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The Case of the Dancing Stud (2 of 4): The Scene of the Crime

June 22, 2010

I apologize for the absence, gang–a series of sickness, work and traveling has kept me away from what I always hope to be a regular column. However, I will have a lot of material for the next few months, so please keep coming back weekly for a healthy dose of Swungover. Today is the second part of our ILHC mystery “The Case of the Dancing Stud.” In our first installment, famous detective Shackleford Withersbottom was approached by a Ms. Nina Gilkenson–who asked Shackleford to help solve the mysterious disappearance of her lodger. A dancer named Chester Franklin, he was living at her house, working on dangerous top secret new competition material, when he suddenly dissappeared. Shackleford decided to take the case, and flew with his trusted colleague, Wilfred, to Baltimore, the scene of the crime.

Part II: The Scene of the Crime

When we walked into the Baltimore row house, Shackleford wasted no time in inspecting the premises. The house was from 1910, and was decorated with a mixture of strange antique oddities, including a old French Burlesque chandelier and a fully outfitted bronze diving suit. I could tell Shackleford was in heaven. On a table was a fruit bowl that looked slightly strange to me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why until Shackelford pointed out that it only had single pieces of fruit in it–there was no two of anything. As we walked up the stairs, we passed a gray cat that suddenly stood up and began rubbing our legs, and finally began using our calves as a scratching post. Shackelford yelped, and I did soon after when the cat did the same to me.

“You’ll have to forgive the cat,” Ms. Gilkenson said, kicking it. “She always does this to people she meets. She means well, she was just raised on the streets of Baltimore before I took her in, and lives life by prison rules. She’ll get over it after a day or two.”

“Madam, no apology needed.” Shackleford said. “Please, show me this Chester Franklin’s room, if you will.”

The room, which stood on the third floor, was very little more than a bed, a computer, and a dresser that looked like it had exploded with clothes. There was a great space of floor in the middle, covered in worn marks.

“Hmmm” Shackelford said, looking at the scuffed floor. “Recently scratched. And these patterns, they’re very strange.”

“Oh, that? That’s nothing.” Ms. Gilkenson said. “His dance shoes are from a swing dance manufacturer and have hard leather heels, as most of us dancers know, because we get kicked with them. But they’re great for dancing–it’s his new top secret Aerial, the Widowmaker. I think it involves a heel slide.”

“An aerial with a heel slide?” Shackleford said, his eyes penetrating into a distant, specific point of mental focus. “Interesting.”

“And it makes sense that there’s so many marks. He’s been practicing a lot recently.”

“And what, pray tell, constitutes a lot?”

“Sometimes six or seven hours a day. All he did for the last few weeks was either practice or sleep.”

“Yes, very interesting.” Shackelford said, though I couldn’t have told you why it was so interesting. He then spent several minutes looking around the floor and inspecting the marks.

Next, Ms. Gilkenson showed us the room where Chester’s great friend and coach, George Smith lay in a bed, unconscious.

“Dr. Wilfred, if you will please.” Shackleford flourished his hand at me to inspect the invalid.

“Shackleford, it’s definitely a concussion brought about by a blow to the head.” I said. “He should be awake in a few days, but until then, I’m afraid he won’t be able to tell us much.”

“My good lady, the facts of how he came to be this way, if you will.”

“Well, about a month ago, George came to stay in the house and help Chester prepare for the International Lindy Hop Championships. He would have competed himself, mind you, but he had injured his heel a few months ago and so dedicated himself to helping Chester prepare his new aerial. A week ago, I got an email from a Southern California dancer named Travis Roper who wanted to stay the night while he was passing through town. We dancers tend to have an open-door policy, and I told him he could sleep on the couch. He was rather strange–he wore a hat, a strange beard, and a neckerchief scarf, like a Frenchman in old movies. The next morning, I came upstairs to find Chester gone, and George lying next to his bed, unconscious and with a bleeding forehead. But in his hand, he was holding this!”

