Making Her Mark

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chapter 1

drop-cap-kelli scanned the area around her. Her heart thumped hard and fast, but she forced herself to slow down and carefully consider her surroundings. It was three against one and she wasn’t going to come out on top unless she used all of her resources. Sensei always told her she was too rash. She rushed into things. Rushed her attack when she should be making a plan and sizing up her opponent. But in the dojo, she knew all her opponents. She had fought them all before and knew their strengths and weaknesses. This was different.

Two boys and a girl. Clark was taller and probably had thirty pounds on her. Michael was closer to her size. Then there was Lizzie, shorter than Kelli but clearly heavier, a chunky, smiley girl who was as mean as a snake. She was a blond now, but Kelli could remember when her hair had been mouse brown, like Kelli’s, when they were in the younger grades.

At first, Kelli hadn’t been paying attention. She had just been walking through the park on her way home, like she did every other day. But something hadn’t felt right. Her subconscious mind must have picked up on her pursuers. Starting to get jumpy, she had looked around and realized she was being tailed.

It would have been one thing if they had stayed together, laughing at her and catcalling like the gruesome threesome was wont to do. They were bullies, but usually they just kept each other entertained with verbal abuse.

Lizzie was still behind Kelli. Walking steadily, keeping an even distance. Clark and Michael were flanking her. Even though Kelli picked up her pace, they were still moving faster than she was, pincering her between them, blocking her in. When Kelli looked around for help, there was no one nearby who was likely to be of any service to her. Little kids playing cops and bangers. Older men at the chess tables on the north end. Occasional teens like herself, on their own, headed for home. Loners, keeping their eyes averted and hoping to avoid trouble.

Kelli could hear Lizzie closer behind her and glanced over her shoulder. The girl was definitely closing in. She gave Kelli a brilliant smile, like a shark might give to its dinner.

“Something wrong, Smelly Kelli? Wait up, I want to talk.”

“I’m not talking to you,” Kelli asserted. Though obviously, she was. She knew she was surrounded. Talking was a stall. She was trying to work out what she was going to do, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the three players.

“Don’t you want to talk about your boyfriend?” Lizzie taunted. “I just wanted to make sure he was okay. He didn’t get his feelings hurt, did he?”

Kelli swore in answer. It would have been nice if Les had walked home with her. He wasn’t her boyfriend, but at least she would have had better numbers on her side. Les wasn’t a fighter, but he would split their attention.

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Kelli snapped.

“Oh, that’s right. He doesn’t like girls, does he? Is that why the two of you hang out together? He loves dogs?”

“Why don’t you and your friends go bug someone else,” Kelli suggested. Brilliant. That little jab was sure to convince them to leave her alone.

Michael was moving in the fastest, just two paces from her. Kelli made her decision and drove toward him. Go on the offensive. Don’t wait for him to make the first move. He actually stepped back, making eye contact with the two others, not sure of what to do with Kelli.

She didn’t give him any longer to think, but went straight for his eyes. She wasn’t going to have much time to deal with any of the three. Her goal had to be to disable them as quickly as she could. Even with one of them down, that still left two, one to hold her down while the other used her as a punching bag. Michael jumped back, but was too slow to avoid Kelli’s clawed fingers. He howled, bringing his hands up to his face to protect his eyes too late. Kelli slammed a palm into his nose and he doubled over, giving a shriek.

Clark and Lizzie attacked together, leaving nothing to chance. Both came at her swinging, trying to get her down before she was able to defend herself. But Kelli had practiced two-on-one attacks endlessly. Her training kicked in and she was a whirl of arms and feet, hitting, kicking, clawing, grappling, whatever it took to keep an edge on the attackers. There were shouts as people saw what was going on, but no one was brave enough to jump into the fight to stop them or to try to even the odds.

Almost too late, she realized Michael was back in the fight. Scratches on his face and blood streaming from his nose weren’t enough to stop him. Kelli aimed a head-butt at him. He was a nice height. Just right for the top of her head to hit his nose. No matter that it was already bleeding, she went for it again, hoping to hear it break this time. Maybe that would keep him down for longer.

But it was Clark who went down next. Kelli got a lucky jab to his solar plexus, and while he was sucking wind, a high kick to the chin caught him off guard and he went down like a log. Lizzie was the only one left fighting. Michael wasn’t out, but he was staggering around with his hands over his face, and Kelli wasn’t sure whether he would recover well enough to reenter the fight. She wasn’t about to wait around and see.

Lizzie was a force to be reckoned with. Despite her flabby figure, she was strong. Kelli warded off Lizzie’s attack, letting her wear herself down while Kelli waited for the right opportunity to disable her. Lizzie was a street fighter with no apparent training that Kelli could spot. She might be able to defeat others with brute force and some dirty moves, but Kelli was careful, and sooner or later Lizzie was going to open herself up. Kelli couldn’t keep an eye out to be sure the three fighters weren’t joined by anyone else. They had other friends and followers at school. If one or two of them spotted the fight in the park and decided to lend a hand, Kelli was going to be in trouble. Three of them were bad enough. Even Lizzie by herself was formidable. Kelli didn’t want to be fighting the entire posse.

She didn’t have long to wait before Lizzie dropped her left. Kelli drove straight in, punching Lizzie square in the jaw. Everything slowed down, just like in the movies, and Kelli saw Lizzie’s face ripple with the force of the strike, saw her head whiplash back, and saw her eyes roll up for an instant. Lizzie stayed on her feet, not toppling over like Kelli had hoped. Lizzie took a step backward to steady herself and Kelli punched again, hitting her in the chest, then tried to sweep her legs to get her down on the ground. Lizzie was like a rock, her legs supporting her like two pillars. She didn’t go down. But she did turn her head away, and Kelli realized in a second why she had. A siren. Michael, both hands still over his nose, gave a shout of warning and tried to stumble away. But he was too groggy, and when Kelli threw a kick into his hip, he went down.

She turned back to Lizzie. Lizzie was hurt. A little stunned, one hand wanting to reach toward her jaw to make sure it was still properly attached. Kelli tried again, kicking her behind one knee. Lizzie went down with a satisfying crash.

With all three of them on the retreat, Kelli scanned the park to make sure she had a clear path home and none of Lizzie’s other goons were around.

Hard, strong hands grabbed Kelli from behind. She went limp, falling to the ground as if in a dead faint, with the full intention of sweeping the latest attacker and meeting him on the ground. She was good at close work. She did some of her best work on the floor.

But the split-second before she swept the legs out from under the new attacker, Kelli saw his uniform and stiffened, forcing herself to stop before she could be accused of resisting arrest or assaulting a cop.

“Stop! You’re under arrest!” the cop shouted at her, pointing at her as if his finger was a weapon and he would deploy it if she didn’t obey.

Kelli held her hands up. “Stopping, stopping,” she agreed, showing him her empty palms. She stayed there, frozen, watching for the others. Until they had all been handcuffed, she couldn’t let her guard down. Just because there was a cop there, that wouldn’t necessarily stop any of them from hitting or kicking her while she was on the ground holding her hands up in surrender.

The cop yelled into his radio, trying to keep eyes on all four of them. Another man, either a plainclothes cop or a brave bystander, grabbed staggering Michael and took him to the ground. They were all down and Kelli gave a sigh of relief, letting her eyes close for a minute while chaos swirled around her. She tried to get centered and tried to relax her body again. She didn’t open her eyes when the cop reached down and turned her over onto her belly. He gave her a swift pat-down and pulled her hands behind her back to handcuff them.

“You’re under arrest,” he told her again.

“It was self-defense.”

“Didn’t much look like self-defense to me,” he sneered.

Kelli didn’t bother arguing.

“Stay there!”

She didn’t move. He went on and, with the help of late-arriving cops, got Lizzie and her crew handcuffed as well. It was a different cop who returned to retrieve Kelli. He pulled her to her feet. He was kind of cute for an older guy, with red cheeks and black hair just long enough to form messy curls. His name badge said Halloran. Halloran’s eyes went over her, stopping briefly at the red-purple splotch on her face. He checked her pockets, pulling out her keys, change, and deck of cards and dropping them onto the ground next to her. He held on to her student ID card for a moment longer.

“Kelli Munroe.”

“Yes.”

“Sixteen?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What happened here?”

Kelli gave a shrug. “Those three ambushed me. I just defended myself.”

His eyes went to the other three teens and he shook his head, doubting her story. Kelli took a glance at each of them herself. She wasn’t a big fan of violence, but she couldn’t suppress a little surge of pride at what she had done. She had held the three attackers off. If the police hadn’t shown up, she would have been out of there, back home safely. That was why she took martial arts.

Sensei would be proud. Not of her having a street fight, but of the good job she had done.

The street was bristling with emergency vehicles. Not just the police cars that had answered the initial call, but also ambulances bringing paramedics to evaluate everyone’s injuries and to decide whether anyone needed to go to the hospital, and maybe a few more police cars who had brought cops who were just walking around the scene gawking, acting like they were doing something important.

