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The International Writers Magazine - Our 23rd Year: Dreamscapes Pringle Stories (Archives)

Uncle Pringle & the Scam Artist
Martin Green

Life is good, thought Sidney Rothenberg, sitting in a lounge chair at poolside of the most luxurious hotel on the Caribbean island of B-----. The latest weather report was that New York City, where he’d been just a week ago, was freezing with a snow storm on the way. Here the sun, as always, shone overhead and a light island breeze blew.

Rothenberg was a handsome man, 35 years old, his lean, muscular body displayed by his small bathing suit. He’d completed his latest scam, not a large one, a mere five billion or so, and had sent the proceeds to his offshore account. It was time to relax. He signaled for another cold drink and told the waiter to bring one to the blonde young woman, likely a tourist, he’d been eying (and who’d been eying him). She raised her glass to him and smiled. He was sure they’d be having dinner that night and more afterward. Yes, life was good.

At the same time, in New York City, where the snow storm had hit, I was in my apartment with my wife Ellen and my friend and fellow science-fiction writer Al Abrams. Al had a problem, or rather, it was his wife Kathleen’s problem. She’d recently inherited a fairly large sum of money from an uncle. This was all to the good, but then Al’s latest novel had been rejected by his publisher, things had gotten tight, and, thinking to improve their situation, Kathleen had invested the inherited money in a supposedly fool-proof scheme with a high rate of return. As usually was the case with such foolproof schemes it turned out to be a scam and now all the money had been lost.

"Kathleen was too embarrassed to come here herself," said Al. "She feels awful, but her best friend recommended this guy and he was a smooth talker and she fell for it."
"Do you know who he is?"
"His name is Sidney Rothenberg "
"Have you tried to go after him?"
"He’s not even in the country. He’s in some little island in the Caribbean. That’s where he hangs out. He’s a big wheel down there."
"Hmm. What did you think I could do?"
"I wasn’t thinking of you. I was thinking of your Uncle Pringle. He seems to be able to solve almost any problem."

Uncle Claude Pringle was really Ellen’s uncle, not mine. He’d helped me out of a few difficult situations in the past, and also had helped out some of my friends, including Al. He was retired from a government agency whose name I’d never learned and was now, he said, a consultant, although what he consulted about I was never sure. I did know he had a surprising number of contacts of all kinds and, as Al said, seemed to be able to solve almost any problem.

I looked at Ellen. "What do you think?" I asked.
"I think you and Al had better see Uncle Pringle."

Uncle Pringle didn’t have an office. He was usually to be found on a bench in one of the city parks. He said it gave him a chance to be outdoors and to observe people. Of course in this winter weather I didn’t think even Uncle Pringle would be out in a park, but I thought I knew where to find him. The next morning, Al and I went to a little coffee shop off Uncle Pringle’s favorite park and, sure enough, there he was, at a table in the back. As we approached, a large man with a comb-over got up from the table, said, "Thanks," to Uncle Pringle, and left.

"Don’t forget, Donald," said Uncle Pringle. "You have to be forceful."
"I won’t forget," said the man with the comb-over as he rushed by.
"Was that Donald Tr---," I started to ask.
"Just an old friend," said Uncle Pringle. "Now, have some coffee and tell me what I can do for you."

I’d always thought Uncle Pringle looked like his namesake, the English actor Claude Rains. He was a small man, with neat hands and feet, and white hair. He gestured to a waitress, who clearly knew him. She brought our coffees, and Al related his story. Uncle Pringle listened quietly, nodding his head at a few places and asking an occasional question. "Can you help me?" asked Al, when he’d finished.
"Yes, I believe I can. That name, Sidney Rothenberg, sounds familiar. I believe it came up during one of our, uh, operations in the Caribbean, but he was too much of a small fry to bother with. So he’s a scam artist now? Well, we’ll soon put a stop to that."
"What will you do?" I asked.
"I still know an, ah, operative on the island of B-----. I’ll get in touch with her and get the lay of the land, so to speak. We’ll proceed from there."

