Because all good Sneak Peeks come in three (I don’t know where I read that, it’s a law or some stuff!), we’ll continue our look at the upcoming finale to Three Seconds to Legend with a peek at the second chapter of The Twelfth Labor. Drama, action, romance, and a little modern mythology all come together in the pro wrestling world. Enjoy!
Chapter 2 Cut the Deck
Rick Donner hugged his two sons, Ricky and Tyler, close to his chest. God, how stupid he had been to push all this aside for what? A huge pile of cash, yes, and sure, his marriage to Dana Harding had broken down for now-obvious reasons, but had that really been worth it? Now Rick had been no deadbeat dad, no matter how slimy the New York wheeler-dealer was or had been, but he rued not having been here sooner. It already been most of a week here in Oklahoma and he felt as if he was continually making up for lost time.
The Harding-Donner clan was here in one of Tulsa’s finest hospitals to visit the woman who had made that hug possible. Marcy Fitzpatrick, Dana’s boss in the Northlands Championship Wrestling League and all-around aging hard ass, had literally taken a bullet to keep the boys safe and Rick was willing to anything to repay her. Her and the two local wrestlers, Jane London and Max Maxwell, who had helped her save the literal day.
“Dad, come on,” Tyler, the oldest and just on the cusp of college, said. “I’ve been glad you’ve been around but -“
“Sorry, slugger,” Rick chuckled. “I’m just …” Words somehow failed the silver-tongued ad man for a moment. “Look, I don’t need to explain why I want to hug my boys.” He smoothed back his coal-black hair. “Anyway, we should go visit Ms. Fitzpatrick. I’m sure she’ll enjoy the company.”
“I hope she gets out of the hospital soon,” Ricky (Rick, Jr. to be factual, though even Rick himself preferred Ricky) nodded emphatically. “So, when is Momma coming home?” That had been the continual question on the seven-year old’s lips since Rick had stepped off the plane.
“Calm down, spud,” Tyler said, ruffling his brother’s mop of chestnut hair. “She’ll be back when she’s finished helping out Lei, then I’m sure they’ll both come back.”
Rick nodded in agreement, trying not to let his mild discomfort show. It wasn’t that Dana had proverbially ‘switched teams’ or that she had found someone else to love. It was the fact that he really didn’t know how much the boys knew or understood about how, well, different their family would likely wind up. Of course, all of that hinged on the hope that Dana and the Ito kid would make it out of Vegas in one piece.
Enough of that. He had done everything he could to give them an edge and now he had to trust in those two very capable ladies to finish the job. Rick had other business to take care of as the three of them walked into Marcy’s room.
Marcy grumbled as she tapped at her laptop. To think she had been laid-up here for nearly two weeks now galled her. Back in her prime, she would have bounced back before now but now she was a senior citizen and that fact alone made her doctors into a bunch of weak-kneed schoolgirls. Sure, the rifle bullet had shattered her wrist like it was glass and sure, she would probably never get to use it properly again, but …
Sweet mother Mary, Marcy was a mess and she knew it.
Frankly, if it hadn’t been for Rick’s arrival just after the attempt to kidnap the Harding brood, the whole business, the entire NCWL, would have probably collapsed. Considering the league was mostly held together by chewing gum and Marcy’s own indomitable will, well, shite, that made perfect sense. It would be a horrible mess if, after all the hell that Dana, her best wrestler, and Leilana, her first and only love’s granddaughter, had to slog through, they came home to find no future waiting for them here either.
Rick Donner, though, he was a slick operator. Despite every horrid thing Dana had told Marcy over the years, he even seemed to be a decent lad, if a tad slimy. He had no compunctions about swooping in and taking over the day-to-day, keeping the NCWL in one piece and even maybe growing just a tad. Today, though Marcy had something a bit more important and personal to ask Rick to take care of. She looked up from the computer as Rick and the two boys came in for their daily visit.
“Hey, Marcy,” Rick said, tipping a nonexistent hat, as Ricky ran up to the side of the bed. Tyler stayed back a respectful distance alongside his father.
“Are they gonna let you come home today, Miss Marcy?”
“Hello, Mr. Donner,” Marcy nodded in response, then made an exaggerated scowl at Ricky. “Afraid not, lad, those horrid doctors are too worried about gettin’ sued ta let me get back to mah job. A bunch of quacks, the lot of ’em!” The short rant made the youngster start giggling uncontrollably.
“Well, I’m sure they’ll come to their sense any day now,” Rick said. “That or they’ll just get so sick of your grousing they will do anything you want.”
“My forthrightness is one of me charms, Donner.” Marcy couldn’t suppress a smirk. “Anyway, any early word on the dirt sheets?” Tyler shifted a bit uncomfortably but it was Rick that answered.
