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Authors: Charlaine Harris

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BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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Darcy was on the calf extension machine, which was my next station, so I watched as he did his second set. He had the pin pushed in at the two-hundred-pound mark, and as I waited he adjusted the shoulder pressure. Darcy, who was about six feet tall, had the rippling pectorals and ridged biceps of a workout fanatic. I thought there might be an ounce of subcutaneous fat on his body. He was wearing one of the ripped-up sweatshirts—arms chopped off, neck binding torn out—that were the mark of the committed, and his sweatpants were probably the same ones he’d worn in high school.

“Be through in a minute,” he panted, doing a set of twelve. He stepped down and walked around for a minute, relaxing the calf muscles that were taking such a beating. Darcy gathered himself, moved the pin down two more notches to add forty more pounds to his load, and stepped up on the narrow bar, his toes bearing his weight. Down went his heels, then up, for twelve more reps. “Ow!” he said, getting off. “Ow!” Staring at the floor with a scowl, Darcy relaxed the protesting muscles in his legs. “Let me just burn out now,” he said, and moved the pin up to a more reasonable weight. He stepped back on the ledge and did twenty-four reps very rapidly, until the grimace of concentration on his face became a rictus of pain.

All together this took only minutes, and I was glad of the rest.

“How you doing, Lily?” Darcy asked, walking in place to work off the strain. He grabbed up a beige towel and patted his acne-pitted cheeks with it.

“Fine.” I wondered if he’d say anything about Raphael’s exit. But Darcy had something else on his mind.

“Hear you found ole Del.” His small brown eyes scanned my face.

“Yeah.”

“Del was a good guy,” Darcy said slowly. It was a kind of elegy. “Del was always smiling. That guy that was here with me a minute ago, that’s the guy Howell hired to replace him. He’s a big change.”

“Local fella?” I asked politely, as I adjusted the shoulder bars down for my five feet, five inches.

“Nope, from Little Rock, I think. He’s one tough son of a bitch, ’scuse my language.”

I moved the pin up to eighty pounds. I stepped onto a narrow ledge, came up under the padded shoulder bars to take the weight, and dropped my heels down. I pushed up twenty times, very quick reps.

I stepped down to walk it off and shift the pin to a higher weight.

“You dating anybody now, Lily? I heard you and Marshall weren’t such an item anymore.”

I looked up in surprise. Darcy was still there. Though Darcy had a wonderful body, it was the only thing about him that I found remotely interesting, and that wasn’t enough basis for an evening together. Darcy’s conversation bored me, and something about him made me wary. I never ignore feelings like that.

“I don’t want to,” I said.

He smiled a little, like someone who was sure he’d misunderstood. “Don’t want to…?” he asked.

“Date anyone.”

“Whoa, Lily! A fine woman like you doesn’t want a man to take her out?”

“As of now, right.” I stepped up, took the hundred pounds on my shoulders, and did another set of twenty. The last five were something of a challenge.

“How come? You like women instead?” Darcy was sneering, as though he felt obliged to look contemptuous when lesbianism was mentioned.

“No. I’m going to finish here now.”

Darcy smiled again, even more uncertainly, though I’d been as civil as I was able. He couldn’t seem to believe that any woman wouldn’t want to date; specifically, date him. But after a moment of waiting for me to take back my dismissal, he stalked over to the Roman chair, his narrow lips pressed together firmly in anger.

As I moved the pin to one hundred twenty pounds, once again I wondered whom Del might have asked to spot for him. Del would have trusted anyone in the room. Even Janet and I were just about strong enough to help him with some of the lower (but still formidable) weights that Del used for his bodybuilding. Janet was nearly as strong as I in the chest and arms, and had an edge on me in the legs since she taught two aerobics classes a day in addition to working at the Kids’ Clubs, which provided community-sponsored after-school care for kids.

After I finished my calf workout, I drifted over to Janet, who was doing abdominal crunches. Sweat had darkened her short brown hair to a black fringe around her square little face.

“One hundred ten,” she gasped, as I stood over her. I nodded, and waited.

“One twenty-five,” she said after a moment, relaxing in a heap. Her eyes shut.

“Janet,” I said, after a respectful moment of silence.

“Umm?”

“Del ever ask you to spot for him?”

