Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Four

Bentley drove home while I stared witlessly out the window at the scruffy gray elms that lined the streets. From a fraternity house somewhere came the faint sound of rock music and a burst of male laughter. I pondered Jezebel and Ahmed, and Jezebel and Nevada Joe. And Bentley. I could like a man who kicked down doors and knew his own mind.

"Suppose I could see the coroner's report?" I asked.

He looked out the driver's window, squinting into the late afternoon sun. "Maybe. I haven't seen it yet myself."

This obvious lie should have tipped me off.

"I just wonder if she was poisoned," I said naively.

He frowned at me. "Poisoned? She smothered to death."

I missed this clue, too.

"The murder must have happened some time when you weren't there," Bentley added, "because Jezebel died in your house."

"Oh?"

"Too many coincidences, otherwise. She wouldn't steal your costume, then put it on somewhere just in time to be murdered. And a murderer wouldn't drag her dead body back to your house."

I nodded. "I bet she died Thursday. I worked on the costume Wednesday night and she disappeared with it the next day."

"Then let's start with Thursday," he said. "When could it have been?"

"I was home all morning," I said. "answering the phone. It rang off the wall, Bentley. I had a two o'clock belly-gram at the Capitol building."

"Are you sure? That's a couple hours north."

“An hour thirty-five.”

He raised an eyebrow. "Pretty speedy. Who was the victim, a senator?"

"As a matter of fact, yes," I said. "Sort of. This was one of Jezebel's belly-grams. She called me sometimes when she couldn't make one, and they always seemed to go wrong. This time, I danced my whole show in front of news cameras and the American flag. Then the senator laughed and told me it wasn't his birthday. Bentley, I was ready to kill Jezebel myself."

"Senator who?" he asked.

Suddenly I understood. "You already have the coroner's report. You slime, you're trying to trap me. When did she die?"

"Thursday afternoon," he said. "She smothered to death between one o'clock and three. So, give me the name of the senator. If he remembers you, you're off the hook."

Bitterly, I said, "Orville Pitts, Republican."

Bentley snickered under his breath.

"Go to hell," I added.

"Carmen," he said. "I'm a cop. It's my job to ask for an alibi."

I crossed my arms. "My name's Delilah."

"Furthermore, I'm going to question all your dancers."

"Don't you dare come before nine o'clock," I said, "or you'll ruin my class."

"Of course," he said. "We wouldn't want a little murder to interrupt a good piece of choreography."

I turned my face away and pressed my nose against the window. We were in my neighborhood now: chipping housepaint, dusty lace curtains, comfortable, saggy porches with porch swings. It was a little shabby, but I loved it. I had trees taller than the telephone poles; people in Jezebel's neighborhood didn't have that.

My mind wavered between indignation at Bentley, shock at Jezebel's hate- and sex-filled private life, and simple awe. Of course Ahmed was a suspect, and so was the Reverend Nevada. But the worst thought of all was just stirred by Bentley: that perhaps the killer was one of my students.

We returned to find Nef and Dunya and Scheherezade sitting, chin in hand, on my front porch.

"Oh, Delilah, we were afraid the murderer got you," Dunya said, running down the steps. "We were ready to call the police."

It seemed no one had seen my note. Or Cleo.

"Oh, dear. She should never have given me her gun," I said.

"She didn't need it," said Sher. "She always packed a forty-five."

We trooped inside. Bentley slipped in behind us.

"Painted your door?" said Nef absently. "Looks nice."

I just nodded and rushed to the phone. Cleo's husband answered. He said she'd come home from work when her 4:00 shift ended.

"Please, tell me everything you remember," I said to him.

He sounded unconcerned. "She went off with her chicken sandwich and her carrot sticks and her AK-47. And her ammo." He thought a minute. "Think she took a baby blanket, too. Said she'd be back in an hour, but you gals always run late."

"I'm sure she'll be home soon," I said cheerfully. "Tell her to call me, okay?" But I trembled as I relayed this to Bentley.

