Shakespeare's Champion Page 2

"Don't, Lily." Claude's voice was gentle, but very firm. "I know what happened to you, and it doesn't make me feel anything except admiration that you lived through it. If you care about Sedaka I'll never say another word. From my point of view, you and I've been happy in the times we've spent together, and I'd like an extension."

"And exclusive rights?" I met his eyes steadily. Claude would never share a woman.

"And exclusive rights," he admitted calmly. "Till we see how it goes."

"I'll think," I forced myself to say. "Now, let's eat. I have to go back to work."

Claude eyed me for a long moment, then nodded. He got the tea from the refrigerator and poured us each a glass, put sugar in his, and set the table. I put a bowl of fruit between our places, got out the whole-wheat bread and a cutting board for the reheated meat loaf. As we ate, we were quiet, and I liked that. As Claude was slicing an apple for himself and I was peeling a banana, he broke that comfortable silence.

"We sent Del Packard's body to Little Rock," he told me.

"What do you think?" I was relieved at the change of topic.

"It's hard to say what might have happened," Claude rumbled. He had the most comforting voice, like distant thunder.

"Well, he dropped the bar on himself - didn't he?" I hadn't been particularly friendly with Del, but it wasn't bearable to think of him struggling to get the bar back up to the rack, failing, all by himself.

"Why was he there alone, Lily? Sedaka was so sick I couldn't figure out what he was telling me."

"Del was training for the championships at Marvel Gym in Little Rock."

"The poster, right?"

I nodded. Taped to one of the many mirrors lining the walls at Body Time, there was a poster giving the specifics of the event, with a picture of last year's winners. "Del competed last year, in the men's middleweight division, novice class. He came in second."

"How big a deal is this?"

"To a novice bodybuilder, pretty big. Del had never been in a competition before he got second place at Marvel Gym. If he'd won this year - and Marshall thought he had a chance -  Del could've gone on to another competition, and another, until he entered one of the nationals."

Claude shook his big head in amazement at the prospect. "Is 'posing' like the swimsuit part of Miss America?"

"Yes, but he'd be wearing a lot less. A monokini, like a glorified jockstrap. And he'd have removed his body hair .. ."

Claude looked a little disgusted. "I wondered about that. I noticed."

"He'd been working on his tan. And he'd grease up for the competition."

Claude raised his eyebrows interrogatively.

"I don't know what they use." I was getting tired of this conversation. But Claude was circling his hand in a gesture that meant. "Amplify."

"You have a series of poses you go through, to emphasize the muscle groups." I rose to give Claude a demonstration. I turned my body a little sideways to him, fisted my hands, arched my arms in pumped-up curves. I gave him the blank eyes and small smile that said, "Look how superior my body is. Don't you wish you were me?"

Claude made a face. "What's the point?"

"Just like a beauty contest, Claude." I resumed my seat at the table. "Except the focus is on muscular development."

"I saw the poster of last year's winners. That woman was like nothing I've ever seen," Claude said, wrinkling his nose.

"Marshall wanted me to enter."

"You'd do that?" he asked, horrified. "That gal looked like a small pumped-up man with boobs slapped on."

I shrugged. "I don't want to spend the time training. It takes months to get ready for a competition. Plus, I'd have to camouflage all the scars, which I think would be impossible. But that was what Del wanted to do, train and compete. Develop himself to his full potential, was the way he put it." I'd watched Del stare at one of his muscles for a good five minutes, wrapped up in his own reflection to the exclusion of the other people in the gym.

"I think I could have lifted what he had on the bar," Claude said, a question in his voice. He rinsed off the plates and put them in the dishwasher. "It came to two hundred ninety pounds."

I thought Claude was flattering himself, though I didn't say so out loud. Claude seemed to have a fair body, but he did not exercise and hadn't as long as I'd known him. "Bodybuilding isn't exactly like competitive weight lifting," I said. "Training for a competition, some people use somewhat lower weights and lots of reps, rather than really heavy weights and a few reps. That was probably Del's highest weight."

"Reps?" Claude said cautiously.


"Would he be lifting so much by himself? Del wasn't that big a man."

"That's what I don't understand," I admitted, retying my New Balances. "Del was so careful of himself. He wouldn't risk pulling a muscle or getting any injury this close to the competition. Surely he had a spotter. He told Bobo he was expecting someone."

"What's a spotter?" demanded Claude.

"A spotter is a buddy," I said, having to define a term so familiar to me I'd forgotten a time I hadn't known it. "A workout partner. If you don't have someone to spot for you, you would have to ask whoever was working at the gym ..." I could tell from Claude's frown that I wasn't being precise. "It's someone who stands there while you're doing the hardest part of your workout. That person is there to act as your safety net: hand you the weights, or the bar, take them when you've finished your set, cheer you on, grab your wrists if they start to weaken."

"So you won't drop the weights on yourself."

"Exactly. And to help you do those last few you need to finish your set."


"Like if I was doing forty-fives, and that was my top capability or close to it, I'd lie down on the bench holding the dumbbells, and the spotter would stand or kneel at my head, and when I was pushing the weights up, if my arms started to shake, the spotter would grab my wrists and help me keep them steady."


"Two forty-five-pound dumbbells. Some people lift using the bar and adding weights, some people use different-weighted dumbbells. I happen to prefer dumbbells. Del liked the bar. He thought he got better chest development."

Claude looked at me thoughtfully. "You're telling me you can lift ninety pounds with your hands?"

"No," I said, surprised.

Claude looked relieved.

"I can lift a hundred ten or a hundred twenty."



"Isn't that a lot? For a woman?"

"In Shakespeare it is," I said. "At one of the bigger city gyms, probably not. You'd have a bigger pool of weight trainers."

