Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Sixteen
It's easy to apply lip pencil in a moving car, even if you're the driver. I don't recommend mascara. You have to close one eye and you lose your depth perception.
I discovered this near Hillside and 13th, when I whammed into the bumper of a mud-spattered old pickup. The driver climbed out and shook his fist at me. I swerved to the left and shot through the light. It was red, but just barely.
This was hit and run. Bentley was going to love it.
There was worse: I had forgotten my wig.
As I squealed north on Hillside, I bent the rearview mirror down to eye level. The blonde was a good color. It was fluffy and full, a little longer than my chin. It wasn't exotic, but it was kind of pretty. Maybe if I added a scarf....
The yellow line undulated beneath me as I tried to drive. I reached past duct tape and torn upholstery into the back seat and began to explore with my fingers. I found the laundry basket and the laundry, my dance bag, the kleenex, the McDonald's sack. I found last year's old Bedouin costume. It included a head wrap. Tires blackening the pavement, I found 21st Street and victory. There was my scarf, draped around a ball: a squishy ball like a large grapefruit.
The ball was bumpy, with a small, warm, damp hollow space. My fingers lay suspended in midair.
"Weird," I thought.
Then, like a huge Venus Flytrap, the hole snapped closed on my fingers.
I screamed. In fact, I ran into the opposing traffic. Cars swerved and honked. I jammed the car in park while it was still doing thirty.
I was fumbling for the door handle when I heard a male laugh.
"D.T., you scream like the Bride of Frankenstein."
Oh, no. It was Bentley, wedged tightly into the space between the front and back seats. He had buried himself in costumes, but if I had looked, I would have seen a khaki knee, an impeccably-tasseled shoe.
He untangled himself and heaved into the front seat. "I ought to take your license. You drive like the Grim Reaper."
"I'm going to that belly-gram," I said. "I don't care what you say."
He shrugged. "What the hell. Let's dance."
Bentley must have realized I was running away. He could have waited, angry, by the car. Instead, he had actually cooperated. Furthermore, he had said "hell." I pondered the implications of this while he carefully buckled his seat belt.
"Giselle warned me you would try to seduce me." He looked smug. "She said, 'David, that woman's going to drape herself all over you like cheap rayon.'"
"Cheap rayon?" I said, offended.
I put the car in gear and steered it back into the westbound lane.
His huge hand cupped my shoulder, one finger twisting a lock of hair. "Why did you run away like that?"
I forced a smile. "I would have locked you in the bathroom, but you would have broken down the door."
He withdrew his hand and stared out the windshield. "Don't you know you can trust me, D.T.?"
I'd been dateless in high school, so I didn't know what this time-honored phrase really meant. "Trust you?" I said. "I'd be a great ally if you'd trust me."
"Jesus," he said. "What do you think this is?"
True. "All right, Bentley," I said. "I'll trust you. I'll tell you a major secret."
He was instantly alert.
"Oops. We're here," I said, holding my nose and trying to parallel park. "I'll tell you right after the belly-gram."
The belly-gram was a flop. We were to sneak in the back entrance of Stockyards Bank and surprise the chief loan officer in his paneled office. I dressed hastily in the ladies' room while his wife hushed their two daughters, twins about eight years old. A teller turned on the video camera. Credit clerks clustered behind palm plants in the cool marble lobby.
Unfortunately, he got a glimpse of this madness while he was still on his feet. Gray-haired, in a flannel vest, he made a dignified dash toward the upstairs offices. The daughters set off in pursuit. Soon, a smooth female voice began to coo over the intercom. "Paging Mr. Checkers," it said. "Will Mr. Checkers please call the front desk?" It soon became urgent. "Paging Mr.-- Get him!" it hissed. "He's in the break room. No, he's passed the vault!"
Before anyone could corner him, the fugitive burst right past us, through the glass lobby doors to freedom. My last glimpse was of flapping wool coattails and the leather soles of his pointed toed boots.
His wife's face hardened into battle lines as she wrote me a check.
I painted on a reassuring smile. "If he changes his mind," I said, "just call me and I'll be right back."
"He won't have a chance to change it," she snapped.
Bentley waited until, like the banker, we had escaped to the street. "You're a homewrecker," he said, grinning. "Now, what was it you wanted to whisper in my ear?"
"You said I could trust you."
"You can always trust me, D.T." His voice was like corn oil.
