“You need to get more aerobic exercise,” said Dr. Smith, studying the printout that integrated the stress test, lung capacity test and blood oxygen levels from the torture device on which I’d just spent 15 minutes. “Your muscle tone and body fat percentages aren’t bad, and neither is your cholesterol level, but your oxygen delivery stinks. How much exercise do you get a week?”

“I do three hours a week in the gym instead of eating lunch,” I said.

“Lifting weights, I bet. Presses, clean-and-jerks, leg presses, curls?”

“And inclined sit-ups, twisters and crunches,” I agreed. “What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with it is that it’s doing damn-all for your endurance. You need to add a good aerobic workout to your routine.”

I snorted. “Yeah, right. Step up and down off a little bench, clapping my hands while some skinny, spandexed woman with buns of steel urges me and fifty fat, fatuous females to ‘go for the burn?’ No thanks.”

“There are other forms of aerobic exercise.” Doc scribbled on a prescription pad, tore the sheet off and handed it to me. “I want you to start taking iron supplements and folic acid tablets to build up your red blood cells, and I want you to follow this prescription for at least six months. Now stop cluttering up my office, I have sick people waiting.” A smile took the sting out of his last words as I put my shirt and tie back on. Given a choice, Doc would much rather prescribe exercise and healthy eating than pills or shots.

On my way back to work, I took the prescription slip out of my pocket and read it. It was cryptic, to say the least:

“Go to 114 East Dyer Street, 2nd floor and talk to Sandi. Tell her I sent you. Listen to what she has to say and follow the regimen for six months. Then visit me again. Dr. Smith.”

I found it hard to keep my mind on the server I was debugging that afternoon. Granted that like most computer jocks I live mostly inside my head and do much of my socializing over the Web, I do know the value of regular exercise and getting out of the house. I also know that Dyer Street is in a mixed-use part of town. There are trendy boutiques, clubs, bars, a couple of decent restaurants, bookstores, and apartments mostly populated by college students and singles working in offices. What the devil would Doc be sending me there for?

When I finally got the server back up at 6:30 that night, I put on my hat (everyone from the receptionist to the CEO teases me about my fondness for wide brim fedoras right out of a film noir gumshoe’s wardrobe), hopped on a bus and got off at Dyer Street. 114 East Dyer turned out to be a clothing store catering to the college crowd, its windows decorated with Halloween pumpkins, witch’s hats, brooms and cornstalks. The stairway next to it led to the upper floors. The door on the second floor landing had “Cappellini School of Dance” neatly lettered on its glass window. I cautiously pushed it open and entered the lobby.

It wasn’t much of a lobby as such things went; just a couple of tired couches and chairs and a sliding window that looked into an empty office. Posters of ballet dancers, a belly dance troupe, ballroom dancers in evening wear, and a blowup of Donald O’Connor, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds from Singin’ in the Rain decorated the walls. The inner door was open. I slowly walked down the corridor.

I passed more posters, these overwritten with competition information, and the men’s and women’s locker rooms before coming to two doors that would have done credit to a vault. The one on the right, marked “Studio B,” was closed. I could faintly hear Middle Eastern drumming through it. From the hallway, I peered into Studio A.

A dozen couples were scattered around the room. As I watched, the opening notes of the “Blue Danube” came out of hidden speakers and they began to gracefully waltz around the floor. At least to my eyes they looked graceful. To the instructor at the far end of the room in unitard and short skirt they apparently looked like cows on ice.

“Left arm higher, Petie! Lead firmly, don’t hesitate! Elyse! Eyes on your partner, not on your feet! You ought to know your steps by now! Maria, what are you doing? Don’t hang on his neck! This isn’t a sock hop, you know! David, stop counting and take your cues from the music!” The commentary continued until the waltz ended. At a gesture from the instructor, the dancers gathered around her for the verdict.

“You’ve been studying and practicing for six months now. Some of you might actually be mistaken for ballroom dancers if the hall is badly lit. You have made progress and I’m pleased.”

” ‘She may very well pass for forty-three, in the dark with the light behind her,’ ” I muttered to myself. I hadn’t reckoned on the acoustics. The black-haired teacher looked past her pupils with a laser glare that fixed me where I stood. She went on, “I’ll be in touch to inform those of you who are ready to move up to intermediate classes. The rest will continue in the next novice class. That’s all.” The students gathered up their sweatshirts, towels and water bottles and streamed past me into the corridor. Following them, their teacher stopped in front of me. Petite, small-busted and well muscled, with her hair cut to shoulder length and a clear olive complexion, there was no doubt she was in charge.

