Brenda wondered all the next day what tricks Carole had up her sleeve. Really, it couldn't be something obvious, like a gun or mace or other weapon; Brenda had seen Carole in exercise clothes enough that there would be no place to conceal something like that. And, needing a demonstration . . . well, her curiosity was just going to have patience until Saturday morning.
By now, the Saturday mornings together had become routine; Carole usually dropped by Brenda's apartment dressed in exercise clothes on the way to the Fitness Center. It happened like normal – but this time, they headed the other way up the street, to the older section of downtown, with its century and more old two- and three-story brick buildings. Some of the mystery left Brenda as soon as they came to an otherwise unmarked doorway to a flight of stairs next to the front door of Spearfish Lake Appliance.
Brenda didn't know much about what actually happened above the otherwise nondescript appliance shop, but she'd heard comments that some of the people who hung out there were crazy, if not downright dangerous. She knew that Carrie's husband, Gil, was involved – Spearfish Lake Appliance was his store – and she'd met him, he seemed nice enough if a bit hard and curt. But she remembered Mike saying, the night of the Jason Bailey story, something to the effect of "even Gil would have trouble" handling that many attackers . . . food for thought.
As Brenda followed Carole up the stairs, she kept hearing sounds – dull thuds, yells, nothing that made sense. The first sight at the top of the stairs came that close to sending her back down them: there were two men there, both wearing white, having the fight of the century. She didn't recognize either of them – one's back was to her – but relaxed a little when she realized that both were wearing the formal gi of the martial artist – and both of them had black belts. The pace was furious; she could barely tell what was going on as they worked on each other. One apparently saw an opening, went in, and somehow, in a second, the other one of them was on the floor, while the one with his back turned was on top, his right hand flashing for the throat with a lethal blow . . . which stopped an inch short of connecting.
"Damn it, that was another of your trick wrestling moves," the guy on the bottom grunted. "We gotta break you of that someday."
"And that left cross you threw wasn't going to get you any style points, either," she could hear the guy on top laugh as he started to get up.
"Oh, hi, Carole," the guy on the bottom said, just noticing their presence. "We were just warming up a little."
"Hi, guys," she replied. "I didn't want to interrupt you. Thanks for coming over on Saturday."
"No problem," the other guy said, turning toward them. As surprised as she was to see this scene, Brenda was even more surprised to see that he was Randy Clark, Sally's daughter Nicole's boyfriend – the guy who had unknowingly inspired her to start her exercise program! Wow, and he's a black belt, too! "I wasn't doing anything, anyway," he continued.
"I figured you'd want to be with one of your girlfriends," Carole smirked.
"Fat chance," Randy snorted. "Nicole's studying for midterms, Myleigh's in Ithaca, and Crystal was last heard from in Skagway, Alaska, getting set to hike the Klondike Trail over Chilkoot Pass. That was a month ago, and she's God knows where now."
"You know Brenda Hodunk, don't you?" Carole asked.
"Yeah, sure," Randy grinned. He wasn't a big guy, just about Brenda's size in fact, good looking, with dark hair, a slightly dark skin, a neatly trimmed Van Dyke, but hard in a way that she hadn't noticed at the dinner at the Szczerowskis – no wonder he had to fight women off! Well, it looked like he was prepared to do it if he had to. "They keeping you busy?"
"Yeah," Brenda grinned, trying to suppress the feelings of awe.
The other man stepped up, with a big grin. "Rod Turpin," he said, sticking out his hand. He wasn't a lot larger than Randy, but was in his forties, at a guess – and even more hard and muscled, although with an infectious pixieness in his smile. "Welcome to the House of Mayhem."
Brenda looked around – the room was essentially empty, except for a few mats on the floor. "Yeah, I've heard a little about this place," she smiled.
"Probably none of it true," Rod grinned. "We haven't eaten a baby up here in over a year. You ready to get your butt kicked, Carole?"
"If you can," she smiled. "I brought Brenda along to show her my defensive moves. I already told her to keep quiet about it."
"Good," Rod said, and turned to Brenda, with a no-nonsense look in his eye and a hard edge to his voice. "But, whatever she said, I'll underline it. We've taught Carole a few tricks, some of which we had to work out ourselves. However good they look, with those handcuffs she's still compromised her first line of defense. There are counters to those moves, and we do have to remind her of it, but she's still got an edge if some bozo on the street doesn't know about them."