I should have escaped, too. Instead, I drove to Old Town, parked illegally, locked the tape recorder in the car and began dodging the business lunch crowd as I worked my way toward The Larkspur. We passed antique brick alleys filled with trucks, charming tumbledown warehouses, cars and more cars. I picked up the pace. I slipped between two men with Stetsons and briefcases, and crossed Mead Street between fast-moving delivery trucks. Behind me, Bentley had stopped. "Hurry, Bentley," I called across the street. "I'm meeting Nevada for lunch. You have to wait outside, because he is going to tell me something illegal."
"What?" He dashed across between a pickup and a Mercedes. Panting, he pinched my arm until I winced. "You made plans behind my back to eat lunch with that man?"
"It'll be okay," I promised, shaking free. "He won't poison me, because I won't swallow. Come on, Bentley. How else are we going to find out what he has to say?"
"Carmen, I'll kill you myself," he said. "And I'll enjoy it. Is this the place?"
"No," I said. "Um, next door, at Oaxaca Grill. He, uh, loves Mexican food. Bentley, you said I could trust you."
We were standing, as a matter of fact, in front of The Larkspur's great glass windows. I was staring right past Bentley's engorged face into the shocked angelic countenance of Nevada Joe. I had one lasting impression of Nevada's blue irises surrounded by the whites of his eyes. I also had a crystal-clear vision of Dunya standing in the background, mouth open, as Bentley hefted me over his shoulder and carried me off.
Unfortunately, that lasted only a few feet.
Bentley plopped me on my feet, grabbed me by the veils and marched me into the Oaxaca.
The place was a spacious brick courtyard swirling with ceiling fans above depressingly empty tables. There were two customers: a senior couple holding hands. They stared back, surprised, from their salsa and their coffee cups.
"Damn it, Carmen, you lied to me." Bentley ran back to The Larkspur with all the power and grace of the Merrill Lynch bull. By the time I had caught up with him, he was looming over a poor waiter.
The waiter's eyes slid past Bentley's bulk to look beseechingly at me. "The Reverend said he had a hospital call," he told us. "An emergency." Trembling, he extended a fluttering scrap of paper. "But he said his big, blond friend would pick up the check."
As I drove home, I rubbed it in. "If you were an honorable man, Bentley, maybe we'd know who the murderer is. And you'd be twenty dollars richer."
Bentley scowled through the cracks in my windshield.
"But I forgive you," I said. "And I'll tell you something strange. When you were threatening me in front of The Larkspur, Dunya was hiding in the background. She was standing behind Nevada, as if she didn't want us to see her."
The car rocked as Bentley twisted toward me. "You were actually looking at Nevada while you told me that lie?"
"I'll tell you another secret, too," I said hastily. "Professor Cluff is my European cat burglar. He drives a yellow BMW, and it's dented."
"I know," Bentley said. "He'd reported it stolen by the time I came to question him."
My own scowl must have cheered him up. "By the way," he said, "my friends in Washington traced Cleo's brother. Want to hear what they found?"
"Come on. It's bad news. He's a respectable businessman with a credit rating and five kids."
"What's wrong with that?"
"I thought he was a spy. Now don't laugh, D.T. It's perfectly logical. At the time I began to investigate him, the chief ordered me to lay off this case. He let me think it was Morales, but Morales couldn't do that to me. It had to be someone with power."
I did laugh.
"No, listen. John was a buyer for Worldwide Import Co. He spent most of his time in Beirut, Taipei and Bangkok. There was nothing suspicious in Bangkok or Taipei, but whenever he was in Beirut, Mossad caught terrorists left and right."
"He was probably putting the sumbitches before the firing squad," I said.
My dash creaked and shuddered as Bentley pounded, frustrated, with his fist. "No. I knew I had him. I was sure of it. Then I learned Worldwide Import's on the New York Stock Exchange."
"Your logic is brilliant," I said. "The police chief is terrified of you. Only the power of the Central Intelligence Agency could persuade him to give you a direct order."
"Give me a break."
"Colonel John, known as "J," sent Agent 007 to stake out my attic," I added. "All this time, he's been watching over me like an angel pumped full of testosterone."
"Take a cold shower, D.T. He's long gone."
I turned onto Second Street, a shady drive lined with oak trees and elms. I slowed to thirty and rolled down my window. "Nef has Vito the Hunk," I announced gleefully to passers-by, "but I had The Spy Who Loved Me."
"He's not a spy," Bentley said, "and he's been watching you pick your nose in the bathroom."
