The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes stories
Uncle Pringle and the Kidnappers
“You’ve got to help me.”
It was, or had been, a beautiful spring afternoon. We were all outside on the back patio, myself, my wife Ellen, our son Billy and Ellen’s Uncle Pringle, who was visiting us. I’m a science-fiction writer, only moderately successful, but we’d managed to buy a house in a suburb north of New York City a few year ago, then Billy had come along. He was now two. Ellen’s Uncle Pringle was a small, white-haired man with a certain elegance about him. I’d always thought he resembled the English actor Claude Rains. He’d been in some government agency, never named, but had been retired for some years now, although he worked as a “consultant,” to whom and about what he never said. I did know he had many contacts and had a way of solving problems. He’d been visiting us more often since Billy was born.
Then the doorbell had rung, I went to answer it and everything about this peaceful afternoon changed. “You’ve got to help me,” he repeated. The speaker was Ambrose Foster, a fellow sci-fi writer whom I hadn’t seen since he hit it big with a book that had been bought for a movie, after which he seemed to have dropped his old friends. I’d heard he was building a big new house in the most expensive part of our suburb. Now he was here on my doorstep, pleading for help. “I have to see your Uncle Pringle,” he said. “Maybe he can help me. I’m desperate.” He looked it. Ambrose was a tall thin man with a large nose who usually affected a kind of British persona and accent. He liked to dress in tweeds. He wore an obviously expensive tweed jacket but his normally ruddy face was pale, he was gasping for breath and seemed about ready to faint.
“You’re in luck,” I said. “My uncle is here, on the back patio. Come on in and you can talk to him.” Ambrose followed me. As soon as Ellen saw him, she sat him in a lawn chair and gave him some water. I introduced him and said he had a problem he thought Uncle Pringle might help him with. Ambrose took a deep breath, collected himself and told his story.
“It’s my wife,” he said. “Sophie. Her name is Sophie. She’s been kidnapped.”
A kidnapped wife; no wonder Ambrose was so agitated.
“When did this happen?” asked Uncle Pringle.
“Three days ago. It was awful. I didn’t know what to do. Then I had a call from the kidnapper. He wanted a quarter of million dollars for ransom. I told him I didn’t have that kind of money. He said he read the papers and knew I’d sold my book to the movies. He told me to get the money if I wanted to see my wife alive. Then he said not to go to the police.”
“Did you?” asked Ellen.
“Yes, I did. Well, here it was the county sheriff.”
“Was it Sheriff Anderson?” Uncle Pringle asked.
“Anderson? Yes, that was his name.”
“Go on,” said Uncle Pringle.
“The sheriff’s plan was to set a trap. I’d deliver the ransom and they’d be there to catch whoever came to pick it up. I managed to get the money from my bank. I got a phone call. It was from the same man. He had some kind of accent, although I think he was trying to disguise his voice. He told me to bring the money to a certain park. He wanted my cell phone number. He said he’d call me when I got to the park and then give me further instructions. But that’s where it all went wrong. I got the call when I got to the park but he said he knew the police were there. He said the ransom was now half a million. He’d call me again and if the police were involved they’d kill my wife. That’s why I came here.” He looked at Uncle Pringle. “I’ve heard you’ve done some remarkable things. Do you think you can help me? ”
“I can see you’re in a desperate situation. I’ll do my best. Do you have any idea who might have taken your wife?”
“Have you observed any strange people near your house?”
“No, none that I can think of.”
“Have any repairmen been to your house recently?”
“No. Wait a minute, someone from a landscape company came around. We hired them to do our lawn and some pruning They wanted to know if we’d like a regular maintenance. We said we’d let them know.”
“Anything unusual happen when they were there?”
“I caught the boss ogling my wife, but that’s not unusual, she’s a knockout.”
“Did they leave you a card?”
“Yes, they did. I should have it in my wallet.” Ambrose took out his wallet and produced a crumpled card. He handed it to Uncle Pringle.
