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Beat Up a Cookie [An Ellie Bernstein Mystery] [MultiFormat]
eBook by Denise Dietz

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime
eBook Description: Ellie Bernstein is still a fan of the TV series M*A*S*H. So are a lot of other people in Colorado Springs. In fact, years ago at a M*A*S*H bash to watch the show's finale, everyone came as their favorite character. Now, after having lost fifty-five pounds, Ellie sure looks a lot more like Hot Lips. But that claim to fame might be dangerous. There's a killer on the loose, and the show's look-alikes are being murdered. What twisted motive lies behind the killings? Ellie's dying to see the ending of this serial killer's saga...

eBook Publisher: Wildside Press/Wildside Press, Published: USA, 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2009


2 Reader Ratings:
Great Good OK Poor


"Bernstein is a wonderful heroine...now that she's gotten rid of her philandering husband and kept off those extra 55 pounds, she can revel in her job, her earthy affair with Lt. Peter Miller, and her search for the killer."--Kirkus Reviews

"Clever and amusing..." Publishers Weekly

"Denise Dietz proves that losing weight can be a killer."--Diane Mott Davidson

"A bright and funny new heroine, brisk and clever writing, and wonderfully snappy dialogue."--Mystery Love Company


The soldiers appeared fatigued.

For eleven days straight their unit had been served liver and fish for lunch.

"If I eat one more fish, I'll develop gills," said the tall, handsome captain. "I've had so much liver I can only make love if I'm smothered in bacon and onions." He began to speculate about the perfect lunch. "There was a place in Chicago, near the Dearborn Street Station, can't even think of its name, but the ribs--the best in the world."

Haunted by his vision, the captain finally discovered that the restaurant was called Adam's Ribs. He managed to phone stateside, then arranged for his order to be delivered by plane.

MPs were told that urgent medical supplies should be routed immediately, and the food was sent overnight to Korea. Within twenty-four hours, the officers of the 4077 M*A*S*H unit were feasting on ribs and...

Hawkeye forgot to order the coleslaw, thought Ellie Bernstein, picturing the vivid scene from her favorite TV show. She very nearly drove past Charley Aaronson's Dew Drop Inn, but caught herself in time and, instead, slowly maneuvered across a couple of entrance tittie-bumps.

Parking her Continental between a Chevy pickup and three listing motorcycles, she heard her stomach growl, even though she'd just finished her own feast of veal saltimbocca, ravioli a la pesto, and chocolate cheesecake.

"A slip of the lips is a pound on the hips," she said to no one in particular. "Calories and cheating both begin with the letter C."

Her husband Tony was cheating at this very moment.

So Ellie had cheated with food. To hell with her diet! She'd start a new one next Monday. She always started her diets on Mondays. Sometimes she even lasted--and fasted--until Tuesday.

Now she glanced through her car window at the congested parking lot. The Dew Drop must be stuffed with bodies. What a terrific location for a gangland massacre. Al Pacino and his scar-faced thugs would be sitting ducks, dead ducks, pressed duck (saturated with rosemary-garlic sauce).

On the other hand, one person could commit the perfect murder then disappear into the crowd. How? Why? The only thing Ellie devoured more avidly than food was a scintillating mystery.

Okay, she thought, let's hypothesize the perfect murder.

Time of day? Night. The moon was a mere sliver of lemon cake, so its glow wouldn't give the perpetrator away.

Victim? Well, she didn't want to ponder that. Perfect crimes were fun, victims were not. Unless the victim was fictitious. Or already dead. Yes, already dead was good. Tennessee Williams had died last month, on February 25th. Although she admired his work, Ellie didn't know Tennessee Williams personally. He'd do just fine.

Motive? A psychopathic actor auditions for a role in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Rejected, he blames it all on Tennessee Williams, and furtively follows the famous playwright to Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Scene of the crime? The Dew Drop Inn, of course. The Dew Drop's rectangular gray cement building was sandwiched between a defunct Catholic school and a newly constructed souvenir shop, and had once been a family restaurant called Costilla de Adam.

