The screen door banged shut behind her as she came back into the house, loaded down with bags. The shopping trip with Cathy had seemed like a weirdly exhilarating reality-show segment, where a dumpy housewife gets to spend far too much money on gorgeous clothes. Except that Melissa hadn’t felt the least bit dumpy, even when the clothes weren’t flattering, or they highlighted her belly pudge, which had lately made her feel so self-conscious. Cathy had such a generous, matter-of-fact approach to what worked and didn’t work that Melissa had never felt judged.
Instead, the two of them were more like a team, playing with what they knew about Erik’s tastes and the realities of Melissa’s body. When something didn’t look flattering, Cathy simply shook her head thoughtfully and said, “Let’s try this instead.” Many of the things that Cathy found had made Melissa look stunning, which left her both surprised and elated. Melissa had never been as successful at picking out good clothes when she went shopping by herself. “Of course,” she reminded herself, “I never go to those sorts of stores. My God, we must have spent thousands!”
A couple of times, there was something that almost looked right, but Cathy dismissed it, saying, “I don’t know. A few more weeks working out with Amy might help, but really, this dress is for anorexic models. The whole point is finding you clothes that are effortless. We want something that makes you look great, without trying.”
Cathy had guided her toward an all-American, Ralph Lauren look. Everything they bought was very sexy but in an understated, casual style. Almost nothing had an ‘in your face’ eroticism. The sensuality often came from the sheerness of the fabric or a slightly deeper or more revealing cut. Even a blouse or two that they had gotten with plunging lines had soft folds that would only occasionally drape open, rather than some ridiculous v-neck that reached down to the bellybutton.
Cathy had also found her two wrap skirts, with slits that opened to reveal a surprising amount of leg when Melissa sat or even walked briskly. One of the wrap skirts was a maxi-length. Melissa was pleased with how her height added more drama as the long wrap would flutter open and closed when she walked.
There were several lace skirts that Cathy had helped her pick out. After buying them, Cathy had taken a sewing tool out of her purse and casually removed the lining from the skirts, leaving them with just enough opacity not to be completely outrageous. The sales clerk had been astonished to watch the process. Cathy had then smiled politely as she slid the linings across the counter and asked the clerk if she would please put them in the trash.
Melissa looked forward to modeling her purchases for Erik, and perhaps Serena, but a quick look at the kitchen clock confirmed she only had a few minutes until her session with Sensei Mike.
She was fairly certain that ‘sensei’ was a Japanese word for a martial arts teacher. Beyond that, she wasn’t sure what this next encounter would entail. She was more lighthearted about her uncertainty, however, than she had been in the morning. As Erik had predicted, her shopping trip with Cathy had left her in a more settled mood. For the moment, at least, she was feeling at peace with the strange turn her life had taken.
Walking to her room, she didn’t see Erik anywhere in the house. She wondered where he was. “Probably,” she said out loud, “coming up with more ways to torment me.” Instead of anger, however, she felt a naughty thrill of anticipation.
Entering her room, she saw laid out on her bed a white cotton martial arts outfit and a sports bra. She laughed at the continued absence of panties, declaring to the empty room, “Boys will be boys.”
As quickly as she could, she changed into the martial arts outfit, although she struggled a bit with how to wrap and tie the long cotton belt. Erik hadn’t left her any shoes to go with the new clothes. She decided that her wedges or any of the other heels in her closet would look silly, so she went barefoot. She and Cathy had deferred any shoe shopping to later in the week since she already had a half dozen new pairs in her closet.
Cathy had told her that Erik had plans for the two of them to go clothes shopping a couple of times a week, for at least a few weeks. Melissa had been shocked to learn that Cathy’s full-time job was shopping for clothes. She worked mainly for movie and television production companies, helping them with wardrobe purchases. She also had a network of private clients, several of whom were in the bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism world.
Melissa looked at the pile of shopping bags that she had deposited next to the bed, hoping that she would get to keep all these clothes when the summer ended. Most of them could be toned down by wearing a slip or by adding a discreet fastener. Thinking ahead to the end of the summer made her pensive. With a snort, she shoved that mood aside and set out with a deliberately springy, happy stride.
