53 - Officer Barnes Gets A Clue

The Guardian Dolphin

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That afternoon, Jim Barnes—the young officer I met my first morning at the Golden Mermaid Restaurant-was walking down the main street in town.

I was in an art gallery on that same street, as a matter of fact—admiring a painting.

My young Officer friend was not having a good day.

He was hot and sweaty, from walking one end of the town to the other. For some reason, Chief Oakes had decided to give top priority to finding this Dudley Smith/Flipper/Jonathan Something character, and the result was that he had to show the guy's picture to almost everyone in town.

He was running out of people to show it to.

Not that he never had a bite. That was the frustrating part. Half the town recognized the picture, and then would proceed to tell him a funny story, or a fond story, or an angry story. The guy had made an impression all right, but no one knew where he was now.

He stopped for a moment to wipe his forehead and consider his next stop. The sidewalk was crammed with shoppers. Even hot weather couldn't slow down the Christmas rush.

His eyes fell on an art gallery two doors down, and he remembered that it was closed the last time he came by. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the Polaroid shot, now a little worse for wear. For the thousandth time he studied the old man with goatee and glasses in the dinner jacket.

He wondered what was so special about that guy.

It wasn't like the Chief to put top priority on something like this. Not just because some rich guy was upset. From what he could tell, that Mr. Hogan didn't have much of a case anyway.

So why did Oakes have him traipsing all over town in the hot sun, when he could be in an air-conditioned squad car, handing out speeding tickets?

When he reached the gallery door he was still looking at the snapshot, and he ran straight into the old man who was coming out the door.

He grabbed the fellow by his shoulders to steady him.

"Pardon me, Sir. I'm afraid I wasn't watching…"

But the old guy was grinning up at him.

"Officer Barnes!"

He smiled, trying to think who the man was.

"Oh. Hello!"

There was something familiar about that face.

The man winked at him.

"When are you coming by for some more hot cakes?"

Of course. It was the new cook—out at Ann and Julie's place.

"How are you, Mr.… uh…"

"Clarence, just call me Clarence. Come visit us some morning."

"Sure. Sure, I'll do that.

"I've got an omelet I want you to try."

Clarence pumped his hand and melted into the crowd moving down the sidewalk. Barnes watched him go, a half-smile on his lips. The old guy sure was a character.

He had taken a deep breath, and was about to turn back to the gallery when it caught his eye.

He glanced down at the Polaroid shot, back down the sidewalk, and back at the photo again. Then he began to push his way through the crowd, stuffing the picture back in his pocket as he moved.