Sometimes the day ends with a hush, other days end with a sucker punch to the gut, and some just don’t end. Today was supposed to end quietly. I tied up all the loose ends of my last case, pocketed a few coin, set my feet up on my desk, and watched as the sun settled in behind the royal hangout. The castle’s silhouette had just crept across my office floor when there was a knock at the door. “Come in, it’s open” I called out.
She walked in, tall and confident. I kicked up the wick on the desk lantern to shed some light on the subject. She was an older dame tightly packaged in deep purple. Her dress had a long slit up the left side and a low u-shaped plunging neckline. The outfit nearly covered her life of indiscretions and revealed more than a woman of her years should be comfortable showing.
“Are you a private investigator?” the woman asked.
“That’s what the sign on the door say’s” I quipped.
She sneered, “It also says B. Nimble. Is that your name or a request for flexibility?”
“Just a name, most folks call me Jack. Please, have a seat.”
She glanced at the well-worn overstuffed lounge chair in the corner, “I prefer to stand. Are you the gentleman who solved that horrible Peter Pumpkin-Eater case?”
“I’m the guy who solved that case”
“I see. I have a job for you. Remember the Prince’s Ball last night?”
“Well, some young harlot caught the attentions of the Prince, but no one seems to know who she is. I want you to find her.”
“What do you want me to do with her after I find her?”
“I don’t care what you do with her or to her. I want to know who she is”
“That’s it, just a name?”
“I want to know her background, what her parents do, who does she associate with, you know.”
“You want to know if I can find any dirt on the Prince’s fling du jour.”
She grimaced a smile, “I don’t know if you’re nimble, but you are quick.”
“And if there’s no dirt?” I asked.
“There’s dirt or something. She just appears at Prince’s Ball and as if by magic and no one has a clue to her whereabouts. It’s all very suspicious.”
“I can poke around, but I’ll need to know how to get a hold of you and payment is upfront.”
The dame locked eyes onto mine, glanced back at the lounge chair in the corner, stared back into my eyes, raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Maybe getting a hold of me could count for payment upfront.”
Ten years ago, if she was twenty years younger, it might have worked. “Cash only.”
She scowled sternly. Then her right hand quickly dove into the plunging neckline, fumbled about briefly and leaped back out holding a small satchel. “Here, take it.” She tossed the bag into my lap. “My card and enough money to get you started are inside.”
I looked in the bag, “This will do for a start.”
“Only talk to me of your findings and never at my place of residence. My stepsister Cinderella is always snooping about. She’s not to be trusted.”
The dame turned towards the door. “Well I guess that’s that Jack, off I must go.” She quickly stepped out and slammed the door.
I reached into my desk drawer and removed a flask of pumpkin cider, a perk from the last case. I took a deep swig and contemplated my approach to the new case. I best start at the top.
I arrived at the Royal Palace after a short two-hour ride. After the typical “The Prince sees no one” and subsequent greasing of palms, I finally got to meet the Prince’s personal guard. “State your business” the guard demanded authoritatively.
I handed the guard my card, “I’m a private investigator. I can find the young lady the Prince showed interest in at the ball last night. If the Prince truly fancies her, I’m sure he would be very grateful to the guard that introduced him to the guy that can locate her.” I was a bit cocky but indecision or fear can get you tossed out of a palace. The guard stared at me. I stared back and then winked.
“Wait here” the guard ordered.
He returned shortly. “The Prince will see you now.”
I entered the Princes chambers. The Prince sits atop a platform several steps above the floor. He is surrounded by servants and is adorned in grandeur. He watches as I enter and then with a smile and a wave of his hand he says, “Welcome Mr. Nimble. Please sit down.”
I find a chair at a comfortable distance from the Prince on the platform. “Your Royal Prince” I begin only to be stopped in mid sentence by the Princes raised hand.
“Oh please, no formality in my chambers. Call me Dick.” His comment was directed to me although his eyes were connected to the young beautiful servant girl to his right. She giggled and Dick smiled.
I began again, “Dick, I think I can help you locate the beautiful woman you danced with last night.”
Dick smiled, “Oh really?” He clapped his hands and all the servants quickly vacated his chambers. “I thought some privacy would be nice. How exactly will you go about finding this young lady?”
I leaned in closer. “To be honest, not without your help. I’d like to start with a description of the young lady.”
Dick closed his eyes, “She has skin as fair and smooth as white silk, her eyes sparkled like the morning sun across a crystal lake, and her hair has the color of spun gold.”
“That’s not much I can go by, most women in these parts are pail, no mention of eye color and ever since the Rumpelstiltskin incident, anything cream colored to dark mustard is called spun gold. Can you remember anything distinctive about her?”
Dick shook his head and frowned.
“Buzz about the village is she left something behind. The could I take a look at the slipper.”
Dick opened his eyes as a subtle grin grew on his face. He reached into his robe and produced a single crystal clear slipper “Here it is Mr. Nimble.”
“Call me Jack” I took the slipper in hand. “This is glass, the foot imprint inside the shoe is perfectly formed to her foot. You can even see each of her toes. It’s as if the glass was molded directly to her foot. You realize this slipper will only fit her.”
“Oh really?” Dick commented sarcastically.
I leaned back in the chair “It’s a set-up.”
“How so?” Dick leaned forward.
“Your not stupid, you knew all along all you would have to do is have all the fair maidens of the village try on this slipper. It will only fit the one true owner. You also know casting a glass slipper means she had access and money for the best glass craftsmen. Peasants can’t afford this kind of workmanship and all the eligible maidens of wealth were accounted for. Someone with lots of money and connections paid for this slipper. The only one I know with a possible motive and the means to make it happen is you.”
Dick softly clapped his hands, “Bravo!” he exclaimed.
I laughed. “The only thing I don’t get is waste your time with me?”
“Personal gratification. When you showed up I wanted to see if you could solve this case like you did the Pumpkin-Eater case. Did that sick bastard really imprison his wife in a pumpkin for three years?”
“Yeah, he was really disturbed. His obsession with pumpkins became too much for his wife. He figured out she wanted to leave, he tied her up and stuffed her in a pumpkin. She’s gonna need a heap of therapy to get past what he did to her. But back to the slipper, why the shenanigans?”
Dick motioned for me to lean in closer. “The young lady and I have been having an affair for sometime. I’m madly in love with her but being a peasant our union is forbidden. My parents agreed to give consent to marry the lovely young lady at the ball. They assume she is of royal decent because of how she was dressed, lots of jewels and all that. I of course arranged and paid for it all. By the time my parents realize she’s a peasant it will be too late because Cinderella will have already met the ‘If the slipper fits’ criteria of the royal decree.”
“Cinderella! It was her ugly stepsister that hired me to find her.”
Dick suddenly grew solemn. “You plan to tell?”
“Hell no, as far as I’m concerned history can say she got help from a fairy godmother!”