"I told her I won't tell," Brenda said. "I just want to see this, and I don't think I want you guys pissed at me."
"Good thinking," Rod said. "I think you understand. Carole, you want to warm up with some easy outside stuff, right?"
"Yeah, it's been a few weeks," Carole said.
"You should get up here more often," Rod grumped, bending over to pick up a football helmet with a full-face guard. He started to buckle it on, as he and Carole walked out to the middle of the room.
As they did, Brenda leaned up against the bare brick wall, and Randy came over to stand beside her. "Why the helmet?" Brenda asked him quietly.
"Carole's not really a martial arts person," Randy said, just as quietly, not taking his eyes off the two. "She could be pretty good if she ever decided to take off those damn handcuffs, but well . . . You saw how I pulled that last move with Rod? He and Gil never bothered to teach her how to pull her punches."
"OK, simple one, just to get going," Rod said. "Ready?"
"Ready," Carole smiled.
Without warning, Rod ducked and dived for her waist, arms out. Brenda watched with mouth agape as Carole put her hands together in a double fist to one side down near her waist, and swung high toward Rod's head. There was a loud WHACK! as the Soliels hit the side of the football helmet with a blow that would have stunned a horse.
Carole was carrying a weapon in plain sight, after all – the Soliels.
"Not bad for a simple one," Rod said. "Let's try that again, just for practice."
"Wow," Brenda said to Randy in a low voice. "I never thought about that."
"That's the reason we want to keep it a secret," Randy grinned. "Most people equate handcuffed with helpless. Cops know better. They're usually pretty careful with people in handcuffs. If they've got someone they think is at all dangerous, they'll cuff their hands behind, or use a belly chain, or both. But then," he said, watching the two get set for the next move, "Most handcuffs don't come equipped with steel blackjacks on the outside, either."
As Rod threw several more attacks at Carole – each one obviously a little harder to defend against – Randy explained a little bit more. "You've heard of brass knuckles, right? When Carole first came to Harry with the idea of wearing cuffs for her so-called 'research project', he got together with some of the regulars around here. I wasn't involved then, but I'm told they had a good time putting on handcuffs and working out moves. They developed a defensive series we call 'steel wrists'. They boiled them all down to Gil moves, and taught her how to use them."
Randy let out a sigh. "There are four regulars up here. Well, I guess I'm one now, too, that makes five. Each of us has a different background, and we enjoy teaching each other our own moves. It's fun, it's exercise, and sometimes we sit around and talk philosophy as much as we work out. Me, I'm not really in the class with the other guys, I only wrestled at state level in high school. I only got the karate black belt last winter. Rod's a boxer at heart, well, really a bar brawler, but he did box Golden Gloves . . . " WHACK! ". . . pretty good, too. Blake, he's Gil's sorta son-in-law, is real strong at traditional eastern martial arts. Harry Novato . . ."
"The police chief?"
"Yeah, well, he's a cop. Cops are out to subdue their opponents to neutralize and capture them, not destroy them, and Harry's been breaking up bar brawls since General Motors was a second lieutenant. Gil is special. He taught unarmed combat to Green Berets for a dozen years. Green Berets aren't exactly out to subdue their opponents when they neutralize them, if you get my drift."
"You mean . . ."
"Neutralize the opponent so they can't screw up your mission. Or any other one."
"Holy Christ, I don't think I want to meet up with any of you guys even in a light alley."
"Not a good idea, if you've got evil intent." Randy grinned. "The last two guys who tried me on for size are doing five to seven in the Tennessee state pen. I wasn't trying to get a 'k', just neutralize them, but not exactly Harry moves, either."
Good God! While Randy was handsome and strong, he wasn't exactly a bull moose like Gil or Chief Novato. "How'd that happen?" she asked curiously.
"Oh, these two drunked-up bozos came after Crystal with knives. Gerber River Shorties, piss-ant little knives. They didn't see me as a threat, so I got the one on my side easy, and turned to help Crystal, but she didn't need any either. She's a black belt, too."
Interesting women you've got sniffing around you, Randy, Brenda thought. She remembered Carole telling her about Myleigh, who was pretty awesome in her own . . . WHACK! . . . way. Nicole must be pretty special too, although I don't know what it is. In any case, Mr. Randy Clark, you're way the hell out of my league . . .