“Comments from the peanut gallery aren’t appreciated. What do you want?”

“I was referred to you by my doctor,” I said, handing her the prescription form. She read it, chuckled and extended a hand.

“I’m Sandi Cappellini. You’re not the first patient Doc Smith has referred to me,” she said, starting down the corridor and waving at me to follow. “He believes in killing two birds with one stone, and he’s right that dancing is much more fun than aerobics. What sort of dance do you have in mind?”

“What are my choices?” I asked, taking a seat opposite her in the office.

“We teach ballroom, folk, tap, Middle Eastern, medieval and Renaissance, 20th Century Popular and, heaven help us, club dancing.” Sandi eyed me speculatively. “Have you any experience, any preference?”

“Well, I can waltz a little. When the Gower Street Savoyards staged The Pirates of Penzance, we all had to dance in the finale. I won’t say I was good, but at least I didn’t trip over myself or step on my partner’s feet.” (“Not in performance, anyway,” I silently amended. Learning that waltz had been the hardest part of the production for me.)

“Perfect. At your age, ballroom will be an asset to your career. The novice class cycle will be starting next Tuesday. It meets Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:00 PM and runs for 90 minutes. What’s your shoe size?” I told her. “I’ll order a pair of dancing shoes for you. Dress is casual until we’re much farther along, at which time women dress for the ball and the men all turn into penguins. Here’s a registration form. Fill it out and give me your credit card, and you’ll be all set.”

Somewhat bemused by her take-charge attitude, I filled out the form and handed over my card. A minute later, she gave it back, stood and shook hands as she escorted me to the door.

“I’ll see you on Tuesday,” Sandi said. As I turned to leave, I noticed a woman watching me by the door to the women’s locker room. She was worth a second look. She stood about five foot seven with a substantial bosom, a nipped-in waist over flaring hips, long dancer’s legs and straight black hair pulled back into a ponytail. Sweat gleamed on her umber skin. Her nose was straight and her lips were narrow, which led me to speculate about ancestors from the Indian Subcontinent. She looked like the Punjabi answer to June Wilkinson, the legendary Playboy model and actress of the 1960s. The skintight leotard left nothing to the imagination yet at the same time stimulated fresh imaginings. The look on her face was easily interpreted, the veteran cynically eying the inexperienced newbie: “F-r-e-s-h meat!” Something to dream about until my first lesson.

After work the next Tuesday, I walked into the dance school office 15 minutes early, picked up my new dancing shoes, changed into them and left my sport coat and tie in the locker room. I joined the crowd of milling novices in Studio A. Sandi walked into the room and called for quiet.

“Welcome to Introductory Ballroom Dance. My name is Sandi, and I will be your instructor. This course meets three times a week unless I tell you otherwise. If you have to miss a class, call or see me in advance. Spread out and let’s warm up.”

The warm-up that followed left me dripping in sweat. Pliés, body twists, slow dips and bows, sit-ups, leg lifts; just getting ready to dance was a workout in itself. When Sandi was done torturing us (she wasn’t even breathing hard), she gathered us around and paired us off by height, always with the woman at least four inches shorter than her partner.

“Meharani, you’ll be partnered with Harry.” I looked at the woman Sandi motioned forward. It was the gorgeous girl I’d seen in the corridor when I’d registered the week before!

“Harry, you must have done something very good in a previous life to be this lucky,” I thought to myself. I walked over to her and offered my hand, a touch theatrically I admit, intending to move a couple of steps away so we would have dancing room. Meharani smiled as she took it.

What felt like a blue-white spark of electricity raced up my arm and exploded in my head like a sun going nova. The casual attraction any pretty woman holds for a man was replaced by raging lust for this particular female. My hindbrain screamed that I had to have her and devil take the consequences. From the look of shock in Meharani’s eyes, the same thing had just happened to her. The two of us fought to get our equilibrium back as the universe roiled around us, unnoticed by the others in the rehearsal hall. I finally managed to tear my eyes away from hers and pay attention to Sandi’s instructions on how to do the basic steps of the waltz. However, I did not let go of Meharani’s hand, and she made no effort to pull free. Nothing like this had ever happened to me before.

