Detective Singh hung up the phone and spun around in his chair to face the squad room. “There’s been another one,” he announced.
“Another what?” asked Gill. Singh stuck out his left leg and began tapping it to and fro in time to his singing. “You put your left foot in! You put your left foot out!”
Captain Robert’s head popped around the door of her office. “Do I need to send you to sensitivity training again?” she asked.
Singh’s caramel skin blushed amber. “No, ma’am.”
“Meeting. My office. In five,” she ordered before disappearing.
“Where did they find it?” asked Gill.
“Up the Sunshine Coast. Rose Island.”
“How many is that now?”
“All lefts,” said Singh.
Gill thought for a moment. “Didn’t the last one show up in June too?”
“Making any progress?” asked Gert from across the room.
“How long has it been now?” she teased. “Five years a mystery?”
“Something like that. About one a year washes up on shore,” said Singh. “Sometimes more.”
“Any theories?” asked Gill.
“UFOs!” shouted Gert.
“I’m leaning towards inept serial podiatrist,” said Singh.
The detectives laughed. Captain Robert’s interrupted. “I’m waiting.”
Singh jumped up and went into her office. Taking a seat on the uncomfortable wobbly chair facing her sleek metallic desk.
“I’ve been notified about the latest find,” she said. “Getting any closer to a solution?”
“None of the feet so far have matched up with anyone on DNA analysis. Nobody has come forward about losing a foot.”
“Are you being facetious?”
She tapped her fingers on the desk. Looking out her window thoughtfully. “What’s the timeline been?”
“The feet have usually shown up in the summer or early fall. This one is reportedly very well preserved. Hasn’t been in the water long.”
“Floating south from a northerly origin?”
“That’s the current theory.”
“I want you to get out there,” said Roberts. “Head up to Fino River. It’s the northernmost city on Rose Island. Talk to the coroner. See what you else can find out.”
“Maybe the coroner can help figure out how long the foot was in the water this time. Calculate back using wind and tides to see where it might have come from.”
“I like it. Make it happen.”
“Helijet?” asked Singh.
Roberts snorted. “Take a car from the pool. The ferry and island highway are more than fast enough. It’s taken years to figure this out. What’s a few more hours.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Singh. He returned to his desk, and called the Island Ferries, making a reservation for the next sailing.
“Are you left working alone?” asked Gill.
“Do you feel left down?” asked Gert.
Gill added, “Have you been left to your own dev—”
Singh stood up and saluted the squad room. “Peace out.”
He stood in the heavily fenced lot, looking over the unmarked cars. Of course, all the V8 Chargers had already been taken. He was left taking a white Impala. With only a V6 engine. And no rear-drive. Not that it really mattered. It was doubtful he would be making any high speed pursuits on this road trip.
On the ferry, he sat in the Quiet Lounge. Sipping chai and filling up on nuts, pastries, and cheese. He skipped the fresh fruit and vegetables. He got enough of that at home. His eyelids grew heavy, and he put down the newspaper he had been leafing through. Looking out the window, he saw a young woman standing at the rail.
Her dark hair was pulled into a tight bun. The wind had teased out long tendrils that flew back over her shoulders. When she turned around, her cheeks were bright pink from the wind chill. Her make-up was bold. Emphasizing her brown eyes and red lips although the red did clash with her cheeks. She was wearing a flowy purple skirt that ended just above her knees. Otherwise she was mostly covered up in a puffy black jacket with a sapphire blue plaid scarf flying around her neck.
Singh admired her long, muscular legs when the wind blew her skirt up to her thighs. He wished he could see the rest of her. He suspected she had a very trim body. Too bad this trip couldn’t wait until the summer when the female scenery was less hidden by clothing. He idly wondered where she was off to. Sighing, he returned to his newspaper and snacks.
Natalie turned from the ferry rail and walked across the deck towards the heavy entrance door. She glanced towards the windows. Noticing a handsome Indian man inside. His black hair was slicked back from his face. Framing his high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. He seemed to be watching her, so she walked more quickly towards the door. Struggling against the wind to heave it open.
