Strength and Fit

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In this fascinating novella mystery miniseries, a muscular fitness trainer is working to build up his clientele, until interrupted by a sinister plot.

By Kevin RR Williams



Michael Baskin is a 23-year-old fitness instructor and former high-school football player. His morning routine includes a vigorous mixture of cardio and weightlifting at home. He follows this with a half liter of water, a bowl of oatmeal with bananas, and a protein smoothie. Then he showers before heading to personal training appointments.

His 9 AM appointment is with 32-year-old Athena Morgan at the Strength and Fit gym. She jogs about 2 miles, three days per week, but hired Michael to help with strength training. She wants more muscle definition in her arms and back.

Michael next visits Omar Jackson, a 37-year-old recent hip replacement patient, at a nearby public park. They do some stretching before walking around a clay track across the street from Mr. Jackson’s home. This gives Mr. Jackson a chance to share stories about his children.

Michael eats a healthy salad while checking news and social media contacts on his smartphone. After lunch, he heads back to the Strength and Fit gym. There, Michael assists modest 38-year-old Carmen Hermanez with hydrotherapy as part of her rehabilitation from an automobile accident. She injured her back and received spinal cortisone injections. Michael hangs around for a couple of hours afterwards to possibly signup additional clients.

The schedule has been fairly consistent five days per week, for three months. Occasionally, Michael receives a text message from Carmen who feels she is in too much pain for a workout. With kind encouragement, she follows through and feels better after her hydrotherapy. Michael acquired his current clients from Ray Allan, a prior fitness instructor at the gym, who relocated out of town.


One Monday, Michael heads to the Strength and Fit gym for his 9 AM appoint­ment but does not see Athena. In her place is a bulkier woman named Rosie.

“Good morning. Are you a friend of Athena?” he asks.

“I don’t know who that is, but I had a good run this morning and am ready for my strength training,” Rosie replies.

Amused at the apparent practical joke, Michael responds, “Nice one. Okay, are you filling in for Athena today?”

With assertiveness, Rosie re-emphasizes, “Michael, I don’t know Athena. I have a business meeting in a couple of hours, so can we begin my workout so I won’t be late?”

Michael still feels this is some sort of ruse but he doesn’t want to upset Rosie. So he begins the normal workout. It is now that he realizes how little he knows about Athena. What he does know is her strength level—how much she can lift, the amount of reps she can tolerate, and how far she runs. He uses this information to test Rosie.

“How was your 5-mile run this morning?” asks Michael.

“Don’t be absurd, you know 3 miles is my limit,” she accurately replies.

“Sure, I must be confusing you with another client. Let me spot you on the bench press for 150 pounds,” he says.

Rosie protests, “Are you trying to crush me? We have been averaging 120 pounds.”

“Experience plot-twisting mental aerobics.”

Puzzled over how well Rosie knows Athena’s routine, Michael concedes, “All right, give me four reps of 120 pounds before one good push of 130.”

They then move on to back muscle strengthening exercises to complete the one-hour workout. As Rosie is walking away, Michael sends Athena a text message saying, “What an interesting workout this morning.” After Rosie’s phone buzzes, she replies with a weightlifter emoji before turning around and shouting, “See you tomorrow!”

Michael quickly heads to his next appointment at the park, where there is some normalcy. It only lasts through his lunch break. In the gym afterwards, a bikini-clad young woman is waiting poolside. She greets him like nothing is out of the ordinary.

“No wining today. I’m ready for whatever you have for me,” she says.

In a strictly business tone, he asks, “Before beginning your appointment, I need to check you in. Could you verify your name, please?”

She walks uncomfortably close before stroking his biceps as if they are very familiar with one another. “Jackie…, soon to be Baskin.”

“Just a moment,” wide-eyed Michael says as he turns his back before walking briskly to the front desk.


The gym bills each client and pays him an hourly rate for training. So he looks up his two Strength and Fit appointments on the computer. His three-month standing 9 AM appointment is with Rosie and his 1 PM appointment is with Jackie.

“Who messed with my appointments?” Michael asks of other trainers standing nearby. No one responds. “Was it you, Stanley? You’re always kidding around.”

“What are you talking about? How are any of us able to edit the database?” asks Stanley.

“All right, I’ll talk with the location manager,” Michael says in frustration. He heads to the office of Marge Powers, a former competitive bodybuilder and peeks in to see if she’s busy. “Marge, can I speak to you for a moment?” he asks.

“Yes, Michael. What’s on your mind?”

“This sounds strange, but someone has replaced a couple of my fitness appointments,” Michael complains.

“I don’t follow. Replaced them with what?”

“With completely different people filling their time slots,” he says.

Tapping on the computer, she pulls up his calendar. “I see you had an appointment with Rosie this morning and it looks like you are late for Jackie’s training.”

“That’s my point. Those names should be Athena and Carmen,” he says.

“Michael, I can try to look into this further. But right now it seems like the only thing out of place is you. A paying customer is waiting for hydro­therapy at the pool while you are standing in my office. Do I need to assign your clients to another instructor?”

“No, Marge. I’m heading to the pool now. But please let me know later if you can find any evidence that someone tampered with my appointments,” Michael concludes before leaving the office.

Stanley walks in after Michael leaves. While sitting down in front of Marge’s desk, he looks behind him to confirm that no one is nearby. He then asks, “Do we have a problem?”

Marge says to him, “There is a glitch in the synchronization. The operatives have rotated but Michael is still here. Don’t worry though. I’ll take care of it.”

“If you can’t fix this, I won’t be the only one worrying,” Stanley warns before leaving the office.

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