Monday, August 14th, 8:20
“Hey, Turrone,” Carter said, stepping out of the driver’s
door of a black, decked-out Hummer. Not only was it a 2009 H2, but a pickup as
well. “How’s this town treating you?”
Evan walked the short path across the parking lot to where
Carter had parked the Hummer. Behind him, Greg and Brent slammed the doors shut
on the Ford F-150 STX crew cab they all just rode within. “Good. Brent drove us
downtown. We walked around a bit. Nice clean city. I like the Pueblo-adobe
style on the buildings.”
“Oh, yeah.” Carter was carrying a large, dark-colored duffle
bag, probably loaded with extra workout clothes. “They love that old Pueblo
style around here.”
Evan gave the Hummer a closer look. “I see you have some
nice style too.”
“Absolutely. If you’re gonna lease, lease big. That’s what I
Greg and Brent laughed, now both standing to Evan’s right.
Evan couldn’t help but let out a short chuckle too.
Carter eyed Brent. “Did my boy mad dog Brent here take you
guys up to the Sandia mountains?”
“Yes, he did,” Greg said. “Stunning views.”
“They couldn’t stop raving about it,” Brent said. “Obviously
wasn’t a bad suggestion to show them around.”
“We walked on some of the trails for about a half hour,”
Evan said. “Greg is right. Amazing view of the city from up there. Lots of
cactuses, desert plants. Certainly not what I’m used to.”
“I’m sure about that Turrone.” Carter led the way toward the
sidewalk. He stopped and turned back, sweat droplets on his forehead. “Heat can
get a bit much around here too. Don’t worry. Nice cool AC in Costales
Taekwondo.” He faced forward and continued his leading trek toward the entrance
of the place.
Carter sure seemed to have a long list of friends and
acquaintances around the country, Evan concluded, judging from his earlier
conversation with them this morning. Definitely fortunate for all of them now,
given that Juan Costales was closing off his entire Taekwondo joint, including
both floors, to only Dana Zypher’s security team. As Carter had explained, it
was the only way to guarantee no interference from fans or sneaky paparazzi, or
‘the paps’ as he referred to them. And besides, Juan had told Carter he
normally didn’t have classes this early on Mondays.
And it would be the same when they head out to some outdoor
shooting range after their martial arts practice; Carter knew the owner and
they would have the shooting range all to themselves.
Evan looked up and around at the lengthy, unique building,
giving it a one last thorough eyeful. It was L-shaped, with Costales Taekwondo
located in the L’s inner corner. Mostly resembled a long, two story L-shaped
hotel with a second-floor balcony running its entire length to allow customers
doorway entrances to their rooms. But of course, instead of rooms, there were
stores, or businesses, with broad, crystal-clean windows, glass doors, and
large, colorful signs of their names, with Costales just one of the many stores
or businesses. Sort of like looking up from the central, bottom walkway of an
indoor mall, and seeing both floors. But this was outside, and a large, broad
parking lot stretched out in front of the building.
Syrrah, and Neraeh, on the third floor of the Mall of
America seeped into his mind.
He shoved the thought away and concentrated on following
Carter and Brent through the glass door entrance of Costales. He didn’t notice
anyone else nearby; the four of them were free from any potential paps or fans.
Once inside, they all headed up a flight of stairs to the
second floor of the place. A large, broad room laid out before them. Was
typical, of course, only larger. Most of the floor had that softer, gym-mat covering.
A long mirror overlaid most of the left-side wall. At the far end of the room
and along most of the right side of the room were plenty of large, hanging
punching bags and Wing Chun wooden dummies. And not far from where they stood,
and again on the right side of the room, lots of hand and body protection gear
were stacked on a tall shelf, along with some weight equipment and several long
Carter instructed Evan, and Greg, to collect up some
protection gear and get situated over near that mirror wall, and do some
sparring with whatever individual disciplines they wanted to practice. Brent
would instruct and join them soon. But, Carter wasn’t kidding. He wanted them
to take it all, the headgear, sparring gloves, shin, forearm, and groin guards,
and even chest protectors, but said only use what was needed.
