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The second book in the Lily Bard series, 1997
This book is dedicated to my newsletter group,
the Femmes Fatale (http://members.aol.com/femmesweb),
who make me laugh more than I have since I left college.
My thanks to Larry Price and Pat Downs, who described being blown up; and to members of my karate class, who kindly enacted fight sequences and offered various lethal suggestions. Dr. John Alexander has also been polite about answering some very peculiar questions.
The man lying on the padded bench had been working out for two hours and he was drenched with sweat. His short blond hair was matted at his forehead, and his sharply etched body glistened. His hacked-off sweatshirt and shorts, originally blue but now faded, showed dark rings under the arms. It was October, but he had a glowing tan. He was exactly five feet ten inches and he weighed one hundred seventy-four pounds, both facts being of crucial importance to his regimen.
The other members of the Body Time gym had gone home an hour ago when the gym officially closed, leaving this dedicated and privileged being, Del Packard, to his solitary calling. After the others had gone, Del’s spotter arrived, wearing ancient black sweatpants and an old gray sweatshirt with the sleeves scooted up.
Del had let the spotter in with his own key, on loan from gym owner Marshall Sedaka. Del had talked Marshall into issuing him a key so Del could work out every free minute he could beg from his job. The competition was only a month away.
“I think I’m going to make it this time,” Del said. He was resting between sets. The weighted bar lay in its rack above his head. “I was second last year, but I hadn’t put in the hours I have this year. And I’ve practiced my posing every day. I’ve gotten rid of every hair on my body, and if you think Lindy has stood that without complaining, you can think again.”
His spotter laughed. “Want another dime?”
“Yeah,” said Del. “I want to do ten reps, okay? Only help me if I’m hurting.”
The spotter added a ten-pound disc to each end of the bar. It already held a total of two hundred and seventy pounds.
Del tightened the wrist straps of his lifting gloves, flexed his fingers. But he delayed for a moment longer, saying, “You been to that Marvel’s Gym? It’s the biggest place I ever seen.”
“No.” Del’s companion also adjusted his black leather gloves. Lifting gloves stop at the first knuckle and have padded palms. Del’s spotter had forgotten to bring his, he’d explained, and had pulled a pair of regular gloves out of the lost-and-found box. Now, the spotter casually pulled down the sleeves of his sweatshirt.
“I don’t mind telling you, last year I was pretty nervous. There was guys in that middleweight division pumped up like tanks, been in training since they could walk. And their outfits! And here was me, ole country boy. But I did all right.” Del smiled proudly. “This year I’ll do better. No one from Shakespeare but me is entered this year. Marshall tried to get Lily Bard-you know her? blond? don’t talk much?-to enter in the women’s novice division, or the open, but she said she wasn’t about to spend eight months pumping up to stand in front of a bunch of people she didn’t know, all greased up like a pig. Well, that’s one point of view. I look on it as an honor to represent Shakespeare at the Marvel Gym competition. Lily’s got great chest and arm development, but she’s pretty weird.”
Del lay back on the bench and looked up at the face of his spotter, who was bent over him, gloved hands resting casually on the bar. His spotter lifted his eyebrows in query.
“You remember, I was kind of worried after we had that conversation last week?” Del asked.
“Yep,” the spotter said with a dash of impatience in his voice.
“Well, Mr. Winthrop says everything is okay. Just not talk about it to anyone.”
“That’s a relief. You gonna lift this, or just look at it?”
Del nodded his blond head sharply. “Okay, I’m ready. After this set, I’m quitting for the night. I’m dead beat.”
The spotter smiled down at him. With a grunt, the spotter lifted the bar, now weighted with two hundred ninety pounds. He moved the bar into position above Del’s open hands and began lowering it.
Just as Del’s fingers were about to close around the bar, the spotter pulled it toward himself a little, till it was right over Del’s neck. With great control, the spotter positioned it exactly over Del’s Adam’s apple.
Just as Del opened his mouth to ask what the hell was going on, the spotter dropped the bar.
Del’s hands scrabbled convulsively at the weight crushing his neck for a few seconds, hard enough to make his fingers bleed, but his companion squatted down and held either side of the bar, the gloves and sweatshirt protecting him from Del’s fingers.
