Deity Arms 3: Taking a Chance on Love
Deity Arms: Taking a Chance on Love
by The Professor (c. 2003)
Jack Murphy was willing to give up almost anything to bring down Tony Capella, but he never imagined what that really meant.
“Jeez! What was that?”
Big Iggy gave a sigh. He was used to his smaller partner jumping at the slightest sound. He too, had heard something from deeper within the recesses of the alley. It wasn’t a threatening sound though. It was probably just a rat scrounging through the garbage. Or maybe it was a wino, sleeping it off someplace quiet where the punks roaming the streets wouldn’t see him and roll him for the pitiful few dollars he had crammed in a dirty pocket.
“Wadda ’ya think?” Big Iggy asked drolly. “You think it’s the cops watching us?”
“Well you never know,” Little Iggy said defensively. “It never hurts to be careful,” he added petulantly.
Big Iggy shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t know why you got in this business if you’re gonna jump every time you hear a noise.”
“I didn’t get in this business,” Little Iggy mumbled. “This isn’t my business at all. I don’t know why the boss always picks us to hide the bodies. It’s kinda spooky, y’know?” He looked fearfully at the dumpster where the two of them had just hefted the remains of a man, wrapped in garbage bags, his limbs tied to his side. “I got into the protection business.”
Big Iggy shrugged. “Look, it’s a lot easier making a meat delivery than it is shaking down some poor bastard who opened his shop in the wrong neighborhood. Besides, protection ain’t what it used to be. Remember Tommy?”
That was the wrong thing to say, Big Iggy thought upon reflection. Little Iggy turned so pale he could see the change even in the darkness of the alley. Tommy Ravella had set out to bring in some new business from this very neighborhood a week earlier. Although generally acknowledged among Tony Capella’s associates as the toughest hood in Lower Manhattan, Tommy had simply disappeared, and no one had been able to find out what had happened to him.
So it was that Boss Capella had pulled back the protection staff and assigned them to other duties until the whereabouts of Tommy Ravella could be determined. It wasn’t good when a representative of the protection division disappeared like that. It was bad for business.
‘At least,’ Big Iggy thought to himself, ‘the boss had decided to use him and his partner for low-risk errands. Disposing of a body wasn’t so bad–as long as the boss didn’t ask them to kill the guy.’ Big Iggy hadn’t killed a guy in, oh, at least ten years, and he had nearly botched that. If he hadn’t been the boss’s cousin, he would have probably been killed himself instead of just demoted to protection.
“There it is again!” Little Iggy cried out.
“Will you be quiet?” his partner snapped–although this time he felt the hairs on the back of his own neck rising as well. There was something downright spooky about the strange little apartment hotel housed in the building next to the alley. Even the boss gave it a wide berth. And that guy who ran the place... Big Iggy hoped his frightened partner hadn’t seen him shudder at the thought of the strange manager of Deety Arms.
But maybe Little Iggy was right. Maybe there was something there in the alley with them. He doubted if it was a cop, but even an innocent citizen could stumble into the wrong situation. It never hurt to be careful. Drawing his gun, he sidled along the wall, eyes searching the darkness for any menacing form. Then something jumped out of a pile of boxes near the side entrance to the building. The shape was dark but too small to be a man. Big Iggy sighed in relief. “Will you look? Now you’ve got me jumping. It’s just a fucking rat!”
“Yeah,” Little Iggy agreed, chastised. “Sorry, pal.”
Big Iggy re-holstered his weapon and looked back at the dumpster. Everything was in order. “Let’s get out of here.”
As their footsteps receded, a sigh of relief issued from the pile of boxes. “Damn you, Grimcost! He nearly got me.”
From another pile of boxes further down the alley, another raspy voice replied, “But Garmon, he spotted me. He was looking right at me.” The boxes fell aside and an inhuman creature folded and refolded its wings as if to emphasize the point.
“He couldn’t see you though,” Garmon growled, returning the gesture from his own pile. “Humans can’t see half of what’s in front of them. When you jumped though, he couldn’t help but see you. I thought I was going to have to kill them both. Mr. L wouldn’t have liked that.”
Grimcost walked contritely toward the other gargoyle. “Why didn’t Mr. L do something? They killed that man. They killed a policeman.”
Garmon shrugged. “I don’t know. He has something in mind. When I asked him he just told me these men didn’t kill the officer: one of Tony Capella’s top guns did. It’s Capella he wants this time.”
“Then why not just go to his office and take care of him?” Grimcost asked, his embarrassment replaced by curiosity.
Grimcost grinned–or as close as he could get to a grin with his beak. “Mr. L says that’s too easy for him. I think he’s got something more interesting in mind.”
Viewing the body of a murdered man is never easy. It’s even harder when it’s the body of a friend. Marcello Fontana–Mark to his friends–had been a good friend of mine since the days at Police Academy. We had both grown up in Brooklyn, although we hadn’t known each other there. We both got married right after the Academy and we both got divorces in the same month resulting in a monumental binge that was still the talk of the department. Then I lost touch with him. That had been two years ago. Now I knew why.
“According to Downtown, he was working under cover,” Matt Conway, my young partner told me as I watched the attendants wheel Mark’s body away. At least the spring drizzle had washed the blood off his face but could do nothing to disguise the bruises underneath. Mark hadn’t died easily.
“For what department?” I asked, reaching in my coat pocket for a cigarette. There weren’t any there, of course. I had given them up a year ago on an impulse during one of those damned ‘smoke outs.’ I just couldn’t seem to kick the craving, but I’d be damned if I let the cancer sticks get the best of me. Nobody and nothing got the best of me.
“Organized Crime Task Force,” Matt replied. “They were trying to nab Capella.”
My stomach got tight at that name. Capella was the bastard who had cost me my marriage and nearly cost me my life. “Capella’s hard to nab.”
Matt nodded. “You got that right, boss. Word is Fontana worked his way into Capella’s mob but never could work his way up high enough to get the goods on him. Somebody finally slipped up and he was made. Looks like they wanted to send us a message judging from the condition of the body.”
Matt sounded impassive, but I knew he was upset, too. He didn’t know Mark, but nothing upsets a cop like the murder of another cop. If you’re lucky, you might go through your whole career on the force and never see it happen. But if you’re in Homicide like Matt and I, it happens. You just have to tell yourself you’ll find the perp and squeeze him for all it’s worth. The problem was that Tony Capella didn’t squeeze easily.
“Anybody see anything?” I asked as Mark’s body was loaded into an ambulance.
“Nope,” Matt replied. “It’s pretty dark back in that alley. The only door back there leads to that apartment hotel over there. According to the manager, nobody had used the door since this morning.”
I looked at my watch. It was nearly midnight. The anonymous phone call about the body had come in about ten and our guys weren’t on the scene for about thirty minutes. “Isn’t it kind of late for the manager to still be on duty? I mean this Deety Arms isn’t exactly the St. Regis.”
Matt gave me a funny look as if he wasn’t sure of how to tell me something. I had seen the look from him before. He was new to Homicide. Barely thirty, he was a sharp kid. Someday, he’d probably be running the department. I had learned in the few months I had been working with him to trust his instincts.
“Come on Matt. Out with it. What’s the problem?”
Matt shrugged. “I don’t know Jack. It’s hard to explain. There’s just something weird about that whole place, and this manager is the kind of weird.”
“Well, start with his name,” Matt began. “It’s L.”
“El?” I asked. “He’s Latino? El what?”
“That’s it,” Matt told me. “It’s just the letter L. Or at least that’s what his staff calls him. Now I know there are one-letter last names. I used to work a neighborhood with a lot of Vietnamese in it. O–just plain O–is a pretty common Vietnamese name. But I’ve never heard of somebody named L.”
“This is New York kid,” I grinned in spite of myself. “People call themselves all kinds of crazy things, and here in the Village, it’s the worst of the worst for stuff like that.”
“Yeah, I know,” Matt sighed. Deep down, the kid was probably tired of hearing me talk about the strange side of the city. It was as if I was reminding him that he had grown up on the Upper East Side where the money is and where families shield themselves from the seamy side of New York. “But this L guy isn’t like all the fruitcakes.”
“Maybe I ought to go talk to him,” I mused. Matt didn’t argue with me. I think he wanted me to see this L guy for myself. I had a pretty good idea what he’d be like.
Of course, I was completely wrong.
As if for the first time, I took stock of the building before I entered. The apartment hotel was the largest building on the square, rising to six stories. Like many buildings in the city, the brownstone façade was weathered to nearly a dull gray by years of accumulated pollution. However, the polished heavy oak front doors showed no signs of wear. The doors were flanked by two gargoyles perched on a ledge. I looked away from the gargoyles quickly. There was something unsettling about them–almost as if they were watching me. Between them, carved into the stone, were two words: Deety Arms, but part of the stone on one of the words had either worn or been chipped away, for the second ‘e’ looked more like an ‘i’ at first glance.
An involuntary and completely unexpected shudder ran up and down my back. I had heard of this place: every cop who worked this part of the city had heard of Deety Arms. It was an urban legend. In fact, strange stories were told about nearly every business on the cosy square where the building stood. I had never believed any of them–until now. There was just something about the place that made you question reality itself–as if the building just should be there at all.
Bracing myself for something out of an Anne Rice novel, I opened one of the heavy oak doors, expecting to hear it creak on its hinges. Instead, the door opened smoothly and silently, revealing a completely unexpected sight.
Instead of a tired old lobby with Gothic overtones and deep shadows, I was met by a brightly lit scene of near opulence. The polished oak wainscoting and plush green carpet in the lobby shouted old wealth. Even the hunter-green wallpaper above the wainscoting reeked of money with its raised, silk-like patterns. A mountain of a man stood silently by a small desk. He was dressed in a doorman’s uniform of impeccable cut, resembling a Marine in full dress rather than the ill-fitting, dumping little men who served that same function in most of the city’s apartment hotels.
But the man who met me in the lobby was incongruous in such surroundings. He was a funny little man wearing an ill-fitting suit, although the problem of fit appeared more with the man than with the suit. He was a chubby little fellow, and frankly I doubted if a thousand dollar suit would have made him look any better
“Good evening, Lieutenant Murphy,” the little man interrupted in a reedy voice. “I’m Mr. Luk.”
Oh. And how did he know my name?
“Mr. Logan asked me to show you to his office. If you’ll step this way...”
I followed him down a long hallway. The path displayed a series of doors, each made of wood below and frosted glass above, like the old run-down office buildings around the city. But this place wasn’t run down. Everything looked new and polished. It was like stepping back into a simpler time, like the thirties or forties.
I had expected to walk into an old Universal horror movie. Instead, I had walked into a film noir mystery by mistake. I almost expected Humphrey Bogart to suddenly step out of one of those doors, hat pulled down over his eyes and a cigarette drooping from his thin lips. Was Mr. L really Sidney Greenstreet? Wait. Mr. Luk had called him Mr. Logan. Matt must have misunderstood.
I was ushered into a large, tastefully decorated office. It was clear that whoever had designed the lobby had taken a hand in designing this Logan’s office. Mr. Logan might not be Sidney Greenstreet, but I had the feeling the legendary character actor would have found himself at home in that office.
Behind a large well-polished oak desk sat a well-dressed man, ramrod straight as he appeared engrossed in a document. He was tall and slender, and although his skin was that of a young man, his hair was white and cut quite short. As I entered the room, he rose, favoring me with piercing blue eyes. His suit, unlike Mr. Luk’s, fit him to perfection. He looked as if he had just stepped off the cover of GQ.
“Lieutenant Murphy,” he greeted me, offering me his hand. Did everybody in this place know my name? I took his hand and found his handshake firm and confident. I liked that in a man. “Please, be seated.”
I hesitated. My coat was wet from the intermittent drizzle, and Mr. Logan’s guest chairs were covered in fine leather. Intercepting my thought, Mr. Logan ordered, “Mr. Luk, please take the lieutenant’s coat and have it pressed. Also, please bring us some coffee–something mild as it is quite late.”
My concerns about Mr. Logan and his establishment seemed to evaporate under the power of the solicitous treatment. I eased myself into one of the guest chairs, suddenly realizing how long I had been on my feet. The chair seemed to mold itself around me, soothing tired bones and muscles. ‘I had to get me one of those chairs,’ I thought.
“Now to business,” Mr. Logan said, seating himself in a large leather executive chair. He leaned forward across his desk, his face strangely shadowed in the light of his desk lamp–the only light in the room.
“Mr. Logan,” I began, glad to be back in charge of the investigation once again, “do you know anything about the body we found next to your establishment this evening?”
I thought for a moment I saw amusement in the light reflecting off his pale blue eyes. “I was given to understand that the victim was a policeman, working undercover to infiltrate Tony Capella’s organization.”
‘Damn!’ I thought. What kind of investigation had Matt been running before I showed up? The object of questioning potential witnesses was to find out what they knew–not to tell them what you knew. Matt must have done most of the talking.
“Uh...” I began, trying to restart my questioning but without success. I was saved by the return of the strange Mr. Luk who laid my freshly-pressed coat over the other guest chair. I couldn’t imagine how he had done it so fast. There had to be a dry cleaner in the building, but I wondered why it was still open in the middle of the night. He then handed me a cup of steaming coffee from a small silver tray. After placing a similar cup in front of Mr. Logan, he gave an honest-to-God bow and left the room.
I took a sip of the coffee. It was lightly sweetened with a splash of cream–just the way I liked it. As for the blend, it was rich and mellow–perhaps the finest cup of coffee I had ever had. But I hadn’t come for the coffee. “Mr. Logan...”
“Lieutenant, let me save you some time,” he broke in. “No one in this building was a witness to the murder. Your friend was killed elsewhere and his body left here by Capella’s men as an insult to me and my associates.”
This was all coming in too fast. “But how do you know who did it?”
“Because the body was delivered by Ignatio Morello and his associate, a Mr. Gennaro...”
“Big Iggy and Little Iggy,” I muttered.
“Exactly. But as you know, they aren’t–I believe the expression is ‘hit men.’ The actual murderer was Rudy Costanzo.”
“Tony Capella’s right hand man?”
I took another thoughtful sip of my coffee. “Mr. Logan, how could you possibly know all of this unless...?”
Mr. Logan smiled. “Unless I was involved in his activities?”
I nodded. The Mafia had many fellow travellers, and in spite of his polished manner, there was much to suggest that he might be one of them. He seemed to know a lot more about Tony Capella than he should. Also, he had insinuated that Mark’s body had been dumped practically on his doorstep as a personal affront.
“Let’s just say I’ve seen him and his men in action,” he replied, pausing to take a sip of his own coffee. “You see, in addition to drugs and prostitution, Mr. Capella is heavily involved in the protection racket as well. A number of nearby businesses have been victims of his shakedowns.”
I nodded. He wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. He was evading my questions, answering them but not telling me anything important. I suspected he knew far more than he was letting on. “So are you paying him off?”
There was that damned smile again. “No Lieutenant. No one here on the square is paying him off. We’ve all resisted. This of course, has come to Mr. Capella’s attention.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t had a visit from Tommy Ravella,” I told him. “Capella usually uses him to ‘negotiate’ with folks like you.” I didn’t add that the last guy I knew who Tommy Ravella had ‘negotiated’ with spent two weeks in the hospital as a result.
Mr. Logan startled me by bursting into outright laughter. “I’m afraid Mr. Ravella proved himself to be a very poor negotiator.”
I frowned, confused. “Tommy was here?”
The enigmatic smile was back. “Let’s just say that Mr. Ravella has been reassigned and is currently negotiating business deals of a more fundamental nature.”
I was sure that that was a very clever remark but it went right over my head. One thing that didn’t go over my head, though, was the sudden realization that Mr. Logan was more than he seemed. At first glance, I would have thought Tommy Ravella would have chewed up and spit out a dozen Mr. Logans, but somehow this dapper man had bested him.
“I have a proposition for you, Lieutenant,” Mr. Logan said suddenly.
I wasn’t sure what Mr. Logan’s game was, but curiosity got the best of me and I decided to play along. “What kind of a proposition?”
“What would it be worth to you to... I believe the expression is ‘take down’ Tony Capella?”
I shifted uncomfortably. “The Department isn’t in the habit of negotiating payments. If you have information we can use, I suggest you share it with us. It’s possible that some sort of reward could be...”
He ignored my comment and interrupted, “Would it be worth your life?”
I hadn’t expected the question, but it started me thinking. Tony Capella had done a lot to hurt me through the years. Mark Fontana wasn’t the first friend I had lost as a result of Capella’s activities. He had cost me my marriage and very nearly cost me my life. Even my career had been influenced by him. I had become so obsessed with taking him down that the Department had reassigned me from organized crime to homicide, relegating me to investigating dead bodies in dumpsters rather than fighting the mob.
‘Would I give up my life to get that slime ball? Yeah,’ I realized, ‘I would. It would be worth it to die if I could watch Tony go first.’ My answer was short. “Yes.”
Mr. Logan’s eyes narrowed. “Would it be worth your soul?”
I can’t explain my reaction. Call it superstition or call it premonition, but something in the way Logan asked the question caused me to realize the question was not entirely hypothetical.
Now with a name like Murphy, he could probably have made an educated guess that I had been raised Catholic. He would have been right: I was. Although I attended Mass very irregularly and hadn’t been to confession in a long, long time, I still believed, and to be more specific, I was pretty sure I had a soul–whatever it might be.
I can’t say I believed this Mr. Logan to be the devil or one of his minions, but there was something about him that made me uneasy. His confidence and poise set him apart from anyone else I had ever met. He acted almost as if he was in complete control of everything around him. I had a weird hunch that the answer he now requested–no, demanded–of me would be important in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
“No,” I said softly.
While his tone once more demanded a response, I sensed I had given him the answer he was seeking. His eyes seemed not as narrow and his countenance not as intense, though.
“I suppose because if I surrendered my life, I’d do so in a good cause,” I replied. “But if I surrendered my soul, I might be like him, since he obviously surrendered his soul the day he committed his first crime.”
Mr. Logan’s face melted into a confident smile. “Then I may be able to help you, Lieutenant. Do you believe that I can help you take down Tony Capella?”
I surprised myself by admitting, “Yes, I do.” I had no concrete reason to believe that, but something about the mysterious Mr. Logan gave me the idea that there wasn’t much he couldn’t do. Call it gut instinct. Cops are known for it.
He leaned forward again. “Then this is what you must do. You need to notify your superiors that you need some time off, starting tomorrow.”
I nodded. That wouldn’t be a problem. Given the strain of police work, it wasn’t uncommon for an officer to announce that he or she needed a few days off to handle ‘personal affairs’–a euphemism for getting one’s head back on straight. “How long?”
