Uncle Pringle and the Larsen Gang (Approx. 2,000 wds.)
“They’ve taken all my money,” said Mrs. Harrison. “I don’t know what to do. Can you help me?”
My wife Ellen handed Mrs. Harrison a tissue. We were in the kitchen of our house. I should explain. I’m a science-fiction writer. My last two or three books had sold pretty well and we’d finally succeeded in buying our own home, in a suburb north of New York City. Mrs. Harrison was our neighbor down the street. She’d brought over a casserole when we moved in and she and Ellen had become friendly.
What had happened to Mrs. Harrison was a sad but familiar story. She was an elderly woman. She had saved a considerable amount of money for her old age. A supposed friend had introduced her to a Mr. Larsen, who was a supposed investment counselor. The friend said that Larsen had almost doubled her money in the last year.. He’d done the same for many of her friends. He could do the same for her. Mrs. Harrison went to his office, which was very impressive. There was an efficient receptionist, half a dozen or so young men in suits and ties at computers, phones ringing.
Mrs. Harrison was shown into Larsen’s inner sanctum. The receptionist brought her tea and biscuits. Larsen described a foolproof investment, something to do with wind farms and solar energy. She’d not only be making a sound investment she’d be helping the environment. She signed a lot of papers she didn’t really understand. She received two dividends, then they stopped. When she inquired, she was told that unfortunately the wind farm and solar energy companies had gone bankrupt. No, her money, along with that of the investors, was all gone. That happened sometimes. Mr. Larsen was sorry. Mrs. Harrison had seen a lawyer. He told her that because of the papers she’d signed everything was legal. He couldn’t help her. Ellen looked over at me. I knew we were thinking of the same thing---Uncle Pringle.
Uncle Pringle, Ellen’s uncle actually, had once worked for some government agency, never named, and now called himself a consultant, although what he consulted about was never clear. One thing that was for certain was that he had many contacts and could accomplish remarkable things. That had been shown when he’d helped us or our friends out of a number of difficulties. If anyone could help Mrs. Harrison it was Uncle Pringle.
Uncle Pringle had several eccentricities. One of them was that he had no office. Instead, he operated out of a bench in one of New York City’s parks. He said that gave him a chance to observe different types of people. He also liked to feed the pigeons. But in this case, as he hadn’t been to our house since we’d bought it, he agreed to come out to see what we’d done with it, and also to meet Mrs. Harrison.
I offered to drive Uncle Pringle from the city to our place, but he said it wasn’t necessary. He arrived in a chauffer-driven limo, bearing flowers and a bottle of wine. We convened in the living room. I’d always thought that Uncle Pringle bore an uncanny resemblance to the English actor Claude Rains. He was a small, neat man with small hands and feet, white hair and a soft, melodious voice. He was always courteous, but now he was especially so with Mrs. Harrison, seating her in a comfortable chair in our living room, pouring her a glass of wine and gently drawing out the details of her experience with Mr. Larsen.
When she’d finished her account, she asked, “Do you think you can help me?”
“As a matter of fact,” said Uncle Pringle, “I was very interested when my nephew here told me about your situation. The Larsen gang has been operating for a long time, but he was small potatoes. It seems now he’s gotten into big-time swindling. It’s a variation of a Ponzi scheme, of course. The worst thing is that everything is perfectly legal.”
“Then there’s nothing you can do?”
“I didn’t say that. In certain cases, you have to ignore the legalities.”
At this point Uncle Pringle’s cell phone rang. He answered and said, “Oh, yes, Bibi, how are you? An emergency? Yes, I can come over. All right. Shalom.” Shalom, I thought. And Bibi. Wasn’t the Israeli prime minister called that?
“Sorry for the interruption,” said Uncle Pringle. “Now, where were we?”
“You said that you sometimes had to ignore the legalities,” said Mrs. Harrison. “Do you think you can help me?”
“Not me personally. I have an urgent matter I must attend to. I’ll be out of the country for a while.” Mrs. Harrison’s face fell. “But,” Uncle Pringle continued, “I think I know just the people who can put this right.” He turned to me. “You’ll get a phone call shortly, then we’ll put our operation into play.”
* * *
The phone call came the next week, from a Mr. Beasley. He asked me when it would be convenient for him and two of his associates to come out to our house. I told him “Any time.”
“We’ll be there in an hour, ” said Mr. Beasley.
I was a little surprised when Mr. Beasley and his associates, two of them, arrived. They were what we now call “senior citizens.” Mr. Beasley himself was a man in his 70’s, distinguished-looking, tall and trim, with white hair and white moustache, possibly a retired ambassador. Ms Prentice was also in her 70’s, also white-haired but short and plump, a matron. She re-enforced this image by taking out some knitting as soon as she sat down. The other associate, Mr. Sullivan, must have been at least 80. He was a gnome-like man, with a red face and nose who looked as if he’d be at home in your neighborhood bar. It would be the Larsen gang on one side and the over-the-hill gang on the other, I thought.
“What we’d like to do,” said Mr. Beasley, ”is to use your house as our base of operations, as it were, set up some devices. Would that be possible?”
I looked at Ellen. “Sure,” she said. “We have plenty of room. What kind of devices?”