“Hmmm. Orlov. A Russian name. Interesting." At that moment, a phone rang. Ambrose jumped, but it was Uncle Pringle’s cell. “Excuse me,” he said. “I have to take this... Yes, Donald, I realize that. No, I’d reconsider if I were you. Oh, and I’d reinstate those White House tours.”
”Was that …..,” began Ambrose.
“Just an old friend,” said Uncle Pringle. “Now then, let’s call the number on Mr. Orlov’s card." He dialed, listened for a moment, then said, “An answering machine. Hmmm.” Turning to Ambrose, he said, “The kidnapper said he’d call you on your cell phone?”
“Yes. But, I forgot to tell you, he said not to bother trying to trace the call. He had one of those throwaway phones.”
Uncle Pringle smiled. “We’ll see about that. Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have a few calls to make, which I’d prefer to do in private. After that, we’ll make our plans.”
The next day was also a beautiful one, blue sky with lazily floating white clouds. Inside Ambrose’s new house, the atmosphere was not quite as peaceful. The kidnappers still hadn’t called. Ambrose was pacing up and down. Uncle Pringle was calmly sitting. Two other persons were with us, “helpers”, Uncle Pringle said. I suspected that the call he’d made yesterday was to them. They were a middle-aged couple. Uncle Pringle said to call them Pat and Mike. In fact, they did look Irish, with reddish hair, pale skin and a slight brogue. Pat was slender; Mike was stocky. He was setting up some mysterious contraption next to Ambrose’s cell phone, which was out on a table.
“Need any help with that?” asked Pat.
“I’m doing fine.”
“That’s what you said in Bucharest, and look at what happened.”
“A technical glitch. I have this thing mastered now.”
“Like in Leningrad?”
“It worked in the end, didn’t it? You let me attend to my business and you tend to yours.”
“Don’t worry, me boyo, I’ve never had any technical glitches.”
I’d noticed this kind of byplay between Pat and Mike since they’d joined us. I hoped they both knew their businesses.
“Why doesn’t it ring?” said Ambrose. “What are they waiting for?”
As if on cue the phone rang. Uncle Pringle looked at Mike, who nodded, and told Ambrose to pick it up. “Yes,” he said. “No, I haven’t told anybody. My wife? Is she all right?” There was a pause. “Can I speak to her?” Another pause. “Yes, I have the money.” This wasn’t strictly true. He did have the original quarter of a million but the other half a million was in counterfeit bills that Uncle Pringle had provided. Ambrose listened and said that he’d bring the money, not to harm his wife. He put down the phone. “They want me to go to a gas station out on Elton Road and then wait for another call.”
“Very cautious,” said Uncle Pringle. He looked at Mike.
“I have it.” He looked at a map beside his apparatus and pointed to a spot. "It should be right here.”
“Hmmm. Yes, it was Orlov all right. He has a cabin in that area, pretty isolated. We should be able to get there in an hour, about the same time it would take to get to that gas station. “
“But how did you locate him? I thought it couldn’t be done.”
“Don’t believe everything you see on television. The Agency’s gadgets have come a long way.”
“Never mind,” said Uncle Pringle. “We’re wasting time. Let’s go.”
The cabin was where Pat had said it would be. I was driving my van. “What should I do?” I asked.
“Just drive up to the cabin. They’re waiting to contact Ambrose. They have no reason to suspect us.”
Pat said, “I’ll go and knock on the door. They won’t be suspicious of a harmless, uh, middle-aged lady who’s lost her way in the woods.”
“Be careful,” said Mike.
“They’re the one’s who should be careful. All of you stay in the van until you hear the signal.”
We saw Pat knock on the cabin door. A man opened it. Pat said something. They talked for a few minutes, then Pat followed the man inside. We waited, it seemed a long time, then it came, the gunshot. Mike was out of the van in a shot. Uncle Pringle and I followed.
