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The Case of the Missing Hat-Check Girl
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The Case of the Missing Hat-Check Girl


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A short story in the Ben Hurley Private Detective series.

A short story in the Ben Hurley Private Detective series.

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  • This short story was inspired by former hat-check girl, Katrina. There were two emotional grips in writing this story; one based on fact, the other based on conjecture. In fact, the last time she kissed me good-bye I failed to tell her I loved her. The failure plagued my thoughts for some time and yet to this day. Never, ever withhold such a confession. You never know, it may be the last opportunity. By conjecture, I discovered the agony of losing someone by saving them when I wrote this story. The quintessential romantic paradox. Enjoy; there are more to come in the Ben Hurley Private Detective series. Comments are welcome.
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  • 1. She was the hat check girl at Jimmy Greco’s Supper Club. It had been a while since Ihad seen her. Then my buddy at the Ironwood City Police Department, Captain HarryWadsworth, called me. I just about drilled a hole in the wall with the ameche when he gave me thenews. She was missing. Her mother called from two counties over and reported she hadn’t telephoned thisSunday evening past; an unusual event that led to the discovery she was gone. In fact, Harrybelieves she has been missing since Memorial Day, celebrated on Saturday, May 30th this year inthese parts. Though it’s now only the middle of June it may not seem too long an absence to you;for me, it’s an eternity. Let me tell you, Mister, in the supper club business there are dames and then there aredames. This dame was special. I knew it the first time I met her. In fact, she made it her personalvignette to know me. She introduced herself one night when I sauntered into Jimmy’s jointexpecting business as usual. However, she made that visit to my favorite haunt anything but usual. You need to know one thing about me; I don’t like change. Sure, I like to go to Jimmy’smost Friday nights. I like the music. I enjoy a quiet meal at my regular table; maybe a bootleggedwhisky on the rocks or two, even a Fox Trot with an available hostess here or there. But, I didn’tlike the change in the hat check girl; not at first anyway. I was used to the Italian doll. Now I’dhave to get to know a new dame. It was like having to fall in love all over again. Hell, she may notlike a crusty old fart like me; especially if she knew I was a private dick. Jimmy always let me in his joint packing heat. He knew my list of enemies numberedonly slightly less than his own. He instructed Bo Barton, his doorman, not to pat me down or askwhether I was carrying. “Trust Ben,” Jimmy would tell Bo, “he’s got my back.”
  • 2. That’s my name: Ben, Ben Hurley to be precise; licensed private investigator in the stateof Michigan. I am a frequent visitor to Jimmy Greco’s Supper Club; have been since hell thoughtabout freezing over. Jimmy and I go way back. I’ve taken care of more than a few problems forhim: a gambling debt needing collection, a roughneck getting inappropriate with one of hishostesses, and even a cowboy who was trying to ride the last hat check girl, Gina. But, Jimmywouldn’t owe me “nothin’” for this one. Nope, even as I hung up with Harry about her coming up missing I knew I’d handle thisone; no matter what it takes or who I’d have to take down. I knew I’d break any law that got in myway, too. I was committed beyond my own existence, beyond my own welfare. That’s what thatdame meant to me. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Admittedly, the first night we met I was tentative; shewas sure. In fact, let’s just say from my bent it was a dismal introductory night. I didn’t knowwhether there’d be other nights or what they might entail. That’s what change does to me; itconfuses me. Frankly, Mister, I didn’t know on that first night she’d eventually make me fall forher. Now don’t go around town telling anyone I said so, but she’s the kind of girl Ben Hurleycould settle down with. Don’t worry about it, though; she’s too beautiful for the likes of a dick likeme, private or otherwise. Quite simply, though, we just love each other; fell in love somewherealong the way—snuck up on me like a Mickey.