“Just the actual match that went down and the results. Hell, we should be glad we learned that much this quick. I guess even the LVGL’s privacy policies don’t mean squat when you parade the GWA women’s champion around pre-match.”
“Aye, I saw what you sent me on the way over.” Marcy glanced again at the e-mail before closing the laptop up. “Now, considerin’ what’s goin’ on out there, I took the liberty of contactin’ some folks.”
“This is obviously where I get a new set of errands to run.”
“That’s why I like you, lad, yer one of the smart ones.” She shrugged a little. “I don’t see a spot of choice anymore. I sent word to Leilana’s folks, told ’em the bare basics, and that their little girl had a championship match comin’.”
Ricky lit up at the mention of the Ito family, no doubt the prospect of having another boy his age running around. Tyler rubbed the back of his head.
“I hope I’m not speaking out of line, Ms. Fitzpatrick, Dad, but don’t you think that might expose them to danger? I mean, Lei’s not even, well, freed yet.” The teenager was searching for a better word but, hell, it was the right one. What the Von Richters pulled could best be likened to legalized kidnapping.
“I think I’m agreeing with Tyler. What’s the angle, Marcy? What do we gain for the risk?”
“The angle, Rick, is that we show that we aren’t scared o’ them bastards. When they show up and sit in that front row seat to see their girl win the gold, and damn right she will, the Von Richters will know we won’t back down. Not anymore.”
The numbers were obviously computing in that brain of his. Rick Donner was the kind of man, Marcy could tell, who left nothing to chance. Everything was calculated in loss versus gain, even the intangibles. She only hoped he put the proper weight to those things that didn’t have a price.
“It’s risky but I see your point.” Rick rubbed his clean-shaven jaw. “I have to admit, I’m sick of running and hiding anyway. I’ve been used by that family for the last time.”
“So are we going to go pick them up from the airport?” Ricky bounced by the side of the bed, all spitfire and eagerness. Even if he was mature enough to understand the risk, he didn’t seem to care.
“Aye, on Monday, among other things,” Marcy said. “The other thing, Rick, is, like you said yerself, I’m tired o’ runnin’ and hidin’. I think it’s time fer us to circle the wagons, you know what I mean, lad?”
“Huh,” Rick said. “I think I just might.”
There wasn’t much privacy for anyone in the LVGL. Even the men and women with ‘private’ locker rooms had no such thing, not for real. Still, Leilana thought it was better than having this talk in the gym or the locker rooms or even the Silver Bell, the Silver Nugget casino’s restaurant. Here, at least, there was an illusion of some peace and quiet.
The aftermath of that tumultuous ladder match had been a blur of ring doctors, medical examinations, a chance to clean up, then the dull comfort of sleep. Despite all the odds, Leilana had gotten away with only strains, a web of bruises, and strict orders to rest and recuperate for as long as possible. Strangely, or perhaps not so strangely, Dr. Kristoff didn’t pull her clearance to wrestle. No, this was still all part of Angela Von Richter’s grand design.
The night’s sleep had done little good, only turning the road map of contusions and swelling from two brutal matches in two consecutive weeks into all sorts of ugly shades of yellow and purple. Physical pain, though, was only the least of the Hawaiian’s worries. Dana should be here any moment and then, after they talked, they would have to talk to the others, find out how close to the truth Leilana was about the reasons the five of them had turned on each other so quickly and cruelly.
First though, Dana. As if on cue, there was a knock at the door.
“Ms. Ito, your manager is here,” the ‘security’ guard called through the door.
“Please let her in.”
Last night had been hell for Dana Harding. First she had to suffer the ‘tender’ ministrations of Dr. Kristoff to relocate her then-dislocated and already torn-up shoulder. The damned thing had gotten caught in between rungs of the ladder when the whole thing had gotten shoved over and was now wrapped up in support tape and athletic bandages. By the time she had been let go, everyone else had scattered, either under their own power or, as she found out in Leilana’s case, helped straight to their rooms under doctor’s orders.
That was really the worst of it. The Texan had wanted to be there for Leilana, to see if she was alright, to try to make sure everything was okay after that whole mess. In the end, though, there was nothing Dana could do. She even tried to go to Lei’s room but was cut off by casino security. Doctor’s orders and all of that. Bullshit. Angela Von Richter’s orders, maybe.
At least they were letting her in this morning.
The moment Dana saw Leilana sitting on the edge of the bed in her University of Hawaii hoodie and shorts, she wanted to cry. It wasn’t that she was beat-up. In this business, well, that happened. You had to accept it. It was the badly swollen bruise on her cheek, the one Rose Bull (that lady was due a world of pain) started and Dana herself had made a million times worse. That’s what did it.
“Dana, I- how are you this morning?” Lei said in that soft, meek voice that she carried with her out of the ring. The swollen mouth made her normally perfect enunciation and that cute little lilt sound a bit off.
