Did you miss Chapter One?
Did you miss part one of Chapter Two?
From Rockabye Murder
Chapter Two Continued
Kenny arrived just as I finished putting on my mascara
“Kate, can I order—”
“Pizza money is on the counter,” I said with a grin. Kenny, who’d just
turned eighteen, lived to raid our fridge and to devour any pizza we
would buy him. His folks still hadn’t given up trying to make him a vegan.
He flipped his pink hair—the tips used to be purple but now they
were blue— and gave me two thumbs up before scooping up Laurie.
I stared at his hair. The tips were blue on one side, but on the
other . . . “Did you shave half your head?”
He groaned. “Don’t remind me.”
Blinking a few times, I asked, “Why did you shave half your head? I
mean, it looks great—edgy and artistic, and all that. But you don’t
seem happy about it.”
“I got a bird stuck in it,” he mumbled.
“You got a what stuck in it?”
He sat down with Laurie and started to play peek-a-boo. “So, I
took Siena—you know, the one with the nose ring—on a date to the
Ah, yes, Kenny had been quite enthusiastic about Nose Ring, as I’d
taken to calling her in my head. He’d met her a couple of weeks ago
while busking with his tuba at Fisherman’s Wharf.
He covered his eyes. “We went into the aviary. Peekaboo!” He
opened his hands and peeked out at Laurie.
“Oh no.” I grimaced.
“Oh yes.” He covered his eyes again. “Anyway, we were walking
through the South American Rainforest Aviary exhibit, and there was
this obnoxious fly buzzing around me. I don’t know if it thought my
hair was a pink fruit or a flower or what. And this green jay absolutely
divebombed the heck out of that fly.”
I tried not to laugh. “That’s horrible.”
“Darn bird collided with me and got its claws all tangled in my
hair. I couldn’t get it out, Siena couldn’t get it out, the zookeeper chick
couldn’t get it out, zookeeper chick’s manager couldn’t get it out.” He
was still covering his eyes, and Laurie reached up and pulled his hand
off his face. “The only way to free the bird without hurting it was to
cut it out of my hair. So, instead of cutting all my hair short to match
or walking around with a weird mangled spot, I just shaved that side.”
“Did you get another date out of it, at least?” I asked sympatheti‐
cally, pursing my lips to force myself to maintain a serious expression.
“Eh, there wasn’t really that X-factor, you know? Even before the
bird incident. I don’t think either of us was really feeling it. But I did
get zookeeper chick’s phone number.”
Jim emerged from the bedroom, looking handsome in his button-up
and slacks. I glanced down at my jeans and plain blue maternity
blouse and wondered if I was underdressed.
“Can you teach Laurie how to play the tuba tonight?” Jim asked.
“Maybe get her a spot playing for the symphony?”
“Sure thing,” Kenny said with a smirk. “We’ll audition together
“Enjoy the pizza!” I said, slinging my purse over my shoulder. “Try
to leave me a slice. I’m eating for three.”
“No promises. Enjoy the dance class!”
“Wish me luck—I hear that some weird things have been
happening at the studio, and I’m hoping I can solve the mystery for
“Let me know if I can help you track down the bad guy,” called
Kenny. “Those stories always play well with girls.” He carried Laurie
over to that awful chipmunk bus and said, “Should we work on your
alphabet, Miss L?”
It was only a twelve-minute drive to Tre Fratelli Danzanti, which
was nestled in the Mission District right between a Mexican food
restaurant and another dance studio. We lucked into finding a
parking spot right away—pulling up just as someone else was leaving.
“Excellent,” I said to Jim as I climbed out of the car. “That’ll give us
some time to talk to Dave and his brothers before class.”
Mom had texted to say she and Galigani weren’t coming tonight,
so it would be a private lesson for Jim and me.
Jim slid his credit card into the parking meter, then nudged me in
the ribs and looped my arm through his. “Just in case they’re in need
of San Francisco’s finest private investigator?”
I smiled innocently. “Well, I can’t wait to hear more about the
weird things happening at the studio and I couldn’t very well turn
down a friend in need.”
The lobby of the dance studio was clean but nondescript, with a
simple oak desk and computer, plus a few chairs. The only thing that
stood out was the quote stenciled on the wall behind the desk: Dance
first. Think later. It’s the natural order. -Samuel Beckett (sort of)
I pointed at it, and Jim snorted. “Typical Dave.”
A woman in her late twenties came around the corner, her floral
minidress swishing over a pair of pink leggings. “Oh!” she cried, her
hand flying to the flower in her curly black hair. “You must be Jim and
“Yes,” I said. “Are you our dance teacher?”
She crossed to us and took both my hands in hers. “I’m Petunia
Petal, Dave’s girlfriend. He’s told me so much about you—I recog‐
nized you from your pictures.”
