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Page 6

Chapter Eleven

Sanchez and I were at the 24-Hour Fitness in Newport Beach. I liked going there because they were always open, except Friday and Saturday nights, in which they closed at 10 p.m.

"You see," I was saying, as we were doing dumbbell lunges, "they're only open twenty-four hours a day five days a week."

Sanchez said, "Will you give it a rest."

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I set the dumbbells down. We were using sixty-pound weights. Sanchez picked them up and began his set, lunging his ass off.

I said, "Should be something like: 24-Hour Fitness Some Days, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Other Days."

"Catchy," said Sanchez.

"But accurate."

"Not all 24-Hour Fitness close early on the weekends," he said. "And not all of them close at ten, some close at eleven."

"Then the name change should be on an establishment by establishment basis."

"That would be chaotic."

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"But accurate."

Sanchez shook his head. He finished his lunges, and placed the dumbbells back on the dumbbell rack. He said, "When are we going to start using the seventies?"

"When you get strong enough for the seventies."

"Hell, I've been waiting for you."

We moved over to the squat rack, and used every available plate we could find. The bar sagged noticeably. People were now watching us. At least two of those people were handsome women.

"There are some handsome women watching us."

"I hate that phrase," said Sanchez.

"'There are some handsome women watching us'?"

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"No. 'Handsome women.' Women are beautiful. Men are handsome."

"You think men are handsome?"

"I think I am handsome. I think you are an ugly Caucasian."

I positioned myself under the barbell and began squatting away. When finished, Sanchez helped me ease the thing back on the rack. My leg was throbbing. The steel pins holding my bones together felt as if they were on fire.

"You were gritting your teeth," said Sanchez. "Too heavy, or the old broken leg excuse?"

"The old broken leg excuse."

He stepped into the squat machine. I did some quick calculations. We were squatting with nearly five hundred pounds. Sanchez did ten reps easily.

"Besides," said Sanchez, when finished, "I am a married man with three kids. I don't care if two women are looking at us."

"Then why are you now flexing your calves?"

"Because it's a free country."

"Tell that to Danielle."

"I'd rather not."

"Thirsty?" I asked.

"Sure."

We showered, changed and ordered drinks at the gym's juice bar. I got a Diet Pepsi and Sanchez got something called a Sherbet Bang. We sat on red vinyl stools and leaned our elbows on the metal counter while the bartender mixed the Bang. The counter was cluttered with protein mixes, protein bars and protein supplements.

"Why not just eat a steak?" said Sanchez.

"Not enough protein."

Our drinks came. From where we sat at the gym's juice bar, we had a good view into the aerobics room. At the moment, about thirty women and a handful of men were stretching, as we used to call it back in the day. Now it's called pre-aerobics.

"Jesus got jumped yesterday," Sanchez said. Jesus was his eleven-year-old boy. "Danielle and I spent the night with him in the hospital."

"You mean Jesus?" I pronounced it the Western way.

"His name is Jesus, asshole," said Sanchez, pronouncing it the Spanish way: Hay-zeus asshole.

"How's he doing?"

"Stayed home from school today. Nothing broken, although he lost a tooth."

"Who jumped him?"

"Eight or nine kids, best I can tell."

"Any reason, or was this just a friendly neighborhood random act of violence?"

I could tell Sanchez was doing all he could not to crush the Styrofoam cup in his hand. Probably didn't want Sherbet Bang all over the front of him. "Apparently, one of the gang's girlfriends took a liking to Jesus."

"Nothing wrong with that," I said. "We could all use a little Jesus."

Sanchez ignored me. At least I amused myself.

"Jesus wants revenge. That's all he talks about. Thinks he can take each of these punks. One at a time. Individually."

I nodded. Probably could. Jesus was a tough kid.

"And I'm going to take him around so that he can do just that, hunt these punks down. All he wants is a shot at them. One on one."

"Mano y mano."

"Now you're getting it," he said. "Want to come?"

Sanchez was gazing absently over at the aerobics room, but I suspected he didn't have much else on his mind other than his son. Certainly not pre-aerobics vs. stretching.

"You're asking because you want to use my car," I said.

He shrugged.

I continued, "Because you're a cop. And you want to remain anonymous, because cops probably shouldn't be endorsing youth violence."