Sidney Rothenberg was in his usual poolside lounge chair. The blonde tourist, to his disappointment, had left the day before. A tall bronzed woman, clad in the tiniest of bikinis, pointed to the empty chair beside his and asked if it was taken.

"It’s all yours," said Sidney, eying her appreciatively. He introduced himself.
"I’m Molly Perkins. Have we met before?"
"Possibly. I’ve spent a lot of time on the island."
"I know. I’ve seen your picture in the newspaper. You’ve donated a lot of money to the island polo team, haven’t you?"
"That’s me. I try to help out when I can. Are you free for lunch?"
"Lunch would be lovely, but I’m afraid I have a golf date."
"At the Paradise club?"
"Yes. My uncle’s a long-time member."
"I’ve been trying to get a membership for years."
"Well, it’s still mostly British, you know. Would you like to meet the club president, Sir Wilfred Chase? I’ve known him since I was a child.."
"You could arrange that?"
"I think I can. Give me your card and I’ll let you know."

Al and I were in the coffee shop again, at Uncle Pringle’s table. He’d called us to this meeting. "My, uh, operative had made contact with our friend Sidney," said Uncle Pringle, " and I believe we have an opportunity."

"What’s that?" asked Al.
"Our friend is a snob. I suspect he’s also an Anglophobe. He very much wants to join the exclusive Paradise golf club."
"How does that help us?" I asked.
"My, uh, operative has arranged a meeting between Sidney and Sir Wilfred Chase, the club president. Sidney will be given a chance to join the club, but it will come at a price."
"You can have this Sir Wilfred act on your behalf?"
"Well, not exactly. Someone else will have to play the part of Sir Wilfred."
"Who’ll that be?"
Uncle Pringle coughed. "I’ll be Sir Wilfred."
"You might pull it off," I said. "I’ve always thought you resembled that actor, Claude Rains."
"Several people have told me that. I never could see it."

The secretary had shown us into a large office at the golf club. "Sir Wilfred has told us to extend you every courtesy," she said to Uncle Pringle.
"Very kind of him. We’re expecting a visitor. When he arrives, please show him in."

Uncle Pringle had invited both Ellen and myself to accompany him to the island and we’d spent the previous day at the beach, a pleasant change from New York.. Ellen was now at our hotel, awaiting word. In a short while, the secretary showed in a tall handsome fellow, who smiled at us showing brilliant white teeth. Introductions were made (I was a personal assistant) and Sidney Rothenberg sat down. "I understand you’re interested in joining our little club," began Uncle Pringle.

"It would be an honor. As you may know, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the island and now I’m considering making it my permanent residence. I’ve always supported the island’s development."
"Ah, yes, you’ve been a generous supporter of the polo team." I noticed that Uncle Pringle was speaking with a pronounced English accent. "I believe you’ve also invested in some of the island’s improvements."
"Yes, I have a small stake in the new mall."
"Very good. I supposed you’ve also heard of the new hotel we’re building on the far side of the island."
"No, I hadn’t."
"Hmm, I’m surprised. It will be one of the largest in the world, and one of the finest. And it will have miles of unspoiled beach. Of course, it’s almost fully invested."

Sidney Rothenberg’s eyes gleamed. "I’d definitely be interested."

"Hmm. There might be room for a small stake, say $5 million or so."
"I think I can come up with that. And membership in the Paradise golf club?"
"Oh, it goes without saying that anyone investing in our hotel will be welcomed as a member of our club."

Rothenberg reached out to shake Uncle Pringle’s hand. The scammer had been scammed.

After the funds had been transferred from Rothenberg’s offshore account and he’d left, I called Ellen and she in turn called Al. The money would shortly be returned to his wife Kathleen as well as to the other investors. What was more, another publisher had accepted Al’s book.
"All seems to be well," said Uncle Pringle. "I propose we join Ellen and spend an hour or two at the beach. My, uh, operative will keep Sidney occupied for that time. Then I’m afraid it’s back to New York, but I hear it’s no longer snowing."

© Martin Green October 2009

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