Related collections and offers
Read an Excerpt
Dead Man Dancing
A Hannah Ives Mystery
By Marcia Talley
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2008 Marcia Talley
All rights reserved.
She'd cropped her hair, colored it bronze, and gelled it into stylish spikes with freshly manicured fingers. Now she stood in my kitchen door, asking me what I thought.
'Who are you,' I said, 'and what have you done with my sister Ruth?'
Ruth grinned and executed a shaky pirouette on one toe of her platform wedges. I figured I was expected to comment on a new outfit, but it took me a few seconds to figure out what it might be. The jacket I recognized. Boiled wool. Red. Purchased at a fleece meet in central Pennsylvania, and old as the hills. She must have meant the jeans.
'Chico's?' I ventured, admiring the fit.
'Well, yeah,' she said, letting me know that I'd completely missed the point. 'What else, Hannah?'
'Cool belt?' I ventured, thinking that with that buckle and all the decorative studs, Ruth would cause a sensation at airport security when she and Hutch finally set off on their honeymoon.
'Size one point five,' she said, smoothing the dark denim along her hips with the palms of both hands. 'I used to wear a two.'
One point five. I loved Chico's sizing. In my post-chemo days, I wore a double zero. I remember rejoicing when I porked up to a healthier size one, but in this Super-Size-Me era, there weren't many people with whom I could share that joy.
'Congratulations, Ruth,' I said, meaning it. I reached out and patted her hair, which felt stiff as AstroTurf under my fingers. 'You look terrific. Hutch is never going to know what hit him.'
'He'll probably think aliens have landed and taken over my body.' Ruth crossed to the refrigerator, opened the door and peered in. 'Got any iced tea?'
'What you see is what you get,' I told her. Paul and I had been surviving on Thanksgiving leftovers for a week. I hadn't been to the grocery store recently, so the pickings were mighty slim.
Ruth shuffled condiment bottles, restacked Tupperware, opened drawers and pawed around until she discovered a regular Coke my husband kept hidden from himself in the vegetable crisper. Before I could stop her, she'd popped the top. 'I'm down ten and a half pounds,' she announced, after taking a swig. 'And thank God. My wedding gown is gorgeous,' she said, 'but it's a one-off. Size eight. It. Is. Going. To. Fit,' she added, 'even if it's the last thing I do.'
'Plenty of time for that,' I commented. Hutch had proposed to my sister over a year ago, but the wedding date had only recently been set. 'If you keep losing weight at this rate, in thirteen months, the dress will be too big.'
Ruth pulled out a chair and sat down, stretched out her legs, and kicked off her shoes. 'I'm on the Eat Less Food Diet,' she laughed.
'Genius,' I said. 'You should write a book.'
'I'll call it Hippy Girl Slims Down, Spruces Up, Marries Attorney and Joins the Establishment.' She waved her can, as if writing the words in the air. 'Not necessarily in that order.' She suddenly looked lost. 'Too bad Mother never lived to see it.'
I teared up, too, and patted my sister's shoulder. 'She knows.'
'This wedding is going to be perfect, Hannah,' Ruth said, turning her face away from me and toward the window, struggling with tears of her own. 'Not like the first time.'
'That won't be difficult,' I commented. Ruth's wedding to Eric Gannon had been a bargain basement quickie, all bare feet and daisy chains somewhere in the mountains of New Hampshire, with only a justice of the peace and a herd of restive cows presiding. The marriage, too, had been a disaster until, weary of Eric's philandering, Ruth had kicked the bum out and set fire to his clothing in the driveway.
'I need your help with something,' Ruth, the reformed pyromaniac said after a moment.
'Oh, oh.' I felt a sense of foreboding. I folded my arms and leaned against the fridge. With Ruth, there was usually a catch.
She finished her Coke and tossed the empty can in the general direction of the sink where it tumbled into the dish drainer with a hollow thunk-clink. 'I've got the gown, of course, and the cake's laid on. Michaels is doing the flowers, and I'm working with The Main Ingredient on the catering.' Ruth took a deep breath. 'What would you say to a dance band?'
