Jocelyn Beauregard, Private Eye (part twenty-one)

The trip was jerky and stressful, and the cab stalled out five or six times, and on one occasion just about rolled backwards down a hill and into a bakery, but through a combination of intuition, experimentation and Danny’s helpful foul-mouthed guidance Jocelyn managed to navigate the empty streets back to her office. That was the easy part, compared to supporting Danny’s weight on her slender frame as the two of them lurched down the stairs. It took three attempts just to get her key in the door.

Once inside, Jocelyn dropped Danny like a sack of potatoes onto her cot – which turned out to be a bad idea, considering it wasn’t meant to hold his weight. The whole contraption crumpled to the ground, knocking over the chair which was supporting Jocelyn’s typewriter. The backup plan was to prop him up against a pile of linens Jocelyn was able to cobble together.

Pads watched the entire scene from his perch at Jocelyn’s desk.

Just be glad I was able to convince the iceman I’d pay him next week,” Jocelyn said. She used a letter opener to chisel off a hunk from the top of her mahogany icebox. She wrapped the ice in the cleanest washcloth she could find, placed it in Danny’s hand, and held it against the bump on his head. “Hold that there,” she instructed. “Sorry, I don’t have a steak. This will have to do.”

Danny moaned again. “Who’d have thought you had a single motherly bone in your whole body? Probably just the one, though.”

Very funny. How’s your noggin?”

Feels like I had an outhouse dropped on me,” Danny replied. He shifted his weight into the most comfortable position he could find. “Didn’t even see ‘em coming, Joss. Hand to God, I never saw a thing.”

Just a couple of thugs looking to make off with Ted’s wine collection,” Jocelyn explained. “I’m so sorry. If I hadn’t made you take me over there so late at night…”

“…you’d have just walked over anyway. If I thought I could have talked you out of it, I would have tried.”

Danny’s gaze settled on Pads, who was flicking his tail back and forth and glaring at him with all the malice a small predator could muster. “What in blazes is that?”

That’s Pads,” Jocelyn said. “Didn’t I tell you I got a cat?”

That’s a cat?”

Oh, be nice.”

I wouldn’t sleep in the same room with that mangy thing if you promised me a pension.”

Never mind him, he’s harmless.”

Which of us are you talking to?”

Jocelyn stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I see that bump on your noodle hasn’t affected your sense of humor, at least,” she scolded playfully.

Who’s joking?” asked Danny.

Jocelyn decided a change in topic would be prudent. “They didn’t find Ted’s collection,” she said. She set her kettle on to boil, then hung up her coat and hat. “They came close. If it’d been daylight, and the two of them had something other than wood chips in their skulls, they might have found the secret panel leading down to the cellar.”

How’d you get away?”

I didn’t. I hid in a closet until they left. They didn’t manage to find me, either.”

Good thing you weren’t wearing any of that expensive French perfume,” joked Danny.

Jocelyn snickered. “At last, poverty pays off in dividends,” she said. “You were right, though. Desperate men, indeed. What to these lugs do, just trawl through the dailies and go swooping in on speakeasy busts? What a life.”

Probably more lucrative than sleuthing or driving cab,” Danny lamented. “They didn’t find anything though, huh?”

Not for lack of trying on their parts. They were even moving the furniture, before the end. They tried just about everything but pulling up the commode.”

Did they get into that safe?”

Jocelyn stopped to think. “No. Come to think of it, they didn’t mention the safe at all.”

Huh.” Danny leaned his head back and shifted his ice pack over a notch.

Is that odd?”

You tell me. A couple of nuts break into a man’s office searching for booze, and don’t take notice of the gigantic metal lockbox up-ended in the middle of the room?”

Jocelyn wrinkled up her nose. “You’re right. You’d think that’d be the first thing they tried.”

Unless they knew it wasn’t worth checking,” said Danny.

Jocelyn went back over to her coatrack and retrieved her notebook from her coat pocket. She flipped to the front and ran her finger along each page as she skimmed it. Before too much longer the kettle started whistling. It took Jocelyn several moments to notice.

I thought those voices sounded familiar,” she announced, setting her notebook aside and fixing two cups of tea. “I had heard them before, but only very faintly, and only in passing. They were in the background on the phone last time I talked to Ted. After the loud crash, I mean, but before the line was cut.”

