Jocelyn had intended to spend the bulk of the following morning on the telephone. She wanted to first catch up with Detective Clark and find out the precinct’s take on the break-in at Ted’s office. She had a name; if the cops had a description to go with it, tracking down at least one of the burglars should have been easy enough.
After that she intended to contact anyone in town that sold safes. She knew the one in Ted’s office hadn’t come from Swanson & Schneider, but it had to have come from somewhere, and she had ruined her chance to get any information about their competitors from Mr. Swanson directly. If she could find out where the decoy safe had come from, and how the kidnapper’s thugs had acquired it, she could potentially be one step closer to finding Ted’s current whereabouts.
Third, she of course intended to call Rita and check up on Danny. She knew better than to do this first thing in the morning, though.
Finally, she was going to have to get in touch with Officer Barrett concerning the job he’d “hired” her for. She had no intention of handing Dickie over to him, which she was sure would ignite his fury. If pressed, she could always turn over the name “Joe” and the details behind the so-called “safe job” Dickie had mentioned. She could simply claim she’d stumbled across either or both of those things while looking for Dickie; Officer Barrett would have no way to check.
Most importantly, though, she wanted to be in the office for as long as possible today, just in case Dickie got back in touch with her.
Well, those were here intentions in any case. In reality, the events of the previous night had taken such a great toll that Jocelyn failed to wake up at all until her telephone rang. The sudden, shrill noise was such a jolt that she was spun straight out of her cot and onto the floor. It was a small miracle she was able to detangle herself and reach the handset on her desk before the other party hung up.
“G-good morning, Jocelyn speaking,” she murmured, rubbing her eyes and trying her best to stifle a yawn.
“Jocelyn! Thank goodness you’re in.” The voice belonged to Ken McMannes. “Listen, you’ve got to get down here. Barrett’s on a rampage.”
Jocelyn glanced around for her alarm clock. It was very near to ten o’clock. She had been so preoccupied with taking care of Danny the previous night that she’d forgotten to wind it.
“Why?” Jocelyn asked. “What’s going on?”
“One of the flatfoots swears up and down he saw you driving a taxi away from Ted Holdren’s place last night.”
Jocelyn’s heart sank and her skin instantly went cold.
“Hello? Jocelyn? You there?”
“I’m here,” she said, somewhat shakily. “No, I heard you. Who’s saying that?”
“It’s that bum Keltzschlinger. He had the graveyard shift watching the place last night. When word came down there was a burglary there he was in hot water, but he’s trying to pin the whole thing on you instead.”
“Ken, I can explain—“
“Geez, Jocelyn, you mean you really were there?”
Jocelyn started to explain, but wasn’t able to stammer out a response.
“It doesn’t matter.” Ken continued, “They’re sending a couple boys around to your place to talk to you. It’d be better if you got out of there before that happened. Barrett’s barking something about information you’re supposed to have for him?”
“Yes, I did some legwork for him yesterday, but—“
“Well, whatever you have, it’d better be good. Get down here and calm him down or this is going to blow up all over you! And Jocelyn – we never talked, okay?”
Jocelyn tried to say she understood, but Ken hung up before she got the chance.
The rest of her errands were going to have to wait. Jocelyn quickly did what little she could for her hair, then gathered her coat, hat and notebook and sped out the door.
Mrs. Keltzschlinger was about, tending to her flowers. “Good morning, dearie,” she greeted Jocelyn. Though she seemed to be in a bright enough mood, her face was nonetheless painted with disapproval. “Burned the midnight oil last night, did you? I heard you clattering around over there at all hours of the night.”
“Sorry about that,” Jocelyn said, eyeing the street in either direction for approaching officers. “It’s this case I’m working. It’s kind of got me at both ends, if you know what I mean.”
“My Benny’s been working nights, too,” Mrs. Keltzschlinger admitted. “It’s not godly, I fear, but I suppose it’s just the world passing an old lady by. You two have so much in common, it’s a shame you won’t meet him.”
Jocelyn was very careful not to blurt out that she was about to meet him, and might very well throttle him she did.
“I suppose I can overlook the noise just this once,” said Mrs. Keltzschlinger. “Truth is, I’m on cloud nine this morning. It’d be such a waste to ruin my day by ruining yours.”
“I really appreciate that, Mrs. Keltzschlinger,” said Jocelyn. She was relieved to have dodged that particular bullet. “And again, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
Mrs. Keltzschlinger smiled at her, and Jocelyn briskly took her leave. She was somewhat familiar with Mrs. Keltzschlinger’s good moods, but even on her best days she couldn’t remember ever seeing her smile. At least that one thing was coming up her way.
In her mind, Jocelyn played out all the ways she could attempt to spin her story once she arrived at the precinct. Denial was probably out of the question; she didn’t doubt for a second Benny Keltzschlinger really had seen her. Assuaging Officer Barrett’s rage with offerings of information would be the better play, but without the scratch he’d actually “paid” her for that seemed like a remarkably short road.
