1

“G. Lamour, P. I.”

It was etched on the frosted glass door that led into the office. It was carved on a wooden sign that was propped up on a room-dominating desk. It was even stamped on the steaming coffee mug in the hands of the tall, brown-pony-tailed girl who sat behind the desk.

Still, on that Monday morning, a shy-looking dye-job blonde in her mid-30s knocked on the glass door, and poked her canary-colored head into the office, and examined the young detective with sincere skepticism, and felt the need to ask the question:

“Is this the right place? You are G. Lamour, right? The private investigator, right? Like it said in the newspaper ad, right?”

The girl smiled warmly: “Right, right, right. Dead-on deduction! The ‘G’ stands for Gem, the ‘Lamour’ for Lamour, the ‘P’ for Private, the ‘I’ for ‘I’m sure glad to meet ya!’”

The blonde lady attempted a reciprocal smile, and failed: “Of course. Sorry. It’s just I was expecting someone less…”

“Female? Young? Adorable?” Gem laughed, (she was indeed all three things.) “Let me guess. You were hoping for a drunken ex-boxer with a Dashiell Hammett novel peeking out of a raincoat pocket. I’m about the results, not the looks. Missing persons? Cheating husbands? I do it all. I’m your girl. Can I get you a cup of coffee, Miss..?”

“Ronson. Anne Ronson. And no, I won’t have coffee; I’m too nervous right now. If I had coffee I would have a heart attack.” Without any further prompt, she began to sob: “Or no, I wouldn’t! I can’t have a heart attack, you see! That’s exactly the problem!”

Gem leaned forward: “Meaning?”

With broken, chirpy lost-bird sounds, Miss Ronson said: “I don’t… have a heart… anymore! That’s why… I came… here! Someone stole it!”

2

A half hour later, Gem saw her client out, after reviewing the facts. According to Miss Ronson, she had been out for a girl’s night that very Saturday, but had wound up alone at some point at “There’s Beer Here,” a scuzzy bar christened thusly by a resigned, uninspired proprietor. She’d fallen into conversation with a handsome man in his 20s. Danny, was the name he’d offered. He had chatted her up, bought her additional margaritas and then, (taking advantage of the fact that Miss Ronson was long past tipsy and well into drunky), had walked out with her unsuspecting heart.

And why not? People steal wallets, identities, and kidneys all the time. A stolen heart is no big surprise. Gem Lamour had only been in business for a few months and already had recovered a few hearts, found a bunch of lost reputations, and even helped rescue some kidnapped inner childs.

Time is a factor with stolen heart cases, so that very evening, Gem set out on her quest, packing a green plastic toy gun (confiscated from an unappreciative nephew) in her all-purpose purse.

She was familiar with the scene of the crime: “There’s Beer Here” was a dark dive a few blocks away from her office, wedged between boutiques like a rotten tooth in an otherwise healthy denture.

She headed there like a tornado of righteousness and, ignoring two or three early drinkers hunched over their miseries, made her way to the balding booze-dealer at the far end of the bar. The man shook his egg-like head automatically:

“You’ve got an ID on you, love? ‘Cause you don’t look like you got an ID on you.”

“How’s this for an ID.?” said Gem, dropping the heavy purse on the oaken bar and unzipping it open.

“Whoah,” the bartender jumped back. “Drinks are on the house, love, no need for artillery. I ain’t looking for trouble.”

“Sing me a new one, baldie.” Gem dug into the purse, past the toy gun, to retrieve a plastic badge in which she had printed (you guessed it) “Gem Lamour, P.I.”

“Oh,” the bartender exhaled. “I thought…”

“You’re a thinker, I get it,” Gem interrupted him. “That’s how you lost your hair. Now think about this. You remember Saturday night? There was a man in here, in his early 20s, name of Danny, Dan, Daniel, something like that.”

“How should I know what people are called?”

“You check IDs, don’t you? This was a kid, early ‘20s. Maybe you checked his.”

“I mostly check girls, you know. That’s where the trouble is. Guys, you know, is different. Guys don’t make trouble.”

Gem rolled her eyes: “Bald AND sexist! You’re a keeper, aren’t you? But you’re right. Girls make trouble. So I’m just going to stand here all night making trouble and harassing every single customer, asking them if they know this Daniel guy. By the time I’m through, this place will be deader than an igloo in the Sun!”

“Ok, ok, you gotta calm down, love. Maybe I do know some guy called Daniel, comes here every now and then. What do you want with him?”

“He stole a heart. And I’m not stopping until I get it back.”

The bartender looked appalled: “Whoah! I’m not gonna lie, there’s been some livers killed in here, but I don’t mess with stolen hearts! That’s a bad business! Ok, this guy Daniel, two nights ago he’s here talking to some blonde chick who was drinking me out of business. But not for long. He left early. I only remember because he asked me if there was a pawn shop around here that opened late, and I said: ‘Sure, Frankie’s, open ‘til midnight.’ It’s two blocks south of here.”