'A dance band? As in a real dance band, like Harry James or Glenn Miller?'
'Well,' I ventured. 'That implies actual dancing, doesn't it?'
'Ruth, I haven't seen you dance since the Funky Chicken was all the rage.'
Ruth shrugged. 'True, but I've been practicing.'
I thought for a moment about the repercussions of actual dancing at her wedding. My husband, Paul, was a mathematical genius, but when it came to dancing, the poor boy had been out getting his diaper changed when the rhythm fairy passed by his cradle. I wasn't much better. We had a DVD somewhere – 'Brush Up Your Ballroom' – that we'd watched a couple of times before Paul's sister, Connie, married Dennis, but aside from the simple one-two-three, one-two-three of the waltz, not much of it had stuck.
'I've been watching videos,' Ruth added, 'but galumphing around the house crashing into the furniture just isn't going to cut it.'
While channel surfing, I'd caught occasional episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, Shall We Dance? and a couple of other dance contest shows myself – what Paul likes to call Unreality TV – but I'd rarely been inspired to rise from my comfortable chair and take a spin around my living-room carpet.
'Hutch was big into ballroom at Ithaca College,' Ruth said, 'and I think it would mean a lot to him.' She crossed her arms on the table and leaned toward me. 'I thought maybe you could recommend somebody.'
'There's the Naval Academy Band,' I said after giving it a moment's thought. 'Some of its members moonlight with combos on weekends, but other than that, I don't know any bands, Ruth.'
Ruth shook her smartly coifed head and grinned. 'A dance instructor, silly. I've already signed up the band.'
'You are scaring me, sister.'
'I'm serious, Hannah. Didn't you work with someone last year on Dance for the Cure?'
'Right,' I said, remembering. 'Kay Giannotti of J & K Studios was one of our sponsors.' The fund-raiser at Loews Hotel on West Street had been a huge success, but I'd sulked on the sidelines, a proper little wallflower. Paul had declined to go, citing finals that needed grading, assuaging his guilt by forking out a healthy check for the cure instead.
'Chloe takes lessons at J & K, too,' I added. 'I've picked her up a couple of times. The studio's off Chinquapin Round Road.'
While I bragged about my granddaughter's last dance recital, Ruth padded barefoot to the bookshelf and hauled down the Yellow Pages. She plopped the book on the table and thumbed through the pages until she got to Dance Instruction.
Yipes! The girl was serious.
Ruth snapped her fingers in my direction. 'Paper and pen?'
I yanked open the junk drawer and found a pencil stub and an old carry-out menu, then watched as she wrote down the address and phone number on a blank space above 'All You Can Eat Special - $9.99'. She handed the pencil back. 'I'll check to see what classes they offer.'
'I'm holding my breath.'
'Be serious, Hannah! Wouldn't it be great to see everyone waltzing around the ...' She closed the book with a thump. 'Shit. The dance floor at the George Calvert will never handle everyone. We'll have to check out Loews. I'll lose my deposit, of course, but ...'
She turned to me and grinned, confident that I'd be agreeable. 'You and Paul will take lessons, too, won't you?'
I thought about the grand ballroom at the Loews Hotel, particularly the spacious atrium just off the lobby. I remembered it as it had looked for Dance for the Cure – glamorous ball gowns, sophisticated tuxedos, elegant couples tracing graceful circles around the dance floor. I imagined myself in flowing yellow chiffon, trailing feathers like Big Bird, my hair a-glitter with sequins, swirling around in Paul's arms, light as air, characters straight out of Die Fledermaus.
A girl can dream.
'I'll put it to Prince Charming,' I said, 'but I'm not making any promises.'
'It's easy, Hannah. Lay down the law: no dancing, no sex.'
'Har de har har. I better get myself to the grocery store then, and fix him something mouth-watering for dinner.'
Ruth hugged me, hard. 'He will be putty in your hands.'
'I'm not so sure about that.'
'Bull. Your meat loaf is ambrosia. Nectar of the gods.'
