The witch who answered the door was by no means a tall woman but he stared up at her in amazement. She was dressed all in black. Her form fitting dress hugged her curves tightly from her shoulders to the floor. Perched on her head was a tall, pointed hat. In her left hand she held a broom, and it did not look as if she had been sweeping with it.
Somewhere distant he thought he heard wolves howling.
In her right hand the witch held a plate of cookies.
"Tr--tr--tr--," said the small boy, valiantly. "Tr--tr--tr--trick . . ."
"Or treat," she finished for him. She held out the plate. "Have a cookie. Have two cookies."
Again he heard wolf noises. Shrill whistles. From the sidewalk. A pack of older teenage boys walked by. "Go ahead. Take some cookies. I made them myself," Nora lied.
He took two cookies, tried to say thank you, turned and ran off.
Nora Casey smiled after him, put the plate on a small table next to the door, which she shut. She turned and went back into the dining room.
"I think he was impressed with you," her sister Cathy said. "Maybe I should answer the door next time." Nora eyed Cathy's Halloween costume. It was a harem outfit, the material of which could best be described as "scant" -- or "translucent." Or "scant and translucent." It lacked even the modesty of a paste ruby to clothe the nakedness of Cathy's adorably cute little belly button.
"I don't think so," Nora said. "If small boys react like that to just a simple floor length dress, what you're wearing could start a riot."
"You think so?" Cathy said excitedly. "You really think so?"
"Besides, small boys aren't the only things out there going bump in the night," Nora said. "If you went to the door in that thing, the wolf whistles could sound like police sirens." She eyed her sister's costume again, disapprovingly. "And we might hear one or two of those."
Cathy glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece, where she and Nora had left their purses. "It's after eight now. We might not have any more trick or treaters."
A head poked from the kitchen door. Two wide eyes peered at them from behind thick glasses. "Is it safe to come out now?"
"The ordeal's not over," Cathy said. "It isn't even midnight yet. But come on out. We'll protect you."
Their client came out, reluctantly. He scowled at them. "I've been meaning to ask about that," he said. "Protect me how. I don't see how either of you could have weapons concealed in those, er, costumes."
"You'd be surprised," Cathy said, helping herself to a cookie.
"That's your limit," Nora told her. "You eat two of those things and you'd burst out of that costume. Where do you have your gun hidden, anyway?"
"Where no one would even think to look," she said.
"Then that can't be on your person," said Nora.
"I should have called the police," said the man with the thick glasses. His name was Rutledge. Stokes Rutledge. "I'm a nervous wreck. I've never had anything this valuable in the house before. And with no protection."
"That's not true," Cathy said. "You have us. We're all the protection you'll ever need."
Nervously he looked up at her. Then up and down at her. "I suppose that's true," he said. "Only, only -- well, forgive me for saying this, but neither one of you looks much like my concept of a bodyguard."
"Well, that's your fault," Cathy, the blonde, said. "For not calling us before we'd started to get ready for the Halloween party that we're now missing. And for saying it was a big emergency. If you hadn't said that, we might have taken the time to get back into our working clothes."
"That's not your working clothes?" Nora said.
"Hush sister dear, there'll be time to meow later." She turned back to Rutledge. "Now just relax and enjoy yourself. Have a cookie. We'll guarantee that no one will break in and steal your jewelry."
"That's an easy guarantee," said a gruff voice behind them. "It wasn't necessary to do any breaking. The back door was unlocked."
Nora whirled. "I locked it myself," she said.
Rutledge let out a moan. "Oh, no," he said. "I just let the cat out. I think I forgot to relock the door."
"And don't think we aren't grateful," said the man with the gun. "Now, where are all those jewels I've been hearing about?"
There were just the two of them, but they both had guns and unpleasant dispositions. The one who had so far done the talking was tall and heavy set, and needed a shave. The other was thin and narrow shouldered, with pale lips and small, mean eyes. It was he who dragged three chairs away from the dining room table and ordered the girls and Rutledge to sit down.
There was nothing to do but obey. Rutledge took the middle chair and Cathy sat on his left, leaving Nora to take the chair to his right. The big ugly man -- as opposed to the smaller ugly man -- stood in front of them, holding his gun, which was a cheap looking revolver.
