Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Twenty
I woke to the sight of Unruh's shiny police boots and the rattle of The National Enquirer.
Bentley had betrayed me.
"Yup, they got the poor lady," Unruh said through his newspaper. "It ain't hardly circumstantial now. Not after what they found in her house."
I pulled the newspaper down to his knees and spoke with him nose to nose. "What did they find?"
He smiled, a bit cross-eyed. "Dunno."
Baloney. I brushed my teeth and slapped makeup on over the toothpaste. In less than five minutes, I had dressed and rushed out to my car.
Unruh sauntered out after me, carrying the newspaper and a cup of coffee. "You don't need to ditch me, Miss Delilah," he said. "I don't care where we go."
"Where do they have police line-ups?" I asked.
"The police station, don't you suppose?"
I popped the clutch. Unruh clutched his coffee.
When I arrived, I was glad I'd put the pedal to the metal. I slipped into a room marked "Do Not Enter" to find Bentley, Dr. Cluff and Nevada, and a cast of uncomfortable-looking women draped toga-style in purple sheets. They stood in line with Sher, who wore her makeup and wig, and was every inch a dancer.
Bentley wore a dark suit, as if he were a detective, and a dark red tie just the right length for strangling him. I resolved to do just that. Sher had worked on her costume for years and this was its debut.
Bentley looked harassed. Dr. Cluff ignored me. Nevada wore the wrathful visage of an outraged prophet. "That rat's ass, Bentley, found some tablets in her house," he rumbled to me and everyone. "What did he do? He arrested her. Sure, it's the same drug someone used on Jenny. But, hell, it's as common as aspirin. I probably have some myself."
Bentley turned and spotted me. "D.T., I don't want you prejudicing anybody. Please get out."
Nevada's voice rose to a roar. "It ain't any of them, and if you had the sense Almighty God gave a stump--"
"That's her," Dr. Cluff said, pointing straight at Sher.
"You're a liar," Nevada shot back.
Dr. Cluff doubled his fists.
Beneath his coat sleeves, the professor looked quite wiry. Nevada was larger but rather soft.
"Go for it," I encouraged.
But Bentley escorted Nevada and I out of the room so briskly that my arm hurt. Together, Nevada and I sulked on plastic chairs near the dispatcher's desk.
After a long time, Bentley joined us. He looked like a man with a toothache. "My God, Nevada, you're embarrassing. You behave as if you were raised among the gypsies."
"It's easy to see where you were raised," Nevada shot back. "You ran wild with the wolves. Everyone in the department knows you'd sell your mother for a can of spray starch."
"Invisible," I thought passionately. "Invisible. I wish I were invisible."
But they said no more. Bentley straightened his tie. Nevada mustered a wavering smile.
"Well," they said in unison. Their vocal inflection was identical.
Then they glared at each other again.
"Go home, Bentley," Nevada growled. "You're just stirring up trouble."
"Nevada, crawl under a rock," answered Bentley. "D.T., come with me while I talk to her. She'll be more comfortable if you're there."
"You mean, maybe she'll confess," I said.
Sher wore an orange prison jumpsuit that clashed with her makeup. I felt sick when a police officer brought her into a little room to join us.
She wasn't teary or bitter, now, but very quiet.
I took her hand. "Do you have a lawyer?"
"Shall we go away until you do?"
Sher shook her head. "I want to talk. I didn't break any laws, and I can't stand to lie any longer."
"Were you there?" I said. "In my house, on that day?"
She smiled a bit, wryly. "Poor Delilah. Did you see the line-up they put me in? It looked like amateur Shakespeare, didn't it?"
"Amateur Shakespeare?" Bentley said.
Sher went on. "But it worked, just the same. Professor Cluff was there when I came to your house. I saw his car out front. He must have sneaked out the back door. Have you asked him why?"
"Yes, we have," Bentley said.
"I never saw Nevada, though, and I guess he never saw me," she said. "What was he doing there, anyway?"
"Witnessing," I said.
She looked puzzled.
"Why did you go to Delilah's house?" Bentley asked.
"I was trying to tailor that purple costume. First I had an accident with jewel glue, then the bra began to gap. Finally I ripped the fabric. I was so frustrated I just jumped in the car and drove to Delilah's house. I didn't even call her."
Bentley raised an eyebrow. "You just happened to arrive at a time when Jezebel was there by herself, and on that same afternoon, she just happened to die."
In her orange jumpsuit and stage makeup, Sher had a pitiful, rather theatrical dignity. "That's right, Officer Bentley. It is a coincidence, and I didn't kill her. I'll tell you the truth, but it's so crazy you won't believe me."
"You'd be surprised what we'll believe," I said.
Sher continued. "I always suspected that Jezebel had had an affair with my husband. Like an idiot, I laid all the blame on myself. I thought that since I never looked good--"
"That's utter nonsense," I said. "Who filled you full of that?"
"Nobody," she said. "I guess."
