as Ms. Pratt—”
“Steal from the school?”
“Yeah. Why would she do it?”
“She steals from everybody,” Fran said, unwrapping a bite-sized caramel from the bowl of Halloween candy.
“Ever hear about her real-estate deals?”
“Well, this one we can prove,” Lucy said.
“How’d you find out?” Fran asked. “For sure, I mean.”
“A fourth-grader named Benny Langston. He told his mother that after school today he saw Ms. Pratt take the money from the superintendent’s desk drawer.”
“And Benny’s mom told my deputy.”
“Which deputy? Ed Malone?”
“Good for Zack,” Fran said. She popped the caramel into her mouth. “He managed to do something right for once.”
“Not exactly. He should have told me about it, as soon as he found out.”
“My cell battery was dead,” Lucy said. “I was at the office tonight, but Zack didn’t know that, and instead of trying to phone me there, he went to Victoria’s house—”
“—and accused her. She got upset, and when Zack looked down to consult his notes, she whacked him over the head with a tennis racket.”
“She was on her way to a doubles game. Anyhow, she conked him and shoved him off her porch and escaped in her Mercedes.”
Fran had a brief image of Deputy Wilson lying there in Victoria Pratt’s flowerbeds trying to draw his gun.
“Is he okay?” she asked, chewing.
“Zack? A headache, mostly,” the sheriff said. “He just called me.”
Fran was impressed. For a town their size, this was high drama. “When did all this happen?”
“Fifteen minutes ago. Highway Patrol’s been alerted to watch for her car, and I’ve dispatched Deputy Malone to your house.”
“My house? Why?”
“Before she whacked him, Zack said she shouted, ‘It was that meddling Fran Valentine, wasn’t it?’”
“So you think Victoria’s on her way here?”
“She was mad as a hornet, Zack said.”
Fran snorted. “I can take care of myself, Lucy. And if I can’t, there are about a hundred little ghosts and goblins running around outside tonight who could help me.” She grinned at the thought. “That’d be true justice, wouldn’t it? After she stole their funds?”
“Well, just keep an eye out for her, Mother. Anybody who’d steal from kids and attack a police officer . . .” Lucy left the rest unsaid. “Anyhow, Malone’ll be there soon, to stay with you.”
“He won’t stay long,” Fran predicted. “My cable’s being repaired. No cop shows, no Gunsmoke reruns.”
“Well then, he’ll have to be content with your sunny disposition.”
“And he’s not getting any of my Halloween candy, either,” Fran said.
The sheriff had begun a reply when Fran’s doorbell rang again. “Gotta go, Lucy,” she said, and hung up.
This time she used the peephole before opening the front door. Better safe than sorry.
But the coast was clear. The only people on her front porch were three witches—the Bennett girls from down the street, ages six to nine, standing there in black robes and two-foot-high pointed hats. When Fran opened the door they chimed, “Trick or Treat!”
She studied them as she handed out the candy. “Who’s your fashion consultant, ladies?” she said.
The oldest—Ruthie—frowned. “Our what?” Like her two sisters, she was carrying a broom as long as she was.
Grinning, Fran thumped the hard plastic of one of the cone-shaped hats. “I didn’t think witches wore orange after Labor Day.”
Ruthie leaned closer. “We borrowed these,” she whispered.
Suddenly tires squealed in the street behind them. Instinctively Fran grabbed the kids and pulled them into the doorway—but there was no need. The screech was followed by an earth-shaking, metallic WHUMP.
Fran couldn’t believe her eyes. Just beyond the end of her sidewalk, sticking straight up out of the deep hole the cable company had dug in the road, was the gleaming rear half of a Mercedes-Benz. From the hole itself, in Victoria Pratt’s hoarse smoker’s-voice, came a furious stream of words Fran hadn’t heard since her volunteer work at the state prison last year.
What a way to catch a thief, she thought. The hole was so narrow the car doors couldn’t possibly open—the Halloween Bandit was securely trapped. But why had she driven into the pit in the first place?
As Fran stood there staring, the smallest of the Bennett sisters pointed a chubby finger at the street and said, “Good thing we picked up these hats, Miss Fran.”
“What do you mean?” Fran asked.
“That car woulda runned right over ’em.”