Excerpt from Christmas Cracker
Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy
Exercising is a pain in the ass. Any woman who says she likes it is crazy, lying, masochistic or some combination of the three. I do it, work out that is, but I hate it. I could claim that I exercise to keep in shape in case I ever have to kick some bad guy’s butt. After all, it does take more than just putting “Private Investigator” on the door to be good at my job. And since private investigators are normally men, a woman in the field needs every edge she can get.
But that isn’t the real reason I exercise. How often I go to the Gold’s Gym so conveniently located on the ground floor of my apartment building is mainly determined by how much I’ve binged lately, if my clothes are a bit too snug, or if some new guy looks interesting. Considering the jerks I’ve dated, it’s a poor motivation. Maybe it’s because I remember those thrilling days of high school when I’d been “that fat chick.” Once a fat chick you’re always a fat chick in your mind, no matter what you weigh.
Some good did come from my joining the gym, though. If I’d never gone to the gym, I’d never have met Heather, who became my best friend, or her “charming” ex-boyfriend, Jonathan. And I wouldn’t have spent my Christmas in a castle. I guess exercising isn’t all bad. Just a pain.
I’d never even spoken with Heather before that Friday night. I happened to be leaving the gym just behind her and saw a man approach her on the sidewalk. He must have been waiting outside and it caused me to take notice. True, the gym is in a relatively safe area of the city of Long Beach, California, and the man hardly looked suspicious. With Brad Pitt-like looks, he was a match for Heather’s stunning blond beauty. His thick, wavy, blond hair was combed back in a pompadour, his goatee neatly trimmed and he had a fit, broad-shouldered physique of six-foot-plus height. Obviously, he was not a mugger. I mean, muggers do not go on the prowl in Armani suits and designer ties. His attitude, though, would have done any mugger proud.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” His voice was harsh, demanding.
“It’s over, okay? It just didn’t work out. I mean, it’s not really your fault. You have to be aggressive for your work, but . . . . Look, I just can’t take it anymore.” She tried to walk around him. Fear was in her body language, eyes downcast to keep from offending him.
He blocked her way, forcing her toward the wall of the building. Then, grabbing her throat, he pinned her against the wall. His face was a mean snarl. I could almost hear his teeth grind. “I won’t let you walk out on me. I love you.”
“Jonathan, you’re hurting me.” Her voice was tight and forced as she gasped for air.
In a moment I’d already considered all my options. I could pretend I was your typical big-city bystander and walk away. Like hell I could. I could go back in the building and call the police like a sensible person. But she might be dead and buried before they arrived. Besides, no one ever accused me of being sensible. I could disable him with some tae kwon do I’d paid a good-looking Korean black-belt to teach me. But then again, Jonathan was six inches taller than I, and looked like he worked out a lot more too. For all I knew, he might be an expert in some form of martial arts that would make my little bit of training a joke. So I took the last option, unzipped a side pocket of my gym bag and pulled out my Colt .38 snub-nosed revolver. Luckily, I hadn’t gone up to my apartment after going to the range.
I stepped behind him and gave him a gentle poke in the back of the neck as I said, “Don’t you think it might be a good idea to let her breathe?”
“You’d better be ready to use that, bitch,” he said, snapping the words like a cracking whip.
Obviously, I’d made another friend.
“Oh, I am, you son of a bitch.” I said it softly, more calmly than I felt. I pulled back the hammer. It made a most wonderfully ominous click.
Slowly, grudgingly, he released his grip from Heather’s throat.
“Place your hands behind your neck, please. Slow and easy. Being a bitch, you never know when I might bite.”
He complied, but obviously wasn’t happy about the situation. Given half a chance, I could tell he’d have gladly wrung my neck.
Show no fear, I told myself. Easy to say, but hard to do. I knew I had to keep control of the situation or he’d try something. He was a tightly wound spring.
“Now walk away. Far away. At least as far as this little snub-nosed friend of mine can reach,” I told him.
“I won’t forget this, bitch.” He was so angry, he was literally spitting out his words. “Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?”
“I think I’m Morg Mahoney, but just call me Dragon Lady. Same fangs, different species.”
“Just call me Saint George.”
He said it without a trace of humor in his voice. The threat was impossible to miss. I almost hit him with a pithy and profound retort, the proverbial last word, but sensed how close he was to forgetting the gun I held. No need to push him over the brink. Defiantly, he lowered his arms. Smoldering anger showed in every step he took as he slowly walked away. When he’d turned the corner, I allowed myself to look at Heather.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Sure, I’m fi-” she started to say before her eyes rolled back and she collapsed in a faint. I caught her and lowered her to the ground. Obviously, she was not used to confrontational situations like I was. Then again, I almost had to pry my fingers from their death-grip on my revolver before I could put it back in my gym bag.
I got some six-pack-stomached stud who worked at the gym to help revive Heather and carry her to my apartment. The local Adonis looked around the place and then at me.
Okay, so it’s a little unusual, but I just acted like everyone decorated their apartment to look like a 1950’s soda fountain from The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Wisely, he didn’t comment. After laying Heather on the couch, he mumbled something about being needed back at the gym and left. Heather had recovered enough to start sobbing.