"Where," he said, "did she go with all that?"

I called her usual haunts: the Minus Six lounge, the Victory shooting range, the Yards of Fabric discount store. She wasn't with her grandkids. No one had seen her.

"She said she was going to follow a clue," Dunya said to Bentley. "She found the murderer and he chopped her to ribbons."

"While she was firing a forty-five and a semi-automatic rifle?" Bentley answered.

Without fully planning it, I burst into tears.

Bentley waited until the wailing stopped, then went to the door. "She has not been murdered. Get control of yourself. She's only an hour late." He handed me a handkerchief. I blew my nose in it until I realized he'd picked up a decorative scarf from a Tunisian folk routine.

"Her disappearance has been officially reported to the police," he said. "That is, to me. You dance. I'll handle it."

"Macho," said Nef.

We watched the Volvo back up, steer around a cluster of twigs at the curb, and drive down the center of the street.

"Okay, ladies. Let's dance," I said.

To the layman, this may sound callous. To us, dance is a need like coffee or whiskey or commitment to a cause. Usually, no one understands that. I was surprised that Bentley did.

After a hard hour's workout, our spirits began to lift.

"Bentley's almost okay," I said, circling my ribcage to the right. "This morning, he kicked down my door, then used a sword on the shrubbery."

That brought class to a complete halt. I had to tell them everything, from the Arabic language tape to the photo of Nevada Joe.

I was describing the contents of Jezebel's suitcase when Bentley called.

"We put out an APB on your friend," he said. "Couldn't declare her missing on such short notice, but we can certainly arrest her for carrying a concealed weapon."

"I'm sure she'll be grateful," I said. "If she doesn't shoot you."

"When you finish gossiping about Jezebel's apartment," he added, "I'd like to hear your thoughts." He gave me his phone number, and, as an afterthought, his address.

"We're still dancing," I said. "You think we sit around discussing police business?"

"Yes. See you at nine," he said. "Goodbye, D.T."

"D.T.? What does that mean?"

But he had hung up the phone.

Sher melted down to the floor and began to stretch her Achilles tendons. "Delilah," she said, "Let's quit dancing."

"Let's look for Cleo," Dunya added. She lay down, too.

I saw I wouldn't get any more work out of them. "Sher," I said, "you and Dunya go to Cleo's house and Yards of Fabric. Nef and I will hit the Minus Six. We'll meet back here in an hour." That would be nine-fifteen. Let Bentley wait.

The night was almost chilly, with crisp white stars and a bit of breeze. Nef pulled wool trousers and fox-lined denim over her dancewear. I thoughtlessly hopped into the car in a baggy sweater and my faded old leotard and tights.

The Minus Six was a fair drive away, on the south side of town, in a dusty strip mall with bars on the windows. I remained a moment in the parking lot, staring at all the pickup trucks and steeling myself to go in. When I opened the door, I was struck with the smell of unfiltered cigarettes and stale beer. I saw the neon glitter of the jukebox that played country music. Cigarette burns dotted the bare stud walls. The customers, grizzled old men with wads of tobacco in their cheeks, spat into soup cans and stared as we walked in. None of them had seen Cleo.

Flossie, the bartender, had taken lessons from me once. "Cleo can take care of herself," she said, sucking on her cigarette. "Hell, I saw her knock a guy out once. She knows karate."

"Woman shouldn't even know about karate," said a man at the bar. He was sitting hunched over, nursing a beer. All I could see was a tangle of dark blond hair and the manly thrust of his chin. "Woman ought to let her husband protect her."

"You just hush up, Joe." Flossie picked at her platinum hair with a two-inch red fingernail. "This here's Miss Jezebel's best friend."

"Don't call that sweet little gal by that wicked name," he said. "My Jenny was a reformed woman."

Now I recognized that voice. It was slow, rich and deep, like a long night of passion under the stars of the Chisolm Trail.

"You," I said with loathing. "You're Nevada Joe. Well, I'm the woman you wanted to have busted."