"OK, Carole," Rod said. "That's enough of coming in real dumb. Let's try something a little more complicated, something uncanned. Let me come at you from the back."
This was harder – Carole had to get in a position to be able to swing her "steel wrists" at Rod's helmet, and sometimes it took some twisting and wiggling, but Carole was able to score another couple shots to the head. Jeez, Brenda thought, who would have thunk it . . .
Carole turned her back again, to get set for another attack. This one was different. While her back was turned, Rod slipped off his black belt, took an end in both hands, approached her from behind, and threw it around her. While she was twisting to try to get in an attack, her hands neutralized now, Rod was trying to tie the belt . . . but Carole got off a hard knee to his groin. It had to hurt . . . she got her arms free, the knot wasn't real good . . . WHACK!
"Not bad," Rod said, seemingly unhurt by the kick to the nuts he'd just had. Did he have steel balls, or what? "Let's try another one."
It was as if Randy read Brenda's mind. "We don't always wear cups when it's just ourselves, but with Carole, always. Like I said, she fights dirty. Gil moves."
Carole didn't do quite as well in the next few series of moves. She did manage to score on Rod three out of five, but twice, she wound up in positions that were fairly helpless, although she struggled against them until Rod let her up. "Usually we come in at her pretty dumb," Randy explained. "If someone comes after her, they're probably not going to recognize the defensive power she has. But once in a while we work up a sweat on her just as a reminder that she's not invulnerable. Everybody's vulnerable. My skills, Rod's, everybody's all together, are totally useless against a hood with a .357 twenty feet away." He furrowed his brow. "Well, maybe not entirely. Blake with his ninja skills and a throwing star might have a shot. I need to think about that one."
Finally, Rod stepped back. "OK, I think it's time to let Randy have a shot at you. Let's take a break."
"Thanks, Rod," Carole smiled. Her normally neat hair was mussed, and she'd been working out a bit. "I could use a break, too."
Rod pulled off his helmet, and Randy picked up a canvas and metal . . . something . . . that Brenda couldn't identify. "You want to help me with this, Rod?" he asked.
"Yeah, sure," Rod said as Carole came over to lean against the wall beside Brenda.
"Carole, are you ever going to stop surprising me?" Brenda said. "That was pretty impressive."
"It's not as easy as it looks," Carole told her. "The simple stuff is well, simple, but these guys . . . their idea of fun is to think of some problem and figure out ways to crack it. We spent a lot of time together, figuring out ways to attack me, and how I could defend against them. You want surreal, you have to be part of a discussion with a bunch of martial arts freaks on the best way to rape you."
"Look, I don't know how I could ever defend myself against these guys if they ever decided to really let go on me. They know my tricks, hell, they dreamed them up and taught them to me. But the average clown who's looking for an easy target probably isn't going to have those kinds of skills, and if they do, they're not going to know what I've got to show them. It does improve the odds, that's all."
"Rod got you down a couple times, where you couldn't use your wrists on him," Brenda frowned. "What do you do when that happens?"
"That's what we're working on next," Carole grinned.
Brenda glanced over at Randy and Rod. Whatever that thing was, they were fastening it around Randy's neck. It looked sort of like a piece of armor, but armor for the neck. It went well up on his chin, and down on his shoulders. Once they got it in place, Randy put on another football helmet. "Carole, you ready to get up close and personal?" Randy said.
"Any time you're ready," Carole said with a grin.
"I want to remind both of you to not overdo it," Rod said as he leaned up against the wall next to Brenda. "This is just as dangerous as ever."
"Dangerous? For you guys?"
"Yeah," Rod frowned. "Even with that neck protector, she could kill him with that goddamn chain. Or, he could wind up like her sister."
"Let's start with something easy," Randy said, walking up close to Carole, within a few inches. Brenda could see that it would be hard to hit him in the helmet from that distance. All of a sudden, Randy grabbed her, hard, around the waist. Carole's arms went up, around behind Randy's head, and snapped downward, to face her knee coming upward. There was no WHACK! this time, but a muffled thump – but without the helmet and neck protector, Randy would obviously be hurting.
"Good one," Randy said. "Let's try it a little less dumb."
"I see what you mean," Brenda said softly to Rod.