It was probably overreaction on Dana’s part, that little rational part of her brain thought so anyway, but that didn’t stop her. She was there in front of Leilana in a few long strides, kneeling in front of her. Lei blinked slowly, confusedly, as Dana took both of her hands in her own.
“Ah’m sorry, ah’m so sorry.” It was stupid that she cared so much. Come on, this was wrestling. Could Dana have ever expected that they would never be in a match against each other ever again? Just a few months ago that’s what she wanted more than anything, to overcome that rookie upstart that had come out of nowhere and beat her. Now, though …
“Dana, please, I will be alright.” Lei tried to smile and it looked wrong with the purple-and-yellow bruise. “I, well, I was more worried about you. They said something had happened with the ladder and -” She cut herself off, biting her lip. “I should have come to find you.”
“Aw, honey, yew ain’t ever got to worry about me.” Dana managed a weak smile in return. She thought for sure she had gone too far. Maybe she had, but Leilana was just too much of a damn saint to hold it against her. “Yew’re the important one here, yew’re the one that’s trapped.”
“I am no more important than anyone else.” Lei squeezed Dana’s hands warmly. “In the end, we must all be free or all of this blood and pain will be for nothing.”
“Ah’d hold that thought at least ’till we have our little meetin’ today. There ain’t no tellin’ what last night did. That certainly wasn’t no love fest, Ah can tell yew that.” Dana looked up, into Leilana’s eyes. Despite the damage she had caused, Dana couldn’t help but stare at what she thought was the loveliest sight in the world. “Ah’m just glad that what Ah did didn’t -“
“You only did what any one of us would have done. What I myself did.” Leilana looked down at her lap. “It is something we must accept, I mean, if we are going to stay together, right?” Her statement had started strong, but faded into that quiet hesitance that Lei often found herself in. Dana stood reached out and gently lifted the Hawaiian woman’s face up, meeting her eye to eye.
“We can make it work, Lei. Ain’t no reason either of us has to give up on the sport we love, just ’cause we might have to tangle once in a while.” She smiled and managed to bring out a hint of one in Leilana. “Shoot, love is a whole lot more powerful than that. Besides, it might turn out to be purty darn fun.”
Leilana blushed faintly as she stood, stiff, slow, but steady. Dana grinned as Lei tugged on her good arm and yanked her up to her feet. Yeah, things would be okay, at least between the two of them.
As if to drive any further doubt out of the Texan’s mind, Leilana reached up, cupped Dana’s chin lovingly, and guided her down for a kiss.
Maria Giovanni had lucked out in a fashion, having suffered the mildest injury of all of her teammates, just a gashed forehead from where the Ito girl had driven a ladder into her skull. Despite that fact, she didn’t feel very lucky and it all had to do with her darling, sweet daughter. To the matriarch of the Giovanni clan, how last night should have gone was obvious.
She and her daughter were a team, one of the best tag teams in the league and perhaps the world, so they should have used that to clear the ring. While that had not been something they had said, that would be how it would go. There was no need of words. True to Maria’s thoughts, it had indeed started that way. It didn’t stay that way.
All Maria had said was that they should concentrate on Leilana as the most dangerous threat to her winning the contract. Wasn’t it sensible that, after the ring was clear and the way open, for Maria to be the one to get the contract? Bambi certainly was talented, but she was so young, so untested solo. Her heart was strong, but that wouldn’t be enough against Sunny Clover.
The large black woman pulled the breakfast rolls out of the oven and wondered if perhaps that had been what set Bambi off. Why she had suddenly turned on her mother. Setting the hot tray on the stove-top, Maria rubbed at her sore throat and tried to reconcile her own logic with the obvious clues in front of her.
Bambi limped out from her bedroom, back and shoulders stooped from her own meeting with the ladder. Her normally cheerful face was sullen and downcast as she flopped into a chair.
“Morning, mama,” Bambi muttered in Italian, their usual household language.
“Breakfast is almost ready, sweetness,” Maria said, trying to smile. “That will make us both feel much better.”
“Maybe.” Her daughter had yet to look up or even at her. “Mama …”
“Why don’t you think I can stand up for myself?”
“Oh, my lovely little one, you’re still young, you’re still learning, and I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you when I’m not there.” Maria started tossing the rolls into a bowl. “The last time you had to wrestle on your own, your arm was broken. No, we won’t have that again until -“
“When?” Bambi’s voice was loud and harsh. “Will you ever let me fight my own fights? Stand up for myself?”
“Of course but -“
“Then when? Tell me!”
The Boar of Italy, stubborn as her namesake, took a deep breath and turned.
“When you show me that you can make sound decisions without me there. When you can show me that you don’t need to tag me in to win a match or, perhaps, when you don’t make silly decisions like bargaining away our family honor to our worst enemy, just because you thought it would keep us safe.”