Not quite as short as the road that led to the precinct, however. It was amazing how short the walk seemed when her brain was preoccupied with coming up with ways to save her own skin, and how long it seemed when it was pouring down rain. She wondered what would happen if the two events were ever to occur at the same time.
It was easy to tell how late in the morning it was when Jocelyn arrived, because Betty Sue the receptionist had had enough cups of coffee to be alert the moment she stepped through the door. “Look what the cat just dragged in,” she said in disbelief. “You hold tight, I’ll bring Max up.”
Seconds later, Jocelyn found herself surrounded by a sea of unpleasant faces, not the least of which was Ken himself, who seemed quite disappointed. Detective Clark was present, which Jocelyn found reassuring, but his disposition was impossible to read. Officer Barrett and his cigar loomed above them all, and trotted the young Benny Keltzschlinger out into the lobby to meet her. Jocelyn noted that Benny seemed more interested in wringing his hands and staring at her shoes than looking her in the eye.
“This seems an awful lot of trouble to go through for little old me,” Jocelyn said.
“Cram it, Beauregard. You’re lucky I don’t tie you and this chowderhead together and dangle the both of you from Central Station Tower. Why, I don’t know what to arrest you for first. Breaking and entering? Burglary? Unlicensed operation of an automobile?”
“I figured my resumé needed something on it other than ‘improper sign placement,’” said Jocelyn. Though every cell in her body wanted to turn tail and flee, she forced herself to cross her arms and meet Officer Barrett’s scowl head-on.
“Cute,” replied Officer Barrett. “Do you mind enlightening us as to why you were at Ted Holdren’s office last night?”
Jocelyn turned her eyes from Benny Keltzschlinger, to Detective Clark, then back. “Why, I was assured by the lead detective that I’d have unfettered access to the crime scene. All I had to do was check in with the officer at the door. When I arrived and there wasn’t an officer at the door, I had no choice but to let myself in.”
“It’s true I gave Miss Beauregard access to Holdren’s office,” said Detective Clark, “but it was understood that it was to be with this precinct’s full cooperation.”
Officer Barrett shifted his cigar and turned to address Detective Clark. “Look at you with your big britches,” he said, “almost like a real, grown-up detective.”
Despite all his talk about pulling rank when he was at lunch with Jocelyn the other day, Detective Clark seemed absolutely toothless now that he was in the same room as Officer Barrett. This didn’t surprise Jocelyn in the slightest.
Officer Barrett turned back to Jocelyn. “Never mind whether you were supposed to be in there,” he growled, “I care more about why. What business did you have that was so important that it had to be conducted in the dead of night?”
“Just following a hunch,” Jocelyn said, “it didn’t pan out. You know what that’s like.”
“What, abject and undeniable failure? No, actually, I don’t,” spat Officer Barrett. “What do you know about this burglary last night?”
“I know your man here missed it entirely,” said Jocelyn. She did her best to put an accusing expression on her face, but without a mirror she wasn’t at all sure that she’d succeeded. She made a mental note to practice it later.
“Shucks, boss,” Benny blurted suddenly, “I explained that already. I was out there on an eight-hour shift, walking quarter-hourly patrols, with nowhere to relieve myself. What’s a fella to do, huh?”
“Bring a coffee can,” said Officer Barrett. “You’re dodging the question, Beauregard.”
“I just don’t see the point in answering it, if you’re going to lock me up anyway,” Jocelyn asserted. “I have a theory of the case I was hoping to pass by Detective Clark this morning, but I’m not going to waste my time if you’re so convinced I’m in on it.”
“There are a lot of different cells, you know. I could put you in one of the really cold, nasty ones,” threatened Officer Barrett.
“Come on now, Barrett,” Ken chimed in, “this is obviously just a bump in the road. Jocelyn’s been helping on the case this whole time – why not hear what she has to say?”
“Aw, who cares what she has to say?” protested Benny. “I saw with my very own peepers: she came out of the office and sped away in that cab. Didn’t even bother to close the door behind her.”
“How about that, chickadee? Were you raised in a barn?” Officer Barrett crossed his arms sternly. The ash on the end of his cigar hung on for dear life.
Jocelyn measured her next words carefully. “If this was a burglary,” she asked, “what exactly was stolen? Surely if I went to Ted’s place with criminal intent, there’s property missing. Right?”
“It’s true there’s nothing missing,” Detective Clark agreed, “but you can appreciate how the situation looks, Miss Beauregard. Breaking the lock on a colleague’s office in the dead of night – it’s unconscionable.”
“So that’s what you think, huh? I cracked the lock and went in the front door?”
“The evidence is pretty plain in that regard, yes,” sighed Detective Clark.