  • 3. That’s why I knew after I hung up with Harry I’d be taking care of business. I knew theroscoe, my 1908 vintage Smith & Wesson .44 Special, was ready to come to my aid if needed; but Ididn’t want to burn powder unnecessarily. I just wanted to get her back. Let me tell yousomething, Mister, in this business you have to use your head first and your gloves and bullets last.There’s always someone with bigger knuckles and bigger gats. Your ace in the hole is out-thinkingyour enemy. Resorting to violence is your cause of last resort. No matter how I felt about her; the love, the demands now prevailing on my ownexistence, I’d have to remain level-headed or lose the vig in dealing with these assholes. I owed itto her; to saving her life. I knew it’s the only way I’d find her and deal with whoever kidnappedher; though I’d already had my ideas as to who, why, and what they wanted. I suppose I should fill you in on her and me and how we got this far down the road; themost unlikely romantic cabbage. On the first night she worked Greco’s hat check counter, shepractically grabbed the lapels off my trenchie to introduce herself; then she racked the batteredluggage for later retrieval. While I was displaced with Gina’s absence, I was immediately takenaback by this babe. Sure, she was pretty; had fire in her eyes. And, goddamn it she had nice titsand ass, too. Don’t misunderstand my appraisal; to some she may have been just another doll.But, in my book I could tell she was special. I had just never seen such a mixture of fire and desiretargeting my set of ancient bones.
  • 4. Sure, the lines in my face told her I live a hard life. And sure, the bulge underneath myjacket told her I was an asshole mitigator. But it didn’t stop her. She seemed to come on to melike a freight train out of control. She introduced herself, “I’m Victoria, Jimmy’s new hat check girl.” “I go by Ben; Ben Hurley to be complete about it.” I smiled with crooked lips tastingher presence. “Well, then Mr. Ben Hurley, I’m Victoria Parsons; also to be complete about it,” sheout-smiled me in retort. “Shall I call for the Captain to get you a table?” She enquired. “I know the way to my table, Sweetheart,” I moxied back to her. Hey, I had to let thenew gorgeous dame know I had some importance; even if I had trouble finding it myself on a dailybasis. “Jimmy and I go way back. He always reserves table 23 for me every Friday night.” Ieducated the beautiful and young Victoria Parsons. “Very well, Mr. Hurley, let me know if there’s anything else I can get you,” she finished. “Maybe a Fox Trot later, Sister; if you have the time, that is.” I spoke directly into hereyes. “Maybe I will, Mr. Hurley; just maybe I will,” she playfully acknowledged.
  • 5. What is it about old farts and change anyway? I remember my aging parents, God resttheir souls, struggled against the demands of change. “Those youngsters ought to get a job and earna dollar the old fashioned way,” my Pa would bleat against the changing times. “There ain’t nosuch thing as a goddamned free lunch,” he continued from the pulpit. But, Victoria opened my eyes that first night. Maybe change ain’t so bad after all. Justmaybe Victoria Parsons ought to patent her formula for ordaining change in such a timeless joint asJimmy Greco’s Supper Club. It might just enliven things around here. I found table 23; I could find that chunk of wood in the dark. Hell, it’s been my table forthe past 15 years of Fridays uninterrupted. The persuasive Clarissa had my bootlegged CanadianWhisky on the rocks waiting for me before I sat down; bootlegged Canadian Whisky being justabout the only avarice allowed this side of the Montreal River. You have to admire that kind ofservice, especially when it comes in the form of a cocktail waitress shaped like Clarissa. Don’t getme wrong, though; Clarissa and I have an understanding. I won’t fall in love with her so long as shedoesn’t fall in love with me. But I’ll tell you what, Mister, if her cocktail dress gets any shorter andher neckline plunges any lower, falling in love with Clarissa is a fait accompli. I know; I’m talkinglike a stereotypical private dick again. With my first sip of whisky, Victoria’s face returned to my mind’s eye. Thinking aboutnothing, but nonetheless thinking, I began sizing her up. It was like the image of her was frozenindelible. I sat there looking toward the hat check cubby hole. You would’ve thought I could seethrough the damned wall the way I stared at it. She was relentless; had me filled with curiosity.