“Perhaps indefinite would be appropriate.”
“I’ll tell them two weeks,” I countered. I didn’t know what Mr. Logan had in mind, but I couldn’t imagine it taking longer than that.
“So what’s next?” I asked.
“Meet me here at noon tomorrow,” he told me. “I’ll need you to stay here in one of our apartments.”
“For how long?” I asked again.
He shrugged. “Indefinite.”
There was that word again. “What should I bring?”
“Whatever you like,” he replied agreeably. “Anything else you need will be provided for you.”
“Can you tell me what you have in mind?”
“I will–at noon tomorrow,” he said, rising to indicate that our meeting was over. I nodded in response and left.
To anyone who might wonder at why I, an experienced and supposedly hardened veteran of the New York Police Department, would so quickly agree to Mr. Logan’s plan, I can only respond that to understand, one would have to have been in his presence to comprehend the power he exuded. Couple that presence with the understanding that taking down Tony Capella was the most important thing in my life and throw in plain old human curiosity and perhaps you can understand why I agreed to participate in his plan with no knowledge of the details.
The devil is in the details someone once said. I was about to find out exactly what that meant, not that I’ve ever concluded whether Mr. Logan is the devil, an angel, or something in between. I can say though, that if I had had any idea just what he had in mind that night, I would have never set foot in Deety Arms again.
I even had misgivings as I headed for home that night. My misgivings were strong enough that I placed a late night call to one of our researchers I knew on the night shift. When she answered, I began, “Claire, I need some help. What can you get me on a place called Deety Arms as well as something about its manager, a Mr. Logan?”
Claire and I had been friends for a long time. She sometimes made me pay for my information–usually with lunches or a platonic date. Other times, she protested she was too busy but would get the information anyhow because I really, really needed it. Never in the ten years I had known Claire had she ever given me the answer she gave me that night.
“Jack, whatever you’ve got, leave it alone.”
“Look Claire, I can’t take you to lunch this week, but maybe...”
“You’re not listening Jack,” she shot back. “I mean leave it alone. Deety Arms is sort of off-limits. The first time–and the last time, I might add–that I tried to look into that place, not only did I find nothing but the higher-ups told me to never look into it again.”
“Well, how much nothing did you find?” I asked warily.
Claire was silent for a minute, as if debating with herself the advisability of answering even that. Finally, she told me, “When you look up the place in any database in the city, you find out it doesn’t exist. According to the records, the location is a city park. At least that’s what I found. I talked to someone else who looked it up and found that location to be a deserted warehouse. If I were to look it up for you right now, I have a hunch the computer would tell me it’s the location of a vacant lot or a branch of Citibank or maybe even Disneyland, but it wouldn’t tell me anything about Deety Arms.”
I had seen the place for myself so I knew it existed, but I wasn’t entirely surprised with Claire’s answer. “What about the buildings around it?”
“Same thing,” she replied. “Everything around that little square just doesn’t seem to exist. And yeah, I’ve been there. There are a couple of good restaurants and clubs on that square. They don’t seem to exist either though.”
“You think they’re on somebody’s pad?”
“Maybe,” she allowed. She didn’t sound too confident about that though. Sure, it was possible the businesses in that area had paid off some city official. Businesses that don’t exist don’t pay property taxes or sales taxes or get city inspections or worry about any of a thousand regulations that should apply to them. It had happened before, but usually just one business and most of the time the cause had been an honest clerical error. For an entire neighborhood to be off the books was too strange for words.
“Who came down on you for looking?” I asked her.
“Let’s just say it came from the Mansion.”
For a city employee, there is only one mansion. Since 1942, Gracie Mansion has been the home address of New York City’s mayors.
“So I suppose you’ve got nothing on this Mr. Logan either,” I surmised.
“Only rumors,” she replied. “I’ve heard he’s got more power than Con Ed.”
“Tell me the details.”
“That’s the problem, Jack. There aren’t any details–or at least none people at our level are privy to.” She was silent for a moment, then continued, “I can tell you this though. There’s something weird about that whole neighborhood. You know that place across the square from Deety Arms–the Southwest Grill?”
“I’ve seen it,” I replied. I had never eaten there though. Mexican food always gave me gas.
“I was coming out of there the other night with a couple of friends. One of them mentioned I was with the department, so suddenly this whore on the corner takes an interest in me...”
“Lezzie or male?”
“Neither. Jack, she’s dolled up like a streetwalker in a movie–real cute.”
I knew what she was getting at. In spite of Hollywood’s stereotypes, most whores look as if they’ve been ridden hard and put away wet. I hadn’t seen too many of them who looked like the starlets the movie folks seem to cast in those roles.
“Anyhow,” she went on, “she comes up to me and says that since I’m a cop she needs my help. She said she was a guy.”
“She was a drag queen?”
“Naw. She’s all girl: I could tell. She starts to tell me something about how somebody changed her into a girl. I thought about calling Belleview and turning her over to the shrinks but then some guy comes up next to us and she stops in mid-sentence and starts putting the moves on him like I wasn’t even there.”
“Sounds schizo,” I commented.
“Like I said, it’s a weird part of town. Sorry I can’t help you on this one, Jack.”
I promised I’d take her to lunch real soon anyhow and we hung up.
Nobody down at the precinct was surprised when I asked for time off. It happens all the time. I told Matt personally. He was at his desk, having worked all night so he looked like shit. Like most junior partners on the force, I usually stuck him with the paperwork. Rank hath its privileges.
“You got the watch for a few days,” I told him.
He looked up from his cold cup of coffee and nodded. “I heard. Problems?”
I shrugged. “Just some personal shit I need to take care of. The Captain is going to have Carl Morello tag along with you for a few days.”
I could see the wheels turning in Matt’s head. Carl was junior to him, so that meant Matt would get a little relief from the paperwork even though he’d have to handle more of the fieldwork since Carl was a little inexperienced. On the whole though, any good cop will trade paperwork for fieldwork and Matt was a damned good cop.
“Need a lift–the airport or anything?”
It was Matt’s way of figuring if I was leaving town or not. Like I said, he was a damned good cop. “No thanks. I got it covered,” I replied, grinning to myself when I realized I hadn’t given him the information he was fishing for.
We parted ways and I spent the rest of the morning putting together enough stuff so I could live out of suitcase for a week. I didn’t plan to stay at Deety Arms for a week though. I figured I’d hear Logan out and if his plan looked good, I’d spend a couple of days on it. Nabbing Tony Capella was certainly worth two days. And if nothing came of it, at least I’d have a couple of days’ break from the routine.
Deety Arms looked different in the daylight. The eerie Addams Family mystique was gone, and the building looked just like any of a few thousand brownstones gracing the city. Across the street on the square half a dozen restaurants, including the Southwest Grill were doing a brisk early lunch trade, and peppered in among them, a dozen little shops looked as normal as could be. I looked around the Southwest Grill, thinking about Claire’s prostitute, but nobody fitting her description was there. I guess it was a little early in the day for whores to be out of the sack.
Mr. Logan’s dumpy little assistant, Mr. Luk greeted me at the door, as if he had been waiting for me all morning. Who knows? Maybe he had. He wordlessly motioned me to the elevator.
“I thought I was supposed to see Mr. Logan.”
“Yes sir,” Mr. Luk agreed smoothly. “He wants you to see your room first. Then he’ll call on you once you’re ready.”
“I’m ready now.” I figured if things got ugly, I could handle Mr. Luk without breaking a sweat. He looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy, all soft and out of shape.
“Mr. Logan is occupied right now,” a voice came from behind me. I turned quickly and was confronted with Mt. McKinley dressed in a doorman’s uniform. It was the same lunk I spotted last night. He looked even bigger when he was standing right over you. “Do you need some help?” the mountain asked Mr. Luk.
“I was just about to escort Mr. Murphy to his apartment,” Luk explained. “I’m sure Mr. Murphy doesn’t need your help, Horace.”
It took me about a nanosecond to figure out that I might be tough but this Horace guy looked to be a whole lot tougher. Discretion is the better part of valor and all that crap...
“Yeah Horace,” I managed. “I think Mr. Luk here can show me to my apartment without any help.”
In the blink of an eye, Horace the Massive Mountain became Horace the docile servant. “Of course, Mr. Murphy. Please enjoy your stay with us.”
I nodded and returned his smile, but I was beginning to wonder just what I had gotten myself into. I was about to find out.
Mr. Luk showed me to a nice apartment on the fifth floor. It was bright and roomy, and unlike the other parts of the building I had seen with their Gothic gentility, the place looked almost feminine with pastel walls and light oak furnishings trimmed in feminine colors.
“I assume Mrs. Logan does all the interior decorating?” I mused.
Mr. Luk smiled faintly. “There is no Mrs. Logan.”
“Should I call him Logan or just ‘L’ now that I’m on the team?”
The smile disappeared. “Mr. Logan doesn’t like to be called by his... by that name.”
“But my partner heard some of the staff call him that,” I pointed out.
“Yes,” he agreed, “but not to his face.” With that, he started to leave.
“Wait a minute! When is Mr. Logan going to see me?”
The smile was back as he began to close the door. “I should say very shortly, sir.”
As I heard his footsteps receding down the hall, I tried to open the door. Somehow I wasn’t surprised to find it locked.
‘So what was Logan’s game?’ I asked myself. I sensed he hated Tony Capella as much as I did, so he had to be sincere when he said he wanted my help in bringing Tony down. But in spite of that, there was something he wasn’t telling me. Whatever it was, I’d just have to wait until he saw me.
With nothing better to do, I decided to look around my new temporary digs. As I said, the place had a woman’s touch, but it wasn’t overly frilly, thank God. I threw my overnight bag on the pastel bedspread and took a tour of the apartment.
It didn’t take me long to realize that whoever had leased the apartment before my arrival was planning on coming back. The place was not just furnished–it had a neat but lived-in look, complete with fresh flowers on the kitchen table and pictures of what must have been friends and family members, as well as the personal mementos that made a place home.
Giving in to the voyeur in me, I took a peek in the closet. Yep, I was right: a girl lived in the apartment, and judging from the brightly-colored dresses and blouses, a fairly young one at that. I wondered why she wasn’t home, but figured Mr. Logan must have made a deal with her while she was on vacation or a long business trip.
The detective I was born to be examined one of the dresses. It was short and sexy but not exactly Fifth Avenue. Same with the shoes–like all women’s closets, there were dozens of pairs on the floor and even more neatly stored in boxes on a shelf. Judging from the size of the dress and the shoes, my mystery hostess was about average or maybe a little smaller in stature with a nice figure.
As I replaced the dress, I realized I was tired. I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, and I didn’t know what Logan had in mind for me for the rest of the day. I supposed it wouldn’t hurt anything to take a little nap. I would just put my overnight bag in the corner and...
But where was my bag? I had left it on the bed. I looked on the other side to see if it had fallen off. I even looked under the bed, but it was gone. But how? No one had come into the apartment, and I had checked every room except the bathroom. Could someone else be in the apartment with me?
I pulled my gun from the holster in the small of my back and carefully inched toward the bathroom. I stepped in, but it only took a moment to figure out that no one was home.
I did notice one curious thing though. Cosmetics and other feminine paraphernalia were spread over the bathroom counter. There was even a hairdryer lying there as if the resident had just left for the day and would be coming back any time. Why the hell had Logan set me up in an occupied apartment? Had that Luk character shown me to the wrong room?
Well, I’d straighten that out with the mysterious Mr. Logan if he ever showed up. At least I had satisfied myself that there was no one with me in the apartment. Perhaps I had only imagined that I had brought the bag in. I must have left it in my car. Yes, that had to be it. I’d have to get it later. Right now, I was tired... very tired.
I lay down on the bed, suddenly too exhausted to remain on my feet another minute. A little sleep was all I needed. Just a little sleep...
“How do I look?” Grimcost asked, a pair of boxers draped over the stubby horns as his grinning face with its sharp stone teeth peeked through the window.
Garmon plopped down on the ledge beside him, folding his wings as silently as if he were flesh and blood instead of granite. “Be quiet, you moron! He just fell asleep.”
Grimcost sighed and pulled off the boxers, replacing them in the tattered overnight bag he had taken from the bed a few minutes earlier. “Don’t worry. I watched him crash on the bed. The changes have already started. See for yourself.”
Garmon looked in at the sleeping form lying on the bed. Murphy was changing all right, his skin rippling as if he was being viewed through flawed glass. His coat and trousers were flickering in and out of existence, replaced at momentary intervals by flashes of something silky and red. “It’s going to take a lot of Mr. L’s power to make him look like much,” he sighed. “Look at that–a bullet wound on the side and three ribs that broke and never healed right. And that jaw of his has been broken at least once–maybe twice.”
“So what’s Mr. L’s plan anyhow?” Grimcost wanted to know.
“You think he confides in me?” Garmon asked. “Whatever it is, it had better be a good one. I think this guy is going to be hard to handle when he wakes up.”
Usually, I woke up from naps alert and ready to go. As a cop, it was a habit I’d had to develop over the years. For some reason, though I woke up from my unscheduled nap feeling very groggy and out of sorts. I just lay there on the bed, wondering why I felt as if there was something sitting on my chest. Without opening my eyes, I lifted a hand to rub my forehead. It didn’t feel right–both my forehead and my hand felt odd.
I opened my eyes, sensing that nothing looked quite right. Colors were a little different, and I couldn’t see the tip of my nose in my line of vision. There was a funny smell too: it was the smell of perfume close to my nose, and there was an odd, waxy sensation on my lips when I ran my tongue over them.
I pulled myself up, and that’s when the fun really began. Every part of my torso seemed to be moving in directions they shouldn’t have been able to travel. Something drooped from my chest, while my waist swivelled and flesh pooled in my ass. Something was covering my body and it didn’t feel right, shifting almost like the whisper of wind on a mostly still day.
It took me only a few seconds to realize that something impossible had taken place, and that while I might still be Jack Murphy in my mind, the body I now wore would never have been recognized by that name.
I was a woman.
It’s amazing how those four words even now sound so incredible. My mind sought to deny it, but my body knew differently. I stood uneasily, feeling for the very first time the strange sway of a woman’s body. My legs felt as if they were too far apart, but then I realized that it was mostly because the familiar equipment between my legs was missing. I was wearing a skirt, I noticed, feeling it wrapped tightly just above my knees–knees that were encased in nylon.
I looked down. I had never seen a woman’s breasts from that angle before. They looked absolutely huge nestled inside a fairly low-cut red dress. I could see almost down to the nipples, and the man who still resided inside my head could barely tear my gaze away from them. Their flesh was smooth and soft, unlike the rugged, hairy chest I had remembered.
I tentatively raised a hand to touch the top of one of the breasts, noting at once that my fingernails were now coated in bright polish as red as my dress. The fingers were long and dainty, and my arm smooth and bare.
I plopped back down on the bed, nearly fainting. I was breathing quickly and shallowly, nearly ready to hyperventilate. “No...” I managed to breathe softly, too shocked by everything else to notice the high, musical voice I now had.
I became slowly aware of other sensations–hair tickling the back of my neck, a bracelet on my wrist, a thin necklace with a pendant dangling at my neck, and of course, something attached to the bottoms of my ears. I managed to get control of myself slowly, my breathing returning to normal and the sharp beat of my heart calming inside my altered chest. I stood again, this time not so shakily. With trepidation, I made my way to a full-length mirror I hadn’t noticed before.
I was about as different from Jack Murphy as anyone I had ever seen. I had lost about a foot in height, probably topping out at only a couple of inches over five feet. My hair had changed from a reddish brown to a pure black, long and very wavy instead of straight as I had enjoyed before. My skin was no longer light and freckled–a tribute to my Irish ancestors. Instead, it was a distinct shade of olive, giving me a Mediterranean look. On the positive side, I wasn’t pushing forty anymore: I looked to be very young–early twenties I guessed.
As far as the overall appearance went, packed inside the short, striking red cocktail dress and wearing dark, smoky stockings, I was something of a knockout. I was just a short distance away from being voluptuous, with pronounced breasts and hips accentuated by a slim, tight waist. My legs weren’t exactly long, but they were well-proportioned and would look incredible in heels.
Yes, I thought my legs would look great in heels, but that was the man in my head looking at the image in the mirror as if it wasn’t his body. I certainly didn’t want to be the one wearing heels!
“You’re really very attractive,” a voice came from behind me and out of sight. I recognized it at once.
I had meant for the word to be a challenge, but it came out as more of a hysterical shriek. I turned to face him, expecting him to be smirking. While there was just the hint of a smile on his face, it appeared to be more one of approval than of derision. He was inspecting me as if I were a work of art he had just sculpted. I had a funny feeling that was exactly what I was.
“What the hell have you done to me?” I demanded to know. At least I had managed to modulate my voice. I had been able to modulate the tone from shrill to something more acceptable. Unfortunately, my tone now bordered on being sexy.
“I have given you the ability to ensnare Tony Capella,” he said simply.
“How?” I asked, trying very, very hard to keep my voice calm. “By being his girlfriend?”
Mr. Logan surprised me by actually chuckling. “Is that what you think? You think I would have gone to all of this trouble just to put you in bed with Tony Capella?”
Well yes, that’s exactly what I thought. “Didn’t you?” I hated the little girl sound of my meek question. I started to fold my arms but found the breasts in the way. Sheepishly, I folded them below my new chest.
“In a word, no,” he replied as he looked me over. “However, I’m afraid I can’t go into details with you at this time. Suffice it to say that what has been done to you will start Tony on his road to ruin. You must trust me.”
“Yeah,” I sighed, sitting back down on the bed. “The last time I trusted you, I lost my balls.”
Mr. Logan winced. “Try not to use such language, my dear. It doesn’t fit your new identity.”
“Identity? Just who am I supposed to be?”
He nodded to the bed beside me. To my surprise, there was a small black purse at my side. I grabbed it, nearly damaging an unexpectedly longer nail and pulled a matching wallet out of it. The driver’s license was a normal New York one and the picture was a typically poor shot–but even the DMV couldn’t take away the fact that the face was cute and exactly like the one I now had.
“Gina Maria Russo...” I read. Brown eyes, black hair, five three (hmm, I was an inch taller than I thought) age... “Twenty-one? I’m only twenty-one?”
Mr. Logan smiled. “Consider this compensation for the loss of your... anatomy.”
“Loss of... Oh yeah.” I looked at him, my eyes narrowed. “But you’re going to change me back when all of this is over.” It wasn’t a question.
“That would be a little difficult,” he admitted. “You see, Jack Murphy is going to be dead by morning.”
“Smoking in bed,” he continued as if I hadn’t said a word. “It seems that Jack Murphy chose an unfortunate time to pick up smoking again. The body will be charred beyond recognition. Fortunately, the sprinklers will save the building from further damage...”
