Authors: Kelley Roos
Tags: #Crime, #OCR-Finished
“An entertaining tale to puzzle and delight the most exacting mystery fan.”
“Brightly absurd dialogue and situations.”
—New York Times
“The Kelley Roos team, specialists in the difficult blending of comedy and murder, have turned out a little honey in this opus… Perfectly sound plot, narration crisp and really funny, general effect thoroughly engaging. Couldn’t be better in its field.”
-—San Francisco Chronicle
“The Blonde Died Dancing is in line for one of the ‘best detective story of the year’ awards. It is certainly one of the most entertaining.”
DELL PUBLISHING CO., INC.
261 Fifth Avenue
New York 16, N. Y.
Copyright © 1949 by William and Audrey Kelley Roos
© 1956 by Kelley Roos
All rights reserved
Reprinted by arrangement with
Dodd, Mead & Company
New York, N. Y.
Designed and produced by
Western Printing & Lithographing Company
Cover painting by Victor Kalin
The characters, places, incidents and situations
in this book are imaginary and have no relation
to any person, place or actual happening.
First Dell printing—February, 1958
Printed in U.S.A.
The Blonde Died Dancing
I was in a hurry.
There are things worse than death. This was one of those things, and it wasn’t going to happen to me. Gently but firmly, I nudged a lovely old lady out of my way and walked faster.
When Paul’s line had been busy, I hadn’t waited to call again. I had wrapped my inefficient jet black hair up in a scarf. I had hustled into some lipstick, tightened my nylons, slipped into my coat and set out for Paul’s. At the moment Paul was the most important man in my life.
The news dealer at the corner of Lexington and Sixtieth said, “Hello, Mrs. Barton. How is Mr. Barton?”
“Mr. Barton!” I snorted. “In France you can shoot your husband for less and get national sympathy. But here in America?” I shook my head.
I crossed Fifty-ninth, turned west on Fifty-eighth, and I was at Paul’s. A new girl sat at the reception desk. “Where’s Paul?” I said.
“Busy. Your name, please?”
“Connie Barton. Where’s Paul?”
“Do you have an appointment, Miss Barton?”
“Mrs. Barton.” To be completely frank about it, Mrs. Steve Barton. Like an utter innocent, I had married the man. “Where’s Paul?”
Paul came mincing out of the booth section of the shop. He looked elegant and efficient in his white, high-collared frock. He had a wife and four children, but for professional reasons he played it chic, wan and very aesthetic during business hours. This beauty parlor supported the wile and four children.
“Mrs. Barton!” He was glad to see me. He was always glad to see me. I was a constant challenge to the artist in him. “Mrs. Barton, what can…
“Have you an empty booth?”
“Yes… number five.”
“Follow me,” I said.
I sat down in front of the mirror. Paul stood behind me, looking at me in the mirror as I yanked the scarf off my head. He put his hands in my hair.
“Magnificent,” he said. “Coal mist, ebony flame.”
I said, “I want to be a blonde.”
Paul didn’t speak.
“A blonde, very blonde, as blonde as you can get,” I said. “Make me a blonde.”
“No.” His lips were tight. “That I cannot do to you.”
“You have no choice. Do as I tell you or all New York will hear the truth about you. About your wife and four children…”
“I’ll even tell about your playing football in high school, how you got an offer from Tulane… you’ll be defrocked, kicked out of your union, run out of town… you impostor, you!”
“Break out the platinum!”
“But tell me why! You, of all people… a Darien debutante, a Connecticut College for Women woman…”
try to blackmail
“But why? Why do you want to be a blonde?”
“It’s a matter of strategy. I’m counter-attacking.”
“Ah… your husband.”
“Smile when you call him that.”
Paul smiled and said, “Your husband is off the reservation?”
I nodded and said, “My husband is over the hill.”
“And she… she is a blonde?”
“I’ve never seen her. But Steve is a loyal citizen. He wouldn’t be so un-American as to spurn his wife for anything but a blonde.”
“You might be wrong, Mrs. Barton, completely wrong about your husband.”
I proved to Paul how right I was. For weeks now, since early in October, it had been happening. Every Wednesday Steve had dreamed up a reason to be away for the evening. He would come home humming tunes, looking horribly contented, as pleased with himself as all get out. It was ghastly. It was all I could do to pretend I was asleep. When he slid into bed beside me, it was only fear of the gallows that kept my hands from his throat.
The first Wednesday he said that his editor had asked him to take over for Jim Hall and cover some fights at the Garden. In the first edition at noon the next day I just happened to notice that Jim Hall had the boxing story by-line after all. Steve mumbled something at me about a typographical error, but he never used the “must work” dodge again.
The next Wednesday he blithely informed me after dinner that he was going to see a scalp specialist about his loose dandruff and falling hair. When Steve’s hair fell, he would fall with it, and his dandruff, if any, was tight as a drum. That night I asked him why he was getting all dressed up like Sunday morning to see a scalp specialist. He said that he wanted me to be proud of him… wherever he went.
