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Queen of Hearts
By Debbie Kasper

I had actually missed the whole stabbing opera. I was mercifully away at my gig in safe Princeton, New Jersey, a culture away -- 45 miles out of Manhattan. I almost drove home at 1:00 AM after my set, but stayed at the hotel at the last minute, to revel in the oversized bed with the extra channels the hotel TV had to offer. At approximately 2:00 a.m., Chi-Chi had apparently belly-crawled down the two flights of steep steps in our pre-war walk-up, and bled out in front of my door on the chipped, off-white tile floor, apparently trying to knock for help.

Robert, the bum who lives on the stairs in our lobby, saw nothing. We call him a bum, but he drinks Perrier, and sleeps by scented candlelight every night sprawled across our lobby steps, under his tattered winter coat. He opens the door for me when I stumble home sloshed, sometimes lecturing me about how I shouldn't drink so much or stay out so late in the mean city, that I should love myself more than that. He doesn't like any of my dates, and has no problem asking them what their intentions are when they stumble home with me. Most of them intended to wake up with a hangover, and get on home.

Robert weighs about 300 pounds, with a stomach the size of a bean bag chair, leaving us all wondering how he could afford to feed that lumpy beast. He has a wrapped bum leg, swollen to the size of a side of beef. It looks like someone wrapped the leg up with a crutch in it.

He claims he has a lawsuit brewing and pretty soon we'll be seeing the last of him, but he'll still swing by and pick us up in his limo if we want. He's been living in our lobby for over a year and generally knows what time everyone comes home, who runs out for what at what time, but he saw and heard nothing about Chi-Chi. He is a sound sleeper, and quite often I'd have to shake him hard to wake him up when I got home, as his bloated body made it impossible to pass through the lobby over his sprawl. So we all assumed the moiderer stepped right over him.

"That just make me wanna fro up," said Robert. "It's time for me to find a safer place to live. This is a dump. I can do better dan dis."

I sensed the cop was winding down with me on the phone, so I turned Nancy Drew, "Do we have any leads?" I. pressed.

"We think he died because his John didn't care for his schlapinki," said Office McCool. "Can't really blame the guy. Most Johns don't like dicks on their whores, if you'll excuse my French. That makes one too many as far as I can tell," he said in an accent suddenly thicker. "I wouldn't want a hooka wid a dick, would you? Would jew?"

"No!" I said quickly. It was a no win question he'd thrown my way. A bit unfair, really, I thought.

"Did you know she was a he?" he asked, as if he were romancing me.

"Yes Sir, I did." I always call cops "Sir" lest they ever decided to turn an investigation towards me, or haul me in. I hadn't done anything to be hauled in for, but how could we know for sure? I'd seen all the corrupt cop movies in the '70s. I saw Serpico -- twice -- and never looked at my city's finest the same again.

"Well, Sir, she had a beard. And she was really, really big. And, uhm, there was hair on her knuckles. And she had a deep voice." I said, trailing off, wondering how quickly I could pack up and leave.

"Sounds like you two spent a lot of time together."

Suddenly I felt like I was on the phone with the block yenta, not the desk detective from the 128th precinct.

"She wasn't very pretty or anything," I continued, "I mean she wasn't even a good looking transvestite. She looked a bit like a redwood in a dress."

"A redwood in a dress!" laughed McCool. He covered the phone and started throwing my simile around the room at the precinct.

I asked if they thought they'd find the guy that did this heinous thing.

"Nah," he said, as if I'd asked if he wanted a schmear on his bagel. "We don't really care about a Hispanic transvestite prostitute. Good riddance we say, good riddance. These people eventually extoiminate each other, and then themselves, if we let them go. If only we could get the rats and the roaches to toin on each other too, then we'd have a nice place here for decent folks to live."

"Then why did you call me? Why are you gathering evidence," I asked, already knowing the answer: He was a yenta, and even he had never -- in his life -- seen a dead Puerto Rican transvestite hooker. This was bigger than both of us.

"File," he said as if I should have known. Ah yes, the "file," the proverbial file. I remembered all about files from watching Hunter reruns.

I joined the neighbors gathering in the lobby stairwell, relaying to them that the cops didn't give a rat's ass about our moidered transvestite.

"They left him lying there all night. You're so lucky you weren't home," said Betty, a dancer who lived upstairs. I hadn't spoken to her since I organized the rent strike the fall before. She's a ballerina-in training at Lincoln center, with a ballerina body, long and thin like pulled rope, her hair brushed back in a tight ballerina knot, and sunken cheeks. I liked to offer her cookies, just to watch her eyes weep as she said no. I doubt she'd had a cookie since Jimmy Carter was president, and she was so self-absorbed I doubt she even knew that a Jimmy Carter was president. I never saw any of the ballerinas in the building except on their way to their rehearsals, which was all the time. They'd prance bowlegged down Columbus Avenue, like graceful praying mantises, passing all who got in the way of their dreams. They made great neighbors.


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