'Right,' I said as I returned the phone book to its proper shelf. 'Dab a little gravy behind my ears, and I'm irresistible.'
Maybe my plan would have worked better if I'd dabbed a little Chanel No.5 behind my ears rather than Eau de Boeuf.
'You're kidding me, right?' Paul mumbled around his toothbrush and a foaming mouthful of Crest as we prepared for bed that evening.
I was perched on the lid of the toilet, my knees pulled all the way up under my nightgown, watching him brush.
'You know I have two left feet,' he said after he'd rinsed and spat.
'I know that, but maybe if we took lessons ...' I jabbed a finger into my husband's lean-mean stomach, emphasizing each word.
Paul laughed out loud, then grabbed my hand and pulled me off the chenille-covered seat toward him.
Standing on tiptoes, I gazed up into his face, admiring the laughter lines that creased his lightly stubbled cheeks. 'Aren't mathematicians supposed to be musical?'
'There's a high correlation between math and music, true, but there are exceptions to every rule. And sad to say, I am one.' He kissed the top of my head.
'Come on, Paul. It's only one night a week. Surely you can manage that.'
He held me at arm's length and squinted at me suspiciously. 'Which night?'
'I don't know yet,' I said, hedging my bets. 'Ruth and I are going to check out the studio tomorrow.'
'Can't we just rent a video?'
I glanced at my husband. Sneaky Paul, looking for a loophole.
'Where's the fun in that?' I explained about the orchestra, and about Ruth's plan to make hers the Annapolis wedding of the year, if not the decade, with society page coverage in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, even if she had to pay for it. 'Suppose I get Connie and Dennis to take lessons, too?'
'We can make it a family affair,' I added, hopefully.
'Dennis?' Paul snorted. 'Surely cops are far too busy putting away criminals to take time out for dance lessons.'
I saw my opening, and played my ace. 'If Dennis agrees, will you agree, too?'
Paul turned me around and nudged me gently in the direction of the bedroom.
'Well?' I shot a hopeful glance over my shoulder.
'I'm thinking, I'm thinking.'
In the semi-darkness of our bedroom, I slithered under the covers. 'You know what Ruth suggested, darling?'
Paul slipped between the sheets and stretched out his arm to turn off the bedside lamp. 'What?'
'No sex 'til you dance,' I said as I pulled the duvet under my chin.
'Always helpful, your sister.'
A few minutes later, Paul's kiss told me all I needed to know.
I nibbled on his ear. 'I'll take that as a yes, then, Professor Ives.CHAPTER 2
Ruth burst into my kitchen the following morning, armed with a list of dance studios, if you call three a list, and printouts with information about each. She spread them out on the table in front of her.
'I thought we'd decided on J & K Studios,' I complained, setting a mug of steaming black coffee on the table beside her. 'Yesterday afternoon. Remember?' The studio had been so supportive of Dance for the Cure that I wanted to steer a little business their way.
Ruth picked up her mug and sipped carefully. 'Well, yes, but when I got home, I thought I'd better do a bit of research. Just to make sure.'
'Make sure of what?' I asked, feeling a bit miffed that my advice about J & K Studios was being ignored.
'To make sure that Hutch won't be disappointed,' she said. 'He competed in college, so I figure he's going to be a little bit picky about instructors.'
'A serious competitor?'
'Won all kinds of trophies.' Ruth beamed at me over the rim of her mug. 'His mother keeps calling from Nebraska to ask if he wants them.' She laughed. 'She's turning his bedroom into an office.'
'What's her hurry? Hutch hasn't lived at home for – what? – fifteen years.'
'She's threatening to give them all to Goodwill. Anyway ...' She hurried on before I could wedge a word in. 'When I got home, I sat down and Googled all the Annapolis area dance studios. This one in Glen Burnie, for example.' She read off an address that I knew must be located in one of the clusters of car dealerships and strip malls that lined Route 2 the entire twenty-some blighted miles from Annapolis to the Baltimore beltway.
