By the time Emily got home from school Friday afternoon she had already planned out her weekend. She collected her gear: a change of clothes, a sleeping roll, a bottle, her hunting knife and a few utensils. Also a scope she had borrowed earlier from one of the guard posts. It must have belonged to a rifle at one time. This might come in handy. The weather was getting cooler, so she put on a jacket and headed out the back to the woods. Her father would be back Saturday or Sunday, and she wanted to have plenty of time to get dug in.
Naturally she headed straight for Promontory Rock. Well, not exactly straight. She took the most direct route she could imagine, while at the same time leaving no clues behind her, but as many false trails as she could think of. If it were possible to trace her steps from above, as a bird might see them, that is, if they were visible at all, they might seem to sketch out some sort of rune, or an arabesque. Was the pattern merely ornamental, or did it have some deep meaning? Or was it like a mehndi, with a ritual meaning as part of a wedding, or some sort of seasonal festival. She reveled in the path she was creating and concealing at the same time, using it to misdirect the gaze of her pursuer even as she set her heart on the promontory. Her father would not expect her to go there now that she knew he knew.
The rock projected from a cliff at least two hundred feet above the ravine below. A stream meandered among the maples and elms at the bottom. The trees gave way to smaller oaks and mountain mahogany further up until it finally thinned out to grass and a few shrubs around the rock itself. One large clump of shrubs several yards away from the precipice was dense enough to hide a small hollow within. There was just enough foliage to conceal her without the need for a lean-to or any other sort of covering. She could see out in three directions without much difficulty. The fourth direction was covered by a large rock and some thick brambles. No silent approach from there.
Of course, she couldn’t build a fire in there, but she had no intention of doing any such thing. She was prepared to shiver at night if she had to. A fire would give everything away. Fortunately, it proved to be a warm night.
She spent most of Friday just enjoying the view from the precipice. She could see most of the estate from there. The front gate with its guard shack, the main building, the south side of the garage. Rolling hills to the east, some small farm parcels just on the other side. The glow of a small town at the beginning of the evening. By midnight even that had gone dark. The town wasn’t big enough to have street lights. Or a shopping mall. To the west the Shenandoahs. Miles of wilderness, much wilder than the estate, much more beautiful
Cars and large SUV’s came and went much of the evening. There seemed to be something important happening at the main building. Perhaps it was another of Mr. Cardano’s parties. If that’s what it was, it must be a big one judging from the traffic. Yuki hadn’t said anything about it that afternoon, and the kitchen did not seem very busy. Maybe it was something less sociable. Emily was not curious. She was intent on spotting the moment her father pulled the family car up to the garage. She was determined not to let him take her by surprise.
The problem with Promontory Rock is that it’s a trap for its occupant. There’s only one safe path up to it. Anything else would require some serious free hand rock climbing. It took at least ten minutes to get down the path to the river bed. From there one could go in any number of directions. The advantage of the rock is that you can see for miles. It would be extremely difficult to approach it unnoticed. But that assumes that whoever is up there is watching carefully.
Emily kept her eyes moving—front gate, main building (bustling with activity), garage, and back again. She also watched the paths she had left. If someone was following her tracks she would be able to see them from up there.
The rifle scope had 12x magnification. That was enough to give pretty good detail over most of the estate. She couldn’t make out much about the people bustling about the main building, but she had a pretty good idea that there were a lot of them, and they were moving quickly. It was too far away for her to hear anything from there. Around three in the morning things seemed to die down. Just then she saw what looked like the family car pull around to the back of the garage. That had to be her father, home a little earlier than he said. That was just like him, trying to steal an advantage from her with a little disinformation. She watched closely for any sign of him. She would be able to see him heading across the lawn from the garage towards the woods. But there was nothing.
