Monday, February 13, 2017

Preacher (Part 9)

     And then, things got quiet for a while.
     Jane and I did our traveling, and added another stop to our itinerary, Hearst Castle.  I'd always loathed William Randolph Hearst, and was curious about how much luxury could be acquired when you make your living as a bullshit artist.  Rather a lot, it turned out.  We took US 1 all the way down the coast, a road the Falcon was built for.  Breathtaking scenery.  I shot a few rolls of film on an empty beach, getting Hustler-style pictures of Jane writhing in the sand.  She said she wanted two sets of prints to give away: one for her current boy-toy Smiley, the other for.... Lance.  She told me, "Yes, it is a bitchy thing to do, but....  I was anything but a bitch while we were breaking up, so this is just a little zing.  He'll have something to jack off to, and might realize he really did blow it when he set his sights on the Debbie object."

     "Any word on how they're doing?" I asked.
     "I passed on your advice about avoiding Chico State, and apparently it was taken to heart.  The last time we talked, Lance said Debbie's parents went up to Chico for a weekend and were totally appalled with what they saw.  He says her dad was totally crushed when he stopped by his old fraternity house, I guess it looks like one of those tenements in Detroit now.  Yeah, the Debbie object will probably be going to SDSU and living at home.  And Lance told Debbie I was the source of the advice, which blew her mind."
     "Is he still starved for pussy?"
     Jane laughed.  "I believe so.   I probed gently into the subject, simply asking if the intimacy had increased with his new sweetie.  He didn't really answer verbally, but his body language read like a textbook.  He's gonna develop a freaky Popeye forearm from jacking off so much these days."

     The feared assaults from the Moral Militia never materialized.  For about a week and a half there had been a spate of negative mail directed at "Miss B.Page," but not much of what I saw was real poison.  A few "Burn in hell,slut" letters, but most were more along the lines of "For shame, you.... You naughty person!"  Most even had return addresses on the envelopes.  Bekka pulled a half-dozen at random and wrote back, telling the writers that just about everything Reverend Fallwood had said about Becky Page was untrue: obviously, Fallwood's statements were carefully couched as "We have heard...." or "It is reported...." to avoid any libels.  But no, Becky Page is happily married, loves her family, lives quietly, and is a Christian.  Her thespian endeavors may seem shocking, but it is just an unusual style of acting, not degenerate behavior.  Yes, she is bisexual, and a libertine "in spirit," but her life was not one long series of empty sexual encounters as Fallwood might have his viewers believe.  Thank you for sharing your concerns, regards, Becky Page.
     If we were being stalked or spied upon by the more zealous Moral Militia types, they were damn good, we never spotted anything out of place.  "The Western Dispatch" was hammered into inactivity through various court orders: a junior high civics student could point out the ways the newsletter was violating civil laws.  The publisher was a Mr. Mather Owens, a deacon at a storefront church in Merced and a land surveyor by trade.  He annoyed the Merced County Superior Court by testifying he put all correspondence received through a shredder and kept no records on submitting writers.  The bulk mail/nonprofit registration belonged to Mr. Owens' church, who had not given Owns permission to use it.  While civil court is glacial, the newsletter was under a temporary injunction, a cease and desist order from the court.  The judge told Mr. Owens he'd better start vetting what he published through a lawyer, as printing libels, incitements, and threats were not protected speech, which is why Mr. Owens was now the subject of a lawsuit brought by Bekka Schneider, a.k.a. Becky Page, and her studio, Inana Productions, seeking $5 million in punitive damages.  Schneider et. al. were represented by two lawyers whose appearance and demeanor would suggest they were accountants from Des Moines.  Their behavior in court, however, was surgical and ruthless.  They demanded copies of every "Western Dispatch" going back for three years.  Owens' lawyer objected, and was shut down.  The judge ordered Owens to provide the material.  Owens replied he had no archives of his own newsletter.  The judge told him to start searching high and low for copies, he had six weeks to comply.  "Assembling a periodical, publishing it, and destroying the original materials is not a defense against libel, defamation, or incitement.  Given the lax editorial and legal standards demonstrated in the issue being discussed, I am very curious as to the content of earlier issues.  Contact your subscribers and hope the back issues are archived somewhere."

