Authors: Ella Barrick
Quickstep to Murder
“Perfect for all your dance-show fans. Barrick brings a light step and an upbeat tempo to her debut. . . . Who wouldn’t want to spice up their lives with a little ballroom?”
“A new series that looks like fun.”
“Barrick keeps them hopping with a classy little mystery set in the world of professional dancing.”
“[A]n engaging debonair amateur sleuth . . . will have readers dancing the Lindy.”
—Genre Go Round Reviews
“[A] great mystery.”
“Absolutely delicious . . . The mystery is substantial, the murder is piquant, and the characters are fun-loving, quirky, and provocative . . . 10s across the board.”
Other Ballroom Dance Mysteries
by Ella Barrick
Quickstep to Murder
Dead Man Waltzing
A Ballroom Dance Mystery
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First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
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Copyright © Laura DiSilverio, 2012
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For my brothers, James and John:
good brothers and better friends.
I love you guys.
I’m grateful to Dr. Terry McGee and William J. Loskota, PhD, MD, who provided me with the expertise necessary to knock off Corinne Blakely. They gave me enough information on pharmacology and the effects of readily available prescription medicines to kill off another eight or ten books’ worth of characters. Who needs a gun?
Thanks also to my agent, the fabulous Paige Wheeler, and my editor, the insightful Sandy Harding. (They are both much more than fabulous and insightful, but I didn’t want to use my day’s adjective quota all at once.) I continue to be grateful to my writing buddies, friends, and others who don’t think I’m insane for wanting to be a novelist, and who indulge me by kicking around plot ideas, coming up with titles and character names, and listening to me babble about writing esoterica.
Finally, thanks and much love to my husband, Thomas, my mother, and my girls for being part of my life. I am constantly astonished and uplifted by their love, generosity, imagination, and general wonderfulness.
, two, three,
, two, three,” I counted, landing heavily on the downbeat for the six elderly couples waltzing around me in my ballroom as rush-hour traffic honked outside in the Old Town Alexandria streets. “Waltzing” was a bit of an exaggeration, since collisions and missteps marred what should have been the graceful flow of the dance. Four of the six couples, though, were beginners, friends from a retirement community who had recently signed up for lessons, and I had hopes they would improve.
“Keep your frame up,” I suggested, nudging one large man between the shoulder blades. He drew his shoulders back stiffly; all he needed was a blindfold to look like a prisoner facing a firing squad.
“Better.” I sighed, thinking we could work on relaxing and getting into the feel of the waltz in another couple of weeks. This was only their second lesson.
A short, plump woman in her seventies stopped moving, causing her even older partner to stumble. Mildred Kensington had been taking lessons at Graysin Motion for months, but hadn’t shown much improvement. Still, she arrived each week with a sunny, pink-lipsticked smile and lots of energy, frequently with a new friend or two in tow. I had a soft spot for the spunky old lady. “Can you show us how to turn again, Stacy?” she asked.
“Of course.” I glanced toward the door, wondering for the third time where Maurice was. He was supposed to be coteaching this class with me, and it was totally unlike him to forget a class. Closing in on seventy, I suspected, although he looked ten years younger, Maurice Goldberg had worked as a cruise ship dance host before I hired him away to teach at Graysin Motion, my ballroom dance studio in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, just outside the nation’s capital.
Selecting the least rhythm-challenged of the men, I led him through the steps several times before encouraging the group to try it again. “Weight on your
foot when you offer your partner your
hand,” I reminded the men as I cued up the Strauss CD.
“Hoover would pick this up faster than I am,” Mildred complained after another circuit of the room.
Hearing his name, the Great Dane lifted his head and pricked his ears forward. White with black splotches, he usually lay quietly in a pool of sunlight under a window when Mildred came to the studio. No one had ever complained about him and I liked having him around, so he’d become almost a studio mascot. I gave him a surreptitious pat as I passed him, and he thumped his black tail on the floor, not, unfortunately, in tempo.
“Stop that, Hoover,” Mildred complained. “You’re throwing me off the beat.”
