Jezebel Died Dancing - Chapter Thirteen
I woke up with a terrible hangover. I had a sore throat, my nose was stuffy, and hard lines of drool and sinus drip ran down my lips and chin.
I was still too tired to move.
Bentley had ruined my room. He'd painted it beige. I hated beige. And he'd decorated with bouquets of flowers and with clear bags hanging upside down.
He was sitting beside my bed in the sunlight from a window. His eyes were tired and red, and he had sprouted a stubbly blond beard. He stared out that window, chin in hand, still as a statue.
I wanted to say hello, and why the devil did you use beige, but my tongue seemed swollen.
He started and turned, and took my hand. "Oh, Carmen, I'm sorry," he whispered. He put one arm across my knees and sagged limply on the edge of the bed.
There were tubes in my mouth and nose, and Bentley was scared. I had a wicked-looking I.V. in my hand but I prodded him with a finger.
He straightened. "It was close. The murderer almost got you."
Some bedside manner.
"I screwed up," he added.
He admitted it, and in slang? I tried to speak.
"What are you saying: who was it? Why, you? I don't know. But I'll find out." His fingers pinched mine. Weak as I was, I could only lie there and take the pain.
I noticed he had bandages over both knuckles.
He saw the direction of my eyes and turned a little red. "You should have seen yourself, D.T. You didn't go gracefully like Jez did. If you hadn't thrown up everywhere, I don't think you'd be here now."
Great. I'd come to the hospital with my eye makeup smeared, lipstick mixed with vomit, hair flat and oily beneath my wig. Delilah the Temptress.Strangely, this embarrassing knowledge gave me the will to live. I would find that murderer and hang him by the toenails. And furthermore....
But more important, now, was sleep. I drifted off with the sensation of Bentley's bandages gently scraping my fingers.
The next morning, they removed all my tubes and bottles. With that wrenching sense of freedom, panic struck. "What time is it?" I asked Bentley, who was still there. Had he ever left? "Is this Sunday?"
"Monday," he said. He took my hand and patted it with wrapped fingers. "It's okay now, D.T., but you were in a coma."
"A coma? My God, the gorilla-gram! My classes!"
"You have your own armor, don't you?" he said. "Everything's under control. The gorilla-gram is Wednesday. Nef had to reschedule it because they wouldn't have anybody but you. But Nef's ready to teach your classes. She's even going to take Pharoah's on Saturday."
"Oh, no, she's not," I said.
"She was afraid you'd think she was stealing the show," he said. "But she's only doing it to help you. I guess I'd better tell you what you missed. Someone filled you full of hydrocodone. You know, kills all sorts of pain. It's pretty common; seems everyone has it. You didn't try to kill yourself, did you?"
I glared at him.
"Because there was a suicide note," he said. "You killed Jez and couldn't live with the guilt. You wanted the public to remember you for your dancing. I found you laid out on the bed like Marilyn Monroe, except in full costume, with the pills spilled artistically all over the floor."
"Was the note in my handwriting?" I said.
"No. But the writing was very, very close."
"Do the police believe me now?"
"Yes. Morales is going to do some actual work, and you'll also have police protection. I'm going to move in with you."
"Oh, you are?"
"And when I'm on the street, another officer will be present."
"Bentley, I'm flattered," I said. "But what will Giselle say?"
"She was here at the hospital. She understands."
She'd seen Delilah the Temptress, flat chested, wearing nose tubes and a hospital gown. Giselle understood, all right.
"You've had lots of visitors," Bentley added. "Nevada hovered in the hallway like an angel of mercy until I pitched him out. And Vito calls every six hours."
"Vito?" I said. "Hoping I'm dead?"
"Shame on you, D.T. He calls at precisely five minutes after the hour, and makes me describe prognosis and vital signs. When he's not calling, Dunya is."
"You've been here 24-7, haven't you?" I said.
"So tell me, top cop," I said. "When do you ever go on the street?"
"I'll go back on Wednesday," he said.
"You took your vacation to watch me lie in a hospital bed?"
He evaded my eyes.
"You've been suspended again?"
"You think highly of me, don't you?" he said. "What exactly do you remember from Saturday night?"
I ignored this attempt to change the subject. "So, whose head did you run through a wall this time?"
A corner of his mouth crooked, but he didn't answer.
"Okay. Never mind," I said. "When I left you on Saturday, I went straight to Pharoah's. The place was packed with yahoos...." I went through everything I remembered. "Ibrahim brought me food from the kitchen, and Nef brought drinks."
"I think Sher brought refills. Then Nevada served everybody a round. I did, too."
"Ibrahim, Sher, Nef, Nevada. Maybe Ahmed, maybe Dunya. Think. Anyone else?"
"That was all," I said. "I thought I'd try to worry the murderer by saying that you were turning my house upside-down for clues."
"Congratulations on your success," he said. "Good thing I was there, hunched down in that little rathole while you made everyone hunt for me."
