by Lewayne L. White
It was bright sunny day in Fairy Tale Land. Of course, it’s almost always bright and sunny here. But, for me, a gal who works the Homicide Squad in a land full of magic and weirdoes, it’s not all princes and happily ever after.
My name’s Aislyn, but most cops call me Ace. My partner Dagan and I were just wrapping up a case involving a dead servant girl.
She’d been a pretty little thing, even covered in soot and cinders. Seems her stepsisters whacked her for a glass slipper.
The sisters were a wicked pair, but like a lot of the vicious ones, they could be turned against each other. Pretty soon they were both screeching their own version of the story, each ratting out the other.
Then the break came, when Dagan got one of them to admit it was the stepmother who planned it. Seems mom was looking to cash in on this deal with Prince Charming, and the stepdaughter stood in the way.
Once we knew what we were looking for, the evidence was practically in plain sight. It seems all three were not particularly good at cleaning up after themselves.
I’d just finished the last dot on the report when the phone rang. Dagan answered it. “Homicide Squad, Detective Michael.”
He glanced at me as he listened. After a moment, he said, “Gingerbread Lane. Got it. We’ll be there in ten, if traffic’s good.”
Dagan hung up the phone. “We got a dead girl down on Gingerbread. Seems a family of bears went out for a walk, and when they came back they found her dead in their dining room.”
We each grabbed our jackets from the backs of our chairs, and headed out of the squad room. Seven minutes later, we were at the scene. A couple of blues were keeping the gawkers back. Two more uniforms were taking statements from the three bears.
“Detective Dagan Michael,” Dagan said to a cop who came to meet us. “This is my partner, Detective Aislyn Lilly.”
“Glad you’re here, detectives. It’s a weird one,” the uniform replied. “Girl’s just dead. Sprawled out.”
“Any signs of violence?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not on her. The house has been vandalized. Some furniture’s broken and it looks like a bowl of porridge dumped on the floor.”
“I’ll talk to the bears,” Dagan said. I nodded. “I’ll check the scene.”
We split up, and I followed the uniform cop to the door.
“You mind waiting out here?” I asked. “I want to take a look without any distraction.”
“No problem,” the uniform replied.
I walked into the house, a cute little split foyer job. Looked like they’d just recently moved in. No decorations on the wall yet, and a few boxes still unopened in the rooms.
I looked through the rest of the house first, before heading into the kitchen. It helps me to see what everything looks like before I begin to analyze the crime scene. Then when I go back, details jump out at me.
The little bear’s room was downstairs and across the hall from a rec room. The room contained a dresser, an unmade bed, and a stack of boxes marked “Baby Bear.”
The rec room held a TV, a couch, a few bar stools, a pool table, and more boxes. A few videotapes spilled out of an opened box. Titles like “Baby Bear’s Birthday,” and “Trip to the Country” suggested home movies.
In the hallway, between the two rooms was a small, undecorated bathroom, and a storage room with mop, brooms, and cleaners.
I headed upstairs, reaching the living room first. It held TV, loveseat, and more boxes. A pair of wooden, bear-size chairs sat across the room from each other. One bore a cross-stitched “Papa,” label. The other chair’s label said “Mama.” The cushions on the seats were askew. After a moment, I discovered Baby Bear’s nearby chair, broken and scattered.
I went down the hall to the bedrooms. Papa Bear and Mama Bears’ room held a pair of unmade single beds, as well as a couple dressers and, of course, more boxes. The other bedroom looked like an office, with computer desk, chair, file cabinet and boxes.
I noticed some pieces of forwarded mail on the desk, mostly from wholesale suppliers, addressed to P. Bear. They suggested that Papa Bear was some sort of self-employed salesman
The bathroom was a standard tub, shower, sink, affair with fuzzy toilet seat, and a sign over the tank that said, “Real Bears Do It In The Woods.”
On to the kitchen. It was a galley kitchen, with small nearby dining area. Most of the small appliances remained in their boxes, though the microwave was plugged in, its clock blinking cheerily. I noticed a trio of Redi-Made microwave porridge in the garbage, and figured that was the reason for the walk. The stuff tastes decent, but it never heats consistently. It’s usually too hot, or too cold. It’s a rare event that it’s ever just right.
