The Stiff in the Sauna

The Stiff in the Sauna

It was pouring cats and dogs the day they found the body. It didn’t show up outside in the rain exactly but being such a raw and rainy day, it made perfect sense where it did show up.  In the sauna.  The health club attendant found the body, which was better than some member finding it— considering how difficult it was for a high-priced health facility to attract and keep paying customers or members which is what they called them.  It made the place sound more exclusive.

All things being equal, discovering a body on the premises, no matter who finds it, is not exactly a public relations coup. Contemplating the sordid affair later in the day after the police chief and most of his entourage had departed and the local news hounds had been shooed off the premises, Malove Josephson rehashed the details.  Having Alice find it was a bit of luck.  Too bad she hadn’t thought to pretend the sauna was broken and herded the members out of the spa.  And then its secret could have been revealed sotto voce so to speak.  Maybe she’d add it to the attendant’s training manual: “Steps to Take When Discovering a Dead Body In Your Work Area.”  Step one: try to hide it in another work area.  Step two: let someone else find it.

Here I sit, with shit accumulating faster than sand pouring out of a rat hole and what do I do? Day dream. Like that call from the bastard who gets the big bucks to run this joint. How was he going to explain it to his board?  How the hell do I know or care for that matter?  What did he think?  I plunked the stiff down in the sauna myself to piss him off?  Acting like it was only his day lying in ruins.  What about mine?  Not only a stiff on my hands, make that on the sauna floor, but a hysterical bunch of health spa attendants darkly muttering about working conditions.  

At least she could show how much she learned at that management seminar they sent her to. Something about remaining calm and professional when disaster strikes. Come to think of it her notes wouldn’t exactly cover the present situation. Maybe after the furor died down, she should write the seminar company a letter and suggest they include a case study on finding a body in your facility.  Her mind refused to concentrate on her situation.  Better to sit here and recall the more pleasurable parts of that seminar. The seminar leader specifically.  What a body.  Experience had taught her no matter how good it looked, how good it worked was much more important.  Of course you couldn’t know that until it was too late to turn back.  So she looked for potential.  He had a great chest and wonderful biceps.  And something else, that “I am a good fuck” look.

It had been downhill since the conference. Look at the mess she was in now.  A body in her sauna, hysterical attendants, her boss in a fit of apoplexy and half her clients having an attack of the vapors.  And all she could think about was getting laid.  Whoever said muscle men couldn’t get it up didn’t know what they were talking about.  Not like the guys around here with their potbellies and wrinkled asses.  What did they have going for them?  There was always the little matter of being filthy rich.

What if someone was trying to drive her crazy? Bodies might start appearing everywhere.  The steam room, the massage area, the swimming pool.  She made a mental note to lock her car.  No sense inviting trouble.

Oh, Lord, did God hate her that much? Shirley Satterwaite on line two. The last and cruelest blow. She’d pretend she wasn’t here.  She’d never get away with it.  Dear Shirley’s husband had practically built the place.  Probably needed someplace for old Shirley to go so he could have some P and Q.  Although from what she’d heard through that ever-so-efficient grapevine, Morris Satterwaite had a lot more on his mind than P and Q.  Seems he had a drop-dead gorgeous mistress and building this club for Shirley complete with Olympic-size swimming pool and all the creature comforts was the only way a man of his considerable delicacy could have his cake and eat it too. True not the most discreet way to put it.  But what the hell she was only talking to herself.  When it came down to it, if she had to deal with another body, the perfect candidate was on line two revving up her motors.

“Hello, Shirley, how nice you called.” You croaking old toad.

“Yes, well hello. I understand there was some unpleasantness there today.  You know I had it in my mind to come, but dear Morris had already made arrangements for me to go into New York to buy a few new outfits.  What an old sweetie he is.”

And a smart one too what with most of his assets in your name. Talk is that dear dead daddy’s estate was the reason he married you, and daddy made damn sure your fortune was locked up tighter than your pussy.  Morris might be generous but it really doesn’t matter, it’s all yours anyway.  That’s why Morris is never going to stray too far.  Then she thought about her first glimpse of unlovely Morris. Heavenly father, if if you had to kiss a frog for Morris to appear, best to stick with the frog.

Times like these call for a generous dollop of unctuousness. “Of course we were all shocked. But I can assure you we have taken precautions to make sure there is no further repetition of this appalling circumstance.”  What in God’s name am I talking about? What precautions can you take to make sure you don’t find another stiff in the sauna?  I’m making it sound like another body or two might come high-stepping into the sauna at any moment.  I know how a misdirected word can set off these old pussies. 

“What I mean is everything is totally under control. The authorities (sounds better than the heat) have assured us we will be back in business tomorrow morning.  I hope you can make it Shirley.  I think it’s important for our old — er senior members to show up as quickly as possible

“Believe me I want to help. But it’s all so unappetizing.  How did it get there?”

“I beg your pardon.” What in God’s name are you talking about you old bat?

How did it get into our sauna?” Shirley sounded aggravated as though the stiff had walked into the sauna hell bent on irritating her. Would that it had been that clever.

“I believe that’s exactly what the police are trying to sort out.”

“Why the police? Surely they can’t suppose….  Why would a murdered body show up in our sauna?  Morris will be horrified when I tell him you let someone get themselves — well you know — in our sauna.   Bodies don’t just appear in respectable saunas.”

She’s loving every minute of it. A few more grisly details and she’ll be drooling.  Why couldn’t the perp have waited until tomorrow around 10:00 when Madame would be in the sauna?  Then Morris would be widowed and happy, his mistress would be ecstatic and I’d be under consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Whoa, there’s still the rent to consider.

I’m afraid we have to wait for the police to complete their investigation,” she finished lamely.

“While we’re on the subject, could you do me a little favor? It’s about my new bathing suit. You remember the one you said looked so attractive on me”

Was I drinking that early in the day? The only bathing suit that would look good on that old cow would have to be designed by Omar the Tent Maker.  I don’t even remember seeing her in a bathing suit, and, as far as remarking on its attractiveness, let them twist my tongue out by its root.

“Oh, course I remember. Your trainer is always shouting to the rooftops about your progress. Which no doubt explains why you look so good in all your suits.”  I’ll apologize to Martin tomorrow morning. Maybe buy him a cup of coffee.  I hope God doesn’t strike me dead.  He did say if she exercised until the millennium after this one, she’d still have the droopiest tits on the planet.  No wonder Morris can’t get it up anymore.  He’s afraid he’ll suffocate. 

“Actually it was rather an expensive suit. Morris is so extravagant.”

It’s not his money.

You know how I always dry my suit in the sauna. I think I forgot to take it with me when I left. Would you mind checking to see if any of the recent unpleasantness could have — well — spilled over onto my suit?  Morris will be mortally upset if his favorite suit is involved.

It took another half an hour to convince Shirley that she really had to go and as soon as she learned the fate of her bathing suit she would let her know on the double.

It was only after she hung up that she remembered to call Susan. She was in for it now.

“Susan, I’m going to be late. I’m sorry but something’s come up and I’m stuck here.”

First nothing, then a long, hurt silence, and a very quiet “I see.  I made your favorite dinner tonight.  I thought we could have a nice, quiet evening at home.  Did I forget an engagement you had or did you forget to tell me?”

Translation: She’s just as busy as I am, but she managed to find time to plan something nice for us, but I went and ruined it —as usual. Did I forget to tell her about a previous engagement? Would it make any difference if I told her I was going to ruin one of her ritual suppers because I happen to be in the unfortunate position of having a body discovered in my sauna? Of course it wouldn’t.  Oh, there’s something wrong all right.  But it doesn’t have anything to do with missing dinner.  Does she really want to know what the problem is? Just when I decide the committed relationship I want is going to be with a woman and we settle cozily into that “happily ever after” space, she decides that chastity is the way to go. Does she think that’s why I crossed the street?  “How long?” was all I asked and she said something about plumbing the depths of her inner self.  That’s what I thought we were doing together.

“Since you asked I’m stuck here at work because someone discovered a stiff in the sauna.”

“I didn’t.”

“What?”

“Ask.”

“So, I’m telling you anyway. Since it’s in my health spa, I have to stay.”

“This stiff, you’re talking about. Are you sure it’s not on the business end of the trainer who proved so helpful to the advancement of your career?  The one who was most effective in, shall we say, less formal surroundings.”

Why in the hell did I tell her anyway? A hetero liaison isn’t turn-on material in her book.  It wasn’t until I felt the chilly wind blowing from her side of the bed that I knew I’d blown it. A stiff in the sauna, a stiff at home.

“C’mon Susan that isn’t fair I didn’t know you then.”

“For openers, it made me wonder if I had a whore in my bed. How did you think it would make me feel, our very first night, and you’re comparing performances, me and Joe Juiceman?

“For the last time, I am at the gym, where I work, there is a dead body in my sauna and I can’t come home. Okay?  Susan, hey Susan, Susan are you there?”

Shit, she hung up.

She dialed Susan’s office number again. The receptionist said she was with a patient.  Did she want to leave a message in her voice mail?  No

The shouting and people running by her office finally aroused her. Damn she must have nodded off. What the hell had she missed?  What if there was another body in the spa?  If they discovered another stiff within ten miles of this joint, her goose was cooked.

She peeked out. A knot of people were standing in the hallway looking in the same direction. They weren’t so much quiet as holding their breath.

She saw the flowers first. What looked like the remains of a pretty bouquet lay mangled, torn and bloody, partly covering some large object that was even bloodier. That was when she felt her lunch make a desperate heave into her throat. Now came the hard part — trying to figure out what was under the flowers. It wasn’t moving.  Funny thing it looked like a gorilla wearing white sneakers.  Not white anymore, she corrected herself, red and white. What was a gorilla doing in her spa and why was it bloody?  Maybe it was responsible for the body in the sauna.

Of course it wasn’t a real gorilla. Someone paid to dress up in a gorilla suit in order to mortify some poor unfortunate who had a friend with lots of money and a pathetic sense of humor. What a bummer for the gorilla that it had to come today when everybody was super nervous.  It must have been a cop who thought he had wandered onto Planet of the Apes. Or he needed glasses.  There’d probably be a big uproar about it in the papers.  About how they should pass a law making it illegal to have a gorilla costume that looked too much like the real thing.  Then again you had to figure not too many of these gorilla look-alikes got blown away. This was probably the first one ever. Tough luck for the guy inside, but Shit Happens.  Just a case of a gorilla in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She was still thinking about the gorilla when EMS arrived.

She had only closed her eyes for a minute. When she opened them, someone had taken the headpiece off the thing on the floor.  It was a girl.  Didn’t they always use guys for these trips?  God, she looked young. Who did it? I mean who would kill a gorilla carrying a bouquet of flowers?  That’s what’s wrong with the world.  People don’t think past their noses.

She found herself back in her office two minutes later taking four aspirin for the monster headache that was rapidly destroying her rational faculties. The bodies are piling up around here. And we’re supposed to be a health club. That’s a laugh.   It seems to get unhealthier by the minute.   I hope I’m on the distribution list when they issue a press release to explain all the body bags leaving this place.  Oh no, what now?

The knock on the door was followed by a quick turn of the knob. She groaned when she saw him. Cisco, staff trainer, self-proclaimed Italian stallion, and gigolo-in training. He fancied himself the club’s personal ladies man. But she’d heard from a few of the girls who’d given him a tumble that he didn’t have the goods.

The creep has heard something about me (probably when I’m getting the axe) With all these bodies appearing around here, maybe it wouldn’t count if he appeared among them.

“Goodness me, sweet one, when it comes to stockpiling stiffs you’re about to set a world record. The Guinness people ought to be calling any moment. For a lady of your, shall we say, persuasion, all these stiffs…quite an accomplishment, if I do say so.”

“I had nothing to do with the body in the hallway. Or the one in the sauna.  Period.  However, I may cheerfully take the rap for another death if you don’t get your sorry ass out of here pronto. ”

“You really don’t know, do you?”

“Don’t know and don’t care. Close the door tight on your way out.”

He turned to go but she could tell he was about to unload on her. “By the way that gorilla?  Not your garden-variety gorilla out for a sauna and a body wax.  My, my no. That was a gorilla with a mission. Our furry friend was delivering flowers.  Who do you suppose the intended recipient was? Yours truly has figured the big mystery out?”  His mood was improving with each word. “It was to patch up a lover’s quarrel. Isn’t that peachy? Now ask me how I know this, dear lady? Anonymous sent a little note tucked into the flowers. ‘Dearest, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you.  But I will love you always.’  It was signed S. I’ll leave you to guess whose name was on the envelope.  Have a nice day.”

The next time she looked up Susan was standing there. “What happened to my gorilla? I never imagined what a mess it would cause. It was supposed to be something to make you laugh and help us get back together. I’m so sorry.” Suddenly she was kneeling by her chair and her face was pressed tightly into Malove’s lap.