"It gets worse. Lots worse," Rod grinned. "You ever see The Godfather?"
"Where the guy gets garroted, right?"
"You got it, kid. Randy told you how each of us have our specialties?"
"Yeah, including the Green Beret stuff."
"Randy's a wrestler," Rod said. "That makes him our close-in specialist. All the moves I made with Carole were with the intent of getting too close to her to let her use her steel wrists like she was using them on me. God, that hurts."
"Even with the helmet?"
"You wear a helmet and get whacked in the head a couple dozen times like that and see if the noise doesn't give you a headache."
This time, Carole's initial defense didn't work too well – Randy came in higher, and faster, so she couldn't get her wrists up in time to get them over his head. Instead, he got a knee to the groin – that broke the hold, gave her some room; now her hands flashed up, going for his neck. "A little rough, Carole," Randy said, stepping back.
"Yeah, I see. Let's try that one again."
"That's not as easy for Randy as it looks," Rod said. "The helmet and especially the neck guard limit his mobility a lot, but we're not about to try some of these moves without them."
They did variations of that style of move several times, then they changed to Randy's hands being around her from in front, or in back. This was clearly wrestling, now.
"One of the things that we didn't really fully realize until Randy joined us is the disadvantage that the handcuffs put on a wrestling type attack," Rod explained. "A lot of the good close-in wrestling moves involve getting your opponents hands behind the back. With Carole, it can't be done."
"Randy seems pretty good," Brenda commented, more seeking something to say.
"He was a damn good high school wrestler, and he could have been better if he'd had a coach who taught him what the hell he was supposed to be doing instead of holds," Rod explained. "Back when he was in high school, Randy was trying to figure out process on his own, and he got a pretty good start, but he let it go when he went to college. Then, he came to us, and we helped him a lot. If he wanted to compete, he probably could be AAU class, now. But, the point is he was basically a wrestler, still is, at heart, and still isn't a very good boxer, for instance. Not in my league. But I'm not in his league as a wrestler, so it evens out."
The final move was spectacular, and Brenda could see that Rod was worried as Carole and Randy worked up to it. It was an attack from behind; he snuck up and grabbed at her breasts. She reached back over her head, got him by the back of the neck with the handcuff chain, and bent over rapidly. Randy went flying over her back, hit the mat with a "thud" and wound up with the chain of the Soliels around the front of the neck guard. Yeah, no shit, that could be dangerous, Brenda thought.
"All right, you guys, that was getting pretty cute," Brenda heard a voice say. She looked up to see Gil walking in the door. "Good Blake move, Carole."
"She's a little rusty, Gil," Randy said as he stood up, amazingly unhurt. "But she's doing OK. You want to work with her some?"
"Not right now, I gotta keep an ear on downstairs," he said. "I got a kid watching the place, but he doesn't know enough if someone comes in. I'd have been up earlier, but I had to deal with a balky washer pump. You learning anything, Brenda?"
"Lots," she said. "It's pretty awesome. Carole, you were dead right. I'm more vulnerable to attack than you are."
"Told you so," Carole said.
"Yes, and no," Gil said. "Carole is a more inviting target for an attack because of the handcuffs, but if the noise I've been hearing downstairs tells me anything, she's a deceptive target."
"That's pretty obvious," Brenda said.
"The important part is that defense isn't skills, but attitude," Gil said. "The skills are relatively easy, they just take practice. The attitude – that's a different story. Look, I know the guys here use the term, 'Gil moves' for the stuff I teach. I don't like that term. I prefer Sun Tzu's term: death ground."
"You get in a situation where the only choice is to fight or die, you damn well better know how to fight and make it count," Gil said seriously.
"I don't quite follow," Brenda said. She knew Gil was serious – as serious as a man who had spent years teaching Green Berets to kill with their bare hands could be.
"Let's do a little demonstration, if you're up for it. Get out there in the middle of the floor, turn your back, and Randy will attack you. It won't get out of hand, don't worry. Randy, you know the move I want."
A little dubiously, Brenda walked out to the middle of the floor, turned her back, hands dangling at her sides, and waited. Behind her, she could hear Rod strike up a conversation with Carole about some of the moves they'd done earlier. She wondered what the hell was going on . . . all of a sudden, she felt her wrists being grabbed, her arms bent behind her. She bent over, trying to take some of the pressure off . . . it fucking hurt. "I give," she pleaded.