"Something like that."

"Sounds like fun," I said. "When does the ass-kicking begin?"

"In a few weeks. We'll let him heal a little."

"Then unleash him?" I said.

Sanchez nodded.

"Like the Second Coming," I said.

"Second Coming?"

"It's a Biblical prophecy."

Sanchez rolled his eyes. "Christ," he said.

"Exactly."

Chapter Twelve

Cindy and I were at a trendy Thai restaurant called Thaiphoon.

"I love this place," Cindy said after we were seated next to a window overlooking a vast parking lot. "But you hate eating here."

"Hate is a strong word."

"But you come here for me."

"Yes."

I ordered a club soda, although I wanted a beer. Cindy ordered a Diet Coke, and probably only wanted a Diet Coke.

"I am so proud of you," Cindy said.

"I am too," I said.

"You don't even know what I'm talking about."

"No," I said. "I'm just proud of myself in general."

Our drinks came. Fizzing water for me; fizzing brown chemicals for her. Next, we ordered dinner. I picked something that sounded familiar and hearty.

When the waitress left, Cindy said, "I'm proud of you because I know you would rather have had a beer."

"Yes."

"But you didn't order one."

"No, not this time."

She smiled at me and there was something close to a twinkle in her eye.

"How's the mummy case coming along?" she asked.

"Today was research."

"You hate research."

"Yes, which is why I spent most of the day playing Solitaire."

Our soup arrived. Cindy dipped her oversized plastic spoon into the steaming broth and slurped daintily. I slurped less daintily, and three spoonfuls later pushed the witch's brew aside.

"You're done already?"

"I don't want to spoil my appetite."

"This coming from a guy who eats a dozen donuts in one sitting."

"I've scaled back to a half a dozen."

She sipped another spoonful, her pinkie sticking out at a perfect ninety-degree angle.

"I still think it's an accident," said Cindy.

"But I'm not getting paid to think it's an accident."

She nodded. "You're getting paid to think 'what if'."

"Exactly," I said. "As in, 'what if' I slipped under this table and really turned up the heat in this place?"

"You would never fit under the table."

"Tables are made to be overturned."

"We would never be able to come back."

"What a shame."

"Nice try," she said. "So any thoughts on who might want the historian dead?"

"I figure someone who stands to lose if Sylvester the Mummy's identity were ascertained."

"Big word for a detective."

"I'm a big detective."

"Not sure that correlates."

"Big word for a professor."

"I get paid to use big words," said Cindy. "The murder is over a hundred and twenty years old. The murderer is long gone. Who could possibly stand to lose?"

"Perhaps the family of the murderer. Perhaps there's a deep dark secret."

Cindy's eyes brightened the way they do when she finds me particularly brilliant. I've learned to treasure these rare moments. She was nodding her head. "Yes, a good start. Any families stand out?"

"There's one that has potential. They're called the Barrons, and they own the town of Rawhide."

"Own?"

"Yes, own. But keep in mind this isn't a real town anymore; it's a tourist attraction. Back in the 1970's the county of San Bernardino was going to level what remained of the mining town, until a man named Tafford Barron purchased it for cheap and rebuilt it into a sort of amusement park. Barron is quoted as saying he couldn't let a town built by his family be destroyed."

"Seems innocent enough."

"Sure," I said. "Now he's running for the House of Representatives. Election's in six months. According to the local paper out there, Barron has a shot of winning this thing."

Cindy was nodding and grinning and eating. Multi-tasking at its best. "And what if this historian, Willie Whossit - "

"Clarke"

"Willie Clarke comes in and digs up some incriminating evidence."

"Or embarrassing evidence."

"Yes, embarrassing. Either way, something like this could derail a campaign."

"Possibly," I said. "It's at least a start."

Cindy was looking at me over her Diet Coke with something close to lust in her eyes.

"What?" I said.

"I like this," she said.

"You do?"

"I love talking about your cases. I love watching you sort through your case. I love being a part of the process, even if it's from the outside looking in. Being a detective might not have been your first choice in life, but you were born to do it, and I respect you so much for that."

"I was born for something else, too," I said.

"Football?"

I shook my head slowly.

"Ah," she said, blushing. "That."