""Hop off. It's an emergency. I need to use your Vespa," I commanded Brandi, who was just mounting her motorized scooter as I reached the street. I jumped on and tore straight down the median alongside the streetcar tracks, bypassing the traffic on St. Charles. I buzzed up the interstate ramp at Lee Circle, cutting off a cab and a couple of stepvans in the process. In a matter of minutes, I was off at the Metairie Road exit and speeding toward the Noyes Marble and Granite Works across from the Greenwood Cemetery at the end of Canal Boulevard. Chief Lewis came screeching up from the opposite direction just as I alit, and half a dozen cruisers with sirens blaring were right behind him. They stormed the little wood-frame building with guns drawn, but found no one inside.
"Are you sure this is where he said they were going?" the Chief demanded.
"Of course, I'm sure. I told them I'd meet them here, and that's Willie's car right outside. Look, here's a bag from Bud's Broiler!" I said, lifting the sack from Willie's desk. "That's where they were going to stop first. And my No. 4 is still in it."
"Chief," said one of the officers, standing in the doorway of a small storeroom, "take a look at this." He pointed to a piece of scrap marble lying on the floor next to some empty boxes. There were three names carved into it -- Dot's, Murray's, and mine.
"Looks like we've got a real psycho on our hands," said the Chief grimly. "All right, boys, they can't have gone far. Let's take a tip from that headstone and start with the cemetery across the street."
The gatekeeper hadn't seen Murray, he said, but Willie Noyes had entered the grounds not twenty minutes ago, wheeling a large plywood crate on a handtruck. "Said he was going to make some repairs on the Elks mausoleum, the one with the big stag on top."
And that was where we found him. He surrendered peacefully, but only smiled and tapped his foot when we discovered the empty crate and demanded to know what had happened to Murray.
"Get this fruitcake out of here," the Chief instructed one of the officers, pointing to Willie, who was cuffed and led away. "The rest of you, start searching. Murray's got to be around here somewhere." The policemen fanned out across the cemetery, while the Chief and I began to examine the cold, dank mausoleum. "What's that you said?" he asked, turning toward me.
"I didn't say anything."
"I thought I heard something. This place gives me the creeps. -- Listen, there it is again!"
I heard it too this time. It was a voice so faint it was barely audible, coming from inside one of the tombs. "Murray! Are you here, Murray?" I cried out, trying to zero in on the source of the sound.
"Huey, is that you?" came the muffled response from the tomb directly in front of me.
"Yeah, Murray, it's me. Hang on, pal. We'll have you out in a minute."
"I think I've solved the case."
Willie was the murderer! Of course! It was so obvious! No wonder he'd been eager to dish the dirt on the other dancers. No wonder he'd taken an interest in the progress of our investigation. There hadn't been anybody trapped inside the studio by Willie's arrival. Willie had been trapped outside by the arrival of Murray and me. Willie had been at the scene of the murder because he was the murderer. He'd planted the gun in Zula's car -- which Dewitt had left unlocked, after breaking into it the night before -- when Murray and I had gone into the studio to phone the police. He'd offered to deliver the tape of Dot's last rehearsal to police headquarters so that he could view it first, and destroy it if necessary. When Murray and I had insisted on delivering the tape ourselves, he'd left the studio minutes before us and loosened the lugs on my right front tire. Only Willie had known that Murray and I planned to spend an evening in the Quarter checking out Dewitt's and Gaylord's backgrounds. Only Willie had known that we'd had an interview lined up with Major Bummer. Dot and Zula had been right: No one paid any attention to Willie, and that was why he'd almost gotten away with murder.
He'd invited Murray and me over to his place that evening -- ostensibly to discuss the case -- with the intent of getting rid of us once and for all. He'd wanted to wait for my arrival and take care of both of us at the same time, but Murray had stumbled upon the telltale tombstone while Willie was sorting out the burgers. Willie had come up behind Murray and hit him on the back of the head with a rubber mallet. Murray had awakened to find himself inside a dark, narrow canister, hard as stone. As far as he'd been able to tell, he was still alive. He couldn't see a damn thing, but he could feel himself breathing, and he could clench his fists and wriggle his toes. Man, that's living. Then he'd heard the voices, the ones that sounded strangely familiar, but they'd been far off and hard to understand. Then he'd recognized them -- and, though he hated to admit it, for once in his life he'd actually been glad to hear the voice of Chief Turner Lewis.
Anticlimactic though it was, Willie confessed at police headquarters. He'd hated Dot from the first moment he'd met her. From the beginning, that superior attitude of hers had grated on his nerves. And he'd known that she'd only get haughtier when she received her gold-level certificate. He'd plotted for months to kill her on the morning of her final routine, and then Murray and I had shown up and gummed up the works, and he'd decided to teach us a lesson too. The man was seriously warped. That's what Murray had liked about him.
Nohody knew what had become of Gaylord. He'd disappeared shortly after the role-playing scene with Brandi. Dot's murder had come at a bad time for him, and he'd had to leave town without the windfall he'd anticipated. There was a pool gotten up at the studio, with instructors and students alike taking chances on what city he'd turn up in next. Veronica promised to let us know when she learned of Blanche's whereabouts, so that a winner could be determined. Then another contest was announced, with free dance lessons going to the person who came up with the most ridiculous new pseudonym for Gaylord. Though it was later retracted by the judges on a technicality, the prize was at first awarded to Murray, who'd suggested the name Rufus Lipschitz.
Dewitt turned out not to have been Dot's grandson after all. Good thing, too! Who would have believed it? And how would the district attorney have been able to obtain a conviction for burglary if the house in question had actually belonged to the grandmother of the accused? In the process of the police investigation of the progress of her progeny, Della was able to make contact, surreptitiously, with her son's adoptive parents and assist them in paying for her offspring's college education -- taking advantage of her inheritance, and the proceeds of the sale of her mother's house to Major Bummer. We were never able to determine where Bummer was at the time of the murder, but the Chief didn't seem too concerned. "Maybe he was throwing something off the Tallahatchee Bridge," he suggested sarcastically. "He didn't kill Dot, though, so what the hell do I care where he was?" Zula, as she had originally anticipated, assumed the status of gold-level dancer in advance of everyone else at the studio, and continued to chew legumes with wanton disregard for the olfactory impact upon her dance partners. Everybody, it seems, got exactly what he deserved, except Murray and me.