I hated this part of the job even more than crawling inside the crazy folks' brains. I kept my manner soft and even as I slowly replied. I knew what my reputation was in the field and with cops, but I really didn't care much. The only time I had problems was when the cops and 'officials' didn't take me seriously, and failed to do anything my bosses or I'd carefully requested. There was a thin line we had to walk since we weren't cops, and we weren't recognized by anyone as 'legit.' The exotic, demonic and basically screwed up emergencies were our charges whether we wanted them or not.
"Glad to know you can follow orders, Officer Lenny." I had found over time that saying nothing more than just the basics when replying was the best way to handle them. They weren't stupid, just resistant to me. The stories circulating about my 'talents' with trolls -- real or imagined -- were getting more and more ludicrous with each telling. Sadly, some of those tales weren't precisely wrong -- they were far closer to the truth than I'd ever admit to in public. Or in private, for that matter, if I was honest. I wasn't one to overexpose myself if I could help it.
I hadn't always been so private. But as more and more stories circulated I had been forced to reevaluate my reputation. I hadn't much cared when I first started my troll-slaying -- I hadn't cared about anyone or anything. Sam would line up the hits and I would take the jobs. Nothing mattered to me but putting every last troll down. I didn't care if they were mountain trolls, river trolls, or earth trolls, they all felt my power and died. Some of the committee tried to yank me in and tell me that the trolls weren't all bad, and that only some of them gave into their carnivore nature. That amused me and I told them what I thought of that right out the gate. Still, my exploits made the rounds quickly.
The phone on Lenny's cluttered, messy desk rang and he turned his back while snarling into the phone. The conversation was low and muttering, and I let my mind wander while I stood waiting for Lenny to lead me into the cell. He showed no interest in what I wanted, but ignored me standing two feet from his desk with my back to the hallway I'd just traveled down.
My favorite fictionalized account of my past had to do with me at age sixteen or seventeen coming upon a feral baby troll and shooting both of its eyes out before I lopped off its head. The embellishments included how I'd gleefully taunted the creature and kicked it for good measure as I whipped my blade around in my hands like a good B grade villain in a subtitled Japanese movie. The story was based on fact but it wasn't what happened.
I'd been walking back from my martial arts class when I was about fifteen. My legs were aching from the quad workout my sensei had dished out with the two hours of warm ups before practicing weapons for an additional two more hours. I had my staff with me and it was pretty much keeping my ass off balanced. Normally I'd have left my staff back in the dojo but I was going to do some more practice in a few hours once I got my energy back up and was given permission to leave with the weapon.
My mind was busy trying to figure out what I was doing wrong on one of the hits. I kept sweeping the staff in too low and not disabling my opponents quickly enough, thus earning me some ridicule from my classmates and scorn from a few of the angrier boys. I was the only girl in the class and they didn't treat me any differently than each other. In fact, I knew I got a few extra slams and flips because they didn't like competing with me. I wasn't weak or a crybaby. That infuriated the boys that were bullies. I had to throw more than one of them damn near through the floorboards to slow that sort of hazing down. It worked for a bit, but when the sensei's back was turned they'd still get their pinches and smacks in discreetly.
That evening's class had been filled with testosterone and stupidity. The sensei was somewhat distracted and kept bowing out to take care of business off the mat. That opened up the door for some extra attention from Brandt. Brandt was large and not very graceful. I had avoided many of his attempts at physical abuse due to my speed and awareness of his hatred. He wasn't just a bully, but a mean boy with some major adjustment issues in society. His folks were wealthy and every time Brandt broke someone's arm by 'mistake' or injured another student with his strength, there was suddenly a new influx of cash into the dojo, and shiny new equipment appeared like magic. The sensei would ask Brandt to be more respectful of his peers and remind him that he wouldn't always be the largest pupil in class or life. Brandt would be good for a few classes then go back to his tormenting. I knew the economy was tight and the sensei was a good-hearted man, but even at fifteen I knew that he didn't want to give up the cash. Money was definitely his weakness.
The sensei bowed off the mat and left us to conduct some business after illustrating a new move with the staff. We went a few rounds then switched off opponents to practice. Naturally I'd been partnered with Brandt for the next match. After a few attempts at the lesson, I was still doing wrong; then something began to click inside my brain and I got the movement down at my turn. I flowed with the movements from the instructions earlier and swept my staff beneath his legs in a single motion and finally successfully flipped my opponent. I felt the pride at having executed the lesson correctly. Just then the sensei walked in to see my move and applauded loudly -- rarity for him -- and I also heard someone softly whistle in appreciation. Normally that wouldn't have been noticed, but Brandt was having a bad day and lying flat on his back, winded, he'd yet to get up. His face flushed red and he snarled, "You bitch, you cheated!"