     The cottage in Venice Beach was ready when Mallory and Jill arrived.  They had Jill's old cop car Caprice, a municipal auction vehicle.  (Jill had named the car "Pig Pen,")  She'd installed a bumper hitch for a U-Haul trailer, and that was it.  They'd both sold all their furniture and a lot of other stuff before leaving Minneapolis, intending to replace the furniture once they'd arrived in SoCal.  This was a bit of poor planning: they wouldn't even have a bed when they arrived in Venice Beach.  When Bekka and I heard this, we sprung into action.  First we got a front door key to the cottage from Mr. Watson (an unbelievably cooperative man, all we had to do was offer to drive him somewhere), then hit a Levitz Furniture warehouse to go shopping.  We got all the major pieces of furniture Jill and Mallory would need: full living room, full bedroom, kitchen furniture, a desk and chair and other stuff for the second bedroom.  And I paid up for a year's worth of service from a landscaping service for the yards, so they wouldn't have to worry about buying a lawn mower for a while.
     They only took one car because Mallory's old AMC Eagle would never have survived the trip. I think she traded it for a case of Grain Belt beer, and got the better end of the deal.  Mallory had asked to get a handle on how much they'd be spending for something used but reliable, and I told her to not worry about it, I'd have a car waiting for her.  Once again, Bekka rued the decision to let me go car-shopping alone: Mitch tipped me off to a buddy who was selling a 1968 Pontiac Tempest, with only 68,000 original miles on it.  The Tempest wasn't quite a muscle car, but it
did have plenty of pep, especially with the four-barrel carb under the hood.  Beyond that, it was stock.  Bekka said, "Why do you want every woman you know to have a hot rod?"
     "Why do you not?" I replied.  "Given your own personal taste in cars, I'd think you'd be all in favor of Mallory having some reliable American steel to drive."
     "You know she's probably expecting something like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla...."
     "Well, then she'll be much more pleased now.  Hey, the AC unit has already been modified to take R12 refrigerant instead of Freon.  So Mallory isn't a hot rodder.  Fine, Jill drives the Tempest and Jill takes the cop car.  Since they're going to have to adjust to the demolition joyride that is Los Angeles driving, I'm sure they'll both be happy to have loads of steel around them."
     Mal and Jill had given us an ETA of two p.m. on the fifteenth, and we were waiting.  I'd coned off some space at the curb, so there would be someplace to anchor the trailer-toting cop car.  (During the day, parking was fairly easy, since everybody in the neighborhood was at work.)   Bekka and I had arrived at eleven, for a final walk-through with Watson.  We were pleased.  Watson said he'd be back around two, so the lease could be signed.  We went out shopping, buying basic crap like toilet paper and dish soap and paper towels.  A new Oreck vacuum sat in a closet.  We also got some basic groceries and were a bit silly while we did so.  We picked up milk, eggs, bread, some basic condiments apples, and basic canned goods.  We also bought egg noodles, canned tuna, cream of mushroom soup, canned peas, and potato chips: the basic ingredients for making tuna hot dish, one of the main reasons Mallory claimed to be so eager to leave the Midwest.  According to her, tuna hot dish represented everything sluggish, unimaginative, blinkered, tasteless, and numb about Minnesota, and the Midwest in general.  We put these items in a gift box and wrote "In Case of Emergency" across the top.  The fridge now held a bottle of El Topatico hot sauce and burrito-sized flour tortillas, requirements in any SoCal kitchen.  We also put in two six packs of Anchor Steam, a bottle of champagne, and a rather chi-chi snack tray from a Santa Monica deli.
     About fifteen minutes before two I went out front to watch for Jill's ex-cop car.  I hadn't gotten through half a cigarette when I saw it approaching.  They'd purposely stopped for the night in Needles, knowing the next day would probably be fairly busy.  Now they were here, fairly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  I gestured them towards the space I blocked off, pulling the cones.  Jill pulled up and anchored.  Mallory and Jill got out and came over to give me a hug.  Then Mallory returned to the Caprice, where she pulled an aquarium from the back seat: her pet ball python.  "He's probably missing his heat rock," she commented.