Plot? The killer stalks Tennessee Williams and knifes him--

No. Too much blood.

The killer stalks Tennessee Williams, strangles him, then disappears into the crowd and--

And what?

And then the police would discover the motive, the perpetrator, and what the heck was Tennessee Williams doing in Colorado Springs anyway?

Okay, Ellie, enough fictitious mystery. Time for reality.

She pulled the key from her ignition. Reality was her husband Tony, a real estate broker who at this very moment was screwing his new client. Ellie had accidentally overheard a phone conversation between Tony and his friend Dave, a journalist. "She's young, slender, and hot to trot," Tony had said. "You should see the carpet burns on my butt."

Hurt and furious, Ellie had baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies, Tony's favorite. Then she had hidden them in the laundry room. Tony would never step foot inside the laundry room; that was her domain.

Tonight her three-month-old son Michael was with Tony's mother, leaving Ellie free to indulge in her high-calorie, albeit lonely, meal. However, the food-equals-revenge ritual at Uncle Vinnie's Gourmet Italian Restaurant had lasted too long and she'd never make it home before the start of the eleventh-season finale of M*A*S*H. So, impulsively, she had decided to detour and visit Charley's lounge. Charley had several televisions suspended from the ceiling. Ellie thought they looked like black spiders with bloated bellies, but Tony--who had no imagination--laughed in his nasty way and said spiders didn't have TV screens in their bellies.

Inside the Dew Drop Inn, it looked like a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit. Most men and women wore olive-drab T-shirts and matching pants. Ellie felt alien in low-heeled pumps, black A-line skirt, and a silk over-blouse one shade brighter than her auburn hair.

Charley Aaronson had advertised a "Mash-Bash" party, offering "cash prize money" for the best 4077 look-alikes, and the public had responded enthusiastically. Charley must be breaking every fire law, Ellie thought then saw that the fire chief was in attendance, along with practically everybody else under the sun. And moon. Except, of course, Tony. But Tony had other fish to fry, other ribs to nibble.

"Hi, Charley!" Ellie shouted. "Business is booming!"

"Ellie, can you believe this crowd already? All these meshuga pipples." He dabbed at his perspiring face with the edge of his white chef's apron. "The Dew Drop looks like Yankee Stadium on a doubleheaded afternoon."

"An afternoon with two heads? You sound like Casey Stengel. It's called a doubleheader, Charley."

Ellie smiled fondly at her friend. Charley's bald pate sported an ill-fitting toupee, styled after his hero John F. Kennedy's hair. Every night Charley patrolled the Dew Drop, a benevolent vulture, his magnificent hooked nose sniffing out underage invaders. Ellie surmised that Charley's mind was as sharp as the knife he used to slice his fruit garnishes. And yet customers tended to relax in his presence, lulled by his seemingly inane remarks. There was no drug dealing at the Dew Drop, and except for the inevitable Sunday football pools, no illegal betting. There had never been one hint of trouble inside Charley's establishment.

"So why ain't you in costume, Ellie?"

"I didn't have time to change clothes, Charley."

"You shoulda come as Hot Mouth." Framed by a shelf of liquor bottles, he leaned across the bar's surface. "You know, that fercockteh nurse played by what's-her-face."

"Loretta Swit and it's Hot Lips, Charley."

"So with the right clothes and white hair, you'd be a dead ringer."

"Yellow hair, Charley. Hot Lips is a blonde. And first I'd have to lose fifty or sixty pounds."

"I think you look fine."

"That's because you have to lose weight, too. Maybe we should join one of those groups, Overeaters Anonymous or Weight Winners."

"I tried Weight Winners. It didn't work. So I'm a dropout, so sue me." Charley patted his enormous belly. "More of me to love," he said, then reached behind his back for a cushioned barstool. "Here's an extra seat. Rest your tush next to the screen. Have a drink on me. Toasted Almonds? White Russian?"

"Holy cow, Charley, you have a memory like a sponge. White Russian, please." Ellie plopped her tush down on the stool and reached toward a bowl of pretzels. "Why didn't Weight Winners work?"

"Who wants to give up food just because it's fattening?" His eyes widened. "Mein Gott, the tables and chairs are pushed together. My waitresses have to schlep on air. S'cuse me, Ellie." Scooting out from behind the bar, he was immediately surrounded by several new arrivals.

Where on earth will he put them? Ellie sipped her White Russian while she studied the room. Frazzled cocktail waitresses wore black shorts and yellow halter tops. They looked like bumblebees swarming in a confused, zigzag pattern. Spilled drinks and popcorn made a slushy snowscape beneath Charley's utilitarian furniture.

An elbow dented Ellie's left shoulder.

"Sorr-eee." The young owner of the elbow smiled impishly. Her blonde wig had loosened and she was attempting to secure it with bobby pins. Her motion was off balance, her hazel eyes unfocused.

Ellie said, "Are you all right?"

"Sure, fine."

"Do you want to sit down?"

"Nope, thanks. My name's Ginny, but t'night I'm Hot Lips Hoo--Hool--Hool'gan." She belched triumphantly then held up a tall glass with five cherries swimming amid the rapidly melting ice cubes. "Rum punch. Had myself teensy bit lots to drink. Add cherry to each new glass so's I can keep count." Unbuttoning the top of her shirt, she added, "Warm in here. Hey, I'll confess next week. Catholic, y'know? Nice to meet'cha."

Ginny staggered a few steps away and bumped into a "soldier" with a mustache, who stopped the progress of her advance by caressing her breasts. She giggled and leaned forward, molding her body against his hands. "You like gin, mister? Let's trade. Order me a rum punch an' I'll let'cha drink Gin."

Embarrassed, Ellie swiveled her stool and glanced toward the nearest ceiling-mounted TV. Most of the time Charley's electronic screen screamed forth Denver Broncos football games, NBA play-offs, the World Series and CU football. Tonight's presentation was unusual but very shrewd.

As the M*A*S*H theme began, she saw Charley approach a man seated at a table close to the bar, heard Charley say, "I'm blocking the screen," and heard the man reply, "Not to worry. Nancy's taping it. Sit down."

"Ellie!" Charley shouted. "When you finish that drink, tell the fercockteh bartender to give you another Russian! Okay? Good. Rest your tush."

Charley's voice became a background drone as Ellie's gaze returned to the TV screen.

"Thanks, Mr. Trask," Charley said, sliding onto an empty seat. "My wife would thank you if she'd stuck around instead of flying the coop. My son at the MIT college-school would thank you if he knew how to talk instead of saying everything with a seesaw ruler."

"Slide rule, Charley."

"Slide, seesaw, swings, so the Dew Drop is a crowded playground because of you, Kenneth Trask." Charley peered through a haze of cigarette smoke at the man who had proposed tonight's party. Trask was costumed as Hawkeye Pierce. Except Trask didn't really look like Hawkeye. His hair was too tidy, combed into an Elvis pompadour, and his Hawaiian shirt and fatigue trousers had been pressed with a hot iron. "Tonight's profits," Charley said, "will pay my son's intuition."

"Tuition, Charley. I knew our Mash-Bash would be successful. And profitable. It proves that nobody wants the show to end."

It proves that people will use any excuse for a party, thought Charley. Ordering a seltzer from one of his waitresses, he watched customers parade along the bar's surface, hoping to win his advertised look-alike contest. Too bad pretty Ellie Bernstein didn't come as Hot Lips. Even overweight she'd be a dead ringer. But so was that skinny girl stumbling across the bar with her shirt open so that everybody, including God, could ogle. Charley knew the girl. She'd been at the Dew Drop before. Ginny-something. Her nickname was "Gin and Sin," the name of a drink made with one and a half ounces of gin, three-quarters of an ounce of orange juice, three quarters of an ounce of lemon juice and one half a teaspoon of grenadine. Usually he cut Ginny-something off early.

Charley was a bogus M*A*S*H fan. He had watched maybe a dozen shows during the eleven seasons. But he was familiar with the leading characters. Even if he wasn't, recent publicity about the finale had been plastered all over the newspapers. Meshuga!

The contest judges were local celebrities. One was a DJ from a popular radio station. The judges quickly eliminated several contestants, including a couple of men who returned to Kenneth Trask's table.

"Charley Aaronson, meet Fred Remming and Howie Silverman," said Trask, even though both men wore the name tags required for the contest. "Fred's pretending to be Radar and Howie thinks he's Klinger."

Radar was something the police used to trap you speeding, thought Charley, but what the hell was a Klinger? Someone who klung?

Fred/Radar was short and plump, with clipped poodle curls. One hand clutched a brown teddy-bear. Howie/Klinger sported a beard and wore a dress. Excusing himself, Howie/Klinger headed for the restrooms.

Bringing his attention back to the contest, Charley fingered the cash prize money in his trouser pocket while Trask pointed to a figure standing on top of the bar.

"That's my best friend, Sean McCarthy," Trask said. "Isn't he the spitting image of Father Mulcahy?"

Charley followed Trask's finger and squinted at silver hair--dyed or prematurely graying--partially covered by a straw hat. A cross on a chain rested against a black turtleneck, and two tiny crosses decorated the collar of Sean McCarthy's fatigue shirt. Even from a distance, Charley could see blue eyes twinkling behind wire-rimmed glasses.

Applause was deafening when Sean captured first place.

Trask's table was close enough to the bar so that Charley could hear Ginny-something mutter about "doing" one of the judges in vain. The fercockteh radio announcer maybe, thought Charley.

A "soldier" with a Wyatt Earp mustache comforted Ginny-something with a kiss so deep he almost swallowed her tonsils, and Charley shook his head. In his youth, couples kissed privately, under the table.

"S'cuse me," he said, rising from his seat.

While paying off the winners, he noticed a man dressed as a cowboy, complete with a toy sheriff's badge. Mr. Sheriff must have wandered into the lounge by mistake, thought Charley, admiring the Marshal Dillon hat. Now that was a fine TV show. Gunsmoke. Good clean fun. Schmucks died and they didn't bleed all over the place like the fercockteh Bonnie and Clyde.

"Having fun, Ellie?" Charley maneuvered his belly close to her stool.

"You bet. I don't know why I love this show so much. Maybe it's because M*A*S*H is funny, but it doesn't idealize war or poke fun at the bad guys like Hogan's Heroes does. Instead, it satirizes military hypocrisy and--" She shook her head. "Sorry, Charley. My husband says I have a tendency to soapbox, while my mother says I rationalize everything."

"That's okay, Ellie. Drink another Russian."

"Thanks, but I haven't finished this one."

On the mounted TV screen, the final episode of M*A*S*H continued. Inside the familiar operating room, doctors were talking about what they'd eat when they left the 4077 and returned home. Hawkeye wanted a piece of chocolate cake. Colonel Potter wanted fresh corn on the cob. B.J. sighed over a glass of ice-cold milk.

"I'd like some hot you-know-what," said a sly male voice.

Ellie heard and glanced down the bar at Ginny's partner. His mustache dripped with foam and his hand cupped a breast inside the girl's olive-drab shirt, but his gaze zeroed in on the fatigued vee between her thighs and there was no doubt what "some hot you-know-what" meant.

"Uh-oh." Dropping her glass and staggering backward, Ginny cradled her mouth with one palm and lurched toward the restrooms.

Ellie started to rise, but Charley shook his head.

"She's done this before," he said. "I'm gonna rip her off."

"Don't you mean cut her off?"

"Rip, cut, she's kaput." Catching the bartender's eye, Charley nodded toward Ginny and sliced the air in front of his throat with his first finger.

"I should follow, hold her head," Ellie said.

Charley shrugged. "Why get involved? I'll give Miss Hot Mouth some time to urp. Then I'll send one of my waitresses to feel her up."

"See how she's feeling," Ellie amended with a smile.

"Yeah, that. Meanwhile, Mr. Mustache over there can pay her bar tab. If he don't, he's kaput too."

Ellie sighed. "I feel like a square peg in a round hole, Charley. I really should go home."

He patted her red silk shoulder. "Stay, Ellie, the show's just started."

She watched Charley wend his way over to the man with the mustache. Even without words, she could follow their dialogue. Mr. Mustache made a "who, me?" finger-gesture. Charley thrust his hand out, palm up. Mustache raised a fist, aimed it at Charley then aimed it in the direction of the restrooms. Then, apparently, he had second thoughts and reached for his wallet. But he still looked furious as Charley pocketed the money for the bar tab.

When Charley returned to her stool, Ellie said, "I've really got to go. Thanks for the Russian."

* * * *

As Charley watched Ellie weave her way through the crowd, he filled a pitcher with draft beer. Then he carried it to the same table where he'd sat before.

Kenneth Trask smiled his thanks and turned toward Fred/Radar. "Did you write the letters, Freddy?"

"You bet. I ran off a hundred copies."

"I specifically told you no copies."

"Don't worry, Ken. I signed different names."

"You idiot! It has to sound as if a hundred people are bitching about the series ending. If you ran off copies, it doesn't matter if you signed different names."

"But Ken," Fred/Radar whined, "it cost me twenty bucks in postage."

Trask leaned forward in his chair and glowered.

Charley saw Fred/Radar's plump cheeks turn red, like giant maraschino cherries atop a strawberry daiquiri.

Then the man wearing a dress--Howie-something--returned to their table. He carried the limp form of Ginny-something. She nestled against the chest hair that escaped from between the buttons on his bodice. Hefting the girl a few inches toward the ceiling, he drawled, "Lookee what I found while I was takin' a whiz."

"Just because you're wearing a dress, you shouldn't go into the ladies'," Fred admonished.

"I didn't go into the ladies'. I found this sweet li'l thang near my urinal. She was ridin' the porcelain pony, on her knees, prayin' for some buckaroo to come along and brand her with his hot, sizzlin' iron. I cleaned her up and sprayed her mouth..." As Howie-something paused to brandish a pocket-size breath spray, Ginny-something klung like a Klinger--or maybe a koala bear would be a better comparison. "What'cha say, Freddy?" Howie asked. "Wanna' play cowboy?"

Charley watched Howie-something deposit Ginny-something in Fred/Radar's lap.

"How many letters did you write, Howie?" Trask asked, ignoring the shenanigans.

"None, Ken. The series wasn't canceled by CBS. The stars decided to end it themselves."

"I spent twenty bucks on postage," Fred whined, trying to ignore the girl who sprawled across his lap, her koala-bear arms dangling.

Twirling his strand of pearls, Howie-something leaned forward and nudged Ginny-something, whose brown hair was slicked back, her wig resting on her shoulders like a dead yellow cat "What's your name, sweetcakes?"

"M'name's Gin," she mumbled. "Lost m' punch. Order me 'nother, an' I'll let'cha drink Gin."

"Radar's gonna drive you home, sugar britches."

"No, no, can't go home. Lost my cherry."

"Jeeze, she's blotto." Howie snickered. "She should be worth more than twenty bucks postage, Freddy, if she doesn't pass out first."

Fred gulped his beer, his hand shaking so hard that drops from the mug spattered over Ginny-something's shirt.