“Don’t cry baby.”

She wasn’t crying but laughing, so hard her whole body was shaking. “I’m sorry, dear, but don’t you see how funny it is?  I mean here we are right in the middle of this great crisis in our lives and what are we mired in?  Dead bodies.”

The footsteps were outside the door.

“Okay, Miss, we’ve finished up.” It was the cop she had seen earlier.

“Can we open tomorrow? “

”Probably, but that’s a decision they’ll make downtown. It’s not like there’s any big mystery about what happened.”

“Two people dead in one afternoon and the police don’t think there’s a mystery. I admit it’s not exactly genocide.  But two bodies in one small facility? That must be some kind of record.”

He grinned. “Don’t quote me okay. The old lady in the sauna?  She had a heart attack.”

“Just sitting in the sauna? No way.”

“According to her daughter, the old lady had Alzheimers big time. When we found her, she was holding a brown candy wrapper. Turns out she had a real thing about chocolate candies with a cherry inside. But being as how she was a diabetic, her daughter wouldn’t let her have any. She must have had a source here. Probably snuck into the sauna and tried to swallow the whole works, candy, cherry and all, before anyone noticed. Just her luck one of the cherries still had the pit in it and it caught in her throat. Her throat must have tightened and she couldn’t breathe. Finally, her heart gave out.  Coroner found the cherry pit stuck down her throat. He said it shouldn’t have made her stop breathing.”

“So she had a heart attack.” Malove interrupted him.

“And the gorilla?” This time it was Susan asking the question.

“That was a really bad mistake. The guy on duty, first job poor kid, got a little rattled when he saw the gorilla coming at him. He reached for his gun and, boom, blew Mr. Gorilla away.  Worst part some young girl was inside. The company said she was delivering some flowers but they don’t know who was supposed to get them.

“What about a card,” Susan interrupted him.

“There must have been one. We haven’t found it. Maybe someone walked off with it.  If I was the one she was delivering them to, I’d try to grab it myself.”  

“What are they going to do about the guy who shot the gorilla, I mean the girl?” Her head was pounding so hard it felt like someone was building a skyscraper in it.

“Nothing, I guess. The media will start screaming about police brutality. The guy will sit at a desk for awhile. Then everyone will forget or something else will happen and it’ll be over. Nobody really cares anyway. Listen, it’s getting late, why don’t you lock up and let me walk you out to your cars?”

“Thanks, but, if we’re going to open tomorrow, I have to get a few things in order.”

“Suit yourself. The sooner I’m outta here the better.  Two bodies in one day.  This place is more like a cemetery than a gym. You couldn’t pay me to come here.”

She started talking even before he disappeared. “I wanted to help her out.  She started the business with a couple of other people. It seemed like the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. Sorry, didn’t mean it like that. Let’s go over there. I want to see where it happened.”

The gorilla’s outline was still visible on the floor. It was kind of creepy, with the emergency lights throwing disconnected shadows around the wall of that oddly drawn giantesque figure.  Finally Susan looked straight into her eyes, “What happened to the other one?”

“Who?”

“The one in the sauna.”

Chocolate covered cherries, her passion. Sometimes, she’d bring them to work. She used to brag that eating chocolates was a hell of a lot healthier than swallowing Prozac. She’d kept the chocolates in her drawer. If a member asked, she’d give her one.  Never offered them to the old lady.  If she had, she would have warned her about the pits.  After all, it was no secret the old lady was a couple of eggs short of an omelet.  Maybe someone else gave it to her. Maybe she stopped somewhere and bought a box for herself.

“But then they would have found the rest of the box in her locker, wouldn’t they?” Susan was a genius at reading her mind.

“She could have gone into my office and taken one without asking. I never lock my door.”

“Did she?”

“No.”

“Murderer.”

“Look in the mirror sweetheart. Who was it called her best friend’s girl friend in order to save a few lousy dollars?”

Two murderers. They needed to take care of each other now.    It wouldn’t be like that forever.  Susan would screw it up like she always did.  Time to seize the moment.  To make it happen inside the scene of the crime. The old lady must have been hot when they found her.  Not cold and distant and remote like it had become with her and Susan.  Different now they shared the guilt. Time for them to be making love inside the warm and fragrant space.

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