     We stepped inside, giving Bekka hugs.  They were mystified by the presence of furniture, expecting an empty house.  We explained that since we knew they'd sold off all their old stuff, we'd gone ahead and got them new stuff.  Trying to replace their furniture with the money they'd made selling it would have meant sitting around on camp stools, a coffee table made from cinder blocks and a sheet of plywood, purloined milk crates for shelving, and a burnt-out mattress from Salvation Army.  Sod that, we wanted them to have decent crap to start their new lives with.  While giving them the tour of the cottage, I accidentally mentioned how much we'd paid for their new bed.  Jill gasped, "My car didn't cost that much, even after repairs."
     "You guys, you can't just buy a house full of furniture on a whim!" protested Mallory.
     "Yes we can," smiled Bekka.  "Dammit, we have too much fucking money as it is, so we're going to spend a little of it to make our friends comfortable.  Oh, uh, the car Lenny bought for you is in the driveway.  I'm not sure what you'll think of it, though."
     We all went back outside.  Turning around the corner of the house, Jill spotted the car and immediately said, "Oh wow, a Pontiac Tempest?  A '67?"
     "A '68," I corrected.  "I got it through a wrench-head friend of mine in East County.  It's stock, except for the Holley carburetor."
     Jill ruffled Mallory's hair and said, "You're gonna have to re-learn how to drive, babe, you've got a real car now!  In this thing, the car actually moves forward when you step on the gas."
     "I figured you two should have something with a bit of style at your disposal.  It's no muscle car, but it's got some pep to it.  My wrench-head friend put in new shocks and struts, did a major service on the tranny, fresh Winstons at all four corners, all tuned up, fresh fluids....  This guy Mitch is the one who built Bekka's Falcon hot rod.  This thing is pretty much mechanically bulletproof, and will remain that way.  And it runs well on unleaded gas, so you don't need to put in that lead replacement crap.  Oh!  The transmission is a three speed automatic that was lifted out of a '69, instead of the old two speed.  The mill is a 350 small block, so you won't have to worry about finding parts for it. if anything goes wrong."
     "I apologize," said Bekka.  "Once again, I made the mistake of allowing Lenny to go car shopping unsupervised.  Twice now he's gone out to purchase a nice, reliable, sedate car only a few years old.  And twice now he's purchased serious Detroit iron, cars that mock the idea of oil shortages or catalytic converters.  Jane was supposed to get a three year old Honda or Toyota.  Lenny buys her a 1971 Cutlass 442, a complete hot rod.  The sort of car police watch very closely, waiting for the driver to chuck an empty beer can out the window, crank up the AC/DC, and do a donut in the nearest intersection."
     I gave Bekka a hood-lidded look.  "Uh huh.  Tell me more, Miss 'I burn through full sets of tires every six months.'  At this point, you'd be driven insane trying to drive a damn Toyota.  Gosh and golly, you stomp on the gas in a Toyota, and the car just accelerates, it doesn't leave twin black streaks for half a block.  Woman, you're an even bigger hot rodder than me.  Your stunt double taught you all those maneuvers, now you're the female Mario Andretti."  I paused and continued, "And the Cutlass isn't some white trash squad car.  If I wanted one of those, I'd never have sold the stunt Nova to Terry.  Here's the keys, Mal."
     Jill said to Mallory, "Take it for a spin, babe, roam for a few.  Don't worry, it's not any bigger than the Pig Pen, and probably a bit more sluggish.  It won't be a slouch, but you won't be scaring yourself every time you hit the gas."
     Mallory was gone about seven or eight minutes.  When she returned, the look of trepidation was gone from her face.  She walked up and hugged me.  "Thank you so much, it's a wonderful car. Gosh, it seems like it's almost brand new!  The darn carpeting and upholstery aren't worn!"