A paramedic approached Kelli and Halloran. “Hey, my name is Dustin. You got this tigress under control?” he asked Halloran with a laugh.

“You can have a look at her,” Halloran said without cracking a smile.

Dustin moved in to examine Kelli’s face first. “How are you feeling? Any dizziness? Blurred vision?” He shone a penlight in her eyes.

“It’s not a bruise,” Kelli said. “It’s a birthmark.”

“What? Oh…” He was taken aback, and prodded Kelli’s cheek for swelling or tenderness, as if he didn’t believe her. “Oh, it is.”

Halloran held Kelli’s student ID where Dustin could see it and verify that in the picture she had an irregular red-purple mark painted over the space under her right eye, taking up most of the lower-right quadrant of her face.

“Oh, I see,” Dustin said lamely. “Uh… Kelli. Do you have any injuries? Where did you get hit?”

Kelli moved her body experimentally. She had taken a few blows, she knew. She hadn’t focused on them during the fight, and she was used to taking hits during practice.

“No, nothing major,” she said.

He shone his light in her eyes again, examined her face more carefully for any recent injuries, and took her pulse. He shrugged at Halloran. “All clear.”

Dustin moved on to help deal with the others. Michael had a broken nose and was escorted to one of the waiting ambulances. Lizzie and Clark didn’t appear to have any serious injuries, though they were both complaining as if Kelli had worked them over for no reason, trying to make her out as the aggressor.

“You’re claiming self-defense?” Halloran demanded. “Three against one?”

Kelli nodded. “Yeah. That’s what happened. I was just going home after school.”

“Where’s home?”

Kelli gave him her address and his eyes went across the park, pinpointing its approximate location.

“Why would they attack you? What’s the history?”

“I’ve known Lizzie since kindergarten. She’s always been a bully. Usually, we just stay away from each other. I leave her alone and she leaves me alone. But today I got in the way when she was picking on someone else. And she didn’t appreciate that.”

“Picking on who? When did this happen?”

“A guy I know. Nothing happened. Just exchanged words. But she didn’t like being shown up in front of her posse, so she came after me on the way home to remind me of my place.”

“Who is this boy?”

Kelli shifted. She knew Les wouldn’t want her bringing him into it. He just tried to fly under the radar. Avoid any kind of trouble.

“A guy I know.”

“We’re going to need to gather all of the relevant details and talk to everyone involved,” Halloran pointed out. “I need his name.”

“I don’t want to get him in any trouble. If cops come knocking on his door, his mom is going to be really pissed. You could get him beaten up or thrown out.”

Halloran considered this, but didn’t waver from his goal. “I still need his name.”

“Les,” Kelli sighed. “Les Broke.”

“Goes to your school?”

“Yeah. Lives in the projects.”

His eyes located the slums to the west of the park, and he nodded.

“What’s your relationship with this guy? He your boyfriend?”

“No. Just a friend. Known him for a long time.”

“And why was Lizzie picking on him?”

“Because that’s what she does. That’s what bullies always do. Look for any sign of weakness, and then hone in on it. I didn’t like her harassing Les, so I told her to cut it out. She did, but she was pretty steamed that I would stand up for him.”

“Have the two of you been in any physical altercations before?”

“No… not since second grade… nothing the police were ever called about.”

“Why today? You’ve known each other since kindergarten, you haven’t had an ongoing feud. Why start today?”

“I didn’t like her making fun of Les,” Kelli insisted.

He stared into her face. Kelli looked steadily at the ground. She hated people looking at her. They would stare at her face as if fascinated by the purple birthmark. As if they’d never seen anything like it before. It wasn’t like port wine birthmarks were that rare. People had them. Why act like she was some kind of freak just because she had a mark on her face?

“You’re sure Lizzie wasn’t making fun of you?”

“What’s the difference? If she was making fun of me, I’d tell you. Who cares?”

“If she was making fun of you, maybe you were the one who instigated the physical fight. Maybe you got tired of her verbal harassment and decided to take action.”

“I got tired of her verbal harassment a long time ago. I learned to ignore it.”

“And today, something snapped. She just pushed you a little bit too far.”

“No. I didn’t snap. They attacked me. Michael attacked me first,” Kelli nodded toward Michael. “All I did was defend myself. There were three of them!”

“You’re the one who seems to have done the most damage. Maybe you attacked Lizzie and the others came to her aid.”

“That’s not what happened! Talk to the witnesses. There’s a whole park full of them!”

Halloran’s eyes went to the gawking bystanders. Plenty of people had been attracted by the lights and sirens and now wanted to know what was going on, to be involved in the excitement. Never mind that everyone had just stood by when Kelli was under attack. That was why she had needed to learn how to fight. She needed to be able to protect herself when the rest of the world was content to just stand by and watch her get beaten down.

