Shakespeares Champion


Chapter One

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.

I clean for Bobo's mother Beanie. I have always liked Bobo despite the fact that he is beautiful, smart enough to scrape by, and has everything he has ever expressed a wish for. Somehow Bobo had charmed his way into Marshall's good graces, probably by working out on as demanding a schedule as Marshall himself. When Bobo had decided to start college in nearby Montrose, Marshall had finally agreed to hire the boy to work a few hours a week at Body Time.

Since Bobo isn't hurting for money, I can only figure his job motivation is getting to ogle many women of all ages in form-fitting outfits and getting to see all his friends, who naturally all have memberships in Body Time.

Bobo was running his fingers through his floppy fair hair by way of grooming. He said groggily, "Whatcha doin', Lily?"

"Trying to find the right key," I said, with a certain edge to my voice.

"This is it." A long finger