When Sandi told us to take the starting position and switched on the stereo, we began to dance. My partner was graceful, an inherent quality I suspected. I was much less assured than she despite my prior experience with the Gower Street Savoyards, but at least I didn’t step on her toes. To be honest, I was far more concerned with concealing the raging erection in my boxers than dancing like Fred Astaire. If she was aware of my condition Meharani took no notice of it. Compared to her I felt like a dancing bear; yet for all of that we fitted together.

The music ended. Sandi, who seemed to have cameras for eyes, automatic holographic playback in her brain and a tongue honed to razor sharpness, was much gentler with us than with the other couples.

“Rani, you looked pretty good, even if you were subtly pushing your partner the way he is supposed to go. And Harry, here’s a clue: a good male ballroom dancer is ramrod straight yet supple at the same time. When you figure how to be that, you’ll be getting somewhere.

“Okay, everyone, that’s it for today. Be sure to practice at home, ideally in front of a full length mirror. I’ll see you tomorrow, same time, same studio. Good night!”

The sweating crowd moved toward the studio doors. I held Meharani back by the arm. She looked at me.

“Uh, would you like to go grab a cup of coffee or something?” I stammered. Smooth, Harry, real smooth. No wonder all the girls fall at your feet!

“I can’t tonight, Harry,” said Meharani. “Here it comes, the kiss-off,” I thought. Then she continued, “I have to dash because I’m on in an hour. But you might ask me nicely again tomorrow.” She dimpled as she smiled. “I’m curious to see what I’ll say!” Then she was gone. I walked to the men’s locker room, unaware of the bemused expression on my face.

I quickly changed and hustled downstairs, taking a position across the street where I could see the doorway, smiling at the mental picture of myself as Sam Spade complete with hat and trench coat. When Meharani emerged, she turned right and I tailed her, unobserved I hoped.

The trail ended at Café Morocco, a restaurant that looks as if it had been transplanted from French North Africa before the Second World War, all stucco, onion archways, brass pierced-work and leather cushioned chairs around tables dripping white linen. It rates high in the restaurant guides for its food, entertainment and atmosphere. The waitstaff all dress in ethnic Moroccan, the menu is printed in English, French and Arabic, and it doesn’t take much to imagine Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains and Humphrey Bogart having a drink together in the dimness of the back corners. There is a bandstand – Café Morocco is one of the last restaurants in the city with a dance floor that has music you can dance to that doesn’t involve jumping around like a spastic kangaroo – and a large dance floor of real parquet. I ordered a coffee and a couple of beef kebabs and settled down to wait.

The Café features belly dancers from 8 to midnight on the nights when there isn’t live music for its patrons. I recalled an article in a magazine that listed the best places to find belly dance in the state, and it had been in the top five. The article had indicated the Café was a regular stop on the circuit for well known professionals, but also provided a venue for talented amateurs and pros just starting out. My food arrived. I ate slowly; I hadn’t come here with dinner in mind. I watched the dancers moving on the floor in the age-old steps and hand motions of good Middle Eastern dance, waiting.

At 9:30, a spotlight lit the doorway to the right of the stage and a gong sounded. An unseen emcee intoned, “For your enjoyment, the Café Morocco is proud to present – Meharani.”

My erstwhile waltzing partner flowed out through the beaded curtains in the doorway. An oud wailed and tambours thrummed with the beat. The zills on her fingers chimed an intricate pattern and Meharani began her routine.

The hum of conversation that had overlaid the other dancers’ performance died away as she whirled around the floor in her outfit of translucent harem pants, belt of chiming bells that tinkled as she moved, striped top that showed off her bust and a token face veil thin as winter breath. The men in the room were busy ogling; the women alternated between jealously watching her and glaring daggers at their dates.

The dance steps and body motions spoke of a simpler time. A time when a man’s worth was judged by his skill with horses and swords, by his ability to pull off raids, by his valor and courage. A time when women were valued not only for fairness of face but for grace and skill as well. Meharani danced a twenty minute set and was rewarded by applause, whistles and the shrill ululations used to show approval by North Africans before she disappeared back through the beaded curtain. I finished my dinner and left. That night, for the first time in a long while I had a vivid dream.

