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.
Outside of the radiator and the bed, the details of the tiny, one-room flat included a few mostly-barren shelves, an opened wooden chest spilling over with men’s clothes, and a small kitchen area equipped for use by a single person. There was no bathroom; all the occupants of the floor must have shared the one down the hall. In the center of the room was a small table, unadorned except for an electric lamp, and two plain wooden chairs.
Jocelyn recorded all of these details in her notebook while Ed watched her. She had to be absolutely certain the details were correct, so she went over everything several times, making refinements and revisions as necessary. She was preoccupied in a way she very seldom was, what with the constant nagging feeling that she had just made one of the most foolish blunders of her life.
She found she was having a surprisingly difficult time nailing down Ed’s details. His physical appearance was clearly enough defined: unwashed, unshaven, sun-bronzed skin, bushy yet colorless eyebrows. As for the rest, though, she really couldn’t say. He’d done nothing since locking the front door except sit down, finish his apple, and watch Jocelyn’s every move. The ubiquitous smile never left his face, although it did change form now and then, from sinister to pleasant to mostly indifferent.
At first Jocelyn tried to pretend like she didn’t realize she had been locked in, and tried to engage Ed in unobtrusive smalltalk. She found that he wasn’t as good of company as he had promised, giving mostly short and useless answers while constantly showering her with compliments. She’d learned more about her big brown eyes and her cute button nose than she had about Ed’s background or profession.
When Jocelyn announced she was going to open the window to let some air in Ed made no move to stop her, though he watched curiously as she moved about the room. The window hadn’t been opened in quite some time, and even getting the bolts undone took some considerable doing. The window groaned as it finally gave way, and Jocelyn leaned out to survey the street below. The garage had closed up, and Kick the Can had concluded as well. She briefly entertained the thought of yelling for help, but figured that would simply agitate the situation needlessly.
That particular thought raised the question of whether or not there was a situation. Jocelyn decided to test those waters by excusing herself to powder her nose and making for the front door. Only then did Ed stand up, reassure her that Dickie would be back soon, and inviting her to make herself comfortable.
From then on the conversation, such as it was, mostly evaporated. Both parties dropped their pretenses; Jocelyn wouldn’t be exiting the room until Ed allowed it, or until she overpowered him and made off with his keys. That’s when she started taking notes, an act which seemed to amuse Ed considerably. If he found the act at all curious, though, he didn’t question it.
Jocelyn wondered whether he actually believed she was Dickie’s sister. She had to admit she probably wouldn’t have believed it, if she’d been in his shoes.
After the third time Jocelyn checked her notes against the contents of Dickie’s pantry, she decided to try a more direct approach: “You’re really keeping me trapped in here, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Trapped is an awful harsh word, cupcake. It’s just that it’s getting’ pretty dark outside, and this can be a pretty rough neighborhood. How could I sleep nights if Dick came home and found out I let something happen to his kid sister?”
Jocelyn crossed her arms and tried to sound as serious as possible. “And how do you suppose he’ll react when he comes home and finds out you’ve been holding me hostage?”
“’Hostage,’ she says,” chuckled Ed. “There’s another of those harsh words. All the more reason I should keep a close eye on you; you’re obviously getting hysterical. Blowing everything out of proportion.”
Jocelyn had grown tired of standing, but had a growing desire to keep as much distance between her and Ed as possible, so she sat down on Dickie’s bed. She put her elbows on her knees and cupped her head in her hands, wrinkled up her nose, and began putting together an escape scenario. All the most obvious ones began with Ed being knocked out, so she took inventory of the things in the room she could bludgeon him with: the wooden chair, an unopened umbrella, an extremely thick and heavy book about the art of winemaking.
On one of the shelves was a baseball sitting in an old, dirty catcher’s mitt. Jocelyn spent a few moments trying to calculate how hard and at what angle she’d have to throw the ball to put Ed’s lights out before a click in the door’s lock caused her to refocus her attention.
