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Plaster of Paris; chapter seven, part two

I wander around the gym, engaging random people in conversation.  No one working out, of course, because that would be in violation of club rules.  Besides, I know how I’d feel if someone was pestering me as I was trying to do my reps.  However, there are quite a few people just milling around, looking as if they’re either resting or done or about to start.  Those are the ones I target.  Understandably, most of them are reluctant to divulge anything to a total stranger, but the fact that I’m a petite woman who is not a potential threat disarms the women.  The fact that I’m a good-looking petite Asian woman disarms most of the men—and more than a few women.  Unfortunately, even when I’m able to pry information out of people, there is precious little to be had.  Gym rats are creatures of habit, and most of this crowd never step foot in the gym until late afternoon.  After an hour, I’m more than a little dispirited.  I decide to try one more person before giving up.  My quarry is a burly he-man hulk with bulging muscles and a tiny waist.  I don’t understand why guys go for that look, but I’m sure many guys don’t understand why some women slather makeup on their faces with a trowel.  The guy has bought some kind of wheat-germ drink from the juice bar and is chugging it down methodically.  I wait for him to swallow before I speak.

“Hi,” I say brightly, beaming at him.  “My name is Rayne.  Mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Not at all, doll,” the guy smiles back as his eyes leisurely travel up and down my body.  “Trace.  Short for Tracy, but nobody calls me that.  Not if they want to live, that is.”  He throws back his head and makes a braying sound like a donkey that I soon realize is his way of laughing.  I restrain a sigh at facing yet another stereotype, this time in person.  “Ask away.”  He grins at me as he continues choking down his drink.

“Do you know a guy named Billy?  Short, blond, muscular?  Heart tattoo on his bicep?”  I say the information by rote, which is what it is by now.

“Billy Matthews?  Hell, yeah, I know him!  Thinks he’s going to win Mr. fucking Muscles of San Francisco!  Not if Trace can help it, he sure isn’t.  Too fucking short, for one thing.”  Great.  A guy who talks about himself in the third person.  However, he does know Billy, so I cut him some slack.  “What does a nice gal like you want with an asshole like that?”  Trace looks at me curiously.  “You ain’t his type, anyway.”

“I just want to talk to him,” I say stiffly.  With the other people I’ve talked to thus far, I’ve been able to make small talk, put them at ease.  With Trace, I have lost that ability.  Good ol’ boys tend to do that to me.  “Know where I can find him?”

“Well, here, most every morning.  At night, he likes to frequent the El Rio or the Elbo Room depending on his mood.”  Trace hasn’t stopped looking at me, and it’s beginning to get on my nerves.  “I’m telling ya, he doesn’t like Asian girls,” Trace says earnestly, finishing up his drink.  “He’s partial to Puerto Rican pus—gals.”  I know what he was about to say, and I shoot him a dirty look for it.

“Thanks for the information,” I say briskly.  “I must be going now.”  I turn and leave, not giving him a chance to say anything.  “Prick,” I say under my breath.  It looks as if I’ll have to put my quest for Billy on hold.  At least I have a name and a general description; it’s a start.  I wave to Jimmy on my way out, but he’s staring resolutely at anything but me.  I rush home to shower and change—jeans and a red, long-sleeved shirt—before hurrying back to the hospital.

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