As her bus pulled into Fino River, it stopped at a red light. A white sedan sat in the next lane, also waiting for the light to change. Natalie noticed that the driver was the handsome man from the ferry. She wondered why there were heavy bars between the front and back seats of his car.
At the bus depot, Natalie slung her bag over her shoulder and walked outside. Blinking furiously against the bright sunlight. In her rush to get ready, she had forgotten her sunglasses. But you didn’t delay after a last minute summons from Madame Pizarski. Somebody had cancelled their audition, and Natalie was first on the waiting list. Come hell or high water, there was no way she was missing her opportunity to audition for the Pizarski Academy of Ballroom Dance.
She strolled down the main street towards the harbor. An ice cream shop tempted her with their chocolate caramel scoops. But she preferred her stomach to be empty when she danced.
A blonde woman with her hair in a ponytail jogged by. A prosthetic foot was attached to her left calf. Its curved black hook rebounding with every step. They exchanged smiles.
At Channel Water Taxi, the operator found her reservation. She was far too early, so he stored her bag behind the desk, and Natalie wandered around the wharf to kill time. A few fishing boats were tied up. Natalie admired their catches. A silver mass of herring. Brown halibut as long as an adult human. Other fish she couldn’t identify.
When the water taxi finally left the dock, Natalie’s stomach was in knots. She mentally reviewed some dance steps. Smooth. Rhythm. Standard. Latin. She wondered what dance they would choose for her audition.
The dock at her Hadwick Island destination led to a long series of narrow steps, leading up to the bluff above. An immense building overlooked the strait. Cedar siding glowed like honey between large expanses of window, and two large cedar poles flanked the double front door. Each panel of the door was adorned with a carved white eagle on a red shield.
As Natalie approached, she looked closely. Had they used real gold leaf on the eagle’s crown, beak, and talons? She took a deep breath and entered. There was a funky smell. An unpleasant coppery tang. Natalie noticed a spiral of smoke rising from an incense stick on the glass reception desk. Not a scent she would choose.
The receptionist looked up and smiled. Natalie’s mouth gaped open when she got a better look at the interior. Light beamed down into the open space through large skylights. Comfy looking couches nestled around a large stone fireplace and flanked the immense bay window.
“You must be Natalie,” said the receptionist.
She nodded. Still taken aback by the opulence.
“Please sit,” they said, motioning towards the couches. “Is there anything I can get you? Water? Tea? Hot chocolate?”
“Could I please use the bathroom?”
“Straight towards the back. Last door on the left.”
Her sneakers squeaked on the hardwood floor. She tried to step lighter. More silently. Like she thought a dancer should.
The bathroom was beyond her expectations. Flocked carmine wallpaper covered the walls. The fixtures were golden veined marble. The sink rested atop an antique burled walnut dresser. A large mirror with an intricate gold frame hung above the sink with golden light sconces at each side.
A small shelf held an array of cheerily painted matryoshka dolls with bright kerchiefs and stylized clothing. Natalie smiled at the doll with cats on it. She wished Mr. Stumpy could be with her for moral support.
Natalie adjusted her bun. Using hairspray from her bag to make sure it was neat and sleek. She added another coat of mascara, emphasizing her eyes even more, and swiped on fresh lipstick before blotting any excess off with a tissue. Taking off her socks and sneakers, she sprayed her feet with mint spray, and changed into her beige stockings and low heeled dance shoes. She sniffed her armpit. It seemed okay. Just to be safe, she swiped her pits with deodorant and patted some baby powder on top.
She looked in the mirror and gave herself a shake. “You can do this,” she said firmly. “You can do it.”
She returned to the couches and sat down to wait. Sweat began to trickle down her upper lip and neck. Noticing a coat stand, Natalie hung up her coat and scarf. Trying not to let her heels click too loudly on the floor. Every sound seemed to echo.
Back at the couch, she looked out over the water. But she wasn’t really seeing it. All her focus was on the upcoming interview and dance demonstration. She had to nail it.
A low gong sounded. The receptionist stood up and motioned to Natalie. “Madame Pizarski will see you now.”
