Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Twenty-three
Bentley and I stared dully through the smashed bugs on Nevada's old windshield. "I want an engagement party," I said. "Music, dancing. Not biscuits and gravy."
"We'll rent the Minus Six," said Nevada.
"Very uptown," Bentley said. When we arrived home, he stalked inside, leaving Nevada and I at the door.
I flashed that K-Mart ruby in the morning sun. "Nevada, why?"
His perfect face widened in a smile. "Bentley's so conceited, guess I wanted to shut him up." He spun me across the porch in a wild, big hug. "And, darling, it was worth every penny."
I laughed. "I almost forgot. The gorilla needs to be at Pharoah's tomorrow at five o'clock. Can you play gypsy music?"
He set me down. "Can't do it."
This unnerved me. I had counted on his hairy, primate brawn if and when Ahmed pulled a pistol. "But Nevada, it pays a hundred dollars."
He began to turn red. "Still can't do it. I'll be at Bentley's wedding."
"Well," I said. "I'm going to solve the murder."
"Good for you, darling. Come with me Saturday night. Ain't nothing more lonesome than going alone to a wedding."
"Nevada, don't you get it? I wasn't invited."
"That low-down dog," Nevada rumbled. "He ought to be kicked."
But he didn't go inside and do it. Instead, he kissed me goodbye and simply left.
I tossed his heavy old ruby into the "J" bin and went back to work.
"Pretty casual about it," Bentley said from the kitchen. He was painting toast with jam and butter.
"Easy come, easy go," I said. "You know how it is."
"No, I don't." He poured espresso for both of us, then sat across from me at the sewing table with a fragrant tower of toast. "Giselle and I have been together for years."
"You mean she's a habit. Like Nevada's chewing tobacco."
He attacked the tower. "It's not easy to find someone who accepts you as you are."
"Tell me about it," I said.
"There's no point in aimlessly wandering through life," he added rather defensively. "After all these-- Well. It's time for me to settle down. I think it's important to marry someone who's like myself, so there aren't any surprises."
"In other words, you want your love life alphabetized and collated," I said.
"You like your life arranged, too, you know. You hide here in your little bohemian studio, and any man who wants you has to sleep on the floor."
"You didn't have to," I said.
He put both elbows on the table and leaned forward. "D.T., you snubbed me. Pretty thoroughly."
"Geez. Just one time," I said.
"You'd do it again. Know what? You're scared of me."
"Nonsense," I said. "I've been waiting and waiting for you to kick down my bedroom door."
He blinked. "What makes you think I'd do such a barbarian thing?"
"I was waiting," I repeated, "for you to kick down the door and cuff me to the bed."
This didn't fluster him as it once would have. "It's just a little twin bed. I'd hang over all four sides." He swallowed toast. "Well, D.T.? Has anyone ever done that?"
Nope. I didn't want to tell Bentley about my limited love life – about the entrepreneur in Giza who owned a Perfume Palace and wanted to pay our guide three camels and a goat for me, or the blushing high school kid at the co-op, or my study partner who tried to seduce me so I'd hand over my anthropology notes. I was tempted to tell him Nevada had hung all over that bed, since Nevada seemed to irritate him. But I thought better of that. So I just made something up.
"No one ever kicked down the door, but I did have a guy who would have hung over the bed. He was built like Nevada."
Bentley wrapped his fingers around the coffee cup. "Tell me."
"He was a juggler. I met him at a Renaissance Festival. His name was Harry."
"Harry." Bentley looked amused.
"He wasn't, of course. He used to say, 'Now I'm going to give my impression of a bald juggler.' He'd just stand there. Everybody would laugh."
"Sounds like a prize," Bentley said.
"We put together a gypsy act," I added. "I'd dance, then he'd take a bullwhip and snatch a cigarette from my lips. He threw knives, too. You know, Bentley, women are really turned on by that kind of thing."
"He threw knives at you?" Bentley said. "And you liked it. How often did he miss?"
"Um, never. I left him before it happened," I said. "He began to drink."
"You had no compassion for human weakness?"
"Bentley, would you want a drunken juggler throwing machetes at you?"
"I wouldn't want anyone throwing machetes at me. You don't have any, do you?"
"I stick to china," I said.
"And you can't hit the broadside of a barn. Out of six plates, two hit the wall. When you went to bowls, three were on target, four hit the wall. All the saucers missed."
