Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Fourteen
On Tuesday I went home. I was still a little wobbly, but I prepared for class anyway. Like the famous old ballet teacher, Cecchetti, I planned to lean on a stick and use a student to demonstrate the steps.
This drove Bentley wild. Which is to say, he frowned at me.
"Even if one of my dancers is a murderer," I sighed, gazing up at that stubborn chin, "she won't try anything while you're here."
"It's a good thing I am here," he said. "Someone is trying to poison you, and all you want to do is dance."
This brings me to the subject of Bentley himself.
I can't deny that I looked forward to living with the man. It wasn't his massive thighs, or his hairy toes, or even that blond cocker spaniel wrapped around his chin that attracted me, but rather his stiff, dare I say brittle? sense of reserve.
The entire first day, this reserve held. So did his temper. He picked me up at the hospital, then sat frustrated at the beauty salon while I had my hair colored strawberry blonde.
"Like it?" I said as we went out the door.
"Why did you do it?" Bentley asked. "Because you think you're ugly when the costume's off?"
"Bentley." I made my voice husky. "I'm incredibly fabulous when the costume's off."
"Sure. Dodge it with a joke," he said.
"Let's drive across the street, Bentley," I said. "I'm going to update my wardrobe."
“Not there you aren't,” he said.
I had pointed to Wal-Mart.
“But the prices are great,” I said. “And there's K-Mart, if we don't find anything. And Target.”
“Delilah, you nearly died. If you wear yourself out, you'll be too tired to teach class. I'm taking you to just one place.”
It was a start, I thought.
He drove me to an elegant little dress shop that must have been opened for Giselle and the deans' wives. Chez Monique, down a charming brick sidewalk and up a narrow flight of stairs, was a place where the sales clerks have French accents, and nothing is on racks. You sit on a chair that must have been built by Louis the Fourteenth, and they bring you one garment at a time. I squandered my budget on one little black dress.
We met Giselle at the chic pastry shop next door. Bentley wolfed down Sicilian Cream Horns while I showed her the dress. She examined the fabric and sniffed. "I see you've lost weight," she said. "Very nice. Hospitals are good for that, aren't they?"
Bentley drove me home before I began to throw truffles. Proudly, he showed me what he'd done. I had to admit it: the man was incredible. When he'd begun, I owned only a few shelves. Now shelves were everywhere, and everything on them was categorized alphabetically and according to color. The walls had been repaired and repainted, which made me wonder whether he'd knocked holes in the plaster looking for clues. I could even see the floor, which badly needed refinishing.
"Aren't you going to pull up the floorboards and look underneath?" I said.
"I didn't think of that," he answered. "You lie there and rest. I'll get a claw hammer. And don't worry, D.T. I can do it without ruining the finish."
"I guess I've been lazy," he added. "So far, I haven't found a thing."
I made a foolish attempt at one-upmanship. "Maybe the clue is there, hot shot, but only a dancer would recognize it."
"Why, what an excellent suggestion. Let's start with the floorboards of the upstairs closets."
I lay on pillows, supervising, while Bentley ripped up my floor. I was exhausted even before Tuesday night class.
Perhaps my lack of energy caused class to fail. Perhaps it was because Vito personally provided a chair, then ordered me to sit in it. Eyebrows raised. Nef swelled like an angry pigeon.
By break time, we knew something was definitely going on. For once, Vito wasn't carrying Nef's luggage. She had struggled into class all by herself with her voluminous purse, a dance bag and a giant case of cassette tapes. Furthermore, Vito handed Sher a diet soda and neglected to do so for Nef. As Bentley later pointed out, Sher was standing nearby at the time. Nef was not. But even Bentley whistled under his breath when Vito began a short speech.
"Baby," he said to Dunya, "those triceps really need toning." His voice was young, tenor, unspeakably cool. I stared, startled.
"They do?" Dunya looked down at herself. "Where are my triceps?"
He adjusted his shades. "You gotta have my dumbbells. Tomorrow. Okay?"
"He's crazy about Dunya," I whispered to Sher. "I did it."
"I bet he slept with Nef," she whispered back, "and she wouldn't let him muss her hair."
After break, Nef turned to Dunya with a brittle smile. "I hope it's not true," she said. "You know, that you lost your scholarship because of your terrible grades. Of course, there are other ways to impress a professor, aren't there?"
Dunya pretended not to hear.
Nef struck Sher next. "Did that leotard come from the Salvation Army?" she said. "They always have such low prices."
Sher looked hurt. Nef victoriously turned to me.
I had elbowed Vito and his chair aside and was demonstrating a complicated step.
"What a pretty combination, Delilah," Nef said, smiling. "But I can't tell what it is. Are you shimmying with that?"