“You bastard!” I shouted. “You can’t just take my life away.”
The expression on Mr. Logan’s face became one that nearly frightened me into climbing under the bed. “I can and I have,” he replied in a cold voice. “Jack Murphy is dead: there’ll be no changing that. You are Gina Maria Russo for the rest of your life.”
I had been hit by bullets that had stung less. The breasts, the feminine face, the long black hair–it was all mine... forever. And the pus... No, not that. I couldn’t bring myself to call it by its common name, nor by its formal name for that matter. But it was mine now too. And not just that: I had, I realized, all the internal hardware that went with it. Dear God, what had I done to deserve such a fate?
“You told me you would give up your life to bring Tony Capella down,” he reminded me.
‘Yes,’ I thought, still staring down at my body, ‘but I didn’t mean it this way.’
“I can’t be a girl,” I murmured.
“I... I don’t know how to... to do anything a girl does.”
“But you had a wife once,” he pointed out, causing me to wince. “If you apply yourself, I think you’ll find you know enough from observing her to get by.”
I didn’t want to admit it, but it was true. I had watched my ex get dressed, put on makeup, and do all the little things women are taught to do–except the tampon thing. Oh God, no! I could–would–get periods now. How the hell did a woman manage to put in a tampon?
“What if I won’t cooperate?” I asked, but my defiance was already wavering. When I thought about it, I really didn’t have much of a choice. Mr. Logan had changed me in ways I would have deemed impossible before my nap. I got the feeling that cooperation was going to be mandatory.
“Then you will be of no further use to me,” Mr. Logan told me bluntly. “You aren’t a prisoner. You can leave at any time.”
And do what? I was pretty certain Mr. Logan hadn’t bothered to give me a college degree or maybe not even a high school diploma when he created all that new identification for me. On my own, I would be a young woman without friends or family and nothing in the way of credentials to open the door to a career. Telling anyone what had happened to me was probably out of the question too. Whatever powers Mr. Logan had would certainly be enough to make sure no one believed my incredible story.
On the other hand, what he had said about bringing Tony Capella down had been the truth. ‘He really must have a plan or he wouldn’t have gone to all of the trouble to change me,’ I thought. If I did as he said, I might have a chance at seeing Tony out of action. And maybe by doing so, Mr. Logan would have a change of heart and turn me back into a man. Even if Jack Murphy was dead, Logan could surely create a male identity for me as easily as he had created a female one.
“What would I have to do if I agree to help you?” I asked. My voice had lost its terseness, becoming sweet and feminine in the process. I hated it, but I knew I would have to get used to it. If Logan had his way, it would be mine for the rest of my life.
He showed no surprise at my acquiescence. I began to suspect that I wasn’t his first victim. I wondered for just a moment how many of the sweet young things with skirts up to here who paraded up and down the streets of New York had been introduced to womanhood by Mr. Logan.
“You will have to live the life I have created for you,” he told me, explaining nothing. “When the time is right, you will know what to do.”
“It doesn’t sound like much of a plan,” I muttered, but I knew I had no choice.
“I want you to freshen up. It’s nearly four...”
Had I been asleep that long?
“...and you need to be at work in an hour and a half.”
“I work evenings?” I asked suspiciously. I knew a lot of girls who worked evenings. Quite a number of them worked in a profession I had no desire to be a part of.
“You are the hostess at Pasquale’s Forum,” he explained to my immense relief. “Spend a few minutes getting ready. I’ve taken the liberty of already placing you in an appropriate outfit for this evening, but you need to freshen up a bit.”
I walked over to the mirror and looked at myself. “What’s wrong with the way I look right now?”
Mr. Logan sighed, “Perhaps this won’t be as simple as I thought.”
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” I grumbled as a comb ran through my long curly hair finding tangles with each stroke.
“Don’t flinch!” The comb felt as if it was about to tear out my hair by the roots.
The woman inflicting pain on my new tender scalp was someone Mr. Logan sent to help me. She was an attractive woman who had introduced herself as Doris Malone, the proprietor of The Cultured Curl, a beauty shop down on the square. She was of course, one of Mr. Logan’s cohort: of that I had little doubt. She seemed to find my predicament amusing–a man being forced to be a woman.
“Honey, I’ve got to get these tangles out. It looks as if you were sleeping with your hair loose.”
Which, of course, I had been doing–not that it was my idea.
“When we get finished here in a minute, we’ll fix your makeup.”
At least the pain in my scalp was gone, even if it did signal the start of a new fiendish torture. I took a moment to look in the mirror. I had to admit my hair did look better. The curls seemed to be fuller and framed my face better. “Uh... you said something about not sleeping with my hair loose. What am I supposed to do with it?”
She gave me a mischievous smile. “Well, you should put it up in curlers...”
“Hey! Forget it.”
“...but most women prefer to just tie it back so that it stays untangled,” she went on. “Use these.” She indicated some elastic bands on the bathroom counter.
I nodded. That sounded simple enough.
“Now for the makeup...”
Doris didn’t stop until she had worked on my nails, touching up the polish; washed off my face and completely redone my makeup as she explained how she was doing it; and then proceeded to ‘accessorize’ my outfit with new bracelets, rings, a necklace, and the final indignity–small gold hoop earrings. She muttered something about Logan not understanding how to put together a proper women’s outfit. “When you get right down to it, he’s just a typical man,” she muttered as she put the finishing touches on my eyes. “He should spend some time as a woman. It would do him good.”
‘Better him than me,’ I thought.
“Not bad,” she pronounced when she was finally finished.
Not bad? I thought. I would have gotten an instant hard on–that is, if I had still had anything to get a hard on with. I was downright beautiful once she had finished with me. That isn’t to say I was a dog before she started. No, this face and body would have been pretty good covered in soot and wearing a gunnysack. But for the first time in my life, I think I realized what the right treatment did for a girl’s looks.
Sure, my ex always looked better once she had dolled herself up, but my ex had never had so much to work with. Wanda had been cute all right, but I made my ex at her best look like a boy.
“Not bad at all,” a voice agreed. I turned to see Logan standing there. Funny: I hadn’t heard him come in.
“Perhaps you should have made her complexion a little lighter,” Doris suggested. “And her breasts could be a little larger...”
Now wait a minute: what the hell was wrong with my breasts?
Logan shook his head. “No, she is precisely as she needs to be. Any other changes would be counterproductive.”
“So what happens now?” I asked with a sigh of resignation.
“A cab is waiting at the curb to take you to work.”
I realized with a shudder that it was nearly time to me to face the world in a skirt and heels. It wasn’t a very pleasant prospect.
“I’ll walk you down,” he told me. I think he sensed my insecurity. I was actually glad for the company.
I made it to the cab with a minimum of embarrassment. Whatever Mr. Logan had done to me had apparently included an instinctive ability to walk in high heels. It was either that or maybe walking in them wasn’t really as difficult as most men thought. Only the huge doorman was in the lobby to see me. He even raised two fingers in a respectful salute to me and managed not to smirk–although something told me he wanted to. I thought he had grown by nearly a foot, but I realized suddenly that it was I who had grown shorter by that amount. I began to understand that I was going to be spending a lot of time in conversations looking up.
‘I’d be looking up,’ I thought, ‘but men I was conversing with would be looking further down.’ Despite Doris’s comment, I felt as if I had a more than substantial set of breasts. How the hell did women put up with their swaying and their weight? Besides, as large as mine were, I knew from my time with Vice that next to any stripper and most prostitutes, my breasts were very modest. But in the dress I was wearing, they were also very evident. I wasn’t going to like this being a girl shit one little bit.
I made a mental note of the route to the restaurant as the cab whisked me there. It wasn’t far from Deety Arms–just five or six blocks. At least I wouldn’t have much of a commute. I resolved to walk back when I got off work. It would help to keep me in shape.
“What do I owe you?” I asked, opening the purse I had been given.
“The fare has been taken care of,” the cabbie told me in a deep, resonant voice. I hadn’t taken notice of the driver before. I just assumed he would be like most New York cab drivers–someone who just got off the boat from someplace far away and Third World. Instead, he was unusually well-groomed and looked more like a chauffeur than a cabbie. He never turned his head in my direction and for some reason his face didn’t seem to reflect in the rear-view mirror.
“Yeah, well thanks,” I muttered, wondering as I managed to get out of the cab in a reasonably ladylike fashion if the driver was another one of Logan’s ‘associates.’ I was pretty certain he was.
Pasquale’s Forum was your typical New York Italian neighborhood restaurant. It was a storefront location nestled between an Italian market and a used book emporium. The awning was a traditional green and white stripe and the neon sign over it looked as if it had first been installed when Eisenhower was president.
I pushed open the heavy glass door, noting as I did that as Jack Murphy I probably wouldn’t have found the door nearly as heavy. Inside, the pleasant odors of garlic and oregano rose up to greet me. The restaurant was appropriately decorated: white tablecloths were complemented by red and white checkered napkins and the obligatory Chianti bottle topped with a small candle graced each table.
“You must be Gina,” a voice called from the entrance to the kitchen. The speaker was a short man–that is to say only about three inches taller than my new form. He was mostly bald but the fringe of dark hair over his ears and the dark, bushy mustache indicated he wasn’t all that old–probably in his forties. I had been in my early forties before Logan changed me, so I nearly made the mistake of greeting him as I would have had I been Jack Murphy. As I was now, I looked young enough to be his daughter.
“I’m Arturo Romano, the owner. Welcome to Pasquale’s,” he said cheerfully, extending his hand. Although he had no discernable accent, his accuracy in pronouncing the name of the restaurant told me he was probably a second-generation Italian who spoke the language fairly well. “Mr. Logan told me to expect you.”
“He did?” I said suspiciously. I guess I had thought that Logan had probably magically made things to appear as if I had worked at Pasquale’s for some time. “What else did he tell you?”
He shrugged. “Just that he had found a perfect hostess for our place. Teresa, our last hostess, met one of the customers and married him.” His eyes narrowed in mock scrutiny. “You don’t plan on doing anything like that, do you Gina?”
His gave me a wide smile and I wondered for a second if he really knew who I was and was making fun of my predicament. I realized though, that he was guileless and had merely been teasing me. I would have to get used to that, I supposed. Jack Murphy wasn’t the sort of person others wanted to tease, but Gina looked a lot less threatening.
“Let me introduce you to everyone,” he said, grabbing my hand and leading me back to the kitchen.
“Everyone” included Arturo’s son, George, who worked with his father in the kitchen, and a waiter and two waitresses. The waitresses were both attractive young women. Their names were given so quickly, I just caught their first names–Jennie and Lucy. Jennie was a little taller than I with blonde hair and a winning smile. Lucy was about my height with nondescript brown hair, but she had a body that would turn a guy’s head in a hurry. Both were friendly and welcomed me as if I were a long-lost friend. I was always surprised how quickly women could take to each other. I preferred the male method of being just a little reserved for the first few years after being introduced to someone. But those days were over, I sighed to myself.
The waiter was another matter. He rose formally when I was introduced. His name was Julio, and it only took a minute to figure out that he thought of himself as God’s gift to women. I had heard women speak of being mentally undressed before, but this was my first experience with it. I found I didn’t like it any more than natural women did. I wondered how long it would be before the creep made a move on me.
There were also a couple of busboys, but they didn’t seem to speak any English. The policeman who still dwelled in my mind suspected they were illegal immigrants. Lots of the busboys in the city were. All I caught were their first names. The shorter one was Pablo and the taller one was Jose–or at least those were the names that were probably on their fake Social Security cards. They kept pretty much to themselves, so I didn’t expect to get to know them very well.
It only took a few minutes for Arturo to explain my duties to me. Besides, I was a quick learner since I had waited tables to put myself through college. As hostess, I was expected to seat people, answer the phone, and when I wasn’t doing that, help the waiters and busboys with the customers.
In a strange way, the job was almost a vacation. Being a cop required me to see the seamy underbelly of the city most of the time. As a hostess, I was able to observe normal citizens out having a good time. And because Pasquale’s was a neighborhood restaurant, we enjoyed a clientele of mostly regulars. Arturo would drag me over to a patron’s table and introduce me as if I was some visiting relative meeting family friends.
I have to admit I was embarrassed the first couple of times he did it. After all, I had only been a young woman for a few hours. I was more than a little embarrassed to be identified as one, especially when I noticed the men casting an appreciative glance at my chest or my legs. ‘Still, there was nothing threatening about them,’ I realized. I had done the same thing to pretty girls for most of my life.
And that of course, was what I was–a pretty girl.
I was reminded of my new sex continually throughout the evening, but no reminder was more unpleasant than the aching in my feet. For some reason–probably part of the magic Logan had used on me–I had no trouble walking in heels, but that didn’t make them any more comfortable. Even short breaks on the tall stool behind the hostess’s stand weren’t sufficient to reduce the pain. How did women stand these things?
“Are you okay, Gina?” Lucy asked me as the crowd had begun to die off.
“Just my feet,” I groaned.
She looked down. “Those are nice shoes. I have a pair just like them. But I can’t imagine wearing them all evening. Didn’t you bring some flats?”
She sighed. “Listen Gina, Pasquale’s isn’t the Ritz. Arturo never made Teresa wear heels. If you want to troll for guys later, bring the heels–but wear the flats here.” To prove her point, she directed my glance at the casual shoes she was wearing.
I didn’t say anything but nodded my thanks. I wasn’t about to tell her how my stomach turned when she talked about trolling for guys. The last thing in the world I wanted was to catch the attention of some guy. I had already had to avoid Julio’s not-so-subtle advances a couple of times that evening. I made a mental note to dig a pair of flats out of my new closet and never wear the heels again.
By the time we closed and cleaned up, it was nearly one. I was exhausted, but against my better judgment, I accepted an invitation from Jennie and Lucy to go get a drink. God knows I had earned one. We walked together to a little bar about halfway back to Deety Arms. By the time I slipped into a booth with them, my feet had gone beyond normal pain and reached excruciating pain.
“Nice shoes,” Jennie grinned as I managed to kick them off under the table.
“Yeah, right,” I groaned. “I’m glad you like them, but you’ll never see them again.”
Jennie nodded while Lucy ordered us a round of margaritas. “Wise move, girl.”
I felt strangely at home sitting there with the two girls. It reminded me of many an evening as a cop, drinking with other cops as we discussed the events of the day. Of course there were plenty of differences too. We were drinking margaritas instead of the beer or whiskey my male body preferred, and I realized suddenly that none of us smoked. Strangely enough, I hadn’t really missed smoking either. Even though as Jack I had kicked the habit, I still found myself craving a cigarette every now and then. It was as if my new body simply didn’t think of smoking. Besides, the restaurant was non-smoking, so I hadn’t been reminded.
Of course being the new girl, Jennie and Lucy wanted to know all about me. It was strange, but as the questions were asked, answers just seemed to flow out of me. I wasn’t exactly making it up: rather, I seemed to be drawing the facts from some hidden reservoir in my mind. I was from Syosset out on Long Island. My parents–foster parents, actually–were divorced and I hadn’t seen them much since I moved into the city. My tone made it obvious I didn’t have a close relationship with either one of them. I went to school during the day at CCNY (I groaned mentally wondering if I’d have to commute to 138th every day for classes), majoring in sociology.
“What about boyfriends?” Lucy asked with a very evil grin.
Nothing came out of the reservoir on that one, so I just stammered, “Uh... well, I’ve been kind of busy.”
“You should never be too busy for that!” Jennie laughed.
“Yeah,” Lucy agreed. “Maybe my Peter can get a friend for you.”
“Uh... no, really...”
To my dismay, I found that a young woman without a boyfriend was subject to as much ribbing as a young man without a girlfriend. I hurriedly decided to ask some questions of my own to deflect the discussion.
“Does Arturo’s wife ever work at the restaurant?” I had noticed a wedding ring on his finger.
Jennie and Lucy got suddenly quiet.
“Did I say something wrong?” I asked, concerned.
“She never comes to the restaurant,” Lucy told me at last. “She still does the books but she does them from home. She used to act as hostess, but she gave that up when Mario died.”
“Their older son,” Jennie explained.
The girls took turns explaining to me that unlike George, Mario wanted no part of the restaurant business. Headstrong and willing to bend the law, he dropped out of a community college to work for none other than Tony Capella. Mostly, he was a runner, making deliveries for Tony and other low-level stuff.
“The day they let him carry a gun, he came into the restaurant to show everybody,” Lucy remembered. “He was so proud. He thought he was hot shit–a real Mafia capo, you know?”
“Yeah, but his mother wasn’t impressed,” Jennie added. “She told him to get out and never bring a gun into Pasquale’s again.”
“Did he?” I asked, fascinated in spite of myself. It was a story I had heard before–only with other families. Kids like Mario never figured out they were just being used–that is until something happened to them. Mario turned out to be no different.
“He never had the chance. He was killed that night,” Lucy said, shaking her head. “The story we heard was that he was supposed to make a collection from a low-level dealer. The dealer came up short and Mario threatened him with the gun. The dealer’s sidekick had a gun of his own and Mario didn’t see it.”
“You would have thought Capella was his uncle the way he consoled Arturo,” Jennie commented sourly as she nodded to the waiter to bring another round. “He even paid for the funeral. He told Arturo he took care of his boys. But Angelina–that’s Arturo’s wife–she just couldn’t buy it. She couldn’t stand to see Tony Capella again so she stayed out of Pasquale’s.”
‘So Tony was one of the regulars at Pasquale’s,’ I thought as I sipped on my drink. That explained why Logan lined me up as hostess there. Eventually, I’d meet the bastard as Gina. But then what? Logan had assured me my job wasn’t to wind up in bed with Capella. Had he been lying? I hoped not, because there was no way I was going to slip between the sheets with any guy–especially not Tony Capella.
I was still mulling that over when I waved goodnight to Jennie and Lucy. They had asked me to share a cab with them, but Deety Arms was only three or four blocks away. Against their protests, I decided to walk.
In retrospect, I have to admit I wasn’t thinking well. As Jack Murphy, even the dark streets of a New York night held little concern for me. A large, fit man, Jack had little to worry about, for the denizens of the night prefer weaker prey. It only took me a block to realize I now fitted that profile.
The street was well lit but nearly deserted. I was walking slowly as my feet hurt inside the tight heels. I was almost lulled by the loud clicking noise they made on the pavement, but when I stopped for a moment to rest my feet, I heard heavy footsteps behind me.