"You were dodging," I said.
"Out of seven cups, only two hit my head," he added.
"There were eight cups," I said. "I remember throwing them. Three hit your head."
"Sorry, D.T. I cleaned your kitchen while you were being poisoned at Pharoah's. You got two out of seven."
"Well," I said, a bit annoyed. "Maybe I should practice."
"Speaking of male-female relationships, do you mind if I hide the getaway car here tomorrow? I don't want to drive a vehicle that's covered with shaving cream and soup cans."
"Be my guest," I said.
Bentley continued to organize Jezebel's business records while I double-checked Nef's alibi.
I called five video stores in Nef's end of town before I hit pay dirt. "Yes, Mrs. Nefertiri," reported a humorless young man, "you did return your movies."
"Was that Dumbo?" I fluttered. "Or Rambo? I have Rambo right here. Now I'm not sure."
"It's okay, Mrs. Nefertiri. I'll just read you the list of movies you've returned."
"Heavens," I said, listening. "Great heavens."
I hung up the phone.
"What did you learn?" Bentley said.
I winked and called Cleo. "I found the purple costume. In California. It'll be here tomorrow morning."
"Can you have it sent to the police lab?" she said.
"I'll ask Bentley."
"Okay, but hang onto it. They'll probably try to keep it as evidence, and we need it Saturday night if we're fishing for the killer."
"Fishing's the word," I said. "I busted Nef's alibi. Now anyone could have been there. Everyone had a motive. Everyone had access to the pain pills. It's hopeless."
"Nope. You missed something obvious. Now listen, Delilah. I'm going to stay by the phone. You think about everything, and I mean everything. Get young David to help you. Then call me and we'll figure out how to get a confession."
"You think you know who it is, don't you?" I said.
"Well, as a matter of fact-- Hell's bells," Cleo said, "my beans are boiling over. What a mess. You call me, okay?" The phone clicked.
"Cleo's solved the murder," I reported to Bentley.
"Umm," he said, reading a ledger.
"I think she wants to see if I draw the same conclusion."
"Does she know there wasn't any poison in Vito's drink?"
"Didn't I tell you?" he said. "Sorry."
"Jesus, Bentley. Then how was he poisoned?" I said.
"Don't worry. I'm working on it."
I called long distance information and found a number for the Grand Ole Opry. No one there had heard of a singer named Jehoshaphat Nevada.
I felt a little sick.
Well, I'd worry about that later. I found Dr. Cluff's teaching assistant at the University and tried to break Dunya's alibi. As Bentley had said, there was no alibi to break. Dr. Cluff's grade book showed that she'd turned in an assignment that day. That was a point in her favor, since the old tiger never took late papers. Unless...
I remained lost in thought.
Bentley looked at his watch. "When Unruh comes, I have to run a little errand. Then I'll take you to lunch."
"I'd like to eat a vegetable," I said. "No more hunks of meat swimming in cream gravy."
"Of course not."
He was gone for several hours. Giselle called three times, hoping to remind him that the rehearsal dinner was at seven. By five-thirty, she was beginning to come unglued.
"He does want to get married," she said. "But he gets busy and forgets the time."
It struck me suddenly that Bentley was, in his meticulously organized way, eccentric as hell. I pressed my nose to the window, looking for him.
At ten minutes till seven, I heard the rumble of thunder. No, it was the eight-cylinder cough of a 450 engine roaring down the alley behind my house. Brakes squealed.
This certainly wasn't the Volvo, nor was cautious David Bentley at the helm. I looked out the kitchen door.
It was indeed Bentley. He'd bought the red Caddy.
"This is the getaway car?" I said, running down the back porch steps.
"Hop in, D.T. You get the first ride."
"This," I said, scooting onto that huge front seat, "was a premeditated act."
He grinned and accelerated. The wind whipped our hair. Had a gust blown up, or were we really going that fast?
I shot a glance at the speedometer. Wow.
"Looks like rain," Bentley shouted. "Sure wish you had a garage."
Indeed, the western sky was filling with a dark line of rolling purple clouds. It was not a good night to cruise in a convertible.
"Giselle doesn't get to ride?" I said.
"I'd be at her house if that's what I wanted. Let's go to the drive-in for hamburgers. I think we've got time."
I struggled with my conscience. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Oh. You wanted vegetables. Okay, we'll have Chinese."