For the first time in the longest forty minutes of Jocelyn’s life, Ed took his eyes off her and looked instead at the open door, through which walked a very confused-looking Dickie Mitchroy. He was a different man from the one in the newspaper clipping Jocelyn carried in her coat pocket, or in the photograph she’d seen on Laura Bell’s mantle. This man’s hair was a might shaggier, and he had pronounced dark sags under each eye. Instead of clean, buttoned-down military dress, he wore a pair of worn work boots and some filthy denim overalls.
“What’s going on, Ed?” asked this older, muddier, more haggard version of Dickie Mitchroy.
“Just sitting here having a nice chat with your sister, Dick,” replied Ed. “We’ve been waiting on your smiling face the better part of an hour.”
“My sister?” asked Dickie. He pointed accusingly at Jocelyn. “That lady’s not my sister.”
“I can explain,” said Jocelyn immediately, though she didn’t know which of the two men she was addressing. Ed didn’t seem at all shocked at this alarming revelation, whereas Dickie’s demeanor was something close to nervousness.
“You lied to me, cupcake?” Ed asked her, feigning insult. “Why, and I thought we were such good friends.”
“Ed, leave it. Who are you, lady? Spill it.”
Jocelyn tried to stand as Dickie closed the door behind him, but she suddenly found her knees felt altogether more like gelatin than knees. Dickie approached her, but didn’t come any closer than halfway across the room.
“I’m looking for a colleague of mine,” Jocelyn said. “Someone told me you might know where to find him. My name’s Jocelyn.”
“Now see?” Ed said. “The truth finally comes out. I didn’t think she looked much like a Laura Bell.”
Dickie shot Ed a somewhat disapproving sideways glance, but kept the bulk of his attention firmly on Jocelyn. “Who told you that?” he asked, somewhat defensively. “The cops? I don’t know where your friend is, lady.”
Something was wrong. Dickie should, by all rights, have been angry with Jocelyn. For some reason, though, he was acting… cautious wasn’t the right word for it, but it was the closest Jocelyn could get on such short notice. She wasn’t sure why she had the advantage, or what she’d done to gain it, but she decided to make the best of things and press it before it vanished on her. “Yeah, that’s right,” she affirmed, “the cops know I’m here. So I’d think twice about trying to hurt me, if I were either of you.”
Dickie replied, “Look lady, nobody’s hurting anybody here. Okay?” He turned his head to address Ed: “Okay, Ed?”
Ed shrugged. “I guess that depends on her, don’t it? What’s your friend’s name, cupcake?”
“Tammy,” Jocelyn said. She could have sworn she’d tried to say “Ted,” but that ended up not being what came out. “She’s been missing going on two days now, and word is you might know where she is. I came out here looking for you; I wasn’t planning on dealing with your absolutely barbaric neighbor.”
Ed seemed to delight in being barbaric, answering the comment with a nasally chortle.
“Yeah, well, I don’t know no Tammy,” said Dickie. “How’d you know about my sister?”
“I didn’t,” Jocelyn lied, “that’s just the story I fed this lug to get him off my case. You should have seen the way he’s been breathing down my neck ever since I got here.”
Dickie’s eyes were darting fairly frequently back and forth between Jocelyn, Ed, and… something else in the room. Something off to her right? She couldn’t really tell.
“Look, I’m sorry I lied. I just figured if this man was your friend, maybe he’d lay off me a bit if he thought I was your sister. I didn’t mean nothing else by it, honest I didn’t. I just overestimated this big lug’s manners, is all.”
Ed’s smile had been slowly retreating ever since Dickie arrived, but with Jocelyn’s comment it completely evaporated. “Now I’d watch that pretty little mouth of yours, lovely,” he said. “It’s liable to get you into trouble if it keeps flapping the way it is.”
“Ed, leave it,” said Dickie firmly. “Lady, you’d best just be on your way, and tell the coppers you never found me. I ain’t seen your friend, that’s the truth. Now scram.”
