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Presenting the
Best-Selling Works Of
Patricia Nell Warren

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The Beauty Queen

Image: Book Cover

The Beauty Queen
By Patricia Nell Warren (1978)

ISBN: 0964109980

Add to cart Paperback 5" x 8" | List Price: $14.95

Chapter One | Liner Notes | Author Notes | History | Reviews |

Chapter 1

It was going to be a beautiful June day, Jeannie Laird Colter thought.

Another God-given day for her to pray, and then to agonize about when, and if, God would answer her prayer.

It was one of those summer days in Manhattan when you could sit in a penthouse garden, as she was doing now, and have the illusion that you could see forever; that you could see to the Second Coming, and the fiery end of the world. In reality, the smog had lifted today so that a person could see out across Manhattan to the Jersey flats, and the nearest shores of Long Island, and the green rolling country of upstate New York.

But in this life, things were never what they seemed, were they? God had made the real world, and Satan had made illusions. So a nice day like this had to be one of Satan's tricks. She did not dare put too much stock in this nice day.

Her father's penthouse garden, on top of the high-rise apartment building on East 69th Street, was one of her favorite places, and it certainly did give her a good view of the most amazing and frightening city on Earth.

From where she sat at the wrought-iron breakfast table, toying restlessly with her empty juice glass, she could let her eyes leap along the horizon and see all the great suspension bridges, the Triborough, the Queensboro, the Brooklyn, the Verrazano, the George Washington, even the little Willis Avenue bridge up in Harlem, that linked Manhattan Island's insanities with the rest of the world. Psychiatrists, in their godless and detached scientific way, agreed with believers that big cities like New York were a magnet for psychotics. Sometimes she wondered why she still linked her life with this evil place. Maybe it had something to do with her mother, who had managed to keep her innocence in this valley of the shadow of death.

It was 9 a.m. that summer day. The morning sunlight struck fiery reflections from the windows of tall buildings facing the sun. On the East side the FDR Drive was a river of fire, as sunlight ricocheted off the thousands of cars jammed there. Down in the streets, people teemed like ants; her husband Sidney was down there somewhere, on his way to the New York News building downtown. And every one of those ant-like persons carried a staggering burden of sin, and had to be saved.

She raised her eyes to the west. Far out in Jersey, where industries dotted the flats, a black column of smoke rose, filling the whole sky there. In reality it was probably a fire at a tank farm, near one of the refineries. But the menacing cloud made her think of doomsday; her imagination swept her closer to it, so that she could hear the rumble of flames and the screams of sinners. Thank heavens this would never happen to her.

"More juice, sweetheart?"

Her father's deep voice broke in on her apocalyptic reverie.

"No thanks, Dad, this is fine," she said, forcing a smile.

"You won't gain any weight back that way," he said.

"Maybe God wants me to be skinny now," she said, giving the smile another try. "Anyway, I weigh the same now as I did when I was nineteen."

Her father returned her fake smile with a real one. Sitting across from her, William Laird was reading Barron's with all the attention that one of Manhattan's biggest real-estate executives would give it. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal lay, already read and folded carelessly on top of Fortune and Dun's, beside his half-empty cup of coffee.

At sixty-one, with a net worth of over forty million dollars (mostly in real estate), she thought, her father could allow himself the luxury of morning coffee, and a 10 a.m. arrival at his downtown office. Bill Laird was not your typical businessman with relentless drive and a cardiac arrest coming up. He knew how to soften up a little and enjoy lifeãa quality that was somehow un-Baptist and un-Christian, Jeannie thought. Yet she had never actually known him to backslide. He was, well, a gentle and low-key Christian. That was all right, wasn't it?

Her father was dressed up this morning; he was wearing the black pinstriped suit that she had always admired. Often he slopped around the city in old slacks and sweaters with the elbows falling out, carrying blueprints, and his horned-rimmed glasses sliding down his nose, looking half in a dream. His face, still faintly tanned from a week in the Florida Keys a month ago, was lined in all the right places, giving him an air of one of those dignified handsome middle-aged models in the New Yorker ads. Standing six foot one, he had the rugged look and lonely eye of a yachtsman, and in fact he did have a silly thing about the sea.

In a few minutes, he would leave for the office, and then she would have to go home and decide what to do with her day. She would have to sit in her suddenly hushed study, and read what was left of her mail, and brood on all the things still undone.

"You're quiet today," said her father.

Jeannie sighed.

"It's starting to get to me a little," she said. "I really have to get myself together. I pray and pray. I read the Bible like it's going out of style. But somehow . . . nothing happens. That has to be my fault, of course."

Her father put down his Barron's, and refilled his cup from the sterling antique coffeepot on the table.

"After what you've been through, there's no need to rush things," he said.