"Bentley. You're forgetting your wedding rehearsal."
That vintage Caddy cornered like a tank. "You know," I said, hanging onto the door handle, "you're as screwy as any artist, Bentley. Are you sure you don't have a gallery or dance hall somewhere?"
He squealed around the block and rocked to a stop in front of my house. "Help me fasten the top," he said. "It won't take long."
Inside, the phone rang frantically. I ran for it.
"Tell her I'm on my way," Bentley shouted.
I stood on the porch, watching Bentley fight to secure the Caddy's white canvas top while a few raindrops splashed the hood. I'd let my answering machine battle Giselle. Unruh came out to join me as Bentley hopped in without opening the car door, then roared off in an oily blue cloud.
"He's a-squirming on the hook," Unruh said with satisfaction. "And no wonder. She'll be a terrible cop's wife."
"Unruh," I said, "let's call out for Chinese."
I picked at a bit of rice, thinking of Bentley walking down that aisle. Unruh ate a double order of Chow Mein and most of my Moo Goo Gai Pan.
A few more spats of rain struck the sewing room windows. After a long, silent breath, lightning crackled. The lights flickered and came back. Then water pounded the windows like gravel.
Outside, the wind howled with wildness and danger and rampant freedom. Inside, I grabbed a broom and swept Bentley's memory from the kitchen floor. I upended the dustpan, china shards and all, on my sewing room table. I grabbed a tube of Aleene's "OK to Wash-It" glue and went to work gluing dishes back together. It was like gluing potsherds in the archaeology lab.
I was suddenly homesick for logic and old bones and a life where everything fit, just as it was supposed to. Besides, I had half a notion to giftwrap those shattered dishes and give them to Giselle.
The lights flickered again, and this time remained out. I lit a Coleman lantern. Water leaked through the cracks in my window frames as I immersed myself in my work. The plates went together quickly but the saucers were pulverized. The teacups were hardly any better.
Hah. There were eight: seven shattered, one badly chipped. Bentley couldn't even count.
Unruh was dozing and I was working on bowls when I heard a noise at the office window. I dropped my glue. Unruh snorted himself awake. Together, we rushed in.
The window shivered, then slowly slid up.
I clicked the switch on Bentley's flashlight. Unruh drew his gun.
Our burglar was Bentley. He slithered over the window sash and flopped, dripping, on my bed. "Out with the light," he whispered.
Puzzled, I obeyed.
He lay there panting, water streaming from his hair. "Bachelor party. They were going to shave me and paint it blue."
"You have strange friends," I said.
"No, my brother. He's certified crazy."
"Brother?" I said. "Tell me about your brother."
He groaned and rolled to his feet. "I left the Caddy half a mile away. Hope the top stays up. Hope they don't find it."
I didn't pity him much.
It would have been the perfect time to throw him out, but I didn't do it. Unruh went home, grinning. Bentley carefully locked the door, then found himself a towel. We sat cross-legged in the studio in the dark, watching lightning bolts snake down from the sky.
"When the costume comes tomorrow," I said, "can the lab take a look?"
"Well, of course. I was going to take it over immediately."
Whoa. "Think they'll be done before five?"
"Probably not, but that's-- Five? What's happening at five?"
"I'm going to Pharoah's to solve the murder. I told you that."
I heard him growl. "You don't need a costume to solve a murder. You're not going to perform in it, are you?"
"I may need it to trap the killer," I said.
"Carmen, what are you planning?" The silhouette of his chin angled in that familiar, stubborn tilt.
I marched off to the sewing table and my lantern. I dragged out a needle and some beadwork.
He followed me. "Carmen, you know I--"
"Delilah. Why don't you ever call me Delilah?" I stabbed the needle into fabric. "I know why. You're afraid to."
"Am not," he said. "You're the one who's afraid. You wear that name like stage makeup." His face was outside the circle of lantern light until he lifted my chin with a finger. "You don't have to do that. Don't you understand?"
"No," I said. I slapped his hand away.
He looked down at the table, where the reassembled teacups lay, still dewy with glue. "Say. Where'd you get the eighth one?"
I ignored this jibe. "Just to spite you, Bentley, I'm going to solve the murder at the exact moment you walk down the aisle."
He said nothing.
