Hart to Heart - Part 1

Hart to Heart

Manhattan …1954…the office of Mickey Hart, Private Detective

“There’s a dame here to see you,” Gladys called from the outer office; if you could call a desk and a phone and chair an outer office.

“Just a sec, Sweets… I gotta fix the war paint.” I called as I pulled my compact out. A girl has to look smart, you know. A moment later she was sitting in front of me. The scent from her eau de cologne nearly knocked me over and her clothes were loud enough to wake the dead. She wore this tiger stripe dress; real tight up top and bottom, with a fur thing that looked like a coyote wrapped over her shoulders. Funny thing…she looked just like Noel Neill, but then again I looked just like Phyllis Coates.

“Well, Miss Hart, you’ve come highly recommended. I hope you can help me. I’m rather put out.” She shrugged and huffed.

“That depends…I’m rather put out myself at the moment. Newberry’s ran out of my favorite hose, and I hate to wear nothing, so I’m stuck with these.” I motioned to my waist, showing off my slacks. She stood up and leaned over and displayed her charm.

“Well, I suppose that’s not much fun; after all, what’s a girl to do when she’s got to start acting and dressing like a man? Still, you wear them well.” She threw away the line like an old shoe.

“What’s a boy to do when he wants to dress like a dame and all he can find is a pair of gaberdine slacks just like Dad still wears,” I thought to myself. Yeah…that’s right. A boy…A gentleman who isn’t all that manly but sure as hell is gentle! She didn’t seem to notice, which was fine with me.

“Well,” I said, putting my head down and doing my best imitation of Lauren Bacall. “I prefer skirts and dresses, but that’s not what you’re here for, is it, Miss Capaldi?

“How…what???” She looked shocked, which she was. I pulled the coffee pot off the burner on the filing cabinet and poured a cup and offered it to her. She took a long draught without breathing.

“Cohan over at the Biltmore called me an hour ago and said you were coming over. Something about missing something…or someone?” Cohan being the house dick over at the Biltmore Hotel. He made it his business to know everyone’s business.

“Why…” She hrumphed once again and looked away; like there was an eyechart on the wall with all the answers to the questions she knew I’d ask.

“Listen…I can play it your way, but this will take all day, and I don’t mind wasting your time, but I sure as hell don’t want to waste mine, so come clean, sister!”

At the word, “sister,” she started bawling. She pulled a hankie out of her bag and started dabbing her eyes, when anyone could see she was crying hard enough to need a towel.

“Okay, Okay,” I said to her, and I handed a wad of tissue from the box of Marcal I had lying on my desk, “just in case.”

“And you can stop the act, while you’re at it. I know who you are and why you’re here.” She stopped just long enough to pull a long sheet off the roll and wipe her face. And then the waterworks started all over again.

“Gabriella Capaldi, right? Your father owns half the bakeries here in Gotham and you need me to help you find your sister…or should I say…baby brother?” She looked at me like I was crazy…but only for a few seconds. Still crying, but not as hard, she sat back and hrumphs once again, but I don’t think she was pissed at me.

“He’s been…” She paused as if she was going to reveal some dark secret. I helped her out.

“Sal Capaldi…big embarrassment to Poppa, right? Like, ‘Dad…I’m gonna take a trip…you know? See the world?’ Only instead of going to Palermo to visit the old homestead, he hopped a boat and headed for Denmark instead? How am I doing so far?” She looked away, still crying her eyes out.

“And everything should be hunky-dory when he gets back because he’s still Sal Capaldi…or at least that’s what you would have thought, but instead of Salvatore Capaldi, it’s Salvatricia Capaldi…and the number one son and heir to the Capaldi Empire is now an heiress and the number two daugther.”

“How did you….who told you all this?” She shook her head and frowned like she’d just eaten some bad tuna.

“It’s my job to know…that’s why you’re here, right? Well…I read a lot…like Scientific American…about sex-changes. I don’t think baby sister ever thought she’d end up in print, and besides, my cousin runs one of the warehouses for your Dad and word gets around.” I leaned back and smiled at her. She tried to smile back, but the tears just wouldn’t cooperate.