Jocelyn tried again to get to her feet, but Ed beat her there. He stood with such force that he sent his chair reeling behind him, which startled Jocelyn somewhat fiercely. Instead of standing up she ended up scrambling further back into her corner, until she was crouched entirely at the head of Dickie’s bed.
“Are you off your head, Dick!?” asked Ed. Jocelyn wasn’t sure she had ever seen anyone go from jovial to indifferent to furious as quickly as Ed had in the preceding minute. “You let her go, she’s gonna go straight back to the cops. That what you want?”
“She doesn’t know anything, Ed,” Dickie snapped back. He turned back to Jocelyn, but once again, his eyes weren’t focused on her when he said: “And that’s just what you’re gonna tell ‘em, ain’t it? That you don’t know nothing, right?”
Where Ed’s disposition was busy shifting from boredom to anger, Dickie’s was changing from nervous apprehension to outright fear. It wasn’t Jocelyn he was afraid of, she knew for a fact. It was…
The next two seconds were filled with a great deal of activity. Jocelyn traced Dickie’s line of sight from his eyeballs to the pillow on his bed, currently situated underneath her right foot. Her hand flashed underneath it, and her fingers touched something cold and metallic. When she gripped it and pulled it out into the open, she realized she was holding a six-shot .22 caliber pistol… and judging by the look on Dickie’s face, she knew it was loaded.
Dickie spent that two seconds darting forward towards the bed, getting half a step there before thinking better of it, and opting instead to just throw his arms out in front of him and shouting, “No, wait!”
Ed was the least productive of the three during that short span of time. His face pulled a shocked, terrified look as he bolted backwards for the door, lost his footing on the overturned chair behind him, and tumbled to the ground in a whimpering heap.
Acting on a mixture of adrenaline and instinct, Jocelyn pointed the gun at Dickie and barked, “Both of you, stay where you are, unless you want a lead sandwich!”
“Under your pillow, Dick?” whined Ed from the floor. “You left your heater under your pillow?”
Jocelyn didn’t wait for Dickie to respond. “Get him up,” she ordered. “Get his keys, nice and slow-like.”
Without taking his eyes off of his gun, Dickie helped Ed back up into the remaining upright chair and took the ring of keys out of his pocket. “Think I broke my leg,” Ed complained, rubbing his knee and wincing in pain.
“You shut your yap, and maybe that’s all you’ll break,” threatened Jocelyn. She could scarcely hear the sound of her own voice over the pounding in her chest. Her vision didn’t seem to want to focus properly as she stared at Ed nursing his wounded leg. When she saw movement out of the corner of her eye she nearly jumped out of her skin before pointing the gun that direction.
It was Dickie. Once again, he showed Jocelyn his hands, one of which was holding Ed’s keys out to her. “Easy there. I’m just bringing you the keys, just like you asked.”
“Toss them here,” Jocelyn said, not wanting to take one hand off the pistol. Dickie nodded and tossed the keys underhand. They made a soft jangling sound as they hit the bed next to Jocelyn.
Jocelyn’s obvious uneasiness didn’t escape Ed for a moment. “Aw, put that thing down, cupcake,” he scolded. “You’re gonna hurt someone.”
“I think that’s the idea, Ed,” said Dickie angrily without looking away from Jocelyn.
“Don’t be stupid, Dick. Look at the way she’s shaking. That dame couldn’t hit he broad side of a barn. She’s more likely to shoot herself than either of us.”
“That’s enough,” said Jocelyn. She forced herself to inch forward on the bed and get to her feet. She was clutching the pistol so hard with both hands that her knuckles had gone completely white.
Jocelyn inhaled deeply, which did wonders for her composure. “Ted Holdren. Where is he?”
Dickie squirreled up his face in confusion. “Ted? You know what’s happened to Ted?”