She rested her eyes on him thoughtfully. Taking it easy was not really a Christian concept, was it? It was curious that she should find herself questioning him.

"I've drifted long enough," she said, a little sharply.

Her father's frank brown eyes, which had mesmerized so many New York clients and politicians into doing what he wanted, now fixed firmly on her. She found that she could not meet his gaze, and dropped her eyes.

"Sometimes," he said softly, "you think you're drifting. But God sees the river, and all the bends it takes, and the ocean where it's heading."

A rush of warmth went through Jeannie. How could she have doubted her father's faith? She smiled, a real smile this time.

"Now you know why I come trotting over here for breakfast every morning," she said, grinning. "To pick up some crumbs of wisdom from your plate."

Her father threw back his head and laughed his hearty laugh; she had always called it his bear laugh.

"Why don't you come with me today," he said. "Today's the big day we close on the South Street property. Maybe I could tempt you to taste just a drop of champagne with me."

Jeannie considered. The thought of shuffling papers down on South Street, about which her father had talked just a little too much, didn't fit with her doomsday mood.

"Oh, I just feel like being quiet and thinking today," she said. "How about dinner tonight?"

"Not tonight," he said. "I've got a dinner engagement."

"A lovely lady, I suppose?" she said.

She was always jealous that some other woman would replace her mother. God should have put the word "remarriage" in the seventh commandment along with the word "adultery."

Her father laughed again, not so heartily this time.

"No," he said, "a client."

Jeannie shrugged and picked up his copy of the New York Times. She never asked about the clients he had dinner with. They were always dull people who talked about zoning and sewers.

She scanned the front page quickly, expertly. The Times was an infidel rag. But she would have to get back into the old routine of reading it, as well as other papers, and briefing herself on the news. And if things started going well for her again, she'd have aides who would brief her. Good aides were the key to everything these days.

In the lower righthand corner of the front page, there was a modest headline that read, gay rights bill to be revived in city council.

Jeannie knew very well what "gay" meant. And it did not mean "happy."

A slow prickling rush went over her; the kind of rush she thought she might feel if she ever saw Satan face to face. She had the feeling that Satan did not look like the pictures in books; a fierce-looking android with horns and bat wings. No. Satan was legion, the way the Bible said.

He was a mass of lost souls, seething like maggots, as huge and as dead as the moon spinning through space. And many of those lost souls were homosexuals; more and more of them, these days, sucked into that dead mass by the forces of gravity peculiar to their condition; liquor, drugs, the evil dances in their bars, and most of all by their own perverse willfulness to ignore the written Word of God.

Jeannie shook her head slowly. "The homosexuals never give up," she said. "They're starting it again, right here in town."

Her father looked engrossed in Barron's, and for several moments he did not look up. Suddenly he said mildly, "What, sweetheart?"

Jeannie's mind was already off and running.

"The pervert bill," she said. "Councilman Matthews is introducing it again. How that pervert-lover got elected, I'll never know. You know, that's the bill that gives them the right to teach in schools, and live where they please, and so forth."

"Why worry about it?" said her father, burying his face in Barron's again. "It always got voted down before."

"Dad, did you ever knowingly sell a building to homosexuals?" she said.

Barron's came down slowly, and her father stared at her.

"What?" he said.

"Well, did you?"

He put the paper down on the table. "Sweetheart, I don't pry into the sexual secrets of my clients. I'm sure that even my, uh, heterosexual clients have secrets that wouldn't bear examination."

"If every decent person refused to sell to them, or rent to them," she said, "they'd have to leave town. They'd even have to leave the country."

"Sweetheart, many homosexuals aren't identifiable as such. How would you know them?" He sipped at his coffee. "What got you off on this tangent?"

"Tangent?" she said. "This is no tangent, Dad. The sexual perverts never give up. That's the fourth time they've tried to get that bill through the city council." She was still skimming the article. "It says here that the homosexuals have been lobbying with the unions and the police force and the firemen, and that this time they are optimistic about getting the bill passed, if one can believe the Times."

Her father looked engrossed in Barron's again. But suddenly he said, "They're very stubborn, aren't they?"

"Who? The homosexuals or the firemen?"

"The . . . homosexuals. If only they could be true Christians, they'd be very staunch soldiers for Christ, wouldn't they?"

"Well," said Jeannie crisply, "they'd have to give up their perversions first, and be born again."

Her father was riveting her with his eyes again. "That goes without saying." Suddenly he smiled. "I haven't heard you use your speechifying tone of voice in a long time. Good to hear it."

"Well, the news item just got me stirred up," she said. "Honestly, I don't know why we go on living in the city. There're so many perverts here that they even talk about the gay vote now."

Her father's smile had vanished perceptibly, as if a cloud shadow had passed over his face.

