Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Nineteen
"Great place, right?" Ahmed said, squeezing Dunya. "Here men can be men, and the women like it. There's no place like home on the range."
Dunya giggled hollowly, as if she wanted to deck him.
We all moved to a table that would accommodate four.
Unfortunately, Nevada had carried me off in leotards. Ahmed's eyes roved slowly, lecherously from the waistband of my dance trunks, bump by bump up my ribcage to a spot below my face.
I was so irritated at this treatment that, at first, I didn't notice Ahmed's expression. He began to frown, then scowl. Finally, his ears turned a deep shade of crimson.
I said, "Ahmed, are you choking? Here, have a drink."
He swept the drink off the table. It shattered, splashing the dance floor. "You murderer!" he screamed. "I will bury you in sand up to your throat. At last I have the proof."
"Now, just a cotton-pickin' minute," Nevada rumbled. "You're insulting my affianced bride."
"It's too late. I have caught her. Look! She wears the evidence around her neck."
Nevada looked dazed. Dunya's mouth popped open.
My fingers flew to the spot. Something jangled. The necklace!
"Ahmed, this isn't even gold," I said. "If this is your dowry necklace, you sure are cheap."
Ahmed began to howl.
By now, we had attracted the attention of two grizzled old men in flannel shirts.
"Everyone be quiet," I said, "or we'll be bounced."
"I will not be silenced," Ahmed shouted. "I'm taking you in. Put your hands up against the wall."
"What?" I said. "No."
He leaped to his feet and pulled a gun from his pocket. It was just a little Saturday Night Special, but he pointed it at my heart.
I put my hands in the air.
The rednecks moved purposefully toward us.
Nevada, to my intense satisfaction, belted Ahmed just before they reached our table.
We carried him out, prone.
Nevada pocketed the gun and laid Ahmed on a lumpy tarp in the back of his pickup truck. I saw a mic stand peek out, a garbage bag, a scrap of two by four. He turned to me and crossed his arms. "Okay. Start talking, honey."
I tried to look down at the necklace, but all I could see was the fleeting little shadows of the summer's first bugs. "I found it in a closet. I thought it was some of that cheap imported jewelry from India."
"Oh?" With the street light shining on that blond hair and sharp, stubborn chin, Nevada looked a lot like Bentley.
"Nevada, my house is full of jewelry," I said. "How was I supposed to know where it came from?"
"You don't even remember what you buy?"
"How can she?" Dunya piped up. "Sometimes she buys it by the boxload."
Nevada's jaw slackened.
"For group choreography," Dunya said. "You know." She had crawled, high heels and all, into the truck bed with Ahmed. She was picking the little guy's pockets. I heard the jangle of keys.
"Dunya," I said, "what on earth are you doing?"
"Oh, nothing." She was looking at me in the dark, those huge eyes glowing. I thought I saw a wistful smile. "I just want you to graduate. I think we both should, no matter what."
"Dunya," I said. "What's going on? Did Dr. Cluff get you pregnant?"
She giggled. "I heard from Cleo," she said. "She thinks Bentley is a dear, but he's a man and he can't see past the makeup."
"You mean he's after the wrong suspect?"
"Not exactly. Cleo said something strange: that every single one of us is looking at the wrong Jezebel."
I am ashamed to say that the first hussy who popped into my mind was Nef. I retained a a crystal-clear memory of her hopping demurely into that minivan with Vito's gun hand pressed firmly to her bottom. But observe Dunya's behavior, and my own.
Ahmed's keys slid off the tailgate and into the dark. "Oh, oh," said Dunya. She searched for them near the right rear tire. "Bye. I have to go," she added. "See you in class."
"Hey," I shouted. "You're going to search his house? Wait for me."
Her aged little Datsun roared off into the night.
Nevada slammed the tailgate shut. We leaped into the truck and gunned it along behind, leaving Ahmed bumping limply in the bed.
Dunya's little car zipped around corners that the truck had to take on two wheels. Two miles later, and only three blocks behind, we felt an ominous, rhythmic bumping.