  • 6. The combo started playing my favorite Fox Trot tune—Let It Rain, Let It Pour; recentlyrecorded by the Meyer Davis Orchestra. I secretly wished Victoria was available to dance. I heldno other desire; no other feast could have satisfied my hunger at that moment. I just kept thinkingabout her. She was making me sink like the goddamned RMS Titanic. I wasn’t comfortable yet. I didn’t want her to think I was coming on to her; didn’t want tohurry her desires either. Most importantly, I wanted her to trust me; I wanted her to trust me withher life so she’d bring any troubles come her way directly to me. You’d better believe I’d quashthose little bastards like a mosquito annoying my ass. That pretty much sums up the first time I met Victoria. Hell, I don’t even rememberfinishing my supper. I probably had the lamb or the duck; my two favorites. I couldn’t even tellyou whether Clarissa plied me with one or more whiskies to run up her tips. I wouldn’t have caredanyway. Clarissa knows she’s mine to take care of; to support her and her nearly orphanedchildren. I do remember with great reluctance I returned to the hat check counter that evening toretrieve the flogger. Victoria couldn’t have had any difficulty finding my rag, it was the tattered onewith a mixture of grease and blood on the left forearm; remnants of a fight with a wrench wieldingmechanic. She smiled as she delivered the folded material over the counter. I tossed a fin in herjar; winked and took the essence of Ms. Victoria Parsons into the taxi with me. “Uptown, Mate,” Ihollered, “the Ironwood Hotel.”
  • 7. That’s right, Mister, I live in the luxury of the Ironwood Hotel. What the hell do I needan apartment or house for? I live by myself; no damn dog to care about either. The IronwoodHotel suits me just fine. After all, most of my cases involve shit in the seediest part of town. So, Ifigured I may just as well dwell in the middle of it. “Victoria probably wouldn’t like my lifestyle,” I considered as I dismissed her essence forthe night. “Go on,” I thought, “get back to where you belong. She needs you.” I watched as heressence skated streets yet slick with ice like it was an Olympic champion. I’m sure it could find itsrightful owner in less than the blink of an eye. The warmth settling the night was all the persuasive evidence my suspicious siderequired. I fell asleep unconcerned over Victoria Parson’s welfare that night. Little did I knowthere would be other nights where concern wrote sleep interrupted a relentless measure unfolding.“Sleep while you can, Ben” I dreamt to myself, “sleep while you can.” That first night occurred almost a year ago. I considered the time intervening as I staredinto my morning coffee. I’d have to wait for the rats to come out later in the evening before Icould go knock on some doors, and maybe on some heads. I knew I’d bargain, bribe, or beatinformation out of every weasel, mole, or erstwhile homeless son-of-a-bitch who might havewitnessed things about Victoria’s disappearance. That gave me a lot of time to think. It gave me somuch time to think I knew I could afford recounting our relationship and still have plenty of timeleft over to think about current events. There just might be a clue in things that transpired betweenthat sexy ass dame and me over the past year.
  • 8. One thing you need to know about Victoria: She’s a very loving woman; not just a damehustling business at Greco’s club. It wasn’t too long after she started checking at Jimmy’s when shestarted hugging me good night; though her counter intervened between me and a full body press.As I told you, I’m a private dick. I get that close to such a looker, I want to move in; slam the doorand lock it shut. How could there be chemistry between such a young beauty and an ancientartifact, especially one aged for over two centuries? Wisdom failed solving that perplexing case.You can see that, can’t you, Mister? The routine progressed. Her face seemed to bring her lips closer and closer to minewhen we hugged and said our good nights; good nights that became a privilege ordainedinescapable. Her lips were getting incrementally so close to mine with each parting I had to finallytake the plunge. You know what I mean, Mister, Carpe Diem and all that? Now there are first kisses and there are first kisses. This first kiss didn’t make the hall offame. I was all thumbs. It was like her zipper jammed and I had to bust it open. But, hey, don’tmake that Victoria’s fault. I accept responsibility for my shortcomings. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to kiss her; but the honed detective in me had to foreseewhere this was going. I was held hostage by my own excited prognostication: the vision of hernakedness portraying the evening’s passion undressed in my arms. Hey, what’s the purpose of akiss anyway, Mister? Now we’re on the same page—you and me, that is. Keep reading. I regainedvirility’s promise as my shortcoming turned to a romance transcending refinement.