Gem covered her mouth. OH NO! A pawn shop! The thief was trying to sell the heart!

3

“Frankie’s Pawnshop” was surprisingly clean, with a glass counter dedicated to pawned memories. Behind the counter was Frankie himself, in the outward semblance of a sweet older gentleman, but when he smiled upon Gem’s entrance she was almost blinded by his gold teeth. She made a mental note: that was the smile of a shark looking for a tender leg to dine on.

“And how can I help you, mademoiselle?” Frankie rubbed dry hands in cartoonish anticipation.

“You can help me by cutting the crap. Saturday night, some guy came in here late, sold you a heart. It was stolen property. Give it to me, and everyone goes to bed early and happy.”

Frankie pursed thin lips: the gold teeth were gone, and the room became slightly darker for it: “Everything here is legal, far as I know. Are you undercover? They’re recruiting in kindergarten now? How old are you?”

“Old enough to know this place is more crooked than the letter S. Where is the heart?”

“I don’t have it,” Frankie said.

Gem glared a formidable glare, and Frankie’s intonation changed:

“I don’t have it, honest! But yes, I do know the one you mean. This man came in here late Saturday night, all excited, wanted to sell me a heart. I took a look at the merchandise and it was a grade-A ticker, the Rolex of hearts… but too pure, too innocent. It was clearly a grab job. I said to him: ‘No luck, pally, you take that heart somewhere else.’ In the end, we made a deal and he sold me his morals instead. They weren’t much to look at, but I felt sorry for him, bought them for 80 bucks. I remember because he insisted on getting paid in singles.”

Gem said: “Did you take down his info?”

Frankie shrugged: “Not really. I mean, who cares about some guy’s morals in this city? He was in a hurry to go somewhere, and I was trying to close shop, so I rolled out the cash.” He grinned, and the teeth were back in business: “Guess that’s a dead end for you?”

A dead end? Not for Gem Lamour, P. I. She mumbled to herself:

“He had somewhere to go? That late at night? And he left here with no morals? And he wanted to be paid in singles?” She beamed: “Bingo! I know where he went! Bango!”

4

“Bango” was a strip club about four blocks away from “Frankie’s Pawnshop.” The place was seedier than a watermelon and grosser than an open sore. Gem held her breath as she went in, hoping there weren’t too many STDs floating in the stale air of the club. She didn’t have to take more than 3 steps before she was stopped by a skinny man with a mustache so thin it looked scribbled on his face:

“And where you going, baby? This gentleman’s club!” His accent was pretty much unidentifiable, like he’d come from some mysterious nation where the main export was sleaziness. “Unless you looking for job? Be dancer, like in Vegas!”

“Yes, that’s what I was thinking,” Gem said. “I walked in here and I thought: ‘Wow, this is just like Vegas!’”

“Oh,” the man said. “I get it. That was sarcasm, baby?”

Gem said: ‘That’s exactly what it was! Now, I need a list of the girls who worked here Saturday night around midnight…baby.”

“Why you got attitude?” The man narrowed his eyes and Gem sensed real menace in there. “You problem with me?”

“I no problem with you, scumbag, unless you problem with me.” Gem narrowed her eyes too. When Gem got mad, it was half cute, and half terrifying. The man knew better than to mess with that:

“Calm down, baby. I appreciate woman with balls. My customers don’t, though. You want to go talk my office, nice and easy?”

“Heck no,” Gem said. “I’ll probably get herpes if I stand next to you too long. Just give me a list of the girls who work on Saturday night.”

“You got search warrant? I no tell if you no search warrant.”

“No search warrant. I got a gun, though. I can jam that down your throat if you want.”

The man nervously slicked his mustache: “You watch too many movies, baby! I nice guy! You want list? Ok, Saturday night? That’s where I have Lexxxus, Britney, Britney-Amber, Butterfly, and Caterpillar.”

“Caterpillar?!?”

“All good stripper names already taken!”

Suddenly, Gem heard a little voice by her side:

“I’m Caterpillar. Is this about the heart?”

Gem quickly turned to see a naked girl with pumped-up boobs, not to mention a face full of make-up and desperation. She felt a moment of sadness for the stripper, then she spent another moment feeling bad about her own comparatively small breasts, and then a final moment realizing the stripper probably made way more money dancing around than Gem ever would at the investigating agency. Her pity disappeared.

“Yes, the heart. The stolen heart. How do you know about it?”

The stripper looked at the mustachioed man, who nodded: “You can talk to woman with balls and gun, I no care!”

Then Caterpillar said in her diminutive, Minnie-Mouse voice:

“It happened Saturday. I was dancing for a guy, one of our regulars. He says his name was Dan, but that means nothing in here, of course, most guys here are liars and have fake names…”

“Like Caterpillar?” Gem raised an eyebrow.

