Dead Man Dancing

Marcia Talley

Dead Man Dancing

The seventh book in the Hannah Ives series, 2008

For my sister, Katherine Emily Dutton Carstens

1957 – 2006

Where shall we see a better daughter or a kinder

sister or a truer friend?

Jane Austen, Emma


Thanks, as always, to my husband, Barry, who really didn’t want to take ballroom dancing lessons, but did anyway. Honey, you’re better than you think.

To Petre and Roxana Samoila, ballroom dance instructors and performers on the Queen Mary 2, who made it look easy. It isn’t.

To Jennifer Gooding of the Annapolis Dance Academy in Arnold, MD, for an insider’s view of a successful dance studio, and for putting up with my endless questions.

To Helen Arguello, dance show fan extraordinaire, who took the time to tell me about her favorites; and to Carol Chase, who faithfully taped British versions of the same, so I wouldn’t miss a single step.

To my talented niece, Alisha Kay Robinson, who auditioned for American Idol and came oh-so-close, for a look behind the scenes.

To Captain George Clifford, CHC, USN Retired, and Rear Admiral Byron Holderby, CHC, USN Retired, for keeping me on the liturgically correct path, both military and otherwise.

To my sister-in-law, Camille Tracey, and my husband, Barry, who have attended more Catholic funeral services than anyone ever ought.

To my daughter, Laura Geyer, whose satirical wit and biblical knowledge gave me Jeremy Dunstan in all his evangelical glory.

To Denise Swanson, for the title.

And to Aaron Smith for the sandwiches.

If I got it wrong, it’s my fault and not theirs.

To Phil and Susanne Watkins of ‘Tradewinds’ on idyllic Dickie’s Cay, Abaco, Bahamas in a corner of whose bunkhouse nearly half of this book was written.

To my Annapolis writers’ group – Janet Benrey, Trish Marshall, Mary Ellen Hughes, Ray Flynt, Sherriel Mattingly, Thomas Sprenkle, and Lyn Taylor – for tough love.

To my web diva and lunch buddy, Barbara Parker. Come see what Barbara can do at

To Alicia B. Sweeney, yoga instructor, dancer, choreographer, and actress, whose generous bid at a charity auction sponsored by the Friends of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra bought her the right to play a role in this book.

To Elaine Viets, whose cat, Mysterie, will play the role of Bella de Baltimore in the movie version of Dead Man Dancing.

And to Kate Charles and Deborah Crombie, without whom…


She’d cropped her hair, colored it bronze, and gelled it into stylish spikes with freshly manicured fingers. Now she stood in my kitchen door, asking me what I thought.

‘Who are you,’ I said, ‘and what have you done with my sister Ruth?’

Ruth grinned and executed a shaky pirouette on one toe of her platform wedges. I figured I was expected to comment on a new outfit, but it took me a few seconds to figure out what it might be. The jacket I recognized. Boiled wool. Red. Purchased at a fleece meet in central Pennsylvania, and old as the hills. She must have meant the jeans.

‘Chico’s?’ I ventured, admiring the fit.

‘Well, yeah,’ she said, letting me know that I’d completely missed the point. ‘What else, Hannah?’

‘Cool belt?’ I ventured, thinking that with that buckle and all the decorative studs, Ruth would cause a sensation at airport security when she and Hutch finally set off on their honeymoon.

‘Size one point five,’ she said, smoothing the dark denim along her hips with the palms of both hands. ‘I used to wear a two.’

One point five. I loved Chico’s sizing. In my post-chemo days, I wore a double zero. I remember rejoicing when I porked up to a healthier size one, but in this Super-Size-Me era, there weren’t many people with whom I could share that joy.

‘Congratulations, Ruth,’ I said, meaning it. I reached out and patted her hair, which felt stiff as AstroTurf under my fingers. ‘You look terrific. Hutch is never going to know what hit him.’

‘He’ll probably think aliens have landed and taken over my body.’ Ruth crossed to the refrigerator, opened the door and peered in. ‘Got any iced tea?’

‘What you see is what you get,’ I told her. Paul and I had been surviving on Thanksgiving leftovers for a week. I hadn’t been to the grocery store recently, so the pickings were mighty slim.