"If you go back into politics," he said, "you'll have to consider that vote."

Jeannie was sitting bolt upright. "Maybe there is a gay vote. But if that bill was voted on by the people of New York, it'd be defeated by a landslide. All the homosexual lobbying would be for nothing."

Her father was laughing again. Suddenly Jeannie had to laugh, too.

"You think," she teased, "that I am thinking of running for office again, don't you?"

"All I think," he said, "is that my little girl is getting back to her old self again."

He returned to his Barron's again. Jeannie went back to her gazing around.

The penthouse garden was a picture of affluent peace and quiet. Graceful white birches, weeping willows and flowering crabapple trees grew in giant granite containers. Along the gravel paths, hybrid tea roses and tuberous begonias spilled their red, pink and yellow velvet flowers everywhere. Near the sliding glass doors of the living room, a moss-stained antique marble fountain dripped serenely into a small pool where a few butter-yellow water lilies floated. Her father had put in the garden two years ago when he moved here. He was so fussy about his garden that every day a greenhouse crew came up to spray or wipe the pollution particles from every single leaf. She loved this garden, and wished her father would never give it up. There was definitely something unstable in the way her father moved all the time.

The morning sunlight came down on her with a peculiar force. She had prayed, and waited for God's call, but He had made her wait. When He did send her the call, in her mind, she would see plainly that it was His call and not something of her own impatient making.

All during this past year, as she struggled to put her life back together, she had wondered what lay next. The brush with drinking, and the nervous breakdown, and her decision not to run for state senator again, had all made her realize how far she had drifted from the simple faith of her childhood, when her mother was alive to guide her. She had refused to enter a clinic for treatment, because she was afraid it would hurt her political career. Both Sidney and her father had been amazingly understanding and helpful, considering how difficult she had been. And then had come the rush of light, the renewal of faith, the conviction that she had been born again, the offering of her life to Jesus Christ.

Suddenly a thought came flaming down into her vacant mind with the force and light of a meteor.

"Dad, what about politics again?" she said suddenly. "Do you think I have a chance?"

"Why not?" he said, taking out a silver cigarette case, extracting a Camel, and lighting it with his silver lighter.

"I mean," she faltered, "if Nixon could make a comeback . . . and I have a good record. I fought everything in the world. I fought gambling and off-track betting and drugs and pornography and prostitution . . . ." She wrinkled her nose at the cigarette smoke.

"You even got the disco across the street closed," said her father.

She smiled. "Don't tease me, now," she said. "I'm very serious. I'm not thinking of running for the legislature again. I'm thinking of running for governor."

Her father put the paper down again. This time she had his full attention. He looked straight at her, and this time she met his eyes unflinchingly.

"Why shouldn't I think about it?" she said. "Heavens, Jimmy Carter's staff seriously considered a woman for vice presidential nominee. There are a lot of women mayors. Men have made such a mess of city politics and state politics that maybe I'd succeed where they failed. Besides, my experience is here, not in Washington. I have an edge over people who have been in Washington and then want to come back and run for governor. Finally! I'm from New York City, so maybe I could end the feud between New York and Albany!"

She leaned back in her chair, stretching luxuriously into the warm sunshine.

"And maybe, after I've been a good governor of New York, I'll think seriously about running for President. You need five of the eight big states, and I'd have this big state right in my apron pocket."

Her father was grinning, showing all his even white teeth. It was the way he smiled when he had closed a big real-estate deal.

Jeannie felt herself sinking down into the sensuous warmth of well-being.

"And I think I'll start my comeback," she said, "by working to defeat that disgusting homosexual bill."

Her father was suddenly looking at his watch, and folding up his newspapers, and sliding them into his black pigskin Gucci briefcase.

"That's an odd issue to make a start with, isn't it?" he said.

"No time like the present," she said crisply. "It's something that's going to be in the news for the next two weeks. They'll vote at the next meeting. The people of the city are going to be up in arms about it. Besides, people know exactly where I stand on every other moral issue. That's the big difference between Jimmy Carter and me. Besides the fact I'm a woman and a Yankee. I've never been the least bit fuzzy on issues."

Her father was looking at her intently as he shut his briefcase.

"No," he said. "That's true. Not in the least."

Bill Laird studied his daughter's face from across the breakfast table. It was a round, soft face, and it was framed, as if in a Victorian watercolor portrait, by the graceful trailing branches of the weeping willow on the uptown side of the garden. But the expression in her brown eyes was anything but soft and sweet.