The dining set was natural wood, with three chairs, also marked with the respective bear names. They’d all been sat in, and the bowl of porridge had been tasted.
Baby bear’s chair lay on the floor beside a smashed bowl of porridge, and the dead girl.
She was a slender blonde, with curly golden locks tied in a ribbon. She was sprawled on the floor, arms and legs rigid, even though it was too soon for rigor. Her eyes, pale blue and wide open, stared fixedly ahead.
A tiny purse lay beside her, and I fished out the billfold. Her ID said she was Golda Locke.
A small charm bracelet suggested she went by “Goldie.”
The bracelet tripped a small chime in my head. I told my subconscious to take a message and continued my examination.
Goldie was a teenager, old enough to get attention, and young enough to get you jail time. Wearing a chiffon dress and some seriously cute earrings, she didn’t look like a burglar.
I looked at her ID again. Fairy Dust Circle. Nice neighborhood. Lots of upper-class humans, very few-fairy tale creatures.
This time I answered, and headed back to the office.
The original address on the Bear’s mail was Fairy Dust Circle, not far from Goldie Locke’s place.
One of Papa Bear’s suppliers included a low-end jewelry dealer, whose specialty was custom charm bracelets.
This was getting interesting.
I retraced my steps to the kitchen, and collected a small sample of the spilled porridge in an evidence baggie. I pulled a small vial of djinn blood from my jacket, and sprinkled a few drops into the baggie. The porridge immediately turned a venomous green.
Poison. Something synthetic.
If it had been a magic potion it would have turned black, and natural poisons like snake venom turned it red.
Now I knew how, I just needed the who and why.
I collected a second sample of the poisoned porridge, as well as samples from the other two bowls. I kept my original testing vial, and dropped the other three into my inter-dimensional left pocket. By the time I felt them fall into the bottom of the pocket, they would already be transported via secure spirit to the crime lab. The crime scene witches would be here soon to collect further evidence, but I wanted them to get started on the samples beforehand. By the time they got here, I hoped to have a suspect in custody.
I spent a few moments focusing my thoughts, then sent a mind-burst to Dagan. In a moment he’d know everything I knew about the crime scene, as well as my suspicions.
I received a burst back that covered his interviews of the bears. I processed the information quickly:
Mama Bear: Got up. Made the beds.
Papa Bear: Breakfast of microwaved porridge-too hot.
Mama: Walk while we wait.
Papa: Leisurely Saturday. Nothing scheduled.
Papa: Come home and find dead girl.
Mama: No, don’t know who she is.
Papa: New to the neighborhood.
Mama: Moved because Papa was expanding his sales area.
Papa: Better location.
Mama: More privacy.
Papa: No trouble with neighbors or business.
Papa: Happy family.
Dagan senses tension.
Mama: Happy Family.
Baby: What happened to Goldilocks?
Mama: Hush, dear. Adults are talking. Run and play.
Dagan senses panic.
Mama: His baby sitter from our old neighborhood.
Papa: She looks like the girl in our house.
Mama: He’s confused. A little bear. You know.
Dagan and I both have a gut feeling.
I send Dagan another burst.
Keep them busy for a few more minutes.
Then I call Central, to request phone records and make sure the entire house is declared a crime scene. Then I won’t need a warrant to poke around.
I go back to the desk, pulling out drawers and examining the contents.
Nothing but the usual collection of bills, business papers and letters.
Then I remember where I used to hide love notes from my boyfriend so that my brother wouldn’t find them.
I feel along the bottom side of the drawer, and come up with an envelope. It’s pink, and contains a lengthy and explicit note from Goldie Locke.
She was dumb enough to get involved with a bear, but not dumb enough to spritz the letter with perfume. A bear would have smelled it a mile away. References from the letter lead me to the rec room, and the box of homemade videotapes. I sift through them, but fail to find what I’m looking for, so I return to the adults’ bedroom.
