People watch too many fights on TV or the movies, and think they know what they’d do. It looks so natural, but it’s not. Adrenaline and fear are a potent mix, and sometimes they make you better, and sometimes they make you slow and vulnerable.
But unless someone is well-trained, the fear can take over. No one is the hero he thinks he’ll be. Even the well-trained know fear, but the difference is the training that kicks in.
As the women walked down the hall away from Ted, Rose was slightly ahead of Miriam, body erect and tense and thinking mostly of Miriam. All Ted saw at first was a black-clad figure jump from the side — they knew later that she had been waiting just inside the kitchen behind the door— and an arm appeared to punch Rose in the side and three bodies were a whirl of action. Miriam’s boot hit the woman’s shoulder, missing the arm. Rose folded sideways and slid down the wall. Miriam raised her weapon part way and the attacker flicked her with a knife. Miriam screamed a guttural war cry as her Glock went off, and the noise in the confined space nearly deafened him. The gun clattered to the floor.
Without a warning sound, the Labrador at Ted’s side launched himself down the hall more quickly than Ted had seen him move in years. His powerful body was stretched out at full speed almost at once, a menacing rumble in his chest. The black figure heard the sound and swung the knife toward it. Ted saw the a long, thin blade and it seemed to twinkle and flash as the woman backed into the kitchen, eyes darting between Miriam and the dog and the gun.
The attacker — he could see it was a woman, now — took a step on Miriam in a low crouch, like a sword fighter’s stance. Miriam held her wrist and leaned against the wall, the gun too far to go for, helpless. She felt the rush of fur and wind as Sampson roared past with murderous intent, his body brushing her aside.
Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. The drops of blood from Miriam’s wrist fell in long drips. Rose moaned and a pool of red blossomed on the side of her white blouse. For some reason, Ted noticed that she had on small diamond earrings.
No more than three seconds had passed in the normal world, but to him it felt like hours. Confusion.
With barely a sound other than claws and paws pounding on carpet and hardwood, and with hair upright along his entire back, the dog ate the long hallway in a second or two and launched himself at the throat of the black–clad attacker from three body’s length away, a hundred pounds of fury and teeth intent on killing. His charged knocked Miriam back into the wall and she hit her head hard and went down.
The assassin was quick, but he was faster and utterly without doubt. The woman had almost no time to move but out of instinct partially raised her knife at the last second.
Sampson was in the air and couldn’t turn. All he saw was her throat through a red haze of rage. The knife slid into his chest through his own momentum, and he knew it was the end. It pierced his great heart, but he crashed into her, already dying, teeth still snapping and seeking her throat. He killed groundhogs with those teeth with one shake of his powerful neck. He weighed almost more than she did, and his body’s momentum carried them both across the kitchen and into the oven. The woman struck her head and the breath was knocked out of her. Dazed, she still fought to get out from under him, with both arms and legs, and managed to scramble out, the knife still in Sampson’s chest
Miriam scrambled crablike to her gun. The assailant was dazed, she saw. But she was getting up. The trouble was Miriam was having trouble getting to her feet, too. The pain in her arm was searing, and she slipped in the blood on the tile floor.
All of this had happened in brief seconds. Ted felt oddly frozen. Then he grabbed the aluminum baseball bat and ran toward the kitchen with a roar, suddenly released from whatever had been holding him. The attacker was on one knee when she heard him screaming and saw him into the room, bat raised high. Quick as a cobra, and despite a feeing her head was splitting apart, she reached down and pulled the blade from Sampson’s chest and faced him. Her face was covered below the nose with a scarf. Her eyes still showed pain, but she raised the knife.
It did no good.
Ted’s baseball bat connected with a slender wrist and heard the sound of bone breaking. The knife clattered to the floor. A scream and string of harsh foreign words spewed from her lips, her eyes reddened with rage and flickered with pain and fear. But anger, too, and a kind of coldness that startled him.
She looked from Ted to the floor. The knife was too far to reach and her wounded arm hung useless at her side. The pain must have been enormous. But with only a second’s hesitation, she struggled to pull something from a pouch she wore around her waist with her other hand.
Ted swung the bat again, catching her on the side of her head. He tried not to hit hard enough to kill, just stun. He had no idea how hard that was, so he put a little extra into the swing. The bat connected with a wet thunk, like smacking a fist into a ball glove.
