Private detective and former pro wrestler Sam Quinton gets plunged into a murder mystery a quarter of a century old in Heel Turn.
In the middle of a Wednesday morning in September, with the droves of college students having recently completed their trek back to the city, Bernie Lyman sauntered into The Blaster, the gym I’ve owned for the last handful of years. I was over in the freeweight section, no sissy machines for The Blond Bomber, trying, and failing, to do as many squats, with as much weight, as I used to do during my younger days. A softer man than me would have eased off as soon as his face started turning red. Bernie entering the gym saved me from that sort of humiliation.
And Bernie definitely sauntered.
Even if I hadn’t noticed him right off, I could have told you that. Bernard Lyman, Esq, always saunters. He never walks like a normal person, instead carrying himself with all the pomp and circumstance of a born winner in life. Considering his reputation, that pretty much makes sense.
However, if you only knew him by sight, you’d shake your head at his delusion. Bernie is a fairly short guy, a little under five seven and weighs about as much as an underdeveloped teenager. More than that, he looks like his most recent residence is a cardboard box under I-70. His hair always reminds me of the doctor in Back to the Future, though not as well styled, and most people living under overpasses would probably cringe at wearing the shabby clothes he does. Add in teeth stained a faint brown from years of heavy smoking, and you couldn’t conceive the guy being successful at anything in life.
Then again, you know what they say about judging books and covers. Bernie stopped right inside the door and glanced around. He took in the smattering of clients currently working their way to physical perfection, most of them housewives in their thirties and forties taking part in a spin class, before looking over my way. Bernie, the most observant person I’ve ever met, never misses anything, and I was pretty sure he’d spotted me as soon as he entered but wanted a few seconds to ogle my clients.
However, he didn’t make a big production out of it, and in only a few seconds continued in my direction, an odd expression on his face. Kind of a cross between his usual small smirk and a troubled frown.
“Ain’t you getting a bit old for that, Blondie?” he asked as he got within a few feet of the squat rack.
I gritted my teeth and did five more reps, just to show him, before struggling the weight back onto the rack. I had a small sweat towel lying a few feet off to the side but figured that if Bernie saw me use it he’d think I was a sissy.
Or maybe I simply didn’t want to admit to advancing age.
“Not yet,” I said, hoping I wasn’t grimacing at the burn in my thighs, “but probably some day.”
Bernie, without a doubt the best criminal attorney in mid-Missouri (he’d gladly claim the entire state, including Kansas City and St. Louis) nodded. His smirk gave way to total frown.
“So what’s up?” I asked. “Got a job for you, Blondie. If you want it.”
Although lots of people call me Blondie, hearkening back to my days in the professional wrestling ring when I went by the moniker of The Blond Bomber, I don’t tolerate it from most. But Bernie Lyman has been my lawyer for quite a while, gotten me out of more than one legal scrape, and usually only charges about a third of his actual rate, so I figured I could let the name slide. However, in all the time of our association, this was the first time he’d come to me instead of the other way around.
I glanced around the gym. Lisa Nolan, my young manager, was leading the spin class, her bright red ponytail jiggering and jittering all over the place. Keri Eckland, a college sophomore Lisa had recently hired on a part-time basis, was going over the machines, making sure everything looked clean and spotless for the lunchtime rush. One or two guys, including a regular named Harold Hammer who, no matter how much work he puts in, never seems to gain an ounce of muscle, were hard at it on the machines, grunting and straining their way to exhaustion.
All in all, things looked fairly good for one of my businesses, but I figured Bernie was here to talk about the other one.
“Let’s go to the office,” I said as I snatched up the sweat towel and dabbed my forehead.
Yep, he gave me a look as if I was a sissy.
We made our way back to my sparse, no frills office. I plunked myself behind my desk, and Bernie took one of the client chairs ranged in front of it. I leaned back, my legs really feeling it now. I don’t quite get it. At two twenty-five I’m the same weight I was years ago, more or less. Therefore, I should still be in the same shape, or at least that was my logical way of looking at it.
But I couldn’t remember the quads burning so much in the past.
“So what’s the word?” I asked Bernie.
I watched him squirming in his seat. Whatever was going on, it definitely had him excited.
“As of right now, I’m at least nominally your client, okay? Even if you end up turning down the work. Okay?”
I nodded. Private investigator confidentiality isn’t all they make it out to be on TV, though it can at least cover the bases. Far as that went, if the authorities ever did make some kind of stink, Bernie was my personal lawyer, so we could always fall back on that.
“Got a new client,” Bernie continued. “Called the office just this morning. Not,” he glanced at his knock off Rolex, “an hour ago.”
“Bernie,” I said, “you’re going to fidget yourself right out of that chair unless you get to it. What’s this new client charged with?”
“Nothing,” Bernie said, a wide smile splitting his face almost in two, “yet.”
I peered closer at him. “Let me get this straight. Are you hoping they’ll be charged with something?”
“Not hoping, buddy. I know for sure. And when the charge comes, it’s going to be a doozy.”
I’d known Bernie for several years, and at the moment I couldn’t remember him ever being so excited. I’d call him giddy, but I still detected that underlying grimness in his manner, as if the seriousness of the situation was fighting with his natural tendencies. I assumed he wanted me to play along, so I figured what the hell and went with it.
“So who’s the client, Bernie?” I asked.
Although he could not possibly have grinned any wider, he did his best. “Sheila Hampton,” he said, his eyes damned near sparking.
Oh boy, I thought. That explained it.
Bernie Lyman, Esq, had nabbed himself one hell of a client.
Available Tuesday in both e-book and paperback format: