Jocelyn Beauregard, Private Eye (part fourteen)

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.

“…then he asked if he could borrow my pen,” Jocelyn explained, “which was sort of embarrassing, because I’d forgotten to bring one. We had to walk all the way back to the office.”

“Which you’d locked yourself out of,” laughed Danny.

Jocelyn wrinkled up her nose. “Yes, which I’d locked myself out of. So he had to open his shop back up to get at one of his pens, and while we were in there a customer arrived for a late-evening emergency fitting. What a debacle. It was almost half-past seven when he finally got done. How furious he was! And me in the corner the whole time, waiting patiently, quiet as a mouse. I can’t remember when I’d felt so embarrassed.”

Danny considered that for a moment, then answered helpfully, “Well, there was that time when you was investigating that rash of false fire alarms, and you’d snuck into the fire house’s Christmas party—“

“Do not finish that sentence,” threatened Jocelyn. Her face turned beet red, and she covered it up with her hands. “Golly, but you’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

It was plain to see Danny was. “Hey, listen, Joss,” he said reassuringly, “the point is that you cracked that case, yeah? Something to do with the city budget?”

“It was the fire chief’s son calling in the false alarms,” Jocelyn remembered. “He was trying to get the city to sign off on funding for a second truck. He was hoping that if a real fire got started while his father and the crew were out dealing with a fake one, the city would see the need for expansion.”

“Which they did, once the paper wrote about the… happenings at the Christmas party, right?”

“The story publicized the hole in the city budget, and some private donors got involved,” affirmed Jocelyn.

“That’s my point, Joss! You do good things, even when you’re playing the fool.”

“What a rare and unique gift I have,” pouted Jocelyn. “But it’s hard to look at it that way when you’re picking the lock on your own office in the middle of the night because you can’t afford to have the locksmith out like a respectable citizen.”

Jocelyn turned away from Danny, opting instead to watch the countryside roll by outside her window. She hoped to bring an end to his incessant chuckling by depriving him of the sight of the redness on her face. “I don’t know. Maybe that old codger is right, and I’ve just deluded myself into playing a game I can’t win. Maybe I should just find a good husband, and settle down and bake pies the rest of my life.”

When she sensed Danny was about to respond, she quickly added, “And don’t you dare poke fun at my pies. That was my departed Aunt Bertha’s recipe, rest her soul.”

“I don’t think you need a good husband, Joss,” said Danny, ignoring the pie angle altogether.

Jocelyn took the bait. “Really?”

“Nah. Good husband’d never be able to keep you in line. You’d need one of them mean husbands, who’ll keep you tied to the kitchen sink while he was out. Otherwise you’d just go right on sneaking into windows and following bread crumb trails.”

Jocelyn sighed. “Well, I hope this bread crumb trail leads me to Ted Holdren.”

“Yeah, about that. You told me where we was going, but not what it is or why we’re going there.”

“It used to be an old vineyard, back before the Volstead Act. Ted acquired a bottle of wine from there several months ago.”

“And you know this… how?”

Jocelyn flipped through her notebook and found where she’d copied down the four most recent entries from the ledger she’d found in Ted Holdren’s secret basement. “I swiped a crumpled-up grocery list out of Ted’s wastebasket, and compared it to the inventory from his wine cellar. Only the two newest items were in Ted’s handwriting.”

“Hold your horses,” said Danny, “you’re telling me you copied the writing in some old book precisely enough to later compare it to Ted’s actual handwriting?”

Jocelyn held up her notebook to show him the four entries. “I don’t know if the ledger itself is still at Ted’s place, or if it’s made its way to the evidence room,” she said.

“Geez Louise, Joss. You need to get out of the PI business and take up forgery. That’s a rare and unique talent.”

“It’s not forgery,” Jocelyn said defensively, “it’s simply… the accurate notation of evidence.”

“Sure, sure. But you’re saying only two of those were Ted’s?”

Jocelyn checked the next page in her notebook. “That’s right. The other two entries were someone else’s hand… but not Tammy’s. I checked them against an invoice I swiped from her desk.”

“If you was gonna swipe something from Ted’s office, it should have been a couple bottles out of this legendary wine stash of his,” said Danny. Jocelyn hadn’t mentioned the hidden wine cellar to Danny, but she hadn’t needed to; it was the cover story in the morning edition. “I mean, who’d have missed them?”