“Mama …” That last statement had stung Bambi, probably harder than Maria intended, but the girl had to toughen up and take responsibility for what she had done.
“You wonder why Pai Shi so quickly went for your head last night? That is why. And yet I should let you do what you want? Bah!”
“I did what I thought had to be done, mama! It may have been wrong but at least I did something!” The sudden steel in the teenager’s voice made Maria take a literal step back in surprise. “You were content to wallow and pine that we were too small to do anything. We would still be playing on strings instead of looking to cut them if Leilana hadn’t come along.”
Maria’s anger was bubbling up but it was matched by an equally great sense of doubt and sadness. She wanted to rage and yell, to shout down every point Bambi was making, but the problem was …
“You’re right.” Maria deflated, sitting down in the chair opposite her daughter. As quickly as it had come, the rage abated, leaving only the depression. “For all my shouting and pointing and complaining, we really accomplished nothing.”
Maria could hear Bambi’s chair move, followed by the limping footsteps of Bambi herself, coming to her side. Looking up finally, Maria caught the eyes of her daughter, now softened.
“Mama, I think we both messed up things.” She put a hand on Maria’s broad shoulder. “Maybe now we should try to fix them, right?”
“Yes, I suppose we should try.” Maria put her hand over Bambi’s, engulfing it. “I am sorry, sweetling.”
“So am I, mama.”
Pai Shi sat in a corner of her spartan room in the Silver Nugget, trying to meditate and clear her mind of the whirling thoughts in it. Failure and loss were things she was unaccustomed to dealing with and, yet, they seemed to be a constant when Leilana Ito was part of the equation. Not that the woman had beaten her directly in this case, not like their first encounter, but the difference was only slight. In the end, despite the odds against her, the Girl Hercules had won once more.
Unlike many others, the Chinese dancer didn’t give into petty jealousy. Instead, Pai focused on what had failed inside of herself. How had she herself failed last night and how could she resolve her own weakness?
The strained muscles in her leg and the sprained knee tried to force their pain into Pai Shi’s thoughts, but iron will and years of training resigned them to their own small box. The answer to Pai’s failures seemed obvious. First it was her pride, something with which she still struggled, but this latest defeat was because of anger. First at the betrayal of the youngest Giovanni then the lingering embers of hate that still existed in her mind towards Dana Harding.
It was a vain hope that one encounter had purged these feelings and her own meditations had proven fruitless. Pai wanted the answers to be within herself, to conquer her own problems on her own terms, but maybe, just maybe, the answer for once had to be sought out in others.
Gingerly, painfully, Pai Shi unfolded her legs and hobbled to her feet. She owed it to the alliance that they had formed to at least try.
Sunny Clover kicked the heavy bag with all her might. She tried to beat all the frustration and sadness out of her but it only seemed to build. The private gym Ms. Elise had given her to use was as cold and lonely as every other place Sunny roamed and so provided precious little relief from the darkness gnawing at her heart.
Ms. Elise wasn’t even there today, even though Sunny knew she was totally still in town. She had explained that she needed to provide training for Ms. Angela and that she was far too much a novice to be instructed alongside Sunny. Today, then, was left to Sunny to work by herself.
“Stupid Angela,” Sunny murmured to herself, leaning her sweating brow on the heavy bag. “It’s, like, totally not my fault she’s so green. Why am I getting punished for that?”
But what if it wasn’t because she was inexperienced? What if this was just the first step before Ms. Elise told her to get lost? Just a short time ago, the carrot of belonging, to get adopted into the Von Richter clan, had been dangled right outside of Sunny’s reach, but now it seemed to be gone entirely.
“Nuh-uh, Sunny baby, you’re not, like, gonna cry.” Sunny choked down her emotions, like Ms. Elise had taught her. “You can still do this, like, totally. You just have to beat ‘Lana and that’ll show ’em!” Sunny began to smile, even as stray tears leaked out of her eyes. “That’ll show ’em you belong, that you’re a Von Richter!”
With renewed vengeance, Sunny laid into the heavy bag.
The five of them sat in a tense silence around their usual table at the Silver Bell. Past the most basic of greetings and a quick round of orders, so far no one had offered to begin. Even the normally bombastic Maria was quite subdued. Well, enough of that, Leilana thought.
The Girl Hercules put her hands on the table, palm down, and pushed up to her feet, a movement that locked everyone’s eyes straight on her.
“Last night was difficult for all of us.” Leilana surprised herself, because the voice that came out was the strong one, the wrestler’s voice, something that usually only found itself in the confines of the ring. “I know there is much you all wish to say yet hold your tongue. Before you break that silence, I have one thing to say.
“Whatever passes between us, we are still friends. We still stand on the same side, the right side. I will keep fighting the Von Richters and all I ask is that you do not turn away from that one goal, no matter what else happens.
“Now, say what you need to say because we cannot let Angela do this to us again or we will surely fail.”