My heart quickened as I realized the terrible mistake I had made. I was alone–an attractive young woman unprotected on the street. From the corner of my eye, I looked into the shadows beyond the last streetlight I had passed. I saw the silhouette of a man standing there, biding his time. He was in no hurry to catch up with me. He must have seen me limping in my heels and realized I had no way to escape him. Ahead was a patch of street where the streetlight was nearly out. It would be darker there–easy to pull me into an alley or some other secluded spot.
All evening, I had been aware of my new size and my changed sex. The brush of my skirt or the tickling of hair on the back of my neck were subtle reminders of who I had become. The trips to the restroom had made my situation even more obvious. But the two drinks (or was it three?) I had enjoyed with Jessie and Lucy had had more than a little effect on me. They had dulled my self-awareness and allowed me to get lost in the thoughts of what possible plan Logan had for me.
Now I was about to pay for my carelessness.
There was nothing I could do but to continue to walk and hope another person would suddenly appear–a witness who would make my assailant think twice. The footsteps behind me began again, faster than before, ready to reach me in the near darkness ahead.
Suddenly, from a side street, lights appeared, nearly blinding me. The lights swung past me settling on the dark figure behind me. As I looked back, I was surprised to see the figure stayed dark, as if his body was absorbing the light. Whatever was happening, it was painful for him. He screamed, the pitch of his voice rising until it was no longer human. As I watched in horrid fascination, his form began to shrink as he dropped to all fours. In a few seconds, his now-diminutive body was elongated, sporting a long tail. What had once been human scuttled away into the waiting darkness until only a shrill wail remained as a reminder of what had once been human.
“You really shouldn’t be walking on the streets at night, Ms. Russo,” a voice came from inside the cab that had been the source of the lights. I recognized the voice as the same cabbie I had met earlier.
“What did you do to him?”
“Only what he deserved,” said the faceless driver calmly from inside the cab.
Of that I had little doubt. How many other young... young and stupid women had fallen prey to him? I’d never know, I realized as I climbed into the cab, but I was fairly certain that I had just seen one form of vermin changed into another one that night.
He dropped me off after a short drive with the admonition to always wait for him in the future.
“But I can’t afford a cab every night,” I protested as I got out.
“It’s been taken care of,” he assured me, waving me off as I had already opened my purse to pay him.
Mr. Logan again, I realized as the cab drove off. At least he was looking out for me. Would he still be protecting me so closely when I finally met Tony Capella in my new form? I hoped so. If I wasn’t able to take care of myself around one measly mugger/rapist, I’d have no chance at all against Tony’s men.
I wondered as I approached the entrance to the building just who–or perhaps what–the cab driver was. As Claire had warned me, there were a lot of weird things about the neighborhood I found myself living in. I didn’t know if Logan and his ilk were witches, gods, demons or all three plus something else, and I doubted if they would ever tell me even if I asked nicely.
I had been so lost in thought I hadn’t noticed the woman standing on the curb. She was attractive in a slutty sort of way. She wore the usual whore’s uniform of ridiculously short skirt and even more ridiculously high heels. Her top was a little skimpy for the cool of the evening but she didn’t seem to notice. Her blonde hair had come straight out of a bottle and looked very incongruent when paired with her dark, almost Hispanic features. Her makeup was heavy but stopped short of clownish–just barely.
“Yes?” I replied cautiously.
“Do you... do you live here?” she asked meekly, folding her arms over her prominent breasts as if to hide them from me.
I nodded in response.
“And you know him... Mr. Logan?”
She rushed over to me, her ass wiggling seductively as she was forced to take short steps in her obscene heels. Grabbing my arms, she begged, “Please, you must talk to him... tell him I have learned my lesson. I can’t stand to be this... this whore anymore. Ask him to change me back into a man.”
This, I realized, was the whore Claire had met a few nights before. Like Claire, I might have just assumed she was wigged out on drugs or missing something in the mental department, but since I knew firsthand what she was saying could be true, I asked her, “Who were you?”
“My name was Tommy–Tommy Ravella. I was a businessman until that Logan did this to me.”
Yeah, I thought to myself, a businessman. Tommy Ravella was one of Capella’s goons. I had heard he had gone missing a few days ago. It looked as if our Mr. Logan had found a new business for Tommy–or rather an old business.
“Please will you...” Her voice trailed off as two men strolled into sight. It was as if someone had flipped a switch inside her head. Her face lost its anguished look and a sexy smile formed on her red lips. “Hello, boys,” she purred. “Lonely?”
They stopped: apparently they were lonely indeed.
“How much for both of you?” one of the men asked. They had the look of two businessmen from out of town just a little drunk and looking for action. They weren’t bad-looking guys and probably had wives back home. I found myself more than a little disgusted that they would think I was a whore, too.
“Look, I’m not a part of this,” I told them. As I walked away, I heard the whore say, “What’s the matter honey? You don’t think I can handle both of you?”
Mr. Logan was smiling from inside the foyer. Obviously my prostitute acquaintance was one of his projects. Apparently he made sure that whenever a man came along, she went into her act. I thought for a moment about Tommy Ravella and how he had a reputation of beating up a few whores. Somehow, the punishment seemed fitting. I even returned Logan’s smile.
“So you approve of her new role?” he asked as I strolled in.
I thought for a moment before nodding. “I don’t know about approving,” I said at last, “but I appreciate the irony.”
“It is delicious,” he agreed. Changing the subject, he asked, “So how was your first day on the job?”
“Interesting,” I allowed, “but I still don’t understand why you did this to me. I know Capella is a customer of Pasquale’s, but if you don’t expect me to be his latest tart, just why do this to me?”
As he walked me to the elevator, he asked, “Ms. Russo, have you ever been fishing?”
“Yeah, a long time ago. My uncle had a place out on Long Island when I was a kid. We used to go every now and then.”
“The most important thing about fishing is patience,” he explained. “First, you find the right spot to fish, then you drop your line in the water and wait.”
“So you’re telling me to be patient and wait?”
He gently guided me into the elevator and lit the button for my floor without actually touching the panel. “Exactly, Ms. Russo,” he smiled as the doors closed before I could say anything else.
‘There was just one thing he hadn’t said in his little analogy on fishing,’ I thought as the elevator rose to my floor. ‘Before you drop your line in the water, you have to bait your hook.’ I still wasn’t sure quite how, but I was convinced that somehow I was the bait.
After a few days, I got over feeling like a worm on a hook. It wasn’t because the threat was any less real, but rather because I had been immersed into the life of a young woman named Gina Russo with no other options. I couldn’t exactly go back to the police station and resume my old life. That would have been a little hard to explain.
Besides, Logan had told me in no uncertain terms that I was Gina Maria Russo for the rest of my life. That meant as uncomfortable as I might be with the life of a young woman, it was the only life available to me.
I suspected Logan had made a few alterations to my mind as well–or at least to my memories. I seemed to have less anxiety about such things as applying makeup and squatting to pee than I would have anticipated. Or maybe he didn’t have that much to do with it. Maybe humans are just a lot more adaptable than we think. In any case, it didn’t take long for me to feel if not comfortable, at least adequate in my new body. The only thing that really bothered me was the feeling of being half-naked when I was wearing a skirt.
Thankfully, I discovered that my wardrobe included a lot of jeans and sneakers and that slinky dresses and heels could be reserved for working hours only. Come to think of it, I didn’t even need to wear the heels to work. That made me–and my feet–a whole lot happier. Of course, most of the tops that went with the jeans left no doubt that I was all girl. They might feel like T-shirts on my body, but they certainly gave me a sexier look than I would have chosen for myself. I had no real choice though. Spring was advancing and the sweatshirts in my wardrobe would have been too warm in the classroom.
That’s right–the classroom. I discovered that I really was enrolled at CCNY for classes three days a week. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’d have to catch the subway and head north through some very rough parts of town to the campus where I had classes. At least the classes were all during the day so I didn’t have to worry about adjusting my work schedule or travelling on the subways at night.
The classes were actually interesting. As a criminology major back in my first college days, I had taken a few sociology classes, so they were nothing new to me. But somehow, my perspective seemed to have changed. Maybe it was all those female hormones, or maybe it was seeing how many times the criminal justice system failed to provide the right answers, but whatever the reason, I found myself wondering if more couldn’t be done to bring balance to our society.
Don’t get me wrong: I hadn’t turned into a bleeding heart. As far as I was concerned, vermin like the guy who tried to follow me from the bar deserved to be changed into rats or worse. The prisons weren’t full enough for my money.
But the other side of the coin was that there were a lot of folks out there in the city that deserved a hand just so they’d have a fighting chance. I was learning more about them in my classes and even meeting a few of them. It just seemed as if there were never enough resources to help them all.
Work was getting easier, too. There had been no sign of Tony Capella yet, but there were plenty of customers who showed up regularly at Pasquale’s and I was starting to recognize them and remember their names. Invariably, the regulars were pleasant folks who treated the staff like old friends and made the job more enjoyable. I might add that wearing flats and lower heels had helped make the job more fun, too.
Arturo was a great boss, always friendly and willing to pitch in when things got too busy, and Jennie and Lucy were becoming good friends. George and the kitchen crew worked hard and were respectful of all the girls as well, so the only real problem was Julio.
Oh, it was nothing overt: Julio was too smart for that. Instead, he resorted to innuendos and brushing up against me even when he had plenty of room to get by me. I was starting to realize how tough women have it when it came to brushing off unwanted advances. Since I had to work with Julio every day, I couldn’t just tell him to get the fuck out of my sight and stay there. I had to learn how to diplomatically deflect his clumsy advances and ignore the innuendos. As dense as he was, it wasn’t easy but I managed.
After about a week in my new life, I was faced with a sudden reminder of my old one. It was a rainy Wednesday evening, still early when he walked in. His light brown hair was matted down from the rain. He never did like to use an umbrella, I remembered. He at least had sense enough to wear a raincoat but had left it open so that there were rain spots on his tie.
I almost screwed up. Looking up at him from the hostess’s station, I nearly called out, “Hey, Matt!” Fortunately, I remembered that as Gina, I had never met my former partner.
“Do I need a reservation?” he asked.
“No,” I replied, hoping he didn’t notice the pause before I answered him. “Just one?”
“Yeah,” he replied with a grin, “unless you want to join me...”
I felt myself blushing. For some reason, I wasn’t offended by the remark as I would have been if it had come from someone else. I guess it was because I knew Matt even if he didn’t know the new me. I remembered he had always been respectful of women and had a great sense of humor. I knew instinctively there had been nothing threatening in his remark. Instead of taking offense, I just smiled at him and found myself gratified when he smiled back.
I showed him to a table fairly close to the front. It’s an old restaurateur’s trick: you seat the first customers up front so that potential patrons looking in the window think it’s a popular place. It also, coincidentally, gave me a view of his table.
I should explain that I surprised myself by finding Matt attractive. A week as a woman hadn’t completely changed my sexual outlook, but I had caught myself looking at guys with curiosity, if not actual interest. If I was going to be female for the rest of my life, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to be with a man. After all, I had the equipment for it now.
I found out later that my sudden curiosity about men wasn’t too unnatural for my new sex. Women are more attracted to the whole package while men zero in on a face, breasts, legs, or some other obvious part of a woman’s anatomy. If I had been quizzed on my sudden interest in Matt that evening, I wouldn’t have had a clue, but I realized later that while he was indeed, an attractive man, it was his demeanor that made me see him in an entirely new light.
As I’ve said before, Matt was going places. He was bright, insightful, and looked the part of a proper police detective, but his friendly, easy-going manner could be disarming. As Jack, I had watched him meet people who were completely hostile to the police and have them eating out of his hand in five minutes. Of all the partners I had worked with on the force, Matt was the best blend of competence and personality I had even seen.
“He’s cute,” Lucy whispered to me after she had taken Matt his meal–the house special cannoli.
“Who?” I asked innocently.
Lucy sighed, “The guy you put up by the window where you could watch him. The guy whose water glass you’ve filled about a dozen times. The guy...”
“Okay!” I hissed. “Not so loud.”
Lucy just giggled and went back to the kitchen.
“How was everything?” I asked Matt professionally when he was getting ready to leave. I found myself more than a little disappointed that my old friend was about to walk out of my life. I hoped it didn’t show.
He grinned. “The food was only excelled by the service.” He paused for a moment and then asked, “What’s your name?”
I flushed in spite of myself. “Gina...”
“That’s a pretty name,” he told me. “Gina, I’m Matt. Would you like to have a drink with me when you get off work?”
He was trying to pick me up? Oh God! What was worse, I was actually considering his offer. “I don’t get off until one...”
“That’s okay,” he replied. “I’ve got some work to do. I can meet you back here just before one. How would that be?”
I hope I didn’t look too stupid when I nodded. He grinned again. “Great! I’ll see you then.”
I spent the rest of the evening being a stupid klutz while Jennie and Lucy teased me unmercifully. I couldn’t believe I had actually agreed to have a drink with Matt. The next to last thing I wanted to do at that point in my life was to see if I could get into men. The very last thing I wanted to do was to test my heterosexuality with my old partner. What in hell had I been thinking?
I’m sure Jennie and Lucy thought I was just being spacey because I had just garnered a date with a handsome guy. They would have been wrong, though. I was preoccupied because I simply didn’t know how to act or what to say or do with Matt. I wished with all my heart that I had said no to him instead of yes.
He showed up about half an hour early. Maybe that was for the best since I was becoming more nervous as our agreed-upon time came closer. Arturo smiled at me when Matt walked in. He understood at once why Matt had returned. “Why don’t you go on?” he urged. “We can close down without you tonight.”
“But the customers...” I protested in a vain attempt to delay matters.
Arturo simply smiled wider. “Look around. There are only two tables still occupied, and they’re just finishing their drinks. I think we can do without you for closing just one night.”
Now I knew how young women in the Middle Ages must have felt when their male relatives foisted them off on young men from another castle. I wasn’t ready for this. Maybe someday I would be–in ten or twenty years–but not now. Besides, maybe Mr. Logan had lied to me: maybe he would be willing to change me into a man again. Why test this odd attraction I seemed to be developing for men right now?
“Are you ready, Gina?”
I could only nod my head.
We walked down the street to a bar near the one I now regularly unwound with Jennie and Lucy. I was relieved that he didn’t pick our bar. The last thing in the world I needed was to run into them while I was with Matt. On the way to the bar, we had talked about innocuous things–the weather, prospects for the Yankees and the Mets that year, the usual stuff. I think I actually impressed him with my knowledge of baseball, and I had to redirect the conversation a little before the inevitable invitation to attend a game with him was offered.
Matt ordered a gin and tonic while I stuck to white wine. I had been developing a taste for it since my transformation. Hard stuff seemed to go to my head in my smaller body and beer just filled me up. I was discovering that tastes I had taken to be affectations such as a woman drinking white wine were instead practical reactions to feminine physiology.
“Are you from New York?” he asked when our drinks were served.
I gave him my story about growing up on Long Island. I had told it so many times now that I was starting to believe it. “How about you?” I asked, realizing that while Matt had been my partner for just short of a year, I really didn’t know much about him.
“Yeah, I grew up here in the city,” he replied. I did know he had grown up in a well-to-do part of town, so that came as no surprise. His follow-up did though. “My father is an investment banker.”
“Conway as in Conway, Baker and Jacobs?” I asked. He gave me an embarrassed nod in return. Donald Conway was probably the second richest Donald in the city–right behind Donald Trump. “Why didn’t you go into the family business?” I asked, genuinely curious as to why the son of one of the wealthiest men in the city would choose to be a cop.
Matt’s answer was guarded. “Let’s just say my father and I don’t always get along.”
Lots of fathers and sons didn’t get along well. My dad and I hadn’t been very close in his later years. But what could make him blow off an opportunity like that?
“Wait a minute,” Matt suddenly asked from across the table. He had his cop face on now. “How did you know I didn’t work with my father?”
Oh-oh. I suddenly remembered Matt hadn’t told me he was a cop. Like most cops, he had learned the hard way that admitting to being a police officer too early in the game was a turn-off for some girls. As Gina, I was supposed to have no idea what he did for a living.
“I don’t know,” I answered carefully. “I guess you just don’t act like an investment banker.” That seemed to please him, so I went on, “Most guys who are into high finance seem to think they’re better than the rest of us poor mortals.”
“You’ve got that right,” he agreed. So, daddy was a prick.
“So what do you do for a living?” I asked innocently.
He shrugged. “I’m a cop–a detective actually.” He looked me directly in the eyes, and I knew he was waiting to see just how I would take that revelation. It was time to make him feel good.
“Neat!” I said with a smile. He returned it pleasantly surprised.
“You know, a lot of girls wouldn’t think so.”
‘I’m not a lot of girls,’ I thought to myself, but I couldn’t tell him that. “Where would people be without the police?” I asked rhetorically. It was a question many of us on the force asked of each other frequently.
Matt nodded happily, as if a barrier between us had fallen. I resolved to be careful. Pretty soon, he’d be asking me to marry him.
“So what brought you into Pasquale’s tonight?” I knew he didn’t live anywhere around the Village, so he had to be working on a case. I was right as it turned out, but not a case I would have ever imagined.
From his coat pocket, Matt pulled a dog-eared photo and showed it to me. “Ever see this guy?”
I hoped my expression didn’t betray me: it was a picture of me–the old me. I shook my head. “No, should I know him?”
“I guess not,” he replied, carefully placing the picture back in his pocket. “He was my partner.”
New York is a big place. Middle-aged cops who die while smoking in bed don’t make big headlines. I had taken Mr. Logan’s word for my staged demise, but the tone of Matt’s voice brought confirmation to Logan’s actions. “Was?”
He nodded. “Yeah. He died a few days ago–the coroner said it was an accident. He was supposedly smoking in bed.”
“But you don’t believe that, do you?” It wasn’t really a question. I could tell from Matt’s voice again what he was thinking. I guess I had been his partner long enough to judge his moods.
“Something just doesn’t add up,” he told me, shaking his head. “Sure, Jack used to be a smoker, but he had given it up. I suppose he could have started again, but I wouldn’t have known. He never did smoke around me because he knew I hated it. He was always looking around for ashtrays before he lit up. And on top of everything else, he told me once that even when he smoked, he didn’t smoke in his apartment. He didn’t like having everything he owned smell of tobacco smoke.”
That’s right: I didn’t. Maybe Mr. Logan wasn’t as thorough as he should have been. The idea of my–Jack’s–return to smoking just in time for it to cause a fatal accident was very clumsy of Mr. Logan. He’d be lousy staging the elusive perfect crime.
“So you think someone killed him?” I asked, wondering just how much Matt had figured out.
