A green velvet dress, the skirt of which was flung over the top of the right hip of the victim, revealed she was naked from the waist down. Her white thigh and buttocks were so muscled, taut, and perfect that she almost looked like a statue, lying twisted, facedown, on the floor. Her long brown ponytail of curls was askew, but the green ribbon was still intact. A pair of tights was crumpled in a corner of the dance studio. Her underwear, if, indeed, she had worn any, was missing. One of her shoes was lying next to the tights, and it was without a lace, of course, because its lace was still wrapped around Emily McGlashen's neck.
“How long has she been here?” Annie asked Detective Adam Bryant after settling her stomach with a deep breath and calming thoughts.
Poor woman. So young. So talented.
And just yesterday Emily astounded Annie with her high leaps, twirls, and fast footwork during the St. Patrick's Day parade and festival. The green velvet dress had swung in off rhythm to the Irish music against Emily's in-sync movements. Bursting with life. Hard to believe that same skirt was now askew across Emily's lifeless body.
He shrugged. “As far as I can tell, maybe all day. We think it happened sometime early this morning. She was supposed to be at a meeting this afternoon, and her friend came looking for her, and this is what she found. You here officially?”
Annie grimaced. She had been working on her book about the New Mountain Order and had taken a leave of absence from her freelancing, and he knew it. But her editor called her to see if she'd cover this. Big news to a certain segment of the population, namely, those who followed Irish dance.
“Maybe,” she said.
He went on. “Not much of a story here. Just the murder of a person who maybe was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“She was in the public eye. And strangling is a personal act, isn't it?” Annie twisted a curl around her finger. She was wearing her hair down, which was all part of the newer, more relaxed version of her former self. She didn't need to pull it back. She didn't need to control it. It was a relief. Chalk that bit of advice up to her mysterious friend and yoga teacher Cookie Crandall.
“Most of the time, yes,” he said, his blue eyes sparkling. “But there was a robbery. Looks like the safe was ransacked. Maybe she surprised the perp. Maybe he didn't have another weapon.”
“So he used her shoelaces?” Annie said. “C'mon.”
The detective's mouth went crooked.
Still, it probably had nothing to do with the NMO. There were none of the symbols they had used in the past. Maybe it was true. Maybe they had really cleaned up their act.
“But she was a famous Irish dancer,” Annie said, almost to herself.
“And?” he said with a crooked smirk. “One of her fancy-dancing competitors offed her?”
played in Annie's mind. There was nothing “fancy” about those dancers. They were in extraordinary physical condition. A hugely successful international dance show consisting of traditional Irish dance,
was spurring Irish dance classes across the country. And Emily McGlashen was in one of those big productions and had made a name for herself, which was one reason the kids in Cumberland Creek loved her. Besides all that, she was young and hip.
Annie crossed her arms and glared at Bryant.
The police photographer entered the studio again, and his camera flashed in the dim room, a large dance studio with beautiful polished wood floors, a mirror along one wall, and bars that ran along the side of it. Posters of Irish dancers, medals, and trophies decorated the facility. You could say what you wanted about Emilyâand many townsfolk didâbut she knew her Irish dancing. An international champion who came to Cumberland Creek and opened a new studio, Emily had drawn attention to herself right away.
A couple of uniformed officers pulled Bryant away to show him something they had found. Annie stepped out of the way of another officer, now bending over the body. A glint of a flash from the camera reflected in the mirror.
“Damn, it's hard to get good pictures. These mirrors are a problem,” the photographer said and looked around for another angle. “Can you run and get some sheets from the van?” he said to the younger person who was assisting him.
“Well, that's an interesting piece of evidence,” Bryant said.
Annie turned around to see his gloved hands reach for a red handbag that looked vaguely familiar to her. She was not a handbag kinda woman; she was more a designer shoe devotee turned sneaker aficionado. She didn't really pay much attention to purses, given that she avoided carrying one as often as possible.
But she was certain she'd seen that bag somewhere.
The detective reached in and pulled out a wallet, still there and full of money, credit cards, and a driver's license, which inspired a huge grin to spread across his face.
“Vera Matthews,” he said and looked at Annie. “And I think we all know what Vera thought about Emily McGlashen.”
“Don't be ridiculous,” Annie said, but her heart sank. Vera had made no attempt at hiding her feelings about Emily. She hadn't been herself. But still she was far from being a cold-blooded killer. Vera? Not likely. “Vera Matthews may not have liked Emily, but she didn't kill her.”
“But, Ms. Chamovitz, her purse is here. How do you explain it?” Bryant smirked as he placed the handbag in a plastic evidence bag.
“I don't have to explain it. You do,” she said.
“You're wrong about that, Annie. She does,” he said, slipping off his gloves.
She walked away from him. It took every ounce of restraint she could muster to not run out of the studio and call Vera to warn her that Bryant, or one of his underlings, would be stopping by to question her. As if it mattered, really. She was certain Vera hadn't killed anybody, especially after seeing the compassionate way she'd behaved over the past few years. Still, a little warning would be nice.
Vera's life had changed drastically recently. Her ex-husband, Bill, had moved in with a woman in Charlottesville and was rarely around to help with their daughter, Elizabeth. Her mother, Beatrice, was also living with the new man in her life. Vera was alone and claimed she preferred it. After Emily McGlashen came to town, stealing many of Vera's students by offering cheaper classes and preaching against the “archaic” dance form of ballet, her business income had plummeted. Vera was in such financial trouble that she was renting her house out, hoping to sell it, while she and Elizabeth lived in the apartment above her dance studio.
“Didn't she write a letter to the editor recently about Ms. McGlashen?” Bryant asked, still holding the purse as he approached her. Annie refrained from smiling at the decidedly manly man holding the evidence bag with the purse in it.
“Yes. Wow, you read,” she taunted him. “Did you also see the letter she was responding to? The one that Emily wrote? The one that claimed ballet was an archaic dance form and that Vera was ripping kids off?”
“Oh, gee, I must have missed that,” he said. “I'm sure I'll be reading it in about an hour, right, Johnson?”
“Yes, sir. Right on it.”
Bryant started to walk by her and brushed up against her. “Sir,” he said in a low voice. “Just how I like it.”
His breath skimmed across her neck as he walked by. Telling him that she was a married woman, again, would do no good. He had been blatantly flirting with her for months, and sometimes right under Mike's nose. If they hadn't shared that one kiss during a moment of drunken weakness, she'd have more solid ground on which to stand. But he knew.
He knew what he was doing to her. And he was enjoying every minute of it.