Between Books: Volume Nineteen- Training Day
After The Forbidden, Before The Damned
Arizona... Boot Camp
“Okay, people. Listen up, and listen up good,” Shabazz said, slowly pacing before the team in the yard. “We’ve spent the first three weeks in this house building obstacles courses, the shooting range, and blocking off this backyard with white lines for sprints. Just the effort of building all that by itself was conditioning your bodies and getting your minds ready to focus. Lifting sand bags and initially running ten miles a day had purpose—to build stamina.”
He cast a no-nonsense gaze around the team. “Then six weeks after that of being on a regimented schedule of lights out at dawn and revelry at ten a.m. to run some more, with me sporadically waking you up out of a dead sleep with a bullhorn blast, was a necessary part of driving your bodies hard and making your concentration laser. The moment you heard battles stations, you learned how to scramble and find your weapon, and then fall into a protect-the-house-or die-trying formation. People, I’m impressed. But we got more work to do.” He looked at Marlene and gave her the mat.
“It’s been rough, I know,” Marlene added calmly. “But all of this was designed so you could click up to the next level and push for fifteen miles in the desert heat without dropping. Each of you had to be able to lift at least your own body weight or more—to be able to fend off a predator or drag a teammate to safety, if necessary, and the sprints built speed and agility. Job well done—but we ain’t hardly finished kicking your asses yet.”
“Not in the least,” J.L. said with a cool smile from where he sat on the ground with the other senior Guardians. “These predators can fly, so we’ll be advancing to working you on high wires with a harness so you really know how to fall or contort your body to hold on to something that’s grabbed you mid-air. Gotta be able to use your weapon while falling or being yanked airborne.”
“Yo, J.L.,” Jose said, shaking his head as he leaned forward. “Remember the Amazon, man? We ain’t given these newbies proper rites of passage.”
The newbies glimpsed each other with nervous expressions. Dan shook his head. Damali hung hers down to keep from laughing. Carlos let out a sad chuckle.
“That’s cold, man,” J.L. said, flopping back on the dirt. “Damn! But we gotta do it.”
“Tomorrow, you’re gonna fill fifty-gallon steel drums with the nastiest shit, literally, you can imagine,” Dan said in a nonchalant tone. He met shocked expressions unfazed. “You heard us… you’re gonna collect and build us a were-demon tunnel so you can get cozy pulling your Glock and holding onto it in tight, low, slippery crawl spaces, and learn how to maneuver quickly on your bellies in places filled with maggots, worms, garbage, and maybe choice left-overs from the sewer, snakes, beetles—”
“No,” Marjorie said, standing with her mouth open for a moment. “No, we most certainly are not, young man.”
“Aw, hell to the naw,” Inez said, getting up with Juanita and Krissy. “Uh, uh.”
“For what?” Bobby shouted, jumping to his feet. “Are you people sick!”
“Levels Three and Four of Hell,” Carlos said with a low, rumbling laugh, and then stretched out on the withered grass.
“Why!” Marjorie’s eyes shot to her husband and then to Carlos. “Richard? Are we supposed to be going to Hell now? Have you lost your minds?”
“All I know is somebody better talk to me, “Juanita said, pecking her neck and waving her finger as she spoke.
“I’m not doing it. Period,” Krissy announced and folded her arms.
“No. We rebel. This is mutiny. We’ve been through enough,” Bobby argued, his terror-stricken gaze ricocheting around the team. “Dan, I thought we were cool! You sold us out to the seniors, man! Tell me one good reason why we should go through that fraternity pledge bull?”
“Because,” Berkfield said with a weary exhale and fell back on his elbows. “If you’re in trouble and gotta hide in anything… a dumpster, an abandoned nest, or even inside the body of a dead predator… when seconds count, you can’t hesitate, son.”
Everybody paused as the senior squad members smiled. Then as hard reality set in and the flustered newbies sat down, their groan rippled through the team. Big Mike stepped up and smiled.
“Glad everybody can now see the logic. Hesitate to drop down into something just because it’s nasty, and you’re dead. We be tryin’ to avoid all that. So take a nice, long, hot, clean shower tonight and kiss your squeamish, punk-ass sensibilities goodbye,” Mike said, pounding Rider’s fist.
“It’s the little things that count,” Rider’s said, smirking. “Rivera, you’re lucky—you’ve already been down there… so how about if you manage the new kids, huh? Make sure it’s really nasty enough to be realistic… wouldn’t want ‘em to feel cheated.”
“Done,” Carlos said, watching shoulders slump around him. “Got a Polaroid snapshot of that shit in my head.”
“Don’t forget the dead animals, man,” Jose said. “Like we had to do… find us some dead squirrels, half decayed rabbits… you know, you know?”
“It will be decades before I speak to you, or do anything else, brother,” Juanita whispered to Jose in a private hiss. “Believe that shit.”
Jose chuckled and opened his arms. “Baby, I’m just trying to make sure you’re ready.”
Mike lifted his green Army fatigue t-shirt and landed a thudding punch against his brick-hard abdomen. “A hundred sit ups every morning before the run, and now y'all can finally get to five-hundred sometimes without puking. Everything is about preparedness, just like the sit-ups, so you could take a body blow and not have the wind knocked out of you. The brutal, leg-elevated, clap push-ups, then one-handers that y’all complained so much about, was good for ya. Same as how we followed those by the ropes and rings exercises was for upper body strength to make it possible for you to pull up and out of a nasty cavern fast—just like the rappelling exercises off the Grand Canyon was all about saving your ass from a pit. Ain’t nothin’ but rock down there in some spots. Gotta know how to climb a ledge, sink an anchor, and use a rope, and pull outta the inferno.”
Shabazz pounded Mike’s fist as he passed him. “Some of you called Marlene a sadist when she took away your coffee and other body pollutants and put y’all on a deep-tissue fast. Maybe she is.” He winked at Marlene and made her smile. “But she wasn’t as sadistic as she could’ve been, ‘cause she brought in four Port-A-Potties, since we only got one bathroom, until y’all was cleaned out good.” He chuckled as the group collectively groaned at the memory and then glanced at Rider, who hadn’t given up his vices or yielded to Marlene’s cleanses. “That’s a good source for your tunnels. Start getting slop from there. The Port-A-Potties, since folks got so much to say.”
“Oh my God,” Inez groaned, covering her mouth. “I’ma be sick.”
“Cool,” Carlos said casually. “We’ll add it to the tunnel drill.”
Inez shot Carlos an evil look. “I’ma remember this, Rivera, till the end of time.”
“Good baby, that’s what it’s all about,” he said taunting her. “Remembering what to do when it’s necessary. I gotchure back, ‘Nez.”
Inez just rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth.
“Well, not everybody gave up everything and had to go through all of this crap,” Marjorie said, indignant, and scowling at Rider.
“Ma’am,” Rider said, unfazed by her dig, “Most of us didn’t have the luxury of the boot camp preparation, and learned it the old fashioned way in the streets. Coupla the old team didn’t make it, that’s why we’re doing this.” He shot a glance toward Jose that spoke volumes, not having to mention what happened to Dee Dee or the early squad of newbies. “I’ll tell you about all of that later, Marj. We lost some kids same age as yours, and I vowed, never again on my watch. But suffice to say that, we ain’t trying to make life difficult just to amuse ourselves. It’s a bitch for us to have to deal with you new kids on the block. Ask any of the seniors one-on-one and they’ll enlighten you, if you have further questions.”
“I’ll say,” Carlos muttered, gaining nods from the other senior Guardian males.
“So, let’s all get comfy with the idea of learning fast, so we can all get back to life before newbies, shall we?” Rider said, glancing around the junior squad. “We’re making it as easy as possible for you new-jacks, in the long run. Ask Dan,” he said, motioning toward Dan with his chin. “Kid got caught out there solo one night, attacked by a female vamp in a parking garage, and was hunkered down under a dead body when we found him—ain’t that right, Daniel, my boy?”
Rider and Marlene shared a knowing gaze, and her eyes told the other seniors that the mention was necessary and all right.