“It’s possible,” he answered. “Something was going on. We were investigating a murder and one of Jack’s old enemies was the likely suspect. I could tell Jack really wanted that guy. He had been tracking him for years. In fact, he was so obsessed with the guy, I think it cost Jack his marriage. So Jack–that was my partner’s name–talked with some weird guy who runs an apartment hotel not far from here in one of those old brownstones. The next thing I know, Jack’s taken some personal leave–nobody knows why. Then the next day, he’s dead.”
“So you think he discovered something that got him killed?” I asked, fascinated to be discussing my potential ‘murder’ so calmly.
“If he did, it had to be something he discovered around Deety Arms. That must be why he took the time off. You know anything about that place?”
“I live there,” I said trying to be nonchalant.
He looked at me funny. “You live in that bat belfry?”
“Actually, it’s a nice place,” I argued. “It’s a lot different on the inside.”
I could see the wheels turning in Matt’s head. “Look, do you think you could let me in there?”
“That’s a funny way to ask to go back to a girl’s apartment!” I laughed nervously.
Matt had the good graces to blush. “No, I’m sorry. I don’t want to... that is, I meant I’d like to see if that Logan character is hiding something from me.”
I was actually starting to enjoy this. I hated to see Matt wasting his time trying to solve a murder that never happened, but it was strangely entertaining to watch him try. “Well... I suppose you could take me to lunch tomorrow,” I suggested. “That would give you an excuse to come up and get me.”
What the hell was I thinking? I had just asked Matt out on a date! I was taking this whole thing too far. But on the other hand, if he had the chance to look around Deety Arms, he might decide for himself that there was nothing to his suspicions. That was reason enough to invite him over.
Matt grinned. “I think I can manage that.”
We agreed on a time and finished our drinks. Then Matt walked me home. It was funny, but the threatening shadows I had seen on my first attempt at walking home at night in the body of a girl weren’t there anymore. No wonder women sought the company of men when they walked the city streets at night. With Matt along, I felt safe. He looked fit enough to handle himself, so whoever might be lurking in the shadows would seek easier prey.
Matt dropped me off at the front door. I had been wondering for the last block how I would manage to put him off if he tried to kiss me. I needn’t have worried. To my relief, he didn’t try. He just gently took my hand and said goodnight. I think he was too preoccupied looking around the building as if he expected some clue in the mysterious death of Jack Murphy to jump out in front of him. If only he knew...
I woke up the next morning a little earlier than usual. No, it wasn’t anticipation over my lunch date with Matt: it was an odd cramping in my abdomen. I wondered if I was coming down with something. Meeting the public as a hostess meant I was exposed to half the germs in the city it seemed. But when I got out of bed, I discovered an unexpected problem–blood in my panties and on the sheet. I knew at once what was happening and cursed Logan for giving me my new sex. It seemed I was now on the receiving end of a problem I had once thought little of–my period.
For the three years I had been married, I often chuckled at my wife’s discomfiture from her periods. I wasn’t laughing now. My ex had compared it to a mild case of the flu, and I was beginning to understand exactly what she meant. And to think, I was going to have to go through this experience for a good portion of my new life.
I nearly called Matt to cancel, feeling worse as I got up and showered. ‘Well at least I’d have a good excuse if Matt tried anything with me,’ I thought as I hesitantly installed my very first Tampax. “Not now dear, I’m having my period.” Gross...
As the morning wore on, the pain got duller. Midol helped. My ex-wife had sworn by it, and when I found a bottle of them in my medicine cabinet, I felt like I had hit the jackpot in Atlantic City. A light breakfast and two tablets of every woman’s miracle drug and I felt almost human again.
Matt was right on time. He sounded so cheerful and just a little hopeful when he called up that I began having doubts about setting up this lunch date. Come to think of it, he had probably gone home horny the night before and had second thoughts about whether or not he should have tried at least for first base. I know that’s how I would have felt if I had been in his shoes. I resolved to keep him at arm’s length.
“Nice place,” he commented when I let him in to my apartment. I could also see him wondering about how I could afford such a nice place as a working student. Fortunately, one of Logan’s canned answers came out.
“It’s not really mine,” I told him. “I’m just apartment sitting for a friend of my parents.”
That was a common practice in New York, so he just nodded, the suspicion fading. Fortunately he didn’t ask any questions about the real residents. I wasn’t sure if I had been given those answers or not.
“You’re right,” he said with a little disappointment as I busied myself getting ready to go.
“This place,” he replied. “It’s pretty normal on the inside. I was expecting something like...”
He nodded sheepishly.
“That’s in the basement,” I said casually, “right next to the room where Dracula keeps his coffin.”
“Okay,” he laughed. “Let’s go to lunch.”
I felt pretty smug about throwing him off the trail. He’d still keep looking for foul play in the death of Jack Murphy, but Deety Arms and its denizens would be off the suspect list. He had written the building and its staff off as being a little odd but hardly nefarious. If I had been in his face, I could have thrown Agent Mulder off this trail. Mr. Logan owed me one for this.
Lunch was pleasant. The day was warm so we were able to eat outside on the patio at the Southwest Grill. I even treated myself to a margarita although Matt stuck with a Coke, leading me to believe he was probably on duty. While many cops ignored the rules about drinking on duty, I knew Matt was a stickler for that regulation.
“You look nice today,” he commented pleasantly as we waited for our food.
“Thanks,” I replied, genuinely pleased. I had debated about what to wear and had decided on a short skirt and sandals but no hose. I told myself with my unfamiliarity with periods, I would need to wear something I could get in and out of quickly if there was a problem. I had no idea if my period would be a big deal or not. My ex used to worry about spotting her clothing if the flow was too great. Just to be on the safe side, I had an extra pair of panties in my purse. Damn Logan for doing this to me!
“Are you on duty today?” I asked him.
“Yeah. Does it show?”
“Well, the suit is something of a giveaway,” I smiled.
“It’s kind of a light day,” he told me. “They’ve got me working homicide out of the local precinct, but the case load is pretty light right now. Not too many murders happen around here for some reason.”
I wondered if Mr. Logan had anything to do with that, but I didn’t say anything.
“I’m supposed to interview a suspect in a murder that happened right around here a few days ago, but the guy I want to question won’t be back in the country for a couple of weeks.”
“What?” He had to be talking about Tony Capella.
Matt confirmed that. “There’s this Mafia guy named Tony Capella. He killed a police officer–or at least his men did. The problem is that the Organized Crime Task Force is after him on other charges, so he left the country. He’s somewhere in Sicily until his lawyers can smooth things over.”
Out of the country? Did Logan know that? If so, why had he changed me into Gina if it was going to be weeks–maybe months–before he would wander into Pasquale’s? I had to talk to Logan–quick.
Matt dropped me off in the lobby after lunch. I had been able to put aside my questions and enjoy Matt’s company, but now I was a little preoccupied, glancing down the hall to see if there was any sign of activity around Logan’s office. It was then with my mind on other matters that I felt an arm slip around my waist.
“You got anything planned for the weekend?”
“Uh... no,” I managed.
Matt grinned. “I’ve got two tickets to a Mets game on Saturday afternoon. What do you say we go?”
“I have to work Saturday evening,” I answered quickly.
“I’ll have you back in plenty of time,” he promised. “What do you say?”
I told myself a little later it was only because I really enjoyed baseball and was a lifelong Mets fan. “Okay.”
“Great! I’ll pick you up at eleven and we’ll get there early and eat lunch.”
I could only nod.
That was when he kissed me.
It wasn’t a heavy-duty passionate kiss. It was just a quick buss on the lips, but for some reason it felt like more. Then he was gone, leaving me standing there in the lobby wondering why I hadn’t been completely turned off to feel a man’s lips on mine.
“Good afternoon, Ms. Russo.”
I turned to see Mr. Logan with just a trace of a smirk on his face. Had he seen Matt kiss me? Worse yet–had he noted my reaction? I decided to take the upper hand.
“You’re just the person I wanted to talk to.”
“Oh?” He looked even more amused.
“Shouldn’t we talk in private?” I asked.
“Very well.” He waved his hand and suddenly we were standing in fog so thick we might as well have been a thousand miles from Deety Arms. Who knows? Maybe we were.
“I want to know what’s going on,” I began, ignoring the fog that had been an obvious attempt to throw me off. “When you changed me, you said it was to get Tony Capella. Now I find out he’s in Italy. What’s going on?”
To my surprise, Logan answered the question without prevarication. “Gina, do you think you could have convinced Mr. Capella and his people that you were a normal young woman right after you were transformed?”
“No, of course not... Oh! I see...”
“Yes, I think you do,” he observed. “The success of our operation depends very much upon convincing him that you are exactly what you appear to be. Anything less would invite his suspicion at a critical moment.”
“You sound as if you know exactly how this is going to come down,” I commented.
He shook his head. “No my dear, not exactly. Jack Murphy would have said that I’m playing the odds. That’s exactly what I’m doing. If we are to succeed, you must be very, very convincing–and you must remain ignorant of certain elements of the plan. Otherwise, when Mr. Capella receives justice, little will change. I ask only that you trust me. Can you do that?”
Strangely, I did trust him. I realized that whatever his plan was, he had levelled with me as much as he dared. I couldn’t understand why, but he seemed to have no reason to lie to me.
He had given me something to think about as I went back to my apartment to study before going to work. I realized perhaps for the first time how much I had fallen into the role of Gina Russo. At first, I had simply gone through the motions, working and going to school because somehow my part in all of this required me to do so.
Now though, I was beginning to be Gina Russo rather than just playing the part. Oh, I still had to pretend that I had family out on Long Island (maybe I really did, but I hadn’t had any contact with them). And I had to relate stories of a girlhood that never was, but I was starting to think of myself as Gina now. Makeup was second nature. Wearing a bra was normal. Heels were no problem. And men... well let’s just say Matt wasn’t the first and only attractive man I had noticed.
It still seemed a little gay to be attracted to men though. I guess that would be true of nearly anyone in my position. Still, the absence of male equipment between my legs was changing that attitude. Besides, the thought of something filling the cavity I now had seemed intriguing–especially after I had gotten over the revulsion I had first felt at the thought of putting anything in there.
Oh yes, I had finally gotten myself off. Two days before my period had started, I found myself faced with a strong urge to fill myself. My fingers had been the first instruments of experimentation. Naturally, I knew what to do in general, but I soon learned that I probably hadn’t been as effective as a man since I had little idea of where all the good spots were. It didn’t take me long to improve my technique.
I graduated to bigger and better things when I found a vibrator hidden at the bottom of my underwear drawer. It seemed as if Mr. Logan and his staff had thought of everything. The sensations from that device proved even more incredible than my fingers. I began to feel secure in the thought that as long as I didn’t run out of batteries, I’d never have to worry about being with a man if I didn’t want to.
Now though, I found myself wondering what it might be like to be with a man. No, that’s not quite right. I didn’t just wonder what it would be like to have sex with any man: I had begun to wonder what it would be like to have sex with Matt.
My speculation was purely hypothetical, mind you. My sexual urges were now tempered with the realization that having sex could entail serious consequences. Even with protection, pregnancy was a possibility since no method short of surgery was foolproof. I was beginning to understand why women were more reticent when it came to sex than men. As a man, I always knew there was a possibility of getting my partner pregnant, but as a woman, that possibility held more alarming consequences.
My pragmatic nature aside though, I was beginning to wonder what it might be like to have sex with a man. The vibrator teased at the experience, but I had to think that having a real one inside had to be more gratifying or all women would have told men to get lost long ago. And if I was going to get around to having sex with a man, having sex with Matt sounded like a good place to start.
Of course, I didn’t mean right away. I was thinking more in terms of the future–like maybe months or even years away. In the mean time, there was always Mr. Vibrator.
Still, even considering it was a huge change in my way of thinking. I had been a man just a few weeks before–the kind of man who makes wisecracks about gays and could never understand what one man could see sexually in another man.
As weeks turned into months, and summer was nearly at an end, I felt my resolve ebbing away. I continued to date Matt and it was turning into a comfortable relationship. We often talked about his work once he realized I would be a sympathetic ear. Many women in my experience as Jack Murphy found the idea of police work disturbing at best. Most police officers start to think of the world as ‘them’ and ‘us’ with ‘us’ being the police and ‘them’ being everybody else. The fact that I was interested in his job made me a popular person with Matt.
Of course for me, Matt’s stories of his job were like letters from home. He didn’t realize that, but I found it interesting to hear his perspective on people and cases that were very familiar to me. Strangely enough though, I didn’t find myself pining for my old job. As long as I could remember, I had wanted to be a cop, but now that I wasn’t one, I began to feel as if my life on the force was an incomplete life, wrapped up too much in a job that often resulted in frustrating failures.
Matt had a healthier attitude about police work than I had exhibited. For example, it wasn’t too long after our first date that he decided to let Jack Murphy’s death remain as initially determined–an accident.
“But you were so sure it wasn’t an accident,” I pointed out over one of our after-work dates. I guess I was a little miffed at how he had given up on an investigation relating to a friend so easily.
He shrugged. “Yeah, I was. But I haven’t been able to come up with any evidence to the contrary. It was just a feeling anyhow. A lot of police work is based on instincts. This time, I was apparently wrong.”
It was interesting how those instincts of his had been partially right–Jack Murphy hadn’t died accidentally. In fact, he hadn’t died at all. But even if I told Matt the truth (which I had absolutely no intention of doing) he’d never believe it. He was right to let it go. What amazed me was how rational he could be about it.
I found myself becoming more and more interested in Matt. At first, it was at least in my mind a clandestine renewal of an old friendship. I had always liked Matt, and in my new identity, I found no reason to change that opinion. But as the weeks flew by, I found myself looking at Matt through new eyes–the eyes of a woman who has found a man she wanted to be with. I wanted to be with him at meals, and ball games, walking down the street and in... In bed?
The thought wasn’t as horrifying as it would have been a short time before. As a man, I had often seen a beautiful girl walking down the street and wondered what it might be like to make love to her. That was I suppose, the same reaction any heterosexual man might have. So why should it be any different for a woman to wonder? Just wondering wasn’t a crime.
I was still thinking about it the next evening at work. I caught myself looking over every man who walked in the door, wondering what he might be like in the sack. Oh, I wasn’t overt about it: it was just an idle fantasy. That one over there... older but kind of attractive in a distinguished sort of way. The one in the corner by the kitchen... young but not nearly cute enough to be with the girl he was wining and dining. Then there was that guy over by the window...
Lucy had seated him while I was busy in the kitchen. I hadn’t noticed him when I got back since I had three other tables to get seated. And if I must be honest with myself, my little game of wondering about each of the male patrons had made me a little less aware of the whole dining room.
He was sitting by himself, looking as if he would happily kill someone if he could just light up a cigarette. Maybe that was why I hadn’t noticed him. Rudy Costanzo was a chain smoker and one of Tony’s roughest hoods. Although he was too good to get caught, the authorities thought he had personally killed at least ten men and probably double or even triple that number if the truth were known. One of the men he had most certainly killed according to Mr. Logan was my friend Mark Fontana. He was one of Capella’s inner guards and was almost always at his side. Unless he was just slumming for the evening, his presence meant Tony Capella wasn’t far behind.
It was funny. I had been waiting for weeks for this moment, but now I wasn’t so sure of myself. A play was about to begin–a play in which I had a key role, but I had no idea of any of my lines. I’d just have to act naturally and see what happened.
At least I didn’t have to wait long. Arturo rushed to the door, mumbling to me, “I’ll take care of this customer.”
No sooner had he spoken than the door opened. Two men in dark suits entered wordlessly, looking around the dining room. One of them headed immediately for the kitchen while the other one made a beeline for the restrooms. I hoped no one was in the ladies’ room because I knew he was going to check that place, too.
The next one to enter was no surprise. Tony Capella could always be depended upon to make an imperial entrance. Flanked by two more of his men, he seemed almost oblivious to their presence. “Arturo!” he called in a warm voice, taking my boss’s hand in both of his. “How are you?”
“Fine,” Arturo replied a little uncomfortably but respectfully. “Fine, Mr. Capella.”
“And your family?”
I saw Arturo wince, but I was pretty sure Tony didn’t. “They are fine as well.”
“Good, good,” Tony replied.
I expected him to lead his boys over to a large table where all but Costanzo would join him. It was Constanzo’s job to watch the door. But instead, he stopped and stared. It took me a moment to realize he was staring at me.
“Holy Mary, Mother of God!” he breathed.
I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea what Mr. Logan had planned other than using me as bait–but what sort of bait? The look in Tony’s eyes was not an expression of lust (thank God) but rather one of shock. His deep brown eyes were wide as if he had seen a ghost.
“And you are...” he asked after an uncomfortable silence.
“Gina... Gina Russo,” I managed, aware of how defenseless I was in this relatively small female body. If Tony were to say the word, I’d be deposited on his bed before anyone could even think about stopping him.
“You’re very pretty, Gina,” he said softly. Strangely, I didn’t feel sexually threatened by his observation. It was as if he genuinely felt the need to compliment me. I could only flush in response.
That said, he nodded at me, taking one more glance before starting off for his table. He took a detour for just a moment, stopping to whisper something to Costanzo who suddenly looked at me and nodded. Whatever was said between them had obviously been about me. I tried to look unconcerned, but in fact my heart was beating wildly.
“What’s going on, Arturo?” I asked him when Capella’s table was settled and taken care of.
“I’m not sure,” he said to me in a low tone. “Is your boyfriend coming by later?”
I was a little shocked. I didn’t realize Arturo had even noticed that Matt had in fact, become my boyfriend.
“Yeah. When we close.”
“Tell him to be careful,” Arturo urged.
I planned to take Arturo’s advice. Something was up but I didn’t know what. Capella and his apes kept stealing glances at me whenever they thought I wasn’t looking their way. I felt as if I was on display, but display for what? As I had already noted, the looks were not lustful. Instead, they were curious. Whatever the motive, I didn’t like those looks. Just what had Mr. Logan set into motion anyhow?
The sensation of vulnerability I had come to recognize was even stronger than the night I had nearly been attacked on a dark street. I felt an overwhelming need to be... protected from whatever was about to happen.
But who could I turn to? Mr. Logan? I hardly thought so. Whatever was about to happen was his doing. The fisherman feels no regard for the worm on his hook. My parents? I knew only that they were divorced and had raised me on Long Island. I wasn’t sure if they were still there–or if they even really existed for that matter. Arturo or my co-workers? They were as frightened of Capella and his men as I was.
That left only Matt.
But what did I expect of him? Did I expect him to come rushing into the restaurant and demand to know why they were staring at me? Matt might be armed, but Capella’s pack of wise guys had him out-manned and outgunned. The more I thought about it, the more I became certain that I didn’t want Matt to intrude right now. It might be dangerous for him.