She sank to her knees, but somehow didn’t collapse all at once. She just stayed on her knees, head down. She was muttering angrily in some language Ted didn’t recognize, and seemed to be in some faraway place. Then she slumped sideways onto the floor like her strings had been cut. He just stared at her, dazed.
“Pashto,” Miriam said from close behind him. He turned and saw that she had her Glock in her left hand steady on Das, but still on the floor on her side. A steady stream of blood left a trail across the floor from her right arm.
“It’s lucky for her your Little League skills showed up when they did,” she said through clenched teeth.”I was just about to punch a hole in the back of her skull. Hold this,” she said as she struggled to her feet, walked to him and slapped the Glock into his hand. She stepped behind him and grabbed a dishtowel from the counter and wrapped it around her wound, lips pressed into a white line. “She’s Pakistani. I recognize the dialect. Probably from the tribal regions.”
Ted was still staring at the woman in black. He could not move. Miriam was already moving again, looking for something to secure the wrap and stop the bleeding.
“Duct tape!” she barked at Ted. “Where?” Again, not a question, but a command. She leaned close to him and said it again, right in his face. “WHERE?”
She had the training, he didn’t; she was used to the fog of war, he wasn’t, and the training kicked in and she took command. He pointed vaguely to a nearby utility drawer. She looked at him again, realized he was in shock.
“Better see to Rose, Ted.” Miriam said, more gently, and she pushed him in that direction. His mind was a swirl of shock, but he staggered over to Rose. Between them, though, was Sampson, a circle of red spreading around him. Sampson’s eyes flickered in panic, then looked off into the distance. He lay still, weakly thumping his tail once on the floor when Ted approached and knelt in the blood.
Ted put his hand on Sampson’s side, but realized his loyal friend was dying. Tears blurred his vision, and he wiped them away.
He heard a moan and took two long strides over to Rose. She was on her left side, legs moving slowly like she was running in slow motion, her right hand pressed to a spot that bloomed red on her side. Her eyes, those beautiful eyes, were open but darting around in fear and confusion. She looked at him and reached up for him. Blood trickled from the corner of her mouth, and a crimson pool surrounded her body. He ripped the front of her blouse open. There was blood welling more slowly now from a gash at the base of her ribs. Some part of him noted that it was not spurting out, which meant it wasn’t an artery. Thank God. Maybe it was not so bad. But she needed a doctor right away. He grabbed another towel from the counter and pressed it against her side.
“Rose, Rose, I’m here. Hold on. Don’t….” .
Miriam moved quickly once she’d tied a bandage made from a white dish towel — Ted had sure gotten domestic, she thought. Then scolded herself for the thought at a time like this.
Still. I mean….
He used to be a real slob. She felt a quick stab of jealousy when she realized who might have had that sort of affect on him.
Pushing that to the side, she took the roll of tape, pulled the foreign woman’s ankles out from under her and trussed her with three or four rounds of the tape around the ankles, just like a rodeo cowboy tying a calf’s legs together. Then another set of wrappings around the lower thighs.
The woman in black moaned. Miriam kicked her in the ribs.
“That’s for the dog,” she muttered.
She grabbed two wooden spoons from a drawer and fashioned simple splint on the broken wrist, secured them with with duct tape, then tied both arms behind the woman’s back with strips around the forearms and above the elbows. Then more around her whole body, making it extra tight. She kicked her again.
“And that’s for cutting me,” she said.
Breathing heavily from the exertion and the adrenalin, she stood staring down at the woman for a few moments, tucked her gun into her waistband and retied the bandage on her wound.
She glanced at Ted and saw that he was holding a towel to Rose’s side. She grabbed two clean ones from the drawer and rushed over to them.
“Let me see,” Miriam said, as she pulled the cloth away from the wound. She’d been in Iraq, and had seen plenty of wounds, playing medic more than once.
“Might have knicked her lung a bit, or liver, but she’s lucky,” she said after a quick examination. “The angle was more to the front, and the blade probably glanced off a rib and may not have hit anything big. If it missed her liver it’s a miracle, but it looks a lot better than it would have been. That bitch over there is a pro, but my kick must have ruined her aim. Still, there’s likely to be internal bleeding, and she’s in shock from all the blood she lost.”
“Lift her up,” she said, more gently this time. He did. Miriam replaced the soaked towel with two clean ones..” “Now, raise her arms and her blouse.” Rose clamped her lips shut at the sudden pain in her side, just moaned deep in her throat. She was pale and sweating.