Three men were inside the cabin, one down on the floor clutching his knee. Pat stood in the center of the cabin, an evil-looking gun in her hand. “Meet Mr. Orlov,” she said, pointing to the wounded man.
“Where’s my wife?” shouted Ambrose.
Orlov laughed. “Not here,” he said. “If you want to find her you leave your money here and I call you.”
“This man’s a joker,” said Pat. “Have you brought your instruments?”
“I forgot them,” said Mike.
“Your memory is going,” said Pat. “Just like Baghdad.”
“Baghdad? I don’t recall that.”
“That’s what I’m saying.” Pat sighed.
Uncle Pringle had also produced a gun, very elegant-looking. He pointed it at Orlov. “You’re Russian Mafia, I assume. You should know when the game is up. Tell us where Mrs. Foster is and possibly we can work out a deal for you.”
“No deal,” said Orlov. And you can torture me all you want. I’ve been in Soviet prisons. I’ll never talk. You, old man” he looked at Uncle Pringle. “I don’t think you have the nerve to kill me with that fancy gun.”
“Dear me,” said Pat. “I’d hoped this wouldn’t be necessary.” She still held her gun. “Please, Mr. Orlov, tell use where Mrs. Foster is --- right now.”
Orlov again laughed. “Nice lady like you, you’d never …”
The bullet went right between his eyes.
Pat pointed the gun at the other two. “One of you will tell me, the other one will be dead.”
Both men started to talk at once. Ambrose’s wife was in a nearby shed not too far away. At that moment we heard a siren. “Ah, that would be Sheriff Anderson,” said Uncle Pringle. “I took the liberty of contacting him.”
A tall gray-haired man in uniform came in. He looked around and said, “You seem to have things well in hand.”
“Yes, Mr. Orlov unfortunately tried to escape. These other two have told us where Mrs. Foster is. You can take them away.”
“Wait,” cried one of the men. “Orlov didn’t try to escape. This lady killed him in cold blood. We will testify so at our trial. We know our rights. We want our lawyers.”
The Sheriff looked questioningly at Uncle Pringle. “Hmmm,” said Uncle Pringle. “An interesting development. Sheriff, why don’t you go with Mr. Foster and my nephew and fetch Mrs. Foster.”
We left and found the shed. Ambrose’s wife was inside, tied to a chair and gagged. Ambrose immediately ran to her, removed the gag and untied her. “Sophie darling,” he said.
“I told you we shouldn’t have hired those men,” she said. “I didn’t like the looks of them from the start.”
“I’m sorry,” said Ambrose. “But the important thing is that you’re safe.”
“What about the ransom money? Did you give it to them.”
“No. Paul’s Uncle Pringle saved the day, and the money. Let me tell you …”
Ambrose explained the events of the previous days as we returned to the cabin. A thought came to me as we walked: it was probably not Ambrose who’d dropped his old friends but Sophie who’d made him do so. We went into the cabin and there were the other two men, lying dead on the floor, both, as with Orlov, with bullet holes neatly between their eyes. “Ah, Mrs. Foster,” said Uncle Pringle. “We’re glad you are safe and sound. Your husband was frantic with worry.”
“He should have been.”
“Sheriff, these two tried to overpower us and get away. As you can see, they didn’t succeed.”
“All three shot while trying to escape,” said the Sheriff. “Well, those things happen.”
“My two associates here will take care of arranging things. They have a lot of experience. Why don’t we leave them to their job.”
“Like we did in Kiev,” said Mike.
“Without you making that same mistake,” said Pat.
“What do you mean?’
We left the two and went outside. The sky was still blue and white clouds were still floating along. We could hear birds and a brook running nearby. It was hard to believe that the scene we’d left behind in the cabin was real. All I wanted to do was to get back to Ellen and Billy and my own home. The case of Uncle Pringle and the Kidnappers had come to an end.
© Martin Green April 2013
Pringle and the Bookmaker
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