FRESH YARN presents:

Queen of Hearts
By Debbie Kasper

I guess if a Puerto Rican transvestite hooker ever gets stabbed and bleeds to death in front of your apartment door, you really shouldn't brag about it, even if it is Easter. But I couldn't help it.

"You are one lucky gal," my mother said as if I'd just been nominated for a Peabody Award. "Everything happens to you, Debbie. Wait till I tell the girls."

"Well I hope I don't get murdered, too!" I screamed back into my end of the phone --never a shred of motherly concern from this lady. "This isn't Des Moines here! What if I'm next? People die every single minute in New York, you know!"

"I can't hear you, my garbage disposal is on," she shouted over the sound of grinding eggshells. "Call me later -- after Jeopardy."

My mother always made out like she had no control over appliances that were on, like maybe she had no hands, or even the skill to turn things off. So we'd just have to wait for them to run their course. Sometimes an electric carving knife would interrupt a rare intimate moment between us, and my mother would act as if "what are ya gonna do?" rolling her eyes, a helpless victim of modern technology. "I can't hear you, I'm using my battery-run eyebrow plucker," or, "I'd like to chat, but the new electric weed whacker is whacking the lawn and I can't stop it."

Sometimes it felt like Mom was merely taking my calls so she'd have something to say to "the girls" at bridge club.

By the next morning, she'd already be on her second polish of the transvestite stabbing story, in time for Wednesday bridge club, which was really just a suburban "open mike night" with cards. Ellen, Mary Ann, and Nancy would all sit there, sipping their dry Manhattans, in their faux pearls and polyester, swapping silly stories about their kids -- none of whom will ever even dare dream to have a transvestite hooker bleed to death on their Manhattan doorstep on Easter, or any other holiday! Mom would wait for the perfect moment, sometime between the second and third highball. She'd throw the cards into her electric card shuffler, while Nancy would speak above the dull hum of a buzz, blab about her bourgeois daughters who were both married and breeding. My mother would nod politely, unable to hear her and wait quietly, until someone would ask, "So what's new with Debbie? Is she still dating that bank robber?"

"No, but a transvestite hooker bled to death knocking on her door. Two spades."

I'd actually only had one date with the bank robber almost two years before, but they just could not let it go! I'd even unwittingly dated a child molester since, but my mother couldn't twist that one into a light enough story for the girls.

"Where in heaven's name did she meet a bank robber?" they had asked.

"At the bank. Trump!" my mother had said. They all laughed. Then they all worked it -- She was making a deposit, he was making a withdrawal. Well, at her age she can't be too picky -- at least she knows where he is nights. And on and on.

Oh they were funny those four, during their afternoon roasts, posing as bridge games, one club. And I would always be the girl that dated a bank robber. Until now. A dead transvestite trumps a bank robber.

The cops had labeled the transvestite's death as an occupational hazard, lecturing me on the phone from his precinct saying that, "He died 'cause of his lifestyle."

"Her." I said

"What?" The cop asked .

"Her lifestyle, I said. Her lifestyle. He's a her."

"But she had a penis. That was as much a man as me, except for the bra -- double wide," he snickered.

"But he wanted to be a woman, she called herself Chi-Chi and referred to herself as 'she'. I think since she took the time to stuff herself into a Betsy Johnson jumper, the least we can do, is call her a 'she.'"

"We ain't gonna be calling her at all, Mrs. Kasper, "she's stabbed dead."

"Ms. Kasper," I corrected. "It's what she wanted," I persisted.

"I bet what she really wanted was to not be dead," he replied.

I told Officer McCool on the other side of the cordless that I was scared for my life. A personal promise of mine was that if anybody in my immediate nucleus was ever a victim of a violent crime, I was 'sayonara.' It seemed a good time to move out of NYC. I told the cop I was thinking about moving out to LA right about now.

"LA? Why so you can get drive-by shot by a gang member? Better to stay here and get mugged. And FYI, don't worry, the chances of another moider in the same building are a bit unlikely," he said with a hint of a chuckle. "You're actually really lucky, you're in a good spot. The chances of two people living in the same building, statistically -- both getting moidered, are about a million to one. So unless you're a prostitute, too? Hey, why were you out so late?" he asked suspiciously. "Where were you last night?"

"I'm a comedian, I work nights."

"Yeah don't we all?" said officer McCool. "Life's a bitch and then you die," he said, stealing from a tee-shirt. "The chances of you getting raped in the subway are far greater at this point, as well. So take the buses, and walk. But don't move to that sunny septic tank with palm trees. My sister's kid moved out there, joined a cult, and changed her name to Raisin. Didn't even come home for Christmas."

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.

"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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