Read Hardheaded Brunette Online
Authors: Diane Bator
Tags: #Cozy, #Detective and Mystery Fiction
"Are you off duty already?" Gilda sat on the log—her log—next to Fabio. "I thought you were questioning Razi?"
"We're on our way. Razi asked to come to the beach to meditate first so I thought I'd grab a coffee and take a breather." He nodded toward a solitary figure sitting cross-legged on the sand near the water. "I got tired of listening to all of Thayer's conspiracy theories involving Razi, Kane, and the Phoenix school." He sipped from a paper cup, the scent of coffee swirling in the air around them. "What are you up to?"
She grimaced. "Avoiding the messes in the school and the disaster in my living room I need to clean up. Do you still think my break-in is related to Charlie's death?"
"Yes, I do. I'm still waiting for matches on the prints Thayer took, but—"
"Do you know how many people have paraded through that house lately and touched stuff? Mick has broken down the door twice since I've lived there, Gary visited a couple times, I had to get rid of my emergency key Thayer kept using earlier this summer to get in, and Kane…" She blew out a long breath. "Look, if it happens again, then I'll be worried. Maybe it was just someone with some morbid curiosity. Charlie Hunt was a local legend. I'm sure it was just someone who wanted a souvenir and didn't think twice that he hasn't even set foot inside the house in years."
"I guess." Fabio didn't sound convinced.
She hesitated. "Did the M.E. say any more about how Charlie died?"
"Did you even know the guy?" He grimaced then looked at her long and hard.
"I met him once."
Fabio shook his head. "You and I both know if I tell you, you'll just start nosing around again. You seem to have some weird fascination with solving these sorts of things. The problem is, if I don't tell you, you'll find out somehow and still find a way to get into trouble."
"Wow. You're not pulling any punches today, are you?" Face warm, she turned to watch the waves roll in. "You make me sound like a troublemaker or something."
"Troublemaker? No," Fabio said. "Trouble? Definitely."
She nodded. "So then, how come you questioned everyone at Phoenix but me?"
He sipped his coffee. "You didn't even know Charlie."
"No." Gilda blew out a sigh. "But I do know he and Razi had a heated argument the night he died and that he used to be Kane's coach, who stole a lot of money from him, and that Mena had an affair with him and he made promises to her that he never kept."
"Tell me something I don't already know, then I'll be impressed." Fabio patted her leg.
At a loss for words, Gilda sucked in a deep breath. "How well did you know him?"
He flinched and tightened his jaw. "What did the guys say that they didn't tell me?"
"Isn't that hearsay?" she asked.
"Only in court and I'm no judge."
Her phone buzzed. Mick's text read
Meeting tomorrow morning at 8am. Wear something comfortable.
Gilda winced. That meant she needed to get organized tonight. With a meeting at eight and Charlie's funeral at eleven tomorrow, she wouldn't have much time to clean house.
She shifted her feet in the sand. "From everything I read online, Charlie was a real philanthropist and donated a lot of money to kids' charities. He's turned a lot of fighters into stars. Even the fighters who hated him and no longer work with him all seem oddly devoted."
"Devoted, or is it something else?" Fabio grimaced.
Gilda's stomach churned. "Why don't you ask them?"
"I have." He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. "But it's like I said before, you have more clout with the Boys' Club than Thayer and I do. Kane, Mick, and the others aren't talking to Thayer or me, not like before. I've spent hours at my computer digging for clues into their pasts, but all I've come up with is more of the same."
Gilda took pity on him. "Like what?"
"The guys who would be at the top of my suspect list were nowhere near Sandstone Cove that night. All the guys who are here owe their careers to Charlie. For all his faults, he had a big heart and a lot of pull in the big leagues. He created a lot of stars."
"So you've run into a lot of dead ends."
"Yup." He sipped his coffee. "Some deader than others."
Charlie. Gilda gulped. "Did anybody have a grudge against him?"
"All the fighters he never thought would make it big in the octagon. Guys he trained and went to the wall for who couldn't cut it when the game got serious." He hesitated. "Then there are guys like your buddy Kane."
"You really don't like Kane, do you?"