Janet’s brown eyes flew open. They fixed on my face with some amusement. “Him? He didn’t think a woman could carry her own groceries, much less spot for him.”

“He’d seen female bodybuilders at those competitions. For that matter, he’d watched us work out many a morning.”

Janet made a rude noise. “Yeah, but we’re freaks to him,” she said, resentment in her voice. “Well, we were,” she amended, more neutrally. “He judged all women by that Lindy he went with, and Lindy couldn’t cut a ham without an electric knife.”

I laughed.

Janet looked up at me with some surprise. “That’s good to hear, you laughing. You don’t do that too much,” she observed.

I shrugged.

“Now that you’re over here,” she said, sitting up and patting her face with her towel, “I’ve been wanting to ask you something.”

I sat on the closest bench and waited.

“Are you and Marshall a locked-in thing?”

I’d been expecting Janet to ask me to spot her, or to go over the fine points of the latest kata we’d learned in karate class.

Everyone wanted to know about my love life today.

I kind of liked Janet, so answering her would be harder than answering Darcy. Saying no meant Marshall was open game for any woman who wanted a shot at him; I was abdicating all claim to him. Saying yes committed me to Marshall for the foreseeable future.

“No,” I said, and went to do my last set.

On her way to the changing room, Janet stopped. “Are you mad at me?” she asked.

I was a little surprised. “No,” I said.

But I was really surprised when Janet laughed.

“Oh, Lily,” she said, shaking her head from side to side. “You’re so weird.” She said that as if being “weird” was a cute little personality quirk of mine, like insisting my panties match my shoes or always wearing green on Mondays.

I left Body Time, vaguely dissatisfied with my workout session. I’d had my first personal conversation with Darcy Orchard, and I hoped it would be my last. I had confirmed that Janet Shook lusted after Marshall Sedaka; not exactly stop-the-press news. I had confirmed that Del almost certainly wouldn’t have asked a woman to spot for him. And I’d found out that Raphael felt he was getting a cold reception at a business he’d paid to patronize.

As I drove home, I tried to trace the reason for my dissatisfaction. Why did I think I should have gotten more out of the morning than a good workout? After all, it was as little my business what had happened in Body Time the night Del died as it was Janet’s business whether or not Marshall and I were committed to each other.

I hadn’t particularly liked Del. Why did I care whether he’d died accidentally or on purpose?

I’d told Claude that Del had been harmless. As I showered, for the first time I really considered Del Packard.

He hadn’t made any of the jocular comments about my strength I occasionally got from other men. Del had been mildly pleased to see me when I was in front of him, hadn’t missed me when I was gone, would have been glad to help me do anything I’d have asked him to help me with, was overwhelmingly proud of being Shakespeare’s champion, would cheerfully have gone on doing his Del Packard thing the rest of his life…if his life had been allowed to run its natural course.

He loved his mama and daddy, sent his girlfriend Lindy flowers, performed his job adequately, and went his own way without bothering a soul. All he’d wanted with any passion was to be a champion again, this time a number-one champion.

If Del’s spotter had killed Del through carelessness, he should come forward. If he had murdered Del out of malice, that, too, should be paid for.

I toweled my hair dry and put on my makeup, still turning over the questions about Del’s death to discover the source of my feeling I had a personal stake in the answers.

The police were working to discover how Del had met his death, and that should be enough to satisfy me. I certainly hadn’t felt any urge to seek personal knowledge after the beating death of Darnell Glass early in the fall, or the shooting of Len Elgin weeks afterward, both of which cases remained unsolved.

An answer came to me as I was getting in the car to go to my first job. I cared about Del’s death for two more reasons. Firstly, Bobo Winthrop was implicated, partly because of something I’d told Claude. Secondly, I was upset because Del had been killed
in the gym
, one of the few places I felt at home. So I cared about Del’s death, and I cared about payment for it.

Chapter 2

AS THE PLAIN DAYS PASSED, I MISSED CLAUDE MORE
and more.

He’d taken care of me a few months before when I’d been hurt. He’d helped me take a sink bath, he’d helped me dress, he’d helped me get back in bed. It had seemed quite natural to put on my makeup in front of him, an act he’d construed as indicating a lack of interest in him as a man.

