Dancing with the Dead

BOOK: Dancing with the Dead
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Dancing with the Dead
John Lutz

For Suzanne and David Nyemchek

The class of the ballroom dance world, on and off the floor
















































A Biography of John Lutz

In a sense the victim shapes and molds the criminal . . . .

To know one we must be acquainted with the complementary partner.

Hans von Hentig
, The Criminal and His Victim

The author wishes to emphasize that the Romance Dance Studio and its instructors and students are purely fictitious, and to express gratitude to the many people who helped to make this novel possible. With very special thanks to:

Steve and Liz Brockman of Just Dancing

Stan and Nicole Collins of U Can Dance

Everyone at the Just Dancing and the St. Louis Arthur Murray studios


a mad dance. He’d pressed his body against hers, backing her against the tall chain-link fence. Behind her the Mississippi ran like a black artery in the moonlight. Terror radiated through her body and drained it of strength, muddled and paralyzed her brain. She could hear him softly chanting her name: “Danielle, Danielle, Danielle . . .” With a breathless reverence, as if it were part of a religious ritual. She’d never dreamed he might be capable of this. Never!

She saw the glint of moonlight on the knife and struggled to speak. His body drew away from hers and the blade flashed sideways, leaving a cold trace of steel along her throat. Odd, she was sitting on the ground now, resting her back against the sagging fence. Something warm lay in her lap. He was smiling down at her, still holding the knife, and she understood that her throat was cut and he’d backed away from her before the flash of the knife so he wouldn’t get blood on his clothes. She tried to plead with him but couldn’t suck in air. Her mouth formed a rictus and she could feel the useless bellows action of her lungs. Her hands fluttered to her throat and she touched the horrible horizontal gap, and her heart exploded with panic. Yet a tiny cold part of her brain remained amazingly calm and objective. Music floated from inside the building as her heels beat wildly against the blacktop, out of time, she noticed inanely, feeling herself drifting, weakening.

She was aware of him pushing her the rest of the way down, then rolling her body on its side so her blood ran along a slight incline toward the river, away from him. Very efficient, he was, as if he’d done this many times before and had plenty of practice. Her cheek pressed numbly against the hard ground, she watched the dark spreading flow with a sad detachment, letting its slow current draw her into greater darkness.


and she was falling.

Two . . . three—

Mary reached out a shaking hand, groping for the alarm clock. Its intermittent electronic scream was shredding her brain like jagged glass. Finally she found the clock, fumbled with its cool plastic case, and managed to silence it.

Reaching for it made her side ache where Jake had hit her last night. Pain zapped through her like high voltage, and she wondered if he’d cracked one of her ribs. It had happened once before, a year ago, and she was sure the doctors in emergency at Incarnate Word hadn’t believed her story about slipping and falling on the ice. Not a lot of imagination in that one.

Well, it wasn’t their business anyway. Her business. Hers and Jake’s. Intimate as her dreams.

Mary Arlington had dreamed again she was flying. Soaring near the lovely domed ceiling of a limitless room, almost touching pure curved whiteness, one . . . two . . . three, to waltz time, two . . . three. . . . Floating in someone’s arms. It wasn’t clear whose. Far below, faces strained upward, pale ovals with dark, staring eyes and gaping mouths, watching her trace elegant patterns whose lines might extend into eternity.

But morning had arrived. She worked her way up so she was leaning back in bed, supported on her elbows, then she slowly swiveled her body and dropped her legs into space, struggling until she was sitting slumped on the edge of the mattress. More pain. She heard herself groan, but the rib didn’t act up. Hey, the day was starting right.

Mary moved her hands slowly and gingerly beneath her nightgown, gliding fingertips over smooth flesh, seeking sources of pain.

They’d argued last night about the latest of Jake’s unexplained absences. This one had lasted three days and two nights. He’d told her he’d spent the time at the big Victorian house three of his buddies leased in the suburb of Webster Groves, and she knew he did go there at times, paying rent for one of the upper bedrooms. What he had no explanation for was the long-term airport parking ticket stub she’d found in his pocket. This time maybe he’d left St. Louis, not just driven a few miles to Webster Groves.

Jake had worked himself to a high pitch of anger. Then he’d beaten her with the flat of his hand and then his fists.

This morning, early, he’d kissed her ear and whispered he was sorry, he loved her, he’d gotten carried away with the physical stuff. He’d make it up to her, he promised, he really would. Uh-huh.

“Don’t come back,” she’d told him, her voice hoarse from sleep. “Not this time!”

“Sure,” he said, and kissed her again. “Whatever you say, Mary. Don’t I usually try to make you happy?”

Only wanting him to leave, she hadn’t answered. Finally she heard and felt him roll out of bed. The bedsprings moaned as if sharing her pain.