“We will interview witnesses. But in my experience, people don’t want to get involved in a thing like this. No one will admit to having seen how it all started. Who threw the first punch. All of those eyes, and no one admits to knowing what happened.”

“Well, they know what happened. I didn’t attack Lizzie. She and her goons attacked me. And I’m sure if you looked at her school record, you’d see that she was a troublemaker. She likes to hurt people, and I’m not the first one. Just check her record.”

“We’ll see what we can get access to.” He gave a little shrug. “Privacy laws, you know. This wasn’t on school grounds. The school is going to resist getting involved.”

And Lizzie knew that. She had avoided attacking Kelli on school grounds. Too many witnesses. Too many cameras. Too many adults who might spill the beans on Lizzie.

There were TV cameras there before the police finally finished their investigation and took Kelli and the others to the police station. Kelli tried to keep her face averted from the cameras. No surprise, but she didn’t like having her birthmarked mug broadcast all over TV. But it didn’t look like she was going to be able to avoid it. The local channels needed something to spice up their newsfeed. Some fresh mayhem straight out of the projects would do nicely.

They tried to get some quotes, rushing in and blasting questions at Kelli, boom mikes held close overhead and cameras practically pressing themselves against her face. Lizzie made some noise, complaining about how Kelli had attacked her, that she was out of control and had a history, and someone needed to take her in hand. Kelli just tried to keep turned away from the camera, face pressed into her own shoulder for camouflage, and didn’t give them a sound bite.

But even so, when she got into the car, she could hear the anchor approaching the police officers and witnesses with questions on the ‘ninja girl going wild in the park.’ Kelli rolled her eyes. Did TV anchors ever get stories right? It made her question everything she had ever heard on the news. Each story twisted a little more this way or that, some details misinterpreted, rumor reported as fact; she couldn’t ever trust that a story reported was actually true in every respect.

Ninja girl? She took it as a compliment, but she studied Jujitsu, not Ninjutsu. Sensei would want to know why she hadn’t corrected them, maybe pointed people toward the dojo. He could always use fresh blood, more people signing up, even if it was just for one of his weekend self-defense workshops.

Kelli had thought that once she was in the police car, they would immediately drive off to the police station. But she had forgotten how long it took the police to do everything. Even a routine traffic stop when her mother was pulled over for speeding could make her an hour late for an appointment. Her mother might not care about being late, but Kelli did. She was always embarrassed when her mother got her somewhere late. People should always follow through on their commitments and be where they were supposed to be when they said they would be. It was just common courtesy. Like not staring at people who were different or disfigured.

So instead, Kelli sat there in the car, watching the circus that played on outside the car. The police walked around the grassy area, making their observations, writing in their notepads, talking to each other. Probably discussing Sunday football more than what had actually happened in the park. How long did it take to figure out that Kelli had been ambushed, had fought for a couple of minutes, and then had been shut down by the arrival of the police? There wasn’t that much evidence. There weren’t that many witnesses. The whole thing had been over in a few minutes.

“Where did you learn to fight?” asked Bloggs, the cop who had introduced himself to her after she was taken to the police station and put in a conference room, where again she sat for what seemed like hours. He was an older cop, looking near retirement age, and had a nervous habit of stroking his hair back while he was thinking. Maybe the reason he was getting so thin on top.

“Golden Dragon Dojo,” Kelli told him.

She could see the surprise cross his face. He smoothed his hand over his head. “You’ve had actual training, then? What kind of place is Golden Dragon?”

“Jujitsu.”

He scribbled something down in his notebook. “How long have you been going there?”

Kelli thought about it. “Two, three years.”

“These other kids, are they a part of your dojo?”

Kelli snorted. “No! They don’t know anything about martial arts. They’re just… thugs. They think they’re tough. It’s easy to be tough when you gang up three-on-one.”

“Not always so easy…” Bloggs said, the corner of his mouth quirking up into a smile. “Sometimes you end up at a disadvantage.”

Kelli smothered a smile of her own. “It’s not that easy. I’m good, but three-on-one still isn’t… sporting.”

“Have you ever had the opportunity to use your Jujitsu training before?”

Kelli wasn’t sure how to answer that. It was the first time that she had ever been picked up like that in a fight. It was the first time that she had been jumped in the park. But it wasn’t exactly the first time she had used Jujitsu outside of the dojo.

Bloggs was waiting. “Well…?”

“I don’t know. I guess.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? Is this the first time you’ve used it, or not?”

