Publish Novella 1 December 2021
EPISODE 3 – WEIGHTLESS
Two fitness instructors find themselves confused in an unknown location as their employers plot their next course.
⚠️ Reader Discretion: Mature images.
Early Thursday morning, Jackie is in Marge’s office providing her with an update. Moments later Stanley arrives with Rosie.
“It looks like everything is back on track,” says Stanley.
“Yes, we are in sync. But with the extraction, we need another trainer to fill Michael’s place,” Marge responds.
“Trainers are a dime a dozen. If necessary, hire someone off the street to maintain the cover of the operatives,” Stanley suggests.
“I will have a replacement by tomorrow as I seed a cover story to the other employees today,” Marge assures.
“Good. For this weekend, there can be no problems. Each of you should have your assignments and know them well.” They all nod in affirmative.
“The president of Strength and Fit will be here. During his visit, I can’t stress enough how imperative that it looks like an accident. Operatives will physically and digitally vanish upon completion of assignments. For your services, you will each be handsomely rewarded,” says Stanley.
“There will be no more problems,” Marge assures.
“Great. Now ladies, you are dismissed. Marge and I will wrap things up.”
When the door closes behind them, Marge emphasizes her resolve. “Your father humiliated me at the height of my career. I was promised half the Strength and Fit national empire. I want that back.”
“You will have it. After a brief mourning period, I will assume control and make you my second in command. The media will eat up your return to competitive bodybuilding. Our marriage will create another media frenzy. This will begin a partnership that catapults gym memberships as you become the new face and body of fitness.
“As you can see, you play a key role in this restructuring. I am nothing like my father and none of your desires will go unfulfilled.
“When the cameras are here Saturday, you just need to demonstrate no ill will towards my father to avert suspicion. Then be visible, but nowhere around the accident. There will be suspicions and circumstantial evidence but no conviction without a confession.
“Don’t fill in any details on anything and we’ll remain safe. You may be under surveillance afterwards. Don’t lead them anywhere incriminating or phone me to talk about the case. You should not return to your apartment. I will get you out of the state as soon as possible.”
“I understand. Just don’t get jealous as I play my role with your father,” Marge says with a wink.
“I will be far out of the way for plausible deniability. Work the crowd. I trust you,” Stanley says before leaving.
Marge goes into the area where the trainers hang out. She tells them that Michael quit his job. “I have two fitness appointments this week only, at 9 AM and 1 PM for anyone whose available.” Jack and Andrew both raise their hands and request the spots. “Great, Andrew you can have them today. Jack can have Friday. Their names and routines are in the calendar app.”
Andrew begins the upper body routine with Rosie who demonstrates great strength, bench pressing four reps of 150 pounds. Later, Jackie swims 25 freestyle crawl laps in the olympic-size pool. Andrew is so impressed, he asks how he can provide any assistance. Jackie says, she wants to reduce her time.
“I can help you with that. We will just need to increase upper body workout and lung capacity. You should build your jogging up to 5 miles per day,” recommends Andrew.
“I ran 5 miles this morning. I’ll try to do more. When can we begin the upper body workouts?” Jackie asks.
“I recommend alternating days with swimming. I will leave a note for Jack to followup tomorrow at 1 PM.”
“Thanks, I’ll be here,” says Jackie before heading to the showers.
On Friday, Jack assists both Rosie and Jackie. He is unaware of the appointment with Omar Jackson. Mr. Jackson sends a text message to Michael without response.
On Saturday morning, cameras and neighbors, including Omar Jackson, crowd the gym. Mr. Jackson inquires about the whereabouts of his trainer, Michael Baskin. He is told that Michael quit and moved away.
Finally, Mark Cameron, founder of Strengthen Fit arrives for a publicity stunt. Before a group of microphones, he delivers a speech about how the company strategically grew to 125 locations.
“We will be featuring the bodies of some of our most fit females along with a strength competition. For the sake of your cameras, we will try to maintain a PG rating. But we don’t require shirts for our female competitive bodybuilders unless they have implants.”
The reporters then interject questions.