The moon was bright that night, and the estate buildings were easy to see. Sure, a stealthy figure could probably dart into the woods without her being able to see. But that wasn’t her father’s way. He wasn’t sneaky. He preferred to be direct. He would walk directly to wherever he thought she was. Flush her out, force her to break cover and run. Then she would have to trade a well-meditated hiding place for one chosen in the moment. He would let her see that he was coming, at least initially. Later, once he was in the woods, he might choose a path at least as ornamental as hers had been. A direct path would make no sense in there. Then he might pop up unexpectedly, just when you thought that he had to be someplace else. So she kept her eyes moving.
As she watched the estate from on high, she felt very much like a silent sentinel. She could see it all, though she could only hear what was right around her. Everything else was cloaked in silence. It gave her a feeling of calm confidence. Her gaze was powerful. She could see whatever would come, as long as she had the will to look. If she could see it, she could face it, whatever it was. And so she continued looking with all the intensity she could muster.
She was reminded of the boy. She didn’t particularly want to think about him just now. He didn’t matter. But somehow, his face came to the surface of her consciousness. He knew her from the dojo. He had seen her around school, thought she was cool. At least she seemed cooler than the other girls. He had approached her a few times, making idle, empty conversation. He was on the football team, tailback. He was fast and strong, though not as large as the biggest guys on the team. He was popular, not bad looking. There were lots of girls who would like him, who wanted him. When they saw his interest in her, they were angry. Who was she, after all? She was nobody. Just some weird girl with no friends.
A few of them approached her, tried to intimidate her. They made fun of her clothes, made rude insinuating remarks. One of them put a hand on her shoulder, meant to push her, maybe pull her hair. When she caught a glimpse into Emily’s eyes, she shrank back. They all saw that it was no use. They left her alone after that. He joined the dojo the next day.
He was stronger than most of the boys there, and fast. He could hit hard and his balance was good. It was very difficult to get him down. He picked up Shotokan quickly. It appealed to his aggressive instincts. He was pretty good in sparring. He usually beat the other boys. Sensei seemed to think he had potential. His name was Danny Rincon.
He asked her if she wanted to go to a concert at the local armory on the weekend. She had just finished him off in the ring. What an odd response to defeat. He was lying flat on his back on the mat. Just as she had expected to see that look of perplexity and embarrassment, he asked her out. This one was at least a little bit different from the others. But not that different. Sensei snorted. She said “okay” at least partly for the pleasure of surprising Sensei.
He picked her up that evening in an old pickup truck. The ride over was disconcerting. Neither of them knew what to say. A lot of irrelevant, semi-personal information came out of his mouth in nervous spasms. She was a lot harder to talk to than the other girls. Nothing seemed to impress her. He was afraid of the silence, didn’t want her to discover that she didn’t like him. So he filled up the space with conversation. He told her how he loved football (she seemed unimpressed), admired his coach (who?), wanted to go to college on a scholarship, but did not really want to study anything in particular. His parents were separated. He lived with his mom. She was an ER nurse at the local hospital. His dad came to all the games and yelled from the stands. He was afraid to talk about the dojo with her.
The music was loud and irritating. She liked to be able to listen to herself, and that was impossible here. But everyone was swaying together, moving with the beat. That was interesting. It felt almost as if she was connected to all these people, an experience of a primal synergy. They were all open to the same suggestion. It was almost communal. But, of course, they were all really alone. The music had brought them all together, but in the end it kept them all isolated.
They danced. It was almost possible to see something different in him; if only it weren’t so loud. In between songs they were jostled by some other kids. They tried to move to the side, to make way, but the crush was persistent. It was getting oppressively hot on the floor. Danny suggested that they step outside to cool off. He got a couple of ices from a vendor by the door and they headed out to the patio.
