Jocelyn Beauregard, Private Eye (part sixteen)

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.

Officer Barret was standing outside of Ted’s office smoking a cigar and looking very pleased with himself. Mr. Swanson’s observation had been spot on: the office was swarming with cops. Not just uniformed officers either, like before; many of the men were federal prohibition agents in plainclothes.

“Here she comes now, our former top suspect,” Officer Barrett told the agent he’d been speaking with when he saw Jocelyn coming up the road. “Good news, chickadee, looks like you’re off the hook. Holdren was a bootlegger all along, and now the only question is whether he got jumpy and skipped town, or if he stepped on someone’s toes and got himself dropped off a pier.”

Jocelyn was about to respond, but the agent standing next to Officer Barrett didn’t give her the opportunity. “Ma’am, I’m Agent Farbes with the Bureau of Prohibition.” He held up a very impressive-looking badge which confirmed precisely that. Jocelyn thought it matched his stern, humorless visage quite well. “Officer Barrett informs us you’re aiding the investigation in an unofficial capacity.”

Jocelyn couldn’t imagine Officer Barrett ever admitting any such thing. “That’s right,” she said, offering Officer Barrett a nervous glance. “Jocelyn Beauregard. Pleased to meet you.”

The agent politely accepted Jocelyn’s handshake, then held out a cigarette case. “Smoke?”

“No thank you,” Jocelyn declined. She was trying to get a look inside the office, to see how difficult it would be to plant her stolen notes back in their proper places, but Officer Barrett and Agent Farbes conspired to obstruct her view.

Agent Farbes lit his cigarette as though it were in his job description and took a long, joyless drag. “Miss Beauregard, I understand that you’re the one who initially discovered Mr. Holdren was missing. Is that correct?”

“Yes, that’s right. I was on the telephone with him at the time.”

“Furthermore, I understand you were the one who discovered his stash of illicit liquor. Is that also correct?”

“Lucky me, I guess,” affirmed Jocelyn. “Say, is Detective Clark handy?”

“He’s off on some wild goose chase, looking into the Bakers angle,” Officer Barrett explained. “It’s a dead end, of course. Enough booze walked away from that speakeasy to flood Central Station. Book’s closed on that place, make no mistake.”

“It seems strange to me that you’d brag about closing down a speakeasy, and then admit most of the liquor escaped your capture, officer,” said Agent Forbes.

Officer Barrett merely shrugged in response. “If they’d let me handle the case the way I wanted to, I’d have taken the joint down two weeks earlier, before they’d been tipped off. If only I’d had the same leeway you boys do… but no, I had to worry about red tape due process and all kinds of other malarkey.

“Important thing is, ol’ Bakers is out of the rum running business for good. He and his boys pulled heaters on me and mine, and I’m not ashamed to say he was on the losing end of that firefight. He was a draft dodger too, you know that? A man ought to serve his country, don’t you think?”

“A man ought,” agreed Agent Forbes. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head back down and see how we’re coming along.” He tipped his hat to Jocelyn. “Ma’am.”

With that, Agent Forbes dismissed himself and went into Ted’s office. Officer Barrett exhaled smugly as he watched the agent depart before addressing Jocelyn again. “Take a walk with me, Beauregard,” he said, “There’s some things we need to discuss.”

Jocelyn momentarily considered ignoring his request and making her way into the office, but her curiosity overcame her; she had to know the reasoning behind Officer Barrett’s apparent change in disposition towards her. As he made his way down the street, Jocelyn moved quickly to keep pace.

“If this is about a matter of a sixty-six dollar fine, it’ll have to wait,” Jocelyn said, trying to sound firm without being impatient. “I’ve simply had more important things to worry about.”

“As have we all,” agreed Officer Barrett, “which is why I have a job for you. Do me this favor, and I’ll suggest to the city council that your fines up to this point be waived.” He shifted his cigar to the other side of his mouth, so he could talk out of the side closer to Jocelyn. “You’ll still have to remove the sign, of course. Nothing I can do about that. But it’ll give you some breathing room, at least. What do you say?”

“I say you’re pulling my chain,” Jocelyn replied. “Before today you wouldn’t have thrown a pail of water if I were on fire.”

“Now that just ain’t true. It’s just I’d have thrown the pail along with it.”

“How considerate of you. So what’s the job?”

“I need someone tracked down. Someone here in town. Look here.” Officer Barrett pulled out his pocketbook, and extracted a folded-up photograph of a young serviceman. “That’s the fellow there: Private Richard B. Mitchroy. Ring any bells?”

Cathedral towers full of bells were ringing, in fact, but she just shook her head.

“Fine, if that’s how you want to play it,” Officer Barrett shifted his cigar back and replaced the photograph.

It was clear Officer Barrett had no intention of giving up the goat. “Okay,” she admitted, “yeah, I guess I’ve seen him around.”