Fabio shrugged. "He's an interesting guy. I know he and Mick have been friends for years. I was even part of their circle once. Just do yourself a favor and don't believe everything Kane tells you."
She hugged her stomach. "Do you think he's a liar?"
Fabio gave a slow nod. "Let's just say he's good at embellishing the truth to make himself look good. I'm surprised he's told you much of anything."
"Maybe he's just looking for a friend. You think he was looking for someone who could give him an alibi?" The back of her neck prickled. "Someone like me."
Fabio shook his head and smirked. "I'm thinking I wish you'd go work at Happy Harvey's instead of the karate school so I don't have to worry about you."
"I'm not a fan of dealing with drunks," she said.
"No, just psychopathic killers."
The early morning meeting turned out to be something she wasn't prepared for. Yoga with Mena, who looked at Gilda like something slimy stuck to the bottom of her bare foot. Kane and the other instructors looked as uncomfortable as Gilda felt. At least their assorted cuts and bruises were healing nicely. She struggled to remember who got what wounds at the meet and greet then felt bad for suspecting everyone around her. Again.
When Razi walked in, he flashed an easy smile. "Good morning."
Gilda blew out a sigh. "Did everything go okay at the police station yesterday?"
"As good as could be expected." He patted her arm. "Things are fine. For me, anyway."
"I'm glad to see you all here." Mick signaled for them to all take their places then paced in front of the class to make a brief speech.
Kane snorted. "Like we had a choice."
"No, you didn't." Mick's smile seemed forced. "I decided this would be a good team-building session after all that's gone on lately. Since we have a few new faces in the school, I'd really like you all to pull together as a team and show a united front to the community after Charlie Hunt's tragic death."
Kane's gaze never wavered off Mick, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Let's keep things open and positive today, shall we?" Mick stepped to one side. "I'm turning you all over to our new yoga instructor, Mena, who plans to give us a taste of what her early morning yoga classes will be like."
It was safe to assume all eyes were on Mena long before Mick introduced her. Gilda could have walked in naked and no one would have even noticed. Gilda folded her arms, glad she'd worn her running clothes—capri yoga pants and a tank top beneath a baggy shirt. Being in the same room as Mena, who wore tight yoga pants and a short top that left little to anyone's imagination, was downright bad for her ego. At least she could hide inside her baggy shirt.
"Hi, everyone." Mena gave a little finger wave as she smiled. "I'd like to take you through a simple flow yoga class today. Slow and easy to stretch out those cramped muscles. I'd love to see you at least two of my classes each week to keep your body stretched and relaxed."
"Not to mention you get paid if you have students," Kane murmured.
Razi rolled out his yoga mat between Mick and Gilda. "So will you."
"Point taken, mate." Kane dropped into a cross-legged pose.
Before now, Gilda had only ever done yoga at home. She was used to a small space and a teacher she could pause, rewind, or mute on command. When Mena walked toward her, Gilda realized she wouldn't have the luxury of a remote control.
"If you plan to do my class, I'd appreciate if you don't wear baggy clothing." A smug smile crossed Mena's face. "Yoga is about becoming aware of your body and breath, which is difficult to do when you're doing downward dog and your T-shirt falls over your face."
"I'd watch that." Kane made her wish she were invisible, especially since she was already self-conscious enough about her body. "Go ahead and take it off, love."
At least she had Mick and Razi between them as a barrier. She peeled off her larger shirt and smoothed her tank top over her stomach.
Kane grinned. "Much better, love."
"Leave her alone." Mick sighed.
As they began class, Mena seemed to ignore Gilda and focused on helping the men. Gilda was grateful for not being singled out. Before long, the yoga mats on the upper level of the school were slick with sweat from the twenty students, including Gilda and Mick, who were asked to contort their bodies into nearly impossible positions.
From across the room, someone groaned halfway through the class. "Can we spar soon? This is boring. Remind me again why we're doing this."
Gilda groaned as her foot slipped out from beneath her. She caught her balance, surprised yoga could make her sweat as much as karate or running.
"We are supporting our new instructor and getting a good stretch," Razi said. "Be silent and enjoy the class."
Gilda had to stop herself from bursting into laughter.
Mick groaned. "Think of it as an exercise in team building. After the past couple of days, we need to regain some positive energy."