They led her to a large office. The back wall was a window looking into an empty dance studio with mirrored walls. Natalie couldn’t see any reflection. It must be a one-way mirror into the studio from Madame Pizarski’s office. A door in one corner led into the studio. Clearly Madame kept a close eye on things.
A petite woman with white hair sat at a neat desk. Madame Pizarski. Natalie recognized her from the website. She still couldn’t tell her age. She had one of those faces that could be anywhere from forty to sixty. Amber earrings dangled from her ears, and a matching necklace was long enough to reach the cleavage of her black leotard.
“Please. Sit,” said Madame Pizarski.
“It’s an honour to meet you.”
“We are so pleased you come on short notice.”
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Natalie.
Madame Pizarski nodded. “You understand process? We have review application. The video. Your dance history. Awards. References.”
“Now we must see dancing.”
Madame Pizarski opened the door and gestured for Natalie to precede her into the studio. “Please to compose yourself. Pavel comes shortly.”
“What dance would you like me to perform?” asked Natalie.
“We shall see,” said Pizarski enigmatically before returning to her office and closing the door. It was definitely a one-way mirror. Natalie couldn’t see into Pizarski’s office from the studio.
The dance floor was sprung, soft beneath her feet. The rank incense smell was stronger here. With an overlay of disinfectant. Natalie coughed. She hoped it wouldn’t interfere with her breathing.
A small table sat in one corner, with a high tech stereo system waiting to be turned on. A gold iPod was docked to the system, and small speakers had been fixed to the ceiling around the room. No wires showed. It seemed no expense had been spared.
Feeling self-conscious, she began with some gentle stretches before moving into a series of practice steps. Careful to keep her posture upright, extend her lines, and hold her positions as perfectly as possible.
A door on the far side of the studio opened, and a tall blonde man walked in carrying a small woven basket by the handle. It was full of small slips of paper.
“You must be Natalie.”
She looked up at him, worried about his height. Hopefully it wouldn’t throw off their partnering.
“Shall we begin?” he asked. “Madame Pizarski does not like to be kept waiting.”
“Of course. What dance are we doing?”
“Luck shall decide,” Pavel said. He held out the basket. “Pick.”
Natalie took a deep breath. Not the paso doble, not the paso doble, she prayed. She plucked a paper from the basket and slowly unfolded it. She smiled. “Cha cha.”
“Great.” Pavel walked over to the stereo. He fiddled with the iPod and soon the sound of fingers snapping echoed in the studio.
“Break It Off. I love Rihanna,” said Natalie. It was a fast song. Definitely not for beginners. She was a bit surprised at the choice of music. She would have expected more traditional Latin style. But she could dance to anything.
Pavel grabbed her by the hand and swirled her to the centre of the dance floor. They began moving to the music. Natalie let her hips move freely. Trying to be precise in her triple steps and rock steps. Pavel was a smooth dancer, a strong leader. She felt like he was showing her off to her best advantage.
At the end, Pavel walked over to turn off the music. Natalie noticed a slight limp. “Are you okay?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Occupational hazard.” “
“Something like that.”
He bowed and gestured towards Madame Pizarski’s office. “You may rejoin Madame now.”
“Thank-you,” she said.
He turned and left through the other studio door. A heavy waft of the unpleasant smell entered the studio before the door swung shut.
Natalie sat facing Madame Pizarski. Her heart racing. There was a long pause before Madame spoke. “I have only one question for you.”
“Who is dance role model? Who to admire?”
She thought for a moment. “Heather Mills.”
Madame Pizarski raised one elegant eyebrow.
“You know, from the Dancing Stars show. Sir Paul’s ex.”
“So many to choose. Edyta Sliwinska. Ola Jordan. Yes. Yet you choose…amateur.”
“She’s so brave,” said Natalie. “Missing her leg. But she still danced her best. Didn’t let anything stop her.”
“And nothing stop you?”
“Nothing,” said Natalie firmly. “Madame Pizarski, I would do anything to join your Academy. I would give my left foot to dance with you.”
“Would you?” asked Madame Pizarski with a thin smile and a gleam in her eye. “Would you indeed?”
Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash.