The ladies always played Hearts on Thursday evenings. The four of them had taken to dressing the parts of the four Queens. The only problem with this was that their King was one and the same guy. Yep, it was awkward, for sure.
This is how it was. Imogena always played hostess to the Hearts game, the other three Queens arriving silently in their golf carts at the main house on the big estate where Imogena lived with the King, her husband. He was a big man, a rich man, big enough and rich enough to play the part of all four kings.
The three auxiliary queens lived in small cottages on the estate, the widows of former tenants. The king had bad luck with tenants, regularly losing them to accidents with corn pickers and similar machinery. He felt responsible for their widows and allowed their continued occupancy in the cottages, charging them only nominal rents. Everyone seemed happy with the arrangement, especially Imogena who never lacked for someone to help with the house and garden or to accompany her on her many excursions, widows making so much better friends than if their husbands were alive.
The four queens had a mutual and great desire to keep the king well, happy, and, most of all, alive. That was exactly the case, and no man ever enjoyed more of the delights of life than he. Food, drink, and female companionship: he had a wonderful life. No man happier than he!
Suddenly, everything was about to change. Heat and drought caused all the crops to fail. The king’s bank went under (he was a banker as well as a farmer). The estate was going up at auction, excepting the main house and gardens. It was the evening for good-byes to the auxiliary queens, and coincidentally, it was the evening of the final game of Hearts.
It had always been the king’s habit to make a short stop at each of the three small cottages on card playing evenings for a quick “hello” before each got into her queen outfit and whisked silently the short distance to his house. This evening was no different in his view, except that it was the last. He was a bit sad at the prospect of losing all except his original queen, but, true to his character, he was philosophical about his losses. He was of an age to retire, he had enough money stashed to live comfortably, and he was developing a resistance to Viagra. All in all, he felt he was a pretty lucky man.
Isn’t he forgetting something, I can sense your wondering. And you are exactly right, he was a selfish, selfish man, and he has not taken into account the plight of the three queens who would suddenly be demoted to less than ladies in waiting, less than friends, less than, well, they would be reduced to sudden poverty: evicted from the cottages, too young for Social Security, childless and hence ineligible for Welfare, and as you no doubt are imagining, as they arrived to play the final game of hearts,
ALL THREE WERE AS MAD AS WET HENS.
Probably like you, I initially thought that each of the three out-of-luck queens would attempt in some fashion to dislodge the original queen and take her place on the throne. By “dislodge,” probably also like you, I was thinking of the permanent solution, but what would killing the original queen accomplish? In the first place, bumping her off would make it necessary to also bump off the two other obvious and nearby rivals for the throne. A bit much to attempt for a novice murderess, and in the second place, the death of the original queen provided no guarantee that the king would choose one of the three potential murderesses over the other two, no reason to believe that he would choose any of them at all. A big, rich man as he had been would most likely have more women than that!!
In fact, the three out-of-luck queens had gotten together for coffee that morning and had laid all the cards on the table. They discussed possible solutions. They came up with a marvelous plan that would ensure a happy ending for all four queens!! Can you guess what they came up with?
The queens devised a plan to commit the perfect murder. Even they, the perpetrators, would never know the identity of the murderer. Or, maybe more accurately, they would share the guilt equally. The ladies were desperate, and they were about to take desperate measures.
So, it’s evening, the king arrives home after his three dalliances with (we have neglected thus far to say) comely neighbors, and his wife, the official and legal queen (also comely, and likewise neglected to have been mentioned) is putting the final touches on her costume and make-up; the card table and a fresh deck await the players; the chilled White Zinfandel stands nearby, as do the sparkling crystal stemware and the sterling tray with the beautiful canapes.
It was the custom on Thursday evenings when the queens engaged in their Game of Hearts in the parlor for the king’s dinner to be laid in the study where week after week, he took pleasure in watching the local, national, and international news, Wheel of Fortune – his favorite game show – , then Jeopardy, only because it was on next and to which he paid little attention, and finally, his favorite reality show. A simple man, after all, is said and done, and we might conclude, worthy of our sympathy for what is about to befall him.
The occurrences on that evening were not recognized by the hostess as being different from the now-ritualized Thursday evenings. Though she believed it was to be the last of the games, everything happened the same as always. The greetings as she welcomed the three queens in their costumes, the routine of the refreshments and the playing of the game, all just as in weeks past, for years past. The visiting card players always paid their respects to their host and landlord, and this evening was no different. One by one, they gave him a small hug and a kiss on the cheek. They were out of the room before the commercial break in the local news.
Only three minutes, almost negligible soft little squeezes, which the king if he noticed at all, might have attributed to goodbyes, but only in an unconscious fashion, not enough to shake his concentration on the weather forecast and the upcoming news. Women were one thing, TV was quite another and vastly more important.
At two a.m. when the king was found to be quite dead and not revivable either by the queens, who tried their best or by the EMS ambulance team, the tiny prick in his neck disappeared in the rolls of fat, the three black widows had vanished under the furniture and the remote that short-circuited his pacemaker was never even noticed among the other similar devices on the end table. Sudden death from natural causes was declared by the coroner and the doctor, not surprising for a man of his weight and type-A personality. They said he might have lived for years, but he also could have died at any moment. An autopsy was not deemed necessary, in accordance with recent budget cuts as there was no sign of foul play.
The house was roomy, and the three extra queens were soon ensconced in separate suites, still secondary to the original queen, but happy indeed. After a short period of mourning, they entertained regularly and soon the memory of the big, rich king faded into pleasant memories. The ladies earned a little pin money by growing organic medicinal herbs in summer and making natural wreaths in winter. One of them bred Pomeranians and another kept a few free-range chickens and sold broilers. The other made custom window shades for front door lights and marketed them online.
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