She and I were in a tent in the desert. I was dressed as an Arab sheik. She was wearing the same outfit she had danced in, but it was made of transparent silk that hid nothing. She was dancing for me, holding a silk scarf, using it to tease me, flicking it toward me but pulling it back before I could grab it, laughing each time I tried to catch it. She flaunted her firm, cantaloupe sized breasts, the nipples hard and long, ready for a man to suck and fondle. She drew the scarf between her legs, sawing it back and forth, rocking her hips to meet it. The junction of her shintiyan darkened from the moisture dripping from her slit. She flickered her tongue at me, dancing almost close enough to touch before spinning away to the far side of the Persian carpet she danced upon.

She danced a step too close and flipped the scarf she had used to masturbate herself at me. My hand flashed out and caught it, pulling her into my arms, grabbing her roughly by the hair and crushing her mouth beneath mine. Our clothes vanished and as my hands sought her proud breasts, hers grabbed my rigid cock, swollen to twice its normal length and girth, stroking it to even greater size. She moaned soundlessly against my mouth, wanting and wanton.

With no warning she was on the carpet, laying back, her arms reaching out to me, her mouth open, her pussy gaping wet and hot between her spread legs. I mounted her like a stud servicing a mare in heat and my steel hard cock sank home. Our pubic bones met. We began to fuck, my hands squeezing her boobs, pinching and pulling her nipples as my cock slammed in and out of her. She threw her head back, her hair wild on the carpet as her nails gouged divots out of my back, urgent, demanding, her hips rising to me meet mine as I hammered her velvet pussy, her mouth open to suck in the air she needed as we screwed without letup. Her eyes were flame as she pulled my head down and locked her mouth to mine and we climaxed as one, her juices spurting and drenching us both as my sperm shot deep into her to drip out of her cunt.

I awoke with a start. I was soaked and the tangled sheets were dripping with sweat and spunk. For the first time since I was a teenager I’d had a nocturnal emission. I got up, changed the bed and took a shower, but sleep was a long time coming.

Our next dance practice continued with the waltz. Remembering what Sandi had said, I took a firmer lead. Meharani let me, though she was not above subtle guiding pressure if I faltered or started to drift off beat. Afterwards, she walked off the floor without giving me a chance to ask her to grab a bite. When I came out of the locker room she was waiting in the lobby.

“How about that coffee?” she asked, taking my arm. I smiled and we walked together to the nearest coffee shop. We took our coffees and sat down at a table for two. We looked at each other across the table, suddenly shy and unsure how to proceed now that we were off the dance floor. Meharani broke the ice.

“What did you think of my set last night?”

I had just taken a sip of my Kenya AA and nearly choked on it. Her eyes laughed as I struggled for air and words.

“I though you were marvelous. But how did you know I was there?”

“I saw you in the second row of tables while I was waiting to come on. I don’t know how you found out where I was performing, but I’m flattered that you cared enough to come and watch. Most of the guys I’ve dated see dance only as an excuse to get their arms around the girl and shift to bone-dancing in the bedroom. They don’t appreciate the art. You do; I can tell.”

I made a mental note not to tell her about that wet dream. At least, not right away.

Rani and I talked for what seemed like only a few minutes, but the waitress’s discreet cough that brought us back into the real world also brought the knowledge that it was one o’clock in the morning and a workday at that. I hailed a cab for her, since we’d established we lived in opposite directions. She kissed me on the cheek and said, “See you on Friday,” before climbing into the cab. I watched it leave and hailed one for myself. With luck, I could catch the train, get home and still grab a couple of hours of sleep before going in to work.

For the next couple of weeks, life proceeded apace. We would meet at dance class, and afterwards, our schedules permitting, have coffee or something to eat. We achieved a comfort level with each other. Me, I wanted to kick things up a notch. Over coffee on Wednesday, I proposed that we take in a movie; go on a real date. She hesitated for a second, then agreed.

After Friday’s dance class, Rani and I walked to Café Morocco, where she performed her regular set. When she had changed back into street clothes, we cabbed it to the local multiplex. It’s the only independent movie house in the city, and its owner is an astute judge of filmmakers. For example, in 1976 he booked the then-unfinished movie of a little known director for the whole next summer when few others were willing to take a chance on him. Because of that, he gets every movie George Lucas directs or produces a week before it officially opens. He took similar chances on the Coen brothers, Kenneth Branaugh, Joss Whedon and Gurinder Chadha back before they became household names. As a result, he has a mix of cult classics, Hollywood blockbusters, art pieces, independents, English-dubbed Bollywoods and subtitled foreign flicks even when he’s not running a film festival for the local university. You can always find a good movie to watch there.