"I think I'll give them a few clues, then dance awhile. I'll give them another clue, then dance again, building suspense, you know. Finally, there will be a grand finale when--"
"When you're murdered onstage. I absolutely forbid you to do it."
"Forbid," I said. "You can try, Bentley."
He lectured me at length. Then he phoned Unruh. They had a long talk, first about Bentley wringing my neck, then about Unruh shadowing me and checking Ahmed for hidden weapons.
I went to bed.
By the next morning, we had electricity. I found him asleep at my sewing table in the full glare of my overhead lights. His forehead was squarely braced on a damp, gluey plate. Unfortunately, it hadn't stuck.
Outside, bits of branches and leaves lay in everyone's yards. The morning air was hazy and warm; the humidity was a gummy ninety-nine percent.
"Good morning, D.T. Has the costume arrived? Where did you hide it?" Bentley brushed bits of glue and paper toweling from his hair.
"It's right there in the studio," I answered. I had kicked off wet shoes and was trying not to sweat. "Hanging in the corner."
I lied. I had hidden it in the only safe place I knew: under the Caddy's dry front seat. Finding the car in this sauna had been no small venture, but I was proud of my creativity.
I watched complacently while he searched the house.
After thirty minutes, the veins began to stand out on his neck. "Don't do this to me," he said. "This is my big lead. If you wear that costume, you'll destroy the evidence."
"Pooh," I said. "It's been washed. The sequins are all faded. If there was evidence, it's gone now."
"I'm this close to the end," he said, measuring an inch between finger and thumb. "I can feel it. If I don't catch that criminal, you'll die."
"Not true," I said. "Goodbye."
"D.T., hold off till seven. No, make it eight."
"Not a chance." I boxed up Giselle's new archaeological dishes and slapped on a bow. "Let's not drag this out. Congratulations. Now go away."
Bentley hefted the box. "Is this an insult?"
I grinned a little. "She and I had a talk about these. She'll understand."
"Please listen," he said. "Giselle fits into the kind of life I have to lead."
"Bentley, she'll have a nervous breakdown every time you get shot."
"Maybe I'll resign," he said.
On the front porch, he lowered his dish box and took my face gently in his hands. This was going to be the infamous goodbye kiss.
I pinched his nose firmly shut, then twisted. "And don't come back," I said.
Bentley broke free with a tremendous scowl. He stomped off down the wet street, dishes rattling.
I was free of him forever. A little sob caught in my throat as I slammed the front door.
There was nothing to do but dance.
After an hour, I felt like I could go on. Bentley's sleeping bag was still in my studio, his espresso machine on my counter. I would simply ignore these until I caught the murderer.
Then my resolve broke. I called Nevada and shamelessly begged him to be my gorilla.
"If there was any way in Heaven," he said, "I'd do it. But there ain't, darling."
"If you change your mind at the last minute," I said, "I'll leave the back door unlocked so you can get the costume."
"I won't," he said. "I can't. Now I gotta go. Love you."
I settled back with another smelly, thick pot of coffee. Bentley would never be back to make me a good one. I began to think.
Still, my thoughts kept returning to Bentley, staring, puzzled, at those coffee cups, laughing and driving that awful red Cadillac with the wind in his hair. He had been telling me that what he really wanted was me. Well, subtly, at least. And I, like a fool, had reminded him to go to his wedding rehearsal.
I'd been crazy. I had--
Why, I had just solved the murder.
One piece of the puzzle had fallen into place, and the rest tumbled in behind it.
I called Cleo.
"I figured it out," I said.
Her voice was dry. "After I told you."
"Cleo, you didn't tell me a thing."
"Oh, honey, I gave you a gigantic hint. You had to do the rest yourself. You're rehearsing for your new life."
"What new life?"
She just laughed. "I've been calling everyone and telling them to come, but I couldn't find Nevada."
"He's going to Bentley's wedding," I said. "I couldn't talk him out of it. Cleo, how do you catch a murderer with absolutely no evidence?"
"You tweak him till he gives you some."
"Come over," I said. "We'll use the studio."
She came in leotards, with chips and pizza.
I felt nervous and excited, as I did before a show. "We've already had our warm-up," I said. "Shall we just get right to work?"
Thanks for reading! Come dance with us and be a bellydancer too! See us dance at the Warren Old Town Plaza on Final Friday, July 27. Learn more on our home page, or send us an email! --Safira