“Anyone who thought to check the inventory against the ledger, for starters,” scolded Jocelyn. “And anyway, I thought you preferred whiskey.”

“Aye,” Danny affirmed sadly, “when it’s there to be had. Might be I could afford it more often if I were back in town taking paying fares, rather than carrying you out to the boonies for free.”

“It’s a little too far to walk,” said Jocelyn, “and Granddad always told me never to hitchhike.”

“A wise man. You might run into too many bums like me. So you get these two names out of Ted’s ledger…”

“Yes. The first was… ah… A. P. Bakers. He sold Ted a bottle of port about eighteen months ago.”

“Andrew Bakers? Wasn’t he the one that got his speakeasy shot up by the feds?”

Jocelyn nodded grimly. “Can’t question him without a shovel and a crystal ball. So that leaves this L. Mitchroy and his upstate vineyard. Ted got a bottle of burgundy from them earlier this year. They’re still in business out there, but only just barely. Market for grapes isn’t as booming as the market for wine was.”

“Depends on who they’re selling ‘em to, I imagine.”

“If they’re bootlegging, they’re doing an awful good job covering it up. They’ve been the target of multiple inspections, both their land and their transport. They’ve still got all their stock from 1919 and earlier, there’s no record they’ve ever sold or transported any of it anywhere, and they don’t distill more per year than they’re allowed. Which is odd, isn’t it? I mean, they have all this useless stock. Why wouldn’t they just drink that, instead of distilling more? Isn’t old wine supposed to be better?”

“They’re holding out for repeal,” said Danny. “When the law finally wakes up, they’ll swoop in and corner the market on ten- and twenty-year-old wines. You’re right, though – it don’t make sense. I don’t know what a bottle of ten-year-old wine used to go for, but it’s got to be a drop in the bucket compared to what a bottle of bloody rot goes for right now. These Mitchroy clowns should be selling to the rumrunners and making a killing. It’s just not sensible otherwise.”

“Believe it or not, Danny, some people actually have a respect for the laws of the land.”

“Well that’s good then, ain’t it? I’m getting preached to by a forger who steals folks’ grocery lists.”

“I told you, it’s not forgery. It’s—“

“Yeah, yeah. Hey, this is the place.”

A dilapidated sign that read “Mitchroy Vineyard” greeted Danny’s cab as he made his way up a bumpy dirt road on a small hill. As they crested the hill and the vineyard came into view, it was immediately apparent that if the Mitchroys were selling their product to rumrunners they weren’t funneling the profits back into their industry. Most of the fields were empty and untended; only the one closest to the homestead was bearing fruit, and only a dozen or so short rows at that.

The first building they passed was a garage, presently outfitted with a pickup truck in the early stages of disrepair. Chipped, faded paint on the back of the truck declared it to be the property of Mitchroy Vineyard. The rest of the garage was populated with a wide assortment of rusty tools, unidentifiable machine parts and cobwebs. If anyone had set foot in the garage at any point in the last year, it was most likely purely by accident.

Further up the private road was an old, boarded-up barn, an outhouse and a pair of sagging storage sheds. The term “building” applied to these structures in only the loosest sense; it seemed as though the earth were slowly swallowing them up. The homestead itself, at the far end of the dirt path, had fared better than the rest of the buildings, presumably because it was the only one still seeing active use.

The recent heavy rains hadn’t done the dirt road any favors. Danny was actually forced to take a break from picking on Jocelyn in order to give the thoroughfare his undivided attention, lest he get bogged down in a flooded pothole or go skidding off the path entirely. With some effort, though, Danny managed to bounce and shudder along the road all the way up to the homestead, where he found the driest place he could to park.

Jocelyn and Danny exited the cab and made their way up towards the front porch, where they were greeted by a large, filthy farmhand who had watched them approach. He leaned against one of the railings and, with a mouth full of sopping brown chaw, called out: “Help you folks?”

Jocelyn called back, “Good morning! I certainly hope so. I’m looking for L. Mitchroy.”

“Lot’s of folks are,” said the farmhand. “You with the feds?”

“No sir, I’m a detective from the city. Jocelyn Beauregard. I just have a few questions for Mr. Mitchroy about a case I’m working.”