Maybe he was worried about one of them getting hurt, and the
They walked over until near the mirror. Good thing Carter
advised loose-fitting shorts and T-shirts. Once suited up, both he and Greg
opting for the hand, chest, forearm, head, and shin guards, and going barefoot,
Evan began showing some of his Jeet Kune Do capabilities. Yeah, that old ‘be
inventive, react without hesitation’. He also switched into some Tae Kwon Do,
Eskrima, and mixed martial arts when needed. He tried his best not to harm
Greg. Greg wasn’t as good as him, but definitely showed some talent and
training. He just lacked the ability to hide his next moves, forecasting too
many strikes and punches.
After about twenty minutes, Brent walked over and stopped
the sparring. “Turrone. Nice work.” He looked at Greg. “Williams. Good on you
your opponent taught before. You’ll need his expertise.”
Greg, puffing away, focused on Evan. His dark eyes widened briefly,
but then relaxed. “That would…explain some things.”
“Yeah. Didn’t get a chance to mention it to you yet. Been
teaching classes for about a year now.” From his eye’s corner, Evan noticed
motion. He looked in that direction, way down at the other end of the right
side of the room, about twenty-five yards away, next to the punching bags and
Wing Chun dummies. Dana was just standing up from sitting on one of those
benches. Her father, Lloyd, next to her, was standing up too.
Carter was already headed toward Dana and Lloyd, only about
three yards away and closing fast.
“Wow.” Evan looked at Brent. “How long have they been here?”
“Not sure. Change of plans.” Brent eyed Dana and then gave
his attention back to Evan and Greg. “I’ll leave you two gentlemen alone for a
moment. Be back soon.” He headed off to Carter.
“Damn,” Greg said quietly, his breathing now much more
settled. He began removing all the protection gear, except for the shin guards,
and placed the gear on the mat. “Why are they here?”
Evan did the same but removed his shin guards too. Always so
sweaty wearing those darn things. “I don’t know.” He held his gaze on Dana.
“Sort of bothered I hadn’t noticed them earlier.”
Evan looked at Greg. He was shivering slightly. “What’s
“You kidding me? Shit, dawg.” He spoke louder this time,
unfortunately. “That’s Dana Zypher!”
“Oh…you haven’t met her yet? We were hired on the same
“No, dawg. My black ass hasn’t met her yet. I guess they
didn’t have time for me.” He stared at Evan, his dark brown eyes perplexed.
“What. You don’t know how famous she is or something?”
Evan shrugged a little. “Yeah. I do. I did meet her already,
and she didn’t seem to like me much.”
“Shit. Sorry on you, dawg. She’s one
of the most famous female artists out there.” He looked at them a moment.
“And here she comes.”
“Just relax, and be yourself,” Evan said, only keeping his
eyes on Greg. But he could hear that familiar sound getting louder, sneakers
pressing and crinkling into gym-mat material, and felt his own nerves get a bit
frayed at the ends.
Dana walked around Evan on his right side and stood in front
of the now less shivering Greg. Good. He piped it down some. She held out her
hand. “Hi, Greg.”
Greg, his face awe-struck, gently took hold of her hand.
“Nice to meet you, Miss Zypher.” He gently shook her hand up and down several
times, until she yanked her hand back rather abruptly from his. He glanced down
at his hand. “Oh, sorry, my hand is sweaty.”
“No problem. Glad we have you and Evan as the two new
members of our security team.”
Evan couldn’t help but practically absorb Dana within
himself; she was standing only several feet away and barely wearing much.
Black, skin-tight, Bermuda-length shorts with red trim, revealing her small
waist, slim hips, and long, thin legs. Her upper body was covered only by a
black sports bra with red straps that crisscrossed her back near her shoulder
blades in a most sensual, body-hugging manner. On her short’s wide elastic
waist band and on the lower band of the sports bra were the words D-Zypher Me
Tour in white letters on black background. Her hair was tied back in a small
bun, revealing features, lovely, smooth-skin facial features, he hadn’t noticed
before. For some reason, her entire appearance brought Heidi from memory.
Geesh, of all times to recall her. But Dana was simply stunning, regardless of
his dislike for her homely-looking face.
Yet like earlier, he couldn’t detect even the slightest iota
of Syrrah appearing before him. And Heidi in his mind was unfortunately
becoming a distant memory, nothing more.
Dana’s father, Lloyd, walked around to her side and nudged
her arm. The dude was maybe in his fifties, with some greys, like Carter, and
was about the same height and stocky build. He was wearing a white,
short-sleeve button shirt along with tan, loose-fitting pants.