When she reached the main part of the house, she discovered Erik just coming in the front door. From the upper level, he looked over the railing and called out, “I guess you had a lot of fun shopping, skipping around like like that.”
“Oh, we had a love-e-ly time. Perfectly wonderful.”
“Good, well, come on up. We shouldn’t keep Mike waiting.”
“Sure.” Melissa hurried up the steps, happy to be in bare feet after too much time in tall heels.
Walking out the screen door together, she asked, “So is it Mike? Or Sensei Mike?”
“Well, really Mike. He’s not very formal. He’s also not into the whole kink thing, but when you’re learning from him, calling him sensei is just a traditional sign of respect. And the guy deserves it; he’s an amazing teacher.”
“Yeah, so what is it, exactly, that I’m supposed to be learning? It’s not obvious how martial arts fits into the whole sex slave thing.”
“True, true. It might seem a strange sort of fit, but there’s a few good reasons. First, at a practical level, you’re going into Archeology. That’s going to take you all over the world, including a lot of places that are real hell-holes. Or at least, places that aren’t on the normal tourist routes. I’d like you to be safe, so knowing how to handle yourself seems like a good idea.
“Second, if you decide to go further into this world of BDSM, you’ll eventually run across some very unhappy, twisted souls. The only way some sickos can get off is by inflicting real pain on someone… non-consensual sort of stuff.
“Most of us are pretty conscientious about trying to police the clubs and the BDSM community to keep out the scum, but they’re usually somewhere around, lurking around the dark edges.
“I feel a personal sense of responsibility. If I’m going to bring you into this world, I should make sure that you can protect yourself.”
They had been walking back through the out-buildings, towards the exercise studio. Even though the day was warm, Melissa felt a chill as he spoke. He noticed and stopped walking, taking her hands in his. “Look, I don’t mean to frighten you. Or at least, not too much. You should talk to Deborah or Serena about it. Mostly, it’s just a matter of common sense precautions, but still, knowing how to take somebody down never hurts.”
Then Erik looked away, almost a little bashful. After a moment, a small grin crept across his mouth, and he turned back, “I suppose I should come clean and tell you there’s another reason. It’s my own kink, I guess. I love the idea of owning a dangerous woman. I don’t know… it’s sort of like in spy movies when you see the evil mastermind, and he’s got this beautiful female assassin who’s totally devoted to him. That gives me a rush, knowing I’m the master of a powerful and dangerous woman.”
Erik shook his head, clearly embarrassed to be revealing this motivation to her. Then he continued, “I don’t know how much that feeds into the rest of it, because all the other reasons for you knowing how to protect yourself really are valid, but it didn’t feel fair not to tell you why I, personally at least, get a kick out of it.”
“Okayyy… I guess that works. Hey, I always loved James Bond movies. And I guess the bad girls were sort of… fun, especially the early ones. But, yecch, they always get killed off along the way.”
“Well, we’ll teach you how to kill, instead of be killed.”
“That’s a… pretty aggressive way to put it.”
“Yeah, but where you’re headed, out into the field on some dig in the ass-end of nowhere, there can be some seriously bad guys out there. Hopefully, there’s lots of alternatives short of kill or be killed. But someday, that could be what it comes down to: kill or be killed. In that case, I’d much rather you knew how to… be aggressive.”
“Okay, I guess I could buy that.”
“Anyway, that’s why I brought in Mike, rather than somebody else. He’s a retired Special Forces guy. He’s got loads of “been there, done that” credentials. After 22 years in the service, he got out so he could be a real husband and dad, instead of a Skype call every few weeks. He lives on a farm near here and teaches executive protection stuff on the side, which is how I met him.”
“You needed executive protection?”
“A couple of years back, some mob-related union guys got pretty upset at me for busting up their cozy little arrangement with a company that I was trying to save. Mike taught me how to… well, mostly, how to be careful. What to watch for. How to take somebody down quickly. How to shoot. Helped me get a carry permit for a concealed weapon. He even shadowed me for awhile, when it got a little hairy.”