“Yup,” Dan said, reaching over to pound Rider’s fist. “Dude might smoke a pack of Marlboro Reds a day, but I’d trust his nose any night. Next mission I was on was in the freakin’ Amazon,” Dan said tactfully, going to a mission that would spare Marlene’s heart. “We were stepping through carcasses and bodies, and all sorts of muck that you don’t even wanna know about, Mrs. B. Listen to these guys… they saved my ass, literally, and I had to learn how to use a slingshot and Glock with creatures running straight me. Frankly, I’m lucky to be here.”
Shabazz glanced around as the newbies settled down and just closed their eyes in distress. “Okay. Any more questions or mutiny broiling in the ranks?” He waited for everyone to look at him and then nodded. “Good. ‘Cause the more seasoned vets here can hang with toxins in ‘em—but y’all can’t. Don’t ask me how Rider does it.” Shabazz looked at Berkfield. “But when that sun kicked your asses in the desert on the first week of runs, your hearts were thanking Marlene Stone that you didn’t have unnecessary caffeine and other pollutants in your systems. You’ve got the cardio-vascular make-up of a solider, by now. Give the woman props.”
“Word,” Mike said, nodding to Marlene, also trying to take the sting out of the passing mention of Raven, like Shabazz had. “Your systems should be tuned-up like a mutha. The body engine running clean and efficient.”
Carlos just stared at Mike for a minute and glanced at Jose, J.L., and Dan. The four Guardians discreetly leaned behind the newbies to share sidebar commentary.
“That’s the problem—good cardio, clean engine, tuned-up like a mutha… and no where to run on the Audubon, catch my drift?” Jose said to Carlos in a confidential mutter.
“Brother,” Carlos grumbled quietly, “If I don’t get outta this house gridlock to burn off this energy soon, my engine is gonna start to knock and ping.”
J.L. shook his head. “I feel you, man,” he murmured just above a whisper, receiving a sly fist pound from Jose. “I’m gettin’ a nervous tick.”
“This is crazy-making, if ever I lived it,” Dan whispered and briefly closed his eyes.
“No lie,” Carlos said quietly, but kept his eyes on Big Mike.
Mike smiled and chuckled, hearing it all. “What can I say?”
Shabazz kept pacing, tucking away a grin and ignoring the sideline distraction. “The old Chinese proverb applies, better to be prepared for the opportunity that doesn’t come, than unprepared for the one that does. We may not do battle again for a while, but chances are that we will. So you need to be glad Marlene was on point. Ultimately, even if not today, you’ll thank her for the cleansings that made your systems better able to handle the training stress. Just like you’ll eventually thank her for showing you the isometrics and finding muscles in your bodies that you didn’t know you owned. Flexibility, people, is the key. You have gotta be able to spin, turn, flip, pivot, or contort your body in seemingly unnatural ways to get out of a hold or bondage situation. Tell ‘em C.”
“Truth,” Carlos said, rejoining the more generic team conversation. “If the vamps or their human helpers capture you, one of their things is hanging the victim upside down, bound, to let ‘em bleed-out into a tub or platter. You’ve gotta be able to pull yourself up with stomach muscles alone before you pass out, thread your body through your arms to get at the binds, and then get yourself down with the quickness.”
Krissy blanched and Juanita glimpsed her. Inez’s eyes were as wide as saucers. Bobby stared unblinking, and Marj sat forward like she was ready to take notes. But Berkfield simply nodded, as though having heard it all before when he was in the military and in the Police Academy.
“Just like ‘Nam,” Berkfield said.
“Yep. If you’re a POW, you wanna get out whole, and need your mind and spirit right to withstand whatever torture,” Mike said, giving Berkfield a nod of respect.
“All right,” Shabazz said. “So, now we’re starting to get endurance and stamina. Tomorrow we’ll work on weak stomachs—the squeamishness. Worry about that tomorrow. Me and J.L. have been working with y’all to show you some break-hold-kill martial arts moves, just like Damali has been working with you on using a blade and how to effectively scale a wall for an escape. Rider’s been getting you ready, teaching you how to hold a firearm, clean it, load and reload it blind—because you’ll primarily be working in the dark. Brother Rider’s finally got most of you able to shoot now, dead aim, without blasting off your own foot.” He motioned to Dan and Jose. “You’ve also been taught how to use specialty weapons, and should be able to do the same thing with a cross bow, sling shot bombs, and use a long distance shoulder cannon, mortars, C-4 explosives or grenades, without blowing yourselves or the rest of us up.”
“So, now you guys don’t think I was just drunk and stupid when I put the blindfolds on you and made you load clips, do ya?” Rider said triumphant, spitting as he got up to walk down the row of Guardians who were seated on the ground. “The key is to try to shoot one of those bastards from a distance, if possible, and not have to get up close on it to tangle with it.”
Damali smiled and gave Rider a wink, finally deciding to enter the discussion. There was so much running through her mind that she almost didn’t know where to begin. Plus, Carlos’s vibe was so thick it was starting to become near impossible to concentrate whenever he was around. She drew in a deep breath and counted to ten, trying to focus on teaching, although that was the last thing she felt like doing today.
“Every night,” Damali said in an authoritative tone as she stood, “when you guys were ready to drop, the reason me and Mar had you go into deep meditation with us to try to access your individual special skill, was because you have to sense the predator before the predator senses you. Yes, people, even when you’re exhausted. Especially then. Imagine you’re under heavy fire, and they’re still coming at you—that’s when your senses have to be razor. So all this pushing was about taking you to the limit and beyond, the same place the vamps are gonna take you on any given night.”
“Your noses, if you’re a tracker, have got to be able to detect the slightest variation in the normal human scent patterns,” Jose said, scanning the group with a steely glare. “If you got special hearing capability, like my man, Mike, you better holla and tell somebody the moment you hear something weird. If you’re a tactical,” he said, glancing at his senior teammates, “the moment your skin starts to crawl, that’s a battle stations alert. And, like Mar and D been telling you, if you get a strange vibe or image up in your heads, move and tell the team.”
“That’s what I’m talking ‘bout,” Shabazz said, resuming his pacing with his hands behind his back. “We’ve been doing basics. Getting your bodies honed, your minds focused, so when it comes time when it’s not a drill, your spirits are ready and all the rest automatically kicks in.”
“But we have to still keep working,” Marlene said, now walking with her stick and using it as a pointer. “This has to be second nature, like breathing. Building stamina and learning how to use a weapon is one thing.” She turned and smiled at the senior team. “But today, we’re gonna show you what happens when you don’t have a firearm and it’s hand-to-hand.”
“Oh, shit…” Bobby said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees.
“Yeah,” Big Mike said with a deep chuckle. “Oh, shit. ’Cause I’m coming at ya, young buck, and gonna get in ya hard.”
“We gotta fight him?” Juanita asked, nervously glancing at her junior teammates.
“The average battle-bulked male vamp or werewolf is what? Six-five, two hundred fifty pounds of pure muscle mass? And those aren’t the big ones, just the remaining ones we’re pretty sure are still around. We got the huge boyz down in the subways in New York,” Shabazz said with a sinister smile. “Mike—whatchu weigh, man—two-seventy-five, at six-eight?”
Mike leered at the newbies. “I’m your worst nightmare. Imagine me on your ass in the dark… and you ain’t got no gun.”
Marjorie scooted closer to Berkfield.
“Yeah,” Mike said, in a deep, baritone voice. “Get on the mats. Krissy first.”
Krissy stood and glanced around nervously. “Why do I have to always be first!”
Mike grinned. “’Cause I’d pick you off first—you’re the smallest… youngest… and female.”
Carlos laughed. “Damn, man, why you scarin’ the girl in broad daylight in fronta her Mom and Pop?”
“Because I want her to be scared enough to piss her drawers but still be able to battle and come out alive.”
“Go ‘head, baby,” Berkfield said nervously as Krissy approached the mat.
All the color had drained from her face as she edged toward it, and finally stepped onto it, and then cringed.
“See this here boundary,” Mike said, motioning toward the perimeter of the mat. “That’s all the space you have to work in. If you fall outside of that ten-by-twelve space, I’ve just killed you by slamming your purty little body through a wall.” He allowed his slow line of vision to rake the group. “They work in close quarters, so you can’t maneuver.” He returned his gaze to Krissy. “This afternoon, I’m a werewolf.” Mike dropped down on all fours and looked up at her with a snarl. “Go for it.”
She screamed as he lunged and then tried to turn to run. Mike had her legs and she was on her belly in two seconds.