The farmhand ran his eyes over Jocelyn, head to toe, and Danny as well, as though contemplating their existence. He spat a huge glob of tobacco onto the ground, and replied, “All right then. You stay put here.” He then turned and entered the house through an only slightly-broken screen door, which slapped shut loudly behind him.

“Personable enough fellow,” said Danny sarcastically. Jocelyn wasn’t paying attention to him, though; she was busy with her notebook, rapidly scribbling down every little detail about the vineyard she’d seen so far. Danny sighed. “Your hair could catch fire and you wouldn’t even know it,” he said.

A minute or two went by before the screen door screeched back open to reveal a homely young woman in a plain blue checkered dress. She was squat and fat, and younger even than Jocelyn. She beheld her visitors distrustfully as she dried her hands on her apron. The farmhand remained in the doorway behind her, observing the scene coolly, chewing away the entire time.

The young woman addressed Jocelyn: “Can I help you, miss?”

Jocelyn and Danny exchanged bewildered glances, then Jocelyn replied: “Yes, good morning. I’m Jocelyn Beauregard. I was hoping to speak to L. Mitchroy about a case I’m working.”

“I’m Laura Bell Mitchroy,” replied the woman. “State your business.”

“It concerns a… colleague of mine, Ted Holdren. I don’t know if you read the papers, ma’am, but he’s recently disappeared, and I’m trying to track him down.”

“Well he’s not here,” said the woman flatly.

“No, I expect he’s not. But we discovered in his possession a bottle of your burgundy wine, which I’d like to ask you a few questions about, if you don’t mind.”

The woman squinted and crossed her arms, and for a moment Jocelyn was afraid she’d be turned away. To her relief, however, she eventually said to the farmhand: “Roger, go put the kettle on. I expect our guests’ll want something warm in their bellies.” She waved Jocelyn and Danny onto the porch. “Come on in, but mind you wipe your feet. We just had these floors washed yesterday.”

Jocelyn and Danny scraped the mud off their shoes as best they could, then followed Laura Bell into a rather cozy parlor where a crackling fire and soft, floral print sofa awaited them. Soft violin music, something old and European, was playing on a phonograph in the corner. Roger continued on through the opposite door, beyond which could be seen a formal dining rom. Laura Bell bade them sit, then took up residence in a rocking chair adjacent to them that was big enough to hold two of her. “So Ted Holdren, then,” she said, leaning over the side of her chair to retrieve some materials from her knitting basket.

“That’s right,” said Jocelyn, “I don’t know if you read the papers, but he’s been missing now, going on two days. I’m sorry to show up so unexpectedly… I would have done this over the telephone, but the operator was unable to make the connection.”

“We went and had our service disconnected,” Laura Bell explained. “Nobody much cares to call on us anyway, except collectors now and again, and the odd suspicious lawman.”

“We’re certainly not lawmen,” Jocelyn assured her, “we’re just chasing down whatever leads we can find. Like I said, Ted had in his possession a bottle of your burgundy… which he received from you about four months ago.”

Laura Bell shook her head. “Not from me,” she said. “All of our product from back before is kept safe under lock and key. Why, if we sold even a single drop they could haul us both away.”

“That they could,” agreed Jocelyn, “but perhaps he received it as a gift? Or perhaps it was passed to him, you know, under the table?”

“Not under no table I’m aware of, no,” insisted Laura Bell. “This Ted Holdren fella had business with my father before he passed on, but never with me or Roger.” She looked up at a photograph sitting on the mantle above the fire of a bald, bearded man sitting in the same rocking chair Laura Bell now occupied. “Charles Mitchroy. He’s who you were expecting to see, most like. We buried him last Easter. Pneumonia.”

“I’m very sorry for your loss,” Jocelyn said.

“It was me and my brother, Dickie, and my father, and my uncle Bill… but now it’s just me. Dickie’s off in the service, still, doing god-knows-what to god-knows-who. Uncle Bill ran off once prohibition went through, sure we’d all be belly-up by that spring. We hired Roger on to help tend things around here once Father took ill.” She pointed out photos of the other Mitchroy men as she named them: Uncle Bill simply looked like an older, greyer version of Laura Bell’s father, while Dickie was a strapping young man who looked quite dapper in his service uniform. Danny nodded at the young man’s photograph with approval, but continued to say nothing.

“You and Roger keep up the whole vineyard by yourselves then?” asked Jocelyn.