"No, it's not a shimmy," I snapped. "That's my fat wiggling around. I suggest you quit gossiping and wiggle yours, too."
The class energy ebbed to zero. Vito adjusted his mirrored shades, shot a glance at Bentley, who watched from the dark of the sewing room, and went outside for a cigarette. "I'll be on the porch, babe," he said to Nef. "Now, don't forget your purse."
“Oooh.” Nef's little heels drummed an angry flamenco rhythm. We watched her pout. The seconds ticked by.
Luckily, Dunya had followed the slant of Vito's shades. She saw Bentley at his post, loafers and little tassels propped aggressively on the table, gun laid nearby. She nudged the dancer on her left. “The sultan is in the shadows, watching us dance,” she whispered. “Let's get him.” Sher giggled. Soon everyone went into character. They knelt before him and called him "master" and "sahib." They all donned veils, which drove him crazy.
"One of them could have throttled you to death right in front of me," he said later, "and I wouldn't have known which one. Know what, D.T.? That's Darwinism at work. You're trying to die before you can reproduce."
I agreed to put away all the veils in the studio. He was placated.
But on Wednesday morning, it thoroughly hit the fan. It seemed Bentley had an aversion to gorillas.
"Nevada's coming over at one o'clock," I said.
Bentley had found a huge cast-iron skillet, and was frying a dozen eggs in Dijon mustard and grease.
"He is not."
"Come on, Bentley. He won't murder me in front of you."
"True," Bentley said, flipping an egg perfectly in the pan. "He won't have the chance. Not until he tells me why he was here the day Jez died."
"But I need a gorilla. I don't care if he kills people."
After some rather pungent discussion, we negotiated a truce. Nevada would meet us near the location of the gorilla-gram and don the costume there. Bentley, who would be late to work, would accompany me in uniform, escort me home, then hand me personally to the officer who was to watch me while he went on duty. Nevada would not come within a mile of my house. Bentley emphasized this point with a bread knife. Furthermore, I would provide antiseptic ointment and bandaids for Bentley, and would sweep up the shards of kitchen china that had bounced off his body and onto the floor.
We rendezvoused with Nevada at a service station. He pulled the costume on, wincing.
"What happened to your face?" I said. He wore the purplest, greenest black eye I'd ever seen, and his handsome nose was swollen to twice its size.
"Grrr," Nevada said in reply. It seemed he was growling straight at Bentley.
Mrs. Pettegrew's daughter was twenty-seven years and two weeks old and had just passed the bar. That's why the gorilla-gram was on the fifteenth floor of the Epic Center, a bronze triangular edifice that loomed prestigiously over downtown Wichita. It was peopled by expensive attorneys. In Suite 1500, everyone stood waiting for us in a conference room, wearing Armani, their arms crossed, leather briefcases yawning open to remind them they were still at work.
I had known there would be trouble onstage, too, before we ever entered the elevator. The gorilla, for no reason at all, suddenly began butting Bentley against the elevator doors. Bentley had responded by fastening the creature's arm behind its back and marching it all the way to the party.
Once in the conference room, though, the gorilla wiggled free. At first, it contented itself with kissing the women and playing "Wabash Cannonball." People began to giggle. Briefcases snapped closed.
The gorilla graduated to table-walking. It was awesome to see that giant primate thundering back and forth on a priceless sheet of walnut, gibbering and scratching and trying to collect women's phone numbers.
But when I pressed "play" on my belly dance music, the gorilla decided that Bentley, who stood there like Jack Webb with a jam box, would have to join the act.
From an entertainer's point of view, it was brilliant. The gorilla reached under Bentley's nightstick and grabbed him by the hips. Bentley, by accident, began to gyrate. The women leaped to their feet.
This encouraged the gorilla. In quick succession, Bentley lost his tie and three shirt buttons. The sight of his well-developed chest electrified the women, who began to shout, "Take it off, officer! Take it off!"
The gorilla crowned the melee by handing someone Bentley's whistle.
To its shrill, excited tweet, Bentley, slightly bruised but freshly pressed and shaved, wrestled the gorilla to the ground and slapped the cuffs on him.
Bentley shot me a burning glance as he hustled the gorilla out the door.
I remained to collect the money and a seventy dollar tip.
Outside, Bentley released the gorilla. It snarled once at him; I think it chuckled. Then it ran like hell. I tucked the tip into Bentley's torn shirt pocket. "That wasn't so bad, was it? They want to know if you're free a week from Thursday. Oh, and here." I added a handful of house keys.
He didn't say a word. Silently, he ripped off the torn pocket and flung it, with all its bounty, into the Volvo's back seat. Then he slid behind that leather steering wheel and drove me home.
I was rather proud of myself, despite the fact that I was still weak and tired, and despite Bentley's speechless fury.