“Stop!” Damali said. “You’re dead. Your legs have been ripped out of their sockets and he’s eating you by now. Back in position. In a flat out run, a werewolf or any were-demon, has got you beat. No more than you can outrun a lion or a panther, forgedaboutit. Frontal attack, you gotta go over the top.”
Krissy rolled over, nodded and got back up, breathing hard. She and Mike resumed their previous positions. This time when he lunged, she did the gymnastics move Damali had shown them to take a running leap towards Mike even though he was charging, pushing off the mat to flip over him, and landed on his back facing his butt.
“Cool, but open your eyes, Krissy,” Damali said, laughing. “What is supposed to be on your hip, but in your hand by now?”
Krissy peeped her eyes open as she sat straddling Mike. “My Bowie?”
“Yes, your Bowie, girl,” Damali said. “When he turns his head,” she added, motioning for Mike to oblige, “he’ll be pissed off and going for your legs with his jaws—the Bowie goes in the exposed side of his throat. But you’ve gotta move fast, ‘cause that sucker will be snapping and then try to reach with sharp claws to pull you down.”
Mike yanked Krissy off his back by her leg, rolled her over, and pinned her. “Two hands on that knife, looking me in the eyes before I rip your face off. Plunge it into my heart,” he said, guiding her hands to his massive chest. “This is why you have to be able to take a fall, have upper body strength to stab through muscle and bone at short range, and your thighs gotta be steel to hold onto a predator, if ya gotta ride that motherfucker into the ground. Got it?”
Krissy quickly nodded eyes wide. Marlene gave Mike a glance for the language, but everybody knew it was for shock-value effect. Obviously Marlene did, too, because she didn’t flinch or speak on it. The goal all the seniors had was to get the newbies ready with adrenaline pumping so they’d know how it felt when it wasn’t a drill. It was in no one’s best interest to pull punches. The new kids on the block had to learn.
After he’d read Krissy the Riot Act, Mike helped her up. She simply nodded again still shaken. Mike looked around. “Next victim. I just ate her for lunch.” Then he smiled. “Ah… Juanita, Juanita.”
“Aw, noooo…” Juanita said, laughing nervously, and then slowly went to the mat to face Mike.
“I’ma show you how fast these boys move, girl.” He waited until Juanita took a fighter’s stance, centering her core weight and then he began to circle her. “Like your style. I see somebody’s been paying attention to Damali.” When he lunged, he quickly pivoted and reached up to grab Juanita mid-air before she landed on his back, and then put her down on the mat hard. “You’re dead.”
“Then what was I supposed to do!” Juanita said, getting up from the mat salty with attitude.
“You were supposed to snatch that Bowie off your hip if he was circling,” Damali said coolly, “to make him lunge faster without thinking and ram it in his eye, yank it back before his claw or jaws take off your arm, and do the other one when he lunges again—and the second he rears howling, be out.” Damali demonstrated, getting Mike to circle her in a low crouch, then quickly grabbed her imaginary knife, mock stabbed out both his eyes as he instantly lunged, then she pivoted and fled off the mat as he reared holding his face.
Juanita nodded with respect. “I got it. Shit.”
Mike stood and motioned to Bobby. “That was the females. Depending on whether or not I ate already…” he said chuckling, “The ladies might have extra time to do me while I was trying to get at ‘em before I killed ‘em. The weres always try to attack the females from behind, if they can, on all fours.”
Marjorie covered her mouth, making Mike laugh harder.
“You betta know it,” Carlos said with a sly grin. “Y’all do have that advantage, but Bobby’s ass is gonna be toast.”
Bobby stepped onto the mat, and the moment he did, Mike reared, snatched him up by his shirt and body slammed him onto the mat hard, and then covered his Adam’s apple with his mouth before Bobby could breathe.
Mike backed off him slowly. “You are so dead. Your chest cavity and lungs were in my fist, your throat gone, brother. What move shouldja have made?”
“Go for the wrist with both hands, take the gash from the claws, spin under the arm, let it go, and hit the spleen or some shit with the Bowie.”
Mike patted Bobby on the head. “Good boy. You’re learnin’.”
“The problem is, you’re all trying to avoid getting slashed. You can’t think about that, and gotta move and fight till you either escape or your body’s twitching in his canines,” Shabazz said flatly. “The werewolf’s free arm just raked down your back or his jaws crushed your skull, if you don’t move fast enough.” Shabazz’s eyes keened on each newbie. “This ain’t ballet or a disco move like you’re doing The Hustle, all slow. The demon reaches out with one paw to slash—that’s the wrist Bobby grabs. For a second, the creature is gonna wanna keep his center of balance on three of his four legs and also not expose his underbelly to you. That’s the only thing that gives you a second before he does rear up so he can grab at you with his free paw, and before he does, you’re greased lightening. Block, duck, under, stab, over—then ride him to hit the creature’s neck, spine, anything you can get to make him howl.”
Shabazz let out a heavy exhale filled with frustration and looked at J.L. “Yo, J.L., show this young buck how it’s done,” he said, beginning to pace. He stared at the newbies as J.L. stood. “J.L. is a little bigger than Bobby, slighter of build that Dan, but way smaller than Mike. I want those brothers to show you how you’ve gotta incorporate everything we’re teaching you into a battle with a beast to survive.”
“Aw, shit…” Jose said quietly near Carlos’s ear.
Carlos glimpsed Dan bristle from a sideline glance, then quickly glanced at Krissy and Inez. He didn’t even have to verbally answer Jose. Both men knew the deal. J.L. was gonna have an opportunity to shine and bust some moves that would knock Krissy’s head back just watching, while Mike—going up against another seasoned vet, would also be out there free-styling for his woman in a way that he wouldn’t do if it was just one of the juniors.
It was in both combatants’ eyes as J.L. got on the mat. Carlos could smell the testosterone spike in the air as J.L. gave Mike a cool martial arts bow and Mike squared his shoulders with a brief nod. In any species, this was a volatile situation—rutting males, females in season, a competing male in the wings, an old goat on the sidelines not ready to let his daughter go, an older champion being challenged in front of a young female he needs to get with in the worst way, months of pent-up desire to mate flaring… and nowhere to burn off the energy but in blood-sport combat. What was Shabazz thinking? Obviously the fact that Shabazz was probably the only man in the house still getting some had made him blind. Carlos just shook his head.
Damali felt it; Carlos knew that for a fact as he casually allowed his gaze to slide over her. The woman’s hands had balled into nervous fists in her lap. Marlene had caught the vibe but just bit her lip, casting a disapproving glare to Shabazz, who picked up on the issue too late to stop it. The man was clearly trapped between needing to teach and all the drama on the team. Pride as the team’s boot-camp leader wouldn’t allow Shabazz to back down, either. For him, it was all about control, focus, the training.
Rather than shut down the sparring match, Shabazz just sat with a heavy sigh and shrugged. “Okay, gentlemen,” Shabazz warned, and then glimpsed Marlene from the corner of his eye. “Remember, this is a demonstration and we don’t need to be taking nobody to the Emergency Room from this. Two minutes of skills display, just to show these newbies what a serious confrontation against a were-demon looks like, then I’m calling time.”
Both men nodded and never spoke. Hard glares collided before each man left the ground. Mike lunged and made a snapping motion with a swipe. J.L. dodged the bite and swipe as though he where a phantom, one with the wind. He flat-palmed Mike’s jaw and used his leverage against it to flip onto Mike’s back and landed the first mock stab into Mike’s ribcage. Not to be outdone, Mike grabbed at J.L.’s leg, but like an acrobat, J.L. went up on one hand, palm flat on Mike’s back for a second in quick handstand, and popped Mike’s neck twice with his invisible blade.
Furious now, but having to own up to the fact that he was stabbed in the ribs and his jugular was severed, Mike reared. But rather than J.L. falling backward, he propelled his agile body over Mike to stand in front of him.
“Damn that’s a crazy move!” Jose said, leaning forward.
Mike lunged, J.L. sidestepped him. Mike was off the mat—the werewolf had just crashed through the imaginary brick wall. But everyone knew that was plausible, so Mike was still in the match. J.L. dashed to the far side of the mat as Mike turned, roared and came at him again.
Krissy was practically hyperventilating. Inez was watching with both hands on top of her head as though it was the final seconds of the Super Bowl and her team was in the end zone.
