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Queen of Hearts
By Debbie Kasper

"Maybe I could've saved his life," I said sadly. "She came to me, as I'm the only one in the building who was nice to her."

"Her life" corrected Betty Ballerina.

"How do you think I feel?" asked Robert, "I didn't even know she was a prostitute. I thought she was reading palms. I mean she was a little BIG to be a prostitute."

A bit like the pot calling the kettle black, I thought.

By late Easter night, I'd worked the story in my head into a morality tale where she had slid down the stairs and bled to death in front of my door, trying to get me to help her, lifting the last of her strength to knock on my cold door, perhaps crying out "Hel-! Call that number! 9 something. I know I haven't had time to have you over for some crumpets, but you seem like a nice girl."

"If I had been home, which I came really close to being, I would've gotten her help, she would've lived!" I said, eyes moist. "I liked her," I lied. Sometimes to be a real liberal, and to make sure people knew it, you just had to lie about whom you liked. On occasion I'd offer gumballs to the black people's children in line at the grocery store, just so they'd know I wasn't racist. It's okay to snub the whities, as long as you reach out to the Asians and the Sikhs. I always smile at Hispanics when I pass them, and I hold doors for crippled people, rarely letting them know I pity them. But the truth is, I didn't like Chi-Chi at all. Her white frouffy dog yelped constantly, and her doorbell rang like a Mr. Softee truck in July. She was the pied piper of perverted gimps, creepy night-crawlers, and horny old geezers. I preferred the clean little ballerinas who made up most of the building, you never even heard a can opener, or a potato chip crunch from their apartments, and when they did date, the men would always be collegiate and shiny. And there was the one time when the transvestite's sink overflowed and leaked through my ceiling lighting fixture. When I stormed upstairs to tell her, she stood there all a-flutter, in a fluffy robe, holding it shut in the front, like I wanted to peek.

"Good heavens! Oh my," she had brayed, her voice trying to cling on to a woman's register, while her Adam's apple betrayed her. When I went into the bathroom to see that the tub was indeed overflowing, and spilling gallons of water onto the floor, she froze. She motioned with her eyes that I was the one who would have to take control and turn the water off, while she vamped there in feathers and boas, a bloated Blanche DuBois, depending on the kindness of this stranger.

But she wasn't sorry enough, and I knew she was turning tricks in the building, so I ratted her out. I called the landlord, and told him that one day my buzzer buzzed, and I let a short ugly old man into the building who knocked on my door by mistake, screaming, "Is the redhead here?"

"Oh, is that what color that's supposed to be?" I said.

"Yes -- the 'redhead' is indeed here, she's upstairs, in 3N. I'm the dishwater blonde in 2N, so keep climbing, fuzzy-boy." He had eyed me up and down with little interest and passed on upstairs to the whatever color that is - head. I knew he'd be sorry once he got there. Even if he liked transvestites, he wouldn't like this one. She was a linebacker. So I bolted my door quickly, in case he decided that I wasn't so bad after all. That's when I knew that Chi-Chi was turning tricks. Right upstairs. The landlord told me I had to get some hard evidence.

"The constant stream of balding old men going up and down the steps isn't evidence enough?" I screamed into the phone.

"She could be selling Tupperware," he suggested feebly, "you don't know. This is America." He was Polish, and was not above slipping into his first language when the questions got uncomfortable.

I had given this information about the encounter with the hairy man to the cop, wondering if that perhaps could have been the man who moidered her. McCool didn't seem to care much, didn't even offer to send an artist over so I could have him sketched. No, I didn't like her, but still I could've saved her. That's what liberals do, I thought.

"Would you have opened the door at three in the morning for a bleeding transvestite?" asked Tina, a teacher who lived in the building, and had just joined our stairwell meeting.

"Probably not," I sighed. "Thank God I was out.

"It was awful." offered another hungry-eyed ballerina. "The cops had him roped off like a sideshow. They left him lying there all night, still bloody, mascara dripping down his cheeks, stab wound in plain view, skirt hiked up around his chest and his boner still erect, like a tent pole!"

"We were held hostage by a dead woman's boner," said Betty. They wouldn't let us pass on up to our apartments." I came home -- I was on a first date -- and the place was a crawling circus!"

"You'll never hear from that guy again," I pointed out. offering her a thin mint to soften the blow. The stairwell meeting broke up, and we all gave one another meaningless hugs, knowing we might not all be together other again for months.

As I lay in my bed that night, packing my apartment in my head, I worried for a moment about Chi-Chi's mother. How in the world she would ever know that her poor 'daughter' was dead? I also wondered how long it had been since they'd even spoken. I wondered if she'd ever been able to brag to her bridge club about her daughter. I thought about how lucky I really was.

By Wednesday's bridge club, my own mother had spun the story with her own flair. "If Debbie had decided to drive home after her gig, she would've come face to face with the stabber! She could've been murdered, too. Maybe he would have stabbed out her eyes, so she couldn't identify him! One spade."

"She's sure lucky, that Debbie. Two hearts," said Nancy.

I've got nothing. "I'll pass," added Mary Ann.

"Maybe a nice single man will move into that apartment above her," said Ellen. "Or is Debbie still dating that bank robber?"

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