“And Officer Keltzschlinger here… he says he saw me come out that same door?”
“With my own peepers,” repeated Benny, still wringing his hands.
“That’s it,” said Jocelyn, mainly to herself. “That’s what I missed.”
She whipped out her notebook, right there in front of everyone, and began skimming the. “Here we go with the flip book again,” said Officer Barrett, rolling his eyes. “At least I’ll finally get my hands on that little number. What’s in there, anyway? The little bow that ties this whole case together?”
Jocelyn found what she was looking for. “Yes, actually,” she announced, and held the notebook out for Officer Barrett. “Golly, it’s such a silly thing to overlook. I’m such a dummy to have missed it. Nobody was after Ted in the first place; it was Tammy they wanted!”
Officer Barrett chewed the end of his cigar and stared for a few minutes at the notebook before giving up. “What is this, Beauregard? A description of the fire escape outside that dame’s upstairs apartment? What’s this got to do with anything?”
“Officer Keltzschlinger was right; I did break into Ted’s office,” Jocelyn confessed. “But that was three days ago: the morning he first went missing. I wanted to be the first one on the scene. So if you’re going to arrest me for anything, arrest me for that.”
There was some murmuring in the room at that comment, and Detective Clark met it with a harrumph. “Nothing would please me more, chickadee,” said Officer Barrett. “No wonder you bent backwards to keep me from getting this the other day. That’s the trouble with you PIs; you think you can skirt the law and just get away with it.”
Jocelyn almost took the opportunity to remind Officer Barrett that he, himself, had visited a speakeasy with an opera virtuoso on his arm… but she thought better of it. He and the other officers and anyone who reads the papers already knew that. Instead, she pointed out: “But I didn’t go in through the front door. It was locked, see? I went up the fire escape – just like I did last night. Officer Kelzschlinger would have known that, too, if he were actually there.”
All eyes were on Benny at that moment. He responded by adding the shuffling of feet to his repertoire of nervous gestures.
“We already know whoever took Ted and his secretary left through that upstairs window,” pressed Officer Barrett.
“But they didn’t. They had Ted tied to his chair – they’re really going to drag him up the stairs, out a broken window, then down a fire escape?”
“Connect the dots for us, Beauregard,” warned Officer Barrett. “What’s this wonderful revelation you’ve just had?”
“It’s right there in my notes. On the fire escape I discovered broken window glass, which indicates it was broken from the inside. And what else?”
“A ceramic flower pot,” Officer Barrett said, reading Jocelyn’s notes. “So what? The dame kept a plant on her windowsill. Lots of gals do.”
“But there wasn’t a plant, was there?”
Officer Barrett’s cigar shifted from one side to the other.
“That don’t prove anything,” said Benny, whose voice, to its credit, was only cracking very slightly. “You probably just forgot to write it down.”
Officer Barrett’s eyes responded to that comment by lighting on fire. He glared down at the rookie and declared, “Kid, this dame’s as scatterbrained as they come, but she never neglects to write anything down. This little notebook of hers is a mirror image of her mostly-empty head.”
That was the closest Max Barrett had ever come to paying Jocelyn a compliment, so she took it in stride.
“So… Ted Holdren was kidnapped because of a flower?” asked Ken.
“I suspect not,” said Jocelyn. “My bet is that whomever wanted that flower hired a couple thugs to do the heavy lifting, and ended up biting off more they could chew when the muscle decided to throw the kidnapping on at no extra charge.”
Jocelyn proceeded to explain her theory about how the kidnappers managed to get into Ted’s office in the first place, by posing as the delivery men Ted had been expecting. She produced the invoice she’d plucked off Tammy’s desk, which she’d twice failed to return, and explained exactly what she was doing at Ted’s office the previous night.
When she got to the part where she was hiding in the upstairs closet, Benny interrupted her: “This is ridiculous!” he exclaimed. “I saw her drive off in a cab from that very spot!”
“You saw me driving a cab all right,” Jocelyn agreed, “but I was coming, not going. You saw me out the window of your grandmother’s florist shop last night. This morning, when you learned Ted’s office had been broken into, you put two and two together. It didn’t matter to you whether I’d actually done it… just that you could make me look guilty.”
Twist the knife, she heard Danny say.
“And you got to cover for your two thugs at the same time. Or… didn’t you know they were going back to search for Ted’s booze?”
“Of course I didn’t know!” Benny blurted out. He regretted it almost immediately when Officer Barret spun around, the fire in his eyes now blazing out of control. “You mean to tell me this cockamamie theory of hers is actually true!?” he belted.
Suddenly Benny was the center of everyone’s focus. Jocelyn could have slipped out the door right there and then, and nobody would have noticed.