I’d figured he’d seen the worst. The makeup had not been for him, but for the rest of the world.

The only true thing I found hiding in my psyche was that I missed Claude, missed his dropping over to share my lunch, missed his occasional appearance at my doorstep with Chinese takeout or a video he’d rented.

And another true thing was that I didn’t miss a dating relationship with Marshall. In fact, it felt good to slip back into comradeship and the teacher/student relationship we’d shared before. I found that disturbing.

I’d seen Del Packard’s sweetheart, Lindy Roland, on the street today. Lindy was a strapping girl, with big brown hair and a ready smile. But when I’d seen her, Lindy’s eyes had been red and her whole body seemed to sag. At Del’s funeral, according to the grapevine at Body Time, Lindy had gone to pieces. Now, there was Del, under the ground at Sweet Rest Cemetery, and here was Lindy, alone and lonely.

After my solitary supper that night, after the dishes were washed and everything neat, I paced the house.

I took another shower and washed off all my makeup. I made sure I was shaved smooth and my eyebrows were plucked, and I put on all the usual lotions and a tiny dab of perfume.

I stood in my bedroom, naked and irresolute. I looked in my closet, knowing before I looked what I would see: blue jeans, T-shirts, sweats. A couple of dresses and a suit from my former life. Even thinking about a seduction seemed incredibly stupid as I saw how ill-equipped I was for one.

Suddenly I jettisoned the idea. It felt wrong. Claude deserved someone more—malleable, someone with a silk teddy and a Sunday dress.

I valued control over my life more than anything. With Marshall, and now with Claude, I was not willing to relinquish that control, to bind my life to either of theirs. Neither of them was necessary enough to me for me to take that frightening leap. This was a bitter acknowledgment.

Angry at myself, at Claude, I pulled on dark clothes and went out to walk. I wouldn’t sleep much tonight. The light in Claude’s window was on, a glance up at his apartment told me. If I’d found it in myself, I would be up there sharing that light with him, and he would be happy…at least for a little while.

I drifted through Shakespeare, merging with the night. In a while, I began to feel the chill and the wet. After shivering in my jacket for a few blocks, I was on my way home when I saw I had company.

On the other side of the street, walking as silently and darkly as I, went a man I didn’t know, a man with long black hair. In the silence we turned our heads to look at each other. Neither of us smiled or spoke. I was not frightened or angry. In seconds we were past each other, continuing on our ways in the chilly sodden night. I’d seen him before, I reflected; where? It came to me that he was the man who’d been working out with Darcy Orchard the day Jim Box had been out with the flu.

I went home to work out with my punching bag, which hangs from the ceiling in the middle of my empty extra bedroom. I kicked kogen geri, a snapping kick, until my instep burned. Then mae geri, the thrusting kick, until my legs ached. Then I just punched the bag, over and over, making it swing; no art, just power expended.

I slumped down to the floor and dried my face with the pink towel I kept hanging from a hook by the door.

Now, after I showered, I would probably sleep.

As I pulled up my covers and turned on my right side, I wondered where the man was, what he was doing, why he had been walking the night.

I FELT TOO
draggy to go to Body Time the next morning, even though I was due to do chest and biceps, my favorites. I forced myself to do fifty pushups and leg lifts as compensation. While I was on the floor, I had to notice that my baseboards needed dusting, and after I patted my face with the pink towel, I used it to do the job. I pitched the towel in the wash basket and went through my usual morning preparation.

My first job on Fridays was Deedra Dean’s apartment in the building right next door, which coincidentally was upstairs by Chief of Police Claude Friedrich’s. At the request of a local lawyer who represented the estate of Pardon Albee, I had been cleaning the public parts of the apartment building until Pardon’s heir made some other arrangement. So I noticed all the mud the tenants had tracked in after the recent rain, and decided I’d have to work in an extra vacuuming before its regular late-Saturday cleaning. Unclipping my work keys from my belt, I went up the stairs quickly.

But Deedra’s dead bolt was on. She was still home. She’d be late for work again. I pocketed my key and knocked. There was a kind of scuffling noise on the other side of the door, then a sharp exchange between Deedra and someone else, an exchange I couldn’t decipher.

BOOK: (LB1) Shakespeare's Champion
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