Going on Offense
The thing about punching someone is most people do it wrong. Guys who watch too many movies think the way to throw a bunch is to swing from your shoes, every punch is a right cross designed for a knockout. They see a face and aim for the whole thing, an indiscriminate target zone.
“Oh yeah, you’re pretty, pretty for a man!”
That was the last thing eleven-year-old Brian said before his sister Xyla, nine at the time, broke her hand on his face. Her knuckles hit his cheekbone and while they fractured it, the also broke themselves, both kids required a hospital trip. Xyla's father didn't care that she punched Brian, he deserved it. What was intolerable was his daughter threw the punch so poorly.
“It’s not enough to punch somebody. You have to hurt them without hurting you - got it?”
Girls were a mystery to Xyla’s dad, but he’d been fighting since he was thirteen and working out in boxing gyms. He taught her how to stand, how to evade. He showed her when to land with a closed fist and when to use and open palm. He taught her to look at the face as a series of vulnerable targets - the mouth, the nose, the jaw, the eyes. He taught her that the punch that matters most is the punch that lands.
Then came the Karate classes, the Krav Maga classes and the Tae Kwan Do classes. Xyla was always fighting men, she'd grown used to evading their frontal assaults and countering with directed blows. When she was in her early teens she wasn't yet strong enough to fell her opponents quickly. So instead she’d flutter from side to side, parry oncoming attacks and use her speed and stamina to wear opponents down. Eventually, an errant kick might expose the enemy's groin, a wild punch would open up the side of the knee. Xyla was patient and unrelenting.
It changed in high school as her body developed and she grew stronger. Soon boxing and kickboxing interested her more than defensive martial arts. She got used to getting hit, to sparring and taking body and head blows. She got stronger. She looked up military workouts on the internet. Every day after school she’d drive out to a 5 mile trail in the nature preserve. Her body now solid, sinewy and scary fast, she’d do push ups on her knuckles, she’d climb trees as quickly as she could. She’d scale stone faces. Soon she was doing kick flips off of elevated rock faces.
She had no purpose for all of this exercise and practice. Hand-to-hand combat and the preparation for it were just when she felt the most alive, the most herself. If she’d been born 5 years later she might have gone into mixed martial arts and her entire life might have been different, but at present the only outlet for her skills lied in the real world. Even today she watched competition shows centered on climbing and swinging and thought, “They’re not ninjas or warriors, but that does look like fun.”
Yesterday, Xyla had been shot at twice and driven out of her nice little apartment. She didn’t like being pushed around by anyone, and definitely not Fulvo’s men. She wasn’t thinking strategically. She was thinking tactically. The possibility of getting straight information out of anyone would be difficult, but it was worth a shot.
Her original informant was a guy named, “Balls.” Balls owned (in the way any connected guy owns anything) a tiny restaurant in what could now be called vanishing Italy. Balls easily gave up the site for Fulvo’s prior meeting for a ten grand. It raised Xyla’s alarm, but she was told he’d do so by Brian and his buddies at NYPD, so she went with it. She felt it was a trap, the trap sprang yesterday and she barely escaped it.
The seating area of the restaurant was 70's Italian red. The carpet a sort of Merlot color, the walls more the color of blood in sunlight. The wooden chairs were sparsely populated with a couple of guests. As Xyla scanned them they looked more like tourists than regulars, which was a good sign. They watched her in her 'hello kitty' tee shirt and jeans. She moved quickly through the restaurant. No phone, no bag, just her gun tucked in the back of her waistband under her shirt. She pushed open the swinging door into the cold white fluorescent kitchen. The cooks glanced up and watched her stride through, toward the back office. She'd been there before and she moved with such confidence and purpose that none of the kitchen workers questioned it.
She opened the door to Balls' office. He got his name because his nose looked like a pair of testicles sitting in the middle of his face. His skin was pock marked and his body was misshapen from years of over eating. His eyes seemed too far apart on his face. His lips were thick and always seemed pursed. Sitting opposite him at the desk were two men. Xyla guessed them to each be over six feet tall and powerful in build. Balls' associates no doubt.
