For the beautiful victims, it was the last dance. For a psychic detective, the waltz has just begun....
Lesson One: The Tarantella
She had been young, pretty, a budding ballerina. Now, beneath a streetlight in the cold Atlanta dawn, she's pirouetting at the end of a rope, a note pinned to her lapel: "Number One--The Tarantella." A dance of evil has commenced, a sinister medley of malice that will unfold over time as a ruthless killer leads Flap Tucker through the steps of a pattern only he can unravel.
Lesson Two: The Tango
The next dangling corpse sends Flap spinning blindly through Atlanta's underside, where two mobsters duel violently for love and money, a brilliant musician sidelines in secrets, and a monster circles close to Flap's cherished friend, Dalliance Oglethorpe. As he struggles to find his footing--blocked from his Zenlike ability to glimpse the truth behind reality's curtain--the murderous beat quickens around him, and a deadly dancer moves in perfect time to claim one last partner.
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Ill Wind at Dawn
The corpse was swaying in an angular fashion. It was moving in a little box step, hanging from the lamppost in the icy morning air. I was staring up at it.
"What exactly is that thing tied around her neck?"
"That's an apron, Flap."
Joepye Adder had lived on and off in Piedmont Park, like a phantom, since 1983. Every once in a while the constabulary would take pity on his freewheeling ways and invite him to a nice little cell for dinner. But once he got out, he'd usually wander back to the park, and most people in the upwardly mobile neighborhoods around the park had grown to feel more uncomfortable when they didn't see him around.
I squinted. "An apron?"
"Come on around on this side." He pulled his coat around him and motioned, stumbling a little from the abundance of alcohol he'd doubtless consumed before coming to my place.
I followed in his direction and got a better look. Sure enough, sticking out behind her, like a little cape, was an old-fashioned flowered apron. Wrapped around her neck, its strings were all that kept her up in the air, tied to the lamppost arm.
"Wow, Joe. Good catch."
It was just after dawn. The lamp blinked off.
"Flap, what makes the lights go on and off like that? Is it a timer, or do they have some sort of light sensor on there?"
"Joe, could we stick to one line of inquiry at a time?"
"You got me up before daybreak, I'm not awake, I'm trying hard not to think about what I'm looking at. You got me down here in the cold wind, you know you're probably going to get me into some kind of trouble, and the issue is not what makes the streetlights go on and off."
He nodded. "Oh. Right. You're absolutely right, Flap. Sorry."
"You just came to get me when you saw this? You didn't call the cops?"
He twisted a little, like he was trying to get away from a bee. "What the hell'd I call a cop for?"
Despite the grisly image, I was still fascinated, in the most macabre and sleepless sense of the word, by the fact that a little cloth string was strong enough to hold up a grown woman. "You found a dead body."
"To me"--he shook his head--"if it's on the ground, like, under a pile of leaves or like that--well, that's finding a dead body. This, see, falls into a whole 'nother category--in my mind, at least."
"I see. So you came to me."
"I figured you to get some work out of this." He grew animated. "And then, when you got paid, I had it in mind that it'd be worth something to you to, you know, toss a little percentage my way, kind of like an agent. I mean, I know ordinarily you let Miss Dally take care of all that sort of a deal, but what her being gone to Paris and all--"
"Joe?" I gave him a little smile. "She's been back for six months."
"Uh-huh, and excuse me for saying so, but that says a whole lot about your sorry state."
"Sorry state?" He wasn't offended; he just questioned my choice of words. "I personally prefer to think of myself as more of your happy, carefree vagabond."
I blinked. "In what century?"
"Yeah," he had to agree. "It's a mean time in history to try for anything like "carefree,' I can see that. Still, it's my lot in life."
"Very philosophical." I looked back up. "What's making her sway like that? Is it that windy?"
He stared skyward too. "Could be your rotation of the earth."
"No." I let my shoulders sag. "It could not be the rotation of the earth."
He shrugged. "Just a thought."
"You know I've got to call Dally about this."
"What for?" He made a face. "That'll just make my percentage go down."
"Because"--I raised my eyebrows--"I want to."
"Isn't it kind of amazing that the apron string is enough to keep her up there?"
He moved around to get another angle. "I guess." More squinting. "How old you think she was?"
"Young." I looked at her little hands. "I'm saying very early twenties."
He was looking at her clothes. "I'd wager she was a hooker."
"I guess." I shrugged.
Leather coat, tight black pants, blue ankle boots, not much of a blouse as far as I could tell from my vantage point. Could have been a wig, the hair was pretty well done up. She was wearing one of those rings, the kind you get in a bubble gum machine, plastic gold band, huge blue plastic stone.
Joepye tilted his head almost parallel to the ground. "Flap? Look. What's that on her coat?"
I took a step to where he was. I followed his gaze. "Looks like a . . . big pin. Is it a pin?"
She was pretty high up there, all things considered. Her head was only inches away from the light fixture, and the daylight was still pretty dim.
"I think," he spoke slowly, "it's a note. Look."
I did. "Maybe you've got something. Looks like it could be a note, pinned to her lapel. Man."
He looked at me. "You just plan to leave her up there, Flap, or are you going to get her down?"
"Me? Why is it my business to get her down?"
"Well"--he shook his head--"you can't just leave her up there. School kids walk this way to Grady High over there. You can't have them walking under a thing like this. It's very uncomfortable."
But before I could figure out how to get up there and do anything about it, there was a hideous rending of fabric above our heads, and the girl in question plummeted to the pavement between us like a wet sack of sand.
Much to my shame, he was the first to gather his wits.
"Well, there you are."
I stared down at her, but not for long. She was just a kid, but it wasn't a kid's face; it was navy blue and twisted. It looked like a gargoyle, like the kind that's supposed to be a representation of the North Wind, all swollen and puffed up, tongue stuck out, blowing up a storm. If you hang by your neck long enough, you get like that. Anybody would.
The note on her lapel was written in ornate, time-consuming calligraphy. All it said was "Number One: The Tarantella."
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