     "The odometer hasn't flipped," I said. "It's around 68,000 miles, right?  That's the original mileage.  The story I was given was it was the daily driver for some June Cleaver-type housewife. It got driven twice a week: Wednesdays to go shopping, Sundays to church.  Mrs. Cleaver dies, her family sells the goddamn thing at an estate sale for $300.  After all, it's just an old car, right?  The next owner did the transmission transplant and adds the four-barrel carb, but that's it, he's not trying to make it a hot rod, just improve on it a bit.  Then the bastard gets distracted by a shiny object or something, and forgets he has the damn thing, so it just sort of sits in his shed.  He finally decided to just sell it, let my friend Mitch know it's available, and here we are."
     Bekka said, "Lenny did have some method to his madness.  He figured you two are going to need to adjust to Los Angeles drivers.  You'll feel a bit safer with all that steel around you.  Anything built these days is just going to bounce off of you.  You'll need some Bondo and a bit of paint, the other guy's car is going to be written off as totaled."
     We cracked open the bubbly and snacks.  Champagne flutes were the only dishes in the house, currently.  Mallory and Jill kept wandering from room to room, smiling.  They both flopped on the new Sealy bed on a half-dozen occasions, neither had ever owned a brand new bed in their adult lives.  Both marveled at the TV I'd bought, a thirty-two inch Sony.  The cable and phone were on, and the other utilities will still under the name of the property management service for another ten days.
     Mr. Watson showed up to play with the paperwork.  I felt a bit sorry for him.  He was just beginning to adjust to Bekka and I, now he has to contend with a lesbian Amazon, a highly-muscled woman with seven inches over him, wearing a sports bra, biker shorts, and New Balance running shoes.  The lease was fairly standard boilerplate, I'd read it at least five times, as had Bekka.  I scanned it quickly, looking for fresh Liquid Paper.  Jill and Mallory signed.  They now had a damn nice place to live in a funky neighborhood for an amount of rent normally associated with studio apartments in Lawndale.
     "If there are any problems, call me and let me know!" chirped Watson.
     Bekka said, "Don't worry Rod.  If they have any trouble, they'll call us, and we'll come to pick you up at your office.  Does that work?"
     "Uh, uh,.... I'm sure there won't be trouble, but if anything is wrong, they can call me directly.  You all have a nice day!"  Watson skipped out of the house before Bekka and I could waylay him and force him into a car with Bekka at the wheel.
     "So, shall we start schlepping stuff out of the trailer?" I asked.
     Jill said, "No. We paid for the trailer through Friday, we have plenty of time to empty it.  Darn it, after driving for three days, we are now three blocks from the beach.  I can't wait any longer, I want to see the Pacific Ocean firsthand."
     "My love, you are brilliant," said Mallory.  "Let's go."
     We started walking.  I'd memorized the fastest pedestrian route to the beach: follow the canal walkway to Dell Ave, cross the canal, and walk the opposite bank's path until you reached the foot bridge across the next canal.  Then follow the meandering walkway to the beach.  Muscle Beach was a few blocks north, up Ocean Front Walk.
     We reached the sand and started trudging.  At the water's edge, Jill and Mallory stood and stared out to sea.   We passed a minute or two in silence.  I finally said, "Looks smaller than you expected, doesn't it?  Like you could swim to Japan in forty minutes."
     "Don't tease," said Bekka.  "There's a whole lot of water between us and the next land mass, believe me."
     "So, we're near Muscle Beach?" asked Mallory.  "I know Jill has been curious about the place."
     "The curiosity has never ended for me," I commented.  "It's a whole culture that is utterly foreign.  Jill, you're totally buffed, but you still look good.  You're gonna see dudes that resemble greased cauliflowers hanging around there.  And in the few interactions I've had with bodybuilders, they were bugged because I wasn't intimidated by them."
     My experience, on one or two occasions, was that stronger is not always better.  Libya learned that lesson in the Eighties, during a border war with Chad.  The Libyans were in tanks.  The Chad military had jacked-up Toyota 4x4 pick-ups with sand tires and .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the beds.  Chad kicked Libya's ass, they literally ran rings around them.  Chad would just zip around in their mini-trucks, strafing the hell out of the Libyan tanks until they resembled Swiss cheese.
     With bar bell boys, it's sort of the same thing.  A gym bunny may have incredible strength, but all that mass means he's also very slow.  I'm not buffed, but I have enough strength to ring someone's bell if I connect a good shot to the face.  If you're up against a bodybuilder, you're only in danger if he gets his hands on you.  Then you're probably fucked.  But you can dance around, avoiding his hands, and keep landing punches until he's on the downside of things.  Just always know where his hands are.