“Atta girl,” Miriam said to her. “We’re going to fix you up. Hang in there. I’ll be quick.”
Using her teeth to find the end of the tape on the roll, Miriam held the makeshift bandages on with one hand and pulled and arm’s length of tape off with her tape and her free hand. Ted saw what she was doing and helped her secure an end of the tape against Rose’s bare skin on her back, and the two of them managed to quickly cinch the temporary pressure bandage with with two body-circling bands of tape. It was only five or six miles to the emergency room, but minutes counted.
Judging from the wound, it would be better to take her and not wait for an ambulance. Besides, this kitchen needed to be cleaned up, and they didn’t need EMT’s seeing any of it and asking questions. She was making plans, and by the time she tied off Rose’s wrapping and Ted had brought a blanket from a guest bedroom down the hall, she knew roughly what she would do.
Ted’s mind was in shock; none of this made sense. But he knew he had to get up, to do something, to get Rose to the hospital. He was grateful that Miriam was taking charge. The way she seemed to be able to function at a time like this amazed him, and he was becoming aware that there was a lot more to her than he knew.
He gently closed Rose’s blouse the best he could, knowing she would be embarrassed later at being so exposed and sat her up, pulling her away from the pool of her blood by her armpits. Supporting her with his knees, he got her arms into the coat and lifted her over to the table, glad he’d decided to get the big country kitchen size. A coffee cup and saucer from breakfast fell and shattered on the floor. He laid Rose down as carefully as he could and covered her with the blanket.
“You’ll be ok, love,” he whispered in her ear. “We’re going to the hospital.” She opened her eyes and smiled weakly and said. “Who the fuck hit me?….”, but then closed them again and seemed to drift away.
Suddenly remembering Sampson, he looked over near the stove and saw the dog was still alive. Rose was OK for a second.
Miriam was already kneeling beside the great body when he joined her. Frothy pink bubbles formed at Sampson’s mouth, and his breath bubbled and labored, but he looked up at Miriam with soft eyes, trusting her and thumped his tail once again on the floor. He even tried to get up, but she held him gently down with his other hand.
“Stay down, boy. You’ll be ok,” she said, trying to sound soothing. The floor around Sampson was covered with his blood, and she knew he would not be OK.
In a moment, Sampson’s eyes went still, and the great, courageous heart pumped the last time. Miriam knelt beside Ted and ran her hand down the dog’s flank one last time. He had probably saved her life. And he would do it again, she knew. And again. And again. Dogs were fearless.
She looked over at Ted and shook her head, once. It’s over, the look said.
He looked ashen and she saw his eyes fill with tears. She understood, but had to be the one to run things right now. There would be time to grieve later, if they were lucky.
“Keep her warm, and go,” Miriam said. “She’s lost a lot of blood and is in shock, but you’ve got to get her to the hospital.
Miriam had seen for herself what had been between Ted and Rose. She felt an ache that he no longer felt that for her. Well, she told herself, he may not know it, but he needs me right now. And she resolved to do what was necessary to help him through it. She also still had some major problems to resolve. Broad shoulders. I am woman, hear me roar, she thought wryly. Oh, what was one more set of problems?
She was suddenly more exhausted than ever in her life.
“Yes,” she said to herself, “you need me more than you know. What have I gotten you into?” Then she walled her feelings off in a secret place in her mind and turned to the matters at hand.
Ted just nodded, his face set. He carried Rose to her own car and Miriam heard the engine roaring out of the little lot, down the alley and onto the street, engine screaming.
“Still with us?” Miriam asked, tapping the woman’s forehead with the toe of her boot.
She heard words in Pashto that made her smile.
“Same to you,” she answered in the same language. “You are mine, now, and forever. Allah is not pleased with you. And I am not pleased with you. We will talk, you and I, and you will tell me everything, unto the time when your grandfather stole your grandmother from her village and raped her and made her his whore.”
The woman glared at Miriam with a crazed fury, and twisted frantically but helplessly against her bindings, but fear flickered there, too.
Miriam took a couple of steps and knelt down by Sampson and put her hand on his ribcage. The utter stillness of death was all she felt. But she whispered to him anyway.
“You were magnificent, Sampson. You did your job. You were the best. Rest now. I will remember you. ”
A tear fell down onto the reddish hair and she stroked his side.