To my relief, Tony Capella and his gang finished their meal and left well before I expected Matt. They each gave me one more long look, as if they were sizing me up for something, before departing. Tony even looked over his shoulder to look at me one more time. To my surprise, his expression was actually a little wistful.
I had been waiting for weeks for the game to get started–to give meaning to the transformation Mr. Logan had forced upon me. And yet now that the game was in play, I found myself relieved that Capella had left and looked forward to having Matt’s strong arms around me.
“What’s wrong?” Matt asked when he finally arrived.
“Nothing,” I lied, angry with myself that my moods had become so transparent to him. “Let’s get out of here.”
It was a warm summer evening, and Matt walked me back to Deety Arms. Thankfully, we didn’t walk down the dark street that had nearly been my undoing right after my transformation. Instead, we walked a few blocks out of the way where bright lights announced small cafes and playhouses. It felt good to see people on the streets enjoying themselves. Just for the moment, I could forget that scum like Tony Capella even existed.
But even though we stopped off for a couple of drinks and took our time getting back to Deety Arms, the evening had ended all too soon, and shortly, I’d be alone. I couldn’t bear the thought of going up to my apartment by myself. Even though my rational mind told me that no one could get into the building without Mr. Logan knowing about it, my emotional thoughts conjured up images of Rudy Costanzo or one of Capella’s other men waiting for me in my closet.
“Matt, come on up with me,” I pleaded.
I had caught him by surprise. “Don’t you have classes tomorrow?”
I did, but that didn’t matter now. “Please...”
I had just invited a man up to my apartment. Oh sure, he had been there once before, but that was just to look around in the middle of the day. This was different. It was night–time all sane people were in bed. Was that where we were going to be? I didn’t intend to go to bed with him that night, but it was possible that I might. I realized that the minute I asked him up.
We were silent as we rode the elevator together. Both of us knew what was likely to happen. I had been a man long enough to know just what was going through Matt’s mind. What if he moved too quickly? What if he had misinterpreted my invitation? I didn’t blame him for being confused. I was still confused myself. But Tony Capella’s arrival on the scene had stirred within me a need to be protected–to know that Matt would be there when I needed him. If he was to be my protector, shouldn’t I agree to be his lover?
I didn’t bother to turn on the lights when we got in my apartment. “Hold me,” I murmured to him.
His arms felt good around me, warm and protective. I felt myself sigh in relief.
“Gina, what’s wrong?” he asked softly.
What could I tell him? “Nothing’s wrong,” I lied. Or maybe it wasn’t a lie. For the moment, nothing was wrong. I was safe. I looked up at his face, peering at his eyes shining in the reflected light from a window. I stretched up as he looked down, allowing our lips to meet. It was funny. We hadn’t kissed like that before. I had given him little pecks here and there, but nothing like this. My own arms went around his neck as he lowered his head to kiss me deeper.
I ached for him. I knew from what Mr. Logan had told me that I was destined to be a woman for the rest of my life, and I knew that this was yet one more example of what it meant to be a woman. I needed to be held, to be protected, to be filled by a man–this man... now.
Neither of us said a word as I gently took his hand and led him into my bedroom. Likewise, we undressed silently, pausing only long enough to caress each other’s newly-naked flesh. I had expected to be somewhat repulsed when moving my hands along his rough, hairy chest, but to my surprise, it felt good to my fingers. I moved into his embrace once more, feeling the hardness between his legs as it teased my inner thighs.
It was then that I nearly panicked with the realization that the hardness would soon be inside me. Was this the way all women felt for their first time? Possibly, but I doubt if other women felt how unreal it was to be penetrated by something I had until recently possessed myself.
I wish I could think of what thoughts finally ran through my head as he caressed me and as he entered me. I’m sure my mind made some involuntary comparison of how it felt as a woman to be impaled on an object I had never expected to experience from this perspective. But all I could remember as I lay there listening to him softly snore beside me was how complete I now felt. Sure, it was a little messy. I could feel the residue of his climax within me and was glad I had dutifully been taking birth control pills just in case. I suspect I had been magically urged to do so since I had no other earthly reason before that evening to assume I’d be in bed with a man any time soon.
All thoughts of Tony Capella and his gang of thugs had fled from my mind. I no longer cared what happened to him or his men: I cared only about Matt and me. I wasn’t a cop anymore. Capella was none of my business. I was a hostess at Pasquale’s and a college student... and a woman.
“I love you,” I whispered to him.
The snoring stopped. “I love you, too.”
I felt my face flush. I hadn’t realized he was sleeping that lightly. I had confessed something to him in the belief he was still asleep. Well, no matter. I wasn’t going to take it back. “Do you love me enough to make love to me again?” I asked.
His answer was to roll me over and start all over again.
Matt was already up and in the shower when I got up. I headed off to the kitchen and made him a simple breakfast as if this was a routine we had followed for years. I even had fantasies about him climbing out of the shower and ravishing me over my kitchen table, so I was just a little disappointed when he showed up in the same suit he had been wearing the night before.
I think he realized what I had been thinking. “I have to go to work,” he told me reluctantly.
“Yeah. I figured.”
He sat down and looked across the table at me. “Are you okay?”
“Never better.” It was true as long as he was there. But how would I feel when he left?
I was about to find out.
I might be a young woman now, but I still had the instincts of a street cop, so I knew I was being tailed. Oh, my shadow was discrete. If I had been the young coed I appeared to be, I would have never noticed him. He hung back nearly a block behind me as I walked and got on the same subway car as I did but all the way at the other end. He wore khaki slacks and a white polo shirt, blending in with the crowd. Sure, he wore dark glasses on the subway, but so did a lot of other people.
I surprised myself by not panicking. I knew instinctively that he was just keeping an eye on me. He would have been working his way closer to me if he had anything else on his mind. When I got to my class, he was nowhere to be seen, but when I got out of class, there he was following me at a discrete distance once more.
I knew he was working for Capella. The timing was too perfect to be coincidental. Besides, who else had taken an interest in me lately–other than Matt of course? So the mob boss had taken the bait. I just hoped Mr. Logan knew what he was doing. I would have felt a whole lot better if I had known just what sort of bait I was.
When I got to work that evening, Arturo called me into his small office. To my surprise, we weren’t alone. A medical technician was waiting for me there. “You need to give him a blood sample,” Arturo said with a nod at the technician...
I frowned. “What for?”
Arturo looked uncomfortable. He quickly hustled me back out of the office where the technician wouldn’t be able to hear us. “It’s for insurance.”
“You don’t provide insurance,” I pointed out to him. “Now what gives?”
Arturo pulled me back out of the office for a moment and told me in a low voice, “Look, Gina, I agreed to help Mr. Lo... our friend out by hiring you. He told me that you were to be...”
“Bait?” I whispered to him.
He nodded. “Mr. Capella has made a request. I cannot refuse him. I’ve been told to do so would be bad for business.” He looked into my eyes and saw that I knew exactly what “bad for business” meant coming from Capella.
I thought for a moment. Why would he want me to have a blood test? I thought again that maybe it had something to do with sex–that maybe he wanted to make sure I was healthy before putting the moves on me. Maybe that was why I had the tail–maybe he wanted to find out if I was sleeping with anybody else. Had there been a tail on me when Matt took me up to my apartment? I wasn’t sure but I didn’t think so.
After the med tech left, things settled down to normal. It was a busy evening, so I didn’t have time to think about Capella’s plans, and before I knew it, it was closing time and Matt was there to pick me up.
“What do you want to do tonight?” he asked. I could tell from the hopeful note in his voice what he wanted to do. I felt much more secure than I had the night before, so I didn’t need him in my bed just to feel safe. But I had discovered that safety wasn’t the only reason–or even the best reason–to have sex as a woman.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said slowly, toying with him a little. It was amazing how much power a woman could exert over a man just by teasing him a little. “I was thinking of doing something a little different tonight.”
“Oh?” He sounded a little disappointed. “Different” sounded like “no sex.”
“Yeah,” I grinned. “I thought maybe tonight I’d be on top.”
It didn’t take many nights back at my apartment for me to realize that trying different positions was more fun as a woman than it had been as a man. Every new way we tried it seemed to stimulate my body in new and exciting ways. I hadn’t realized before how many different arousal points a woman really had. I began to think if every man could spend just a few weeks as a woman, he’d find that sending a woman over the edge was a guarantee of great sex every time.
I was so enthralled with my new sexual relationship that I nearly forgot about Tony Capella. It wasn’t until about a week after my blood test that I got an unexpected reminder of my nemesis shortly after Arturo had opened for evening business.
The reminder was wearing an Armani suit and a tie that probably cost more than most cops made in a week. His name was Leo Duggan. He was an attorney, and his small but powerful law firm had only one client–Tony Capella.
He might have been just there to enjoy a plate of Arturo’s tortellini but I doubted it. I had never believed in coincidence. Still, I decided to play dumb, flashing him my canned hostess smile. “Table for one, sir?”
“Actually, I’m here to see you, Ms. Russo,” he said formally. “Is there someplace we can talk?”
“Well, I’m working now...”
“I’m sure your boss will agree to giving you a few minutes,” he replied smugly.
Of course, he was right. Arturo recognized the mob lawyer and motioned with his head that I should take him back to his office. “All right.”
Duggan sat behind Arturo’s desk as if it were his own, pausing only long enough to make certain there was nothing in the chair which might blemish his expensive suit. I was completely baffled at the attorney’s purpose, but I didn’t have to wait long. “Ms. Russo, are you familiar with Antonio Capella?”
“Yeah,” I replied, already tired of this shyster’s smug manner. “He’s a big crime boss.”
“He’s a businessman,” Duggan corrected me, the disapproval I had been seeking with my insult apparent in his eyes. “Mr. Capella has a completely clean legal record.”
‘Yes he did,’ I thought, ‘mostly because of this bozo’s legal chicanery.’ “Businessman then,” I shrugged.
He nodded with begrudging approval. “Yes... well it seems that when Mr. Capella dined here a few days ago, he noticed something familiar about you. He would like to discuss that matter with you.”
I was still in the dark about what was going on. Whatever Mr. Logan had done to turn me into attractive bait had worked, but I had no idea why. “Ask him to come by the restaurant then,” I suggested. “He knows where it is.”
“He would rather discuss this in a more personal setting,” the attorney informed me. “He has asked me to escort you to his home at once.”
“Now wait a minute!” I jumped out of my chair. This was sounding an awful lot like some sort of come-on. I didn’t want to give Capella a chance to corner me alone. “I’ve got a job here. I can’t just leave because some mob boss...”
“Whatever. Just because he wants me alone with him.”
“I’ll be with you all the time,” he assured me. “If you think this is about sex (he made the word sound distasteful), I can assure you it is not. Now, please come with me. Mr. Capella does not like to be kept waiting.”
Arturo, of course, didn’t argue. I was given the evening off to the questioning stares of Jennie, Lucy and Julio. Actually, Julio looked a little alarmed as if he had suddenly realized I might have powerful friends.
A black Mercedes was waiting for us at kerbside, guarded by another of Capella’s henchmen while the driver waited at the ready, the engine purring smoothly. Duggan opened the rear door for me and I slid into the car, wishing for not the first time that evening that I would have chosen something a little less revealing for my audience with the crime boss.
“You have nothing to worry about,” Duggan assured me. I just hoped he was right.
Tony Capella lived well: I’ll give him that. Like many of the crime lords before him, he preferred the relative quiet and solitude of Long Island to the grit of the city. His home was really more of an estate, sprawling over several acres of what had once been farmland until it was urbanized in the early part of the last century. Odds were good it had once been the summer home of some prominent New York family, with its view of the ocean and its expansive grounds surrounded by a high brick wall. Whoever said crime doesn’t pay had never seen Tony Capella’s house.
I began to realize as the automatic iron gates closed behind the limo that I was now completely at my enemy’s mercy. Every undercover cop we had managed to get onto the grounds had ended up like Mark Fontana–dead in some alley. If Capella realized even for an instant who I really was...
But that was impossible, of course. Even if I were to admit that I had once been Jack Murphy, he wouldn’t believe it. Nobody would. I was Gina Russo and no one–or at least no normal human–could prove otherwise. And it was Gina Russo who Tony Capella wanted to see.
I supposed I was going to find out in a few minutes.
Duggan and I were ushered into a library the size of my entire apartment. Everything in the room reeked of serious money. Like I said, crime does pay if you’re good at it. “Can I get you something to drink, Ms. Russo?” Duggan asked, assuming the role of host until Tony showed up. As he expertly opened a hidden bar, it was obvious he had been here many times before.
“No, nothing,” I replied looking around. I was looking directly toward the huge oak double doors of the room when they opened and Tony Capella stepped in. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I didn’t expect the warm smile on his face.
“Good work, Leo,” Tony said, turning from his attorney back to face me.
“Do you want me to stay Tony?” Duggan asked. Tony shook his head, his eyes still on me, and Duggan took the hint with a slight nod to me as he left.
“You don’t know how pleased I am that you accepted my invitation,” he said to me when Duggan had shut the doors behind him. There was a softness–a warmth to his voice. In all the years that I had run up against Tony Capella, I had never heard him speak that way before.
“I didn’t exactly have a choice, did I?” I asked.
His expression became a little pained. “Please, don’t believe everything you’ve heard about me. When I tell you why I asked you to come here, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
We were face to face. Even in my heels, I was several inches shorter than he was, but somehow I knew he posed no threat to me. “And why did you ask me here?”
He turned for a moment, facing me again with a picture of a woman in his large hand. “This woman was my wife,” he explained.
I remembered that Capella had been married at one time. It was actually several years before I crossed swords with him, so I didn’t know much about his marriage except for what was in the files. I knew she had been killed in a car explosion meant for him. A gang of Columbians determined to break in on Capella’s hold on the drug market had staged the hit. Of more interest to me when I had read the file was the fact that Tony had gone after them with a vengeance theretofore unknown in the city, wiping them out to the last man in the most grisly ways possible. The Columbians’ own families fled New York only to meet a tragic death when their chartered plane exploded over the Gulf of Mexico. No one thought for a minute that it was an accident.
No picture of his wife had been in the file though. That was ancient history to our later investigations, so I was seeing a picture of his wife for the first time, and the sight was almost enough to make me gasp. Take away the eighties hairstyle and clothing and dress his wife in modern fashions and she would have been practically my twin.
“That’s right,” he said softly as I took the picture from his outstretched hand. “She was your mother–your real mother. And I am your father.”
In that moment, I knew how Luke Skywalker must have felt.
Duggan joined us again and the three of us discussed what must have happened over a much-needed glass of wine. Tony’s wife had been pregnant, and although she died as she was being rushed to the hospital, her baby–me, or at least the person I had become–had apparently survived. Her doctor had supposedly lost the baby on the operating table, but Tony’s people had discovered that the doctor had lost a son to drugs–drugs most likely supplied by Tony’s syndicate.
“Did the doctor admit that?” I asked, shuddering a little as I imagined some poor physician getting the crap beaten out of him to extract a confession.
“The doctor in question died five years ago,” Duggan told me, alleviating my fears that an innocent man had died confessing to something which hadn’t really happened.
“But the dates match up,” Tony added. “The night my wife–your mother–died, you were placed in a foster home. Supposedly, you were the child of a single mother who died in a traffic accident leaving no other family. Only the records don’t back that up. There was no young woman killed in a traffic accident that night who left a daughter. The doctor decided to deprive me of my child since he blamed me for the death of his only son.”
“And were you responsible for the death of his son?” I asked pointedly.
Capella just shrugged. “I won’t lie to you. You know what I do for a living. But think of it this way Gina. I don’t hold people down and make them take drugs. That’s a decision people make for themselves. I’m just a businessman giving the customer what he wants to buy. If his son died from drugs I sold him, it was his decision to take them–not mine.”
It wasn’t the first time I had heard the argument. Every dealer I had ever seen taken down sang the same song. For that matter, I suppose the cigarette companies could be accused of the same thing. What Capella wasn’t saying was how his dealers preyed on human weaknesses to hook their customers on drugs. They’d practically give them away until they got their pigeons hooked. Then the price would go up. Can’t afford them? Then they’d introduce them to people who could help them ‘earn’ the money–pimps, fences, and other vermin.
Of course I couldn’t say any of this. Mr. Logan’s plan was starting to unfold. I had agreed to go undercover to bring Tony Capella down, but I had never realized I would have to do it as a woman–a woman who as it turned out was the bastard’s daughter.
“So what happens now?” I asked quietly.
“That’s up to you,” Tony told me.
No, it wasn’t–not really. If I had been born and raised as Gina Russo, I might have some choices. But I had been created by Mr. Logan to make the choice that would achieve our mutual goal of bringing Tony Capella down. Whatever ‘choices’ I was about to be given, the only real choice would be what could I do to stay close to him. As he spoke, the choice became obvious.
“I’ve had you checked out,” he told me. “I know your foster parents broke up and that you don’t have anything to do with them. I don’t blame you after what that bastard of a foster father tried to do to you.”
I just nodded. Of course, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I could make some guesses. They were the sort of guesses that would most certainly estrange any girl from her parents–foster or not.
“You can go on doing what you’ve been doing–working and going to school all on your own. Or you can move in here with me. I know I haven’t been a father to you, but I didn’t even know until recently that you existed. I’d be very pleased if you gave me an opportunity to show you how good a father I can be.”
It was a heartfelt speech. I was seeing a side of Tony Capella that I never knew existed. How could a man who had ruined so many lives be so caring to someone he had never really met before? Even though he thought I was his daughter, it seemed out of character for him. Of course, I was viewing him through the lens of his police record. I thought back to some of my college readings on the Mafia and realized it wasn’t so out of character after all. Many crime bosses had been very loyal and loving around their families while maintaining a ruthless façade in their criminal lives.
“Do I have to give you an answer right now?” I asked. I didn’t want to appear too eager. That might look suspicious.
“Of course not,” he said smoothly. “I want you to make the right decision–one you feel comfortable with. Why don’t I give you a call on Friday? If you decide to move in here, some of the boys can give you a hand moving on the weekend.”
“I suppose that would be all right,” I replied pensively. “But I have a lease...”
“I know where you live,” he told me with just a note of disgust. “If you decide to live here, tell that Logan guy I’ll pay for the rest of your lease. That should make him happy.”
‘Oh that would probably make him absolutely ecstatic,’ I chuckled to myself.
“Then I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” he concluded, rising from his chair. Duggan and I both rose together. “Before you go though, would you mind if I... hugged you?”
I hadn’t expected that, so I had no ready reason to refuse him. I nodded stupidly. His hug was gentle with no hint of sexuality. I remembered hugging my real father and realized this felt no different. Timidly, I hugged him back, not knowing what else to do.
Mr. Logan was waiting for me in the lobby of Deety Arms. I had no doubt that he had known precisely the time Duggan would drop me off and drive away.