“Now that’s the spirit, chickadee. Welcome to the case.”

“What do you want with him?”

“He’s a thug. Muscle for hire. And I want to ask him a few questions about this Holdren business.” Officer Barrett took a long, contemplative puff on his cigar. “I’m sure you do, too. But you had no idea he was still in town, did you?”

“No,” admitted Jocelyn, “I thought he’d shipped back out.”

“So you haven’t seen him around, then?”

“I—wait, that’s not what I—“

“Can it. You saw Holdren’s inventory, same as I did. I knew you’d make the Mitchroy connection. I bet you got it in that little book of yours, even.”

“Which you’ll never lay eyes on,” snapped Jocelyn forcefully, making at least a cursory attempt to salvage a small victory out of the conversation.

Officer Barrett just chuckled. “Yeah, sure I won’t. You sniff this fellow out, and you tell me where to find him, maybe I don’t lean on you so hard for the eyesore in your window.”

Jocelyn wasn’t sure which idea was more displeasing to her: that she might end up working for Officer Barrett, or that he was somehow a step ahead of her in the investigation. She stared at her feet as she walked, so as to avoid Officer Barrett’s self-satisfied gaze. “Can’t you find Mitchroy all on your own?” she asked.

“’Course I could,” replied Officer Barrett, “but I’ve got no reason to. I start tracking down Dick Mitchroy, I’ve got to explain to unpleasant people sitting behind big desks how I knew to do that.”

“Ted’s inventory ledger,” said Jocelyn. “It says ‘L. Mitchroy’, but you could just say you were running down the name.”

“That avenue of inquiry doesn’t lead to Dick, it leads to the Mitchroy vineyards outside of town… as you well know.” Jocelyn looked up at him with a shocked expression, which was met by one of his trademark sneers. “That’s where you were this morning, wasn’t it?”

“What, are you having me followed now?”

“One of these days, chickadee, you’ll finally learn that this is my town. You just live in it.”

“So that’s a yes?”

“Listen, don’t mind your pretty little head about the details. You find me Dick Mitchroy, I make it worth your while. It’s really that simple. I tell the unpleasant man behind the big desk that a PI tipped me off to Dick Mitchroy’s whereabouts, you get to be a footnote in the biggest liquor bust this city’s seen since last time I was involved in one. Everyone’s happy.”

“How is it he’s even in town? Isn’t he deployed?”

Officer Barrett showed a brief flash of impatience. “What’d I just say about the details? Can you find this guy or can’t you?”

“I’m sure I can,” said Jocelyn, “I’m just not sure if the payment’s fair. Both of my neighbors have already agreed to help me with the sign issue. I think I can make it go away without you.”

“Is that so?” scoffed Officer Barrett. “You listen here, chickadee: that ‘sign issue’ goes away when I say it does, and not before. Now, I’m this close to finally nailing Ted Holdren once and for all. All you have to do is decide whether you want to make yourself at least marginally useful to me, or if you’d rather go down with him.”

“Why in the world do you hate him so much?” asked Jocelyn from the verge of exasperation. “That’s what I’ve never been able to figure out. You were a police detective; it’s not as though PIs pose any threat to your livelihood. Why work so aggressively to run them off?”

“Say, you’re a detective,” replied Officer Barrett, “why don’t you figure it out?” He had stopped walking, and merely stood in the sidewalk with his chest puffed out and his arms crossed. This was a challenge, Jocelyn understood. He already had the upper hand in the investigation as well as the conversation they’d been having. Now he was attempting to bully her outright.

Twist the knife, she heard Danny say again.

The response Jocelyn settled on was: “I would, but we both know what happened last time I looked at your personal affairs.” She was very sure to place a strong emphasis on the word “affairs”.

Officer Barrett took his lumps with about as much grace as could be expected. “Be glad you’re a dame,” he said once the smugness had all drained away from his face, “otherwise I’d knock your block clean off for that one.”

Rather than respond with another delightful repartee, Officer Barrett simply slid the photograph of Dickie Mitchroy back out of his wallet. “Here,” he said, handing it to Jocelyn. “And remember: you find him, you hand him over to me. I’ll take care of it from there, and we can put all this messy business behind us.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Jocelyn, looking the photograph over. Dickie Mitchroy looked somewhat older in it than he had in the picture she’d seen on the mantle at the Mitchroy homestead.

“That’s that, then. Stay out of the papers, kid. I’ll let Detective Fatbritches know you were looking for him. Maybe the two of you can sit down and solve a crossword together.”

Officer Barrett turned around and headed back, leaving Jocelyn alone on the street corner. “Why are you still in town,” Jocelyn asked the photograph she was holding, “and why doesn’t your sister know about it?”

Jocelyn had no answers to those questions, at the moment, but she had a fairly good idea where to start looking.

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