     A few minutes walk up the Walk brought us to the cage of steroid mutants Jill was so curious about.  Maybe two-thirds of the various benches were full.  We leaned against the low fence and watched for a few, listening to the grunting and puffing and clang of iron on concrete.  Watching the bodybuilders showed a pattern: one of them would notice Jill standing there, a buff but very pretty and still feminine woman.  He'd nudge a buddy, and they'd both check out Jill.  Then they'd seem to spot that Jill and Mallory had their arms around each other, and the light would dawn.  They'd look vaguely disappointed and go back to work.
     Like a lot of things, unless you're a weigh-lifter, watching people lift weights is deadly dull.  Golfers can watch golf on TV and be fascinated, while the rest of us just sit and admire the lawns.  Jill was watching the activity with interest, occasionally pointing at someone and quietly commenting to Mallory.  After a few minutes, a neckless guy with tragic amounts of styling gel in his hair drifted up to Jill with a big smile.  He was so bulked he didn't swing his legs to walk, he pivoted his whole body side to side.  "Hey, little sister, how you doing?" he said.
     Jill replied, "Very well, thank you.  I'm Jill, and this is my girlfriend Mallory, and this is Lenny and Bekka, friends from San Diego.  We've just arrived in California today from Minneapolis, I'm living on one of the canals here, about ten minutes away by foot.  I'm not familiar with how things work here.  Do you schedule a time to work out?  What are the hours?  What social protocols should be observed?"
     This seemed to be both a lot of information and a lot of words --- some of them polysyllabic --- for Lumpy.  He creased his brow and processed the input, then said, "Uh....  Well, there's people here sunrise to sunset, unless it's raining.  You just sorta show up and wait a turn, you know?  Uh.... What's a protocol?"
     "It's a small, poisonous fish, isn't it?" I said to Bekka, who quietly snorted with laughter.
     In her kindergarten teacher's voice, Mallory said, "A protocol is an unwritten, but tightly obeyed, rule for behavior which aligns with a group's sense of good manners.  In other words, what unique ways do people act around here that would demonstrate they're being polite with others?  How do you behave, in this social setting, to fit in and be nice?"
     Mallory's definition slowly lumbered its way through Lumpy's brain, and he finally said, "Oh.  Um, you know, just don't be a dick.  If a bench looks clear, ask the next bench over if it's vacant, or if a dude just went to hit the can or something.  You know, just be cool about things, I guess."
     "I'm sure I'll pick it up," Jill smiled.  "Thank you so much."
     Confusion crawled back onto the face of Lumpy.  "Uh.;...  Did you call her your girlfriend?"
     "Yes, I did.  Mallory is the love of my life.  Yes, we're dykes.  Don't worry, it isn't contagious."
     Another lumbering mass waddled up.  He also gave a winning smile and said, "Hey girl, you here to build more mass?  What areas you working on first?"
     "I'm sculpting, not bulking," said Jill.  "I've got some areas I need to add mass to, but generally I'm refining, keeping toned, and focusing on dexterity without losing power.  How about you?  What's your goal?  What's your max on a bench? ... But I'm being rude.  I'm Jill, this is Mallory, and this is Lenny and Bekka."
     "Evan," said the second brick of meat, sticking out a hand to shake.  "So where did you want to bulk?  How's your flex?"
     Jill and Evan went back and forth briefly, slinging around "traps" and "delts" and "quads," trading their respective max bench weight.  Evan said, "Personally?  You need to bulk more overall, then worry about sculpting.  Go up another fifteen percent."
     Shaking her head, Jill said, "I actually lost bulk, on purpose.  I wasn't happy with my appearance at rest, to be frank.  Look, you'd say bodybuilding is an art form, right?"
     "Hell yeah," said Evan.
     "The art I want to accomplish calls for a mid-range of bulk, but a lot of sculpting.  I'm not done yet, but my art is coming along.  Other girls who build want to be the Sistine Chapel.  I want to be an M.C. Escher print, if you can dig that analogy."