Laura Bell shrugged. “What we can, when we can. We grow vegetables out back, and there’s good hunting in the woods around here. Father used to pay Roger to stay on, but there’s no money for that now. But it’s warm, and he’s not likely to starve, so he stays ‘round for my sake.”

As if responding to the sound of his own name, Roger the farmhand suddenly burst into the room carrying a hot kettle and several mugs. Jocelyn perceived him to look kinder than he had out on the porch, although one of his cheeks was still puffed out like a chipmunk, packed with chaw. Jocelyn thanked him politely as he poured her a hot mug of tea.

“That sure is a nice roadster you got parked out there, mister,” he said to Danny as he served him. “I’d love to get a closer look at it, if you’d be so kind as to oblige.”

Danny brightened up at the excuse to free himself from the dull conversation in the parlor. “Heck, why not? You’ll be all right on your own, Joss?”

“Sure, sure. You boys play nice.”

Danny patted her shoulder, the way he did, and followed Roger back out the front door while launching into his speech about engines. He hadn’t even touched his tea.

“Roger just adores anything that’s loud and greasy,” explained Laura Bell. “He tinkers with that old truck out in the garage. Keeps her running against all odds and expectations. Used to have two out there… he was about heartbroken when we sold the other one off.” She plunked two cubes of sugar from a nearby dish into her cup. Jocelyn accepted one for her own, and blew on it to cool it down some. Laura Bell continued, “We don’t make it into town too often. No need, really, except to sell a harvest, and those have been peckish as of late. And before you ask, yes, we keep the distiller working. 200 gallons a year for personal use, that’s the law, though I doubt we’ve topped 80 or 90. It’s to stay in practice, I suppose… make sure all the equipment stays in working order. But mostly I think our wine is all that’s left of the Mitchroy name. Just can’t bear to give it up, foolish as that sounds.”

Jocelyn sat wide-eyed and sipped her tea. It tasted dull and watery, exactly like it had been made by a farmhand who only barely knew which end of the kettle to fill with water.

“But listen to me go on,” said Laura Bell, “you didn’t come out all this way to hear my sad story. You had questions about your missing friend.”

“Colleague,” Jocelyn corrected her. She couldn’t bear to consider Ted Holdren anything even near a friend in light of the recent revelation that he’d thrown her to Max Barrett. Pushing that thought from her mind, she flipped to an empty page in her notebook so she could record the conversation. “You don’t mind, do you?” she asked Laura Bell. When Laura Bell indicated she did not, Jocelyn asked her, “You said your father did business with Ted?”

Now it was Laura Bell’s turn for a correction: “No, I said Ted had business with my father. I never knew the feeling to be very mutual. Uncle Bill played too many hands of cards, you see. Always owed money to the wrong sorts of people. Which wasn’t an issue back in the days when we were making money, but once we went dry it started to pile up.”

“Your uncle ran off and stuck you and your father with his debt?”

“That’s about the long and the short of it, yep. One time some men in expensive suits showed up and tried to collect payment in wine. Figured it’d be a quick and easy way to settle things. We couldn’t sell it anyhow, and this way we wouldn’t risk having to transport it. Father hooped and hollered, and chased them off with his rifle.

“They didn’t come around again after that, but your man Ted sure did. Twice, as I recall, something like two, three weeks apart. First time, he identified himself as a prohibition agent. Said he was doing a cursory investigation into local wineries and breweries, you know, make sure they were shut down like they was supposed to be. Father walked him around, showed him the stockpile, shared some of our receipts with him. It was obvious we weren’t making nor selling no liquor. He thanked us and went on his way.

“Next time, he came clean with us. Said he’d been hired by those men in expensive suits to find enough dirt to bury us, if we couldn’t settle with them. I remember that part real well: Father said to him, ‘Are you trying to blackmail me, sir?’, and that Ted fella smiled, and touched his hat, and said, ‘I do hate to use such an ugly word.’”

Jocelyn wrinkled up her nose. She was beginning to wonder why was so invested in bringing Ted back safe. She could have said good riddance to him right then and there. “How did that turn out?”

“Father told him to do his worst, then gave him to the count of ten to be on his way. Fired a warning shot at Mr. Holdren’s car just as he got to eight. Didn’t see no need to shout out nine.”

“And has anyone else come around with interest in your stockpile?”

