Hell's Belle

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After Ed received a three-year prison sentence for drug possession, she finally got clean, thanks to her friend Big Chris, whom Walker describes as "a big biker mama."

"She'd barge into my house, searching for pipes, straws, my stashes, weed — whatever I had, she'd find it and toss it," Walker says. "One day she'd had enough and came in and told me, 'You know, I brought somebody to see you.' I didn't want to talk to her, and told her I didn't have time for her bullshit, but she said, 'You just walk down the hallway and meet this person, and if you don't wanna talk to them, we'll both leave.'"

Walker discovered Big Chris had set up a huge mirror for her to witness the damage she'd done to herself.

"When I saw myself in that mirror, I dropped to my knees because I didn't recognize the person looking back," says Walker, wiping tears away. "All I could see was a terrible monster who'd lost the will to live."

Big Chris spent the next two weeks providing constant care while Walker detoxed, and although she's been clean ever since, it wasn't the end of her troubles.

In 1994, Walker was managing a biker bar in Bear, Delaware, when she witnessed members of the Pagans Motorcycle Club, an outlaw biker gang, brutally assault another patron. She says prosecutors threatened to hold her in contempt of court if she didn't testify, and gang members promised her she'd wind up dead if she dropped dime on the witness stand. Faced with this lose-lose scenario, Walker fled to Arizona to be closer to her mother, who'd moved to the Valley in 1976.

It was here that she'd ultimately find true love, as well as redemption.

Walker says she believes in serendipity, which is why she thinks her meeting Terry Earp in 2001 was a product of pure kismet.

The local playwright was on break from rehearsing her popular play about legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (who was the great-great-uncle of her husband) at the Apacheland Movie Ranch in Apache Junction, when she visited a small curio shop operated by Walker in a rented space at the park.

The pair struck up a conversation about the former stripteuse's beautifully bejeweled Native American-themed burlesque costume she wore in her glory days and kept in the boutique. Earp was eager to learn about her past, particularly since she was working on a possible play about aging ex-strippers but needed some expertise on the subject.

Talk about coincidences.

Earp convinced her to serve as a consultant to the production, which eventually transmogrified into Have Tassels, Will Travel after Walker's life story was so spectacular that the playwright put aside her previous idea and focused on her new friend.

"Her story was so fantastic that briefly I wondered if she was making it up," says Earp, who's also documented such local legends as notorious restaurateur Jack Durant, "but then as I got to know her and see her pictures, I was convinced she was telling the truth. I've never had any reason not to believe her."

In the same year she met Earp, Walker finally came face-to-face with Vic Crotwell, the 49-year-old lesbian from Kansas she'd been flirting with over the Internet for a year. Although their online conversations were friendly at first, things began to heat up and Walker wanted an offline encounter, and invited Crotwell to visit her in the Valley. The two had instant chemistry and she demanded Vic kiss her within minutes of meeting her outside an Apache Junction motel.

"Vic has become my friend, my muse, and my angel," Walker says. "And she remembers more things about my life than I do."

But a renewed love life wasn't Walker's only renaissance. Have Tassels, Will Travel has been performed not only in Phoenix, but also at burlesque conventions across the country.

The alt-culture crowd has taken a renewed interest in the art form in recent years, with troupes like Scandalesque and Black Cherry Burlesque in Tucson popping up. Heck, even the notorious alt-porn Web site Suicide Girls sponsors a yearly revue.

The revival has also led to plenty of gigs for Walker, who brought her fire tassels out of storage to perform at such events as Tease-O-Rama in San Francisco and the Feathers & Fringe Festival in Houston.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.