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Inspector Willoughby And The Sneak Thief
About the Author: Jeff Raynolds's work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Escape Pod, Apparition Literary Magazine, and GigaNotoSaurus.

Inspector Willoughby pulled a tattered notepad from his coat and patted the pockets of his herringbone coat absently for a few moments until Mrs. Castingale handed him a fountain pen from the ceramic goose jar on her writing desk where she kept them.

“Self-refilling,” she said. “Nora buys them at the fairy market. That’s my sister, Nora. The latest thing she says. She’s always finding such clever things.”

He nodded his grateful thanks to her and smiled. “Now then,” he began. “Could you tell me what happened?”

Mr. Castingale paced back and forth across the kitchen, stroking his thick beard. Willoughby noted the agitation, bordering on anger, but waited for the large man to speak. Mrs. Castingale squeezed her hands together and looked at her husband with concerned eyes.

“He’s a thief. A sneak. A no good, lowlife, dirty, rotten—”

“—Yes, yes, I understand all that, Mr. Castingale,” Willoughby interrupted. Not without a soothing tone of course. He knew how to handle big men with violent tempers. “I’m certain I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes.” Not that Willoughby would ever be in his shoes, as cautious as he was. “But if we’re going to be of help, I’ll need the full story, from ‘Once upon a time’ to ‘the end.’ ”

Castingale stared at the inspector, blinking rapidly. The second hand on the grandfather clock in the hallway outside the kitchen ticked loudly in the silence. His hands balled up into fists at his side and his face turned dark red. But he released several slow, deep breaths, and his shoulders slumped as his hands relaxed.

Acceptance of the situation, Willoughby thought to himself. He’s learned to control his violent nature. That probably explains how he’s managed to build a successful family life. He jotted this thought in his notebook but never took his eyes off the man.

Mr. Castingale eased himself into a chair, which groaned under his weight. His wife placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll fix you some tea, Aloysius.” She gave him a gentle smile as he nodded.

“So?” asked Willoughby, the pen hovering over the page.

“This is the second time you know,” Castingale began, his eyes fixed on a spot halfway between them. “The second time he’s crept into my home and done his filthy deeds.”

“From the beginning, Mr. Castingale.”

The man shrugged. “I was asleep both times, and my wife out to the market to shop. He came in through the back door and I didn’t hear, the sneaky bastard.”

“Nor could you with all that snoring you do,” said his wife, who frowned behind her husband’s back.

“Aye, I snore. Good of you to bring that up, as always,” Mr. Castingale’s voice rose as one fist thumped the table. “I’ve heard the devil about my snoring since we were married!”

“If you would see the doctor about that, like I asked …” she began, but Willoughby shook his head and her voice subsided.

“Please, go on,” Inspector Willoughby said.

Castingale waved his hand through the air. “The first time he took a bag of coins. Not a lot. A little bag of golden mementos. You know. First copper piece I earned. A rare double eagle silver piece. Collectibles. I wouldn’t have even noticed had he not come back again today.”

“How much would you say he took?”

“Not much, but it’s the matter of the thing, you know? The sentimental value. It’s about respect. A man’s home is his castle, and no man should have some little snot sneaking in it and taking his stuff.”

Willoughby wrote quickly. “Quite literally a castle in your case, I would say. Where was the purse located?”

“On the side board in the dining room.”

“Do you routinely keep your coins out in the open in this way?”

Castingale met the inspector’s eyes and his brow furrowed. “Now wait just a minute. If you’re suggesting that I’m to blame—”

“—No, no, of course not, Mr. Castingale,” Willoughby replied, raising his hand and patting the air with it to calm him. “I am simply trying to ascertain all the facts so we can build a profile of the thief. Then we can act.”

“His profile is sneaky little bastard, that’s what it is.”

“Of course. You’re sure he came in through the back door?”

This story appears in our SEP 2023 Issue
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