"So how much would a man serious about training be able to do?"

"A man about Del's build, under six feet, about one hundred seventy? After intense training, I guess he'd be able to lift maybe three hundred twenty pounds, more or less. So you can see strength wasn't Del's sole goal, though he was very strong. He wanted exceptional muscular development, for the look of it. I just like to be strong."

"Hmmm." Claude thought about the difference. "So you knew Del?"

"Sure. I saw him almost every morning at Body Time. We weren't particularly friendly." I was wiping off the table, since I had to go to work in ten minutes.

"Why not?"

I thought about it while I rinsed out the dishrag. I wrung it and folded it neatly and draped it over the divider between my sinks. I stepped across the hall to the bathroom, washed my hands and face, and slapped on a little makeup for my self-respect. Claude leaned against the kitchen doorframe to watch. He was waiting for an answer.

"Just... nothing in common. He was from here, had lots of family, dated a hometown girl. He didn't like blacks, he didn't like the Notre Dame football team, he didn't like big words." That was as close as I could come to explaining.

"You think enjoying living in a small town is wrong?"

I hadn't meant this to be an analysis of my worldview.

"No, not at all. Del was a good guy in some ways." I looked at my face, put on some lipstick, shrugged at my reflection. Makeup didn't change the face underneath it, but somehow I always felt better when I'd used it. I washed my hands and turned to look at Claude. "He was harmless." Right away I wondered what I meant. But I was too taken aback by the expression on Claude's face to think it through right then.

Claude said, "I'll tell you something strange, Lily. There weren't any fingerprints on that bar where there should have been. There should have been lots, where a man would normally grip the bar. Del's should have been on top. But there weren't any. There were just smears. And you know what, Lily? I don't think you'd put on your makeup in front of me if you had any serious interest in me."

He stopped at the front door to deliver his parting shot. "And, I'd like to know, if Del Packard was in the gym by himself, how he turned out the lights after he died."

It was a day that had started out worst and moved up to merely rotten.

I was cleaning in a spirit of anger, and the results were not harmonious. I dropped papers, got paper cuts when I picked them up, slammed the toilet lid down so hard that a box of Kleenex plummeted from a flimsy rattan shelf in the travel agent's bathroom, vacuumed up a few pushpins at the base of the bulletin board, and developed a full-blown hatred for the poster of a couple on the deck of a cruise ship because they looked so simple. They looked like they could say, "Gee, we really get along well. Let's go to bed together!" and it would actually work.

I was glad this was my last job of the day. I locked the door behind me with a sigh of relief.

On my way home, I detoured to Marshall's dumpy rented house. He'd offered me a key when we began "seeing" each other, but I had refused. So he had to stagger to the door to let me in, and stagger right back to the ancient plaid couch he'd scrounged from a friend when he'd separated from his wife. I put his Body Time key ring on the equally dilapidated coffee table, and went to sit on the floor near him. Marshall was sprawled full length and obviously felt lousy. But he wasn't groaning, and his fever was down, I thought as I touched his forehead.

"Can you eat yet?" I asked, not knowing what else I could do for him.

"Maybe some toast," he said in a pitiful voice that sounded very odd issuing from his extremely muscular throat. Marshall is one-quarter Chinese. He has skin that's just between pink and ivory, and his eyes and hair are dark. His eyes have a bit of a slant, just a hint. Other than that, he's Caucasian, but since he's a martial arts teacher he enjoys emphasizing the Oriental fraction of his heritage.

"Please," he added, even more pitifully, and I laughed.

"Mean," he said.

I got up and found his whole-wheat bread and waved a butter knife over it, toasted it dry, and brought it to him with some water.

He sat up and ate every crumb.

"You're going to live." I took the plate from him and carried it to the sink. I would coddle him to the extent of loading his dishwasher, I decided.

Afterward I returned to sit by the couch. He'd slid down to his original position. He took my hand.

"I guess I will live," he admitted, "though for a few hours I didn't want to. And finding out about Del, God! Who would have thought Del would be dumb enough to drop a weight on his neck?"

"I don't think he did." I told Marshall about the lack of fingerprints on the bar, about the light that should have been on.

"You think the spotter dropped the bar on Del by accident and then panicked?"

I shrugged.

"Hey, you don't think someone killed Del on purpose? Who would do that?"

"I'm not a doctor, so I don't know if this is possible ... but if you felt a crushing weight on your neck and you knew you would die if it stayed there, and you were a grown healthy man, wouldn't you fight to heave it off?"

"If I wasn't killed instantly, I'd try as hard as I could," Marshall said grimly. "If you're saying someone held the bar down, who would be cruel enough to do that?"

I shrugged again. In my opinion, any number of people had that capacity for cruelty, even if they hadn't discovered it in themselves yet, and I told Marshall that. I just couldn't understand why anyone would indulge that cruelty by killing harmless, thickheaded Del Packard.

"You're cold sometimes, you know?" Marshall had said that more than once lately. I looked at him sharply. This cold woman had gotten her butt out at six in the morning to open his business.

He went on. "Maybe Del was seeing someone else's wife -  that got Len Elgin killed - or maybe Lindy got mad at his training so much."

"Del was too self-involved to go to the trouble of sneaking around," I said. "And if you think Lindy Roland can lift fifty pounds, let alone close to three hundred, you better find another job."

"That's right, the one who dropped the weight had to be able to lift it first," Marshall said thoughtfully. "Who do we know that can lift that much?"

"Almost anyone we know that works out regularly could lift that. Especially the men. Maybe I could, if I had to." But I said the last part doubtfully. It would take a mighty surge of adrenaline.

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