     "I think my body is a Jackson Pollack," I chimed in.  The three girls cracked up.
     "My body is a Gary Larson cartoon!" exclaimed Mallory, to more laughter.
     "Does this concern either of you?" Evan scowled at us.
     Jill responded in a slightly louder voice, "It does, actually.  This is my girlfriend Mallory, my heart's desire.  And again, this is Lenny.  He can be a wiseacre, but is a really wonderful guy.  For the last three minutes, neither of them have probably understood a word you and I were saying.  We've finally reached a conversational middle ground.  Allow them their levity.  And Lenny?  I've seen you without a shirt on, you're a Van Gogh."
     I grinned, "Damn, and I was hoping to be a Monet."  Jill giggled.
     "If I don't lay off the pasta, I'm going to definitely be something by Rubens," chuckled Bekka.
     Evan suddenly snapped, "Hey, put out that cigarette!"
     Confused, I simply said, "Huh?"
     "You heard me, little man.  Ditch the cancer stick."
      I took the unlit Marlboro out of my mouth.  Holding it up with a baffled look, I said, "Uh, dude.... It's not lit.  I wouldn't smoke where there's people working out.  I'm a smartass, but not a jerk."
     "Throw that cigarette away!" Evan barked.
     "What?  Why?"
     Stepping closer, Evan said, "Because I told you to, little man.  Throw away that cigarette."
     I could feel the adrenaline sweep into my blood stream.  Putting the unlit cigarette back in my mouth, I said, "Or what?"
     "I guess I just have to come out there and teach you a lesson."  Evan began his odd walk towards the gate in the fence.
     Jill quickly stepped up to me and said in my ear, "Lenny, please don't open your jacket.  Just walk away, just walk away."
     Jill knew about my Beretta, and thought that's why I was refusing to submit.  I said, "Unless he pulls his own steel, that's totally out of the question.  I'm not about to grab for my iron."  She gave me a concerned and worried look.
     The three girls backed up against the low fence as Evan approached.  Others around me had also backed up.  I said, "Is the lesson physics?  I always got Cs in physics."
     As he got closer, Evan's eyebrows went up a bit.  He was certainly expecting me to be sprinting down the sidewalk at this point.  As he started to get close to range, he brought an arm like an oversized challah bread backwards to swing, then swung it forwards.  I could have whistled the "Jeopardy" theme in the amount of time it was taking to reach me.  When it was close enough, I ducked underneath it.  The momentum of the arm started to pivot Evan around, so I punched him in the temple, hard.
     He winced, and had a slightly amazed look.  Then he straightened and came towards me, his other hand out and open, looking to grab me.  I leaned backwards, just out of range, then grabbed the pinky of the reaching hand and pried it backwards, trying to point it towards his elbow.  He made a pained noise and began to follow the direction I was prying.  I punched him square in the face with my other fist.  Blood began running down his face from his nose.
     Feeling the blood dribbling onto his lips, Evan wiped at his face with one hand.  He looked totally shocked at seeing the blood.  Pointing his attention back at me, he roared and launched himself forward, both hands open and out, looking to grab me again.  I sidestepped and let him sail past, I never touched him.  His massive bulk prevented him from getting his balance, and he landed face forward on the ground.
     In a different situation, I'd have kicked him in the face.  There was no need for that.  I stood and patiently waited for him to pick himself up.  He was watching me watch him as he did, my face placid.  When he was up again, he stepped forward, this time bringing back his left arm to swing.  Just like the first time, I ducked underneath it, only now I shot my knuckles into his Adam's apple.  Evan wheezed and grabbed at his throat, so I used both fists: one in an eye, the other into his cheek.  He stepped backwards, lost his balance, and landed on his ass.
     A few of his fellow muscle-heads had come through the gate, but stopped there.  Jill stepped up to them and said, "One on one, that's all.  Let them do it."  They stayed put, not quite believing the scene: their compatriot was on the ground and not looking well, while some punk rock idiot stood several feet away with an unlit cigarette in his mouth, calmly observing Evan like he was a TV commercial.