“A few folks,” Laura Bell admitted. “But no one real sinister. Had a few nights where some hooligans came up over the back fence and tried to slip into the cellar. Nicked one with buckshot myself, one night. Another time, one got tangled in the barbed wire. We dragged him back to the house and called the sheriff out. They took him back to his folks in tears and wet britches.

“We had two federal inspections, outside of Mr. Holdren faking it… both times because our no-good neighbors the Thompsons called in to report we was still in the liquor business.”When she said the word “Thompsons”, a hundred years of feuding and bickering descended upon Laura Bell’s face in one instant. “That’s a land dispute going back to my granddad’s granddad’s day. Sour folks, those Thompsons, and vindictive, too. But they got nothing to do with your Mr. Holdren.”

When the Thompson-induced scowl on Laura Bell’s face evaporated as quickly as it had appeared. Jocelyn decided to put a cap on that avenue of inquiry: “And they found nothing incriminating?”

“Nope. We’re dry and poor, just like the government wants.”

“And you never gave a bottle of wine to Ted Holdren?”

Posed so bluntly, the question seemed to have put Laura Bell slightly more on guard than she had been. “You say you’re not with the feds or the cops, right?” Jocelyn simply nodded. “Good, because if anyone else comes ‘round asking about this, I’ll deny it ‘till my tongue falls out. And I’m only telling you because a man’s life might be at stake, despicable man though he may be.

“No, Mr. Holdren never left our property with anything more than he entered it with, except maybe for some shot in his tailpipe. He never come ‘round again after that, and we certainly never sought him out. After Father passed someone told me he’d showed up to pay his respects, but I don’t remember seeing him at the service.

“But prohibition is a game, Miss. Just a crazy, mixed-up game. Father never sold a single drop, but if he wanted a bottle all for himself with the Christmas ham, weren’t that his right? And if a bottle just so happened to land in the hands of the same mechanic who was repairing a flat tire all out of the goodness of his heart, well, what’s the harm? And if a crate of burgundy just happens to make it onto a ship at the harbor in place of a crate of flour, or coffee, or whatever else a poor farming family might need, well, stranger things have happened, haven’t they?

“But he never sold a single drop, hand to God, and neither have I since he passed. No court could ever show a single dime, no matter how hard they looked.”

Laura Bell’s frankness was every bit as convincing as the sorry state of the vineyard outside. If the Mitchroys were engaging in any bootlegging, they must have been hoarding all their profits in a coffee can or a hollow mattress.

“How do you figure a bottle of your wine ended up in Ted’s collection, if you never sold or gave him one?”

Laura Bell shook her head. “I haven’t even the foggiest. I’ll say again – and deny ever having done so – that a bottle or two trickles out from time to time. He could have gotten it from anywhere, really.”

Jocelyn flipped back to the page of her notebook where she had copied the four entries from Ted’s ledger. “Maybe this will help narrow it down,” Jocelyn said, passing the notebook over to Laura Bell. “That’s the bottle he has, year and vintage. Is that the sort of thing that, ah, trickles out?”

Laura Bell’s face went flush, and she placed her hand over her heart. “Dearie me, my poor father. He’d roll over in his grave.” When she looked up, her eyes were as wide as saucers. “Miss, this particular vintage is one of our oldest and most valuable. My father would have never have given it as a gift, except maybe to the president himself. I’ve never even touched a bottle this far back in the cellar.”

“So… worth more than crate of coffee, then?”

“By a considerable amount, yes. But what’s really alarming is this date. Four months ago, or thereabouts? Dickie was in town that week on shore leave. Stayed in the city for most of it, but he was here at home two nights. I remember, because I put him to work pulling weeds out in the tomato patch.”

Laura Bell handed Jocelyn’s notebook back to her. “I don’t believe for a second Dickie would have taken that bottle, though. Not for all the tea in China.”

“Well,” replied Jocelyn, “someone took it… and gave it to Ted Holdren.”

“When you find out who, Miss, send them ‘round here so I can have a go at them with a leather strap.”

For a moment Jocelyn pictured Laura Bell Mitchroy whipping Ted Holdren with a leather strap. The mental image delighted her. Instead of saying so, though, she finished her tea and stood up. Laura Bell followed her lead.

“I certainly thank you for all the help, Miss Mitchroy.”

“I hope this whole sordid affair works itself out, truly I do,” Laura Bell replied. “Now, we’d best get outside before those two dismantle that cab right there in the field.

