Fitting the bones together was proving more difficult than he had thought it would be. His hands, made strong by years of practice, worked his grandfather’s basalt adze, the knife’s razor edge shaping the smooth ivory surface.
These bones, he thought, only a month ago they had moved surrounded by warm blood and muscle. They had held up a crown of shining white blonde hair, long, flirty arms, tanned flesh.
“Weak flesh,” he muttered, flicking a hardened piece of skin away with his knife. Strong flesh was island flesh. He grunted, looking out over the ocean of tall green sugar cane stalks, swaying in the humid afternoon breeze. His blood was strength. Their blood, their flesh…..
He touched his tattoos, pressing hard.
Trickles of sweat ran down his muscular sun browned back. It was a good day.
He focused back on his work. He would need more bones soon.
Delilah wiped away trickles of sweat from the bottom of her heart shaped face with the back of one boxing glove. Concentrating on the swinging heavy bag in front of her, she tried to clear her head of the past few weeks, but the rhythm she usually fell into with punching and kicking combinations just wasn’t there tonight. And someone was tapping her on the shoulder.
“Done in a second,” she announced to the tapper without turning her head. The 24 hour gym chain that she had been forced to join when she had fled her old fighting academy was the only one that allowed their members to use the punching bag without a trainer present. And for that reason she was being constantly interrupted.
“Hey,” the Tapper said from much too close behind her, “Aren’t you Delilah Gray?”
Delilah turned to face a six foot three bleached white blond mammoth of a man, bronzed muscles sculpted into athletic wear catalogue perfection.
“I think you have the wrong person,” She returned, giving him what she hoped was a congenial smile, “I just need two more rounds and the bags is all yours okay?”
“No, you’re her,” the Tapper continued before she could turn back to her workout. Leering, he leaned in at what was a definitely too close angle, “I saw you fight. You kicked some serious ass!”
At 5’6” and 125, she was hardly physically intimidating to a man his size, but if he recognized her as a fighter and in his own words, one that was capable of kicking some ‘serious ass,’ why was he getting in her face? She could smell his cologne.
Delilah wanted to come back to this gym, so putting the Tapper into a coma wasn’t an option. Delilah neatly side stepped him. Grabbing her gym bag from the floor on the way past and stepping off the mats, she shoved her feet into backless runners.
“Yeah, I know you!” He called after her, “what happened? You fall off or something? Why would you be in a place like this anyway?”
Delilah shrugged off his voice as she made her way towards the exit past rows of ladies in booty shorts struggling up flights of nonexistent stairs. Using her teeth to unfasten well-worn boxing gloves, she shoved them into her bag and fishing for her keys, nudged open one way glass doors into the cold New York night.
The freezing air hit her sweat drenched shirt but she didn’t bother to pull the layers of warm jackets that she had worn to the gym from her bag. She would be at her car soon enough.
Something moved too quickly behind a row of cars to the left. Spotting her maroon Chevy Caprice, she broke into a defensive jog across the barren parking lot. The shadow swam unevenly, matching her stride rows back. Delilah sped up, the ice crystals forming on top of smooth asphalt, making her steps sound gritty.
Delilah reached her car, turning to grab for the door handle as her bag swung heavily against the crook of her arm in the other direction. Pulled off balance, Delilah’s thin slip ons skidded across the cement, sending her face first toward the ground. She threw her forearm out in midair before crashing down, half of her face grinding against cold cement, the other half cushioned by her hastily flung out arm.
“You’re clumsy when you’re scared…” the silky voice echoed in her head.
Almost before she was down, she was back up. Tasting blood and shreds of flesh inside her mouth but thankfully no teeth, Delilah shoved the key in, twisting an already sore wrist and jumped into the car to lock the door behind her.
Dead silence. Her ragged breath coming from between half mangled lips, she scanned the parking lot. It could have been Rand, back for a little more revenge, or maybe the Tapper didn’t like to be ignored. Or it could be infinitely worse. Delilah sat, listening to her breathing slow and found herself alone. Or it could have been nothing.
