I looked good when I went to that audition. My hair was up in a long curled ponytail. My make-up had all the highlights I could get away with. I wore my sexiest leotard, a shimmery gray one with narrow straps, a diving back, and leg holes cut up to my elbows. My tights were a shimmery neutral color that matched my tan dance shoes. My black leg warmers had flecks of silver in them.
I did not look that hot on the way there. It was cold and close to sunset. To keep warm, I had on my rip-stop pants and my beat up jacket. But the only person who would see me in those was the girl at the sign in sheet.
She was bored, as usual, and showed me into the warm-up studio.
“Here’s the last one,” she said.
“Fine,” said the choreographer. He was a short, dumpy little guy I’d seen many times before and had yet to learn his name. “You’ve got five minutes to warm up.”
I noticed he wasn’t talking to just me, but also to the other fifteen people in the room. I stripped down, put my pants and jacket in my dance bag, changed from my running shoes to my dance shoes, and pulled out a shimmery, sheer dance skirt.
“Donna’s dressed to kill,” laughed a familiar voice as I tied the skirt around me.
“Mickey!” I yelped. I bounded over and kissed him.
“Donna! Thank God, they called you.” Tina came over and hugged me. “I swear, if they hadn’t, I was going to go straight over and bounce your agent on his ear. You’re looking good. You must have heard who’s directing this thing. You know, that babe of all babes, Phillip DuPre.”
“Uh, yeah, I heard.”
“Rats,” said Mickey. “I thought she was breathing heavy because of me.”
“Shut up, Dooley.” Tina slugged him in the arm.
We all three warmed up, stretching out our muscles, bouncing about.
“Alright,” the choreographer boomed out. “I’ll be teaching you the audition. When you get inside, they’ll work with you. Everybody get partners, male/female, please.”
I grabbed Mickey. Tina didn’t mind. She had an equally good partner. It was a tough routine. After four run-throughs, it looked like we all had it.
A wave of dancers flowed into the studio from the taping room. As they abated, Phillip DuPre appeared, talking to someone in the room.
“Why don’t you start running through it?” He said. “I’ve got a phone call to make.”
He turned into the studio and spotted me. I froze. He smiled at me, then the others then pulled his iPhone out of his pants pocket and dialed.
Tina nudged me. “There he is. The Phillip DuPre. Couldn’t you just die?”
“Yeah,” I whispered. Tina didn’t know the half of it.
I strained to hear what He was saying. It was noisy in the studio, and all I could catch were bits and pieces.
“I’m one of his clients…for one of… Oh. I, uh, that’s too bad… No…” Music drowned out the rest for good. He hung up and disappeared into the taping room.
Mickey looked at me curiously.
“You really have the hots for him,” he observed dryly.
“So? Let’s run through the routine again.”
We kept dancing. It’s what you’re supposed to do, anyway. You wait till after the audition to visit. Even if Mickey had noticed I was acting a little funny over Phillip DuPre, it didn’t affect our dancing. The old magic was still there.
In the audition room, the Phillip DuPre behind the table was completely different from the quiet guy who’d shown up at Mrs. Sperling’s. There, she was in charge, and He seemed content to let her call the shots. At the audition, this same guy was the boss and knew it, and while He didn’t rub it in, He didn’t give up one ounce of authority, either.
“Good afternoon,” He told us after a friendly smile. “You’ll be doing the routine as a group, then as couples. I’m looking for good, precision dancing. I want it sharp, and I want it clean. If you want to show me something, you’ll get your chance later.”
I had about a second to reflect that Mrs. Sperling was right about Him keeping His biases separate, then we worked. And worked. And worked some more. I was dying when we left the room.
“Geez, that was hard,” Tina gasped as we got our outdoor clothes on over our leotards. “I hope I did okay.”
“I think I did,” said Mickey. He looked at me. “You kicked butt, babe.”
“Thanks,” I gasped.
“Donna,” said Tina. “Earl’s working again. Mickey and I were planning on going out to happy hour for dinner after this. You want to come with us?”
“Well…” I hesitated, trying to figure things out. “Mrs. Sperling is expecting me for dinner. But she wants me to run an errand to Emil’s later.”
“We’ll meet you there,” said Mickey. “Say, what, nine o’clock?”
“Okay,” I said. “Tina?”
“Sure,” she said. “Earl will be off by then, too. Come on, Mickey.” She hugged me. “You did great.”