Very shortly, Del lay still.
The spotter carefully examined his gloves. In the overhead light, they looked fine. He threw them back in the lost-and-found bin. Del had left his gym key on the counter, and the spotter used it to unlock the front door. Halfway out the door, he paused. His knees were shaking. He hadn’t any idea of what to do with the key, and no one had thought to tell him. If he put it back in Del’s pocket, he’d have to leave the door unlocked. Would that look suspicious? But if he took it with him to relock the door from the outside, wouldn’t that tell the police that Del had had someone with him? This whole assignment was more terrible and perplexing than he’d imagined. But he could handle it, he reassured himself. The boss had said so. He was loyal and he was strong.
Hesitantly, the spotter rethreaded his steps between the pieces of equipment. With his face compressed into an expression of disgust, he tucked the key in Del’s shorts pocket and rubbed the enclosing material around the key. He backed away from the still figure on the bench, then walked out hastily, almost running. He automatically flicked the light switch down on his way out. Glancing from side to side, the spotter finally broke and ran to the dark corner of the parking lot where his pickup was waiting, fairly well concealed by a few wax myrtles.
On his way home, he suddenly wondered if he could now get a date with Lindy Roland.
I grumbled to myself as I slid out of my Skylark, Marshall’s keys clinking in my hand. Since I made my living doing favors for people, it hardly seemed fair to be doing a favor for free this early in the morning.
But this fall a flu epidemic was scything its way through Shakespeare. It had crept into the Body Time gym enclosed in the body of my friend Raphael Roundtree. Raphael had coughed and sneezed in karate class after working out in the weights room, neatly distributing the virus among almost all the Body Time clientele, with the exception of the aerobics class.
And me. Viruses don’t seem to be able to abide in my body.
When I’d dropped by Marshall Sedaka’s rented house even earlier that morning, Marshall had been at that stage of the flu where his greatest desire was to be left alone to his misery. So fit and healthy that he took sickness as an insult, Marshall was a terrible patient; and he was vain enough to hate my seeing him throw up. So he’d thrust the keys to Body Time into my hand, slammed the door, and yelled from behind it, “Go open! Tanya’s coming after her first class if I can’t get anyone else!”
I’d been left with my mouth hanging open and a handful of keys.
It was my day to work at the Drinkwaters’ house. I had to be there between 8:00 and 8:15, when the Drinkwaters left for work. It was now 7:00. Tanya, a student at the nearby Montrose branch of the University of Arkansas, might get out of her first class at 9:00. That would put her arrival time at somewhere around 9:40.
But Marshall was sometimes my lover and also sometimes my workout partner; and he was always my sensei, my karate instructor.
I’d blown air out of my mouth to make the curls at my forehead fluff, and driven out to Body Time. I’d decided I’d just unlock the gym and leave. The same people came every morning, and they could be trusted to work out alone. Most days, I was one of them.
Marshall’s almost incoherent appeal for help had come when I had been dressing to leave for the gym, as a matter of fact, and I was already in my sweats. I could go to work at the Drinkwaters’ as I was, though I hated beginning my earning day without having showered and put on makeup.
I don’t like breaks in my routine. My job depends on the clock. Two and a half hours at the Drinkwaters’ house, a tenor fifteen-minute gap, another house; that’s my day and my income.
Body Time is in a somewhat isolated position on the bypass that swerves around Shakespeare, allowing speedier access from the south to the university at Montrose. Marshall’s gym has a large graveled parking lot and big plate-glass windows at the front, which are covered by Venetian blinds lowered at six on winter afternoons, four in the summer. There was already a car in the parking lot, a battered Camaro. I expected to see some impatient enthusiast waiting in its front seat, but the car was empty. I walked over, cast a cursory look over the car’s clean interior. It told me nothing. I shrugged, and crunched across the gravel in the chilly, pale early morning light, fumbling through Marshall’s keys. As I sorted through them to find the one marked FD for front door, another vehicle pulled up beside mine. Bobo Winthrop, eighteen and chock-full of hormones, emerged from his fully equipped Jeep.