Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Preacher's Dead

By Elizabeth DiMeo
Suspense/Thriller, 258 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans

Among many other targets, famed televangelist Jerry Duran often criticizes medical facilities and their personnel severely. Now he’s had to be admitted to a hospital even though he regards all such institutions as alien country. Will his prayers save him?

Almost fifteen minutes later a thin but muscular girl about twenty-three sauntered out. She wore a black leotard with matching tights and an indifferent expression. Her short dark brown hair curled attractively about her face. “What can I do for you?” she asked.

“I’m thinking about enrolling in your program, but I need some information first.”

“What kind of information?”

“Well, could you give me some idea of your fee schedule?” Ellen asked.

“You mean how much it costs? Twenty-five dollars a month, with no sign-up fee.”

“And what exactly does that include?”
“Unlimited exercise time, both in group sessions and individual work-outs, and dietary supervision once a week. That means we review with you what you’ve eaten for the last seven days, so you have to keep a record of it. It’s kinda like counting calories.” Lori snapped her gum. “We give you a special sheet for that.”

“If I can, I’d like to see some people exercising,” Ellen said.

“Well, I guess so,” Lori replied. “Just come this way.” She led Ellen back from the desk area past a half-wall of smudged plastic bricks to a large, brightly-lit room where about a dozen middle-aged women dressed in pale blue sweat-suits and snow white sneakers sat on the parquet floor with legs apart, while the leader at the front shouted directions in verse to them. The group chanted the verse as they bent forward, grasped their legs and moved from side to side.

Lori laughed. “Gloria is one of our veterans. She really knows how to get these country-club matrons moving. We have group exercise scheduled on the hour from nine to five that lasts fifteen minutes. This bunch comes in as a group. They must serve dinner late. Or maybe the help puts it on the table for them.

“Then we run it again from six to ten in the evening for the working girls.” She glanced at Ellen. “We’re open for men, too, but haven’t gotten any so far.”

Can’t say that’s a big surprise, Ellen thought. “What about exercise equipment? Do you have any of that?” she asked.

“Well, we have a few machines for individual work-outs, but our emphasis is on group work. Getting everyone sweating together makes the time go faster.”

“Can I look at the machines?”

“Well, I guess so. They’re back in here.” Lori led Ellen to a small room off to the right, which looked as if it were both a dressing room and a machine-exercise room. Lockers and a ladies’ rest room occupied much of the space, while two treadmills and three stationary bikes were crowded into one corner. A full-length mirror stood in front of each of the machines.

Kimberly Moore, the IV therapist from the hospital, sat on one of the bikes, pumping furiously. She looked cool and relaxed, unflappable in shocking-pink sweat top and pants. She turned her head toward the door briefly as Ellen and Lori came into the room.

“Well, hey, Kim,” said Ellen. ”I’m surprised to see you here. Is this the secret behind that fabulous figure? I’m impressed.”

“Now, honey,” Kim drawled. “I wouldn’t go nearly that far. I do try to work out here three or four times a week You’d think running around the hospital all day would be exercise enough, but it isn’t. And I’ve got to keep looking good. Lots of competition out there, you know.” She said all of this without breaking her rhythm or turning to look directly at Ellen.

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