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Ciao, bella! Tell Mr. Hottie Pants I said ‘hi’!” I heard him yell as I passed through the glass front doors, doing the fastest run in two-inch heels that I could.

Despite Dana’s best efforts at replacing my Ho Hos with dumbbells, I was out of breath by the time I jogged the block and a half back to my Jeep. Once inside I flipped on the AC and scanned down the list, trying to get up the nerve to whip out my cell phone and begin dialing. At the other end of one of these numbers was my dad. What would I say to him? Got your message, hope you’re not shot, why the hell did you leave before I could make any cool memories of us at the zoo together? I didn’t know. All I knew was that until I actually talked to him, visions of that dead-in-a-ditch thing were going to haunt me. I took a deep breath and punched in the first number.

I got an answering machine. In fact, at the first six numbers, I got machines, most of which I weeded out immediately. The first Larry Springer sounded about eighty and the next two machines featured a college kid and a man with a heavy Spanish accent.

I was halfway through the L. Springers when my stomach grumbled loudly enough to make me jump in my seat, reminding me I hadn’t eaten anything since my B &J’s binge last night. I revved up the Jeep and hit the McDonald’s drive thru on Beverly and Wilshire, ordering a Quarter Pounder, large fries and a strawberry milkshake. Then I threw in an apple pie for dessert. Hey, I figured this was my breakfast and lunch.

By the time I’d finished off the last of the greasy fries and my shake had melted into dribbles of watery ice milk at the bottom of my cup, I’d narrowed the list down to two possible Larrys. One number rang and rang, and the other was answered by the mechanical voice that came with the answering machine. Either of these could belong to my dad.

What I needed now was some way to match the numbers with addresses. If I had an address, I could call the Vegas police and let them do a casual drive-by to see if either of the houses were occupied by conspicuous dead bodies with gunshot wounds.

I looked down at my digital clock. 4:15. Dana’s Prenatal Pilates class should be ending soon and if I hit the 405 now, I might be able to catch her before she started her Pole Dancing for Seniors session.

After slogging through the pre- pre-rush hour traffic (Okay, fine, in L.A. the freeways always look like rush hour. But I, for one, choose to hold on to the hope that there does exist a small window of time in which I might actually be able to get from the Citadel to the Beverly Center in under an hour. Never mind that the window is between 3 and 5 A.M.), I pulled my Jeep into the parking lot of the Sunset Gym, a huge concrete and glass structure that housed an Olympic-sized swimming pool, seven racquetball courts, and its very own Starbucks. I declined the valet parking, figuring the thirty-second walk from my car to the gym could count as my exercise for the day.

Today the front counter was manned by none other than Dana’s latest ex-boyfriend, No Neck Guy. No Neck had been one of Dana’s many roommates at the Studio City duplex she shared with a handful of other actor slash personal trainers. They’d been hot and heavy for about two weeks before Dana caught No Neck hitting on one of the gym patrons. He claimed he was just measuring the size of her pecs, but even Dana didn’t buy that one. She gave him the dreaded don’t-call-me-I’ll-call-you and put an ad in the PennySaver for a new roomie. Currently residing in No Neck’s old bedroom at the Actor’s Duplex was Stick Figure Girl, who, rumor had it, had just landed a gig as Lindsey Lohan’s body double.

I fished my gym ID out from the deep recesses of my purse (shoved beneath a Snickers bar and an empty M &M’s wrapper) and gave No Neck a little wave before scanning the main floor for Dana. I finally found her in one of the group classrooms, leading a handful of pregnant women in cool-down stretches. I did a quick check to make sure I didn’t still have strawberry milkshake breath as the women waddled out and Dana jogged toward me, bottle of vitamin water in tow.

“Hey, what’s up?” she asked, taking a long sip. “You here for my pole dancing class?”

“Oh gee, I left my stripper clothes at home.”

Dana ignored my sarcasm. “Come on, it’s awesome on your glutes.”

“Maybe next time. I just ate.” Two hours ago.

Dana narrowed her eyes at me. “Are those French fry crumbs on your shirt?”

Self-consciously, I wiped at my top.

“Maddie, I thought we agreed you were going to take better care of your body. Do you know how bad French fries are for you? They’re like injecting fat right into your veins.”

I did a deep sigh. “I’ll come in tomorrow and do sit-up penance.”

“Promise?”

Reluctantly I nodded, feeling my stomach muscles clench around my Quarter Pounder in protest.

“So,” Dana said, sipping her water, “if you’re not here for pole dancing, what’s up?”

“I was wondering if you still have the number of that guy you dated at the phone company.”

“Verizon Ted? Yeah, sure. Why?”

I filled Dana in on my freaky phone message and subsequent calling quest as she downed the rest of her vitamin water, her eyes growing bigger as I talked.

“So you think he was shot?” she asked when I’d finished.

I bit my lip. “I don’t know.”

“I bet it was the Mob. Those Mob guys are all up in Vegas.” Dana bobbed her head up and down for emphasis.

“It wasn’t the Mob.”

“Rico told me the Mob uses forty-five-caliber Berettas for all their executions. Did it sound like a forty-five?”

Mental eye roll. “Look, I don’t even really know if he was shot. I just think…well, it might warrant a phone call to the police to check it out. Provided I can give them some idea of where to check.”

Dana shrugged. “Okay, sure. I’ll call Verizon Ted right after my pole dancing class and see if he can get us an address.”

“Thanks.” I handed Dana the numbers and she trotted off to the group of eighty-year-old stripper wannabes. I shuddered. Mostly because as they started dancing to the tune of “I’m Too Sexy,” I realized they were more limber than I was even after three margaritas. Depressing thought.

After seeing Dana I felt just a little guilty about my zillion-calorie lunch and decided to do better for dinner. I made a quick stop at the Magic Happy Time Noodle for a double order of moo shoo chicken (chicken was a lean meat, right?) with rice noodles (’cause who can get fat eating rice?) before heading back home to my studio.

As I followed the trail of red brake lights down the 405, I tried calling the two Larrys one more time for good measure. Same thing. Ringing at the first and that mechanical voice at number two. I thought about leaving a message, but I still didn’t quite know what to say. Instead I did a fast hang-up before the machine kicked in and hoped that Verizon Ted was in a good mood tonight.

I pulled up to my building, parking my Jeep on the street, and started up the steps to my studio, fragrant bags of Chinese food in hand. I was halfway up the stairs when the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up and I had the oddest sensation of being watched. I slowly turned around and scanned the street, my eyes immediately narrowing in on a blue Dodge Neon with a dented fender parked in front of the building next door. I couldn’t be sure it was the same one that had been tailgating Dana and me the day before, but since there were probably only two people in the entire L.A. basin who would be caught dead driving a blue Dodge Neon, I figured it was an odd coincidence.

I walked back down the stairs, casually strolling along the sidewalk toward the car. I was a couple of feet away when it suddenly roared to life, squealing away from the curb like some bad cop movie from the ’seventies. I only got the vaguest glimpse of the driver-just enough to tell it was a guy-before he disappeared down the street, taking the corner so fast his tail spun out behind him.

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