She had always been like that, ever since she was a little girl. She always knew exactly what she thought and exactly what she should do, and she was far more stubborn and intransigent than the homosexuals she talked about. The one exception had been that period starting two years ago, when the pressures of trying to be a successful wife, successful mother and successful politician had gotten to her. She had faltered, cracked a little like an old building wall from heavy stresses. She had started drinking a little too muchãnot an alcoholic, mind you, but definitely too much. She hadn't been sick enough to be hospitalized, but she had closeted herself at home, and she had expressed doubts to him that she didn't express even to Sidney.

That strength of hers, that stubbornness, that drive, had always been disturbing. Now he was actually frightened at the way this new resolve might affect his life.

How clearly he remembered her, skipping rope on the sidewalk outside the Good Shepherd Baptist mission on Joralemon Street where her mother had worked long days as a volunteer. She had always brought home A's from school. Then suddenly she was a high school student, queen of the prom, one of the few girls in her class who didn't smoke pot and who wasn't pregnant at graduation time. Suddenly she was a senior with the lead in the senior play, talking about a career as an actress; a nice actress, mind you, like Dale Evans or Debbie Reynolds. Suddenly she was working days as a secretary and going to acting school at night, and he would meet her outside the school to drive her home no matter how late it was. Suddenly she was Miss Subways, and her round sweet face was smiling down from the ad racks on every subway car in the metropolitan area, competing with the cigarette ads and the gang graffiti for the passengers' attention. After that, she was Miss New York, and landed a job in a TV series where she played a very nice nurse. And after that, runner-up to Miss America, and movie actress. She had wanted to make a career in family pictures, and refused to play any sexy roles. But family pictures hadn't done too well, so she finally left acting.

That was when Nixon's 1972 Presidential campaign moved her to get into politics. Besides, her mother had finally made her ashamed of living amid glitter and innuendo.

She brought into politics the speaking skill and the vital presence onstage that she had learned before the cameras and on the beauty-contest runway. From volunteer fund-raising work in New York State for Nixon's campaign, she had risen swiftly to two successful terms in the state senate. She was one of that new race of politicians who were bred in the media, and one of the youngest women state senators in the country. Even now, at thirty-nine, she looked more like twenty-nine or thirty. Even now she was the darling of the New York News, who had loved her ever since the Miss Subways days, for the wholesomeness and innocence of her arch-conservatism. In fact, Sidney, a refugee from the Life staff when the magazine folded, had gotten his first job at the News largely because he was her husband.

Looking at her now, Bill Laird had the uneasy feeling that he had created a beautiful and beguiling monster. And monsters always took a few swipes at their creators before the last reel of the movie.

Of course, he had nothing to reproach himself for. He had lived mostly according to his lights. He had been an attentive and loving father, and he had beenãas far as he knewãa devoted husband to Cora. Even in the business world, he had tried to conduct himself according to the family's Baptist faith, although he was a liberal Baptist and had never really felt born again. He had acquired his modest fortune (modest if you compared him to J. Paul Getty) by shrewd but legal business dealings, and he always paid his taxes.

It was strange to look back over the years and see it all beginning; he with his dad's little real-estate office in Brooklyn Heights, and Jeannie skipping rope in front of the Baptist mission. He could actually sit here on his rooftop, and look down the East River on a clear day, and fancy that he could make out the rooftop that had sheltered their third-floor apartment in that old brownstone shadowed by the Gothic towers of the Brooklyn Bridge.

No, he had not built grandly in that city. He had not raised any World Trade Center on that horizon. But he had saved many modest and beautiful rooftops, for he had pioneered the trend of recycling old commercial and factory buildings and turning them into living space. He had built well and God knew that. Surely he had nothing to fear from God.

But he had much to fear from Jeannie, and this sudden new idea of hers.

At the end of the movie, just in the nick of time, the creator always managed to destroy his monster. But he didn't want to do Jeannie in. After all, how could he?

He got up from the table, zipping his briefcase shut, and forced a smile.

"If I linger any longer with my darling daughter," he said, "I'll be late, and Mrs. Voeller will be mad at me." Mrs. Voeller was his secretary.

Jeannie got up and kissed him softly on his cheek. He kissed her back. "Can I drop anything at the cleaners for you on my way home?" she said.

"No," he said. "Will I see you this afternoon?"

She appeared lost in thought.

"I miss the children terribly," she said. "And God knows what unholy mischief they're getting into. I might drive upstate and see them for a few hours. Sid and I could come over after dinner, though."

She always talked as if Sidney never had any plans of his own, Bill thought.

"All right," he said. "Drive carefully, sweetheart."

As he strode toward the glass sliding doors of the living room, he thought about the home he was going to make for himself on the South Street property. Soon he could finally move out of this soulless glass apartment tower. All his life he had moved around the city like a nomad, and finally he was going to have a house that was truly his own.

He looked across to New Jersey, and noticed the immense cloud of black smoke for the first time. Fire, he thought, and flinched all over. Right away, the only thing he could think about was Marion pinned in the wreck of the Lotus at Le Mans.