“I’m asking the questions here,” said Jocelyn. “He went missing along with his secretary Tammy. You know where he is.”
“Lady, really, I don’t. Honest, I don’t,” Dickie pleaded. “I read it in the papers just like everyone else.”
“You should be flattered, Dick,” teased Ed, “she thinks you’re some kind of criminal kingpin, holding the city’s finest ace detective for ransom.”
“You’d best shut your friend up,” Jocelyn told Dickie, her face flushing red with anger, “or I will. He won’t be the first man I’ve shot – just the ugliest.”
That was a bluff, of course, but an effective one. Ed clammed up immediately. His eyes narrowed on Jocelyn, though not on her legs this time; he was staring her right in the eye. She made a mental note to brag about that line to Danny later.
“Put a sock in it, Ed,” said Dickie, just in case Ed needed further convincing.
“Stay very still,” Jocelyn told Dickie. Without moving her eyes from him she carefully took one hand off the pistol and moved it into her coat. She fished around until she found her notebook, removed it, and thumbed through it until she found her notes from the liquor cache in Ted’s office. “There,” she said, holding the notebook up for Dickie to see, “that’s a forty-three year old bottle of burgundy from Ted Holdren’s personal collection. He got it four months ago from someone at your family’s vineyard. Your real sister about hit the roof when I asked her about it, because she didn’t even know that particular bottle was missing. What do you think of that?”
Jocelyn watched Dickie’s heart break right in front of her eyes. “I never meant to mix Laura Bell up in any of this,” he said sadly, “I never did.”
Jocelyn nodded. “I know you didn’t. She’s a real sweet young lady, and she works so hard keeping your family’s farm in order. Why don’t you and I just go have a sit-down, talk all this out? That’s all I came here for in the first place.”
“I’m agreed,” said Dickie.
“Good. Where’s your nearest telephone?”
“I use the one down at the corner drug store. Old Man Finklestein charges a nickel, but I think he’ll be open at least a few more minutes yet.”
“We’re going to walk down there, you and me. You in front, so’s I can keep my peepers on you. You’re going to ring a friend of mine, a nice old gent who drives a cab, and he’ll take us somewhere quiet. We’ll have a nice talk, then I’m sure we’ll shake hands and part ways. Okay?”
“That sounds just fine,” Dickie said.
“Dick Mitchroy, you’re a right fool,” spat Ed. “This tomato’s gonna call the law, and they’ll drag us in on God-knows-what, you and me both.”
“Tie him up,” Jocelyn said, pointing the gun back at Ed. “And stick a sock in his mouth for real. A real dirty one. I don’t want him following us. You can deal with him when you get back, in your own way.”
Interestingly enough, that seemed to lighten the mood considerably. Dickie seemed to take a perverse pleasure in strapping Ed to the chair he was sitting in, as though it’s something he’d wanted to do for a long time. “I’ll be sure your boss hears about this,” Ed threatened, just before Dickie shoved a wadded-up sock in his mouth.
“Which part?” replied Dickie. “The part where you wet your britches running from a gal half your size? Yeah, I’m sure all the boys’ll get a real kick out of that. In fact, I think I’ll tell ‘em all myself.”
Ed stared daggers at Jocelyn as she closed and re-latched the window, then stared a few at Dickie as Jocelyn tossed him the ring of keys. Jocelyn concealed the pistol in one of her outside coat pockets, though she did not remove her hand from it for even a moment. She waited as Dickie locked his apartment door, and felt only slightly apprehensive as she followed a few paces behind him to the drug store a few blocks away.
Once Dickie had forked over a nickel and had the telephone receiver in hand, Jocelyn instructed him: “Have the operator connect you to the Edmond Sons Cab Company. A gal named Rita will probably pick up. Ask her to send Danny around to this address.”
“Okay,” Dickie said, “but I warn you, I can’t afford a taxi. Heck, I could scarcely afford this telephone call.”
“No worries. Just tell her it’s for Jocelyn.”