  • 9. The kisses heightened sensuality previously unknown to me. I could see electricitydancing on her face as her lips drew near mine. I swear that’s true. Ever see electricity dancing ona dame’s face when she got to be in such close range? It was her habit; Victoria’s signature.Now, the engineer in me had to do some calculating. While I’m no Tesla, I figured where there’selectricity there must be a connection to a hydropowered dam somewhere. Know what I mean,Mister? Hang on; if I haven’t told you already, I’m one hell of a private dick. I can snoop out acrime scene better than any of Harry’s shoes. It wasn’t long after her kisses started falling like proverbial manna that I grew tired oflooking at the wall separating the hat check cubby hole from the dining room and lounge. I’dsneak over to the dining room entry door to spy on Victoria. I wasn’t being nosy about herbusiness. I just wanted to absorb more of her. I watched how she sat waiting for the next customercoming in the door. Sometimes she’d stand up, shimmy her long brown hair loose and run her fingersthrough it as if modeling a cover photo shoot; all the while her arms crooked with elbows out. Itwas glamour revealed; a sensual glamour where the perfection of her lips, the heat of her breasts,and the crescendo of her ass formed a perfect alignment. I’m telling you, Mister, I know what Isaw. I’m a witness before and after the fact and I’d testify about what I saw in any goddamned opencourt before God and every nonbeliever in Ironwood City.
  • 10. I watched her do this time and again. She only did it when she must’ve thought no onewas watching. She’d lift her face toward the stars as if receiving a blessing to turn loose her passionsfor the pleasure of Heaven’s lost souls. All the while, though, it was like she was hiding glamorousintimacy from the pangs of world hunger. Yep, it was her secret. She was sensually glamorous andshe didn’t want anyone to know it. I was sure of it. The conclusion is inescapable. After all, I am alicensed snoop in the state of Michigan. I should know. A few months before she disappeared, Victoria agreed to come to Greco’s privateanniversary party. That meant she wouldn’t be working the hat check counter and we’d get in a lotof Fox Trot time on the club’s postage-stamp floor. I was excited and Victoria was eager. When Iwalked into the lounge that night, she was already waiting at the bar; all gussied up, surpassing herpreviously defined boundaries of style. I didn’t hesitate; I took her right to the dance floor. Thistime I was holding the glamorous Victoria Parsons in my arms with no hat check counter betweenus. I refused all temptation to molest her on the dance floor; that degree of difficulty one ofthe hardest I’d ever confronted. But, as I told you, Mister, she’s a special dame; particularly sincebeauty’s definition is now supplanted by a secret begging public disclosure. Victoria waxedeloquent the entire evening as I taught her the secrets of a woman’s most natural dance. That’sright, Mister, I am convinced beyond the pale God ordained the Fox Trot every woman’s twinsister.
  • 11. Other than a blizzard of dances shared with Victoria during Jimmy’s anniversary party, nonew incremental cabbage came between us. Apparently, though, romance must have blossomed inVictoria’s heart. I dropped into Jimmy’s a few nights later in the middle of the week. I didn’t expect tosee Victoria, as she only worked Thursday through Saturday nights. But, when I walked into thelounge she was chatting with other ladies at the near end of the bar. I was excited to see her, even ifdancing would involve Fox Trots played out only to recorded music. As I walked up to say hello, she recognized my approach. She turned to greet me andtook a step to close her body into mine while her right arm reached up around my neck. As thebreath of her words escaped her lips, “Hello, Ben,” her lips closed in on mine. I was stunned. Shewalked right in between my heart and soul and kissed this aging sack of bones like there would beno tomorrow; not even a hint or a promise of a tomorrow ever arriving again. She was thatdeliberate.