She’d lain awake listening to the roar of the shower, then to Jake thumping around her apartment getting dressed. He was supposed to meet some guys from work this morning. To go fishing, he’d said. Jake and his buddies; sometimes they were like a living beer commercial.

When she’d heard the door
close behind him, she’d fallen asleep again.

That was two hours ago, and here she sat with a numb mind and aching body.

Jake would be guilt-plagued, remorseful even in the way he moved. For days he’d loathe himself for what he’d done, an object of scathing self-pity. And, in Mary’s eyes, a man pinned by his agony, writhing in pain as intense as hers even if it wasn’t physical.

Others didn’t understand, she knew, and wondered why she stayed with Jake. But the abuse had grown gradually, creeping up on her love, engulfing it and leaving it whole and somehow undamaged, like the tender walnut, safe within its confining yet protective shell.

That was the problem, she loved Jake.

And she had no one else.

But she knew she had to be strong. This time she meant it, he wasn’t coming back. She wouldn’t let him.

She drew a deep breath, without pain, and stood up, leaning with a hand on the headboard for a moment while her dizziness passed. She had to leave for work in half an hour, and she had a dance lesson right after supper.

She hoped like hell she could move okay. Tonight was tango.


in the parish. The honest merchants, the con artists, the whores, the gays, the blues and Cajun musicians, and the grifters; they knew him and played straight with him, because he played straight with them. If he said he’d crack skull if they didn’t cooperate, he meant it, always. He’d been a beat patrolman there for twelve years before making sergeant, ridden in a two-man patrol car for five more years before becoming plainclothes. Now, at fifty, he was a New Orleans P.D. homicide lieutenant. The cop everyone had known twenty years ago hadn’t changed: He was tough, shrewd, and persistent. And still honest.

He sat now behind his wide, cluttered desk in his office in Homicide, a sloppily dressed, shambling man sucking on a meerschaum pipe he never lit. His gray eyes were as bright and calculating as when he was a rookie, even if now there were crow’s feet at their corners. His hair was almost completely gray but still thick and unruly, and his lower lip still jutted determinedly. Perched on an off-center nose, the no-nonsense black-framed glasses suggested he was a man of decisiveness and violence. Thick and scarred knuckles added to the impression.

In his big hands he was holding a copy of the medical examiner’s report on the Verlane woman. Detective Sergeant Waxman, who’d just handed him the report, was standing in front of Morrisy’s desk, neatly dressed as usual, his tie knot the size of a pea, his suitcoat buttoned despite the river delta heat and humidity that the air-conditioner wasn’t quite coping with today.

“Something, eh, Lieutenant?” Waxman said. He was a lean, handsome man with sleekly combed red hair, built for the expensive clothes he wore. Sometimes Morrisy wondered where he got the money to dress so well, but he never asked.

Morrisy grunted and read on. Something, all right. There’d been so much blood at the crime scene he hadn’t realized the extent or nature of the injuries. Except for the horrendous slash across the victim’s throat.

“Weird, huh?” Waxman asked, still searching for a reaction.

Morrisy laid the file folder on his desk and looked out the window at the buildings across the street. Fat gray clouds were building up. Rain clouds. Rain this time of year wouldn’t do a thing to break the heat, only add steam to the recipe for misery. He said, “We don’t tell the husband the worst part, or the media.”

“I’m assuming hubby might already know,” Waxman said. “A certain bell doesn’t ring with that guy.”

“Maybe. But we need to keep this from him just in case, and keep the media in the dark on it, ’specially those TV jerkoffs. That way it’ll be our card to play when we bring in a suspect.”

Waxman’s heavily lidded eyes flicked to the folder on the desk, back to Morrisy. “I been in Homicide a long time, Lieutenant, and I never seen that kinda thing.”

“That’s why it’s such a good hole card.” It was standard procedure in a homicide investigation to hold back a few pieces of crucial or defining evidence that only the police and the killer would know. It made it easier to obtain accurate statements and helped nail down convictions.

“The media’d love it,” Waxman said.

Morrisy nodded. “Wouldn’t they?”

“They already like the fact she was out doing the light fantastic with men she barely knew, dressed the way she was, maybe asking for it, you know?”

“It doesn’t hurt that they like it,” Morrisy said. This was still the deep South, and a prime piece like Danielle Verlane out slutting it up even though she was married, then paying for her transgressions with her life, made especially juicy copy. Straight out of the Old Testament, far as the news media were concerned. They could moralize their guts out over this one. And if they knew the rest, the nightmare part, it would really play like crazy. Morrisy prided himself on being adept when it came to dealing with news people, using
instead of the other way around. He was determined that would be the way it went on this case. “Any word on the prints?”

BOOK: Dancing with the Dead
8.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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