Laura Bell motioned for the front door, but Jocelyn interrupted her. “Just one more question, actually: do you know where Dickie was staying in town when he was on leave?”

Laura Bell shrugged apologetically. “I’m sorry, I don’t.” Then, after thinking about it for a moment: “Actually, can you hold tight just a second? I’ll be right back.”

Laura Bell dashed into the kitchen, leaving Jocelyn alone in the parlor for the first time since she’d been in the house. Without the distraction of conversation, she decided to get as much of a sense of the room as she could in the short time Laura Bell was gone.

There wasn’t much to see; the furniture was aged, but well cared-for. A hunting rifle hung above the mantle behind photographs of the various Mitchroys. Curiously there was no family portrait; one showed Charles and Bill Mitchroy together as young men, posing in uniform. Next to this was a recent shot of Dickie, carrying on the family’s proud military tradition. Next was a photo of Charles and Laura Bell, taken in the parlor before he died. Finally was a solo shot of Bill, standing amidst the grapevines in full bloom.

There were no photos of Laura Bell’s mother at all. Jocelyn made sure to notate that.

The phonograph had wound down sometime during the discussion, filling the room with a soft, staticy silence. An open drawer on the side of the unit revealed a modest collection of recordings. Jocelyn thumbed through them, but only one in particular caught her eye: a copy of Mariana Paoletti’s aria, the very same one she had back at her office.

“Showtunes, mostly,”said Laura Bell, noting Jocelyn’s interest in her music selection. “Father had a weakness for them. He used to go to the theater every other weekend.”

“He liked opera?” asked Jocelyn.

“No, mostly he liked comedies. He used to say life had enough depression in it without paying someone to sing it to him,” Laura Bell explained. When she noted that Jocelyn’s thumb was resting on Mariana’s aria, she added: “Ah. That one’s new. Dickie brought it with him from town when he was here on leave. I don’t get it, myself. Just sounds like so much warbling.” She held out a folded piece of paper, which Jocelyn accepted. “That’s the telephone number where Dickie said he’d be in town, if we had a mind to reach him. He didn’t know we’d discontinued our service, so I didn’t think much of it until you just reminded me.”

“Thanks,” said Jocelyn “this will be very helpful.”

Laura Bell smiled, and led Jocelyn outside, where Danny and the farmhand Roger were lounging on the porch having a late morning smoke. “Laura Bell, this fella here once rebuilt a Bugatti Type 22 for a racing circuit out west. You believe that?”

“Got to drive ‘er once, too,” bragged Danny. “Got ‘er up to fifty-two on the test track. Ah, but that was another life.”

“It’ll be a miracle if you get the axle in our own rust-bucket repaired before the week is out, with the amount of lounging around you’ve been doing,” scolded Laura Bell.

Roger replied with some noncommittal “Yeah, yeah,” noises before standing up, shaking Danny’s hand, tipping his hat to Jocelyn and wishing the both of them a pleasant day. He then headed back into the house.

“If there’s anything else, Miss Beauregard, you know where to find us,” said Laura Bell. “If you don’t find the trip out to be too prohibitive, that is.”

“Not at all,” replied Jocelyn. Danny waited patiently as the ladies finished up their pleasantries, then he and Jocelyn piled back into the cab and began the long trip home.

“I didn’t know you worked on racecars,” Jocelyn said as they pulled passed the garage.

Danny replied with a mischievous grin. “I’ve seen ‘em race a bunch of times,” he explained, “but you can tell these bumpkins anything and they’ll believe it.”

“Oh Danny, you’re horrible.”

“So where do you want dropped off, once we’re back in town? I’d like to try and make at least a little bread today, if that’s all the same to you.”

“Ted’s office,” said Jocelyn, removing the invoice and grocery list she’d lifted from Ted’s office from her pocketbook. “If the coast is clear I’d like to slip these back where I found them, on the off-chance someone notices they’re gone.”

“So that’s sweet little Tammy’s own hand, eh?” asked Danny. “What’s she getting billed for, anyway? Sequined heels and expensive French perfume, I’ll bet.”

“No, actually, this is an invoice for payment to Swanson & Schneider Security Company on 44th Street for… installation of a one-ton floor safe.”

Danny stared a hole through her. “Really, Joss,” he said finally, “you’re the only detective in town who walks around all day with a clue right there in her pocket.”

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