“Oh, something to track Larsen’s comings and goings; a bug in his office, of course. Just a few little things like that.”
“Sounds interesting,” I said.
“Sully is our man for that. Larsen likes to prey on senior citizens. Ms. Prentice and I will be his next clients. We’ll pay his office a visit. Don’t want to wait. He may be coming to an end with his Ponzi scheme and then he’ll close up shop.”
“What about all the money?” asked Ellen.
“In some offshore account, I’m sure.”
* * *
That evening as Larsen left his office he noticed the janitor mopping the floor. He stopped and said, “You’re new, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir. Just started.” The new janitor was a small, gnome-like man.
“Well, do a good job.”
“Don’t worry, sir. I will.”
* * *
Ellen and I stared at the computer screen with fascination. We could see Mr. Beasley and Ms. Prentice in Larsen’s office just as if they were on television. Sully was seated at the computer; he had a pair of headphones on. “How’d you do it?” I asked him.
“Tricks of the trade,” he said, winking.
Mr. Larsen was seated behind a large, uncluttered desk. He was a handsome man, rugged features, black hair, blue eyes, cleft chin, barrel chest. He was asking Colonel Brown, as Mr. Beasly had presented himself, a number of questions: When had he gone to West Point? Where had he served? Had he been in Vietnam? Did he know a certain General? At each question, Sully, referring to notes in front of him, spoke softly into a microphone and Mr. Beasely gave his answer. At last Larsen seemed satisfied and they began to discuss the several million dollars that Colonel and Mrs. Brown wanted to invest in something that would have a better return than the government bonds they now held.
Larsen launched into a long spiel about a new type of investment involving oil drilling that was somehow insured against failure and would have a big pay-off. In the end, “Colonel Brown” signed some papers and Larsen told him he wouldn’t regret it. The supposed Colonel and Mrs. Brown stood up and made as if to leave. Then Mr. Beasley said, “By the way, everything that took place here has been recorded and will be turned over to the proper authorities.”
“You old faker,” said Larsen. “Well, you signed the papers so everything is legal.”
“That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I’d check on your offshore accounts if I were you.” He turned to Ms. Prentice. “Come, my dear.” They left quickly. Larsen stood open-mouthed for a moment, then he pushed a button on his desk and a burly man came rushing in.”
“What is it, boss?”
“Go to your computer and look at our offshore accounts.”
The burly man left, then returned a few minutes later. “I can’t believe it, boss. The accounts have been emptied. We don’t have anything left.”
“Damnit!” said Larsen. “It was those two old crooks. I knew it. Do we know where they went?”
“Sure. I put that GPS on their car, just like you said.”
“Okay, let’s get going. And bring your gun.”
“Uh, oh,” I said. “I think we’re going to have trouble. Should I call the police?”
“Not necessary,” said Sully. “We’ll be prepared for them.”
* * *
Mr. Beasely and Ms. Prentice had arrived a little later and Sully told them about the GPS. “Hmmm, we might have underestimated our friend Larsen.” Now we were all in the living room. Ms. Prentice had again taken out her knitting. I was nervous and I was sure Ellen was, too, but the others seemed calm. The door burst open and in came the burly man, holding his gun. Larsen followed closely behind him. “So there you are. Okay, I want my money back.”
“What money is that?” said Mr. Beasley, “”The money you’ve swindled from all those innocent people who trusted you?”
“The money in my offshore accounts. You took it somehow, now put it back.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. It’s a one-way operation.”
“Okay, I’m not kidding.” He looked at Sully. “Get the ‘janitor’ on it or I’ll have your wife or whoever she is shot in both knees.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “You can’t do that.”
“That’s all right,” said Ms. Prentice. “I have a gun in my knitting bag pointed right at Mr. Larsen. Now put your weapon down, sonny.”
“What should I do, boss?”
Larsen was sweating. He looked at Ms. Prentice. Somehow she didn’t look that much like a sweet little old lady any more. “Put it down. But remember you signed those papers. You can’t touch us. We’ll pack up and move our operation somewhere else.”
“Your scam might not have been illegal, but breaking and entering and threatening to shoot someone is. And it’s all on tape. Isn’t that right, Sully?”
“It is. I’ve already called the police. They should be here in a minute.” He turned to me. “You didn’t have to worry about having your house shot up. When I was bugging Larsen’s office I found his gun and removed the bullets.” We heard sirens approaching. The Larsen gang was about to go on a long vacation.
* * *
Once again we were in our living room. Uncle Pringle, back from wherever he’d been, and looking very tanned, had once again arrived in a chauffer-driven limo. Mrs. Harrison was also there. “Well.” said Uncle Pringle, “my associates seem to have done a satisfactory job.”
“And I’ve gotten my money back,” said Mrs. Harrison. “How can I ever thank you?”
“It’s our pleasure. We don’t like crooks who go after old people. Maybe because we’re oldsters ourselves. Now we’re trying to find Larsen’s other victims so we can return their money.”
“What will happen to Larsen?” I asked.
“He’ll do some jail time. When he gets out I’m sure he’ll be up to his old tricks. But we’ll be watching out for him. Mr. Beasley, Ms. Prentice and Sully will be ready to go.”