     Evan wasn't trying to get up.  He sat there, holding his throat and head, looking up at me in bewilderment.  I stepped forward a couple feet and said, "Evan?  Sir?  If you want, we can do this all afternoon.  Me, I don't want to, I'd rather help my friends Jill and Mallory unpack in their new place.  If we do continue, the results will continue to be the same.  Sorry.  Life can sometimes be that way.
    "Dude, you're kind of a bully.  Nobody likes a bully.  Check your attitude a bit.  Also, uh, never try to get into it with a serious brawler.  There's some motherfuckers in the world who would have done some serious damage to you in this same situation.  I'm not one of them.  This has been your public service announcement for the afternoon.  Take care of yourself, sir."
     The three other weightlifters slowly stepped forward to Evan, keeping an eye on me.  Helping Evan to his feet, a black lifter looked at me and just said, "Damn.  You put mistah Evan down.  Damn."  I held out my hands and shrugged, making an I-dunno face.  The four of them went back inside the gate.
     Bekka, Jill and Mallory stepped up to me.  Jill was open-mouthed with surprise.  She said, "Lenny, you are stinking insane."
     "No,not at all," I corrected her.  "I understood my opponent, and used that comprehension to take care of business, that's all it is."  I gestured and said, "Let's dangle.  There's a bar at 20th and Speedway, I could stand a beer."
     As we walked, Bekka said, "Darling, I know you went into that little scene with a plan....  But I also think Jill has a point.  Are you crazy?  That mutant could have wadded you up like tinfoil!"
     "Which is why I never once let him get his hands on me.  I've had gym bunnies come after me in the past, and I learned that with all that mass, they're incredibly slow-moving.  Okay, here's sort of an analogy...."  I related the story about Libya versus Chad.
     When I finished, Mallory said, "So, basically, you may not have had the pure strength like him, but your speed and flexibility gave you the upper hand.  You may not be able to punch as hard as him, but you were still doing damage with your punches, all those punches add up, and he never connected at all.  Okay."
     "Exactly.  Like in the conflict between Chad and Libya.  Sure, Libya's tanks are powerful and strong and can fire huge mortar rounds....  But if they can't get a shot lined up, all that strength and artillery don't mean dick.  You can't kill what you can't catch.  And it takes a while to disable a tank with 50mm ammo, but it can be done with a bit of tenacity."  I chuckled.  "Besides, it's impossible to develop muscle mass on your face, or your throat.  Every other part of that guy was armored, so I aimed for where there was no armor.
     "That guy was a bully and a loudmouth.  Also, all his muscle gave him a sense of overconfidence.  Bekka, ask Don Vito about guys that get a little gun-happy.  Dudes that think having a gat in their hand means they can rule the world.  They get proven wrong, and when you're dealing with guns, they're usually proven dead wrong.  Yeah, most people would have been freaked out by Evan's size.  I knew his size was also a detriment, if I could keep on top of things, I could exploit weaknesses Evan didn't even know he had.  I wonder if he'll figure it out.
     "Oh, Jill?  Thanks for keeping his buddies off of me.  I don't think their original plan was to rat-pack me, but if Evan had kept coming after me, they would have.  I was getting to the point where I was bored and annoyed and just wanted the bastard out of my face.  Next step would have been putting a boot into a kneecap.  And after that, fuck it, a kick in the yarbles.  If those other three had jumped in, I would have had my pistol in my hand, and I'd have put a shot in the air, to make it clear I'm not goofing around."
     Over our beers, I commented to Jill, "You've described bodybuilding as an art form.  Will you mind if I take some issue with that?  As an art form,it's incredibly repetitive.  Everybody generally has developed their bodies in the same way, and the same shapes.  Why not do some serious modification?  Purposely keep your biceps and triceps skinny, but develop really huge forearms...."
     "So you'd look like Popeye!" laughed Mallory.
     "Or, wither the calf of your left leg, and develop the right leg to gargantuan proportions.  Then over-develop the quadriceps and hamstrings on the left leg, and let them shrink on the right leg. Sort of a yin-yang feeling.  To hell with piercings and tattoos, that would be real body modification."
     "Gee whiz, and I thought I was outrageous when I got a third earring," said Mallory.

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