After Lloyd’s arm nudge, Dana turned and faced Evan straight
He felt his heart skip a beat.
“And Evan,” she said, “I want to apologize for my behavior
the other day. Was just terribly rude of me.”
“Yes, Dana,” Lloyd said, “terribly rude.”
She smiled and gazed toward the floor. A few stragglers of
her tied-back dark brown hair fell around her forehead.
She used several fingers and lightly swept the stragglers away, so similar to
what Syrrah had done in that video.
A rush of adrenaline surged through Evan’s body. He couldn’t
help but only stare at her, waiting for her eyes to meet his once more.
“So,” Dana said, raising her head, her dark brown eyes
boring a hole into his gaze. “I want to try this again.” Her homely-looking
face suddenly took on a glow, a beauty, he hadn’t noticed before. “Let’s do a
polite handshake this time.”
“Sure, of course.” But with her hand approaching, numerous
surrounding cues flooded Evan’s mind. Those sneakers he heard. They were
Dana’s. Like her workout outfit, black-laced up sneakers, with white soles. But
Greg, Brent and himself were barefoot. And her father’s words, his tone. And
Brent’s sketchy behavior. And a ‘polite handshake’?
Once he felt Dana’s sudden, twisting grip on his right hand,
he knew. They were all testing him, and she had set him up for a handshake
wrist throw. And this wasn’t necessary since he would never hurt her. She
continued twisting his hand toward his left side while at the same time
thrusting his hand’s fingers backwards toward his right forearm, in a most
unnatural, painful contortion. She continued in that rushing forward motion,
stepping to his right and spinning away from him, at the same time yanking his
contorted hand upwards, until the inevitable could only happen; he plunged
backwards on to the floor.
A strong, habit-triggered urge to fight back darkened his
mind, but only for a split second. He refused to seize her hand tightly and
pull her to the floor with him. Once she released his hand completely, he only
made sure to roll-land on his left side, like he had done many times before, to
avoid or soften any possible injury.
But thank the Lord for the extra-soft mat-covered floor, and
that he hadn’t landed on any of that bulky protection gear.
His quick reflexes were always his strong point. He
immediately scrambled back up again, tall and strong, and stared down at her.
“I thought you said a polite handshake.”
Dana was laughing, as were Carter, Lloyd and Brent. Greg
appeared confused, his eyes wide. And Dana didn’t speak a response to his
Carter walked over and slapped Evan on his shoulder. “I bet
you didn’t realize the woman we hired you to protect could kick your ass, huh?”
Anger began pulsing through Evan, but he harnessed it down.
“No, not really. Didn’t expect her to do that.”
And he was also fully believing any woman could sweep her
hair away gently, like Syrrah. It wasn’t that unique.
“Should always expect the unexpected, son.” Carter eyed Evan
closely. “But after seeing how you sparred with Williams, I’m thinking you
already sensed this.”
“I knew something was up. But I’m not going to fight with
the person I was hired to protect.”
Carter smiled slyly. “Well, guess what. Dana wants you to
spar with her now. So does her father and the rest of us. Can you handle that,
Evan hung his arms loosely at his sides, in a ready state.
This was all getting so odd. “Yeah. Sure. I’ve been doing it for years, with
guys and girls. I know how to handle it.”
“Great. Collect the gear you already have and come over
here,” Carter said, walking toward the protection gear section. “Want to get
you two suited up just right.”
Evan quickly gathered up the gear on the mat and began
following Carter. Dana’s dad, Lloyd, walked away, heading back for those
benches at the far right end of the room. From behind him, he could hear Brent
discussing Tae Kwon Do strategies with Greg.
Dana walked near Evan’s side.
He looked at her.
“Hey,” she said, “don’t worry. I won’t beat you up too
“Oh, okay,” he said, nodding, unable to think of much more
to say. This wasn’t like him. So awkward! He instead directed his eyes on
Carter and continued walking, with Dana staying at pace with him.
Once by Carter, Evan helped to place the protection gear
items back where they belonged. Dana only stood nearby and watched.
“I’m gonna spar with Williams for a while, over there by
Brent.” Carter handed out shin pads and kick-boxing strike shields to Evan, and
then to Dana. “You two stay around here.” He focused on Dana. “Your father will
She glanced over at the bench area, probably about twenty to
thirty yards away. “Yeah, I see him.” She smiled and waved at him.
