The Christmas Carol and The Gambling Circle

“Have you ever gambled while on the premise of The McLeod Community Theatre?”

9-year-old Henry Eddleston’s mom paused mid-bite on a short-bread cookie. His dad gripped his glass of punch. We were standing in the lobby during intermission of The Christmas Carol. Did I ever think my job would lead me to a small community theatre barely visible behind a sulfuric paper mill? No, but that was my answer for every assignment.

Mr. and Mrs. Eddleston erupted into laughter.

“Gambling?” Mr. Eddleston was hardly addressing me, looking for a familiar face in the perimeter. “This is a highly respected establishment in our community. Our Henry has been in The Christmas Carol every year since he was five.”

“I used to star in shows here when I was in my prime,” Mrs. Eddleston added. I wondered how this was relevant. “Is your child in The Christmas Carol, too?”

“No. I’m Allison Rampart, Detective.” I handed Mrs. Eddleston my business card. “There is believed to be illegal activity valuing over 13 million dollars outsourced from this theatre, and I plan to get to the bottom of it.”

Realizing I’d come across a dead-end, and that I didn’t like these people, I tipped my hat. “Good day.”

Outside the third-floor administration office hung pictures of past performances. It didn’t take a detective to know the young woman doing the Spread Eagle in the 2002 production of Chicago was none other than Mrs. Eddleston. Inside the office, one elderly woman sat typing on a computer, eating a pastrami sandwich.

“Can I help you, dear?”

“I’m Allison Rampart, Detective. There has been documented 13 million dollar transactional activity believed to come from a gambling ring within this theatre. Are you aware of any of this?”

She choked on her pastrami sandwich for the next twelve minutes. “Why, of course not! We are scraped for money as it is.”

I felt the urge to press, but didn’t want to stay in the likely case the pastrami did her in. I tipped my hat, bid, “Good day” and left.

Hearing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” ring through the theatre doors, I was reminded that I had never been in a theatre production myself because I was unfortunately very cool in my youth and had never had the opportunity to be a super weird dumb nerd. This made me curious about the happening’s backstage.

As I was dressed in detective black, not period appropriate clothes for The Christmas Carol, I grabbed a piece of trampled sheet music from the back stairwell and covered my face.

Through the double-doors of the area marked “Cast and Crew,” there appeared a long hallway with super weird dumb nerds wearing petticoats or top hats donned with Christmas holly. Two children in beggar clothing ran past me.

“Jessie, Harrison, get back in here!”

The panicked lady looked up at me. “Can you watch the children while I find a first aid kit for Bethany?”

As someone dressed in black moved a broken fog machine down the hallway, I realize I looked like another stagehand.

“Sure,” I assumed this case would not get cracked while a production was in session and I had met children before – just not two at the same time.

The Greenroom was like a horror movie. 30 children ran across the floor and, I think, the ceiling. They sported ragged costumes. Some children had patched trousers, some had fake dirt on their faces. Others showed off their finger-less gloves.

I approached a kid caking an absurd among of fake dirt on his face and clothing.

“When do you all go on stage next?” I asked, realizing I knew nothing about The Christmas Carol.

“We don’t go on anymore. We only go on twice in the first act so Scrooge can tell us he doesn’t want to give us any money. Mrs. Linda says we just have to stay alive until our parents come pick us up.”

I slumped in a chair and wondered why any child would want to be in a production where they were mostly not in the production.

“I fold.” I heard someone whimper.

Another voice followed with a grimy sequel, “Royal flush.”

I heard Ohs and Ahs and a God damnit! I searched through the screaming children to follow the noise.

“I’m out of cash, Henry.”

“I already gave you my sister’s wedding ring and her divorce tiara.”

“Here are my dad’s car keys. It’s a Mercedes S-Class. I’m sorry.”

A circle of knees in torn 19th century garb appeared behind a row of music stands. Yet when I approached, I discovered seven children on their phones, playing with their Nintendo Switch, or staring at the wall, none matching the soundscape from before.

“Were you all playing poker?” I started to feel silly in my suspicion.

“No, we were preparing for our next scene,” a grimy kid smiled.

“Ha! I happen to know that you do not have a next scene. The children don’t go on stage in the second act!”

A door opened, “Alexa, Henry! We need you in the wings, now!” The grimy child stood and passed an overstuffed Avengers backpack to a girl who laid her head on it, continuing to play with her Nintendo Switch.

The girl saw me and quipped, “Alexa and Henry play Ignorance and Want, kind of like two creepy gremlins or something. They get to go on stage for that stupid graveyard scene. Alexa’s never even been to theatre camp.” Her jealousy bored me.

The call came from the panicked lady who had returned with a first-aid kit. She found me.

“Thank you so much! I should be ok, now.”

Before I left, I surveyed the scene once more. I noticed the Avengers backpack was monogrammed H.E…. Henry Eddleston, I thought.

“You know,” I said to the girl. “If you want to go on stage. You should just do it. It’s just pointing after all.”

Her mouth slowly formed a smile. She told the kid staring at the wall to watch the backpack. As she extended it to him, I intercepted and dumped its contents.

Bundles upon bundles of money, engagement rings, car keys, yacht keys, blocks of gold, a Picasso painting, frozen embryos, mummy remnants, fossils proving the birth of Christ, a lock of hair that I can only assumed belonged to the artist formerly known as Prince, and baby teeth I can only assumed belong to Tom Brady fell to the ground.

I couldn’t believe was I was witnessing! Was weaselly, slimy, 9-year-old Henry Eddleston the evil overlord of this massive breach?

The snooty girl looked at me with terror in her eyes. I ran past the children, through the double doors and into the theatre. Crawling below the chairs, I saw Henry and Alexa on stage. They looked homely, standing opposite someone dressed like the grim reaper. They each raised an arm and pointed at a tombstone.

At the same moment, something fell out of Henry’s hand. I looked closer. It was dice. Alexa began to cry, yet Henry wore a brooding smile.

“That snake!” I crawled back out of the theatre and called my boss.

“Chief, you’ve got to hear me out! I think I know who this criminal is, and it’s so much worse than we could have imagined. This gambling ring is a group of children in the Greenroom of The Christmas Carol at the McLeod Community Theatre. Their ringleader is 9-year-old Henry Eddleston!”

“Ah, here we go again. We’ll have to file this under the age-old Christmas Carol crime.”

“Come, again?” I fell back at his lack of amusement.

“Happens every year. The children really need more stage time.”

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