“I’m scared…she’s been gone over a week, and it’s not like her to not call. Miss Hart? Can you help me?” She batted her eyelashes and I swear her teardrops sparkled. Now me…I’m a pushover for a dame…even if I want to be one myself. If I had the cash and a ticket…well? I am, as my sainted Uncle Paddy McDermott would say, really fucked up.

“Daddy is such a bastard. He slapped her so hard her lip bled. She ran away that night, and I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid for her, you know. I’ve been all over town and all of the dicks in this town are just that. Being a woman, I thought you might understand, but you seem to think this is funny.”

Little did she know; I knew she was dead serious, because I was dead serious myself, but like I said…no cash and ticket equals no snip and a lousy life time. I surprised the hell out of her and myself and started crying which makes her cry even louder. Gladys came running in, all hyped up.

“Are you okay?” Gladys is like a sister to me…maybe a bit more. Sorta like that Toklas dame, you know, but she keeps it quiet and who am I to talk anyway? Besidea, she knows where the jewels are buried, if you know what I mean, and she’s okay with it.

“Relax, Gladys…just a couple of girls talking about Sonny Tufts and Forrest Tucker.” My tastes were sorta exotic in that regard. I don’t know how much Miss Capaldi cared for Forest Tucker, but my preference tended toward Yvonne DeCarlo or Betty Hutton. Or like I said, Noel Neill. Boy, what a mess I was. My doctor had been giving me some shots of some stuff…said it was ‘just in case.’

Gladys hurried back to her ‘office,’ keeping guard over the only phone in the building while Miss Capaldi and I got back to business.

“So, Sally Capaldi is missing, and you think I know how to find her. Well, I can give it a shot, but the Big Apple is way big, and I don’t come cheap. Fifty a day plus expenses. I give you a receipt for everything I spend and we’ll work it out later. Two Hundred up front.

She pulled out a check book but thought better of it and replaced it in her purse. Pulling out a wallet instead, she produced a thick roll of cash wrapped nicely in a rubber band.

“Will this do?” I counted it out…$480, $490, $500. She smiled.

“Yes, but like I said, a receipt for everything.” I pulled a pad out of my desk drawer and wrote her a receipt for the half-G and put the bankroll in my purse.

“That’s not necessary, Miss Hart. I trust you.” She smiled again and tilted her head slightly. I leaned across the desk slightly and smiled back.

“It is necessary, Miss Capaldi because that’s how I do business. I’ll keep a tab of the costs and give you a total at the end of each week. If I don’t make any headway, I’ll tell you. I don’t need to be wasting my time or yours, and I’m sure you’ll want to have a total to explain to your father. He may not like your sister, but he still loves your baby brother, from what everyone says down at the warehouse. Let’s just see if we can get both of them back together, so to speak, and maybe your father will end up reading off the same page as you and her, okay?”

I knew how Sally Capaldi felt. I still can feel the slap of my Dad’s hand if I close my eyes and try hard enough, which sadly is not hard at all.

“Well, I’m glad I’ve found someone who can appreciate what I’m talking about. You don’t know what hell my Dad put Sally through.” I half-smiled and nodded, thinking about the irony of what she’d just said. The only difference between Sally Capaldi and Mikey Hart is that she went to Scandinavia on Daddy’s dime and came back a model. I went to the academy and came back a cop; all on my dime, since my Dad runs the entire Hart Empire out of a pawn shop on Lexington.
“Please call this number if you get any leads. It’s the modeling agency Sally works for. They’ll forward all messages to me.” She looked away.

“You don’t have to worry, Miss Capaldi. They say discretion is the better part of valor, and I don’t mean to risk either of us to your father’s wrath if he finds out what you’re up to. Raid the piggy bank, did we?” She didn’t shake her head, but her expression said no. She fumbled as she placed a cigarette in her mouth, looking for her lighter. I struck a match and she grabbed my hand, pulling it close for the light. Her hand lingered as she pulled back.
“I heard those things can kill you, Miss Capaldi.” Like I said, I read Scientific American.

“I know it’s a nasty habit. I just can’t seem to stop. Since Sally disappeared, I’ve been a nervous wreck, and I don’t know what to do.” She put the cigarette out in the candy dish I had on the desk, just missing a crumpled Baby Ruth wrapper.

