Jocelyn Beauregard, Private Eye (part thirteen)

Having completed NaNoWriMo ’10, I’m going to share one section of my story here every Friday until you’ve read the whole thing. Hooray for easy update days! Enjoy.

The setup was less than ideal. Sitting on the cot wasn’t uncomfortable, not exactly, but it was difficult. If Jocelyn wobbled or shifted her weight too much the thing would flip, dumping her rather comically to the floor. If she didn’t lean forward a certain amount, though, she couldn’t access the typewriter balancing on the chair in front of her.

Jocelyn had been so busy getting rained on, eating roast beef, and crawling through hidden tunnels all day that she had completely neglected to type another copy of her letter for her other neighbor to sign. Now that the sun was threatening to set, Jocelyn knew she was racing against the clock to get the task done before Mr. Arches closed up for the night.

There was nowhere convenient to place the draft she was copying from, so Jocelyn had hung it from a string in front of her with a clothespin, next to her clothes from this morning. It made for a rather peculiar-looking set of laundry: socks, skirt, signed letter covered with soil from the hands of the nice old florist lady next door, blouse, brassiere, hat.

This whole process would have been so much easier if Jocelyn could have simply sat at her desk, but if she even so much as made a move in that direction Pads responded by making a noise which could only be described as pure, passionate feline hatred. Sitting on the far side of the room, however, where Pads could safely ignore her, Jocelyn fancied that she could hear him purring. Or, at least, a sound as close to purring as an animal whose most amicable mood was “cautious indifference” could muster. Actually, if Jocelyn were forced to be honest with herself, the sound she was hearing may have just been water dripping through the pipes.

Jocelyn didn’t have a nameplate on her desk. She wondered now, if she were to get one, whether it should say her name or Pads’s. Always one to find the silver lining, though, she imagined she was getting quite good at balancing while sitting down.

“After all I’ve done for you,” sighed Jocelyn, once again adjusting her posture so as not to flip over the cot. She had tried luring the irritable tom away from her chair with food and saucers of cream… she even wrangled a ball of yarn from an old box of knitting supplies she had lost interest in two winters ago. She about gagged when she found the green and red candy-striped scarf she had halfway completed. Pads had had a similar reaction to the green yarn Jocelyn tried to get him to play with.

Thus was Jocelyn exposed to her first hairball.

“Maybe Detective Clark was right. I should go down to the harbor and see about getting you a bucket of fishheads.” Even if they improved Pads’s disposition, though, they certainly wouldn’t do anything to improve the fragrance of the tiny office.

Jocelyn typed the final two lines of her letter precisely at 6:00, and raced out the door just in time to find Mr. Arches locking his door. “Good evening, Mr. Arches,” said Jocelyn cheerfully.

Mr. Arches was a desperately thin man, skin laid overtop of bones. His eyes were thin, sunken slits, his mouth a thin and slightly curved frown. His hair was especially thin as well, and silver with age, when it wasn’t hidden by his derby. Of all Mr. Arches’s thin characteristics, however, none were more threadbare than his tolerance for what he considered “useless conversation”. Jocelyn was therefore not surprised in the slightest when her cordial greeting was met with nothing but a curt nod.

As Mr. Arches strode down the road on his long, thin legs, Jocelyn about had to jog in order to keep up. “I was wondering, Mr. Arches, if you’d had the chance to see my new sign.”

Mr. Arches sighed, and all hope that he could avoid a conversation seeped out of him. “It’s quite informative,” he said simply, without breaking stride.

Jocelyn chose to interpret that as a compliment. “Thank you. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but it’s technically in violation of some obscure city ordinance, on account of it overhangs onto your storefront a bit. Had… had you noticed?”

“I’m a man that has better things to do than count the bricks in his outside walls,” replied Mr. Arches.

“Yes, of course you are.” Jocelyn took the letter she had just typed out of her coat and presented it to Mr. Arches in the most professional manner she could muster while walking as quickly as she was. “So if you could just sign this letter here, that’d be real swell.”