The excuses got lamer and lamer. He had a friend who wasn’t feeling well enough to sit up with a sick friend, so Steve had to fill the breach. When he came home he wasn’t smelling of rubbing alcohol. It was a scent I couldn’t place, but you didn’t buy it by the quart. That was the way it went. Each Wednesday there would be another, a more incredible excuse.
“Wednesday,” Paul said. “I wonder why always Wednesday.”
“It’s her night off,” I said. “That’s obvious.”
“Yes… and that’s encouraging. He hasn’t asked her to quit her job yet.”
“Don’t try to cheer me up.”
“Sorry. On the other hand, maybe she’s married and her husband… well, for instance, maybe he swims at the Y.M.C.A. Wednesday nights. I do.”
“You keep out of this.”
It was probably my fault. I had let myself get dowdy on Wednesdays, dull and unprovocative. He had found someone younger and gayer, someone beautiful and glamorous with a more up-to-date bag of feminine tricks. He was bored with me. Five years, less just three days, was a long time to be married.
But there were still moments when I thought I might be wrong, when I had reason to believe that I was still the girl for him. There was our anniversary party next Saturday, for instance. He was knocking himself out to make it a real celebration… dinner at Karl’s, the theatre, the Rosewood Room for supper, champagne and good music.
But he was probably doing that just to build character with me, to keep me happy as I moiled and toiled as his housekeeper. Finally, today, I had faced it. There was another woman. I would have to take steps.
“Paul,” I said, “proceed. Do your darndest, rise to new heights.”
“Listen, you… today’s Wednesday. Time is short.”
“All right, Mrs. Barton, all right.”
One hour and twenty minutes later my old set at the Wee Tokeneke country club would have deplored me. My dear aunt and uncle who had raised me, not for this, would have disowned me. I wouldn’t have been allowed near the Connecticut College for Women. I would have been run off the University of Bridgeport campus, too… by the nearest undergraduate into the nearest dormitory. I was that blonde.
“Well?” Paul asked tremulously, the plaintive, eager artist.
I inspected myself a little more in the mirror. “Do me a new make-up, Paul. The eyebrows… a new mouth…”
He went back to work.
“Well?” he asked.
“The mouth… make it more generous.”
“It was already generous, Mrs. Barton.”
“Make it more inviting then. A big hello. Give me lower lip.”
This time it was I who asked, “Well?”
“Mrs. Barton, coloring the hair, a new make-up does not make a blonde. There are other things…”
I stood up, took a deep breath and walked a small circle around Paul.
He said, in a small voice, “Mrs. Barton, look…”
“Yes?” I murmured.
“Look, perhaps a bite to eat, then… well, I could give up swimming at the ‘Y’ tonight.”
I thanked Paul from the bottom of my heart, but declined his kind offer. It was quite dark when I went back out into the world, a new woman, a blonde.
I would have to hurry. Steve would already be home, wanting his dinner, impatient to get all dolled up and be on his Wednesday night way. But I took time to stop at the corner of Lexington and Fifty-ninth and do a little testing. Perhaps I had been deceiving myself. Maybe Paul hadn’t been so overcome by me; maybe it was just pride in his own work.
I leaned one shoulder up against the fruit juice stand window and loitered. Two young intellectuals, male, approached. They were arguing violently. They saw me. They stopped solving the world’s problems, they slowed down. After they passed me and got faced front again I heard-one of them ask, “What were we saying?” I was gratified. An elderly delivery boy came along on a bicycle-cart. He was nearly maimed by a taxi. I was further gratified, but not yet satisfied. A little man, carrying his big wife’s bundles, turned the corner. He almost stopped. She grasped his arm, marched him off. I heard what she said. She called me a hussy.
I was deeply gratified, completely satisfied. I went home.
It was only two rooms, bath and kitchenette over a Lexington Avenue delicatessen, but to me it was the home I was trying to save, and I went there as fast as I could.
I went into the kitchen. Steve had already got himself something to eat. I went into the bedroom. His clothes were all laid out, including the tie I had given him last Christmas. Steve was in the shower.
I got out the negligee he had given me last Christmas.
I put it on, spent a few minutes at my dressing table. I draped myself on the chaise longue, practicing slow smiles and eyelid lowering in a hand mirror. I tried a throaty laugh or two.
Then the bathroom door opened and Steve was standing there, almost naked. He saw me. He jumped back into the bathroom and slammed the door. He did a double-take with the door. It opened slightly once, slammed shut again. It opened once more, stayed open. He was looking at me.
He ventured a step toward me. “Connie…”
“Connie, what in God’s name happened to you?”
“I’ve been to the beauty parlor.”
“Did it explode with you in it?”
“Connie, no! Oh, no!”
He came closer and peered into my face. I slow smiled him. I slipped him the lowered lid business. I put a cigarette between my half-parted lips. It fell out.
“Connie, why?” His voice rose. “Why in hell did you do this to yourself?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but I was trying for something too throaty, too husky. Nothing came out.
“No!” Steve shouted. “We won’t discuss it now. I’m late for my appointment.”
I got up and went into the living room. I heard him scrambling into his clothes. I fixed the lights, low but not too low. When he came in, I was leaning provocatively against the fire place, one foot extended a little, my knee bent in the Dietrich manner. He stopped and stared at me.