Crime undermines our city every minute of every day, but the threat of crime is in some ways more upsetting. When people live in fear, and walk in fear, and don't get any sense that the police care about that fear, we all lose.

A woman who works on Vermont Avenue NW certainly knows what I'm talking about. As she left her office the other night, between 6:30 and 7, a homeless man came up to her and asked her for money. The woman declined and kept walking.

As the woman walked west on L Street, toward the Farragut North Metro station, the man followed her. Three times, he got right up in her face and told her that he was about to make her "the next homicide victim in D.C."

The man never mentioned or showed a weapon, and he never put his hands on the woman, although he did bump her slightly. But he nevertheless succeeded in scaring her very badly.

Instead of continuing toward the Metro station, the woman decided to seek help at the nearby Madison Hotel. At the front door, the man finally left the woman alone. She went inside and called 911. The operator assured her that a cruiser would be there as soon as possible.

When no cruiser had shown up after several minutes, the woman called 911 again. This time, the dispatcher snickered at the woman and said there was no way to tell how long it would take a police car to arrive.

Finally, after 90 minutes went by and no police car had turned up, the woman gave up, hopped in a cab and went home. There, she tried 911 again, with much better success. A pair of officers came to her home and took a report. However, they said that because no weapon had been involved, there probably was nothing they could do.

Thus, the woman becomes one of those urban casualties that never shows up on TV. The beggar now knows where she works and what she looks like. He may well hassle her again -- and the next time, he may go beyond mere words.

If that happens, who's going to help her? Who's going to protect her? Who's going to take her seriously when she says she's 5 feet 2 and 100 pounds, and the man is eight inches taller and maybe 75 pounds heavier, and she finds this threatening?

We could go around and around about the correct way to handle the problem of homelessness in our society. But this isn't a simple story of a guy who's down on his luck or in love with the bottle. This is a man who threatened to kill someone.

But when police never show up, and operators snicker, we are telling this woman (and all others like her) that we'll take their fears seriously only if they get shot or killed. It's the same old disheartening story. In today's Washington, the police no longer prevent crimes. They merely sweep up after them.

I can't believe that every police officer in Washington is too busy to cruise past Vermont Avenue and L Street, find a "regular" who always wears a green sweat shirt and tell him to knock it off. Such speeches really work sometimes. But if the police never even try, where are we?

The woman in this story wants to live in River City, not Dodge City. But if she gets the sense that she's all alone every time she sets foot on a D.C. street, it'll no longer be a question of how much confidence the woman has in the system. It'll be a question of how soon she can order a moving van.

Edward Tralka, of Bethesda, wanted a cribbage game. Now he's got several dozen.

In response to Edward's request, I asked you readers for help in locating a local club or a person playing cribbage regularly.

The club turns out to be the local chapter of the American Cribbage Congress. It meets each Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Cameron Station Officers Club in Alexandria. Phil Babcock runs the show. He's reachable at 202-287-3338 (office) or 703-941-8206 (home). Phil says all cribbageites are welcome, regardless of experience or skill.

Meanwhile, many individual players left their names and phone numbers with my answering machine. I've mailed that information to Edward. Many thanks to all who responded.

Who said Halloween was for rapscallions and ruffians? Shari Lawrence Pfleeger had an experience at her Northwest Washington front door that couldn't have been more warm or fuzzy.

As the evening of Oct. 31 wore on, Shari had been visited by more trick-or-treaters than she expected. Her supply of candy was wearing thin.

When the doorbell rang about 9 p.m., and six 12-year-olds were standing there, Shari knew she didn't have enough to give each visitor a handful. But the kids immediately recognized the solution. Instead of giving us candy, we should give you some, they said.

So six hands dug into six sacks, and just like that, Shari had enough candy to last the rest of the evening. Well done, generous goblins!