"Ish raining," she slurred, grabbing Fred's teddy-bear and kissing its button nose. "I once had a Poop bear named Winnie. Winnie the Poop. Hey, did I winnie the look-like contest?"

"No, sweetcakes," Howie said, his voice oozing fake sympathy. "You lost."

"Bastard ... he promised ... oh my God! I promised to meet someone here tonight."

"Lucky someone, sweetcakes. What's his name?"

"Ant ... Ant ... oh, God, don't feel too good."

"What's Mr. Ant wearin', sugar buns? Maybe I can help you find him."

"Doc clothes ... or cowboy clothes ... I forget. Don't feel too good. Dizzy."

"Hey, come to think of it," Howie said, "I'm Mr. Ant."

"No, you're not. You're a liar. Liar, liar, pants on fire!"

Her indignation caused her to wriggle deeper into Fred's lap. "Got to visit the men's," he said, shifting Ginny so that she slumped in his chair. Teddy's ear invaded her mouth like a baby's pacifier.

Charley watched Fred/Radar twist through the crowd toward the back of the tavern as the man clothed as a priest--Sean McCarthy--hunkered down next to Trask.

"Thanks for the prize money, Charley. Drinks on me, boys," Sean croaked, his voice hoarse from the blessings he'd bestowed during his victorious march around the Dew Drop tables.

"How many letters did you write, Sean?" Kenneth Trask nodded toward Sean's name tag. "Or should we call you Father Mac?"

"Letters? Shoot, I forgot all about the letters. Errare humanum est. To err is human." Sean winked. "How many did you write, boy-o?"

"One hundred and seventy-five." Trask turned toward Fred. "They were all penned by hand, with names culled from the telephone book."

Sean said, "How the hell did you find the time to--"

"My wife took care of it."

"That wasn't fair," Sean said. "Nancy couldn't care less about the show. Ken's wife isn't a fan, Charley."

Good for her, Charley thought. One less crazy in this world.

"Nancy didn't mind." Trask gestured toward the girl huddled in Fred's chair. "Father Mac, I'd like you to meet Gin. Gin, Father Mac."

Sean bowed gravely.

Ginny-something's teeth had punctured the teddy's fur ruff and white stuffing drifted onto her shirt like huge dandelion puffs. "Father Mac?" Her fingers made the sign of the cross. "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned."

Sean leaned over and repeated her genuflection, his thumb lingering on each of her breasts. "Ego te absolvo. You are forgiven," he said in the last remnants of his Mulcahy mimic. "Errare humanum est."

"Hey, wait a minute." The teddy-bear became a fuzzy bra as she pressed it against her breasts. "You ain't no priest." Dropping the teddy, she adjusted her blonde wig and staggered to her feet. "Kiss my ass, Father," she said, then wobbled toward the man with the foamy mustache.

"If you kiss my ass," said Sean, waving his prize money, "I'll buy you a drink. I'll buy you a whole bottle."

Ginny raised her middle finger. The man with the mustache captured her hand and pulled her up against him.

"With that yella wig hidin' her brown hair," Howie drawled, "our Gin looks a lot like Hot Lips."

Trask whistled. "She sure does. She's a real beaut, Howie."

"Glad we didn't waste her on Fred."

"Where the hell is Fred? By the way, Howie, did you make a pass at our Gin in the can?"

"Me 'do' a lady in the men's? You've got to be kidding."

"Haven't you ever done it there before?"

"Not in Charley's tavern." Strumming an imaginary guitar, Howie sang, "Oh there's a tavern in the town, in the town, and there my true love laid me down, laid me down."

"Did you get laid in the men's?" Sean asked.

"Nope. If our Gin hadn't been so drunk--"

"A drunk's fun." Trask winked. "She'll do things she wouldn't dare try sober. Isn't that true, Charley?"

Charley shrugged then watched Sean McCarthy slide onto the chair where the girl had sat. Sean's booted foot kicked Fred/Radar's teddy-bear, and Charley thought the fercockteh bear looked like a corpse, with stuffing instead of blood escaping from its terminal wound.