The pressure on her arms didn't increase, but Randy didn't let off of the double hammerlock, either. "Consider yourself raped," he said gently.
"You know the mistake you made?" Gil said, as she stood there painfully bent over.
"What?" she grimaced.
"You gave up."
"But how the hell am I supposed to do anything?" she asked.
"Let her go, Randy," Gil said. "There's lots you can do. Randy, let Rod get you like that and show her a couple moves."
Randy let go the hold, and Brenda stood up, arms aching. It still hurt. Shaking her head, she walked back over to the side and watched Randy fold his arms up behind his back like she'd been, while Rod took hold. Though bent over at least as far as she'd been, he flashed a foot out at one of Rod's . . . and Rod went tumbling. In a flash, Randy was free and on the attack, although just enough to show that he was.
"Another one," Gil said. From the same position, Randy made a totally different move with his foot – and in a second, was free again.
"Good enough," Gil said. "That's probably cheating, since those are wrestling moves, Randy's strong point, but you get the picture. Once Randy got free, he had options, but he had options when he was tied up, too. There are almost always options. Brenda, the point is simple: don't give up, even if you've already been raped. Especially in terms of a rapist, don't give up, even if it's over with – he may be planning to kill you afterwards, and if you gave up, then where would you be? Just as dead. Even if the bozo has a knife or a weapon. Look, there are people who say, 'relax and enjoy it', and they're dead wrong. In general, rapists are bullies, and you know what bullies are like – they don't fight unless they think the odds are on their side. Any kind of a defense will drive off a lot of those bozos. Now, there are situations where the general rules don't apply, but any kind of defense will almost always improve the odds."
"I see your point," Brenda said. Damn, even Mithrian would have been disappointed with her for giving up that easily. "But how do I learn this stuff?"
Gil smiled. "Brenda, you have to understand, we're not a school, and we're not a club. We're just a bunch of people who get together and work out on this stuff for a hobby. But, occasionally we run someone through our own little bootleg women's self defense course. Takes a few hours, and we work on both attitude and skills. We did that last summer with Myleigh, one of Randy's many girl friends. Shy little thing, smart as a whip, but not very physical, and in some potentially dangerous situations once in a while. We got her through the basic course, and started in on the regular martial arts. She'd be pretty good if she ever got around to working at it. My daughter Jennifer isn't bad. You could do it too, if you wanted and you took to it."
"Yeah," Gil smiled.
"Take him up on it," Carole counseled. "This is sort of by invitation only, they don't offer it to just anyone."
"I sure will," Brenda smiled. "But, just curious, why are you offering?"
"That's sorta complicated," Gil smiled. "Partly it's a returning a favor you did for a friend of ours."
"No," Gil smiled. "Harold Hekkinan. He hadn't realized the situation was that bad at the school. You brought him up short without running a red-hot poker up his ass, so he could work on dealing with it. You could have got him in a shitload of trouble over that, but instead, you caused just enough to get his attention. But, that's not really the point. You remember that kid, Jason Bailey?"
"Yeah," Brenda admitted. "I never actually met him, but talked to him on the phone once. Hekkinan said he was going to tutor for him so he could keep up with his class."
"He is," Gil smiled. "He said he got the kid in trouble, he owes him. Well, they were talking a while back, and Jason told Harold that with those other bozos kicked out of school, he was scared to go outside." Brenda began to see what was coming, and grinned as Gil continued. "I gotta give Harold credit," Gil laughed. "He gave the kid a lecture on how he doesn't condone fighting in school, then told him, 'That much said, I want to introduce you to some friends of mine'."
"You guys, huh?"
"Who else?" Gil grinned. "When he gets back to school, well, the pieces of the next guy who hassles him are collectively gonna wish they hadn't."
"Perfect," Brenda said with a big smile. "Thanks."
"It's not quite that easy," Gil said. "He's a little shrimp, smaller than Randy even. Frankly, we all intimidate him a little, and it's causing him problems. He needs another beginner around, someone he can trust a little. Maybe, like, someone who's gone to bat for him."
"Who else? Kills two birds with one stone in my book, and I do that whenever I can."
"Gil," she smiled. "You got a deal. When do we start?"
"Start right now, if you like."