The class ended fifteen minutes later and the group lingered, poking fun at one another’s dancing as good friends do. The words “elephant,” “rhino,” and “diplodocus” occurred frequently. The early June sun still rode high at six o’clock and laid a yellow sunbeam road where it streamed through the street-facing windows onto the wood floor. Some of the boards showed blackened strips where a fire had charred them a couple months back. I’d asked my refinisher to save the boards, if at all possible, because they were original to the Federal-era town home my great-aunt Laurinda had left me. He’d had to replace some of the more heavily damaged planks, but many of them were the very boards James Madison might have trodden when the house belonged to his cousin.
Urging the group to practice at home during the week, I shooed them out the door by my office. It led to an exterior staircase that allowed ballroom students to come up to my second-floor dance studio without going through my living quarters on the first floor. A darn fine arrangement. Before Great-aunt Laurinda had left me the house and I’d opened my own studio, I’d lived in an apartment nearly an hour from where I taught and danced, and the hideous commute had left me alternately drained and homicidal.
I had barely closed the door behind the seniors when a brief knock sounded. Unusual . . . most students and the instructors walked right in. I opened the door and stood dumbstruck at the sight of the man standing on the small square landing.
“Detective Lissy,” I finally said. “To what do I owe the”—
imposition, intrusion, nuisance
The man pursed his stretchy, too-red lips and crossed the threshold. Comb furrows tracked through his thinning, dishwater-colored hair, and his head seemed slightly too big for his thin neck. He wore an immaculate suit and a bland tie. He straightened the knot and the gesture slammed me back two months to when he had wanted to arrest me for shooting Rafe Acosta, my dance partner, coowner of Graysin Motion, and former fiancé. I shivered.
“Ms. Graysin.” Lissy acknowledged me with a sour smile.
“I’m guessing you’re not here for the Latin class?” I said.
“Astute of you.” He stepped farther into the narrow hallway and I backed toward my office. “Actually, I’m looking for Mr. Maurice Goldberg and thought I might find him here.”
“Maurice?” What in the world could the police want with Maurice? “I haven’t seen him this evening. Have you tried his house?”
“Now, why didn’t I think of that?” Lissy said with mock dismay. He passed me and poked his head into the ballroom.
I followed, becoming a little annoyed. “I told you he wasn’t here,” I said. “Why do you need to find him?”
“It looks much better than the last time I saw it,” Lissy said, ignoring my question. “I like the new drapes.” He gestured to the ivory velvet drapes I’d hung to replace the curtains incinerated by the fire. “Elegant.”
His critique of my decorating efforts didn’t distract me. “Why do you want Maurice?”
“You don’t mind if I look around?” Lissy started for the smaller room at the back of the house that we called the “studio” to distinguish it from the “ballroom.”
“Actually, I do,” I said, stepping in front of him. “Unless you have a search warrant.” Being a murder suspect had taught me a few things.
Lissy stopped, looking down his sharp nose at me. He was only a few inches taller than my five-foot-six, but he still managed to look down on me. It was an attitude thing more than a physical thing. The way the light from the hallway sconces hit him, I could see every little freckle across his cheeks and earlobes. “You don’t have anything to hide, do you, Ms. Graysin?”
I balled my hands on my hips. “Tell me why you want Maurice, or say good night.”
“Perhaps you know Corinne Blakely?” he asked, watching me closely.
I nodded. Who in the ballroom world
know Corinne Blakely, the grande dame of American ballroom dancing, a former champion, teacher, judge, and competition organizer who was leading the push for ballroom dancing to be admitted as an Olympic sport?
“I thought so.” He made it sound like I’d admitted something criminal.
“Good night, Detective,” I said, leading him back toward the door.
His voice came from just behind me. “Perhaps you haven’t heard that she’s dead?”
I whirled to face him. “No!”
“How?” Corinne must have been in her seventies; maybe she’d had a heart attack. But that wouldn’t explain Lissy’s presence. I cringed inwardly, awaiting his answer.