The sensei stiffened and clapped. We all rushed to our knees on the mat in respectful positions of students at the feet of their teacher. My quads protested the rapid movement, but I was still flushed with pleasure at having executed the move correctly and missed the look on the sensei's face. Instead of telling us something about our next lesson, like usual, he said, "Brandt, come forward."
Usually the sensei would call up two of the black or brown belts to illustrate a move. Instead the sensei bowed to Brandt and began to toss him around the mat like a rag doll. After fifteen solid minutes of constant abuse and extremely advanced moves we'd yet to even practice, Brandt rose up from the mat, staggering, and said, "Stop. I get it."
The sensei simply bowed to him and waved him back to his place on the line of students like any normal instruction. He paused for a minute and we all stayed frozen watching him. I could feel my fellow students consciously try to slow their breathing at seeing Brandt brutalized so effortlessly. I wasn't the only one Brandt had picked on and the lesson was appreciated by more than one of us on more than one level.
"Class, there will always be someone out there stronger, faster, smarter and more skilled than you. That is how life is. Life is never fair and takes few prisoners. So it is important for you to choose your allies well in life, because they will be the ones to come to your aid in the time of troubles. Contrary to what your mothers told you, life is not fair. Brandt, you disrespected a skilled fellow student because of your inability to find the common ground as students. Delilah did nothing wrong in her moves, she did everything correctly. Instead of your bowing and thanking her for a well-done move, you accused her of cheating and disrespected her. For that, you may not finish this class and I do not wish to see you back in the dojo for at least a month."
Nobody rustled or even breathed. It was like a bell jar descended, trapping us all and leaving each of us frozen in amber -- isolated and distant. Brandt got up slowly. His face was purple with rage and he glared at me. His eyes were tight and his mouth pursed as he obviously bit back something nasty he wanted to say. I could see the pain from his 'lesson' wrapping around his body as he rethought his actions. Another beating from the teacher would have been a cause for problems. I don't think he'd ever had something so harsh happen to him. He lived in a glass house with servants and catered dinners, unlike most of us. Then he nodded slightly to the sensei and left. We all were instructed on the next lesson, which was a sword slice while on our knees. In the distance while practicing, we heard Brandt toss his stuff around in the locker room. A ripple of fear rolled down my spine and knew I hadn't seen the last of Brandt. The month exile was forever in martial arts. You could fall behind your fellow students and lose the momentum of your training, not to mention the leveling up in belts. Training by yourself is hard. Without a good opponent to bounce off skills and movements with a fellow student, all can be lost.
Brandt slammed the front door as he departed and we continued our lessons. Another hour passed and we were dismissed from class. Slowly we made our way off the mat to clean up and change into our street clothes. I lingered and spoke to the sensei about the staff exercise. The sensei granted me permission to take the staff with me to keep up with the class; even with my lucky trouncing of my opponent I still wasn't one hundred percent sure of the moves. In all the playing and learning, I'd somewhat forgotten Brandt's exile.
I was two blocks from my home when I was roughly yanked into an alley and flung into the narrow space. Brandt was there with another kid blocking my exit. It was pitch black in the alley, but I could still see things. The odors from the dumpsters lining the backs of the restaurants and shops hung in the air. I could smell rancid oils and meats. The rotting stench of vegetables long past their usefulness and the urban scents of urine and fear lined the brick walls.
Brandt was dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt proclaiming he was with stupid. The arrow pointed to the new kid. I looked carefully and saw that the 'kid' wasn't human, but a middle-sized troll masquerading as a human teenager. I blinked my vision and focused on the troll beneath the pimply-faced scruffy boy. The deep-set eyes with rolls of skin accented by scarring from knives and steel striking his angry face were plainly visible to me. His steel gray skin had bumps and hairs rippling with their own oddly hypnotic waves, but weren't visible to Brandt. He didn't have a clue who he'd hooked up with as a friend, other than someone willing to ambush me in an alley.
Swaggering Brandt said, "Hey, Dizzy Delilah, how the fuck are you?"
He was posturing for the troll. My skin was itching and I was quivering slightly. The staff was still in my hand but Brandt didn't seem to notice. I didn't carry a purse so I wasn't encumbered by anything but the troll, who was positively excited. The troll was grinning, showing me he still had all of his sharp vicious teeth. I could see a piece of meat still caught between the jagged edges of two lower molars. The glistening bit of gristle was gray and rancid. I could smell him from where I stood trapped.
To be continued...