The moment Mike was an arm length before J.L., both challengers moving at incredible speeds, J.L. cart-wheeled his body over Mike’s head, landed on his lower back, hit him in long pulls own the side to gut him, and then flip rolled to the opposite side of the mat.
By this point, from what Carlos could determine, the were-demon had been stabbed in the ribs sustaining a lung puncture, had been hit in the neck opening his jugular, and his entrails should have been hanging out of his side from the knife drag. Both men were breathing hard, sweat running in the Arizona sun, making t-shirts stick to overheated bodies. But on the last lunge, J.L. dodged the left-handed grab from Mike’s huge fist, and had rounded his right arm, getting behind it so Mike couldn’t use that one to claw him… yet, Mike’s forearm was like a tree limb. Carlos and braced himself. Mike didn’t pivot, he put his full weight into the back handed blow, his full forearm colliding with J.L.’s abdomen.
Krissy’s shriek felt like fingernails going down a blackboard, and every man in the yard cringed. J.L. was on his back, dazed, the wind knocked out of him, but it was as though the junior Guardian’s female scream gave J.L. enough energy to backward roll out of the way of a drop-to-the-mat body slam from Mike. J.L. flipped up and stood, teetering on his tip-toes at the edge of the mat, using his hands to balance himself in the air so he wouldn’t be disqualified by going through the invisible wall. If Mike had connected, they would have definitely had to take J.L. to ER.
But Mike was up in a flash, J.L. was on the edge of the mat. Mike hurled a roundhouse punch that looked like it came all the way to Arizona from Mississippi. J.L. ducked, the punch went over the mat line, signaling that the werewolf had just punched through the wall. While crouched and before Mike could back up to snatch him, J.L. popped Mike’s stomach twice with rabbit stabs, and dove out of the way before Mike could stomp him.
However, J.L. misjudged his distance from Mike as well as how fast Mike could pivot, and came up right into an elbow in the jaw. Blood spattered Mike’s shirt. J.L. spit out blood but not teeth, and that was the only indication the team had that Mike was actually pulling back a little on some of his blows.
“Okay,” Shabazz standing up and rushing between both Guardians with his arms outstretched. “Before J.L. needs a wire to hold his jaw together, and before you go through another wall, I’m calling this a draw.” Shabazz bowed at both combatants, who smiled, bloody, and then gave him a respectful bow.
“Now you can see how brutal this fight can be and how seconds count,” Shabazz added, slapping both men on the back as they heaved in air. He looked at Mike with a nod. “The werewolf took it in the jugular, which should have begun to slow it down by now, in the lungs to impair its breathing, in the side and directly in the abdomen, and the creature injured itself going through a wall and then sending its fist through one. But the sucker kept coming—and will in real life, until it drops from the injuries. A coupla minutes can seem like hours when something that huge is coming for you.”
Shabazz then looked at J.L. “This man lived to fight another day, because he used everything he had with skill and precision. The potential victim used his smaller size and his sweet moves with stellar agility… gotta give it up, man,” he said, pounding J.L.’s fist. “That’s how you survive against a big predator.” Shabazz chuckled and looked at Mike. “You gotta give J.L. his props—the one-handed handstand was deep.”
Mike laughed and pounded J.L.’s fist. “You lucky we cool.”
“You lucky I ain’t have a wall to run up and really show you a sweet move,” J.L. said, talking trash.
Both men laughed and Mike grabbed J.L.’s hand, yanking him into a brotherly warrior’s hug. J.L.’s chest slammed against Mike’s hard and J.L. gazed up with a smile. Then they both burst out laughing and pushed off each other to play box for a moment as J.L. rejoined the team. The Guardian’s stood and clapped.
“Man… you gonna have to show me that crazy Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee jawn you just pulled—you been holding out,” Jose said laughing. Then he glimpsed Dan’s tense expression and backed off. “But you know, if it was a firefight, our boy woulda blown Mike’s ass up with a slingshot.”
J.L. gave Jose a nod with a half-smile, understanding. Dan walked over and shook J.L.’s hand, trying to remain impossibly neutral.
“Definitely a sweet move,” Dan said, and then dropped J.L.’s grip and sat down, clearly worried.
Both J.L. and Dan glimpsed Krissy and the expression on her face was so lit up that J.L. glanced away as Berkfield bristled. Inez just sat on her hands in the junior section excitedly rocking with a big smile on her face. She wasn’t even aware that’s what she was doing until Juanita put a hard hand on her leg and gave her a silent glare to chill. When Mike walked off the mat to guzzle some water but looked over his shoulder and winked at Inez, she started subtly rocking again. Juanita just threw her hands up and sighed.
Strolling back on the mat and pitching his water bottle, Mike lifted his t-shirt, and then wiped the sweat from his brow, causing Inez to quickly fan her face before he glanced up.
Mike finally pulled his focus away from Inez and smiled at Marjorie. “Aw’ight, Mom.”
Marjorie got up with a nervous sigh and approached the mat. “Mike… now, I’m just asking that…”
“Go easy?” Mike said, laughing. “Not a chance. J.L. just warmed me up for you, hon.”
He came at Marjorie, and she shrieked, pulling out the invisible blade and then something happened that no one expected. A current ran off her fingers and blew Mike back two steps and felled him.
“Oh, shit,” Mike said, jumping up quickly and rubbing his chest. “You go, gurl!”
“I didn’t mean to—I just didn’t want him to knock me down and eat me.” Marjorie spun in a circle staring at her hands.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do, sis!” Shabazz hollered. “Mar, you see that?”
“Awesome,” Damali shouted and jumped up, giving Carlos a high-five as she passed him to sit farther away from him after she hugged Marjorie.
“Go, Mom!” Bobby hollered, quickly standing up with Krissy.
“Mom, when’dya learn to do that?” Krissy yelled, running over to the mat.
“Wow, Marj—all these years, had I known you could blow a hole in my chest, I wouldn’t have complained about dinners being late.” Berkfield beamed with pride. “Did ya see her?”
Commotion broke out on the team. Marlene smiled and closed her eyes.
“Yes!” Marlene said in a satisfied murmur. “This was what I’ve been waiting for.” Marlene opened her eyes, walked over to Marjorie, and hugged her. “That’s how you use your special powers, lady.” She stared at the group. “In a jam, this is what you want to come out, if it’s your gift. Right now, Marjorie’s abilities are unstable, and my goal is to make sure she can call them at will, in an emergency, and learn how to direct them, not just for herself, but also for a Guardian that might be pinned down in a firefight. That’s why we’ve all been so demanding on you.” Marlene raised an eyebrow at the senior males on the squad. “And why we’ve been trying to be sure that the newbies can focus on their own energies with out any, er, interference.”
New respect dawned in the junior Guardians’ eyes as they stared at the senior members of the team. Satisfied by the breakthrough, Marlene walked away and sat down again as people eventually settled themselves and paid closer attention.
“I ain’t mad about the push-ups no more, I guess,” Bobby admitted. “After having Mike rush me, I’ma be adding more to my own regimen. Damn, man, you’re built like a brick wall.”
“No lie,” Juanita said, glancing around at everyone. “Dude is cock-diesel, for real. And until I really took a hit… I’ma be running twenty miles, not fifteen, to make sure nothing like him gets on my ass. Jesus.”
“You okay, Mike?” Shabazz asked laughing.
“Baby, you cool? You look okay, but…” Inez said, seeming as though she was about to run over to him, but wisely didn’t.
“Oh, my goodness, Mike—are you all right?” Marjorie asked, wringing her hands. “It just sorta came out.”
“Yeah, Ma, I’m cool. But good thing you’re a newbie.” Big Mike smiled a broad, amiable grin. “When Marlene throws her blasts, whew! Look out.” He glimpsed Inez for a moment and their gazes locked. “I’m all right, really. Don’t worry.”
“Aw’ight, who ain’t been done?” Shabazz said, glancing around. “Berkfield.”
“Okay, okay, I’m on the mat,” Berkfield said, standing slowly.
“I’m just gonna show you how strong they are, man,” Mike said, putting his hands on either side of Berkfield’s waist. “You know the break-hold moves from military and police self-defense training. But I want you to get a feel for how powerful this beast can be. Cool?”
“Yeah. I’m ready,” Berkfield said, looking Mike in the eyes.