“You did very well tonight,” he said as he greeted me with a smug smile.
“And just how do you know that?” I asked, folding my arms over my breasts.
“Oh surely you know I have my ways.”
“That being the case, why don’t you just take care of Capella yourself? Why pass me off as his long-lost daughter when you could just change him into a rat or blow him up in his house? You don’t need me.”
The mischievous look in his eyes said otherwise. “When the plan has run full course, I know you’ll understand.”
“But you won’t tell me now,” I finished for him.
He shook his head. “No, Ms. Russo. That might spoil things.” Then he changed the subject. “So how are your classes going?”
“Fine,” I replied abruptly. If he wasn’t going to give me any information, I didn’t see why I should give any to him. Actually, I was enjoying my classes. I couldn’t imagine why he had decided I should be a sociology major, but I was finding it an interesting field. As a criminal justice major in my old life, I had studied the subject somewhat, but never in the depth I now was learning.
“Well, goodnight Mr. Logan.”
“Haven’t you forgotten something?” he asked innocently.
Had I? Oh God Yes! “Matt! I’m due to get off work in an hour and he was going to pick me up at Pasquale’s.”
“No problem,” Mr. Logan told me with a nod. I turned and saw my usual cab was waiting for me with the strange faceless driver. “Alastor will see that you get there.”
So that was his name. “Thank you,” I said, turning for the door. Matt was often early, enjoying a cappuccino while I finished up. I wanted to make sure I got there before he did.
‘And what would he think about all this?’ I wondered as I stepped into the cab. I knew from both my previous life and this one that Matt hated Tony Capella almost as much as I did. And we weren’t alone. Every good cop on the force thought Capella was ruthless even by mob standards. For example, while he was telling the truth about the murder of his wife by the Columbians, he hadn’t mentioned that he had provoked the war by taking out half a dozen of their top dealers in Lower Manhattan.
Even if Matt was okay with the revelation that I was the daughter of a mob boss, how would it affect his career? Matt was going places in the department, but not with a Mafia princess on his arm. What sort of a wife... would... I...
‘Oh my God. Had I really been thinking about marrying Matt?’ I guess I had, but I never admitted it to myself before. I didn’t have a lot of experience being a woman, but I had come to appreciate Matt in ways I could never have imagined before. He was thoughtful, strong, caring, and come to think of it, pretty damned good in bed. In short, he was a great catch.
It’s funny, but I didn’t remember him dating much when I was on the force with him. Oh, there was an occasional thing here and there, but nothing lasting and nothing he ever talked much about. But as I’ve said before, a lot of women have trouble dating cops. They tend to bring their work home with them, and some of them like Matt and Jack Murphy never seemed to be able to set their badges aside. That had been what had cost me my own marriage.
I understood all of that though. It didn’t take away from my sudden desire to be Mrs. Matt Conway. Not that it would do me any good though. As soon as he found out who I was, he’d lose any interest he might have had in a big hurry.
“Your destination, Ms. Russo.”
The eerie voice of the creature Mr. Logan had named Alastor brought me out of my reverie. “Thank you,” I mumbled, giving him his usual fare. My heart sank as I looked in the window of Pasquale’s and saw Matt sitting alone at a table. Well, there was no putting things off any longer.
“Gina!” He rose to greet me, and I could see the worried look on his face dissipate, replaced by relief. He hugged me and to my surprise kissed me hard right there in front of the few lingering patrons and the staff. I even heard Lucy giggle. My heart nearly broke when I realized this could be the last time Matt held me.
“Are you all right?” he asked. “Arturo said Capella’s lawyer took you away. What did he want? Did you see something that would implicate Capella?”
I sat down, an ironic smile on my lips. “I guess you could call it that, Matt.” I started to tell him the whole story. I was proud of myself for not breaking down even once. I told him about the death of Capella’s wife and then hit him with the punch line. “It turns out Capella’s daughter didn’t die with her mother. She was secretly given over to foster care and subsequently adopted...”
Matt looked at me expectantly. Did he already understand what I was about to tell him? No, he looked confused. There was only one thing to do–tell him straight up. “Matt, I’m Tony Capella’s daughter.”
His look of confusion was replaced by one of disbelief. “No, that can’t be right. Your parents...”
“They’re my foster parents,” I reminded him. Instinctively, I grabbed his hand. “Oh Matt, can’t you see? I didn’t know. They have proof though–DNA and everything.”
Matt settled down a little, and to my relief, he didn’t pull away. “So what does Capella–your father–want?”
“He wants me to come live with him,” I told him. “I guess he wants to be a real father. I can’t really blame him, I suppose.”
“Gina,” Matt said slowly, “do you know what kind of a man he is?”
“Of course I know,” I reminded him. I couldn’t tell him that the decision to move in with him was already made the minute Mr. Logan changed me into Gina Russo. I had no way of letting him know that my agreeing to be his daughter might be the only way to ever stop the bastard from hurting God knows how many people. “But he’s my father,” I added softly, my eyes downcast.
Neither of us said anything for what seemed to be hours, but I know it was no more than a minute or two. Our hands were still touching, but I could feel the tenseness in Matt’s hand. He broke the silence first.
“Gina, I love you.”
I must have gasped because he looked at me at once as if something was wrong with me. “I don’t care who you are,” he went on.
I felt my heart beating faster. He had said what I wanted to hear, although I don’t think even I was aware of that until after he had said it.
“Matt, I...” I began and then stopped. I realized I had been about to tell him the hell with Tony Capella. I’d never see him or talk to him again if that would make things work between us. But I couldn’t do that, could I? I had been changed into a girl for no other reason than to accomplish my mission against Capella.
“Don’t say anything,” he warned me. “You don’t have to say anything.”
“Matt, take me home.”
He did, and that night we made love with a passion borne of desperation. We didn’t talk any more about my future, but we both knew I had made up my mind and that Matt had made up his. I would be moving in with my ‘father’ and Matt would still love me. But we both knew that his love might not be enough. Capella had to know about Matt. How long would it be before he made it nearly impossible for me to be with him? And what about Matt? The minute it was known that he was having a relationship with the daughter of a Mafia chieftain, his days on the force would probably be over. And what about his family? I knew by now that Matt’s parents were well-known members of New York’s high society. What pressure would they put on Matt when they learned about me?
Matt got dressed and left early the next morning. We had kissed and even briefly considered making love again, but the thought of what we each might be facing that new day made that only a fleeting dream.
I didn’t waste any time. I called Capella that morning and told him I’d be willing to give things a try. “That’s wonderful, sweetheart,” he replied over the phone. He sounded genuinely pleased.
So now I was sweetheart. The next thing I knew, I’d be princess. I’d be his little girl, surrounded by hoods and other scum while trying to pretend to be his loving daughter. And to what end? Was I expected to gather information? If so, Mr. Logan had told me nothing of how to inform him or what he would do about it if I did.
Once dressed and ready for the day, I caught up with Mr. Logan in the lobby talking to that strange little Mr. Luk. He dismissed the little man and turned his attention to me. “Good morning, Ms. Russo. Or should I say Ms. Capella?”
“Don’t joke about it,” I admonished him. “I’ve agreed to move in with him and try to be his loving daughter. Don’t you think it’s time to tell me the rest of the plan?”
“The rest of the plan?”
“What do you expect me to do?” I pressed. “Am I supposed to gather information? Who do I give it to? The phones are probably watched.”
He gave me a paternalistic smile. “Ms. Russo, don’t do anything like that. It would endanger your position in Mr. Capella’s household. I expect you to be exactly what he thinks you are. You realize, don’t you, that for all practical purposes, he is now your genetic parent. Try to get to know him and treat him as the father he wants to be.”
“You heard me, Ms. Russo. Ah! It looks as if your escort has arrived.”
Tony didn’t waste any time. Leo Duggan marched through the door, flanked by two of Tony’s men. It was a standard mob tactic–send in the negotiator with the sugar but make sure the mark knew that the tough guys had come along in case he didn’t have a sweet tooth.
“Mr. Logan,” Duggan began, making it clear he had met my mysterious landlord before.
“Yes, Mr. Duggan?” he replied smoothly as if the attorney were an old associate.
“My client has asked me to make arrangements for Ms. Russo here to move out of your building. He is prepared to meet the conditions of the lease, including payment in full and surrender of any deposits.”
“That is most generous,” Mr. Logan agreed. “I will hate to lose Ms. Russo.”
The lawyer and his guards relaxed noticeably. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘they’ve had dealings with Mr. Logan before.’ His quick agreement to their terms was a welcome surprise.
And so began my move to Capella’s estate. Duggan took me there himself while the two hoods began to supervise the packing of my possessions. A moving truck had pulled up almost at once and four burly men marched up to my apartment to move everything. I noticed they had illegally parked the truck with no apparent concern about getting a parking ticket.
“Welcome home sweetheart,” Capella said hugging me as if we had been separated for months. “I’m so glad you’ve decided to move in.”
I managed to return the hug without getting sick.
“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” he said, motioning me into his study.
It turned out what he wanted to talk about included my job, my education, and, of course, my social life. “We’ve got to make some changes now that everyone will know I’m your father,” he told me once I was situated in a comfortable leather chair.
“What kind of changes?” I asked suspiciously.
“Well for one, your job,” he began as he lit a cigar which if my male memory served me correctly went for no less than $50 apiece at a tobacconist up on the East Side. “Money isn’t going to be a problem for you, so I don’t want you working for Arturo anymore.”
I just nodded. I had been expecting that to happen. And actually, he was right. I wasn’t some working class girl from Long Island trying to make ends meet and get an education at the same time. Tony was worth more millions than I could ever imagine. Besides, as much as I had gotten to like everyone at Pasquale’s–except Julio of course–I had only taken the job to get in front of Capella. Now that that had been done, I had no reason to continue working there.
“As far as college is concerned, I think it’s good a girl like you wants to get an education,” he went on. I was relieved to hear that. I was actually getting something out of my classes–something that would help me for the rest of my life. I had already made up my mind that since I had to make a new life for myself, I’d go into social work once Capella was put away.
“But I think CCNY is the wrong place for you.”
“Oh?” This time he had caught me by surprise.
“Yeah,” he nodded. “You got money now, kid. You can go to Vassar, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Smith...”
“Wait a minute,” I cut in. “Those are all girls’ schools.”
“Not anymore,” he countered. “Guys go there too, from what I’ve heard.”
He was right about that, but the schools he had reeled off were still schools with predominately female student bodies. I was beginning to get the uncomfortable feeling that my new father wanted to keep me away from boys. For the most part, that was okay, but there was one boy–man rather–whom I had gotten rather attached to.
“I’ll let you know which one sounds best,” I assured him. I was there to get enough on him to send him off to prison. By the time the next term began at any of those schools, I expected my mission to be done.
He nodded, satisfied, a cloud of expensive smoke rising above him. “I knew we’d get along just fine,” he said proudly. “Just one more thing.”
“Ditch the cop.”
I was afraid of that. He had to have checked me out completely. He had to know all about Matt. As much as I had come to care for Matt, I knew this would happen. I suppose I tried to tell myself it was really best for Matt as well. Now he could say that when he was seeing me, he had no idea I was the daughter of a Mafia boss.
Still, I really wanted to tell Tony to shove the whole Mafia princess crap and run back to Matt. But I knew that wasn’t really an option. Also, I had to keep my mouth shut or Tony would take more drastic action to get Matt out of the picture.
“Did you hear me, Gina?”
“I heard you,” I replied softly.
“I won’t see him anymore,” I promised.
Capella grinned and rose from his chair, crushing out his cigar with a good $40 worth of tobacco still unburned. “With the boys I’d say shake on it, but I’d rather have a hug from you.”
I gave him the hug. At least when he was holding me he couldn’t see the tears in the corner of my eyes. Giving up Matt was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done–even harder than learning to be a girl. I guess I had really become a woman in nearly every way imaginable, but until Tony was behind bars, I was still something of a cop and the cop side had to stay in charge.
The next few weeks started out to be the toughest of my life–new or old. As the daughter of a powerful crime lord, I had a guard and a driver everywhere I went. The only privacy I enjoyed was when I was alone in bed or going to the bathroom. Even in a public bathroom, my guard would stand outside the ladies’ room scowling at every woman who had the temerity to enter or leave while I was there. If I had enjoyed the same guard every day, I might have been able to get to know him, bat my big brown eyes at him, and get him to back off and give me some space. But the guard was constantly changing, and none of them seemed to be too happy about getting to know me. To them, I was just something valuable that their boss wanted guarded, so guard they did.
There was at least one funny incident though. I decided one evening to go to Pasquale’s on my own and have dinner. Julio spotted me walking in with a shadow who would have made the Terminator quake, and immediately turned pale and ran for the kitchen. Laughing, Jennie and Lucy told me that Julio had been afraid that I would take his moves on me personally and bring in someone to rough him up. For the rest of the evening, my guard sat at a table along the wall facing mine while Jennie and Lucy got Julio so worried that I really had brought him in to break the poor waiter’s legs that he begged Arturo for the night off and fled through the kitchen exit.
School was probably the most embarrassing time of all though. My guard would park outside the classroom intimidating each student who entered with a fierce glare. The word got around pretty quick as to who I was. After that, I usually just tried to sit in the back of the room where it was difficult for the rubbernecks to stare at me.
But classes soon got to be my favorite time as well. After about a week in my gilded cage, I walked into a nearly-deserted classroom fifteen minutes before class and discovered to my joy Matt sitting in the back row. He looked like just another student in jeans and a polo shirt. I was so happy to see him I nearly ran to the seat next to him.
“How have you been?” he asked, taking my hand.
I looked nervously toward the door, relieved to see no sign of my guard. He must have been where I left him, discretely down the hall a few yards. I had told him to stop intimidating my fellow students and it looked as if he had obeyed. “I’m fine,” I sighed. “But I’m even better now that you’re here.”
“I got worried when I didn’t hear from you.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry. I had no way of reaching you. Capel... ‘daddy’ took my cell phone and gave me a new one. Now he can track every number I call, so I couldn’t very well ring you since he’s forbidden me to see you. As for landlines, forget it. He knows how easy those are to tap. All the regular phones in the house are keyed to a code that I don’t have. He’s nothing if not security conscious.”
Matt grimaced, “I figured as much. Being cautious has probably been what’s kept him out of the slammer all these years. It’s kind of like a twenty-first century version of Romeo and Juliet, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I agreed, “but don’t expect me to take poison.”
We both grinned.
“I don’t think that’s going to be necessary,” Matt told me. “Look, I’ve got a plan...”
Matt’s plan was simple enough. We would use part of our time together to devise a way to meet a few days later under the noses of my guards. The places we always chose were public enough to suit my guards but locations that were difficult for them to remain too close to me.
After that, it wasn’t impossible to meet. Matt and I just had to be careful about how we did it. Our time together was often short and in unusual places. I started spending a lot of time at the gym–a ladies-only gym where I could sneak out and spend time with Matt. I’d cut a few classes and fake a few after-class study sessions to be with him. We even managed to have dinner one evening in a secluded booth where Matt couldn’t be seen by my guard at the front door.
Unfortunately, we lacked the opportunity to be intimate. I could hardly have imagined a few short months earlier that I would be enjoying sex with a man. It still seemed unreal. But now my body longed to be loved by Matt and there was nothing we could do about it.
As the weeks went by, I began to feel more and more as if Mr. Logan’s plan had run aground. I knew very little about my ersatz father–even less than I would have known by reading his police folder. Capella had worked hard to appear to be a loving father and good provider, treating me to everything from Broadway plays to four-day trips to the Caribbean. He even bought me a cat (not knowing that I had always hated cats). It was a rare breed apparently, with white fur and the inscrutable look that cats seem to get as if they think they’re smarter than humans. I named him Luke. After learning that Darth Vader was supposed to be my father now, it seemed appropriate.
Yes, I was living the life of a young jetsetter but learning nothing since he sheltered me from everything about Capella business. He always kept his study locked when he wasn’t in it, and his business conversations always came to a screeching halt whenever I was within earshot.
Even his men were told to be on their best behavior. There was no discussion of business around me, no rough stuff, and even no swearing. Everyone was polite and accommodating to me, and I had only to ask for something and it was mine–with the exception of my freedom, of course.
There was one exception to the ‘make nice’ rule, and the exception’s name was Rudy Costanzo. If there was one person in Tony’s gang that I would like to bag (other than Tony, of course), it was Rudy. Rumor had it he liked to kill, and the looks he gave me convinced me that given the choice, he would have enjoyed making me his very next victim. I was interfering with the way he thought the business should be run. Of course, I had no say in the business or supposedly even any knowledge of it, but it was obvious he thought my very presence was taking his boss’s eye off the ball.
To be completely fair, I suppose he was right. Capella was working so hard to prove himself to be the loving father that he was leaving a lot of the details to others. To my surprise, those others often did not seem to include Rudy. I think in Tony’s eyes, Rudy might be a good killer but he wasn’t much of a manager. Rudy might be a great point-click-shoot guy, but he couldn’t really see the big picture.
Leo Duggan spent a lot of time at the house, and I suspected that he was pretty much in charge of all the legal arms of the business. My ‘father’ then divided the rest of the empire into drugs, gambling, and prostitution based upon the men I saw coming and going. But while I might suspect what was happening, I had absolutely no proof.
I was actually starting to develop a grudging respect for Tony–not affection, mind you, but respect. He was disciplined and demanded that of others. His organization reflected his demands, so it was possible for him to delegate with the confidence that his orders would be carried out. Things would have been much simpler for me if he had been more ‘hands on.’ Then I might have observed something incriminating. Unfortunately, it appeared that as long as I was around, he would be on his best behavior, trying hard to convince me that he deserved my love, as well as my respect and obedience.
Matt of course, pleaded with me to move out. “You’re no better than a prisoner,” he argued on one of our moments alone at school. “You can’t go where you want to go or see who you want to see. Those guards aren’t just protecting you, you know. They’re watching you and reporting back to Capella.”
“I know, Matt,” I agreed, nearly in tears. “I can’t explain it to you so don’t ask me to move out. It’s... it’s complicated.”
“There’s nothing complicated about it,” he huffed. “I love you and I’m pretty sure you love me.”
Yes, he was right: I did love him. But had I ever told him so? No, I guess I hadn’t, but he was right to assume it. Our time in bed together was certainly proof of that. Still, it was something I needed to tell him. “I love you too, Matt.”
His expression brightened. “So you see? There it is. We love each other and shouldn’t allow anyone to get in our way–not your father or mine...” His voice trailed off but it was too late.