Marion was the "client" he was having dinner with tonight. He wished he was having lunch with Marion instead. Maybe he would call from the office, and try to change their meeting to noon. He was anxious to talk about the new development with Marion, who had colder nerves than he did. Maybe Marion would tell him that everything would be all right.

Far downtown, on Bedford Street, in the west side of Greenwich Village, Mary Ellen Frampton and Liv Lavransson were sitting in their more modest rooftop garden, enjoying a grittier glimpse of the same view.

The old brick tenement was only six stories, but it did give you a peek at the tops of the towers on the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, as well as a closeup of the gloomy crowded Wall Street skyline just to the south. As Mary Ellen stirred her instant coffee and added a little more raw sugar, she sadly studied the neighboring rooftops with their crumbling brick chimneys and flues, and their similar efforts at little gardens.

Mary Ellen and Liv had lived on Bedford Street for a year now. The whole building was gay, as were many buildings in this part of Manhattan. All the tenants, both men and women, had worked at fixing up the garden. With the New Yorker's thrift and skill at scavenging, the tenants had found some old unmatching ironwork chairs and a low table, which had been left at various curbs to be carted away. Mary Ellen and Liv had painted the furniture in blue, red and yellow. Barry and Phil, on the fourth floor, had found some old wooden milk-delivery boxes, which now spilled geraniums and petunias brought from the garden shop where Phil worked. Magda, on the second floor, worked in a decorator fabric shop, and had contributed the rainbow-striped canvas, which was now stretched on tall frames around the garden's edge. The frames cut off the depressing view of the nearby tarpaper roofs, with their dust, pigeon shit and broken glass. Even Jerry, on the ground floor (though he was a little richer than the other tenants and had his own tiny back-court garden) had contributed an extra garden hose, and everybody used it to water the flowers and keep the dust sprayed off of them.

Barry and Phil had just left for work, clattering off down the stairs, so Mary Ellen and Liv were left to enjoy the rooftop morning by themselves.

Mary Ellen had been enjoying it, till she picked up her Times and saw the article about the gay rights bill.

It was an exercise in futility, she thoughtãthe bill would get voted down again.

She slumped back into the blue ironwork chair and stretched out her long lean legs in their ripped-off denim shorts and blue sneakers. She was off duty today, so she wouldn't have to pull the hot blue uniform pants up over them. She and Liv had picked this apartment because it was close to the Twelfth Street post office where Liv worked as a mail sorter. It was also comfortably far from the boundaries of her police precinct on the East Side, where Mary Ellen was known as Sergeant Mary Ellen Frampton, AKA "Sarge" and "Cuffs." Her .38 Smith and Wesson service revolver and her smaller off-duty handgun were downstairs in the bedroom drawer.

The two of them had lived together for over two years now, and Mary Ellen was always amazed at how loving someone got better and better. Right now, the only thing wrong with her life was that she couldn't be open with her superiors about being a lesbian, and that she was not officially welcome in the American society whose law and order she had formally sworn to help uphold. That was a large thing to be wrong in her life.

She had met Liv while still a rookie. She was on a weekend upstate with three other women, visiting a woman who had a lovely old house in Rhinebeck overlooking the Hudson. That morning, Mary Ellen had gone out to get a gallon of milk, and Liv had come striding up the shady street, carrying her heavy mailbag like it was nothing. Her uniform was crisply pressed. Her mailperson's visored hat set off her baby-blue eyes and her white-blonde hair in its strict little bun. Her sweet Scandinavian face with its china-white skin was trying hard to tan.

The mailperson swiftly looked Mary Ellen up and down with a look there was no mistaking.

By the time Mary Ellen was able to get her breath back, Liv had gone striding on up the street.

But the next morning, Mary Ellen waylaid the smiling young mailperson and struck up a conversation. This led to her contriving to be invited to Rhinebeck another time.

She learned that Liv had come to the United States as an exchange student in psychology, decided to stay, and become a citizen, but had been unable to get a job because of over-crowding in her field. She was staying in Rhinebeck with an aunt and uncle, also Swedish-born, who were good somber churchgoing Lutherans. She was neither butch nor femme, but a kiki, in her naturalness and dislike of role-playing. And Mary Ellen, under her own uniform, was also a kiki.