I tried my hardest to keep my expression neutral, but she must
have seen a look of amusement flash across my face, because she
laughed and added in a conspiratorial whisper, “Well, really I’m Mary
Williams, but don’t tell anyone. I go by Petunia Petal with everyone in
the dance world. I’m breaking into doing it professionally—dancing,
not just teaching—and it’s easier to be memorable with a flashy stage
name. There are too many Mary Williamses in the world for anyone
to find me by Googling.”
“Great to meet you, Petunia,” said Jim.
Just then, Dave came barreling toward us from the back. “Jim!
Dave, the oldest of the Tre Fratelli Danzanti – three dancing
brothers -was tall, dark and Italian, a fine handsome catch consid‐
ering that alone, but the fact he could dance would make any girl
swoon. He hugged Jim, thumping him on the back.
“Been too long,” said Jim.
“It has been.” Dave slung his arm around Petunia. “Hon, this is my
best friend Jim and his wife, Kate. Jim and Kate, meet . . . Petunia?” He
glanced at her with a questioning expression.
“Embarrassing to forget your girlfriend’s name,” I quipped.
He blushed. “Well, it’s just—”
“She told us,” I said warmly. “Mary sometimes, but Petunia at the
Dave gave us a smile and a wink. “In that case, this is my girlfriend
Petunia. She dances professionally and also teaches classes here.” He
turned to Petunia. “Jim’s an ad guru, and Kate manages an architec‐
tural firm office.”
“Not anymore!” I shook my head. “I left the soul-sucking corporate
world behind when Laurie was born.”
“Good for you,” said Petunia. “Are you staying at home with her,
“Kate’s the best private investigator in town.” Jim rested his hands
on my shoulders. “She’s been solving homicides left and right.”
Dave’s jaw dropped. “Whoa, that’s awesome!”
My chest swelled with pride.
We chatted about my most recent case for a few minutes, and just
when I was hoping they’d talk about the mysterious incidents at the
studio, Dave changed the subject.
“Thanks for signing up for the lesson, by the way,” he said, shifting
uncomfortably. “When we talked, I wasn’t trying to get you to spend
money propping us up—”
No need for him to feel uncomfortable. “I jumped at the opportunity,” I
interjected. “I’d been meaning to sign up for an exercise class, and this
sounded like fun.”
Dave visibly relaxed.
“Tell us about this fundraiser,” said Jim. “Is the studio in trouble?”
“Oh, it’s not for the studio,” said Dave, beckoning us toward the
hall. We followed him to a brightly lit room with a gleaming wooden
dance floor and a wall of mirrors. A divider on one side partitioned it
off from the next room over. “I mean, the studio makes a profit, but
not enough of a profit to pay us owners much. That’s fine for me and
Eddie, but Jack, well . . .”
Petunia’s face softened, and she whispered, “Jack and Sharon have
been trying to have a baby for five years.”
Instinctively, I cradled my baby bump. “Sharon’s a kindergarten
teacher, isn’t she?”
“First grade,” said Dave, his lips set in a grim line. “She’s desperate
for a baby, and . . . I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind me telling you
this—their insurance doesn’t cover any fertility treatments, and they
can’t afford them on her salary and his earnings from the studio.”
“Oh,” I whispered. My heart went out to Sharon. She’d always
seemed so warm and maternal.
“Anyway.” Dave scuffed a toe on the gleaming wooden floor.
“They’ve scrimped and saved, and our folks pitched in, but they’re still
about $3000 short. We’re trying to raise some money to give Jack a
$3000 bonus, and we figured we’d do a 1950s swing dance. Between
the cover charge, some money we can make from the cash bar, and
the extra lessons people will sign up for . . .”
“Can we help?” I asked. “My friend Paula—you remember Paula,
right? She was my maid of honor. She’s incredible at interior design.
And Jim can do posters and marketing! And I can help where you
Like figuring out about those weird things happening at the studio, I
Dave’s face lit up, and he glanced at Jim. “That’d be incredible. Do
you have time to design posters for us? I know you’re working with
some big-time clients these days, and I’d hate to impose.”
“I absolutely have time,” Jim said firmly. He glanced at his watch.
“Hey, there’s still five minutes before the lesson is scheduled to start.
Let’s get all the information together, and I’ll work up a draft poster
for you tomorrow.”
Dave thumped him on the back. “You’re a good man. I have a
whole plan on the computer. Let’s go print it out.”
The guys left for the lobby, leaving Petunia and me on the dance
floor. “Oh, I’m so glad they gave us a moment,” said Petunia in another
one of her conspiratorial whispers. “I’ve been dying to ask you a
Here we go. Why yes, I’d be happy to investigate for you. No charge.
Thank you for asking.
She half-covered her mouth to hide her sheepish grin. “You’ve
known Dave for years. Do you have any ideas on how I can get him to
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