"Out," he said. He screeched away from the curb.
I sauntered into the house, said hi to Unruh, propped myself in bed and read magazines. When the telephone rang, I snatched it up. Maybe it would be a request for a dancing cop.
Instead, it was the cop himself. By the faintness of his voice and the sound of heavy traffic, he was calling from his cellular phone. "Carmen," he said.
Not D.T.? Bad news.
"You will not do any more singing telegrams. You will give them all to someone else until this case is solved."
"I can't. That's how I make my living."
"I didn't hear that."
"Hell, no," I said, a little louder.
"I am not going to stand there holding a tape recorder while you're murdered by a fundamentalist preacher in a monkey suit."
"All that work in the gym, and you're embarrassed?" I said.
"It'll be safer if you wear street clothes instead of your uniform."
"Carmen, this is life or death, and you want to dance half-naked. You drive a man crazy."
"Oh?" I said. "At least I don't lie there like a trout in a dead eddy."
I heard only the whine of a truck on the highway.
Now I'd done it. "Bentley. Are you coming back tonight?"
"Of course I am. And when I get there, I'm going to rip those telegrams to shreds."
"I love it when you talk tough," I said.
He hung up.
Bentley didn't know it, but he was absolutely right. This was life or death. I couldn't drop out of the telegram business. I had hungry-shark competitors. I had bills to pay. I wasn't going to go bankrupt because Bentley was ashamed of his chest.
First, I rolled up all my telegram orders and hid them in a box with my feminine supplies. I swept the broken dishes under the kitchen counter, then searched the house for clues.
In the upstairs closet, under "G through I", I discovered a sack of irridescent beads and a pretty gold necklace like those worn by urban Saudis. I didn't remember buying either of them, but that wasn't unusual. The beads were heavy, but they didn't have stage presence. The necklace was delicate and fluttery, of faux coins hammered thin as aluminum. I wondered why I'd bought it. It was too frail for dancing. Looking in the mirror, I fastened it on. Now I knew why. It was delicately beautiful.
When I took a break for supper, I cut my foot on the broken china. That was bad. Cuts on the feet will pop open whenever you twist or spin. I added bandaids and went back to work.
At least, I wanted to. The house gleamed in Bentley's wake. There was nothing else to do. I decided to watch some videotapes that were filed under "U" for Uncompleted Work. Bentley had pestered me to label them.
It was hard to lie in bed and watch others dance. Their choreography whizzed by too swiftly to memorize. I wished I had Jezebel's skill at dance theft. She hadn't been a good technician, yet she had lifted every piece Sher ever set to music.
I was working my feet against the pillows, trying to dance prone, when I received a call for a belly-gram at noon the next day. It wasn't a gig but a mission: I would commemorate the fortieth wedding anniversary of a vice-president at Stockyards National Bank. The bank was a half-mile from the meat processing plant, and downwind. I added mileage, plus a silent five dollars for the stench.
I filed the work slip in my secret box in the bathroom. I would go, and Bentley wouldn't mind at all. That is, he wouldn't know.
I labeled a tape, grabbed another one and stuffed it into the VCR.
Ah. I'd finally found that video of tent life in Algeria. I wrote a second label and pressed "fast forward". Tiny women in black were wiggling along, rocking babies and yogurt, when the phone rang.
"Balloons Awaaay!" I shouted into the receiver. This is how I answer the phone.
A cultured male voice said, "I see that the rumors of your death have been greatly exaggerated."
"Oh, no," I gasped. "I'm so sorry. I forgot to call you, Dr. Cluff."
"I believe," he replied, "that you had a suitable excuse."
He forgave me for almost dying and not returning his call?
"I hope you're having good luck replacing Jez, I mean, Eugenia," I said.
"I am not. I wish to find someone of your caliber."
I stared in shock at the telephone.
"Would it be convenient if I came by your house at nine?" he added.
"What on earth for?"
"To discuss your dissertation, of course."
"M-m-my dissertation?" I swallowed. "Class is over at eight. I'll see you at nine."
"Very good, then." He rang off.
That night, I taught my students on autopilot, or maybe from the depths of outer space. Dr. Cluff was personally driving to my house? In the past, he couldn't find the time to scribble an "F" on my papers. I didn't know what the Egyptians thought of him, but the freshmen called him the Tiger of the Nile.
I packed a bag with finger cymbals and costume, and lowered it out my bedroom window in readiness for tomorrow's belly-gram. Then I pulled on the dress Bentley had forced me to buy, traded my tights for real pantyhose and waited for my academic doom to arrive.
Thanks for reading! You too can be a belly dancer. :) It's not too late to jump into Belly Sculpt or Yo-Belly! Check us out on FB by clicking on the top left of the home page! --Safira