"You were telling us what happened on the day Jezebel was murdered," Bentley prompted.
"Well, of course I didn't like Jez. But I tried to put the anger behind me, until I walked into your house and found her prancing around in your two thousand dollar costume."
She thought a minute. "Delilah, I honestly believe that Jez murdered Larry. I believe he told her it was over. He was making a present that said how much he loved me, and she made sure he died before he finished it."
Bentley's voice was cold. "So you decided to murder her the exact same way."
My eyes began to fill with tears. To hold them back, I looked up at the ceiling. "What makes you so sure Jezebel was the one who, that he and Jez were, oh, hell." The tears spilled over.
"Because, Delilah, she was the only one selfish and hateful enough."
Bentley's pencil scratched at high speed. "You got the pills from the hospital? What did you mix them with?"
"Did she attack you?" I interrupted. "Did you feel like you had to defend yourself?"
Sher looked from Bentley to me. "What?"
"You stole the pills from the--"
"She was going to kill you first! So you had to--"
Bentley and I glared at each other, frustrated.
"I didn't kill her," Sher said. "Boy, I wanted to. I wouldn't have poisoned her. I would have broken both her arms, then shoved her into that box to kick and scream. It would have taken a good twenty minutes until she passed out, and I would have spent the whole time taping the air holes with duct tape and telling her how good her costumes were going to look on me after she was dead."
"Goodness," I said.
"But I didn't do it," Sher added. "I just shouted at her. She laughed at me. Do you know, she pretended she'd forgotten Larry's name?"
"That," I said, "was seriously catty."
"Unless they hadn't had an affair after all," Bentley suggested.
We ignored this piece of male naivete.
Sher made fists in her lap. "I called her a slut and a thief, and she said I couldn't dance. I said I was going to tell you that she'd stolen your costume. That's when she--"
"She what?" I said.
Sher paused. "She, um, picked up your scimitar. I was sure she was going to brain me with it, so I ran."
"But you never told Delilah that Jezebel had stolen the costume," Bentley said.
"I was afraid to."
"Sher," Bentley said, "did you kill Jezebel?"
"No. I already said, no."
"Do you know who did?"
Sher shook her head. "No. Unless it was the guy in the red Cadillac."
"Red Cadillac?" Bentley and I said it together.
"It drove by, really slowly, several times. I got the idea the driver was waiting for me to leave." She made a face. "It was a convertible, but the top wasn't down. I didn't know they even made red Cadillacs."
"It was probably custom," Bentley said. "Those used to be popular. It was probably a vintage--"
I interrupted. "Did you see the driver?"
"I didn't even try. I remember thinking that it was just like Jez to have a man hanging around in a really tacky car, waiting to buy drugs. Or maybe he was her, um--"
"Pimp," Bentley supplied.
"Sher," I asked, "what kind of costume are you working on now?"
"Turquoise bugle beads with fuschia accents. But I'll go to prison and I'll never get to finish it." She looked woebegone.
"Yes, you will," I said. "I'll bring it to you, and I expect you to wear it to Pharoah's within a month. I don't want you staring at the walls when you can be sewing."
Tears welled in her eyes. She looked at Bentley's hard face for a moment, then at mine. "Officer Bentley, may I speak to you privately?"
"No," I told her.
"Certainly," said Bentley.
I was put out like the cat.
At last, Bentley came out. He took my arm and led me toward the entrance.
"Well," I said. "What did she say?"
He fished in his pocket for the car keys. "She asked me not to tell you. I didn't promise, of course."
"Bentley," I cried, "please."
"It's better that you don't know."
I flung myself at Bentley's shirt collar, right in front of the police dispatcher and all his friends.
"Let go," he said, unfastening my fingers. "Neither of us wants to hurt you. Sher has an alibi, and as soon as I check it out, we can cross her off our-- D.T., don't you dare cry."
He escorted me through glass doors and into the parking lot, away from his grinning buddies. I dazzled Bentley with all the charm I could muster. It didn't work. I had to use tears. I also had to reveal the secret of the safety pins.
"You see," I said, dabbing pitifully with a tissue, "Jezebel had never planned to perform. I know that because she hadn't pinned the costume to her foundations."
"Oh?" he said.
"She could have stuffed it in the bottom of her dance bag," I added. "So why was she wearing it? That, Bentley, is the key to the murder."
"So, tell," I said, stuffing the tissue in my purse and snapping it shut. "What did Sher say?"
"All right," he said. "Sher was wearing the purple costume in order to go to a belly-gram. One of Jezebel's belly-grams. They were working together."
I was very quiet.
"Don't take it too hard. Jezebel was paying everyone extra to abandon you. She even had your gorilla in her employ."
"But they didn't have to say yes."
"Sher says Nef pulled her into it. The money was great but then she began to suspect the affair. And she felt guilty about competing with you. She wanted to quit but Jez said she'd tell you everything. Then Jez died."