Jocelyn plunked a cube of sugar into Danny’s teacup, then knelt down next to him and handed it over. “They knew not to waste time with the safe because they knew it was empty. They were the ones who brought it over in the first place!”

While Danny was listening, he was also trying to take a sip of tea without scalding himself, and without letting the hand holding the ice pack slip off his head. “That’s nice, Joss. Think you can Irish this up a bit for me?”

No, Danny, listen,” Jocelyn continued, “Ted calls Swanson & Schneider and orders a new floor safe. The day it’s meant to be delivered and installed, the order gets canceled – but not by Ted. Someone else found out about the delivery… someone who wanted something from Ted. He hires a couple of goons from down on the docks to show up with their own safe, which gets them in the door, because Ted’s expecting them. From there it’s smash-and-bang, then zoom, they’re off.”

So what were they after? The wine? Ted refused to tell ‘em how to get down in the cellar, so they tie him up and carry him off, then come back later?”

No, I don’t think so. The one man – his name was Joe, actually – said ‘You clod, don’t you read the papers? This mug had enough hooch squirreled away to last ‘til the second coming.’ The kidnappers found out about the wine the same way the rest of the city did: the morning edition.”

With pained difficulty, Danny managed a few hearty chuckles. “I really do love how you always do the voices, Joss,” he said.

Jocelyn rolled her eyes. “Never mind the voices. I don’t know what they were after… but I do know what was missing tonight: a book from Tammy’s apartment. The Encyclopaedia Botanica.”

Now how on earth did you know Tammy had a book like that?”

It was in her apartment the other morning, when we broke in. But it wasn’t there last night, I’m certain of it.”

Wonderful,” said Danny, “so we’re looking for a guy at the docks named Joe, who has a green thumb. Or maybe a wobbly table.”

No, those two didn’t take it. It must have been missing before they arrived.”

None of that makes any sense, Joss,” Danny pointed out. “That office has been crawling with coppers for two days, and the only two people with proper keys have been missing for three. Who else has had access to the place?”

I don’t know,” Jocelyn admitted. “Detective Clark would, though. Or Agent Farbes. I bet nobody’s been in or out of that office without leave from one of them, who didn’t get there by breaking a lock or climbing a fire escape.”

Somebody escaped by climbing a fire escape, though. Or, rather, leaping from one. How does that fit into your theory?”

That still had Jocelyn stumped, she had to admit. Forget the how of two men, plus Ted, Tammy and Ted’s chair going out through Tammy’s fire escape without lowering the ladder; the why of it was even more baffling. They could have just gone out the front door, and then locked the place up with Ted’s key, if it were that important.

That’s a work in progress,” said Jocelyn. “I’m fairly sure about the rest, though.”

So… what? You wait here tomorrow for Dickie to send his man ‘round?”

Of course not. I like to think I’m a little more pro-active than that.”

Yeah, well, do us both a favor and make sure your pro-activity doesn’t land on my head next time, okay?”

Oh, rats,” said Jocelyn, “amidst all that excitement, I still never got the chance to slip those materials back onto the desks where they belonged.”

Now that’s a headline,” quipped Danny. “’Star detective robbed. Nothing taken except for encyclopedia and grocery list.’”

With considerable effort and a lot of grunting, Danny managed to get to his feet. Jocelyn sprang up to help him, but he declined her assistance. “Are you sure you’re fine to be up and about?” she asked him.

I appreciate your concern, Joss, but it’s about time I go home. I’ll catch some Zs and feel right as rain in the morning, you see if I don’t. If I’m lucky I’ll dream about bourbon and dancing girls.”

The part about Zs sounded particularly inviting to Jocelyn, who had all but forgotten how tired she still was. She bade Danny keep the ice pack and saw him safely up to his cab. He declared it a miracle when the cab started up without any complaints after the abuse Jocelyn had put it through, then drove off, swerving only slightly more than was normal.

Jocelyn washed the two teacups, spent a few frustrating minutes getting her cot set back upright, and fell asleep curled up underneath a heavy blanket. Pads did his best to keep her awake with his incessant hissing, but he could have been a freight train and still failed.

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