On M*A*S*H there was lots of blood. On Gunsmoke Marshal Dillon drew from the hip, shot, and the bad guy fell. No blood. Marshall Dillon loved Miss Kitty, who had a heart of gold. She never got drunk or wandered into the men's room. You knew Miss Kitty wasn't a virgin, but she did it privately, under the table. Marshal Dillon must have used rubbers, or maybe he pulled out in time, because Miss Kitty didn't get pregnant, not like Charley's wife had the first time they'd done it. She'd lost that baby, but it was too late because they were already married. Come to think of it, Ginny-something was a dead ringer for Charley's goyish wife.

Ginny-something was pressing her hand against her mouth and lurching toward the ladies' again, and people were parting like the Red Sea. Charley even found himself looking around for that fercockteh NRA actor who'd played a goyish Moses.

Kenneth Trask stood and stretched. "Excuse me, gentlemen," he said. "Nature calls."

Charley watched Sean McCarthy bend forward, scoop up the teddy, and finger a cross across its severed ruff.

"Ego te absolvo, bear," he said.

* * * *

The Mash-Bash turned out to be the most successful night in the history of the Dew Drop Inn. An exhausted Charley Aaronson didn't even total receipts until the following morning.

While Charley counted profits, Ellie Bernstein sipped from a mug of coffee, munched her third Danish, and read the newspaper. She learned that the final M*A*S*H episode, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen," was viewed by approximately 125 million Americans. The show earned CBS a 60.3 rating and a 77 share, which meant that 77 percent of the people watching TV on March 7, 1983, were turned in to the show.

Am I a statistic? Do I count? Maybe, she thought, and maybe not. Because Tony had arrived home prior to the "Amen." Drunk and angry, he'd charged into the family room, turned off the TV, and insisted--no, demanded-- they make love. Maybe the new client wasn't so hot to trot, after all.

Tony had turned off M*A*S*H and played a John Wayne video, The Searchers, and without any foreplay whatsoever, he had ridden her until he climaxed.

Eyes blurred by discreet tears, Ellie groped for another Danish. She heard Tony making bathroom noises. Dollars to doughnuts he'd left the seat up. Soon he'd enter the kitchen. Hiding her blotchy face behind the raised newspaper, she tried to focus on a high school graduation photo directly above a column that reported a young woman's untimely death.

As she stared at the photo of the pretty brunette, she felt her eyes widen. Holy cow! This wasn't fiction. Chewing her pastry, she recalled their brief conversation:

Are you all right? Sure, fine. Tonight I'm Hot Lips Hoo--Hool--Hool' gan.

The woman, identified as Virginia Whitley, had been found in the Dew Drop's parking lot, victim of a hit-and-run accident. Although her face beneath a blonde wig remained unmarked, her body had been crushed. During the autopsy, the doctor had determined that Virginia's bloodstream contained .327 % alcohol, and she had recently had sexual intercourse. The article quoted a soldier from Fort Carson: "I wanted to drive Gin home, but she ran into the latrine and never came back."

Ellie heard Tony's footsteps stomp toward the kitchen. His feet sounded angry. I'm sorry, she thought, even though she didn't know what, exactly, she'd done wrong. She had to please him. Oh, God, she had to make him happy. She had a new baby, no job, no job skills. An American Lit major, she had quit college to marry Tony.

Tony said he liked a woman "with meat on her bones," but Ellie had a feeling he'd like her a lot better if she lost weight. Today was Tuesday. She'd start her diet, for sure, next Monday. That gave her five days--six if today counted--to eat everything she loved before giving it up, for good.

Maybe she should clean her closet until Tony's temper cooled. Behind a shoebox was her new gym bag, filled with Three Musketeers and some of the chocolate chip cookies she had baked yesterday. So she wouldn't starve.


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