“And nothing. When you’re prepared, the bad guys eventually figure it out. They’re not stupid. They’re not going to go after somebody if it might get them killed or put in jail. So after awhile, they went after easier prey, somewhere else.”
“That’s kind of… intense.”
“Yeah, I didn’t sleep too well for a couple of months there, but Mike helped me understand that I was high enough profile that they didn’t really want to follow through with their threats, cause that would have attracted a lot of attention. So I just made it easier and more profitable for them to go somewhere else, and I was careful to do it in a way that didn’t challenge their manhood or make them do something stupid. Anyway, Mike’s a good guy. What he’s going to teach you is how to read a situation. Then, when you have to act, if you ever have to act, he’s going to teach you the short, sharp, nasty stuff. No fancy kung-fu ‘praying mantis style’ or whatever. Just how to take somebody down fast and hard.
“Later on, he’ll teach you how to shoot a weapon.”
“Hey, your James Bond training gets even better. Next week, I’ll take you up to a race track. There’s a race driver up there who does private classes. We’ve got some track time, and you can learn how to play with your new toy.”
“Your Aston Martin.”
“Yeah, I finally figured out that overpowered brute you had me drive today is an Aston Martin. Wait, what do you mean, ‘mine’?”
“I don’t know. It seemed to suit you, so I got it.”
“What the fuck?”
“Hey, it’s a couple of years old. The owner wanted the latest model and traded it in. I know the dealer, and it was available at a great price. Besides, I’ve always wanted one. It is very ‘James Bond.’ So getting you a car to drive was a great excuse.”
“So it’s yours, right? I’m just borrowing it for the summer.”
“Yep, company car. Comes with the job. I mean, I told you I’d provide transportation.”
“You know that you’re like… way over the top sometimes. I mean, way, way over the top.”
“Yeah, part of my charm.”
“Something like that.”
Erik made a sad face. “What, you don’t like the car?”
“It’s gorgeous. The leather is so soft. I mean, it’s a little scary to drive. Though it’s also way cool, and I love how solid it feels on the road. But it’s got to be six figures!”
“Brand new, sure, but I got a much better deal than that. Anyway, it’s all part of my nefarious plan to teach you how to drive a high-performance car. Later on, some buddies of Mike have an executive protection driving school. They’ll teach you how to get out of being shaken down at a checkpoint, what to do when you’re being chased, that sort of thing.”
“Where the hell do you think I’m going, that I’m going to need to know that sort of stuff?”
“Brooklyn? Come on, humor me. Take this as a summer to learn lots of outlandish things that you might never, ever need to use again.”
“That’s for sure,” she said, somewhat sardonically.
“Trust me,” he assured her. “It’ll be fun – if you let it be, that is. Remember, you’ve stepped through the looking glass. Explore. Be bold. Your job is to embrace the adventure. Fearlessly.”
“There’s the spirit! Now let’s go meet Sensei Mike.”
They resumed walking. Then Melissa suddenly stopped and blurted out accusingly, “Lara Croft! You’re trying to turn me into Lara Croft!”
Erik stopped alongside her. He was thoughtful for a moment, then asked, “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider?” She nodded emphatically. He mused, “The movies, right? Angelina Jolie?” She nodded again and Erik ruefully shook his head. “Wow. Truth is, I hadn’t thought of it. I mean, sure, at some level her character was every adolescent male’s fantasy. But at another level, the movie version of Lara Croft was way too much bitch-goddess for my taste.”
He laughed a little, “But yeah, it’s true that I’m guilty of lusting after the general trope of the action-girl. You being in Archeology and the Lara Croft thing… that hadn’t occurred to me, at least not consciously. Of course, you’d look pretty cute in those itty-bitty shorts, tight shirt, and gun belt.”
Melissa rolled her eyes, “Boys!”