One thing led to another, and Liv left her quiet upstate town and moved to New York with Mary Ellen. There, she found the U.S. Post Office unwilling to put her on the street as a mailcarrier again. So she took the next best thing, working on the noisy high-pressure mail sorter. Mary Ellen was so dizzied by love that she barely passed her exam for sergeant. Liv and the police force; they made things almost perfect. Mary Ellen loved her work on the force with a passion that was almost physical. As a rookie she had made her markãher first arrest was eight white males with a stolen car and drugs. She had handcuffed the boys in pairs and brought them all in. In court, as each perpetrator admitted that he, too, had been arrested by Police Officer Frampton, the judge was unable to suppress a smile. After that, Captain Bader had nicknamed her "Cuffs." She had never yet killed a person in the line of duty. Police Commissioner Benny Manuella had told her that she was one of the main reasons why he had (grudgingly, of course) changed his mind about putting women officers on the New York streets. Mary Ellen liked to remember that moment in the PC's office, and how she had nearly burst with pride. Too bad her dad was no longer alive, to be proud in his own way. It would have made two generations of police sergeants in the Frampton family.

But now Mary Ellen sat frowning at the New York Times, and some of the pleasure was going out of her day. "Law and order," she thought. "Oh, how I believe in that. But law and order doesn't include me and Liv. On me and Liv, it's open season. It's a person-hunt."

Sitting on the other side of the table, Liv was fluffing her long hair out in the sun, drying it after her morning shower. The hair dryer was going, with the extension cords that led down to an outlet in the apartment; that hair dryer that, often at night, wore ribbons and feathers and became an instrument of love. Liv was a fanatic about cleanliness, and showered and dried her hair two or three times a day.

"What is it, Mary Ellen?" she asked.

Liv was so sensitive to Mary Ellen's moods that Mary Ellen often had the sensation that her thoughts were being read. This was usually a nice sensation, not at all scary. But today, somehow, it gave her an eerie feeling. She recognized that someday, she might think a thought that she'd want to hide from Liv.

Instead of answering, Mary Ellen tossed the paper across the table, making their tabby cat, Kikan, jump down. She pointed at the article.

Liv studied it briefly, then shrugged.

"Someday it will pass," she said in her soft, correct, accented voice.

"I'm not so sure about that," said Mary Ellen.

Liv picked Kikan up and the cat relaxed in her arms. Kikan, too, had been scavenged off the street as a starving kitten with huge eyes and legs like toothpicks. Now she was a great solemn adult mackerel tabby. Liv loved cats fiercely, and always said that they were aloof because "they know most people believe cats cannot show love, and they don't want to exert themselves."

"But it is a question of the Bill of Rights, no?" said Liv.

"Most Americans interpret the Bill of Rights as applying only to themselves personally," said Mary Ellen, just a little bitterly.

"But so many American cities now have such a bill, no?" said Liv.

"Sure," said Mary Ellen. "But now the backlash is starting. We'll have to fight like bastards just to defend those laws. Those laws can always be repealed, you know."

She sipped at her coffee slowly.

"It's ironic," she said. "When the force sends me out on the street, they give me a gun, right? If some person tries to blow me away, I can blow him away." She said this reminding herself that, as yet, she had never killed another human being. "But supposing some perpetrator tries to blow me away on the moral plane, right? Not take my life, but take my dignity and my career and my money and maybe my lover, too, right? And I can't do anything. I'm supposed to turn the other cheek. I'm supposed to be like a lamb led to the slaughter."

Liv's eyes were shadowed with pain. She had absorbed much of the somber steady churchiness of her family, and on coming to New York had gravitated to the Metropolitan Community Church on Seventh Avenue, as there was no gay Lutheran church group in the city yet. Mary Ellen, for her part, had retained much of her family's somber Presbyterian faith, especially that of her father, though she wasn't as churchy and spiritual as Liv. The two women's strong belief in their own dignity had led them, quite naturally, to attend the MCC's gay worship services.

But Liv's answer was not a theological one, but a practical one.

"Mary Ellen," she said, "if you think so much about this, you will go crazy."

"I know," said Mary Ellen. "I know."

They sat silent for a moment. Mary Ellen's eyes drifted along the Wall Street skyline, and noted the great black smoke haze rising over New Jersey. An oil fire, she thought. Part of her mind was instantly in her cruiser, taking the radio run, tearing along the streets at Code One speed, responding to such a scene. Part of her was directing traffic at the fire, assisting firemen, helping injured people, holding back crowds.

"You know," she said, "it's incredible that no lesbians ever get really violent about this. Or gay men either, for that matter. I mean, really violent. Not just yelling and demonstrations and stuff."

"What do you mean?" asked Liv suspiciously.

"I mean, straights get violent with us. Straight gangs beating up gay people coming out of bars. And all the quiet violence, like firing us from jobs, and not giving us insurance. And all the verbal violence. CaIling us human garbage, and so on. And we yell a lot, and we march, and we write letters to the editor, and we take out our hostilities by fighting a lot among ourselves. But we don't hand that real violence back."

Liv shrugged. "God says not to kill," she said. "Just because they kill doesn't give us the right to kill. Why should we stoop to be on their level? We should be better than they are."

