______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________I stood on the high stone step in front of the door, but what a door? It was immense. Solid oak and seven feet wide, and it stretched up so high in front of me that I had to strain my neck to see the top of it. About nineteen or twenty feet, I estimated.
(Twisted Fairytales I)
(Twisted Fairytales I)
It wasn’t just the door that was peculiar; it was a strange house altogether. I noticed how deeply the door was set back into the solid grey stone, and realised that the walls must be at least ten feet thick. There were no windows set in the wall at this level, and only thin narrow ones that were more like arrow slits higher up. They seemed too high to be on the first floor above ground, though still a little low to be at a higher storey. Perhaps this place just had very high ceilings.
I scanned my eyes along the entire front of the building before I knocked. It was more like a castle than a house. How the hell did anyone manage to break into this place? But that was why I was here: a robbery had been reported and I was here to interview the householders.
I knocked. I waited. After a while I heard footsteps approaching: slow, deliberate, heavy footsteps, and the sound of a deep male voice, a voice muttering something under its breath. It sounded a little like “fee fi fo fum” or something. Perhaps the householder was singing to himself.
Then I heard more footsteps. This time faster, shuffling footsteps. They stopped, as did the heavy ones, both clearly a long way from the door by the sound of it.
“You go sit yerself down agin, moi dear,” I heard a woman’s voice saying. “You’se still a bit shaken moi love. It’ll be the man from the police. oi’ll deal with ‘im, so oi will.”
The heavy footsteps sounded as though they were moving away from the door now, sounding even slower than they had done. The other steps came closer to the door then stopped. The latch clicked then the door creaked as it slowly opened.
Two things occurred to me right there and then. One as the door opened, and the other seconds later as I saw the person that had opened it.
First I realised that the door hadn’t been locked. When would these people learn? They were bound to be victims of robbery if they didn’t take the security of their property seriously. A place like this would be impenetrable if they’d bothered to fit a cylinder deadbolt lock or even a decent mortise.
I made a mental note to mention this to the householders before I left, then the door was fully open and all other thoughts were forgotten as I saw the lady standing there.
She was big. I mean really big! I knew that there were a lot of people around who were much taller than me; I'm only just above average height, being only thirteen feet, three and a quarter inches; (the quarter inch is important, when the minimum height for the police force is thirteen-three,) but this lady must have been at least sixteen feet tall. I’d never seen a woman as tall as her; in fact I couldn’t remember seeing a man as tall as that.
“Hullo moi dear. Can oi help you?” she said.
“Jacobs ma’am,” I replied, “Sergeant Joseph Jacobs. I’ve come about the robbery.”
“Ah, we’ve bin waitin’ for yer,” she said as she stood back from the door to let me enter. “Only since we called, it’s been an' gone an' 'appened agin. This morning, it were. It’s two robberies now, so it is.”
I entered the house and she closed the door. She led me up a staircase and through to a side room off the first floor landing.
“Two robberies?” I said, “You’ve been troubled again?” Thieves were known to return to the scene if they knew there were further pickings, but not usually this soon after the first robbery. “How long is it since the first robbery? Two days?”
She offered me a seat. The furniture here all looked a little on the large side. I sat down in an enormous armchair, as did she. Even she looked small sitting in the matching chair opposite mine. It was as if they’d been designed for someone larger even than her.
“Yes moi dear,” she replied, “it were Tuesday when we was first troubled. Oi’ve told my ‘usband not to leave ‘is bags o’ gold lying around on the table after ‘e’s bin counting it, ‘cause the big old beggar falls asleep," she shook her head slowly, "Eee, the times it’s bin left to me to lock it away for ‘im.”
“I noticed that your front door was unlocked when I arrived,” I informed her. “Was it unlocked earlier this morning, and on Tuesday?”
“Oh we never locks the door,” she said chuckling to herself. “We don’t usually needs to. Not with that ruddy great castle wall and moat around the ‘ouse. The only reason you managed to get in today was because oi saw you comin’ from the tower, so I lowered the drawbridge and raised the gate. Nobody can get in ‘ere if we don't wants 'em to. Nobody gets even as far as the front door if we don’t let ‘em.”
“The robber got in though,” I said. “How do you think he managed it, if your grounds are so secure?”
“Ah,” she said, “Benjamin and oi have bin talking about that.”
I presumed Benjamin was her husband. I waited and let her continue.
“We thinks he’s tunnelled ‘is way in.” She paused and looked at me, clearly expecting me to be surprised. I wasn’t. In my days with the force, I’d seen burglars try all kinds of tricks.
“If you looks out that there window behind you,” she said, pointing, “You can see to the far corner of moi garden.”
I struggled to escape from the enormous armchair and when I had done, I looked through the narrow glazed slit in the wall.
“You see ‘ow just beyond the veggies, there’s all that ground mist?” she said.
I looked. Ground mist, indeed: it was very curious; it looked for all the world like clouds at ground level.
“Well you see that small beanstalk poking out the mist? That weren’t there last week, an' moi Benjamin reckons if an ol' beanstalk can poke its way through there in a few days, then maybes someone can tunnel in from the outside too.”
“It’s a possibility,” I told her.