"Who the fuck said anyone could open that fucking door..." Balls trailed off as he saw Xyla pass through the threshold.
"Xyla, to what do we owe the pleasure?"
Balls shot sideways glances at the men. They turned and stood to face Xyla. They wore cheap imitation suits and snickering smiles. Xyla was right, they were thugs. They fancied themselves fighters, but in her experience guys like this were more about intimidation than real fighting. She could tell they were each carrying a firearm. They stood awkwardly one foot slightly in front of the other, ready to draw like they saw in old westerns.
"Balls, I want to know how Fulvo knew where I lived."
"I have no idea, did something happen?" The smile on his disfigured face only pissed Xyla off.
One of the two goons took a half step forward. He raised his hand as if he were trying to stop oncoming traffic.
"Balls, you're going to tell me where Fulvo is because it's time I talked to him directly."
Balls started laughing. It was forced stilted laughter. Xyla stepped forward. The man with the raised hand rushed her looking to grab her arm. She side stepped his reach, gripped his thumb and twisted his hand back while using her free hand to force his elbow bent. The motion forced him to take a knee. Her grip tight, the goon felt his wrist was about to snap. His partner lunged forward, Xyla released the first attacker only to take his partner's outstretched arm and use his momentum to hurl his weight over her hip and into a table.
Without pause she drove her palm into the first attacker's nose breaking it instantly. His nasal passages, mouth and throat filled with his own blood. He gasped and moaned, "fuck!" His hands went to the bridge of his nose, which is when Xyla kicked him in the groin. The combination put her first attacker on the floor.
From a kneeling position, her second attacker pulled his weapon from his hip. Xyla leapt over the felled man and turned the gun aside with a sweep of her forearm. She opened her right hand and used the web between her thumb and forefinger to punch her second attacker in the Adam's apple. He felt as if his windpipe had collapsed. He panicked as he wanted air. She grabbed his weapon and twisted it from his grip. Without effort she turned and pointed the gun at Balls.
"OK, so. About Fulvo?"
"Fuck you girlie. I'm your only way in. Shooting me won't get you any closer to him."
"You're absolutely right." Xyla's thumb moved to the magazine release. She let it open and the mag hit the floor. She moved closer. "The thing is Balls," She turned and checked the state of the muggers in the floor, then turned back, immediately firing a palm thrust to testicles that sat between Balls's bullfrog eyes.
"Fuck, Jesus! " he screamed.
She grabbed the back of his head and slammed it downward on the desk.
"I think you're going to tell me where I can find Fulvo."
Still holding the unloaded weapon, she grabbed Balls' hand and pressed it to the table. She slammed his pinkie with the gun's handle, snapping it like a twig.
She heard the first attacker fumbling behind her. He was reaching for his weapon.
"You know what, fuck this." She said quietly.
She threw the unloaded weapon aside and pulled out her own. Xyla had a rule, never fire a weapon that wasn't yours. It's just bad karma. She shot the first attacker in the hand. The second was standing again. She shot him in the hip. As they fell to the floor writhing in their own brands of pain she plunged Balls' hand down to the table top the business end of the pistol against his wrist.
"Here's the deal Balls, I have plenty more bullets. I'm going to keep shooting you and your little friends in places like the hands and the hips and the knees until I get a fucking answer. Understand?"
Balls looked up, his expression of shock, terror and anger muddied by the blood covering his face.
"OK, OK, OK, fuck, OK. He's going to be at Cipriani's in Grand Central."
She cocked the gun, "when ballsy, when?"
"Tonight! Tonight! Ten!"
She picked the gun up and fired a round through the desktop into Balls' knee. He collapsed behind the desk clutching his leg. She tucked her warm weapon in the back of her jeans.
She strode out of the office, leaving the door open so the kitchen workers fell silent looking through the opening into a room with three fallen and bloody men. She walked through the church-quiet kitchen, back through the eating area and to the street. She got in her car.
Leaving Balls alive was purposeful. She wanted him to tell Fulvo that she was alive and coming for him.