Mr. Arches snorted, and did not acknowledge the letter at all. “I don’t see why I should. If you’re in violation, you’re in violation. It’s got nothing to do with me.”

Previous encounters with Mr. Arches had led Jocelyn to naturally expect resistance from the old curmudgeon. “I’m hoping that if I can present evidence that neither of my neighbors are affected by the sign’s placement, I can show that the sign’s not hurting anybody. All this says is that you’ve seen my sign and that you don’t mind the way it’s displayed. Will you please take a look?”

“Absolutely not. I’ll not be involved in your ridiculous shenanigans.”

“No shenanigans here, Mr. Arches, it’s just… well, things are tight right now, and I can’t afford to have the sign re-done. So if you could just help me out here, I’d be most grateful.”

“The good lord knows I woke up this morning craving Jacqueline Beauregard’s gratitude,” said Mr. Arches contemptuously.

“It’s Jocelyn,” Jocelyn corrected, “and I’m not asking the sun and moon here, Mr. Arches. It’s just a little favor.”

Though Mr. Arches despised conversation, he positively adored lectures, and was quite gifted at transforming the former into the latter. “Whatever you’re called, madam, you are an entrepreneur. Or, at least, you fancy yourself one. Minor setbacks like this are simply a cost of business, and if you cannot afford the costs of business perhaps you deserve to go out of business. I built my shop up from nothing, with nothing, and worked my hands to calloused nubs for every red cent I’ve ever seen. A business built on a foundation of sacrifice and dedication is a business worth having. To go around asking for favors and hand-outs… unthinkable! Most shameful! Why, the difficulty sleeping alone would be enough to drive me to an early grave.”

“Let’s not think of it as a favor, then. Let’s think of it like…” An entire thesaurus flashed through Jocelyn’s head in the span of two seconds. “…seeing justice done.”

Mr. Arches simply scoffed at that. “I lived to see your irrational gender granted access to the polls. Tell me more about how there’s justice to be had in this community.”

“I didn’t vote,” admitted Jocelyn, “I was busy with an important stake-out on Election Day, and didn’t make it in time.”

“A common enough story, I imagine. Upon being assigned an important civic responsibility, the first thing you do is squander it in favor of your ridiculous hobbies.”

“Being a detective isn’t a hobby,” Jocelyn assured him, “it’s my profession. And I take it very seriously! Which is why I need to get this sign business cleared up, so if you could just—“

Mr. Arches stopped dead in his tracks and turned to glare at Jocelyn. “You seem to have an issue with the definition of terms, madam. Not a moment ago you mentioned you couldn’t afford to have your sign re-worked so as to be in compliance with city regulations. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes, that’s so.”

“It seems to me that if sleuthing were indeed your profession, you would be making money. Since you’re not making money, that suggests it’s merely something you do for leisure. Hence: a hobby.”

Jocelyn bristled. “It’s my job, Mr. Arches, and for your information I’m quite good at it. But in order to keep doing it I need to get this taken care of. So please.” She thrust the letter at Mr. Arches despite being certain he would simply take it and tear it up.

She had overestimated his reaction. In reality, he didn’t even stoop low enough to touch the letter or even so much as glance at it. “It’s quite sad, really, to watch you playing out these ridiculous fantasies. You’ll never find a good husband if you spend all your time stooped over a trail of footprints with your little magnifying glass. As it happens I’m not your husband, madam, and I therefore feel no obligation to solve your problems for you.”

Jocelyn could have throttled him. It was time to switch tactics. “Mrs. warned me this is how it would go,” she said defiantly. “Sign it, or I’ll see she raps your knuckles.”

Mr. Arches cocked one of his thin eyebrows. “Mrs. Keltzschlinger, you say?”

“That’s right. She’s got no problem with my sign, or with my profession.” Twist the knife, she heard Danny say. “And I’m sure if Mr. Keltzschlinger were alive, he’d have signed my letter in a heartbeat. He’d have considered it his civic duty, and the neighborly thing to do.”

The already-thin coloring had faded from Mr. Arches’s face. He said softly, “Would you do me the kindness of loaning me your pen?”

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