It's a funny thing about Volkswagens. Bump them from behind at five miles per hour and you total the suckers. Flip them over three times and they're as good as new. Not that mine was new when I got it -- or ever, for that matter -- but it was no worse off after the somersaults than it had been before. Fahrvergngen, I think they call that. Murray and I had nary a scratch on us either. I had been wearing my seatbelt, of course, while Murray had relied solely on that little vinyl trolley strap just above the passenger's window, and a bit of bracing with his legs. The only real damage from the jostling, and it wasn't permanent, was that the car radio had unaccountably switched itself fom the big band station to which we'd been listening to one that featured rap music exclusively, but that was the extent of the unpleasantness.
Of course, we could have been killed, and more than likely would have been, had we been traveling at upwards of 65 miles per hour on the interstate. A sobering thought, particularly in light of the fact that Murray and I still had two dance lessons apiece left to our credit and had not had the foresight to designate recipients for the not inconsiderable refunds that would have been due. My first order of business, naturally, was to make a visual inspection of my person to ensure that everything was intact, immediately upon completion of which I turned my attention to my fellow motorist. Murray followed a similar course. We next took stock of our surroundings.
"I believe you've lost one of your front wheels," he said, sizing up the situation neatly. And then, "Where's that horrible music coming from?" I reached over and punched in WBYU again, and the soothing strains of the Casa Loma Orchestra replaced the mad doggerel. "Oh, thank goodness," said Murray. "I thought we'd died and gone to hell."
We left the car where it had landed, on the sidewalk across from the parish prison, and covered the short distance remaining on foot. The car would surely be there when we got back, and, if we were lucky, we might spot the wheel while we were walking. As we neared the steps of police headquarters, Murray offered some friendly mechanical advice. "You might want to check your lugs once in a while, Huey," he said.
"I was just thinking that myself, Murray. In fact, I might want to check them every time I get in the car."
"Nah, that'd be overkill. Every once in a while is good enough."
"Not if someone's tampering with them. I changed that tire last week, Murray. Remember that flat I got at four in the morning on the way to Grand Isle?"
"Yeah, I spilt my third breakfast brewski all over myself when it blew out. I remember watching you change it, too, as I held the flashlight, and thinking you were going to strip the nuts you were tightening them so hard. They couldn't have loosened up that fast. But hey! we could've been killed just now. If that's somebody's idea of a practical joke --"
"It was no joke, Murray. Somebody didn't want this tape to get to the Chief."
The killer's fears were unfounded, as it turned out. Dot's murder was captured on tape all right, but the killer never came into view. She had been standing in the middle of the dance floor, about thirty feet from the camera, rehearsing, when the killer came in. About halfway through her routine, she clearly acknowledged the presence of someone -- someone she knew evidently, someone who didn't frighten her, for she kept right on practicing. And it was clear that she continued to talk to this unseen person as she went over her steps (but it was impossible to make out what she was saying because of the volume of the music to which she was practicing, and her distance from the camera made lipreading impossible, especially for Murray and me, who know less than nothing about reading lips). Then she paused suddenly, and a look of alarm flitted across her face -- this had to be the moment that she first realized her life was in danger. But, oddly, she resumed her rehearsal and continued to converse with her invisible assailant until, seconds later, a shot was fired and she collapsed on the dance floor.
For once the Chief didn't blame everything on us. He knew that we were as exasperated as he was, and that we'd nearly been killed trying to deliver this worthless tape to him. A dozen times we replayed the tape, and a dozen times we saw no trace of the murderer. He -- or she -- had been so close, too. Standing just a step or two forward, he'd have entered the line of vision. Just a step or two backward and the camera would have picked up his reflection in the mirror on the wall behind Dot. Whoever it was, he had been incredibly lucky. And whoever it was, he obviously had no idea that the camera was on, or he would have taken the tape.
"Well, that was a washout," I said with disgust. "We don't know any more than we did before. All we know for sure about the murderer is that it isn't Zula."
"I think there's one other person we can rule out," said the Chief. "The guy -- or gal -- who burglarized Dot's house this morning between eight and nine. Could've been a coincidence, of course, that someone broke into her house during the one hour that she was away at the studio, but something tells me there's a connection there somewhere."
This burglary thing was a new wrinkle to Murray and me. But it rang a bell, as wrinkles will. "Say, Chief," I asked, "would you mind making me a copy of this tape?"
"You want to depress some other chief of police with it?"
"No," I said. "I want to catch a burglar, a burglar who might lead me to a murderer."
"Give me a call if you find out anything," the Chief said as we got up to leave. "It looks like I'll be working late tonight, so you can reach me here if you need to."
"You work nights a lot, don't you, Chief?" asked Murray in a sympathetic voice. The Chief nodded appreciatively. "I'll bet your wife gets awful lonesome --"
"Hey, she's a good-looking woman, Chief --"
"Why, if I were ten years older --"
"Heck, if I were ten years younger --"
"You ought to take her dancing some time, Chief -- say, Tuesday night."
By the most amazing coincidence, just as we got back to the crippled car an enterprising young fellow in the neighborhood happened by toting a wheel identical to the one I'd lost. He was unsympathetic to my plight, however, and refused to let me have it at a discount, even though he lacked the three additional wheels and a chassis necessary to complete his own package. "The Falcons just went ahead," the cabbie grumbled as Murray and I slid into the backseat of a Domino cab we'd hailed on the street. "Now the Saints have to score a touchdown just to tie it up. What is it with those guys anyway? They've lost more games in the last two minutes than any other team in history. They finally win a division championship and now they're losing their first playoff game to the Falcons!"
"What the hell is he talking about?" asked Murray, who had little patience for sports fans. Murray hadn't been to a Saints game in 20 years, and as a kid he'd only gone to look up women's dresses as they walked up the stadium ramps. Murray had been ogling some woman's bottom when Tom Dempsey kicked his record-setting 63-yard field goal, and in his mind the 80,000 people in the stands were the ones who'd missed out.
"Good grief, listen: The Falcons just intercepted! That's that. Oh, wait, oh no, they're running it back! Oh, come on, they're not going to run it back all the way. Oh, for Pete's sake, touchdown! That's it, I've had it. I've been a Saints fan for 25 years, but no more!" He switched off the radio, lifted the magnetic, bouncing-headed Saints figurine from the dash, and chucked it out the window. "Where to, fellows?"
"The Gene Kelly Studio on St. Charles Avenue."
"I'll be damned!" said the cabbie. "Second time today. I tell you, I make a lot of pickups there, at night when the old bags are too sauced to drive home. But it's not often a sober person needs a cab to go there. And two in one day, that's a record."
"You must get pretty tired of sitting in this cab all day," Murray began. "A little dancing in the evening might be just the thing for you --"
"You say you took someone else to the studio today?" I prompted.
"Yeah, early this morning. Big beefy guy, looked like a lumberjack, only swishy. Made me wait for him while he ran in. Wasn't in there more than a couple of minutes. Came running out and made me take him back where he came from. An apartment on Burgundy Street in the Quarter."
"About what time was that?"
"Oh, 8:30, quarter-to-nine."