"Why, Bentley," I said. "You're jealous."
"Not possible," he said. "D.T., I, um, about this afternoon."
"Out with it," I said.
He cleared his throat. "Today's my day off. At two o'clock, I'm going out with Giselle. She wants me to help choose her flowers and photographer and caterer and, well, you know."
I knew. “Shouldn't that have been done months ago?”
“I guess,” he said, “but she was in The Nutcracker.”
"I hope you enjoy," I said. I guessed Bentley was the kind of man who wouldn't visit a photographer unless there was a dead body to be documented.
"I'll be back at eleven to protect you," he said, "so don't seduce my relief and run away."
I gave him a big wink. "I won't run away. But do knock before you come in."
I never had a chance to seduce Unruh or even steal his donuts. When Bentley and I arrived home, we found the back door standing open. Inside, everything was neat as a pin, including my videotape collection. It had entirely disappeared.
Bentley stared, stricken. "I rushed out without locking the door."
"I never do," I said. "Besides, he would have broken a window."
"The only person who knew I'd be gone at this hour. Run, Bentley. We have to catch him."
Bentley carefully locked both doors, then grabbed his car keys and ran for the Volvo. He was rumpled and sweatstained. I was still in full costume. "Bentley, I've blown it," I said. "I put Nevada in danger and I've lost at least thirty videotapes. Now he's got all my choreography."
Bentley slammed the Volvo into gear. "He? You mean Nevada?"
"I was so stupid. Dr. Cluff was here last night. He said he was interested in my dissertation, but he was actually casing my house."
Bentley took off in a squeal of tires and transmission. "Sold him short, didn't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"D.T., he desperately wanted something that was recorded on one of those tapes. Take a guess what it must have been."
Then I remembered. "Bentley. Did Jez have shoes with red stiletto heels?"
"Three pair," he responded.
"Dear God," I said. "Why, Professor Cluff has a butt like a basset hound."
"What? You saw this tape and didn't even notice who it was?"
"Well, no. I was looking for Algerian tribal women."
"Delilah the Temptress," Bentley said, "you sure are naive." He pressed his foot to the accelerator. "He won't know which one is the right one. Thank God you didn't label them."
Although I'd studied under Dr. Cluff for years, I didn't know where he lived. Bentley did. He made a beeline back to Second Street, and turned south into a neighborhood called College Hill. He stopped in the driveway of a stately three story Tudor. Its garage doors were opaque. Was that trendy banana of a getaway car stabled inside? Was Professor Cluff holed up in a video room, desperately scanning tapes?
Was he erasing them as he went?
I shouted, "Hurry, Bentley."
Bentley pounded on the front door until he rattled its diamond-paned windows.
"I'll have to get a warrant," he said. "By then, he'll have destroyed the evidence."
"Bentley," I said, "I'm going to make your day." Silks flapping, I ran across the manicured lawn to the next door neighbor's gardener. He was a stooped old man in polyester who was heaping cypress mulch around the peonies.
"It's Doctor Cluff," I screamed. "He called us. He was choking. I think he's had a heart attack."
The gardener dropped his tools and rushed for Dr. Cluff's front door. But I was thinking of forcible entry and alarm systems and Bentley's job, which he'd already risked twice for my sake.
"Call 911," I shouted. "Let them do it."
The gardener stopped and turned. "Let them do what?"
Whoops. "Let them call an ambulance."
Have you ever wondered whether an emergency medical crew will actually break down your door in order to save your life? The answer is yes.
At least, they gave it the old College Hill try.
They had made serious inroads on the front door frame when the lock clicked and the door opened on its very own.
Dr. Cluff stood there, calm and healthy, illuminated by red and white ambulance lights.
He stared straight at me.
"Oh, Dr. Cluff," I cried, "I was afraid you were dead." I threw myself on his chest.
He let me cling to him like a barnacle on a rock. He spoke past my head to the old gardener. "She's about to defend."
I heard the gardener laugh. "Thought so."
"Do come in, Carmen," Dr. Cluff added. "Thank you all. As you can see, I'm quite all right."
Bentley slipped in behind us. Dr. Cluff shut the door on everyone else. We had made it inside.
Thanks for reading! You too can be a belly dancer. :) Come dance with us at Girls Night Out Friday, June 29, and bring your friends! Two free classes, a talk on belly dance, snacks, and a present if it's your birthday month. Read more on our home page! --Safira