Authors: Nancy Springer
By Nancy Springer
Copyright 2012 by Nancy Springer
Cover Copyright 2012 by Ginny Glass
and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Also by Nancy Springer and Untreed Reads Publishing
“Good Lord, why am I doing this?” Marietta whispered, teetering in her strappy high heels, immobilized at the door of the hotel ballroom. On a logical level she knew exactly why she was there: five murdered men, that was why. Despite her red flirty-skirted dress and the “Sunlit Chestnut” temporary dye covering her gray, Marietta Becker was on duty, her badge tucked into her capacious purse. Just doing her job. But on a woman’s gut level…good grief, a singles dance? With a disco ball, of all things, spinning a slow juggernaut from the ceiling and hurling flakes of confusion onto the women sitting at the circular tables, the men standing in the shadows, a few couples looking awkward on the dance floor? Lord, she’d been married almost as long as she’d been a cop; she didn’t venture to places like this. “What am I
here?” Marietta complained aloud.
“Honey,” answered a woman about her age crowded next to her in the doorway, “I ask myself that same question every blessed week.”
Marietta hadn’t expected the other women, who should regard her as competition, to speak with her, but she tried not to show her surprise as she turned. “Really?”
“Sure. But it beats sitting home alone.” Prim in a business suit, the woman slapped a name tag that said Pat onto her blazer above her left breast. “Your first time?”
“Well, come sit with us. Smile,” Pat coached, leading the way into the dark of the dance.
Following, Marietta felt men’s glances slide over her like soap. With her teeth bared, she peered through the candlelit gloom. Somewhere in this room, most likely, smiled a murderer.
Five victims had been found so far, all male. One from Harrisburg, two from York, one from Carlisle, one from Sunbury, for God’s sake. All over the map in more ways than one. A young black college professor, a middle-aged Pennsylvania Dutch truck driver, a Greek Cypriot fish sticks salesman, an unemployed Latino suspected of drug trafficking, and a retired Army master sergeant. They were such a disparate collection of stiffs that only the m.o. marked them as the victims of a serial killer. “The Crusher,” the news called him.
“You want to face the dance floor?” Pat asked Marietta, offering a chair at an angle to the table.
Sitting, Marietta placed her purse on the table and slipped into it the card they had given her when she had paid to get in: HeartSong Singles, Attend Six Dances Get the Seventh Free. The card that had been found in the wallets of two of the five Crusher victims. Names of two others had been found on the mailing list, but that was strictly departmental info, Marietta’s captain had warned. “What about the fifth victim?” she had asked. “Married,” he’d told her with a look that told her to butt out, it was not her case, she was just there to carry the purse. Bill was doing the work, and where the heck was he?
“So, Mary,” Pat said, glancing at Marietta’s name tag, “what’s the story, morning glory?”
“Oh, uh, the usual.” Marietta had not thought she would need a cover story.
Pat nodded. “He dumped you for a younger woman?”
Marietta had to force herself to nod and smile. She was here as a single, she reminded herself—but no, it couldn’t happen, her husband would never dump her. Sam wasn’t very affectionate, in fact he was grouchy, but that was just because he worked too hard. Sometimes, like the last couple of days, their work schedules were so off whack they didn’t even see each other. She hadn’t gotten to tell him about this assignment—but that was probably just as well. She never knew what was likely to make him hit the ceiling. The idea of her dressing up and dancing with other men might do it, even though it was just her job, and he’d been happy for her when after twenty years of parking meters and traffic detail she’d been promoted to undercover. He hadn’t minded her putting herself into danger playing Muggable Mary.
Huh. Nobody better try to snatch the purse tonight. In it were guns, handcuffs, radio, all the equipment Bill might need if he found out anything. Some sort of kinky homo sex motivation, Homicide thought. They profiled the Crusher as a blue-collar male, hefty enough to muscle his victims into some sort of machine press to torture and kill them, strong enough to dump the bodies afterward. Bill had to be hugging his gun. Where was he? They kept it so dark in here it was hard to tell. Marietta scanned the straggle of men around the dance floor—funny, most of the women were sitting at the tables chatting with one another, while most of the men stood staring in parallel, not speaking. And what a selection of men—round men in fuzzy sweaters, edgy men in suits, cadaverous old men in pleated slacks and crepe-soled shoes, men trying to look sporty in Nikes and collared T-shirts, a black guy in dreadlocks, a Don Johnson pretender in a Miami Vice hat, for God’s sake, and a ponytailed biker type in leathers, lean men and teddy-bear men and bearded men and boyish men, and—
and I’d like to get to know every one of them,
Marietta realized, surprising herself.
I like men. All kinds.
And she felt a stab of guilt at the thought, as if she’d been unfaithful. Throughout her years of marriage, she’d trained herself not to look at other men.
A tall gray-haired man headed toward her. She stiffened in anticipation; would he ask her to dance? But he walked past her without a glance, stopped at the next table and spoke to a tawny young woman in a very abbreviated dress. Together they walked to the dance floor.