Erik reached out and smacked her behind. An unexpected jolt of sexually charged electricity raced up Melissa’s spine, stiffening her and making her catch her breath. Erik grinned evilly, “Yes, but I know your fantasies too. Well, at least some of them. We’ll find the others. Trial and error, maybe. It might take awhile, but don’t worry, I’m a determined and patient man.”
Melissa shook her head sadly, “I am so fucked.”
“That’s for certain.”
When they reached the exercise studio, Erik walked back with her to an area she hadn’t paid attention to before. The whole floor was a mat, covered in cotton canvas. Waiting for them was a compact man in his early forties, slightly balding and a little overweight. He was dressed in a martial arts outfit, but the heavy white cotton seemed comfortably rumpled on him. He had been stretching as they walked in. He rose up to greet them, moving smoothly, although with nothing like the grace of Joseph, or even Erik.
He came over with a friendly, low-key smile and put out his hand to shake, saying, “Hi. I’m Mike.”
She shook his hand politely, “I’m Melissa. Nice to meet you.” She was surprised to realize that she was taller than him, even in her bare feet.
“Erik says you’re studying to be an archeologist.”
“Yeah. I, ah, really like Archeology. Learning about where we came from, what shaped us, that’s always been something that I’ve wanted to do.”
“Sounds cool,” he said with what seemed like genuine enthusiasm. “You interested in any particular culture or area?”
“Well, my school has both Classical and Non-Classical.” He cocked his head questioningly, so she explained, “Classical is Greece, Rome, the Near East, that sort of thing. I like that a lot, but I also find some of the Non-Classical work in Africa fascinating.”
He smiled in affirmation, “I spent some time in Africa and the Near East. The Middle East too. Lots of beautiful country and some pretty amazing people.”
“Ah yeah, Erik said you were Special Forces or something.”
Mike nodded, “That’s a pretty good description, sure.”
“It’s just that, well… you don’t seem to be this big, bulked out, swaggering… I don’t know.”
Mike grinned, “Hollywood’s got it’s version of reality, bless their pointy little heads. Guys in the teams are mostly like me. SEALS might be a bit more bulked out… and they definitely have a swagger, but operators like me are just ordinary folk.”
Erik laughed and said quietly, “Yeah, and I’ve got a bridge you might want to buy.”
Mike grinned, waving Erik’s comment away. “Anyway, Erik asked me if I could show you a few things that might help you out if things ever get a little dicey overseas.”
Melissa shrugged her shoulders. “Yeah, well I guess it couldn’t hurt.”
“Okay, great.” Mike looked over to Erik, “Were you going to stay around? Or…”
“No, no, I just wanted to introduce you.” Erik reached out touching Mike’s arm. “And hey, I’m sorry we were late. It was my fault.”
Mike smiled, “No problem. First day. Lots of things to square away.” Then Mike made shooing motions with his hands, “Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of her.”
Erik stepped back, laughing, “Okay, okay. I’m leaving. See you guys later.”
Melissa and Mike watched as Erik walked to the front door and left. Then Mike turned to Melissa and asked, “So have you ever had any self-defense classes or martial arts training?”
She shook her head, “No.”
He nodded thoughtfully, “You look like you’re in pretty good shape. Play sports?”
“Not really. I was kind of a tomboy when I was younger. Then, you know, softball, and stuff like that. Oh, and I was in dance, ballet, for… I don’t know, years and years.”
“That’s all good. Exercise, coordination, all that stuff is really useful. As a woman, though, you know you’re never going to have a guy’s upper body strength. Testosterone is a steroid, and it gives guys an unfair advantage. Of course, it also makes us pretty stupid, most of the time. So I’m going to teach you a wonderful trick. I’m going to try to teach you how to use men’s strength and stupidity to your advantage.”
“That sounds… I’m not sure… how does it work?
“Sure. Here’s an example. Most of the guys you need to worry about defending yourself against are the sort of guys who don’t have a lot of respect for women in the first place. So they’re going to get right up in your face.” Mike stepped in close to her to demonstrate. “And they’re not going to be thinking about defending themselves, ‘cause they’re thinking about attacking you. So that leaves them open in a dozen different ways. You can take a guy down like that in just a couple of moves.”