It was crowded out there, too. They made their way to a bench on the far side where they could be alone. A large guy with a short stubble on his face and a leather jacket asked her if she had any matches. She said “no” as she sized him up. He seemed too old for this music, but not exactly an adult. He didn’t quite fit in. Maybe he worked at the armory. His hands looked strong. His eyes were bright, but unsympathetic, as if he meant to be intrusive. As they sat down, the same guy called out to Danny to watch himself. Just then, three men jumped him from out of the shadows and began to work him over. As she turned to look, the guy in the jacket grabbed Emily from behind and tried to pull her around the corner to the loading dock. She saw Danny punch one of the men in the cheek and shove another back into the wall. But they were bigger than him, and they seemed to know how to handle themselves in a scrap. They had been hit before. They weren’t going to be fazed this time. Danny was in over his head.
Emily’s assailant was much larger than her, by at least six inches and seventy pounds. He held her in a bear hug from behind and tried to keep her feet off the ground as he carried her away. She wondered what he had prepared for her around the corner. His hands and arms were strong, much stronger than hers. She was oddly calm. As he took an uncertain step backwards she shifted her shoulders ever so slightly. He tried to adjust his balance, but in the process he let her touch the pavement. Just then, she pushed off the ground hard, and he reacted immediately to oppose her effort, to keep her down. He shifted his balance and leaned over her. She slid her fingers inside his right hand, grabbed across his palm and thumb, and twisted all the joints of his right arm out and away from his body. He found himself running as fast as he could face first into the side of the building. The pain in his arm was excruciating. Hitting the wall was almost preferable to trying to resist her.
He yowled in pain, his face bloodied, his nose bent grotesquely to one side. Enraged and not a little disoriented, he lunged at her. Strangely, she seemed not to resist. He had her in his grasp for an instant before he felt her hand behind his elbow, swinging him around. He crashed into one of the other men, heads colliding like pumpkins. They lay in a heap for a moment, stunned, blood oozing out of their faces, watching as she turned to the other two men. One of them seemed to know karate. He swung a roundhouse kick at her head. She leaned back and out of the way. As he pulled his foot back and down, she hooked his ankle with her left foot and pulled him towards her. Her behavior was uncanny. She hadn’t run away, or even retreated from him. As he fell forward, he spread his arms in a vain attempt to regain his balance. But she pulled his foot forward, forcing him into a perfect hurdler’s split. He felt his hip grind as he went down. The pain was almost unbearable. She punched him in the throat, sharply, as he fell. He gasped for breath. The thought occurred to her that she might have crushed his windpipe. “This isn’t the dojo,” she told herself.
The last man grabbed her pony tail from behind. He hoped to control her as he grabbed her with his other arm. He expected her to pull away, so he could yank her head back. To his surprise, she spun into him, wrapping her right arm over his elbow and under. She forced his elbow up at the same time as she forced his shoulder down. He could feel the enormous pressure on the back of his elbow. There did not seem to be any coherent way to move his body to extricate himself from her grip. Of course, this thought barely had time to register. He was not even able to struggle with her. She was so close to his chest that he could not even grab her. She drove the heel of her left palm under his chin with a quick, sharp blow. He felt his teeth crack through his tongue just as his elbow snapped. He crumpled to the ground in tears, his mind awhirl. What had just happened? He was unable to focus on anything outside of his own pain. Where was she?
She turned to the first two men, still feeling the rush of ferocity she had just unleashed. The one with the broken face, groggy but barely conscious, moved to pick himself up. Then he saw her eyes and shuddered. He felt a tingling numbness radiate from his head. He was sweating profusely and began to feel dizzy. She turned to Danny. They had worked him over a bit, but he was not seriously hurt. They hadn’t had much time, and had not hit him in the face. At least he would be spared a lot of questions at home. She helped him up and led him back to his truck. They left before the police got there.
On the way home, she reassured Danny about what happened. Just some thugs looking for trouble. No deeper meaning in it. He had been brave. Fortunately for him, he had not seen just how thoroughly she had rescued him. But she had other things to think about, things that were more important than massaging his ego. Who were those guys? And what did they want? Was it just a random attack, or had they been marking them all evening? Perhaps even longer?