His hair moved. He was studying my leg warmers. I felt my face redden as his gaze crawled up my calf stretches, over my knees and right up to my plie muscles. "Damn," he said. "Hot damn." He fished out a five dollar bill. "Ain't seen you on the streets before, purty lady."

I felt my mouth forming a soundless "O".

He tossed the five at me. "But I'm a man of God. Go buy yourself some breakfast."

My hands clenched into fists. "You drunken moron," I said, "I'm a dance teacher."

"A teacher?" He looked up at my face. His hair fell back from that craggy jaw. He smiled the sweetest, most angelic smile I have ever seen. Why, he was a Marlboro Adonis.

Adonis leaned sideways and spit brownly into an empty can of pork 'n beans.

The 'whang' had barely finished reverberating when I heard Nef sigh. "Geez," she said. "What a hunk."

"You're a friend of little Jenny's?" Nevada grabbed both my hands and stared into my eyes with raw, keen hunger. I felt a bandage in the palm of his right hand, callouses on his left. "Praise God you came here. Maybe you were the last one to see my little gal alive."

Of course I knew what he was up to. He was horny. And worse, he was sleuthing. The nerve of him.

"I haven't seen her since Thursday," I lied, "when she came to class. When did you see her?"

"I believe it was Wednesday."

Convenient.

"I picked her up in my truck and we went to a revival. She baked cookies with red sugar on 'em." A lonesome tear formed in one blue eye. "I'll never eat sugar cookies again."

He helped me up on the creaky wooden barstool beside his. I removed his hand from my rear end.

On the jukebox, Bonnie Raitt was singing, "...ten years older, and forty dollars richer."

"A revival?" I echoed.

"Have a beer." He gazed soulfully while I sipped. "She was cruisin' the devil's highway, but her heart was with Jesus."

For a moment, Nef tore her eyes away from Nevada's sweet smile to glance at her watch. "We've only got fifteen minutes," she hissed.

Nevada and I both ignored her.

"Ain't you a purty angel," he said, lowering hot eyes to my tights. "The Lord sent you here to heal my poor broken heart."

"You know Dave Bentley, the cop?" I said.

He stiffened. "Wish I didn't."

"You sent him to the Pharoah's Club to harass me."

"You! You're Delilah the Damned?" He stared at my hair, then my chest. "But you can't be."

"Thanks a lot," I said.

He took a deep quaff of beer. "Honey, I didn't sick Bentley on you. That low-down snake was going to arrest all you gals so he could look good. He wants to be a detective, and he'll do anything to get there."

I said, "You know him, then? How?"

Nevada chuckled. "He wouldn't want me to tell. Say, scoot a little closer, darling." He seized both my hands again and began to knead my knuckles. Still staring at my Danskins, he said in an incredibly sensual voice, "Do you know the Lord Jesus?"

"Ooh," Nef squealed.

"Not if you mean biblically." Suddenly, I had the willies. I jumped off the bar stool and made for the door.

"You want to find out who killed Jenny?" Nevada left his beer and followed me. "I do, too. I'll come over and we can put our heads together. Where do you live?"

As I stood there, frightened, his hungry, lustful eyes raked off my sweater and reached for my camisole straps. Like a possum caught by the headlights, I gave him my address.

Well, I gave him Bentley's.

"I'll find you, honey," he promised.

Nef and I escaped into the cool air of the parking lot with the smoky scent of his kiss lingering like brown syrup on my fingers.

Nef's jacket was open. She was using both hands to clutch the front of her shirt. "God," she breathed, "Oh, God, he's sexy. I bet he knows lots about the murder."

"I bet he does, too," I said.

"The way he looks at you, Delilah, makes me weak in the knees. You should go out with him. Maybe he'll tell you something."

"The knees," I said, "are not where you're weak."

"Aren't you excited?" she insisted.

Of course I was. I had met Jez's murderer. But sadly, I had learned the truth about Bentley as well.



Back