"That's true," said Mary Ellen. "All I'm saying is, sometimes I'm surprised that gays don't go bananas and take a little revenge."

Liv was looking straight into Mary Ellen's eyes. "That is very dangerous thinking, Mary Ellen."

Mary Ellen flushed a little. She was not even sure why she was flushing. But she felt curiously like a little kid caught beforehand, in the pre-meditation of doing something naughty. In fact, she didn't even know what that naughty thing was. Liv had divined the thought, whatever it was, before she herself had thought it.

"I'm not thinking anything," she said. "I'm just saying that I'm surprised I never catch a squeal to go to such and such a block, and some gay perpetrator is sitting on the roof playing sniper because she or he's fed up. With all the fed-up homosexuals in this town, you'd think it would happen all the time. But it doesn't."

To cover her mysterious embarrassment, she got up to water the plants.

Very industriously, she turned on the faucet and started to spray the geraniums gently. It made Mary Ellen feel a little better, washing the city pollution off the flowers.

But Liv wasn't through with her yet. With Kikan now sleeping in her arms, she looked at Mary Ellen as steadily as a clairvoyant and said, "Tell me, Mary Ellen, looove. You have the pistol downstairs. When you lose control, who will you shoot first?"

Mary Ellen stopped dead with the garden hose in her hands. The stream wet the striped canvas screen behind the geraniums. She stared at Liv, shocked out of her mind.

"Are you crazy?" she said. "Me lose control?"

Then she recovered herself, on seeing a mischievous sparkle in Liv's blue eyes.

"Well, let's see," she said. "Uh, I'd have to make a long list. Who would I shoot first? I dunno. But I'd go down the list one by one."

Mary Ellen scratched her head, burlesquing the moment with an attempt at low comedy. She stood pigeon-toed, and let the hose spray on her sneakers. Liv started to giggle.

Suddenly Mary Ellen swooped at Liv, yanked her up out of the red iron chair and hugged her, lifting her right off the deck. This was no easy feat, because Liv was as tall as she, five foot nine and weighing 135 pounds. Liv screamed with laughter and let the cat fall gently from her arms. Mildly offended, Kikan stalked off and sat in the shade of the geraniums. Then the two women stood hugging each other, a lesbian hug, breasts between breasts, groins grinding softly, as they rocked warmly back and forth.

"I do not think," said Liv, "that we should spoil our day off by planning assassinations."

They held each other's faces, and gave each other a kiss on the lips.

"Neither do I," said Mary Ellen. "How about something special for breakfast? Strawberries are forty-nine a pint at Gable's."

Jeannie Colter strode out of the elevator, carrying her mail. Her heeled patent-leather sandals clicked on the marble floor of the tiny fifth-floor foyer. She unlocked the door of her apartment.

It was that rare thing; a sunny New York apartment. The beautiful old building on East 68th Street was tall enough that it rose above its relatives, and it was narrow. So the windows on both sides of the big living room poured in sun all day long instead of giving a closeup look at the dingy brick wall of the next building. She had bought the apartment after she and Sid got married, with a tax-free money gift from her father, and Sid had said he liked it okay.

Now the sun slanted in strongly from the east, across the sofa and chairs upholstered in a prim brocade of tiny flowers. An antique American china clock sat ticking on the mantel of the green marble fireplace. By the windows stood Sid's contribution to the room (several huge plants that he had bought at Terrestris) ferns, palms. Jeannie hated potted plants, because they were always dropping dead leaves on the floor. But she had decorated the room, so she had to let Sid have something, at least.

Her tall antique secretary desk stood against the north wall, beside the sofa. Moving with swift ease, she sat down on the plain Shaker chair, and sorted through her mail. Usually her aide, Gertrude Utley, did it. Gertrude still came up for a few hours a week, usually in the morning. But today Jeannie was looking for something specific. The usual - fan letters, bills, letters requesting political support, junk mail addressed to occupant. Her small neat well-manicured hand ripped open the envelopes, jerked out the letters, tossed them impatiently aside when read.

Just what she'd been looking for: three invitations to speak. For months now, she had refused all such invitations. But now she needed one that would provide the perfect occasion for the speech she wanted to makeãthe speech that would launch her comeback.

Then she picked up the little white Trim-Line phone and punched the musical numbered buttons.

"Mrs. Haley? This is Jeannie Colter, calling about your invitation. Oh, why, thank you. Yes, of course . . ."

Mrs. Haley's voice bored in her ear, apologizing for the last-minute nature of the invitation. They had invited someone else months ago, and the dignitary had been taken ill.

"That's quite all right," said Jeannie. "I happen to have the date free, and the Y.W.C.A. has always been very close to my heart."