“What about your father?” I asked. I had never met Matt’s family but remembered that Donald Conway was very, very wealthy. Matt seemed reluctant to reply. I suppose he really didn’t have to reply. The answer was obvious. His father moved in the highest circles of city society and politics. If it became common knowledge that his son was seeing the daughter of a notorious crime figure, it could be very damaging to him both socially and professionally.
“Look Gina,” Matt began, “I told you I don’t get along very well with my father. I reminded him that our family got wealthy smuggling liquor into the United States during the Prohibition. Lots of families made their initial fortunes illegally.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but they have the benefit of being removed by a generation or two from the ancestors who made the initial fortune. My father is still living and still making a fortune from criminal activities, even if no one seems to be able to prove it.”
Matt took me gently in his arms. “I don’t care who your father is, Gina, and I don’t care what my father thinks or what anyone else thinks for that matter. Just move out and marry me.”
“M... Marry you?” I looked into his eyes. Was he serious? He wanted to marry me–even knowing who I was?
“Marry me,” he repeated, softer as he looked into my eyes.
‘My mission had been a failure,’ I told myself. There was no way I was going to be able to bring Tony Capella to justice. What had Mr. Logan thought–that he would take me into the family business? Men like Tony Capella were of the Old School. They didn’t believe women were good for much more than spreading their legs and raising babies. If Mr. Logan had really wanted me to get into Tony’s affairs, why hadn’t he made me the crime lord’s son?
Besides, being of the Old School, it was very possible he would try to arrange a marriage for me. I’d be held away from anything resembling a normal social life until I was finally married off to the son of someone Capella needed as an ally, as if I were a medieval princess to be married off to an allied prince.
It was time for me to get free of my obsession with bringing Tony Capella down. It had cost me my marriage and any chance of a normal family life when I was Jack Murphy. It had finally even cost me my gender and my identity. I was ready to give Matt my answer: I was ready to marry him.
But before I could say anything, a noise in the hall caused me to look up. I don’t know where the noise actually came from, but it allowed me to see something which would delay my answer–at least for now. There, standing in the doorway of the classroom was Rudy Costanzo, and the smug smile on his face was all the proof I needed that he had been there long enough to see me in Matt’s arms.
I looked at Matt. “Let’s get out of here.”
He nodded in agreement, but it was already too late. I looked back at Rudy to see him pointing a gun at us. My regular guard was just outside backing him up.
“You’re not going anywhere, sweetheart,” he chuckled. “You and your cop boyfriend are going to see the boss. I don’t think he’s going to be very happy when he sees how you’ve disobeyed him.”
I suspected he was right about that.
“So have you been feeding information to your cop boyfriend?” Rudy taunted.
Neither of us spoke, so Rudy continued, “You know, I don’t believe that shit you laid on Tony about being his daughter. I think you and the cops rigged the whole deal up just to get close to Tony.”
“I didn’t tell him I was his daughter: he told me,” I reminded him.
“Oh you were clever about it,” Rudy laughed. “But you knew all you had to do was let him get a look at you. You look a hell of a lot like his wife: I’ll give you that. I’m sure that’s why they chose you. Then they put you someplace where Tony’s bound to see you, like Pasquale’s.”
“How about the DNA tests, Rudy?” I asked him, uncomfortable with how close to the mark he was coming.
“Probably faked too,” he shrugged. “But you’re just wasting time. Come on: it’s time for you to see Tony.”
We were led from the classroom as inconspicuously as possible. Neither Matt nor I could make a move for fear of endangering the other. Rudy and my guard stayed close to us but a little behind so that they could reach their guns before we could stop them. I had no doubt that Rudy would kill us if he had the opportunity–or at least he would kill Matt which was almost as bad. As for my guard, I knew Rudy would never have taken the chance of cornering us if the guard wasn’t completely on his side.
But what would Tony think when Rudy brought us in? Could I convince him to let Matt go free? I wasn’t sure. He wanted my love and respect, but having a cop so close to me might be more than he could risk.
For that matter, how safe was I? Had Rudy found out something which would cause Tony to realize I wasn’t really his daughter or was he just speculating? That didn’t seem likely though. Mr. Logan’s magic must have made me as much Capella’s daughter as if I had been born that way. DNA doesn’t lie, in spite of what OJ’s lawyer said. Surely Rudy couldn’t finger me without incurring Capella’s wrath. He had a theory but he didn’t have any proof.
I felt even more insecure as Rudy and the guard marched us into dear old dad’s house. The guards around the house looked like they would all like to be someplace else when they saw us. Rudy had to think he had a strong hand to take us in like that and he had to have convinced a lot of Tony’s people, but I couldn’t help but think he had overreached.
“Rudy, what the hell is going on?” Tony demanded when we were allowed into his presence in the study. He was sitting at his desk, obviously not pleased with the interruption.
Rudy nodded at Matt. “This guy’s a cop. I know him. He used to work with that Murphy bastard.”
Bastard was I?
Tony’s voice was cold, but Rudy stood up under it. “So he’s one of the cops who’s been trying to nail you for years. I figure he got cutie here to feed the cops information about our operation.”
“First of all, you’re not paid to think,” Capella reminded him as he came around his desk to stand in front of Rudy. He was a good four inches taller than his underling and the effect was intimidating. “I know who this guy is. He’s the cop that was seeing Gina. I told her to ditch him. It looks like I’ve got to tell her again.
“Second, how do you get off insulting my daughter? You’ve gone too far this time, Rudy.”
“She ain’t your daughter, Tony,” Rudy insisted. “Think about it. She shows up out of nowhere living in that Logan guy’s building. Then she gets a job where she’s sure to be seen by you.”
Capella didn’t look quite so sure of himself, and that had me suddenly worried. “But the DNA...”
“Cops could have faked that,” Rudy told him, following the same line he had with me. I was a little relieved. It sounded as if Rudy didn’t have anything concrete about me. “Think about it, boss. Some doctor twenty some-odd years ago decides to get back at you by removing an unborn baby from your wife’s corpse. Your wife’s body was in pretty bad shape when they pulled her out after the explosion. Do you think a baby could have survived that?”
Looking at Tony, I became suddenly uncomfortable again. I was starting to get the bad feeling I had underestimated Rudy’s power of persuasion. Or maybe I should say I had been underestimating his ability to sniff out a setup. The look on Capella’s face was an ugly one, but whether it was directed at me for being a fraud or at Rudy for daring to question my identity, I wasn’t sure. There was no doubt Rudy thought his boss had bought his reasoning though.
“Don’t worry, boss,” Rudy said drawing his gun. “I’ll take care of both of them.”
“No!” Tony yelled.
I don’t think Rudy planned to waste us right there on Tony’s expensive Oriental carpet, but Tony must have thought so. He lunged suddenly at Rudy. It was obvious Rudy had guessed wrong. Tony hadn’t bought Rudy’s story and now saw his daughter in mortal danger. Unfortunately for Tony, Rudy reacted instinctively to his attack. His gun went off so close to my ear I felt pressure along the side of my head and wondered if it was I who had been shot.
The room was suddenly quiet as the echo of the shot reverberated off the oak panelling. As the doors flew open, Tony Capella gasped loudly, trying to get air to stay in a lung that must have been reduced to bloody fragments. He slumped to the ground in a growing pool of his own blood.
I had visions of Capella’s men suddenly blasting away at Rudy and my guard, but Tony’s two guards held back as if unsure of what had just happened or what to do about it. They had all worked with Rudy for as long as they had worked for Tony, and now Rudy was the senior guy in the room. Things weren’t exactly looking good for Matt and me.
“You bitch!” Rudy yelled at me. “This is your fault.” The gun was suddenly in my face while Matt was restrained by the other guards. “Now tell me the truth, bitch. Who are you?”
“I can answer that,” a voice called from the doorway. We all turned to see who had just joined the party, but confusion was written on everyone’s face, for in the doorway was Luke. The cat was sitting calmly as if nothing had happened, licking a paw with obvious disdain for the human inhabitants of the room.
“What the...” Rudy began.
No one moved as the cat sauntered into the room, suddenly rising on his back legs and growing larger. The white fur on his body began to darken, reweaving itself into a gray business suit of impeccable tailoring. A little of the white fur on his head became hair as the cat’s face reshaped itself into...
“Logan!” I cried out. He smiled at me in response.
Rudy and the other goons seemed to be nailed to the floor. They could look around and even move a little, but their arms were helplessly at their sides and the weapons had dropped from their hands. Matt was able to pull away from the two who had been holding him.
Mr. Logan walked calmly over to Tony Capella’s body and looked down at it in disgust. “It’s fitting that you should die as you did,” he said to the body, and coming from him, I’m not too sure that whatever was left of Tony Capella hadn’t heard him.
“You planned all of this, didn’t you?” I asked.
“What’s going on here?” Matt demanded, but Mr. Logan and I weren’t really paying any attention to him.
“I planned most of it,” Mr. Logan allowed. “Some of it you managed on your own.”
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on here?” Matt interrupted. With a casual wave of his hand, Mr. Logan gestured at Matt causing him to slump unconscious to the floor.
“Matt!” I practically screamed. I tried to rush to him but Mr. Logan gently took my arm. “Don’t bother Gina. He’ll be fine. He’s just having a little nap. When he awakens, he’ll remember none of this.”
“But how am I going to explain this, Logan?” I demanded, hands on my ample hips. “He’ll remember being brought in here, won’t he? He’s a police officer and a detective at that. He’ll be suspicious.”
Mr. Logan just gave me another of his patented smiles. I jumped as Rudy’s gun discharged without Rudy pulling the trigger. The bullet lodged itself in the far wall. “There!” he said confidently, pointing to Matt. I looked in fascination as a tiny line of blood drew itself over about an inch of Matt’s forehead.
“When he awakens,” Mr. Logan explained, “he will remember that two shots were fired. The first killed Tony Capella while the second grazed your boyfriend’s head. There will even be a tiny fragment of his skin on the bullet they dig from the wall.”
“And what about Rudy and the boys?” I asked, pointing at the semi-statues scattered about the room.
“I haven’t really decided,” Mr. Logan admitted. “Perhaps I’ll store them back in my basement until I can find something amusing to do with them.”
As gruesome as that sounded, maybe it was better than being changed into rats as I had seen done before, or into a whore like Tommy Ravella. Some of Tony’s men might eventually be revived and given decent lives, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be in Rudy’s shoes for anything. God only knew what he would wake up as or when.
“Can... can they see and hear us?” I asked.
“Oh yes. They have all of their senses, but until I allow it, they will neither move nor age. Perhaps a few years in storage will give them a chance to consider what they might do with their lives if I ever decide to free them.”
‘Or it would drive them mad,’ I thought. ‘They would be nothing more than living mannequins, each reflecting on the world from the darkness of a musty basement.’ I shuddered.
“So what happens now?” I asked.
“That’s entirely up to you,” Mr. Logan told me. “Just remember what you once told me–that you would be willing to give up your life to bring Mr. Capella down but...”
“But I wouldn’t give up my soul,” I finished for him.
He nodded, beaming at me as if I were a prize pupil. “Now, if you’ll forgive me, I think I should be on my way.”
Before I could respond, he and all the frozen hoods had disappeared. There was no whoosh of air or pop as they were removed from the room: they simply vanished in the blink of an eye as if they had never been there to begin with.
The pool of blood pouring from Tony had widened, darkening more of the rug. His eyes were frozen open with a look of permanent surprise on them. I found my emotions jumbled. This was what I had hoped and dreamed for all those years. I should have felt victorious. I had participated in a ruse that had brought him down. Yet somehow, the victory was hollow. Tony had died saving my life–the life of a person he thought was his own flesh and blood. I don’t know why, but I knelt down and put a hand on his shoulder. Then I bent over and kissed his still-warm cheek. “Thanks, dad,” I whispered to him, hoping that his demons like mine, had been exorcised at last.
The funeral for Tony Capella was held three days later. Matt, with a small bandage over the cut he believed was the result of a bullet graze, was at my side. Mr. Logan’s transformation and everything that followed had been purged from his mind. He wasn’t the only cop there. At least a dozen policemen–local, state, and federal–watched the crowd looking for Rudy and the other missing goons who they assumed were involved in a plot to kill Tony. Of course, they’d never find them, or when they did find them, they wouldn’t be able to recognize them. I had a feeling Mr. Logan would play with them one by one. I now knew him to be a patient man–if he was a man.
The reading of the will came the very next day. Tony’s entire empire was in danger of collapse with Tony dead and many of his lieutenants missing. I had expected Tony to have set me up, but the actual behest was something of a shock for me. It seemed that Leo Duggan had been a busy boy, carefully crafting Tony’s estate so that everything managed to come to me–tax free, of course.
“Everything?” I asked stupidly.
Leo nodded. I could see he wasn’t real happy about it. Tony had been his meal ticket, after all.
“What about all the illegal businesses?” I asked him. He looked at me with embarrassment, especially since Matt was sitting with me. No lawyer wants to admit to anyone that his client is a criminal–especially in front of a cop.
“Come on, Leo,” I prompted. “There are just the three of us in the room.”
“Off the record?” Leo asked, directing his question to Tony. When Matt nodded, he continued, “You now control a drug distribution system and a chain of brothels, plus a few smaller enterprises.”
Leo shrugged. “Small-time stuff–numbers, bookies, even a chop shop in Jersey.”
“Shut them down,” I told him.
Leo looked as if he suddenly had water in his ears. “Excuse me?”
“You heard me Leo. Shut everything down.”
“I... I can’t do that,” he protested. “If I tried, someone else would just try to take control. It would start a gang war to see which boss could fill the gaps.”
I hadn’t thought of that. “Okay,” I said after a moment’s thought. I had to admit he was right. If you shut down Macy’s, everybody will just trudge over to Sak’s. Drug and prostitution businesses only work because ‘honest’ people patronize them. “First, take all the brothels and put them in the name of the girls working in them.”
“That would take a lot of work,” Leo objected.
I brushed off his complaint at once. “So bill me.” Leo’s eyes lit up at that. “I assume Tony–my father–left a large enough estate to handle the fees.” It was really my attempt at sarcasm. Leo had already told me that Capella’s laundered, or honest operations, were sufficient to provide me with millions in income every year.
“All right Gina. But what about the drug operations?”
I wanted no part of the drug operation. Unlike the brothels where the girls would be given the option of selling out and getting a stake on a fresh life, I wasn’t about to set up dozens of drug lords all over the city. Besides, maybe a little turf war from the other dealers would work out for the best. Dealers at war get sloppy, and maybe the police would be able to round up a few of them. It wouldn’t stop the drug business, but it might slow it down. Dealers at war are too busy watching their butts to be out on the street attracting brand-new customers. “Shut them down Leo,” I replied through gritted teeth. “Shut them down today.”
Leo looked startled. “Okay Gina. You know, it’s funny, but just for a moment, you reminded me of Tony.”
Genetically, I was part of Tony, and I suppose the acorn really doesn’t fall far from the tree. But unlike Tony Capella, I hadn’t been raised to a life of crime. I had an education–both as Jack Murphy and as Gina. I planned to use that education now. Jack’s education had taught me to understand what made criminals tick. Gina’s education had taught me what some of the root causes of crime really were. I suspected when Mr. Logan had set me up as a sociology major, he knew exactly what he was doing.
I didn’t see Mr. Logan again for a couple of months. I had been too busy to check in with him at Deety Arms. Besides, I wanted to wait until I had plenty to tell him before I dropped in on him.
“Gina, you look delightful!” he said, rising from his chair to take both of my hands in his. His hands were warm and felt human, but I had done enough research on my own to be certain that he and his associates were not human at all. Whoever or whatever he was, tough, I owed him more than I could ever say.
I thanked him as he motioned me to a comfortable chair. “And how is Matt?” he asked, coming right to the point.
“Just fine,” I laughed. “But I think he’s a little nervous about our upcoming wedding.”
“Yes, and thank you for the invitation,” he said, pouring me a cup of steaming coffee from a carafe that I was sure hadn’t been there moments before. “I’ll be sure to attend.”
“Mr. Logan,” I began, getting down to business, “as you know, the Capella Foundation is doing quite well...”
“Yes, I’ve seen the notices in the paper,” he nodded. “Your dinner with the Mayor was big news.”
It was more than just big news to me, but I didn’t tell him that. Matt’s father had been in attendance at the dinner, and his concerns about Matt marrying a Mafia princess evaporated at once when he saw the Mayor fawning all over me. And well the Mayor should have. I had just written a check for ten million dollars to fund one of his favorite charities. When I announced that nearly all of the legal profits of the Capella empire would be channeled into social projects, I became the darling of New York’s society and the name Capella became suddenly respectable.
“I’m going to need some office space for the Foundation,” I told him. “I thought perhaps since you were so instrumental in making all of this happen, you might be able to provide me with the space I need.” My coy little smile as I raised my coffee to my lips gave no doubt that I expected a more-than-reasonable rent.
“I believe I can accommodate you,” he replied, taking a sheet of paper and writing something on it. Although he wrote only long enough to sign his name, when he handed the sheet to me, it was a full page of details on an office space which would take care of our needs for several years.
“I don’t see a rental amount,” I said, looking up from the page.
“Consider the rental cost our contribution to your foundation,” he smiled.
This was going to be the beginning of a wonderful relationship. And to think, not many weeks before, I would have cheerfully killed him (assuming that was even possible) for what he had done to me. Now, I had to fight the urge to kiss him for it.
Our meeting was interrupted by a sudden bustling behind me near the bookshelves.
“Oh Ignacia, please wait until Ms. Capella and I have completed our business before dusting in here,” Mr. Logan said suddenly. I turned to see whom he was talking to and saw two Hispanic maids stop their dusting. Both looked enough alike to be sisters, although one was a good four inches taller than the other. They were a little on the hefty side with their long black hair tied into tight knots on their heads. While neither was unattractive, neither would have been mistaken for the maid J Lo played. They wore traditional black maid outfits such as I hadn’t seen in a long time.
The larger of the two maids pointed at herself. “Yo?”
“You and Ignacia Pequeno as well,” Mr. Logan said calmly, nodding at the smaller of the two women.
“They’re both named Ignacia?” I asked him as the two maids gathered their cleaning supplies and prepared to leave.
“Yes,” Mr. Logan replied. “They are very close and have worked together for years.” He turned again to the maids. “And by the way, I found the body of the spider you swept under the rug. If you do it again, I’ll have to speak to your boyfriends. Is that clear?”
Both women nodded, clearly upset. I wondered what their boyfriends had to do with their work. I thought about asking, but Mr. Logan’s business was his own, and only a fool would press him knowing his powers.
As they left the room, Mr. Logan shook his head. “It’s difficult to break employees of bad habits. Good help is so hard to make.”
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