A search of the closet turns up a small video camera and a couple unlabeled tapes. I pop each into the camera to examine the contents. What I see is disturbing, but there’s no question that Papa Bear knows Goldie Locke.
Remembering the vial in my pocket, I head back to the storage room in the basement. Past the mops and brooms are several cleaning fluids, all synthetic, all toxic to humans.
“Ace, the Crime Scene Witches are here,” squawks Dagan’s voice from my radio.
“Roger,” I reply. “Let’s get everyone out of the way, so they can work.”
“Affirmative,” he replies. “Why don’t we take everyone down to Central. Then they won’t have to watch the team do its work.”
We both know that we’re snatching up the bears for questioning, but it sounds much nicer this way.
After a quick trip to Central, Baby Bear was drinking a Diet HoneyDew with a Child Services Sprite, and Papa and Mama were sitting in uncomfortable chairs in an interview room.
Normally, we’d split them up, but Dagan senses the link between them is stretched tight.
“I think they’ll snap, and turn on each other faster than the stepsisters.”
After watching them through the magic mirror for a few minutes, I’m inclined to agree. “Let’s go talk to them.”
Dagan opens the door to the interview room, and we walk in. The two Animal Control officers standing at the far side of the room nod then walk out. Luckily for us, they’ll be just outside if things go bad.
“Sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. and Mrs. Bear,” Dagan says as he pulls up a chair across the table from them. He rotates it, and sits down, with his arms across the back. “It’s just that a lot of victims find the appearance of the Crime Scene Witches to be disturbing.”
Papa Bear, a big Black Bear, just shrugged.
Mama Bear, a smaller female Brown Bear, growled at Papa.
“Sometimes it can make you feel violated, knowing they’re going through every inch of your house,” Dagan continued. “Finding things you thought you lost. Sometimes coming across things you wouldn’t want just anyone to see.” Mama Bear growled at Papa Bear again.
“Of course,” we sometimes find things on our own, as well,” I added.
I tossed the letter from Goldie Locke onto the table. It was sealed in an evidence sleeve, opened flat, so the text was visible to all.
Mama Bear sucked in her breath and Papa Bear’s eyes grew wide.
“The letter makes it clear that you knew Goldie Locke, Mr. and Mrs. Bear,” I continued. “We know that she was your son’s babysitter back when you lived on Fairy Dust Circle.”
Mama turned to Papa. “You said it was over. You said once we moved you wouldn’t see her any more.”
Papa Bear shrugged again.
“The date on the note is recent,” Dagan added. “According to the date on the mover’s receipt you received this letter after the move.”
Mama Bear lashed out, striking Papa. “How could you? After she humiliated you all those times. Made you dress up in the hat and collar and do those stupid tricks.”
Papa shrugged again. “What can I say. Once a circus bear, always a circus bear.”
Mama Bear stood on her hind legs. “I took you away from all that. Brought you out of that horrible carnival. My father gave you money to start a business. Helped us get that huge house in a good neighborhood.”
“Maybe I didn’t want to be in that neighborhood,” Papa roared back. “Maybe I was happy in the circus.”
“How could you be happy in a circus?” Mama spit back.
“You wouldn’t understand,” he said, and his shoulders sagged. “You never could.”
“But she could?” Mama Bear continued. “Little Miss Goldie Locke with her cute little curls and her cute little whip. She could understand?”
“I don’t know,” Papa snapped. “But, when I rode the unicycle for her, I felt special again.”
“The way she laughed when I juggled balls while tap dancing took me back. It reminded me what my life was like before you tried to make me into a human.”
“And what’s wrong with being human?” roared Mama.
“I’m not a human!” growled Papa. “I never will be, and neither will you. It doesn’t matter how much I sell, or what neighborhood we live in, we will always be bears! At least Goldie accepted that. She accepted it, and even encouraged me.”
“Encouraged you? Is that what you call it? Sneaking into our house, sleeping in our beds, sitting on our chairs, eating our food. She was a stalker! She was some sort of bear-obsessed groupie! I couldn’t stand it! It wasn’t enough that you did tricks for her, but you let her come into our house.”