“More ‘an a possibility it is,” she said. “Oi saw the young bugger runnin’ that way this mornin’. Bold as brass wi' our little ‘en under ‘is arm. And he disappeared as he jumped into yon mist right near that there beanstalk.”
“A hen?” I said. “This morning it was a hen that was stolen? So the thief didn’t even have to enter the house then?”
“Oh ‘e entered the ‘ouse all roight,” she said. “Crept through the front door and lifted the ‘en from roight under our noses, so ‘e did, while we was havin’ a little cuddle before we got out of bed this mornin’”
“You keep a hen in your house?” I asked, “and in your bedroom too?”
She laughed. “No, not usually in the bedroom, you daft ‘un,” she said, “We usually keeps ‘er in the parlour, but after the bag of gold got robbed, we decided to take ‘er into our room for safety like.”
I clearly looked puzzled, and I was. Why the hell would a burglar want to steal a chicken?
“Oh ‘ere’s me confusing you,” she said. “She ain’t just an ordinary ‘en. She’s a magic ‘en. Moi Benjamin collects magic ornaments an' stuff. The big old fool ‘as quite a few of ‘em now so ‘e does. ‘E Loves to jus' take ‘em out an' look at ‘em. E’s like a kiddie with ‘is toys sometimes, as big as ‘e is.”
“Magic hen?” I said. It looked like we might be looking at something of real value being taken here.
“Aye,” she answered. “She lays eggs o’ gold. Only tiny ‘uns mind, because she’s only a tiny ‘en. But oi can see why she’d seem to be worth stealing to a little lad like that.”
“Little lad?” I asked. “So he was smaller than usual, was he?”
“Smaller than us, much smaller than you an' oi are used to,” she said. “But moi Benjamin tells me 'e’s been places in ‘is younger days where all the people are little folk. None of ‘em much over six foot tall ‘e says. 'England', I think 'e said the place is called, an' they really ‘ate us big folk there ‘e says.”
I made a note. I’d heard of these places where the little folk lived. Places where they called us ‘giants’. It was well known that we were hated amongst their people, but to come here to steal from us? It was looking like this may even be a racially motivated crime.
“Are we certain that the perpetrator of the first robbery entered and made his getaway the same way though?” I asked. “Could there be any other way someone has entered your premises?”
“Well oi doubt it very much moi love,” she answered. “It were the same lad after all.”
I had to agree that there was a very good chance that both robberies had been committed by the same person, but unless there was evidence, we couldn’t just assume that. She could clearly see me frowning as she’d made her accusation.
“All roight,” she said. “Maybe it weren’t the same lad, because in all ‘onesty neither Benjamin or me saw ‘im the first time, but ‘e were certainly one o’ them little folk from that England place, so ‘e probably got in the same way.”
“How can you be certain if you didn’t see him?” I enquired.
“There was a pong left in the ‘ouse,” she said. “We noticed it soon as we woke up Tuesday, then agin as the lad left our bedroom this mornin’. Benjamin recognised it. ‘E said ever since ‘is younger days e’s recognised it. ‘E can smell the blood of an Englishman, can moi Benjamin.”
“Your husband’s magical collection:” I said. “Is there anything else of value in it that might tempt the thief to return?”
“Most of it's either worthless, or too big and bulky for one of them little folk to carry off,” she replied. “There is the ‘arp o’ course.”
“It’s the pride of moi Benjamin’s collection,” she said, “It’s a little magic ‘arp that plays itself. It sings too. ‘E loves that ‘arp, more ‘an ‘e loves me sometimes oi reckon.”
“I would suggest that you lock it away then,” I said, “In case the thief returns before we can apprehend him.”
“Oh, moi Benjamin won’t do that,” she said, “though I wouldn’t put it past ‘im to ‘ave it sleepin’ in the bed wi’ us from now on. ‘E was most upset this morning about the ‘en, an’ when he discovered we’d bin robbed agin, ‘e went straight to where is ‘arp is.”
“Still,” I told her, “You ought to make certain it isn’t stolen.”
“It won’t be,” she said, “Moi Benjamin says if anyone tries robbing ‘im o’ that, ‘e’ll grind ‘is bones to make ‘is bread.”
“I must point out that we don’t advise taking the law into your own hands Mrs Tabart,” I warned her, “nor can we condone your husband using violence against any intruder.”
“Oh ‘e won’t though,” she chuckled, “E‘s as soft as anything; as gentle as a puppy, despite ‘ow big ‘e is.”
“And if anyone else does enter your premises uninvited,” I said, “call us on our emergency number. On no account try to apprehend them yourselves, and don’t even try to pursue them.”
“Just what oi said to my Benjamin,” she replied, “‘E said he’d chase the little sod off, if ‘e comes back. But I said to ‘im: Benjamin, oi said, You’re getting’ on a bit ‘an you’re not as fast on yer feet as you once were; if you chase ‘im down toward that beanstalk, you might just stumble an' fall."
"Oi ‘ad a look at the ‘ole that beanstalk’s growin’ out of," she continued, "and it’s a big ‘un. Moi poor ‘usband could come a cropper if ‘e fell down there!"