“Right,” the stripper blushed. “Anyway, I had just barely started dancing for this Dan guy, and I sort of sat on his lap and I sensed something throbbing there, and I said: ‘You get excited easily.’ And he laughed and put his hand in his pocket and says: ‘Nah, it’s just this heart I got me.’ ‘Is it your wife’s or your girlfriend’s?’ I asked him, because it was a really pretty, innocent heart. You don’t see that a lot in here. And he said that maybe it was, or maybe he had stolen it. And then he put it away, and I didn’t ask anymore because I don’t like to get too personal. He was cute but also a little mean.”

“That’s ‘cause he had no morals,” Gem said. “He had just sold them for 80 bucks. Did he say anything else, did he give you any other hint? I’m trying to get that heart back to its rightful owner.”

“You can ask him yourself,” the stripper pointed. “He’s that one there, sitting by the stage.”

Gem felt her heart beating. Finally, she’d found the thief! This could be dangerous. A thief of hearts! Who knew what else he had done in his time? Bruised someone’s ego? Stolen someone’s innocence? Killed someone’s relationships, maybe?

She slid up to the man, who was listlessly waving a dollar at a stage in which a woman was pretending to feel sexy. He turned his head to check Gem out, and she saw he was handsome indeed, but in a joyless way.

He said: “You’re new here? You’re cute, but you sure got a lot of clothes on, for a stripper.” He began to hand her the dollar.

“I may not be a stripper,” Gem said, “but I’ll give you a show you won’t forget… Daniel.”

His extended hand froze. He looked her up and down: “I don’t know you. How do you know me?”

“I know so much about you, Daniel. Like, what you did on Saturday night to a poor woman who trusted you. You stole her heart brutally when she least expected it. How did you do it, I wonder? Did you tell her sweet little nothings? Did you lie to her about all the things you two had in common? Did you whip out the L-word? All to make a few quick bucks?”

Daniel’s handsome face took on a panicked look that was very ugly indeed. Gem knew that face: he was about to run, and maybe he was quick, but she was quicker. She took the toy gun out of her purse and pressed it against the back of his neck. The purse fell loudly to the floor. Gem pushed Daniel’s face down against the stage. The dancer on the stage abandoned her pole screaming, with very little sense of professionalism.

“Where is the heart?!? Where is the heart?!?” Gem shouted at the panicking man. (He might have been slightly less panicked if he had known the gun was about as deadly as a baguette, but Gem wasn’t going to share that information.)

“Please don’t shoot me, I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you where it is! I didn’t steal anything!”

“What’s that?” Gem pressed harder.

“The heart! It’s in my pocket! I tried to sell it, that’s true, but I didn’t steal it! She gave it to me! I didn’t even ask! Right away, like she thought I was her destiny or something!”

“What?” Gem was astonished. “Why would she do that?”

“I don’t know, lady! Maybe ‘cause she’s crazy? But I swear it’s true! And I just peed my pants! That’s true too! Please don’t shoot me!”

5

It was Tuesday morning in Gem Lamour’s office. Anne Ronson sat in a chair. Her canary-head was lowered: she was nursing her recovered heart in two shaky hands. Gem stared at her from behind the desk, unable to conceal her disapproval:

“So it’s true, then. You gave your heart away voluntarily. Just like that. To someone you didn’t know.”

Anne sobbed: “It’s true. It’s true. I’m so stupid! I’m soooo stupid, I know! It was so embarrassing that I had to lie about it!”

“You framed an innocent man! Sure, a little skeevy, but essentially innocent! I could have shot him with my gun!” Gem added under her breath: “Or… fake-shot him with my fake-gun.”

“My head was swirling! And he bought me drinks. And he was very handsome. But more importantly, he was nice. Do you know what I mean, nice? It had been so long since I had met someone nice…”

“You don’t give your heart right away to a stranger! Those things are too fragile!”

“I was so lonely, you see,” Anne’s sobbing increasing, and her heart vibrated against her fingers. “Are you so young that you don’t understand how that feels? I thought if I gave him my heart, he would see I was good. I thought he would care. I wanted you to find the heart… and him. I wanted him back.”

“Back? He was never with you! He didn’t care! He just thought you were a needy loser!”

“I am a needy loser!” Anne cried out.

Gem watched her cry. After a few moments she softened up and sighed:

“Naaah. That’s not true. Well, maybe a little. Everyone’s a needy loser when they’re in love. You have a soft heart. But you can’t let people know that! People see one of those, and they like to laugh at them, and step on them. Or steal them.”

Anne showed Gem the heart, crumpled and wet with tears:

“Now it’s broken. I’ll never feel love anymore.”

“Ha, you wish!” Gem stood up and walked around the desk to her client. “If you can cry, you can love. It’s not broken. Just a little bruised. That’s going to heal right quick, and it’ll be better and stronger the next time around. But be careful, and make sure the person you love is actually loving you back, you know?”

Anne looked up at Gem through glittery tears:

“But this hurts so much! It feels like I’m dying!”

Gem gently patted Anne’s heart: “There, there. It’s only for now. I promise you. It will be alright. Everything, eventually, is always alright.”

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