“First off, if I’m this close, your entrails are already on the ground. Just tore out your sides and I’m up in your face about to eat it off your neck.”
“Okay,” Berkfield said. “I’m a dead man walking.”
“Yeah, but even going down and dying, your goal is to make sure I’m dead, too. Because if not, I’m coming for your wife and your kids, and anybody else on this team I can.”
Berkfield nodded. “Pull the hallowed earth grenade pin, if I’m that far gone. Let the silver shrapnel fall where it may.”
“Smart man. That’s your only option, if I’m on you like this and you’re male.” Mike looked around the group.
“Sometimes the shit just goes down like that and you’re screwed big time.” Then suddenly Big Mike lifted Berkfield up and slammed him down, stunning him, and pinned him. “I’m about to finishing eating you.”
Berkfield pulled an imaginary grenade off his vest. “Boom. We’re both dead.”
“Bet,” Mike said, pulling Berkfield up by his forearm.
“You ain’t do ‘Nez, though,” Shabazz said with a chuckle.
Mike looked away with a sly smile. “Don’t know if I can, brother,” he said in a private mutter to Shabazz. “If I pin her down on that mat, I might not be able to let her get back up.”
“You gotta teach her, man,” Shabazz said, shaking his head.
Carlos stood, walked down the row smiling, and sat down on the ground next to Damali. He picked up a stray twig, stuck it in the side of his mouth and clenched it between his teeth, working the muscle in his jaw. Jose and J.L. shared sly winks as they glanced at Carlos.
“Don’t start, y’all,” Carlos said, ignoring them without much success. “Let the man work. Pay attention as a refresher.”
“C’mon, baby,” Mike said in a low, sexy voice, smiling at Inez. “Hit the mats with me.”
“Aw, Lawd,” Marlene muttered, rolling her eyes. “This girl ain’t gonna learn nothing out here that we should see.”
Damali swallowed a smile. “Don’t be scairt, ‘Nez. You gotta know this mess.”
“Aw’ight,” Inez said with a sigh, going toward the mats with a pained expression.
“Turn around,” Mike said, giving Inez’s body an appreciative gaze.
“What?” Inez hesitated and stared at him, then looked away embarrassed.
“I’m being serious,” Mike said, laughing. “You don’t always see ‘em coming at you. I’ve been demonstrating a frontal attack, but what if one comes at you from behind?”
Inez gave him a scowl and then did as he’d asked, glancing over her shoulder.
“Turn around,” Mike said with a wink, “and no peeking.”
“You gonna have to take a long walk after this, man,” Shabazz whispered just loud enough for Mike to hear.
Before Inez could argue, Mike lunged, had one arm around her waist, and brought her to her hands and knees. Inez swiftly grabbed at her side, reached back, and plunged an imaginary Bowie into his abdomen. He reared back, briefly releasing her waist, and she quickly pivoted to hit his chest, abdomen, and groin, then rolled out of the way and jumped up.
“Damn… I’m dead for real,” Mike said with pride in his voice, laughing as he stood. He wiped his brow and then walked in a tight circle. “She killed my ass good—did you see how she held my weight? Went down but didn’t let me flatten her.”
“That was awesome, ‘Nez,” Shabazz said, truly impressed. “That’s how you’re supposed to do it. Go down hard, but not all the way, if possible, then reach for your blade, and gore what’s holding you.”
“I did okay?” Inez asked, smiling wide at Mike.
Mike just nodded and walked away. “Yeah, baby. Take ten, y’all.”
Senior Guardians shared knowing glances and tried not to laugh as Carlos jumped up with a big grin. Rider rubbed his palms down his face, chuckling behind his hands.
“Yeah, I think you killed that brother real good, sis. That werewolf ain’t gonna be right for the rest of the day. So how about we work on vamps?” Carlos raised an eyebrow and gave the group a sideline glance. “Vamps come at you way different. They get inside your head first, and bring you down smooth.” He allowed his gaze to linger on Damali for a moment, until she looked away.
Carlos walked around the perimeter of the mat with his hands behind his back, chewing the twig he’d be gnawing, then spit it out. “This is a club. A vamp can move on you, draw a siphon if he’s good, in full view of a crowd, and nobody will ever even see it.”
“Get out,” Berkfield said, shaking his head. “I don’t know which is worse.”
“Vamps are,” Carlos said, pointing a finger at his temple. “They ain’t gotta bum-rush you in an alley to get at you. Remember that.” Again his gaze sought Damali’s and he was pleased to see her smiling. “This is why they’re our primary predator, our main target.”
“They definitely are,” Damali said, raising an eyebrow. “Demonstrate why, Mr. Rivera, if you would be so kind.”
“Com’ere, Bobby,” Carlos said. “I’m show you smooth game. I’ma wrap that shit around you like a silk sheet and cut your throat without you even knowing you’re nicked or bleeding. Then that sheet becomes your body bag.”
“Oh, bullshit,” Bobby said, glancing at the others with a nervous chuckle as he came to the mat to stand next to Carlos.
“Let me school you, son,” Carlos murmured, studying his nails. “I’m not battle-bulked, have no fangs in my mouth… at least none that you can see, yet. I’m in a club, dressed fly.” Carlos looked at the group. “They don’t care—man, woman, or child, it’s all about blood. They go for the males for the adrenaline and testosterone high when they need to either heal after a battle, or are looking for an extra energy hit. I’ll show you the ladies in a minute.” He sidled up to Bobby. “Most heterosexual males won’t allow another unknown male to get this close. It breeches the unspoken male personal barrier, so I’d sit next to him at the bar. A seat would coincidentally become available, just for me. Fate.”
Carlos shrugged and walked away. “I’d pull out a wad of cash, slide a C-note across the bar, and be sure Bobby saw it, and then order some top-shelf… so he’d know I was a baller and not somebody who needed to roll him to take his wallet. Got it?”
Once everyone on the team nodded, Carlos smiled. “Then I’d snatch an image of his hottest fantasy woman out of his skull and project that across the club.” He looked at Bobby from a sideline glance and spoke in a low, seductive murmur. “I’d make sure she was looking at you, hombre, and occasionally glancing at me. Then I’d ask the bartender what you were drinking, making you give me direct eye contact for a second—long enough to trance-zap your ass.”
“Shit,” Bobby said, wiping his palms down his face.
“Right.” Carlos chuckled deep in his throat. “The babe would be giving you so much wood you couldn’t think while I leaned in and asked you, ‘Yo, holmes, is that you?’ And you’d talk to me, oh yeah… because that’s how the human male mind generally functions—vamps know this. You’d be curious, aroused, your ego stroked to the max by that fantasy babe coming on to you from across the room. That would leave you stunned and very sloppy, and for future bragging rights, you’d want another male to confirm that he’d witnessed what was looking at you… just to be sure you weren’t dreaming.”
“They can pull out your fantasy, just like that?” Bobby said shocked, first looking at Carlos, then at the other men, who just nodded as Carlos came closer.
“A strong vampire can siphon your wet dreams right outta your skull, holmes,” Carlos whispered, circling Bobby, making him turn to keep Carlos in front of him. “You’d wanna know if she was with me. I’d lie and tell you, yes—but it wouldn’t be a complete lie, because she is me—my projection from you.”
“Oh, man…” Dan said, shaking his head and giving Jose and J.L. a fist pound. “It’s one thing to know it, textbook style. But to see it played out is a whole nuther thing.”
“Yeah… it’s a beautiful thing to watch ‘em work,” Carlos murmured, allowing his timbre to drop as his eyelids lowered while he spoke to Bobby, nearly putting the junior Guardian in a trance with his voice.
“And you’d get closer to talk to me more privately, Robert. Why? Because by now, all you can think of is how to be cool and how to scrape up the courage to ask me if I would have a problem if you just danced with that gorgeous woman of mine… the one who keeps staring at you like she wants to rip your clothes off right in the club.”
Shabazz smiled. “Man… teach the boy. Damn!”
“I’m schooling him,” Carlos said, still slowly circling Bobby. “Then I’d blow your mind, Robert Berkfield, Jr., by confidentially whispering to you that my lady is real kinky, likes to do one-night-stand fantasies with men she picks up in the clubs, just to make me jealous.”