These were troubling questions. But an even more troubling thought kept nudging its way into her consciousness. Had she reacted too fiercely? She was not concerned for those men. They had meant to do much worse to her. Exactly what they had in mind, she didn’t know. But she had felt the malevolence in them. They were completely devoid of any human sentiment towards her. But she wondered if she had overcommitted herself? She had felt the thrill of her own ferocity. Had she been able to control it? She had vanquished her assailants. But had she lost sight of herself in the process?
This was the first time she had ever been in a real fight. Not sparring. Not a schoolyard scuffle. Those men meant to harm her, perhaps even kill her. She had defeated them. Perhaps even killed one of them. Maimed another. This is what it means to be in a fight. If your opponent puts your life on the line, he can’t avoid putting his own life on the line, too. If she had ever harbored any doubts about her ability to defend herself, to keep her wits about her and to generate enough sheer aggression to prevail, those had been effectively dispelled. But was that enough? What had this victory really cost her? Was this the meaning of all of her training? Or was it a distortion, a distraction from more important truths?
She saw Danny in school the following Monday. He seemed embarrassed, uncomfortable. He didn’t know what to say to her. He had half expected to see a police report about it, maybe even have to answer some questions himself. But he heard nothing all weekend. He wondered if his mother had treated those guys at the ER. But the rest of the weekend had been uneventful. He was at a loss for words.
She told her father all about it that same night. His eyes were alight, but he seemed otherwise very self-controlled. He said little, listened carefully to her story. He asked if she noticed anything familiar or recognizable about those men. “They were trained,” she said. “They didn’t belong at the concert.”
“Did they seem like soldiers?”
“I don’t know, Dad. They were kinda like the security guards around here,” she replied. “You know, trained but indifferent. They didn’t care about us. They weren’t pissed at us or anything.”
“Was that kid any help to you?”
“Nah. Not really," she snorted. “He probably won’t remember much of what happened either."
“That figures," he growled.
“He did okay, Dad. He was outnumbered three to one,” she found herself saying in Danny’s defense, though she didn’t quite know why she cared.
“Fine. But now you know what you can expect from him,” he said as he stood up. “I’ve gotta talk this over with Mr. Cardano,” he said turning toward the door.
She was definitely not going to tell Yuki about any of this, and she hoped her father wouldn’t either. But that seemed unlikely. News like this just has a way of spreading throughout a household. She shuddered to think what Yuki would say. But, in the end, Yuki said nothing about it. Emily was sure she knew everything from the way she looked at her the next morning. There was a cold, dark fury in the back of her eyes. “At least she’s not pissed at me,” Emily thought, or rather hoped. But who was that fury reserved for? Dad? Mr. Cardano? Danny?
This all happened in early September, more than a month ago. Why was she thinking about it now? Danny eventually came back to the dojo. He recovered his composure around her. He talked to her again. He was relieved that she had said nothing about it to anyone. Nothing. He had expected to be the butt of every joke around school. But no one knew anything. He enjoyed watching her spar in class much more now. He didn’t mind going up against her anymore, even though he still always lost. Now he just tried to learn something from her. That was the only path he could see to regaining his sense of dignity.
Around five am, just as she noticed a slight glow in the eastern sky, she also sensed that something was wrong at the estate. She couldn’t put her finger on what exactly it was, but something was very wrong. She expected to see some movement, at least, at the guard posts. But there was nothing. She also noticed smoke coming out of the central chimney of the main house. There was no reason to have that fireplace going this early.
She half expected to spy her father making his way down the stream bed. But there was no sign of him either. If that had been him arriving in the family car a couple of hours ago, he would have found his way at least that far by now. Where was he? She felt very divided about what to do. Climbing down and scouting the estate buildings might bring her right into his hands, and then he would gloat over it for days. But something made her uncomfortable holding her position on the rock. She packed up her equipment and decided to climb down now, while there was still some darkness left to cover her movements.
Click for Ch. 5
Click for Ch. 5