“You did, too,” I answered.
“Later, pard.” Mickey reached over and gave me a good sound kiss.
As he left, I turned back into the studio and froze. Phillip DuPre stood in the doorway with one eye on me, talking to one of the men he’d been with. They moved out of the way to let the rest of the people out. Struggling into my jacket, I fled with them.
My beat up old Altima sat near the studio’s doors. Shaking, I unlocked it and got in, then fumbled around the floor to find my keys, which I’d dropped. I finally got them, for all the good it did. The car wouldn’t start. Swearing, I popped the hood latch, ran around front, and propped open the hood, which did about as much good as finding my keys.
My heart stopped. Phillip DuPre stood on the sidewalk, looking at me with a half-smile on His gorgeous face.
“Hi,” I said, swallowing.
“Yeah.” I blushed. “You’d think someone who drives a car for a living would know more about the insides.” I slammed the hood shut. “I’ve gotta call the Triple-A.”
“I’ll wait with you,” he said as I got my mobile phone from my car.
“You don’t have to,” I said dialing.
“No. It’s okay.”
“Yeah,” He said as the operator came on.
I gave him the address, he told me it would take up to thirty minutes, and I was to stand next to the car. I hung up with a nervous sigh.
“Something wrong?” He asked.
“Sort of. It’s going to be at least thirty minutes and I’ve got to wait by the car.”
“It’s getting dark.” He glanced up and down the street.
Cars whooshed past the battered buildings. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood, just not a good one for a woman waiting around alone after dark.
“Yeah. I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll wait with you,”
“Oh. Gee.” My stomach did three kinds of somersaults and my tongue felt paralyzed. “You don’t have to. He said thirty minutes, so you know it’s going to be at least an hour.”
“I don’t mind.”
So we waited. I called Mrs. Sperling. Then we more or less exchanged nervous grins until the tow truck arrived. I was towed to the nearest repair station. He followed in his car, without being asked. I guess He assumed I’d need a ride, which I did. So we exchanged more nervous smiles all the way to Mrs. Sperling’s.
He stayed for dinner. Mrs. Sperling had me change, suggesting that I might as well get dressed for my errand that night. We ate in the dining room.
“So, what’s wrong with your car?” Mrs. Sperling asked me after we’d said grace.
He’d made the same sloppy sign of the cross that only a true believer makes. Then He stared at his plate as he ate.
“Um, the mechanic said he’d have a full list for me tomorrow afternoon,” I sighed. “On the other hand, he said he’d give me five hundred for it.”
“For the parts, I presume,” said Mrs. Sperling. “Does five hundred sound fair to you, Phillip?”
“Um, yeah. I’d hold out for seven fifty. The worst he can do is say no.”
“I still need a car,” I said. “I might be able to work out a loan with my parents, or even use the money from this one as a down payment.”
“That sounds like an excellent plan, Donna. So, Phillip, have you heard from your supplier yet?”
Everything about Him stopped. He set down His knife and fork, then tried to find someplace to put His hands. For the first time that night, He looked up.
“Aunt Delilah,” He said slowly. “I have a confession to make. The reason I didn’t tell you the name of my supplier was that I knew he was selling me hot prints. I was trying to win his trust, and find out how he was getting them. Then the counterfeits showed up at Josh’s place, but they weren’t all the same ones, except for some of the Niedemans, so I didn’t think Josh’s death was connected.”
“Only now something has gone wrong,” said Mrs. Sperling.
“Big time. I called him this afternoon, and they told me he’s dead. They said burglars got him.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
“His landlady and she said that’s what the police said.”
Mrs. Sperling nodded. “And your supplier’s name?”
“Kyle Hoffman?” I yelped. “He’s that building manager.”
“Phillip, did you know Mr. Hoffman was the manager of the building where Mr. Stein’s gallery was?”
He squirmed. “Yeah, I knew. Why do you think I was suspicious? Besides my Niedemans, Hoffman sold me a couple Gormans, and a Dawna Barton. But Josh didn’t even carry them.”
“Edgar Hendricks does,” I said softly. “Only Hoffman’s alibied for Stein’s death.”
“That does lead to some interesting possibilities,” mused Mrs. Sperling. She faded into her thoughts.
The phone rang. I bounced up, but Glen came running in from the kitchen.