“‘Take him down?’”
“Yeah, well I’m going to teach you two different sets of techniques. One is aimed at regaining control of the situation, giving you a shot at deescalating things, without seriously hurting the other person. The other is how to, as quickly as possible, disable the other person – kill him or injure him so badly that you have a good chance to get away. The choice of which approach, which set of techniques you use, is up to you, based on the scenario.”
He shrugged his shoulders and continued, “I’ll try to help you learn how to read a situation so you can avoid a problem if possible, but if you can’t, then you’ll hopefully learn what response is most likely to keep you safe.”
“Ah, I’m not so sure I want to know how to kill somebody.”
Mike nodded thoughtfully, “That’s a tough one. Killing another human being is… well, it’s not something to be taken lightly. The problem is, you might be going to places where lots of people do take it lightly. Folks like that, they can be pretty scary.”
Mike shrugged, then added, “Even in those places, though, most of them have a tradition of hospitality towards a visitor that would put America to shame. They’ll feed you a great meal, not letting you know that means they’ll have nothing left for themselves to eat the next day.”
He nodded, “Yeah, always bring enough food along so you can leave your hosts with more food than they feed you. Even in the worst places, there are wonderful people, so, hopefully, you won’t need anything that I’m going to teach you. But if you do, you’ll really want to know it. At some point, not now, but at some point in the next few weeks, you’ll probably want to do some serious soul searching about what happens if you do get in a bad way. Would you’d rather let yourself be raped, tortured, killed – to avoid killing someone else. I know that’s pretty blunt, but I think you need to face that decision squarely before it might ever come up. For some people, killing another person is simply not an option. I truly do respect that.
“I will tell you, though, that when things get ugly, most folks get to the place where they’d rather kill than be killed… although not all. So, I don’t have to teach you how to seriously hurt or kill somebody. If you want, we can stay with just the control moves.”
He gave her a reassuring smile, then continued, “I think it makes more sense, though, to teach you both ways. Then you can decide for yourself which to use if you ever need to.”
Melissa nodded, sobered by the serious turn the lesson had taken.
Mike continued, “In any case, you probably shouldn't decide anything right now. Today, I’m just going to start with some basics. Mostly, we’ll work with how to fall down. Then I’ll show you a basic wrist lock.”
“How to fall down?”
Mike grinned, “Yeah sounds kind of stupid, right? I mean, you trip, fall, and the ground stops you. That’s simple enough. The trick is, how to do it, so you don’t get hurt. Even better, so you come right back up. That way, if somebody shoves you down, you just go with the move, roll away, zip right back up to your feet, and you’re running like hell out of there before the bad guy has any fucking idea what just happened.”
Mike smiled broadly and continued, “Running away is almost always a really good option. I’ve had lots of practice, personally. Only we called it exfiltration, so we didn’t sound like wusses. Anyway, being able to run faster than the guy chasing you is another reason for staying in good shape.”
“But aren’t you some sort of super soldier? I mean, did you ever really run away?”
“Super soldier?” Mike laughed. “We ran away lots. I still do. Whenever my wife wants something else fixed… but no, seriously, we were a dozen guys, at most. If the bad guys figured out where we were, our best bet was usually to run like hell. If we had to stick around and fight it out, things get messy. People get hurt. When bullets start flying around, good guys can catch one as easily as a bad guy. The best bet is to break contact fast and get the hell out of Dodge. Then you’ve got a chance to circle around and continue the mission.
“So yeah, I’ve spent a fair amount of time running from trouble. And I highly recommend it. So a lot of what I’ll show you is exactly that. How to break contact and buy yourself the time and space to rabbit out of there.”
He paused for a moment to see if she had any questions, then asked, “Ready to get started?”
She grimaced, “Okay. I’m still a little sore from this morning’s workout.”
He nodded, “Then let’s warm up with some exercises first. Got to get those muscles warm and loose, so you don’t hurt anything.”