Ruth shuffled condiment bottles, restacked Tupperware, opened drawers and pawed around until she discovered a regular Coke my husband kept hidden from himself in the vegetable crisper. Before I could stop her, she’d popped the top. ‘I’m down ten and a half pounds,’ she announced, after taking a swig. ‘And thank God. My wedding gown is gorgeous,’ she said, ‘but it’s a one-off. Size eight. It. Is. Going. To. Fit,’ she added, ‘even if it’s the last thing I do.’

‘Plenty of time for that,’ I commented. Hutch had proposed to my sister over a year ago, but the wedding date had only recently been set. ‘If you keep losing weight at this rate, in thirteen months, the dress will be too big.’

Ruth pulled out a chair and sat down, stretched out her legs, and kicked off her shoes. ‘I’m on the Eat Less Food Diet,’ she laughed.

‘Genius,’ I said. ‘You should write a book.’

‘I’ll call it Hippy Girl Slims Down, Spruces Up, Marries Attorney and Joins the Establishment.’ She waved her can, as if writing the words in the air. ‘Not necessarily in that order.’ She suddenly looked lost. ‘Too bad Mother never lived to see it.’

I teared up, too, and patted my sister’s shoulder. ‘She knows.’

‘This wedding is going to be perfect, Hannah,’ Ruth said, turning her face away from me and toward the window, struggling with tears of her own. ‘Not like the first time.’

‘That won’t be difficult,’ I commented. Ruth’s wedding to Eric Gannon had been a bargain basement quickie, all bare feet and daisy chains somewhere in the mountains of New Hampshire, with only a justice of the peace and a herd of restive cows presiding. The marriage, too, had been a disaster until, weary of Eric’s philandering, Ruth had kicked the bum out and set fire to his clothing in the driveway.

‘I need your help with something,’ Ruth, the reformed pyromaniac said after a moment.

‘Oh, oh.’ I felt a sense of foreboding. I folded my arms and leaned against the fridge. With Ruth, there was usually a catch.

She finished her Coke and tossed the empty can in the general direction of the sink where it tumbled into the dish drainer with a hollow thunk-clink. ‘I’ve got the gown, of course, and the cake’s laid on. Michaels is doing the flowers, and I’m working with The Main Ingredient on the catering.’ Ruth took a deep breath. ‘What would you say to a dance band?’

‘A dance band? As in a real dance band, like Harry James or Glenn Miller?’


‘Well,’ I ventured. ‘That implies actual dancing, doesn’t it?’

‘Uh huh.’

‘Ruth, I haven’t seen you dance since the Funky Chicken was all the rage.’

Ruth shrugged. ‘True, but I’ve been practicing.’

I thought for a moment about the repercussions of actual dancing at her wedding. My husband, Paul, was a mathematical genius, but when it came to dancing, the poor boy had been out getting his diaper changed when the rhythm fairy passed by his cradle. I wasn’t much better. We had a DVD somewhere – ‘Brush Up Your Ballroom’ – that we’d watched a couple of times before Paul’s sister, Connie, married Dennis, but aside from the simple one-two-three, one-two-three of the waltz, not much of it had stuck.

‘I’ve been watching videos,’ Ruth added, ‘but galumphing around the house crashing into the furniture just isn’t going to cut it.’

While channel surfing, I’d caught occasional episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, Shall We Dance? and a couple of other dance contest shows myself – what Paul likes to call Unreality TV – but I’d rarely been inspired to rise from my comfortable chair and take a spin around my living-room carpet.

‘Hutch was big into ballroom at Ithaca College,’ Ruth said, ‘and I think it would mean a lot to him.’ She crossed her arms on the table and leaned toward me. ‘I thought maybe you could recommend somebody.’

‘There’s the Naval Academy Band,’ I said after giving it a moment’s thought. ‘Some of its members moonlight with combos on weekends, but other than that, I don’t know any bands, Ruth.’

Ruth shook her smartly coifed head and grinned. ‘A dance instructor, silly. I’ve already signed up the band.’

‘You are scaring me, sister.’

‘I’m serious, Hannah. Didn’t you work with someone last year on Dance for the Cure?’

‘Right,’ I said, remembering. ‘Kay Giannotti of J & K Studios was one of our sponsors.’ The fund-raiser at Loews Hotel on West Street had been a huge success, but I’d sulked on the sidelines, a proper little wallflower. Paul had declined to go, citing finals that needed grading, assuaging his guilt by forking out a heal ...

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