Nevada pulled off the road. "Hell, these tires are new. I just had them retreaded. That gal's a smooth operator."
In the rear-view mirror, I could see black pieces of rubber lying along the shoulder.
"Sometimes the tread unwinds, but not this soon," he added.
"Right," I said politely.
Still, the flat was on the right rear.
Nevada waited with Ahmed. I hiked three blocks to call a cab. It was dangerously close to dawn. If I didn't hurry, Bentley would bury me in sand up to the throat personally. I begged the dispatcher to hurry.
"Squirt's drunk as a ferret," Nevada told the cab driver as we slung Ahmed inside. We drove him to a dark and unlocked little house furnished with faded yard sale furniture.
Other than that unlocked door, we could find no trace of Dunya or her car. Ahmed's few belongings were neatly stacked. If Dunya had already searched here, she had been careful as a professional.
Less professionally, I rifled Ahmed's drawers while Nevada fed him aspirin and put him to bed.
"Nevada," I called, "where do you hide poison pain pills?"
"Try the toilet tank. It's where I keep my whiskey."
I had no luck there, or in the heater vents, the fuse box or the refrigerator.
"I do not take medicine," Ahmed said, weakly and indignantly, from the bed. "And I only kill murderers and thieves and loose women. I come from a very important family."
What was he, an executioner?
Outside, the cab driver began to honk.
"When are you going back to Egypt?" I asked, peering under chairs. "This all looks pretty temporary."
"Home is Arabia," he said. "Not Egypt.”
“You're a shopkeeper,” I said. “In the Khan el Khalili.”
“My brother is a shopkeeper. I live there sometimes. In Arabia, I bring criminals to justice for my father. You should understand. You come from the Old West."
"Nowadays," I said, "we have police."
"In the old days, you had justice. I have caught you, Delilah. I am going to beat you with a whip and send you to jail."
"Jail?" I felt a bit safer as we bid Ahmed goodbye.
The sky was barely pink when Nevada handed me up through my window. Like a true gentleman, he waited in the wiegela until I had climbed in and fastened the latch.
He stuck out his chest and strolled off to the cab that waited halfway down the block.
Bentley wasn't snoring, and the studio was silent. I slipped into bed, feeling the slight spin in my head, tasting the minty smoke of Nevada's lips.
"Enjoy yourself, D.T.?"
Oh-oh. "How did you know?"
"I knew you'd go before you ever left. Come on. We'll make coffee." Bentley's voice was very calm.
He had placed a white plastic contraption on my kitchen counter. As I watched, he poured dark-brown beans into a shiny little window. This looked suspiciously like a wedding present.
"Cappuccino?" he said. "Or espresso?" The machine began to grind.
"Cappuccino. How long have you been up?"
"Since you sneaked out the window." Now the machine was bubbling. He spoke over the sound. "I searched the house again. For the life of me, D.T., I can't understand why the murderer tried to kill you. There is nothing here that he could have wanted."
"The videotape," I suggested.
"Not a chance. That belonged to Dr. Cluff and he wasn't there to poison you. Now where have you been?"
"The Minus Six," I said.
"Don't lie to me. The Minus Six closes at three."
"Yes, but we met Ahmed and Dunya and--" Wait a minute. "What do you care?"
Bentley stretched, looking smug. "I know Nevada Joe like the back of my hand. He has information he wants to share, but he's too proud to hand it over. I let him sneak you out and give you the news."
I felt like a tape recorder.
"Of course he kissed you. Didn't he? He did it to one-up me."
"He did it because I was pretty."
"But he didn't try anything else," Bentley added.
I suddenly felt a deep sense of satisfaction. "He didn't grope me, Bentley," I said. "He proposed marriage."
Bentley slopped hot black coffee crookedly into a teacup. Teacup? I'd thrown the entire collection at him, or so I thought. This one must have survived.
