Off Limits

By: Lauren Landish

At least I wasn't homeless yet, I thought as I walked. Christopher Lake may have been an asshole, like a lot of people I knew from the military, but he was still my friend. The best friend I had, in fact. More importantly in the immediate sense, Chris was willing to let me crash at his apartment until he got back into town in a week. He'd even left me some money to help me get by and a fully stocked set of cupboards in the apartment. It had saved me more than once. I owed him everything and would always be grateful for that. Still, he was coming back from Europe in a week, and I was living in a studio apartment. What I was going to do after he got back, I had no fucking idea.

Concerns about my potential future homelessness vanished when I saw the two men dragging the girl into the tree line. Piedmont Park is dotted all over the place with these little mini groups of trees, not enough during the day to really hide what you're doing, but a good place to sit down and have a picnic or get out of the sun if you wanted to. At night, however, they provided just enough cover for all sorts of nefarious activities. My time in Leavenworth had made me pretty laissez-faire about the whole thing, but when I saw that, I reacted. Memories started to flash through my brain about what had gotten me into the mess I was in, and my hands balled into fists. Not again, I said to myself.

Thankfully, the skills I'd learned in the military hadn't faded during my years in Leavenworth. If anything, they were sharper than ever, as some of the most skilled combatants I met had a problem following orders once off the battlefield. We'd shared ideas and sometimes even trained in the dim lights and the scattered moments when the guards weren't watching us. I was able to sneak up on the first attacker while both of them were distracted by the girl, who I had to give credit for fighting hard, despite the obvious bad odds she faced. Her hands were hooked into claws, and she was trying to fend off the guy on top of her by threatening to claw out his eyes. He backhanded her, her head bouncing off the turf just as I got close.

Even the best fighter sometimes has luck on his side, and in my case, it was the fact that the angle I hit the first guy at sent him headfirst into the trunk of a tree. He dropped, and I started to turn to the other guy, but he was quick, quicker than I thought he'd be. His fist caught me in the mouth just as I was turning, jerking my head to the side. There was a momentary flash of white-hot pain, and I was pretty sure he'd cut me, probably on the ring he was wearing on his right hand. I rolled with the punch, however, and didn't take too much damage.

He followed up the punch with a halfway decent kick that had a good amount of its power taken away by the fact that his pants were sagging damn near down around his knees. His pants bound up the extension of his hip so that all he did was turn me a bit more to the side. I went with it, kicking backward with a hard kick I'd been taught first from la savate, the French kicking martial art. It caught the guy square in his family jewels, dropping him before I followed up with a knee that put him to sleep. The first rule you learn in street combat is that there are no concepts of fairness or sportsmanship. The guy who goes into a street fight with codes such as chivalry or fair play will usually end up bleeding and possibly dying in the middle of the street, honorable or not. Besides, the guy had been trying to rape a girl and was wearing a metal ring, so it's not like he was deserving of a fair fight or mercy.

As I stood above his laid out body, I was breathing hard, not from the exertion, but from the rush. It had been a long time since I'd tasted combat again, and I had to admit the taste was sweeter than I wanted it to be. I'd lost myself in the haze of combat before, and I was surely damned if I did it again. And I didn't mean figuratively, either.

I turned to the girl, who was still lying on the ground. She'd taken a pretty hard shot from the guy when they were struggling on the ground, and I wasn't surprised she was still a bit dazed. It takes longer than a lot of people think to recover from a hit to the head. Reaching out to her, I tried to keep my voice calm.

I didn't tell her the bigger reason I wanted to get out of there was that I didn't want the cops involved, at least not with me around. If I could get the young woman up and out of the park, maybe she'd go to the cops on her own without dragging me into it. I didn't like my chances with the Atlanta police, regardless of whether I had the woman's statement to back me up. I just didn't trust them.

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