They both began growling at each other, and I got ready to signal the Animal Control guys. Then abruptly, Mama Bear turned away from Papa and walked toward the magic mirror.
“This is what I’m talking about,” Papa roared. “Real bears would fight it out. They’d deal with it. You just walk away, pretending to be human, and acting all high and mighty.”
Mama Bear remained silent.
“Yes, I called her,” Papa Bear said. “I’d let her know when we would be gone, so she could come in and immerse herself in the bear lifestyle.”
Dagan and I both nodded. We knew about the calls to Locke. And now they had some sort of context.
“I knew we’d be out this morning, because we’re almost always out on Saturday morning. You always insist on that microwave porridge on Saturday.”
Mama Bear remained silent.
“You can’t just let us have honeycombs?” Papa continued. “Or something normal bears would eat?”
“No,” he added, switching to a falsetto imitation of Mama Bear, “We have to have porridge, and eat at a table like normal people.”
Papa switched back to his own voice. “Well, we’re not normal. Normal bears don’t live in fancy houses, and they don’t sell jewelry, and they do sh-”
Mama Bear wheeled suddenly and lunged at Papa Bear.
“You ruined it all! It was a fairy tale life and you ruined with your little Goldilocks!”
Mama Bear began to claw at Papa, and beat at his chest.
“I’m glad she’s dead!” Mama howled. “I should have killed her long ago.”
Dagan signaled Animal Control.
“We moved away, and I thought it was over!” Mama screamed.
Animal Control was in the room, and trying to separate the bears.
“Then I found the note. And I knew it wasn’t over. I knew you’d call her when we were going out.” “Mama Bear,” I interrupted. “You have the right to remain silent...”
I got through the whole thing just before Mama screamed, “So, I poisoned Baby’s porridge because Goldilocks always eats it all up.”
Animal Control had them separated, and Papa Bear stood limp and defeated.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” Mama Bear howled. “You thought I wouldn’t find the blonde hairs on my bed. On Baby’s bed? Did you think I was going to let her turn him in some trained circus bear, too?”
Then Animal Control dragged her away, roaring and spitting, to a cell in the Maximum Security Fairy Creature Wing.
Papa Bear stood weeping for a few moments, and didn’t resist when Animal Control led him away.
I could feel waves of pain from his broken heart washing over me. Though I wasn’t sure if it was for his family, or the dead girl.
I’d seen the tapes, and read the letters. He just wanted to be a circus animal again. He needed to be a star performing for an adoring crowd, even if the crowd consisted of a single teenage girl with an unhealthy bear fixation.
Dagan placed a hand on my shoulder. “It was going to end this way sooner or later.”
I nodded, and Dagan continued. “The affair was going to ruin the family. And you and I both know there’s nothing more dangerous than a mother protecting her children.”
I nodded again as we walked from the interview room toward the bullpen where the desks lurked while their detectives are out on a case.
“Rock, Paper, Scissors,” Dagan asked.
I got Rock, and he threw Scissors.
“You’re buying the Purple Zombies tonight,” I said.
He sighed. “I swore you were thinking Paper.”
“I was thinking Paper,” I replied. “Because I figured you were cheating, and trying to read my mind.”
Before he could come up with some sort of wounded retort, the phone rang.
I snatched it up. “Homicide Squad. Detective Lilly.”
Dispatch gave me the scoop. Then I threw down the phone.
“Feel like checking out another scene?”
Dagan shrugged. “What’s up?”
“Some guy named Dumpty splattered on the pavement at Wall Street. Everyone claims he jumped, but one of the uniforms thinks he was pushed.”
Dagan grabbed his jacket off the desk. “Probably too early for Purple Zombies anyway.”
“Especially if you’re buying.”
“Especially if I’m buying.”
We were out the door and, thanks to flashers and sirens, at Wall in fifteen minutes.
Yeah, things may look bright and sunny here in Fairy Tale Land, but the princes aren’t that charming, and there’s rarely a happily ever after.
That’s what keeps us in business, I guess.
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author