Miss Gilkenson held out a French-style neckerchief. “It was Travis Roper’s scarf. When I looked for Travis, I couldn’t find him, he had disappeared as well. And now the strange part–when I asked around about him, no one had ever heard of him! It’s as if Travis Roper didn’t even exist.”

“And so, madam, you saw the evidence before you, and feared that a disguised rival had come into your house and tried to kidnap Chester–but perhaps he was caught in the act by Chester’s coach and good friend. This kidnapper thus hit him on the head and continued to make off with Chester.”

“Those are my fears exactly!”

“Who would have thought Lindy Hop could be so competitive.” He mused.

“It’s only a few apples who spoil the barrel,” Ms. Gilkenson remarked.

“Of course you are right.” Shackleford said, patting her hand. “Fear not, Ms. Gilkenson. Though you have used admirable deduction, your fears may yet be unfounded. This case reeks of some greater mystery. Now then, who is the lady staying on the second floor?”

“That’s Cora Glass, Chester’s partner.”

“I shall want a word with her.”

Ms. Glass was sitting on her bed, Indian style, working on a laptop computer device when we entered. I noticed her room was orderly and clean.

“A few quick questions,” Shackelford said, after introductions were made.

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything about the kidnappinng,” she said, with a hint of bitterness in her voice. A glance from Shackleford told me he had noticed it, too. “Besides, I’m rather busy at the moment.”

“I’m sure, I’m sure, my good lady.” He said, sitting onto the bed and folding into Indian style himself, and bringing all of his fingers together in the strange prayer-like way he often does when pensive. “But I won’t take more than a moment of your time. I more so wanted to ask you about working with your dance partner, Chester.”

A look came on her face that I can only describe as water, at that moment right before it is about to boil, when the surface grows in turbulance.

“He’s not my dance partner anymore, and I for one, am glad of it.”

“Why?” Shackelford asked.

“The reason I’m so damn busy is because I have to organize everything! Flights, classes, contests, promoters! I’m so tired of his daydreaming–it’s cute and likeable at first, but try having him as a business partner.”

“But surely he has been working very hard on this upcoming contest?” I said.

“Oh, yes, he’ll work on something for hours and hours, all right. Luckily for me, it’s been dance recently. One time last year he started juggling and we didn’t practice dance for two months. And all because I happened to buy three oranges at the grocery store. I didn’t make that mistake again.”

Shackelford looked at me and raised an eyebrow, as if to say that finally the case of the single fruit was nicely resolved.

“But when he’s done with a practice, he just orders some pizza and falls asleep. I then have to go answer business emails and schedule privates with students. And the problem is, everyone KNOWS I’m the dependable one, so they all come to me with questions for him. I even got a damn call from his doctors office, reminding me of his upcoming appointment.”

“So, you called it off?” Shackelford said.

“Not the doctor’s appointment.”

“I mean the partnership.”

“Well, no, not yet. It’s not as easy as that. We currently depend on each other for our living, after all, and it’s not so easy for a follower to get work by herself. But I’m already doing all the business by myself, so it’s not like it will be any more work. Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m sure I don’t sound sympathetic at all about him.”

“No, no, you are obviously in distress.” Shackelford said. “So, if I may ask, do you think Chester was kidnapped?”

“It sounds like something he would do, he has a very impulsive nature.” She then began to tear up and soon was hiding her face and sobbing. Shackelford laid a cold hand on her shoulder and said “there, there” mechanically. As brilliant a man as he was, he was not useful in all situations. I moved him away and gave the poor girl a fatherly shoulder to cry on, and then ordered her some Thai food and watched a few episodes of the Muppet Show with her until she felt better. It always cheers me, up, at least.

We left the house as evening approached. In the cab to our hotel, I mentioned that it seemed there wasn’t a lot of solid facts for Shackleford to make deductions based on.

“It is not all deductions, Wilfred. Often times my work is founded on instincts and guess work, and it is only then that deductions can flower. For instance, I guessed that, in many ways, no one knows someone better than their dance partner. Having guessed this and interviewed the girl, I now see strange possibilities unfolding. Come, Wilfred, we have work to do. For tonight is the weekly dance at the Jump Mansion, and we must go, ready to dance.”

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