“Well, here’s what we’ll do, Miss Capaldi. I’ll concentrate on finding Sally, and you settle up accounts with your Dad on the QC.” I handed her back the roll of cash.

“We don’t want to get on Vito Capaldi’s bad side, and I bet if you get the money back in the account before the end of the day, you might just find you don’t have to smoke as much. I heard that looking over your shoulder is the leading cause of tobacco consumption in New York.” She smiled at me again.

“Oh…thank you, Miss Hart. You know…you’re a strange one…I mean that in the nicest sense.” She laughed softly while I mulled over how being strange could be nice.

“You…please don’t take this the wrong way? You remind me of Sally. You have this odd sense of humor and again…I’m sorry, but you’re almost…handsome.” At the word handsome her face began to turn red. I hoped that I didn’t show the heat that was growing in my cheeks.

“Well, I suppose there are worse things in the world to be called? Strange and handsome. I’ll have to tell Betty, my hairdresser, about that.” I lied only a little. I went to a parlor downtown and my hairdresser’s name was Phillip, but then again we all have our secrets.

“She does a very nice job, Miss Hart. You’ll have to get me their card. I’m thinking of changing mine.” I looked at her with envy and just a wee bit of lust. The shots I had been getting from my doctor may have dulled any physical sensation, but the heart knows what the heart knows, and after only seventeen minutes I was starting to fall in love. I smiled and handed her my own business card instead.

“There’s a private number if you need to reach me after hours. Like I said, I’ll give you receipts each week and I’ll give you a typed report of anything significant. Other than that, I believe you’ve got a bank errand to run, so we’ll just end this little con-fab now.”

I stood up and waited for her to extend her hand before shaking it. I may be mostly woman now, but old habits are hard to break, and a ‘gentleman’ always waits for a lady to offer her hand. From where I stood in my two inch pumps, she was a very nice lady. She shook her head slightly and half-frowned, almost as if she was disappointed.

“Why the hurry, Miss Hart?” She stepped away from the desk. I walked around the desk and gently grabbed her hand and led her to the door.

“Because it’s nearly two in the afternoon already, and the bank closes at three, right? And besides, I’ve got to get going for a previous appointment.” I smiled as we walked to the hallway.

“And what might that be, Miss Hart?”

“I’m got to see a man about a kidnapped heiress, now don’t I?” As I went to close the door she shook her head, confused only a moment before a look of fear crossed her face.

“Kidnapped?”

“Yes, Miss Capaldi, kidnapped. But don’t worry. I’ve got friends in high places, and I think we’ll get Sally back safe and sound. Okay.” She half-smiled and pursed her lips in frustration before concluding,

“Friends in high places, Miss Hart?” I smiled back and shot a glance upward. Since we were on the top floor of the building she took my meaning immediately and smiled, almost in confusion before saying,

“I sure hope someone up there is listening, Miss Hart.”

“Me, too, Miss Capaldi. And the name’s Mickey, but all my friends call me Michelle.”

“Okay, Michelle.” She walked down the hallway and headed down the stairs. I stepped back in the office and closed the door. I turnd to see Gladys sitting on the front of her desk, with arms foled and smiling broadly, trying to stifle a laugh. Did I say she was like a sister?

“Got it bad already, huh, kiddo?” She stood up and walked over, kissing me lightly on the cheek.

“You always can tell, can’t you?” I said as she hugged me like the sister she actually was.

“Mikey…I can read you like a book. Now are you still getting those shots? I wouldn’t want to see you relapse?” She laughed, as if I could go back to being Michael, her baby brother.

“Yes, Gladys. And yes.”

I shook my head reluctantly to the first question. I already had it bad after twenty-three minutes of knowing Miss Gabriella Capaldi. I had already determined that I had to succeed. Because if I was actually lucky enough to find her sister Sally alive, it might mean a big payday and maybe even a trip to Copenhagen or Stockholm. But even more so, if I didn’t find Sally Capaldi, my chances with Gabriella? In New York City, even in this modern age of enlightenment, the 1950’s still aren’t too welcoming for two women, if you follow me. If Sally Capaldi was dead, then so were my chances with her big sister as well.


Next: Something’s Rotten in the State of Connecticut



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