Carlos stopped, tilted his head, and took a relaxed pose, standing next to Bobby and leaning in to him as though they were both perched at the bar rail. “Then I’d explain, in exquisite detail, how she comes home when she’s finished and tells me all about it while she’s going down on me… but I’d add a little caveat. I’d also explain that I indulge her fantasies because I love the results when she comes home—and then I’d tell you how she does what she does, one lick at a time, and make you feel it as I describe it… until you’re about to slide off of your barstool and can’t stop looking at her.”
Bobby took in a slow sip of air and let it out on a shaky breath. “They can do that, man? Actually make you feel it, like it was the real thing? Shit…”
Carlos straightened his body and snapped his fingers. “Now you’re hooked. First hit’s on me,” he glanced around the team and then returned his focus to Bobby. “Hell yeah, a vamp can do that—can make you bust a nut in public while sittin’ on a bar stool. Make that shit rip you up so bad you’ll spill your drink and slobber on yourself.”
“Goodness,” Marjorie said, fanning her face.
Inez glimpsed Damali. “Gurl…”
Damali pointed at her with a tense smile. “Don’t go there.”
Juanita glimpsed Carlos and then looked away and swallowed hard.
Carlos walked around Bobby and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Then you’d be willing to allow me to whisper her cell phone number in your ear, especially after I told you she likes you and has had her eye on you all night. I’ll describe the kinda men she goes for, which is all you… and she’ll be doing something seductive like licking her index finger and shoving it down her cleavage, while making the universal cell phone ‘call me sign’ with her other hand.”
When Bobby’s eyes got wider, Carlos laughed with the senior Guardians. “Brother, then I’ll ask you if you wanna cut a deal—you hook me up by doing her, so I can fulfill her fantasy, and you will nod your stupid head yes. But you will not be looking at me, trust me. And as I send her image to stand at a ninety-degree angle so you can crane your neck to follow your fantasy around the room, I’ll be murmuring something important in your ear—telling you…” Carlos said, dropping his voice to a hissing whisper, “‘this isn’t gonna hurt’… and it won’t. You’re nicked.”
Bobby jumped away from Carlos like a bee had stung him.
“By the time I pull out of the bite, your ass has been siphoned, dazed, and nobody saw it… no blood on your collar… well, maybe a drop, if I was sloppy and in a rush. No puncture wounds will show, if I seal that shit up right. And you won’t know you’re nicked until the next morning when you go to look in the bathroom mirror to shave. If you wake up, depending on my mood when I bit you.”
Carlos glanced at the team, triumphant. “Two big puncture marks from a feeding male will suddenly show the next day—daylight always unmasks the illusion… red, pussy, oozing, and Bobby’s a pint or two low. So, gentlemen, your mind and spirit have to be on lock, when dealing with this particular entity. It’s not always the external attack or battle in the streets, it’s the internal one, the carnal… and vamps will work that to the bone. If your head isn’t right, and you’ve got some secret lusts, they’ve got you.”
“But, if you’re a woman,” Krissy said, looking around with wide eyes. “And, like, a female vamp with fangs comes at you in a club, what can she do to pull us into something crazy? As soon as I saw her, I’d run.”
“No you wouldn’t, baby, because she’d look just as innocent as you. Plus, you all travel in packs to go to the ladies room,” Carlos said flatly. “Lotta times, the stalls conveniently clear out. Wonder why….” He theatrically studied his nails again. “Vamp powers of suggestion in da house… and it always just so happens that, the targeted victim that the female predator wants, stays behind to powder her nose.”
Carlos gave Krissy a hard glare. “Good place to get trance-zapped and jacked. And if a good-looking guy is staring at two women across the room and sends drinks, two sisters who don’t even know each other will willingly lean in to whisper and giggle about it—am I lying?”
“Tell it,” Damali said, nodding. “Preach.”
“The lean-in whisper, watch your back, male or female.” Carlos smiled at the squad’s newbie women. “Oh… the way they do y’all ain’t even right,” he added, laughing. “They’ll have you ass in a three-way, not knowing how or why you’re there.”
He scanned Bobby as well as the other Guardians. “The female vamps that approach in that club scenario I just showed you ain’t no joke, either. They’ll make you act stupid, if you ain’t straight in your mind.”
“Damn,” Berkfield said. “And here I was more worried about my daughter.”
Carlos laughed. “Send her up here. I’ll make you worry and put you in a cold-sweat, Dad. Definitely worry about your daughter. Come on, Krissy. Let’s dance.”
Krissy got up with a smile and walked onto the mat. She passed her brother and slapped him on the back as he went to sit down. “Guess when some strange guy offers to buy you a drink and starts a convo in a club, it’s time to get up and go, huh?”
“Yep,” Rider said, gaining a fist pound from Jose. “That’s also why your schnoze or other senses have to be accurate. Generally, the vamps know better than to approach one of us, but if they sense a youngun that doesn’t know better, they will go for ‘em without blinking.”
“Sho’ you right, Rider,” Carlos said, casually taking Krissy’s hand. “It’s about power and conquest, and to nail a Guardian… well… let’s dance.” He pulled Krissy into a gentle embrace and looked into her eyes. She had to know that teasing her brother about this wasn’t child’s play.
“I’ve been plying you with liquor all night… champagne, baby,” Carlos said seductively. “Laying for you to get nice and buzzed and loose. Relaxed. Just for me.”
“Damn,” Inez said, laughing and shaking her head. “I need to get checked. I mighta got bitten in the past and didn’t even know it.”
“You’re cool, honey,” Marlene said chuckling and watching Marjorie’s stricken expression while also subtly monitored Juanita’s growing arousal. “Oh, boy, here we go.”
“So, you’re now relaxed enough to go for a slow dance, which you know I’ll manipulate the DJ to play—even if the club doesn’t roll like that,” Carlos said flatly. “And I’ve been talking shit to you for a while, because male vamps love the sport of the tongue duel, if they have time. Linguistics and intelligent verbal seduction is their thing. You think you’re pulling me, have a high-roller on the hook. You saw my car, it’s a red Lamborghini. You figure I’m phat-paid from the way I’ve been spoiling you and your girlfriends at the bar, and my threads are all that. But I picked you from all the rest.”
Carlos stepped back and let his gaze rake heat over Krissy’s front, slowly dragging his line of vision from her eyes to her torso while still holding her hand. “Damn, baby, you’re fine…” he said, so she’d be hip to some lines.
Relentless with the lesson, Carlos began to walk around Krissy, making her turn and become slightly disoriented as she pivoted slowly to follow his gaze. “See, I’ve been stroking your ego like it was your bud,” he added, breaking character for a moment, trying to help Krissy better understand the game. “Then I’d be all in your face saying, ‘Ma, I been wantin’ to get with you all night, break you off from that herd of cows you been sitting with—where’d you come from, angel?’ And because your ego would be stroked, you’d try to tell me those were your tight girlfriends and not to talk about ‘em like that, but… you’d be smiling the whole time you protested, and I’d have you.”
“That’s one shit-talking fool,” Shabazz whispered to Marlene, shaking his head. “Oughta be a law.”
“You ain’t said a mumblin’ word, ‘Bazz. But this is truly a repeat education for me.” Marlene lifted her locks off her neck and just watched, giving Carlos a nod to proceed, even though Juanita’s hands were now balled tightly in her lap.
Carlos closed his eyes and breathed in sharply through his nose, and smiled when Krissy almost lost her balance. Then he pulled her against him hard and dragged his nose across her shoulder. “Damn, you smell good. Whatchu wearing tonight?”
Krissy shivered. “Oh, my goodness… uh…”
“Yeah… I feel you. See… I move like liquid on the dance floor, and exude pure charisma, raw sensuality. Your girlfriends envy your position, we can both see it in their eyes—courtesy, my illusion. I’m no threat. I’m Prince Charming, albeit the Duke of Darkness is my real name. Unbeknownst to you, the reason you’re so hot is because I’ve been messin’ with every erogenous zone on your body all night. Right now, in my arms, you can barely breathe you wanna get laid so bad.”
“Whew!” Shabazz said, chuckling as he shook his head, static running down his locks. “Damn, Rivera. That’s some cold-wicked shit—I know I know it, but, damn, hearing it laid out is deep.”