“Now wait, it wasn’t supposed to be like that,” Benny said defensively. “That flake that works with Ted… that Tammy… you have any idea how much money she has? You all saw the jewels in her desk, and the fur coats she keeps at the office. She goes skiing twice a year up in the mountains! You know how many mountain vacations my nana has been on in her whole life?”
“That flower was an albino drowning violet,” Jocelyn suggested. “Your grandmother had never seen one bloom. She bought a whole set of buds she hated because she was assured there’d be an albino among them.”
“That’s right,” Benny pointed out, “until that secretary bought it right out from under her. Right off the boat, even! She was in the store asking how best to preserve it!”
“And your grandmother recommended the Encyclopaedia Botanica,” Jocelyn replied. “Which you found while Detective Clark had you searching Ted’s office that first day. You swiped it from the scene, not realizing I’d already seen it – and notated it.”
“She’s right,” Officer Barrett affirmed, “it’s right here. Skis, a globe, and a big book: the Encyclopaedia Botanica.”
“So where are Ted and Tammy now?” asked Detective Clark. “You’re already caught red-handed, kid; might as well fess up.”
At that point, Benny finally broke down. He went to his knees and began blubbering in the absolute least manly way imaginable.
“That wasn’t our idea!” he cried. “These guys, I found them at the docks. Told them my nana wanted that flower, and didn’t care how they got it, just as long as nobody got hurt. But they had some beef with Holdren, see? We never told them to kidnap anyone!”
“You mean to say your grandmother was in on this whole scheme?” asked Officer Barrett.
“It was her idea,” Benny admitted. “She said she couldn’t bear thought of kicking off without seeing that precious bloom once in her life. We stayed up all night yesterday drying it out and preserving it. But we never meant for no one to get hurt – honest we didn’t. And we don’t know where they took Holdren and his skirt. We just figured… you know, the case would blow over. I mean, everyone knows Barrett’s got no love for Holdren, right?”
Benny squealed as Officer Barrett reached down and yanked him to his feet. “At least a dirtbag like Holdren I can see coming,” he said, exhaling grey smoke into Benny’s face. “But a snake like you? In my own house?” He flung Benny towards Ken and the other flatfoots standing towards the back of the office. “Take this sack of donkey sick and lock him up until I decide what next to do with him,” he said.
Ken gave Jocelyn a friendly smile and an approving nod as he did so.
“Wonderful,” lamented Detective Clark. “We have a floral larceny plot masterminded by an octogenarian, and we have her flatfoot henchman, but we still don’t have either of our kidnapped victims.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll crack him. He’ll be singing about those thugs he hired before lunch.” Officer Barrett looked around the room for an unoccupied officer. “You there, go catch up with those mugs I sent over to Beauregard’s place. Tell ‘em to pick up her neighbor instead. Tell ‘em, yes, the nice little old lady. Granny What’s-Her-Name.”
The flatfoot touched his cap in agreement, and hurried out the door.
A loud “pop” resounded through the room as the receptionist popped her chewing gum. “Wow,” she said, “that sure was something.” She then trundled off, presumably in search of more coffee. That left Jocelyn alone in the precinct lobby with Detective Clark and Officer Barrett.
“Impressive work, Miss Beauregard,” Detective Clark said. “As soon as we get Ted and Tammy back we can close the book on this case.”
“I’ve got a man on it,” Jocelyn said, somewhat smugly.
“Of course,” said Detective Clark, “one step ahead, as always.” He then excused himself to do whatever paperwork awaited lead detective at the end of a big case like this.
Officer Barrett turned his attention back to Jocelyn. He handed her back her notebook, which she accepted gratefully. “So that’s it,” he said, “you notice a missing flower and all the pieces fall into place? Don’t go around thinking you’re big time now. For all we know Holdren’s out in the harbor wearing a boat anchor.”
“Maybe,” Jocelyn said, “but I don’t think so.”
“What makes you say that?”
Jocelyn shrugged. “Just a hunch.”
“As to that other matter I had you tend to, then. Dickie Mitchroy. Any trouble finding him?”
Jocelyn couldn’t lie straight into Officer Barrett’s eyes, so she turned her gaze slightly before saying, “I never did. Sorry.”
“Well look at that, chickadee. You’re a worthless lout after all. I suppose that means you owe our fine city, what, eighty-eight dollars now?”
“I suppose so,” Jocelyn replied dejectedly.
Half a cigar’s worth of ash suddenly fell off the front of Officer Barrett’s face. “Huh,” he said, and then reached inside his coat. He produced a sealed envelope labeled simply, “From Mariana”.
“Next time you don’t see him, be sure not to give him that,” Officer Barrett. “It’s from my kid sister.”
Jocelyn just stared at the envelope in her hands in disbelief. “Your…” was the only word she could get out.
“What’d you think, I was her sugar daddy?” grumped Officer Barrett. “Some detective you are.”