“No…”

“Tell me about when you have used it before.”

“I don’t know. Not anything like this. Just… you know, somebody grabs me, I break their hold, get the hell out of there…”

He studied her, frowning. “Is that the truth?”

“Yes,” Kelli insisted. “I’ve only ever used it to protect myself. Get out of a bad situation. That, or practicing. That’s all.”

He turned a page in his notepad and started asking her questions that she had already been asked at the scene. How did she know Lizzie and the boys? What had happened to prompt the fight? How had it all gone down? Kelli tried to remember all of the details, but it had happened so fast that a move-by-move description of the fight was impossible. She kept stumbling over the details.

“You admit that you made the first move,” Bloggs said.

Kelli shook her head. “No! They ambushed me. Surrounded me and then attacked.”

“But you landed the first blow.”

“There were three of them attacking me! If I waited for them to land the first blow, I’d be on the ground with two of them holding me down!”

“You are the one with training. I think you could have dealt with that.”

“It’s not magic,” Kelli protested. “I don’t have superhuman strength! If they have me pinned, there’s not a lot I can do!”

She didn’t say that there was nothing she could do. There was almost always something. Not entirely effective, maybe, but something she could try.

Bloggs kept asking questions. Kelli’s body was aching and getting stiff. The fight had been short, but it tired her out more than sparring with the others in her dojo. Sensei had always said that it was different in a real fight. Adrenaline, no mats or props, hitting with all of your strength rather than sparing your partner and working through the forms. He had been right. Kelli was exhausted after a two-minute fight like she had never been after twenty minutes on the mats.

Bloggs had left and Kelli closed her eyes, trying to rest her brain and recover some equanimity. She had been in fight-or-flight mode for hours, despite her attempt to slow down and move on after the fight was finished. Dealing with the police was stressful. Thinking about being on TV. Wondering how her parents were going to react to the whole thing. If the police would even call them. Kelli did breathing exercises and tried to center herself. The calmer she was the sooner she would go home.

Bloggs returned to the room. He threw a clipboard down on the table. It had a small stack of computer reports attached to it, topped with one that showed Kelli’s mugshot.

The birthmark stood out starkly under the harsh lighting. It was so ugly she could barely look at herself.

But Bloggs hadn’t brought it to her to critique her photo. He had a point to make. And Kelli knew what it was without being told.

“You’ve been charged with domestic abuse.”

“The judge threw it out.”

“You told me you’ve only used Jujitsu to get out of a bad situation.”

“Yeah.”

“Domestic abuse isn’t a bad situation.”

She glared at him. “Then what is it?”

“If you’re being abused, sure. But using Jujitsu against your parents…”

“Why do you think I needed to learn to protect myself? The police have a stupid rule that if you hit someone else in a domestic, you get arrested. It doesn’t matter if you started it or if you were just protecting yourself. Everyone involved goes to jail.”

Bloggs nodded, obviously aware of this policy. “Leave it to the courts to sort it out,” he agreed.

“And the court threw out the charges against me.”

“Why? Because there was not enough proof or because you were acting in self-defense?”

Kelli crossed her arms over her chest. She rolled her eyes. “Can you prove who threw the first punch out there?” she demanded, jerking her head in the direction of the door.

“With so many conflicting stories, all we can do is give it our best guess,” Bloggs admitted. His mouth tightened. “But we still have more witnesses to interview and leads to follow, so that doesn’t mean you’re going home anytime soon.”

“Just don’t judge me by that,” Kelli pointed to her mugshot and the other papers on the clipboard. “Because that was thrown out. All I did was protect myself. Just like I told you.”

He looked back at the clipboard again. “There’s a bit more in there than just the domestic.”

Kelli cleared her throat. She gave a shrug, like it didn’t really matter. What difference did it make to the assault charges against her? “Yeah, so?”

“Sounds like you’re quite the little con artist.”

“A girl’s gotta eat. Better cons than turning tricks.”

“You’re not living on the street. You don’t have to con people out of their money in order to eat. You just go home and eat there.”

“Anyone ever tell you you’re naive?”

“No,” Bloggs said flatly. “Even if your parents are down and out, there are breakfast and lunch programs at school, food banks, food stamps; there’s a whole variety of programs available to make sure that kids like you aren’t starving.”

She didn’t bother arguing with him over it. He wasn’t living it; he didn’t know what it was like. And it was irrelevant to the assault charges. Running a con didn’t make her any more likely to start beating up people randomly in the park. He knew what had happened. It was time for him to decide what to do about it.

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

Making Her Mark

By P.D. Workman

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