“Sorry, I’m late, Mrs. Sperling,” he gasped, sliding into his seat at the table. “Donna, it’s your brother on the phone.”
“Oh, shoot. He probably wants to know about his Niedeman.”
“You can assure him it’s real,” said Mrs. Sperling. “I had it verified. Now, Glen-”
“I’m sorry, but I met this totally bodacious babe. He’s, like, a total E-ticket.”
My E ticket smiled His fabulous smile and chuckled.
“Love comes before all. Right, Aunt Delilah?”
I didn’t hear what she said. I headed into the kitchen and the phone to do battle with the exact opposite of Phillip DuPre.
“When am I going to get my Niedeman back?” demanded Peter. “You said it’d be Tuesday at the latest, and it’s Wednesday.”
“I don’t know. My car’s broken down, and we’re real busy here.”
“And I’m supposed to hang while you get around to it?”
“Look, Mrs. Sperling went to a lot of trouble to get that print authenticated for you, and she’s not charging you anything, so you could at least be a little nicer.”
“Tell her I said thanks. When am I going to get it back?”
Grumbling, I turned toward the dining room.
“So, Phil, how did your auditions go today?” Glen’s voice floated into the kitchen.
“Pretty well,” Phillip DuPre said. “Saw a lot of good dancing. I made my point with Slick, finally. The creep begged me to do it because he ‘trusts’ me, then questioned everything. I told him either pipe down or I walk. But once he saw the dancers, he agreed with me.”
“Gonna be a tough choice?”
“Come on. Who’re you casting?”
He laughed. “I’m not saying. Got a lot of hassles to get through, Slick’s gotta have his say, then the agents.”
I went in. “Um, Mrs. Sperling, I’ve got to figure out how to get my brother’s Niedeman to him. He’s having kittens.”
“Phillip, would you please drive Donna out this evening before you go to Emil’s?”
“I thought I was going,” I said, surprised.
“But…” He looked puzzled. “Aunt Delilah, you just asked me to go before dinner.”
“You’re both going,” said Mrs. Sperling. “There’s already been one incident. I don’t want another.”
“I told you I wouldn’t go alone,” I said. “I’ve got friends meeting me.”
“All the better,” said Mrs. Sperling. “There’s safety in numbers. Donna, where does your brother live?”
“Phillip, that wouldn’t put you out, would it?”
“Not at all,” He said quickly.
“I don’t want to impose,” I said.
“If you don’t want me to go to Emil’s, that’s okay,” He said.
“Donna, your brother is waiting,” said Mrs. Sperling. “Phillip will drive you out to Pasadena, then the two of you together will go to Emil’s, and meet your friends. End of the discussion.”
My heart was breaking. Only the ride out to Pasadena was pretty quiet. I tried to talk, but couldn’t think of anything to talk about except the auditions, which I didn’t want to talk about, and Stein’s death, which I didn’t want to talk about either. He seemed to be feeling pretty guilty about Hoffman’s death, so I decided not to bring that up. He wasn’t real talkative.
Peter had plenty to say. Fortunately, Elise wouldn’t let him say it.
“Who’s the babe?” she asked me as soon as Peter had Phillip DuPre fully engaged discussing Niedemans.
“A friend of my boss’s family,” I said, blushing.
He had just introduced Himself as Phil, so I didn’t think He wanted me advertising what He did for a living. Peter had given Him the once over and focused on the single diamond earring He wore and the leather bomber jacket. I called it style. Peter probably had other things on his mind, but Elise kept his trap shut for a change.
“Does she have any other friends like him?” asked Elise.
“You’re not. Anything going on?”
“I wish. He won’t even talk to me. It’s not like he’s a jerk. He’s really nice, but I can’t seem to find anything to say to him.”
The guys came back at that point.
“Donna,” complained Peter. “You didn’t tell us your boss is a private eye. Mom is gonna have fits when she finds out.”
I glared at him. “She’ll have fits when she finds out you and Elise are living together already.”
“You wouldn’t,” gasped Elise.
“Peter will just have to see that I don’t have to. We’ve gotta get going.”
“Nice meeting you,” He said.
“Nice meeting you, Phil,” said Peter.
The ride back to Westwood was equally quiet. I wanted to yell at Him for telling Peter what Mrs. Sperling did with her time. I looked at Phillip DuPre and melted. Hell, how was He to know?