"That's true," Mena walked past him and stopped in front of Gilda, watching her struggle for a minute before she touched both sides of Gilda's hips. "Lift your bum, Gilda. The pose is called downward dog, not beached whale."
"Gee, thanks." Gilda scowled.
"I'm only trying to help." Mena sounded hurt. "You need to really get into this stretch if you want to lose that excess weight."
Gilda trapped a growl deep in her throat. "Yeah. Nice team we've got."
"Leave her alone, Mena." Kane groaned. "She's doing just fine."
Mena pushed his head down. "Mind your own business and stop staring at her butt."
He huffed, his voice muffled. "Like I can even see her butt from here."
Gilda's face burned, and she wished she'd never come to class.
"This is a lot harder than it looks," Mick grumbled. "When does this class end?"
"In half an hour." Gilda snorted. When he groaned, she reminded him, "You made the schedule and demanded we all show up. You don't get to gripe."
"You're right." Mick winked. "I guess I have to suffer with the rest of you then."
"What suffer? This is fun." Razi eased himself from one position into the next like he'd done yoga every day for his entire life. "You can come to sit in my hot tub later. It will help relax your surprised muscles."
"Surprised muscles?" Kane wheezed from Razi's other side. "Try stretched to the effing limit from weeks of training for a fight that never happened."
"You need to push through the discomfort and relax into the stiffness." Razi was beginning to sound like a paid advertisement.
Gilda's hand slipped out of place and something popped between her shoulder blades. A bolt of pain spasmed through her body. She collapsed onto the mat, choking back tears.
"Aww, do you give up already, honey? You know if you're in pain, you're doing it wrong." Mena stood over her and gloated.
"Pain," she gasped.
Mena groaned. "Maybe you should listen to what you're told."
Mick dropped out of his pose and touched her shoulder. "Pain where?"
Gilda swallowed hard, not wanting to show any sign of weakness to Mena or the others. "Right between my shoulder blades."
A large, gentle hand pressed against her spine and probed her shoulders until she flinched. Kane helped her sit up then moved her right arm around to gauge her full range of motion. "You probably just pinched a nerve. Do you feel any pain now, love?"
"Only when I move or breathe." Gilda grimaced.
"That's a start." Kane smiled.
Mick blew out a sigh. "You might want Doc to look at your shoulder to be sure."
"I am sure. I've seen this before." Kane sat back on his heels, tension pouring off him in waves thick enough to suffocate her. "Take it easy and don't put pressure on it for a day or so. Just keep moving your arm around slowly so you don't stiffen up though."
Mena knelt in front of Gilda and patted her aching shoulder. "Aww, that's too bad. Looks like you'd better stick to karate, sweetie. I guess you really don't have what it takes to do yoga."
"Leave her alone, Mena." Kane draped one arm beneath Gilda's arm to help her up.
Ignoring her jab, Gilda let Kane and Mick help her to her feet then slowly descended the wrought iron stairs alone. Doc would probably tell her exactly what Kane had said, just a pinched nerve. Her back didn't ache, but pain shot through her arm when she tried to move.
She slouched into the chair behind her desk and reached out her right hand for the mouse to look up the number at the clinic. The mere movement was enough to bring tears to her eyes. She knocked a stack of papers onto the floor. With a sigh, she rested her chin in her left palm. "I hate yoga."
Before long, Gilda had called the clinic and was on her way to see Doc. Anger burned off her in heat waves. How could she be so stupid? All it took was one wrong move to sideline her from both yoga and karate. Tears welled. So much for her next grading in a couple months. She'd spend more time watching over the next week or two than training.
"It looks like you've pinched a nerve, my dear. Give it a few days rest so it can heal," Doc said as he tied a sling around her neck. "I don't normally use slings for stuff like this, but I know you too well. If you push it and don't give the arm time to relax, you'll be out for even longer."
She bit back the curse words that sat on her tongue. "What do I have to do?"
"No karate. No yoga. No sword fighting. Rest. Ice. You'll be fine in no time." Doc winked. "I am glad to hear you're keeping busy, but frankly, my dear, Happy and I would both worry less if you worked for him."