Starting the car, Delilah turned on the heater, waiting for the warm air to eat enough of a hole through the frost on her windshield to get moving. She would assess the damage that was her face later. Right now she just needed a hot shower.
Stepping onto the cold slate floor of her bathroom fresh from the shower, Delilah leaned over the sink, wringing excess water from her long black hair. Clearing a section of mirror with her hand, she affirmed what the sting of hot water had told her in the shower; that the left side of her mouth, cheekbone and eyebrow were scraped and swollen. Her elbow only had a light abrasion.
“I should have gotten that in the ring,” Delilah murmured, wincing as she smeared fragrant green muscle balm on her scrapes. The stuff stung like hell and you had to buy it in Thailand, yet worked better than any remedy she had ever tried. Rand had a case of it in his office.
Delilah took one last look in the mirror and reached for her bathrobe. Food, bed. It had been too long a day already and tomorrow she would have to go looking for a new spot to hit a heavy bag all over again.
Turning up the burner on her hunter green stove, she threw leftover brown rice from last night, garlic, sesame seed oil, a ton of veggies and half a pack of chopped tofu into a skillet. It was a quiet night. Her neighborhood was rarely noisy though. She rented a garage converted into a small guest house set back from the road behind a large mansion in an expensive zip code.
She paid cash, utilities were included and she had a mailbox at a private family owned copy & print store. It was pretty much as off the grid as she could get in a city. The guest house, though tiny, had every amenity imaginable. It came furnished, they even provided the Wi-Fi that Delilah’s laptop was using to check her email while heating her improvised dinner. Delilah stopped stirring. There was an email from the Hanai Fighting Academy in Hawaii. Ignoring the food, she opened the email. In response to her application eight months ago, they were willing to accept her as a student. Delilah stepped back from the computer, squinting in disbelief at the screen. The Hanai Academy was one of the best fight schools in the world.
The faint crackling sound of rice overcooking brought her back to reality. Removing the cast iron frying pan from the burner while switching it off, Delilah moved carefully about the kitchen’s Spanish tile floor as if the computer screen were stalking her. Outside, the wind picked up, sending the giant metal chimes hanging from her landlord’s back porch into a fit of deep tones.
As she spooned her concoction into an earthen ware bowl, adding Caesar vinaigrette dressing and a fork, Delilah thought back to the day that Rand had laughed at her for applying to the Hanai Academy.
“They don’t take many fighters. Only the best. Why did you even bother to apply?” Rand had wiped sweat off of his handsome face and towhead brush cut, smirking at her over the top rope of the boxing ring. They had just opened up the new school. The gym had been their joint venture. They had wanted to create a place where fighters could get training and honest representation without worrying about getting ripped off.
It had been an amazing time she remembered, sitting down at her bare wood table to eat. The growing family atmosphere had almost been contagious. Until she had caught Rand skimming money from the gym and shorting the fighters on their winnings, saying that there were extra expenses and fees at the competitions that she had discovered didn’t exist.
Delilah had gone to the gym when she knew he would be the only one there and confronted Rand, giving him the opportunity to make it right before anyone found out.
Instead he had attacked her.
Forking rice and vegetables into the good side of her mouth, Delilah clenched the bowl with her other hand. The humiliation of how he blindsided her with a straight punch in the face, then laughing that no one would believe her. Her vision clouded, she had done the best she could to defend herself, but that first strike along with her shock had given him the advantage. And he took it.
He didn’t even kick her out afterwards, just left her on the floor of the office, storming out the door. Delilah had laid there, bleeding on the polished wood too stunned and hurt to cry, feeling for the second time in her life the only family she knew turning on her. She had left that night and had never gone back.
Pausing mid meal, she turned to look at the computer sitting on the counter.
Delilah rose to grab her wallet out of the gym bag propped in the corner of the kitchen. Returning to bring the laptop out of hibernation, she hunted and pecked the keys as fast as her sore wrist allowed, entering her card number to pay the deposit that would hold her spot at the Hanai Academy. Receiving a payment confirmation email seconds later, she closed the laptop and turned out the lights leaving her half eaten dinner growing cold on the kitchen table.