"Bentley, I didn't do that."
"Sure. D.T., if you'd been left alone until morning, you wouldn't be alive. You weren't even breathing by the time I got to you."
"You didn't screw up," I said. "You saved my life."
"I screwed up because I didn't think," he said. "I should have seen it coming. The murderer did the same thing to you that he did to Jez. The M.O. was the same: a dramatic, beautiful, macabre death. No signs of violence, a touch of the stage. The victim dies peacefully and probably without pain. It's gentle but it's sadistic. The killer wanted to change you into a gruesome dance portrait, a Degas noire painted in flesh."
"Bentley," I said, "if we're going to live together, you have to tell me where you learned to talk like that. Don't say it comes from the police academy."
"We were talking about the M.O.," he reminded.
"You're wrong about it," I told him. "I was poisoned, but Jez suffocated to death. You're saying the killer uses different techniques."
"We're looking into that," he said. "I also had a little talk with the coroner."
"Dunya always thought Jez was poisoned," I said. "I didn't even bother to listen to her. Nevada thought she was poisoned, too. He said he could kill any of us with a poisoned diet drink. It tastes so awful we'd drink it down without a thought."
"He actually said that?"
I nodded. "But Nef wasn't almost poisoned. She was almost knocked in the head or shot."
"Nef's little adventure," he said, "certainly adds texture to the pattern."
"Nevada said it didn't fit."
"Maybe Nevada should join the department," Bentley snapped.
"I'm sure he knows something," I said.
"I questioned the Reverend," Bentley answered. "I couldn't get him to talk."
"Because he's the killer? I don't see how he could be," I said. "He left my house when everyone else did. I remember hearing everyone go home."
"Everyone?" Bentley said.
I thought. "Well, I thought I heard you prowling the kitchen."
"Someone was looking for incriminating evidence," he said.
"Couldn't be. I searched the whole kitchen."
"You think you did," he said. "I heard someone in the kitchen, too. I thought it was you. I came down to talk."
"And found a Degas noire in flesh," I said.
"Which I resurrected."
He seemed to be recovering from his scare. By tomorrow, I guessed, the stubble of remorse would be shaved off entirely.
"Sure looks like it was Nevada, Dunya or Sher," he said. "Couldn't have been Nef. She was pasted onto Vito. It could have been Ahmed. He sure hates you, but he would have had to sneak into the house."
"Which isn't likely," I added. "Why would someone want to kill me? Dunya and Sher like me. So does Nevada."
"Maybe the killer's crazy, or obsessed," he said. "Maybe you symbolize something he hates, like fallen women."
"Fallen? I'm not fallen."
"And maybe you just accidentally know too much," he finished. "There must be something in your house that absolutely convicts the criminal. I'm going to turn the place inside out."
"Relax, D.T. I'll put everything right where it belongs."
"Don't you dare, Bentley. I want to go home. I have to get ready for class."
"Not a chance."
"How about bringing me a cassette tape?"
"And the VCR and the videotape of last year's Christmas recital. And a notepad and--"
"D.T., you're supposed to rest."
"And that half-finished black bra with red jewels; bring that, and half a pound of black beads, and some beeswax and--"
He simply left.
That night, I was protected by the cheerful-faced cop who had helped me assault Bentley at Pharoah's Club. His name was Unruh. Unruh spent the evening beside my hospital bed, eating Oreos and watching sitcoms. I lay there in bed with the impotent TV controller, brooding about Nef and her attempt to take over Pharoah's Club. She was a little fireball onstage. She needed to develop her technique, but untrained audiences were fooled by all the flash and energy. I was irritated with Nef for being greedy, with Dr. Cluff for being haughty, and especially with the murderer, who tried to bring me a death that was as artificial as my wig. I didn't like brooding. It was a waste of time. I would have to do something about that.
The next morning, just before I checked out, Detective Morales came with a notepad. His face was bruised. He said it happened while trying to start the lawn mower.
He was less patronizing than before.
"I'll interview the neighbors," he said. "Not that it will help. In a case like this, there aren't any clues. Of course there'll be poison in the body. Big deal."
"Body! Which body?"
"Eugenia Mouser's body, of course. The dancer who died two weeks ago."
"You're exhuming her?"
He looked a bit annoyed. "Well, yes, we did decide to do that. Not that it'll be necessary. The real question is, who poisoned her? That, we'll probably never know." He rose to leave. "Ma'am, I want to tell you're a real tough gal.”
"I beg your pardon?"
"The doctors were pretty sure you wouldn't make it. Somebody really has it in for you. He'll want to finish the job. After all, he still has his motive."
"Thanks for coming in and offering me so much comfort," I told him.
He left my bedside looking pleased. "That's why I'm here," he said.
Thanks for reading! You too can be a belly dancer. :) Classes just started. Come join us for lessons! Check us out on FB by clicking on the top left of the home page! --Safira