'They've got several wedding packages,' Ruth continued. 'Everything from reasonably-priced group lessons down to a one-lesson crash course for eighty-five dollars.' She looked up at me over the frames of her reading glasses. 'Even if it were worth the drive, I don't think the crash course will do.'
'And this gal –' Ruth tapped the second name on her list – 'she teaches out of her home in Annapolis, but I checked on her website, no Latin.'
'Amo, amas, amat.'
'Not that kind of Latin!' I could see Ruth wasn't in the mood for jokes.
'Well, if I can't paso doble, forget it.'
Ruth's eyes narrowed. 'Do you know more about dancing than you're letting on, Hannah Ives?'
'Just what I see on Dancing with the Stars,' I insisted. 'Jonathan Whatshisname dragging Marie Osmond around the dance floor by her hair.' I tried to imagine Paul in skintight pants, high heels tapping like a Flamenco dancer, his fingers entwined in the roots of my short, coffee-colored curls. I had to giggle.
'Paso doble is supposed to represent bullfighting,' Ruth explained. 'La Passe, Banderillas, Coup de Pique and all that.' She waved a hand. 'If it weren't for Hutch, I wouldn't know the cha-cha from a rumba.'
'What is the difference between a cha-cha and a rumba?' I asked.
Ruth ignored me. 'Hutch comes home, grabs a cold one, and watches all those dance shows, yelling beery criticism from the sofa, especially at the judges. Hutch hates the judges.' Ruth pantomimed a dramatic hair flip, batted her eyelashes furiously and gushed, 'You two are, like, just so awesome!'
'Hutch is a lawyer. He's supposed to hate judges,' I teased. When Ruth stopped laughing, I asked, 'Why don't you get Hutch to give you lessons?'
'He's offered, but I said, no. I can't take the chance that it would wreck our relationship the same way it wrecked the relationship I had with Rusty when I took him up on his offer to teach me how to drive.'
Remembering that notorious high school incident, it was my turn to laugh. 'Well, if you hadn't gotten a whopping ticket for driving Rusty's car without a license ...'
'We were on back roads. Who knew there'd be a roadblock?' 'Or even a learner's permit,' I added.
'I was only fourteen.'
'Not to mention driving over that patrolman's foot.'
Ruth leaned back in her chair, a grin splitting her face. 'Now that was worth every penny!'
Ruth, the radical, then as now. Back then, our dad, a navy commander, had been stationed at the Pentagon, a fact we tried to keep secret from our friends. We were living in a rented farmhouse in rural Virginia, on the outskirts of a tiny town where every infraction, no matter how minor, was eventually published in the police blotter of the local paper. Rusty, two years ahead of Ruth and flush with cash from his after-school job at Denny's, had gallantly paid Ruth's fine, but his ardor cooled after several months of missing Thursday afternoon band practice to drive Ruth home, where she hoped to retrieve the Woodbridge Gazette before Mom got to it. Eventually Ruth succeeded in snatching the incriminating issue off the stoop and burning it, but she hadn't counted on the twenty-seven neighbors who telephoned Mom to clue her in. Small towns. Ya gotta love 'em.
Annapolis was like that, in some ways. Population 36,000, and the capital of Maryland, but everyone seemed to know everyone else. That's how I knew Kay Giannotti, the 'K' of J & K Studios. Even before the Dance for the Cure I kept running into Kay – Annapolis Symphony concerts, Newcomers Club, Graul's Market, the downtown post office. She didn't actually teach Chloe – one of her associates handled the under twelves – but I'd passed Kay in the studio parking lot from time to time, a friendly nod-and-wave sort of thing.
'You were right, Hannah,' Ruth said, as if eavesdropping on my brain. 'J & K seems to have the best deal. Group lessons from seven to eight p.m. on Mondays, with an hour of free practice following.' She looked up from her notes. 'The "K" I can figure out, but what's the "J" stand for?' 'Kay's husband, Jay.'
Excerpted from Dead Man Dancing by Marcia Talley. Copyright © 2008 Marcia Talley. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.