"Look out! Here come yo' Royal Highness, Lena, Queen o' Spades."

Friday night's crowd has swelled. Heads pivot to witness Helene's self-announced arrival—poised inside the offstage door for effect—in ORANGE: orange shoes, orange skirt, orange blouse, orange bandana (a peacock feather perched in its rhinestone clasp). Brass moons dangle from either earlobe. Fantail lashes set off irises (in eclipse). Lipstick dark as plum frames an incandescent smile.

Whoops.

She breaks her pose, stumbles slightly, rights herself, then swaggers, the bar resembling a fun house as she enters; floorboards bend; walls abut at awkward angles; faces leer distortedly; lights grow tails that chase each other, round and round and...

Whoa!

Helene reins in her wooziness and spurs the foul linoleum with three-inch heels.

I've been waiting for a girl like you
To come into my life

Pool balls crack like bones, then tumble—PLUNK—into fishnet pockets; words are reduced to sounds, the jukebox tune to a tinny din; Helene, her pores like swarthy sensors, feels as much as listens, buzzes with bizarre reverberations.

"Heleeeeene? You okaaaaay?"

Lena fine, she starts to say, but something proves distracting.

What dat little stain on Chris's jelly-belly t-shirt? Gots a yella drool. Like what? Like egg yolk took a leak. His belly gross enough wiffout no pee stains. Worse, him nekid. Shuck dem clothes off, navel like a blowhole, likely. See? Underneath no bigger than my toe.

Helene disrobes him; she alone is dressed (from her narcotic viewpoint).

Ooooo. Hang dere like a uncooked link o' sausage.

Vantage shifts.

Michelle! Now dere's a body give mos' parish priests a hard-on. Glue dat pair on me, I tempt the Lord hisself, I could.

Sustaining her delusion, she regards the throng in general.

Sorry bunch, dese flabby folks is. Ugly. Shape' like buff'lo. Figures dey impressed wiff even what's-'er-face.

She drifts... her progress past the stage a ploy to upstage Catherine's dancing, the rabble's focus transferred to Helene's abundant hips, her scent a potent mix of musk and acrid perspiration (that incites the males like estrus); stoned, in heat, her pheromones trail, affording her a slack-jawed, lust-eyed following.

Looky dere. I spies a empty seat.

Direction altering, she navigates the steps that lead from bar to blackjack pit, then nestles her posterior into a vacancy.

Ooooo, don' him look spiffy in 'is birffday suit an' necktie?

Scrutinizing Morgan, Lena puckers, asks for chips. A stack of them appears; she regards its donor.

Dis un's downright scruffy, wiff 'is hairy ches' an' armpits. Lookin' like a chim-pan-zee, in all dat fur. Pugh-ee! Smellin' kinda funky, too.

Her head performs a swivel.

'Less it's him who's overripe. Don' cowpokes b'lieve in soap? 

Refocusing her hopped-up eyes, she sees a card delivered. A second slides and stops beside the first.

"Are dese two mine? Thought dis game called twenty-one. How's come no numbers showin'? "

The dealer gestures 'turn them over.'

"Oh, I 'spose' to flip?"

She walks a pair of fingers out and turns... a deuce... a face card... picking up the latter for comparison.

"Look, it's me; da Queen o' Spades!"

"Your spittin' image."

"Thanks; I likes your necktie." Helene half-stands and pitches forward... "'Specially where it pointin'." ...then rights herself, retreats—absconding with the face card.

"Hey. Hey, wait!"

Disregarding Morgan's protest—senses snapping lucid—Helene recalls the reason for her filching Oscar's stash...

I've been waiting for someone new
To make me feel alive

... a mix and match of pills she rashly swallowed.

Done it wiff dat jailbait, so 's I'd know who's boss, to "learn" me. "Teach" me 's what dat moron meant; I'll kill 'em. Boaf. I swear!

Helene, to drive away the hurt, appropriates a cocktail, downs it in a single draught; the drugs, again, kick in.

"Heleeeeene, you're next."

It's Chris's bitch. Oh, oh, da hairy eye-ball. Better aim dese feet along dis itsy-bitsy crack.

Aware of keen surveillance, she proceeds as on a tightrope... bumping into a tabletop en route.

Who put dis here!?

Circling the obstruction, she notes Chris, as well, is watching...

"LENA!"

... hustling to avoid him...

"GET YOUR BLACK ASS OVER HERE!"

... too late; with penitent reluctance, she complies.

"You drunk or wrecked?"

"I liked you better wiff yo' clothes off, Chris."

"You're history."

"Huh?"

"You heard me. You're finished, fired, unemployed; clear out."

His words are gruff, and Chris will neither soften them nor rescind them.

Michelle, detecting trouble, comes and pulls Helene aside.

"Are you aware of... "

"What's he talkin' 'fired.'"

Helene stands shell-shocked.

"Bummer... Can't say I'm surprised; you do look wasted. What you on? Your pupils look like eight balls, woman."

"Bastard. He can't do dat. Lena gots ta dance."

"Uh, uh; stay put. I'll call a cab."

"I gots ta dance." She points. "Up there. My reg'lars all be waitin'. No one tells a Queen she unemployed. Here, hol' my bag."

Helene eludes Michelle's attempt to redirect her stagger, and wends a crooked course to center stage.

Suddenly, the crowd grows hushed, a show, it senses, imminent—a real one, for a change—attention riveted.

 

 

Morgan's lips...

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