A hefty blond woman in a make-me-look-slim-please black tunic sat down on Marietta’s other side. “Hi, I’m Deb,” she said to Marietta. “Yo, gang,” she called past Marietta toward Pat. “Wearing your shoes out dancing?”
A general chuckle ensued. Marietta glanced over her shoulder. The table had filled with women about her age, their hair mostly various shades of blond, some round, some skinny, some comfy and some dressed to kill, all kinds, and Marietta imagined the men looking them over the way she had looked over the men, thinking, wow, I like them all.
She watched a fat man dancing with a perfectly-endowed blonde half his age. Marietta wanted to dance. The deejay was playing “Crocodile Rock,” damn it, and it had been years… She demanded, “When
they ask us to dance?”
Quite a lot of laughter erupted, and Deb patted her hand. “You’re new, right?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“Honey, everybody starts the same way,” Pat said. “The old guy in the suspenders, by the water cooler,” she added, “if he asks you to dance, say no. He puts his hand on your butt.”
“You’re brave, coming by yourself,” Deb said.
Deb seemed nice, Marietta thought, at the same moment as she finally spotted Bill talking with the bartender. Stalking a murderer. Was it the distinguished-looking older man with the younger woman, or the bald guy dancing with yet another mini-skirted girl, or the fat man? Inspired, she told Deb, “A friend told me about the dance.” She described the most recent murder victim. “Guy named Bob. Fortyish, overweight, beer belly, balding. You know him?”
Deb laughed. “Honey, you have just described half of the guys here.”
The deejay announced, “Paul Jones time.”
“Now you get to dance,” Pat told Marietta. “Sort of.”
Coached by Pat, Marietta joined the women on the dance floor circling clockwise around a smaller circle of men. When the music changed from fast to slow, she stopped opposite a man about her own age. He looked straight at her, then reached for the woman next to her, who was younger and thinner.
Huh. Marietta stood out, feeling very much like the leftovers pushed to the back of the fridge. She wasn’t the only one; with her stood a woman from her table, Muriel; on her name tag the i was dotted with a heart, which seemed incongruous on her. She stood poker slim and straight, somehow looking perma-pressed all over despite the wrinkles shirring her face. “Just like high school,” she commented crisply. Men stood nearby, ignoring the leftover women, blankly staring at the couples on the dance floor.
Under the disco ball, the Paul Jones juggernaut wheeled again. This time Marietta slow-danced with a huge man who seemed attracted to her. “My heart medicine don’t let me have an erection,” he declared, stroking her back, “but I
She escaped gratefully when the music changed. The next go-round she was leftovers. Bill, she noticed, had joined the staring men on the sidelines, ignoring her like the others. Marietta danced next with an attractive man her age who inched his hand toward her butt. She grasped his arm and hoisted it. “Oh, is that the way it is,” he complained. Her next partner, nerdy youngster, seemed to regard her as a maypole to circle around. Eventually the ordeal ended and she fled to her seat.
“That Bob you mentioned,” Pat asked, rejoining her, “is he married?”
Only the fact that she had completely forgotten about Bob kept Marietta from blowing her cover by knowing too much. She had to think, and thinking saved her. “I, uh, don’t know him that well. I guess not, since he came here.”
“Oh, we have our married singles,” Deb said wryly.
“But why? I mean, how do they get in?”
Everyone smiled at her naivety. “Nobody checks,” put in the poker-straight older woman, Muriel. Something about her starchiness made Marietta peg her as a librarian or a head nurse.
“You can tell,” said Pat. “They come from someplace far away. They want your phone number but they won’t give you theirs.”
“Sometimes I think the married ones are the only ones actually trying to connect,” said Muriel almost wistfully.
all those guys who just stand and stare?” Marietta asked. “What are they looking at?”
“Easy. They’re looking at the boobs bouncing,” Muriel said, her tone so undisguisedly bitter that, without meaning to, Marietta gave her a shocked look. Muriel returned the glance, opaque, expressionless. Deb saw, apparently, and intercepted.
“Do we seem like the witches in
?” she asked lightly. “Capering in circles?”
“Well, it’s hard to keep smiling year after year,” Pat put in. “I mean, the brains and experience at this table… Deb, you’re a lab tech, right? And I’m a wellness administrator, Judy drives truck for UPS, Sue has her own graphic arts business, Muriel is a physician—one of the first female gynecologists in the state.”
“Wow,” Marietta said on cue, although she was still trying to figure out what a wellness administrator was.
“And there’s a movie producer who joins us sometimes,” Pat continued, “and—oh, some others who drop out and in, people do that a lot at these singles things. But the point is, the men…” Pat seemed to have mislaid the point.
“Boobs,” Muriel summed up tersely.
Men were boobs? All men looked for in a woman was boobs? Both of the above?
“What do you do, Mary?” Pat asked.
“I, um, I’m in civil service.”