Long Lost Page 35

When he did five minutes later I grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him into the coatroom. ’’Why are you following me?’’

He looked at me confused.

’’Is it my strong chin? My hypnotic blue eyes? My shapely ass? By the way, do these pants make me look fat? Tell me the truth.’’

The man stared for another second, maybe two, and then he did what I had done earlier: He just attacked.

He led with a palm strike toward my face. I blocked it. He spun and threw an elbow. Fast. Faster than I\'d anticipated. The blow landed on the left side of my chin. I turned my head to lesson the impact, but I could still feel my teeth rattle. He kept the attack going, throwing another blow, then a side kick, then a fist to the body. The body shot landed the hardest, on the bottom of the rib cage. It would hurt. If you ever watch boxing on TV, even casually, you will hear every announcer say the same things: Body shots accumulate. The opponent will feel them in the late rounds. That\'s true and it\'s not. Body shots also hurt right now. They make you cringe and lower your defenses.

I was in trouble.

Part of my brain started berating myself stupid to do this without a weapon or Win as backup. Most of my brain, however, had kicked into survival mode. Even the most seemingly innocent fight at a bar, a sporting event, whatever will make your adrenaline go haywire because your body knows what maybe your mind doesn\'t want to accept: This is about survival. You could very well die.

I fell to the ground and rolled away. The coatroom was small. This guy knew what he was doing. He stayed on me, trying to rain down foot stomps, chasing me. He landed a kick to my head;stars exploded like something out of a cartoon. I debated yelling for help, anything to get him to stop.

I rolled a second or so more, noticed his timing. I left my gut open, hoping he would go for it with a kick. He did. As he started to cock his knee, I reverse-rolled toward him, bent at the waist, got my hands ready. The kick landed in ye olde bread basket, but I was ready for it. I clamped his foot against my body with both hands and rolled hard. He had two choices. Fall quickly to the ground or have his ankle bone snap like a dried twig.

He knew to throw blows as he fell, but for the most part they were ineffective.

We were both on the ground. I was hurt and dazed, but I had two major advantages now. One, I still had his foot, though I could feel that grip loosening. Two, now that we were on the ground, well, size became important and I mean that in a clean way. I was holding his leg with both hands. He tried to punch his way through. I moved closer to him, ducking my head into his chest. When an opponent is throwing punches, most people think that they should give the guy some distance. But it\'s just the opposite. You put your face into his chest and smother his power. That was what I did here.

He tried to box my ears, but that required both hands, leaving him vulnerable. I lifted my head hard and fast and caught him under the chin. He reeled back. I fell on top of him.

Now the fight was about leverage and technique and size. I had him beat right now in two of the three leverage and size. I was still dizzy from the initial attack but the head butt had helped. I still had his leg. I gave it a vicious twist. He rolled with it and that was when he made the big mistake.

He turned his back to me, exposing it.

I let go and jumped on him, my legs snaking around his waist, my right arm around his neck. He knew what was coming. Panic made him start bucking. He dropped his chin to block my elbow. I whacked him in the back of the head with a palm strike. That weakened him just enough. I quickly gripped his forehead and tugged back. He tried to fight it, but I raised his chin just enough. My elbow sneaked underneath the opening and reached his throat. The choke hold was set.

I had him now. It was just a question of time.

And then I heard a noise, a voice actually, shouting in a foreign language. I debated letting go to see who it was, but I held on. That was my mistake. A second man had entered the room. He hit me in the back of the neck, probably with a knife hand, what you\'d call a classic karate chop. A numbness swept through me as if my entire body had just become my funny bone banged the wrong way. My grip loosened.

I heard the man shout again, in the same foreign language. It confused me. The first man slipped out of my grip, gasping for breath. He rolled away. There were two of them now. I looked at the second man. He pointed a gun at me.

I was finished.

’’Don\'t move,’’ the man said to me with a foreign accent.

My brain searched for an out, but I was too far away. The first man rose to his feet. He was still breathing hard. We looked at each other, our eyes met, and I saw something strange there. Not hatred. Respect maybe. I don\'t know.

I looked at the man with the gun again.

’’Don\'t move,’’ he said a second time. ’’And don\'t follow us.’’

Then they both ran away.

19

I stumbled to the elevator. I hoped that I could make it to my room without being seen, but the elevator stopped in the lobby. A family of six Americans looked at me, at my torn shirt and bleeding mouth and all the rest of it, and still got on and said, ’’Hi!’’ For the next few floors I heard the big sister picking on the brother and the mother begging them to stop and the father trying to ignore them and the other two siblings pinching each other when the parents weren\'t looking.

When I got to the room, Terese freaked out, but only briefly. She helped me in and called Win. Win arranged for a doctor. The doctor came quickly and declared nothing broken. I would be okay. My head hurt, probably from a concussion. I craved rest. The doctor gave me something and everything became a little fuzzy. The next thing I remember was sensing Win standing across the dark room. I opened one eye, then the other.

Win said, ’’You\'re an idiot.’’

’’No, I\'m fine, really, don\'t start with all the concern.’’

’’You should have waited for me.’’

’’Nobody likes a Monday morning quarterback.’’ I struggled to sit up. My body was somewhat willing;my head shrieked in protest. I grabbed my skull with both hands, trying to keep it from splitting open.

’’I think I learned something,’’ I said.

’’I\'m listening.’’

The curtains were still open. Darkness had fallen. I looked at my watch. It was ten PM now, and I remembered something. ’’The graveyard,’’ I said.

’’What about it?’’

’’Are they exhuming the body?’’

’’You still want to go?’’

I nodded and quickly got dressed. I didn\'t bother saying good-bye to Terese. We had discussed it earlier she saw no reason to be there. Win had a limo pick us up at the front entrance, pull into a private lot, and then we changed cars.


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