"I suppose we could just tie you three up and tear the house apart, looking for the necklace, but I think it would be more fun if you told us where it is."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Rutledge said, his voice trembling like the rest of him.
"Let me clarify what I said," the big man snarled. "I think it would be more fun if we made you tell us where it is." He looked at Cathy. "Especially you, Blondie. Who are you dressed up as, anyway? Sally Rand? If that's who you're supposed to be, where's your fan?"
"I'm dressed as Scheherazade," Cathy said, offended. "As any fool can plainly see. Well," she added. "Almost any."
"Maybe we should rough them up, Horace," said Narrow Shoulders, a bit nervously Nora thought. She also thought his hand was shaking just a little. She didn't like that at all. That hand had a gun in it.
"Tell 'em my name, why don't you?" Horace said. "Don't be such a grouch, Hor--er, Pal," Narrow Shoulders said. He glowered at Nora. "I think we should start with Witch Hazel, here."
Horace gave a snort. "Yeah, sure. It's Rutledge here who knows where the stuff is hidden. If we pull anyone's fingernails out, I say we start with him."
"Fingernails!" Rutledge said. "That's barbaric! You can't just pull out a man's finger --"
Horace reached into his coat pocket and produced a pair of pliers. He said, "Sure I can, with these. If you hold out, then we can work on the two cuties."
He took Rutledge's right hand. "You ready for your manicure, pally?"
"Don't! D-d-d-don't! Please don't."
"Then just tell me where the stuff is," Horace said.
Narrow Shoulders was still glomming Cathy. "I never heard of this Scheherazade," he said. "You'd think she'd catch a lot of colds if she ran around dressed like that all the time."
"She was an Arab, for Pete's sake," Horace said. "She lived in Arabia. They don't have colds over in Arabia. They got sand."
Narrow Shoulders blinked. "Is that the truth?" He shifted his eyes back to Cathy. "They don't catch colds in Arabia?" he asked her.
"Gosh, I hope not," Cathy said. "I hope they don't catch them here, either."
The doorbell rang.
"What was that?" Narrow Shoulders asked.
"It was the doorbell, Jerome," Horace snarled.
"Oh, yeah," Jerome said. He started to get up.
"Stay put," Horace snarled. "Don't go near the door. Let Witch Hazel answer the door."
He reached out and took Cathy by the hand. He held her right index finger out and clamped the pliers on the nail. "Not a sound, Blondie, if you know what's good for you." He glanced at Nora. "You go get the door, and get rid of whoever it is."
Cathy tried to pull away her hand. "You guys are making a big --"
Jerome moved around behind her and clamped his hand over Cathy's mouth and held the gun against her head. Cathy tried to protest but could only make vague, inarticulate sounds. "Shut up and hold still," Horace told her. She shut up and froze.
Nora stood up, slowly. "Don't hurt her," she said.
"Don't try anything cute," Horace told her. There was just the right degree of menace in his voice.
The doorbell rang again, an impatient three times in quick succession. Nora walked over to the door and opened it.
A cute girl with blonde ringlets, dressed like Bo Peep, looked up at her and said, "Twick or Tweet!"
"Well, aren't you just adorable," Nora said. Out on the sidewalk, she could see the girl's parents. They waved Nora a neighborly wave and she waved back. They were too far away to get any sort of message to. Nora picked up the plate of cookies from the table beside the door and let the girl select two and drop them in her bag. The little girl said, "Thank you!" turned like a whirling dervish and ran back to the sidewalk.
Except for the girl's parents, the sidewalk was deserted. Things were winding up for the night.
Nora closed the door and went back to her chair but did not sit down.
Behind the hand that was almost smothering her, Cathy snarled something just to remind Jerome he no longer needed to keep her quiet.
"You can let my sister go --"
"You shut up and sit down," Horace said.
"Wait a minute," Jerome said. "As long as she's up anyway, why not have her bring that plate of cookies over?"
Horace started to growl something hostile at his partner, then caught himself. He gave a sigh. "Okay, already." He looked up at Nora. "Bring the plate back here but don't try anything. Got that?"
She brought the plate over to them and Jerome stuffed his gun into his pocket and reached out for a cookie. Cathy made muffled sounds to remind him he had not yet let her go, but he ignored her. He munched the cookie, a pleased expression on his face.