"She would rather go to jail for murder than tell me she did grams for Jez?" I felt stricken. "Well, let's bring her her costume."
"No, let's confirm her alibi and release her from jail." He unlocked the car door. "I'll have another heart-to-heart with the guy in the red Cadillac."
"You know him?"
"We both do," he said. "Who would drive such a flashy car? Someone who lives in a fantasy world; probably a man who's dissatisfied with his love life. Not good-looking. Nouveau riche."
"Watch it," I said. "I like red."
"D.T., even you wouldn't drive a red Caddy. It's a cruising-for-chicks car. We're looking for a nerd whose emotional age is sixteen."
"Bentley, you're cold," I said. Then I realized who he was talking about. "You'd better hurry. He's going to bury me in sand up to my throat."
He held open the Volvo's door. "Let's nail him, Watson. We'll hit the car dealerships."
"No, the rental agencies," I said. "And I'm Holmes."
"Hardly." He pinched me on the rear.
"You did it again, Bentley," I said, climbing hastily into the car. "That's twice, now."
"Twice, what? I never did that before."
"Twice, now, you've acted on impulse."
He put the car sedately in gear. "Wait and see what I've planned for time number three."
I remembered this later. Had I but known!
Well, had Giselle but known.
I should have questioned Bentley thoroughly. As it was, I merely eavesdropped as he placed a call on his cellular phone: the location, St. Paul's Episcopal Church. "Sher's belly-gram was for the parish priest," he mouthed. "A going-away present before he went to the Holy Land."
I gritted my teeth. "That's Father Jose. He's my customer. I've tied that man and his friends into chairs for years. Jez must have given him quite a deal."
"She charged thirty dollars more," Bentley said. “And she called him just before Sher danced to get his credit card number. There's her alibi.”
"That does it. I'm raising my rates."
"Speaking of," Bentley said, "let's start with the discount rental agencies. How about Budget?"
"Are you kidding?" I flipped through the phone book. "Here we go: Old Al's Salvage Shop."
"Not a chance," Bentley said.
We hit pay dirt at that very place.
Old Al was a skinny, leathered man in a ball cap and plaid shirt who could spit much, much further than Nevada. He sat behind grimy counters that were covered with oil, grease, cigarette stubs and miscellaneous auto parts.
Bentley, silk tie and all, strode forward. "I'm looking for a red Cadillac convertible," he said.
Old Al eyed him up and down, then shook his head. "What the hell do you want that for, son? I've got a good blue Lincoln with air conditioning."
"He wants to walk on the wild side," I offered from behind.
Bentley flashed his badge and explained.
Old Al offered us beer. "Not bad," Bentley said.
I sniffed but didn't swallow. It was Milwaukee's Best, known to teenaged boys everywhere as “The Beast.”
The red Caddy had had an infamous history. Al recounted this to us as we picked our way between rusty wheels and truck transmissions. The antique had been restored and repainted by a Texas oilman who'd used it to impress a chorus girl from Vegas. However, she considered the car too flashy and had made him choose. She found her way to a posh neighborhood in Houston and the car journeyed ignominiously to Old Al.
"Look at her. Only got fifty thousand miles on that engine," said Al. "Go on, look at her. Ever see such a clean baby? Hell, all you have to do is change her paint."
"And get rid of that red plush interior," I said to Bentley, who was peering under the hood, fascinated. "And take off the padded steering wheel cover and the bug shield."
Old Al looked hurt. "Two thousand dollars. Hell, a thousand and fifty. She's been sitting here for months. That Ay-rab is the only one who ever rented her. And he didn't appreciate her. Drove her around for two, three hours. Then the crazy sumbitch asked for his money back."
Bentley showed him a photo. "Did you give him a refund?"
"Yep, that's him. Hell, no, I didn't give him a refund. Finally brought out my pistol. Then he left me alone."
Bentley smiled like the Cheshire cat as we drove away.
"You think Ahmed did it? Think you can release Sher?" I asked.
"The engine's worth at least seven hundred," he answered. "I'll offer him one twenty-five."
For a moment, I was thunderstruck. Then I imagined Giselle riding prissily in that adolescent fantasy of a car.
"Very retro," I said. "Takes you back to the innocence of the 'fifties. Drive-in movies, martinis at five."
"Of course I'll change the paint," he said.
"I bet it'll go a hundred and thirty on the highway," I added.
He looked blissful. "Let's go see Ahmed."
"I can't," I said. "I have to get ready for class. Besides, Bentley, every time I see him, he threatens me."
"Oh," Bentley said. "That's right. He's going to bury you alive."
"Bentley, promise you'll tell me everything he says."
"Sure," he said, pulling up to my house. "Don't I always? Say, I know a stretch of highway where I can test that car. The cops never patrol it."
I shuddered and waved goodbye.
Thanks for reading! Come dance with us and be a bellydancer too! Classes start July 5. Learn more on our home page, or send us an email! --Safira