“It is deep, ‘Bazz, that’s what I want everybody to understand,” Carlos said coolly. “This creature avoids battle, if possible, because it’s a waste of energy. It comes at your mind, takes your head like it’s taking your cherry. But if it steps to you in an alley, which I’ma show ‘em in a minute, that ain’t no joke, either. This is why, you worry about the vamps—the were-demons only come out once and month and when they do, you can spot ‘em right away.”
Carlos glanced at J.L. and smiled, and then looked back down at Krissy who was staring up into his eyes, practically hypnotized. “If you have a man, that’s all the better. Conquest. I’ll take you from him in his face.” He looked at Berkfield and shrugged. “Screw what your Daddy said—tonight, I’m your Daddy.”
Berkfield bristled, but Shabazz gave him a look to stand down.
“Let the man teach her. This is broad daylight, and that’s how the bastards roll. So better she learn it now than when we’re fighting on the road.”
“I hear ya, but sheesh,” Berkfield muttered. “Rider, tomorrow I need more practice on the assault rifles.”
“No problemmo,” Rider said. “Just watch and weep. Rivera is giving it to you all straight, no chaser. Brace yourselves. He ain’t done. Dude is just warming up and ain’t even nicked her yet.”
“Correct,” Carlos said smiling, and then gazed at Krissy again, lowering his voice once more to go back into character. “Kristen… my Kris-tal-love. Your draws will be so wet for me that you’ll tell your man that brought you here to back off and go the hell home without you. One look into my eyes as I smile and calmly say, ‘I think the lady made a choice,’ will make his dumb ass stumble out of the club confused.” Carlos briefly looked at J.L.’s tight expression and then at Krissy. “Now back to you, baby. Where were we?”
He ran his hands down Krissy’s back. “Your spine is now on fire, liquefied. Your head just dropped back and your eyes are closed. Easy target. The strike is clean as I see exactly where to make my mark. Each throat is slightly different and the thickness of skin, location of the vein under it, is the victim’s signature. Yours is paper thin, just the way I love it.” Carlos looked up from Krissy’s throat. “He’ll take his time. No rush—rushing just makes the bite sloppy. They like to study their work like a sculptor studies a lump of clay before he molds it.”
Carlos grinned wider as the expressions on everyone’s faces became serious. “The crowd thinks we’re just getting it on and I’m kissing her neck while dancing.” He drew back and stared at Krissy hard to be sure she understood how deadly a situation this was. “You’ll feel like I’m inside you, moving, burning you up, and you’re practically sobbing with need on the dance floor. Then I’ll pull back from the siphon, and leave you dazed… maybe I’ll promise to call you tomorrow.” He slowly ran a finger down the side of Krissy’s neck.
“Maybe you’ll beg me to take you home with me, if I’m in that sorta mood—maybe I’ll flat-line you when we get there or maybe I was just hungry and out for a light bite.”
Carlos released Krissy who dashed back to the others and hugged herself with a shiver.
“I only did that to you and took it that far, baby-girl, because you’re untouched, and they’ll come for you, first, on this team—like Mike said. That’s how the bastards roll.” He looked at the group. “And that’s why I picked her off from the squad to demonstrate. But no female is exempt when they make a decision to target you.”
“Oh, my God…” Krissy glanced around and felt her neck. “Your voice, Carlos… is—”
“A weapon, kid, and don’t you forget it. You don’t look into my eyes, ever, or listen to shit I gotta say, even if you have to go, la la la la la I can’t hear you.”
The group burst out laughing from nervous tension and Marlene waved her stick at them.
“Folks, a prayer works the same way. Do just what Krissy did, and say, ‘Oh, my God,’ if you get overwhelmed. Call on your Maker, say the Twenty-Third in your head. Do whatever and say whatever, as long as it’s scripture from any book that’s holy. But if you feel yourself getting instantly hot, it’s a vamp—start that mental barrier ASAP.”
Damali glanced at Carlos and they shared a knowing smile. She couldn’t keep looking at him after seeing the seduction played out full force; it had put gooseflesh on her arms. She could tell he was feeling it, too, just by the serious sideline glimpse he’d given her. But none of them had any idea how much of a weapon his voice really was. The fact that the timbre of it had slaughtered her in the yard was her very private secret. However, it was time to get the newbies back on track. She reminded herself that she had to get off the ground and shake the sensation off.
“Okay, that was when they come at you smooth,” Damali said, standing in one lithe move without the aid of her hands. “Could be at a club, a bar, somewhere public. You saw their moves. Might be in an apartment alone—which is why we do group living for those that can turn from a bite. Everybody’s got a fantasy that’ll mess ‘em up real good if a vamp seizes it… and without a solid prayer barrier, these entities can come through windows, vents, under the door, and walk through walls, as well as invade dreams to get a swerve on… another reason why Mar had been adamant about having your heads screwed on right, and making sure you come into your sensory gifts fast.”
Carlos watched Damali saunter over to him, and just seeing the way she moved was making his eyes start to flicker silver. He closed them with a slow blink, got himself together, and then smiled as she stepped onto the mat.
“Before we put you up against Rivera in hand-to-hand combat,” Damali said, “I’m gonna show you the moves that could save your life—because my bones don’t break as easily as yours will, and neither do his, therefore he and I can go at it rough in this demonstration.”
Damali put her hands on her hips while she spoke to the team. “As Neterus, we’re gonna show you, first, how serious a battle can get, and remember, the vamp can regenerate on the spot like a werewolf can’t. So, for every cut and blow you land, unless it’s dead aim in the heart or you take off its head, that mofo is still moving and ain’t really hurt.”
Mike came back to the group, seeming much-improved, and sat down next to Inez, glimpsing her from the corner of his eye. “This is deep. All pro. I gotta see this.”
“Okay,” Damali said, beginning to circle Carlos. “You didn’t get your nick on at the club, let’s say. Something interrupted the feed, like the girl calling on Jesus. You’re pissed off and battle-bulked, saw me walk out in the back of the joint to catch some air. You’re eyes are glowing, fangs distended to battle-length. You’re ready to rumble. Your once smooth manicure is now claws, so when you grab me, as I pull away, my flesh is ripping. Therefore,” she added, addressing the team, “first order of business is for me to aim for your heart—which you know I’m going for, because every thought that runs through my head, I automatically telegraph in advance.”
“Correct,” Carlos said, matching her moves. “This is again why this particular entity is no one you want on your ass in close quarters. They move fast, and if close, you will get cut up and nicked,” he said, making a quick pivot to get behind Damali’s back in a flash, rolling around her, but she matched his motion. “These entities can dodge bullets unless you draw and squeeze the trigger like lightening. So, until you’re as fast as Rider, Shabazz, Jose, and D, you’ve gotta slow ‘em down with the sacred elements—prayers, salts, garlic, Holy water, but that won’t kill him, just impair him slightly and perhaps stun him for a second or two.”
“Stop talkin’, professor, and bring it,” Damali said with a smile.
Both Neterus lunged. Carlos slammed her to the mat and she flipped his weight up off her to land him on his back. He was up in an instant, and came at her again. She fly-kicked him to the mid-section, and he grabbed her leg as he went down from the blow, making her hit the mat with a thud. Snatching her to him by her leg, he was about to grab the other one as he quickly sat up. But flat-kicking with her free foot, aiming the heel of her boot at his Adam’s apple, Damali yanked her free leg back before he could grab it, and twisted the other one he still held in his grip, twirling her body loose to jump up again.
Carlos was up before her and landed a soft punch against her jaw when they met. Damali fell back and sprawled out on the mat for a second, faking the results of the pulled blow, then flipped up without using her hands. They circled again, and when Carlos came at her low, she roundhouse kicked him, gently touching her boot to his jaw.
“That was fucked up,” he said, laughing, and then came at her again. “But you know I’d be airborne by now to drop down on you from overhead.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, true,” she said, dodging his bite snap, and kicking around his body to his kidneys.
He reached and was fast enough to get her by the front of her shirt, and she brought a fist down hard into the bend of his elbow to break his hold. But he grabbed her arm with his free hand. As quickly as she’d lobbed a flat-handed jab to drive his nose into his skull, he tucked the one arm of hers he held behind her to pull her body to slam against his hard. She raised her knee, but stopped short of his balls.