“Mr. Cameron, is it true you are here to compete with Marge Powers?”
“I understand Marge is here,” he says with a smile, “But I am not aware of any real competition.”
“Are you on good terms with Miss Powers?”
“I defer that answer to her…” Marge Powers then joins him on stage with a friendly kiss on the cheek.
“Miss Powers… Miss Powers, do you view Mr. Cameron as a rival?”
“Mark and I work together as strategic partners in the Strengthen Fit family. As far as rivalries go, if he is willing to strip down to his skivvies, I am happy to let the reporters judge between us as to who is in better shape. But first, I direct your attention to some of our beautiful Strength and Fit ladies!”
Female bodybuilders stand in a designated area flexing their glutes and quads to the cheers of attendees. “We have expert trainers to help ladies firm up. It is a competition, so all the beauty contestants are numbered and you get to examine closely before voting.”
Inside the gym, Marge announces a multi-event competition. “Mark will be competing with fitness ladies today in swimming, bench pressing, and culminating with bodybuilder poses against me.”
Mark changes into his swimming trunks to square off with Jackie for the fastest time of 10 swimming laps. Mark must do the butterfly stroke and Jackie does the freestyle crawl. It is a tight race that leaves him lagging at times. When he wins by 10 seconds, there are thunderous cheers, applause, and camera flashes.
On the other side of the building, Marge is talking to reporters in the locker room while posing for photos. She brags about how fit she is. “I think Mark has gotten out of shape since his involvement with running the corporation,” Marge says with a smile as she flexes her calves and biceps.
The crowd moves to the next event for bench pressing. In Mark’s prime, he got 375 pounds off his chest. But the competition is for the most repetitions. He must press 50 pounds more than his female competitor. Rosie chooses 150 pounds of free weights for ten reps and nails it. Mark matches ten reps with 200 pounds.
Men have more testosterone, which increases potential muscle mass. To equalize the competition, Mark lifts more weight than his female competitor.
Rosie surprises him by adding 20 extra pounds to her bar and presses four more reps on her separate bench. The spotter sets Mark’s bar to 220 pounds. He slowly presses it off his chest four times without noticing one of the nuts on a bolt that holds his bench together is missing.
Rosie challenges one more lift. “Get your maximum weight off your chest one time. Winner takes all.”
“You want me to lift 375 pounds after swimming 10 laps and bench pressing all these prior weights? What will you press?” asks Mark.
“I will press what you just did, 220 pounds, one time,” Rosie replies.
“Then I will press 320 pounds,” Mark offers. “One hundred pounds more than you.”
“For 320, you need to press twice,” Rosie challenges.
Trying to prevent public humiliation, Mark faces the cameras and says, “I respect and encourage female bodybuilders. Any are welcome at all of my gyms….” Then facing the competitor, he continues, “But I did not come here to get beat by an unknown. If you miss your 220, you forfeit. If you succeed and I press 375, I win.”
Rosie shakes out her arms before laying down with a perfectly arched back. Concentrating on her breathing, she steadies the bar off the rack before slowly lowering it to her chest. She then presses with all her might to get the 220-pound barbell off her chest and back on the rack.
The crowd cheers, as she matches Mark’s highest weight for the day. Everyone then begins chanting, “375… 375…!”
Feeling that he may have literally gotten in over his head, he asks for a spotter on each end of the bar. The gym provides two additional female spotters, Athena and Carmen, wearing face masks. They wipe the bar of all perspiration.
Donna Moore, in September 2020, set the world record for Women’s Castle Atlas stone with a 375-pound (170 kg) lift at the Rogue Fitness Record Breakers.
Mark powders his hands. As he shifts the bar off the rack to his extended arms, the bench gives out beneath his back. The bar lands on his chest and he is unresponsive. The crowd gasps and photo flashes fill the room.
The spotters lift the bar off of him, wipe off the ends, and step out of the way. Omar Jackson carves a path through the crowd, holding up a badge, “Everyone stand back! Detective Omar Nelson here. This is now an active crime scene. Nobody touch anything!” He then phones for police and paramedics.