He swore, shaking coffee from burned fingers, and poured a second cup of brown sludge into a cereal bowl. He took a small electric whisk out of a box and began to froth milk in another bowl.
He spoke over his shoulder. "I should have known he'd do that. It was the best next move."
"Move? What is this?" I said. "Chess?"
"To him it is. You said no, of course."
"I said yes, you arrogant man. He has a sexy voice and knows how to use it. And he's very handsome."
"If you like effeminate men," Bentley said.
"He's wildly hot-blooded," I added with relish. "There's nothing like a passionate televangelist."
Bentley turned to me, bowl and mixer in hand. "I'm disappointed in you, D.T. Even though I knew the two of you had-- Well. I thought you were an artist. Don't you realize the kind of life you'll lead?"
The vulnerable expression on Bentley's face might have touched me. Instead, I listened to his little speech, fascinated. "He doesn't lie to me like you do, Bentley," I said. "He told me everything."
"Oh?" He arched an eyebrow. "Everything? Before he proposed?"
"It was the honorable thing to do."
Boy, were those words a mistake.
A grin spread across Bentley's face. "He was right. I can't believe he was right. So tell me, D.T. What kind of life will you have together?"
Somehow, the joke was on me. "Well, darling, we're gonna tour the country. We're gonna sing and dance our hearts out every day, and lay beside each other every night in his Winnebago."
"And you went for it." He looked awed.
"Bentley," I said, "when did Nevada play the Grand Ole Opry?"
"He confessed that much? Well, never mind. Let's stick to murder."
He remained stubbornly silent until at last I gave in. "Say," I said, "can you arrest Ahmed? He told me he was going to bury me in sand up to my throat. And he said to put my hands up against the wall."
"It's not a joke. He pulled a gun on me, too." I told Bentley about Ahmed's cheesy dowry necklace and how somebody had planted it in my house. I also passed on Cleo's insult, which he found interesting.
"I told you Dunya's in trouble," I added. "I saw her pick Ahmed's pockets, bigger than life. And I think she's going to drop out of school."
"Because Dr. Cluff rejected her?" he said. "Because Jez caught her cheating? Because she's being threatened?"
"Guess we'll have to find out," I said.
Bentley mixed the frothy milk and coffee, and added sugar until it was intense and thick and sweet. He handed handed the teacup to me and then picked up the cereal bowl. "Tell me more," he said.
We sat cross-legged on my studio floor as I relayed Nevada's ill-starred attempt to reform a sinner.
Bentley laughed until he choked. "That's exactly like him," he said. "I should have known."
"You thought I was a liar," I said. "And now you're swallowing this crazy tale?"
He became serious. "Aren't you? You're going to marry him." He sipped coffee. "D.T., I shouldn't take time to laugh. You really are in danger. First, there was your fake suicide note, now this necklace. Someone is trying to pin Jezebel's murder on you, and you can't defend yourself if you're dead."
He slipped an arm around me. I let him do it until I felt his fingers working the necklace clasp.
"Sorry. This is evidence." He slipped it into his pocket. "I'm going to pick up a search warrant for Sher's house and see what the lab says about her costume. Then I'm going to arrange a line-up for Dr. Cluff and Nevada."
"No, you won't," I said. "Not if you mean a line-up with Sher. You won't be able to bring her in, because she's innocent."
"We'll see," he said.
"And don't you dare do it without me." I said this between yawns. I knew the evening was over. Bentley wasn't going to seduce me and Nevada was long gone.
"I'd be frightened to try," Bentley said.
"No, really, you cops can't arrange a line-up for a belly dancer. You need a creative consultant."
"They're not going to dance, D.T. They're just going to stand there."
"Trust me," I said.
"You know I do. I have enough circumstantial evidence to take you downtown any time."
"Don't say that to Ahmed." I stretched out on his sleeping bag. "Wake me if it happens. After all, I'm her friend. Promise?"
"I promise." He kissed a finger and laid it on my face. Then he picked up the bowl and cracked teacup and saucer. I watched him disappear into the kitchen, then closed my eyes.
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