“Just playing,” she said, grinning wide and breathing hard
He yanked her arm around to sling her back from him as she unsheathed an imaginary dagger and he caught the other hand with his. “Now I’m pissed,” he said with a broad smile, taking deep breaths. He locked a leg around one of hers and swept her legs out from under her, bringing her down to the mat. “And you gave up your center of gravity, fucking with me like that. Lost your focus, didn’t you?”
Damali curled her body around, drew her legs up quickly, and gently landed both boots against his kneecaps as he was coming down to blanket her. “Your knees are blown out, brother.”
Carlos fell back but still had her wrists pulling her on top of him. “They just regenerated,” he said, breathing hard. And then he knocked her head back with his jaw.
“Stop! Hold that move. Teaching moment,” she said through a gasp. She gazed down at him and his eyes were glowing. “Regroup,” she said quietly. “Not out here.”
He closed his eyes as she looked at the newbies.
“You now only have three seconds to live,” Damali said, “if you allow him to get both of your hands. It’s like a shark attack. The coming bite is always signaled when the vampire knocks your head back, studies the strike site, and takes a deep breath. One, two, three. Just like that. They always take a deep breath, first, though.” She looked down at Carlos. “Tell ‘em why, baby.”
“Second to live, one, is the jaw collision. That’s to stun your prey and open an unobstructed pathway to the jugular. The average human is dazed by the blow—because at this point, the vamp’s jaw is packed with what feels like iron. Imagine being hit in the face with a crowbar… unless it’s a love tap,” he added wiggling his brows at her. “Then they take a second to study where to insert their fangs—takes only an instant in a rush. But, the breath is third, that last crucial second you have to work with… necessary for him to go in and siphon for minutes and to gather whatever energy he’s decided to transmit with the bite.”
“I don’t understand,” Juanita said, scratching her head. “Energy in the bite?”
“If I’m just blowing her mind, I’m gathering all the pleasure I can into the breath to release it with the penetration of fangs,” Carlos said, looking up at Damali with longing. “If I wanna turn her, I’m gathering cell transformation energy to make her one of mine, and to be sure she knows I’m her Daddy—to always home to me, ‘cause I made her.”
“Whoa…” Bobby whispered.
“Yeah,” Carlos said, trying not to breathe hard as he stared at Damali and felt her body quietly shudder while pressed against his. “The decision happens in that one-second breath, and if I want to kill her, I’m not aiming for the jugular. I’m going for the center of the throat. Battle bite.”
“So, if your hands are trapped,” Inez said, frowning, “then, how do you get outta that shit?”
“Deliver the bite,” Damali said.
Carlos hesitated as a shiver ran down his spine. He knocked her head back again, but it was more like a nudge and too tender.
“Like we’re fighting,” Damali whispered through her teeth.
“My bad,” he murmured, beginning to caress her wrists. “I forgot.” He knocked her head back again, harder this time, took a deep breath, but before he could strike, she instantly covered his Adam’s apple with her mouth, and then pulled back. He briefly closed his eyes and shuddered.
“You have to move as fast as a cobra,” she said, now turning to look at the group. She couldn’t stare at Carlos’s eyes, which had gone solid silver when he looked away in the opposite direction so the team couldn’t see them.
“What I just did won’t hurt the vamp, no matter how hard I bite down, but it will turn his ass on, seriously—no matter what the circumstances. A hard bite from a potential lay in the midst of battle or a physical struggle is like a love nick. They play rough. It could change the situation from being a throat tear-out to a seduction, which gives you more options. It’ll make the entity hesitate, two, three additional seconds, while trying to decide if maybe they’d rather get busy with you before you die, or not. Doesn’t always work, but when you’re ass-out and your back is on the ground, use everything, and I do mean everything you’ve got to win.”
“Shit, you won,” Carlos murmured, looking at her without a smile.
“No I didn’t, I just stunned you. But tell ‘em what your first impulse was.”
His cheek lifted in a lopsided grin. “You sure you want me to tell all that?”
“Tell ‘em,” she said, chuckling. “This could save a life.”
“Aw’ight…” Carlos sighed, and then glanced at the wide-eyed newbies. “My first reaction was to drop one of her hands, and just pin down the one with the blade.”
“I don’t get it?” Marjorie said, glancing at her husband.
“He needs the other one to get her clothes off, Marj,” Berkfield said in a patronizing tone, clearly embarrassed by the sensual demonstration.
“Carlos shook his head. “Nah. If I’m a higher level vamp, I can do that with my mind.”
“No shit?” Berkfield said, wiping his forehead. “Damn…”
“I need to flip her on her back so I’m in a power position, drop her arm once her clothes vanish, and hold her for leverage so I can go to wurk.” Carlos suddenly flipped Damali onto her back, slid his arm under her waist, and anchored her to him, then spread her thighs with his knee.
“Now you see why you need those muscles to be strong, too?” Damali said, glancing at the group. “Make the move again, Carlos, but this time with me not having it.”
Carlos leaned down to speak to her privately in full view of the team. “Nine weeks ago you owed me a visit in the shower—tomorrow came and went,” he murmured so no one else could hear.
“You’re gonna have to take a cold one without me,” she whispered into his ear, sending the breathy message with a sigh and chuckling as they repositioned themselves. “Marjorie just came into her powers. We have to wait for the other newbies to bloom.”
Carlos briefly dropped his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. “Aw… man…”
Damali turned her head to look at the group, trying to create a diversion to what was quickly becoming too private in a very public forum. “Remember, he’s as strong as Mike, even if not battle-bulked. The vamps come in a more streamline package, but he’s strong. The females are the same way, and this works if you’re male or female and trapped.” She looked at Carlos, thoroughly identifying with the pain in his eyes, but unable to do anything about it at the moment. “Okay. Start again from the bite attempt.”
Carlos pulled her back on top of him to where they began, knocked her head back, and took the breath—Damali’s mouth covered his Adam’s apple. He pulled out of her bite and looked at her stunned for a second. She couldn’t tell if it was role play, but suspected it was partially real as he flipped her with sudden force and his hand slid down her arm, then his vice grip captured her waist. It all happened in a few seconds.
“You’re naked,” he said, breathing out the statement.
She smiled. “I know.”
Her legs were between his like they originally had been while she was on top of him. They struggled on the mat as he tried to get his knee positioned between them. Needing more leverage and growing frustrated, he lifted to apply just enough to force to press down more of his weight on her from his extended hand that was clutching her wrist. When he slightly raised himself up, she bit his throat at the same time she grabbed his crotch. His hand released her arm as he pulled back to give himself swing range to pretend to bitch slap her, and she punched her fist that would have been holding a blade against his chest.
“You are so dead, brother,” Damali said, laughing and rolling out from under him. She stood and took a bow as all the Guardians clapped.
Carlos flopped forward on the mat. “I’m cinders.” He said with a groan and smiled. He glanced up at her and winked. “Wanna go again, later, and see who wins, then—best two outta three?”
She waved him away chuckling to herself and walked off the mat with one hand on her hip. “That was for the ladies. Male Guardians will get treated a whole lot different, and vice versa—if a female vamp is trying to beat one of the female Guardians down. Forget the love bite move. I gotta show y’all something else for that scenario.”
Carlos lay on the mat on his stomach watching Damali’s backside and the sassy way she sauntered over to the group.
Winded, Damali dropped forward, her hands on her knees, and peered at Carlos who hadn’t moved. “C’mon, Rivera. Get up and show the guys what kinda battle they’d face in close range with a bulked male.”
He couldn’t get the silver out of his eyes and the wood she’d given him was killing him as though he’d actually been gored. For a moment he just rested his damp forehead on the mat and took in deep breaths.
“C’mon, Rivera,” Big Mike said, teasing him. “No slacking with the training. I did ‘em all. You can, too.”
“Yeah, man, we still gotta go through succubae and incubi demonstrations… maybe some Amanthra training,” Shabazz said, adding in his two cents to mess with Carlos no end.
The old-heads on the team gave Marlene innocent glances when she frowned at them, but couldn’t help smiling.
“Yeah, you’re the cool specialist, smooth operator, my man,” Rider said with a laugh as he stood, pulled out a pack of smokes, and stretched. “Why don’t you show the newbies what you really got?” Rider winked at him as he walked away and lit a cigarette.
“Okay. Just gimme a minute to amp down and get my head together,” Carlos finally said, unable to focus. “I might accidentally snatch Bobby’s heart out, for real, right now.