When she'd hung up, she sat thrilling in every nerve with a strange excitement.

Events had been set in motion. All she had to do now was write the speech, and of course discuss it with Tom Winkler, her old campaign manager, and with Reverend Irving too, and her father and her other advisers. The News would cover the opening of the new Y.W.C.A. in Queens, of course, and Jeannie would contact her old PR man to stir up the other media. A week from now, her name would once again be all over the newspapers and the TV news.

A few minutes later, she was striding out the door again, a little silk plaid scarf tied over her hair, dark glasses in place. Her heels clicked more purposefully than ever on the marble floor, and her car keys jingled in her hand.

It was a beautiful God-given day, and her children had better be angels, up there in the country.

Bill Laird was telephoning, too. He was behind the massive captain's desk in his office on Canal Street. His face was set as he dialed the familiar numbers. As he waited for the call to click through, he was so tense that he didn't even doodle on his memo pad.

"Rolls-Royce, good morning," said a female switchboard operator voice.

"Marion Rhodes, please," he said.

Another click, then the so-familiar English voice.

"Rhodes here," said Marion.

"Hi, it's me," said Bill. "Are you free for lunch today?"

"Afraid not." A slight pause. "Is it important?"

"Yes."

"I can cancel then." Another slight pause. "You sound rather upset."

"I am. It's Jean."

"Oh dear. Not drinking again, I hope?"

"No, nothing like that. I'll tell you at lunch."

"All right. The usual?"

"Twelve-thirty, at the Sumptuary," said Bill.

Mary Ellen and Liv were walking along Christopher Street, arm linked warmly through arm. Since they were in the West Side gay ghetto, no one even so much as glanced at themãpeople just brushed by.

Walking arm in arm was a reckless thing to do.

The two women had just browsed through the streetside vegetable market, Gable's, and had lingered lovingly over the display of melons, artichokes, even sun-ripened tomatoes. Liv was wearing faded jeans, huaraches and a plaid Indian cotton shirt, and carrying a brown paper bag with two pints of strawberries in it. Mary Ellen was wearing brown slacks. Inside the pant leg, strapped to her ankle in its small neat holster, was the short-barreled .32 automatic that she was required to carry off duty, in case some emergency might require her to act as a police officer. But, devoted as Mary Ellen was to her job, she liked to draw a fine clean line between her on-duty self and her off-duty self. Here in the West Village, far from the boundaries of her East Side precinct, she could be herself.

Mary Ellen had always worried a lot about running into police officers from her precinct while she had her arm around Liv. Only three of her colleagues knew she was a lesbian. One of them was her partner, PO Danny Blackburn, who was gay himself. She knew about PO Blackburn because she had run into him at a Metropolitan Community Church coffee hour. Their first reaction to each other was deep suspicion (each thought the other could be a "shoofly," or police internal-security agent). Then after a little spirited kidding around during which they threatened to bust each other on moral charges, there was a tacit agreement to keep each other's secret. Danny became her partner on patrol. With time, Mary Ellen grew to feel a deep bond with Danny. He was like a kid brother and she had never had a brother. He was among the very few men that she and Liv knew well and trusted, and invited to their home for socializing.

Now Mary Ellen and Liv strolled west on Christopher Street, looking into the windows of shops, admiring a book cover here, a leather vest there.

"You like that, huh?" said Mary Ellen.

"I loooove it," said Liv. She had a way of saying loooove that always tore at Mary Ellen's heart. "It is Kikan, no?"

"Sure looks like Kikan."

"It knew I would be walking by," said Liv. "It was in another store, and it flew here so I would see it."

They went into the shop. A few minutes later, they came out again. The painting was circa 1800, and the shop owner wanted $750 for it. Liv had a small tear in her eye, and she looked at the painting again before they walked on.

Mary Ellen hugged Liv against her side, trying to comfort her.

"Someday we'll be filthy rich," she said, "and I'll buy it for you. Because at the price that perpetrator is asking, it's still gonna be there ten years from now."

She hoped that no shoofly had seen her hug Liv. But life wasn't worth living if you had to be that scared.

At the station house, she had cultivated the image of a super-cool young woman who gave her all to her job and didn't entertain at home. The straight officers had never visited her apartment, and they knew only that she lived with another working girl (a thing so common in New York that it didn't arouse suspicion in itself). On top of that, she and Danny let them think that they were dating each other.

Often the two of them were convulsed with laughter when the men in the locker room and the women at desk jobs hinted fondly that they were waiting for wedding bells to ring for PO Frampton and PO Blackburn.

THE BEAUTY QUEEN © 1978 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.

Image: Book Cover

The Beauty Queen
By Patricia Nell Warren (1978)

ISBN: 0964109980

Add to cart Paperback 5" x 8" | List Price: $14.95

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