Chapter 23

“And five, six, seven, eight!” the dance instructor shouted over the music, launching the two lines of dancers, nine women and three men, into their synchronized ballet routine.

Eric watched quietly from a corner of the studio. Marilyn Stein had offered to call ahead, and he was given permission to observe the afternoon dance class. To his relief, S’miller had insisted on rushing home to process his pictures, somehow convinced he’d be able to sell them to The Sentinel for some easy money. Exasperated by the outcome of their morning adventure, Eric hadn’t bothered to burst his bubble.

He’d expected to encounter a room full of powder-puff princesses in pink tutus, doing bar exercises. Instead, walking into the mirrored studio, he felt as if he’d stumbled onto the “cool” quarter on campus, the equivalent of the area behind the gym at his high school, where the smokers used to gather to sneak cigarettes. Their clothes bespoke their cultural non-conformity: trendy T-shirts and tight tanks, baggy jeans and hip-hugging sweatpants. The troupe even boasted a surfer, who, clad in nothing more than a pair of board shorts, looked as though he’d just washed up on the beach. They were an eclectic bunch – different sexes, races and body types – but once the music started, they became united as one through dance, twirling and leaping, kicking and gliding together in perfect rhythm.

“Reach! That’s it … watch the hands!” coached the instructor, wandering down the line.

Eric knew immediately which of them was Lysandra. Although they were all seemingly talented, even to his untrained eye, one stood out above the rest, commanding his attention. Her exotic looks and stealthy, controlled movements reminded him of a wildcat, albeit an indeterminate breed. She had an untamed mane of dark brown ring curls that fell just beyond her square shoulders, the bangs brushing a low-lying brow, the curve of which denoted slyness. Olive green, almond-shaped eyes served as bookends for a triangular nose, tinged pink at the tip from exertion. Beneath, her thin-lipped mouth, set and determined, tilted up mischievously at the edges. A faint film of sweat gave her silky, caramel skin an illuminating sheen, emphasizing the outlines of her abundant long and supple muscles. He was hard-pressed to identify her ethnic origins: African-American, Latin American, Middle Eastern? She might have been a mix of all three. He took pleasure in playing the guessing game.

“Energy, people! Show ‘em what you’ve got!” drilled the dance teacher.

Watching her dance, Eric couldn’t help feeling that Lysandra was performing expressly for him. Every move she made seemed somewhat suggestive, an expulsion of energy for his benefit alone. Furthermore, she seemed to enjoy being watched, appreciated the connection with an audience. Every time his attention faltered, which didn’t happen often, she’d draw him back by making eye contact, and then burn up the floor with even greater intensity. Eric wondered whether this was what Marilyn Stein had been referring to when she’d said Lysandra would deliver an ‘exciting performance.’ If so, no doubt men would be lining up for tickets to Carousel when the play opened.

The music came to an abrupt stop, leaving Eric wanting more. The dancers, gasping for breath after the taxing workout, clapped, and then congratulated one another with high-fives and playful taps on the rump. Lysandra was the first to break from the pack, retreating alone to the opposite end of the studio. She threw a white towel around her neck, uncapped a bottle of vitamin water and chugged the pale pink liquid. Eric tried to make eye contact with her, but she seemed to no longer care he was there, avoiding even his reflection in the surrounding mirrors.

Show over.

Eric waited on a bench outside for her to emerge from the studio. Lost in thought, he didn’t see what was coming. But he smelled it: the overpowering scent of Detective Le Pew.

“You don’t look like a dancer,” Gary Wexler growled, hanging over him like a menacing gargoyle. “What are you doing here, hotshot?”

Eric scolded himself for being unprepared; he should have anticipated their paths would cross. Taken by surprise, he couldn’t think of a plausible comeback.

Wexler came so close he nearly stepped on Eric’s toes. “Well, Junior?”

“Ready to go, baby?”

Lysandra appeared, wearing skintight jeans and a  white button-down shirt, the tails tied in a knot up front, exposing her taut midriff. A silver hoop hung in the pierced lobe above her bellybutton. Detective Wexler’s jaw dropped a notch when he caught sight of her.

Ignoring the gaping older man, she held out a hand to Eric. “Let’s go.”

Eric took it, and they sauntered off down the sidewalk. He would have liked to glance back to see the look on Detective Wexler’s face, but he didn’t dare, for fear he might be summoned back. That had been an extremely close call, not just for him, but Lysandra as well. No doubt the policeman was following the same clues he was, but he proved to be a step behind.

“That guy had cop written all over him,” commented Lysandra once they’d made their escape. “What did you do?” Like her dancing, her voice was smooth and controlled, and a bit naughty.

She seemed to be titillated by the notion that Eric might be a wanted criminal. Grateful for the renewed interest in him, he neglected to set her straight, going along with her impression. “The campus is crawling with them because of that murder,” he said, pretending to be annoyed.

“Oh, that,” she said tiredly, sounding not the least bit bothered, perhaps even bored, by the subject.

“Anyway, thanks …”

“Lysandra.” She didn’t ask for his name.

“I like it. It’s different,” he observed, buttering her up before a he got down to business.

“It’s Greek for ‘liberator,’” she said. Looking off into the distance, she raised her chin proudly and proclaimed, “I free others.”

Although Eric had found her delivery a tad dramatic, he didn’t doubt her ability, having just been liberated from Detective Wexler.

She dropped his hand and, fearing she might slip away before he had an opportunity to question her, he quickly brought the conversation around to Courtney Kennedy. “Did you know her? The dead girl, I mean. I think I read somewhere she was a dancer, too.”

Lysandra blew the bangs out of her eyes. “Yes. And if you ask me, it came as no surprise. She had it coming.”

Eric chuckled nervously, intimidated by her confidence and candor. “Wow. I think that’s first negative thing anybody’s said about her. If you believe everything you read in the newspaper, she was perfect.”

Lysandra wrinkled her nose. “That’s Courtney: Little Miss Perfect. Nice to your face, then she’d turn around and stab you in the back,” Lysandra said bitterly.

“Sounds like you’re speaking from personal experience.”

Lysandra didn’t take the bait. “This is me,” she announced, stopping abruptly in front of the Mathematics building. Facing him, she drew out a finger and traced the outline of his breastbone. “So, when am I going to see you again, Jesse James?”

They made plans to meet the following evening. Eric waited until she entered the building before going his separate way. He crossed the street and ducked behind a tree to watch.

He saw Lysandra emerge a few minutes later. She checked to make sure the coast was clear, and then headed back in the direction they’d come.

“Caught you,” Eric uttered from his hiding place. Lysandra had revealed she was capable of lying. He wondered what other sins she had committed. Murder, perhaps?

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