Nora offered the plate to Horace. "Care for a cookie?"
"Just put the damned plate down," he snarled. There was no table handy so she sat it on the couch.
"Sit back down," Horace told Nora.
She sat down. Horace let go of Cathy's hand. She shoved it down to the cushion of her chair and tried to wipe the hand off.
In a smooth motion, Horace took Rutledge's hand and clamped the pliers on the nail of the index finger. In an even smoother motion, he yanked it off.
Rutledge let out a scream and yanked his bloody hand away from Horace's grasp. Horace said, "It's a shame it's Halloween, ain't it? Nobody ever pays attentions to people's screams on Halloween."
"You son of a bitch," Cathy said in a low tone filled with menace that Horace either didn't regard seriously or didn't notice at all.
Nora yanked a handkerchief out of a pocket on her witch's costume and wrapped it around Rutledge's hand. He made sounds that were a mixture of screaming and whimpering, just not as loud as before. When his hand was bandaged, he shoved it under his arm and tried to push himself through the back of his chair but couldn't.
Horace never even had to repeat his question. When Rutledge could manage to talk again, he said, "They're in the bedroom."
"Where in the bedroom?"
"On the dresser. In a box on the dresser." He grimaced and moaned in pain.
"All I can say is, that better be on the up and up. Go check it out, Jerome."
"Sure thing," Jerome said.
As soon as Jerome was gone, Horace said, "If they're not there, I think we'll go to work on you, Blondie. You called me a son of a bitch."
"You'd better leave her alone," Nora said.
Horace turned his head toward her. "Spunk is just a waste in a good looking woman, sweetheart. I might take the time to teach you that even if we do find the diamonds."
Jerome came back in. "Here they are." He carried a small box, which he handed to Horace. The box was open. Horace peered into it. "Oh, look at all that glitter."
He seemed happy. He got up, took the box into the dining room and spilled the diamonds out on the table. The lights were on directly above the table and he repeated himself, "Oh, look at all that glitter."
Jerome started into the dining room. Horace said, "Keep an eye on our friends in there. There'll be plenty of opportunity to look at these things later."
After a few more seconds he carefully brushed the diamonds to the edge of the table with his hand and even more carefully into the box.
He sat the box down on the table and came back into the living room, where he stood regarding the three captives. Rutledge was still whimpering with pain. "It's been a joy working with the three of you."
"Just what are we going to do with them?" Jerome asked. "Lock 'em in a closet, maybe?"
"That's one possibility," he said.
Then very quickly, he slammed his gun against Rutledge's head. Rutledge gave a loud grunt and fell out of his chair to crash on the floor.
He lay there, almost still.
Horace regarded Rutledge a moment, then looked at Cathy.
Jerome said, "We can tie them up and shove them in a closet."
"Tie 'em up with what? Did you bring any rope? I didn't."
Jerome looked at Cathy. "We can tear her costume -- I mean we can tear her sister's costume into strips and use that on them."
Horace looked at Nora now. "Tear her costume into strips, huh? Tell me, sweetheart. Do you look as good under your dress as Blondie does?"
Cathy said, "Actually, she has a much sexier body than I do -- "
"Cathy!" shouted Nora, with indignation.
Everyone turned toward her. She was glowering at her sister and her hands were balled into fists. Horace started to laugh.
The gunshot cut his laugh short. The bullet from Cathy's gun ripped into his upper arm. His gun fell from his numbed fingers.
Jerome jumped around, lifting his gun to fire at Cathy but by that time Nora had her hands on the chair she had been sitting in. She raised it and brought it down on his head before he could pull the trigger.
Nora moved quickly to the mantel and pulled her own automatic from her purse. Cathy kicked the guns that belonged to Jerome and Horace out of their reach.
She was holding a derringer, the sort that holds only two shots. Nora said, "Where in blazes did you manage to hide even a derringer in that costume."
"I had a small holster sewn to the strap behind my neck," Cathy said. "My hair covered it."
"Well, I never suspected it," Nora admitted. Jerome was trying to sit up, wiping blood off his face. Nora told him, "Just stay on the floor, jerk." He didn't argue. Neither did Horace. He just clutched his wounded arm and stared at the women with frightened, disbelieving eyes.
Nora went to the phone to call the police.