Lloyd lifted his hand in a quick manner, almost like a salute,
and smiled back. He grasped his hands together upon his thighs, his legs
stretched out in front of himself and crossed at his feet. He stared at Evan,
an amused, though somehow menacing gleam on his face, though it was hard to
tell for sure from the distance.
“Here.” Carter suddenly shoved a small training sword, with
a blunt edge, into Evan’s hands. “Practice return-to-sender first. Then let
Dana attempt kickboxing moves with you.”
“Okay,” Evan said, handling the sword, pressing his fingers
along the edge, reassuring himself it actually was blunt. And it was.
Carter walked past Evan, in the direction of Greg and Brent.
Evan looked at Dana. “How tall are you, Dana?”
“Why? What does it matter? Can’t you just tell by looking at
Okay. Two can play this game. “I’m a tall guy. Judging by
how tall you are, next to me, I’d say five foot even. Right?”
“Oh. So you’re a ball-buster. You know I’m far taller than
“Yeah. You’re right. Five foot two. My mistake.”
“Here. Take this.” She tossed one of the shin guards at
Evan. He caught it instantly with his free hand. She blinked several times in
surprise. “I want to get going on this sparring.” She started walking away,
closer to where her father was sitting, and Evan followed her. “And for your
info, I’m five foot eight.”
“Thanks. Just helps me to work through the sparring better.”
“How tall are you?”
“Six foot four. But, you know, us tall six-footers. Some
people don’t realize they pile shit that high.”
She stopped walking and stared at him. “Hey. I said I was
“Right. You did.” Evan paused in his own steps and looked
for Carter. Carter wasn’t sparring with Greg but was instead watching Brent
spar with Greg. But, whatever. He directed his eyes back on Dana. “Let’s get
She shrugged and gave a rather mean-looking smirk. “Yeah.
Evan handed the knife to her.
She positioned herself and began by pointing the knife right
at his face, only about an inch away.
But, not a problem. And only better helped him to ignore her
He began the maneuvering, as he had done numerous times with
Mark or when teaching his students. He kept swiping her hand away, the one
holding the knife, both from the left and right side of her continuing
advances. Surprisingly, she seemed weaker than he had expected. He continued
swiping the knife thrusts away until finding the chance to seize the elbow of
her arm wielding the knife. He then forced the knife toward her abdomen, but of
course stopping short of pressing the point, especially with the bare skin of
her stomach exposed.
Definitely not the typical outfit for sparring. Yet this is
Dana Zypher, ‘one of the most famous female artists out there’.
He then took the knife from her. Cautiously, carefully he
pointed it toward her face and then the entire process started from her side.
She repeatedly swiped his knife-holding arm away, at the wrist, until finally
breaking his arm’s force at the elbow and pointing the knife toward him. But
she didn’t stop, allowing the dull point of the knife to press into his
tee-shirt covered gut about a full inch in depth. He didn’t say anything, but
certainly didn’t feel so comfortable with it.
Maybe just wait and see if she does it another time. Then
again, he had an idea.
She took the knife, her turn once more.
The same maneuvering occurred, but when Evan was able to
point the knife toward her stomach, he stopped, and froze. He stared dead on
into her dark brown eyes. “I show restraint.”
She smirked at him. “Well, maybe I don’t. Can’t take a
little pressure there?”
“Okay. Enough of that,” Carter said, arriving suddenly.
“Time schedule change. Going to kickboxing maneuvers now.”
Dana stepped back away from Evan and looked at Carter. “What
time schedule change?”
“Brent has an idea, for the shooting range practice. I want
to discuss it with your father, before heading over there. Minor change in
plans, but we need to get this done quicker. That’s all.”
“Whatever,” she said, shaking her head a bit, rolling her
Evan wanted to roll his eyes in disappointment too, after
Carter interrupted a good comeback he had for Dana but it was just a missed
Carter took the training knife. He then told Evan and Dana
to put on the shin guards and don those thick, hand-held punch pads, or focus
pads, as Carter called them. He wanted them to do some Jeet Kune Do defense
stop kicks and other kick maneuvers.
Once they were ready, Evan suggested Dana go first.
She proceeded to strike at the focus pads Evan wore on both
hands, while alternating kicks at the shin guards on his lower legs. He
expected her to kick harder, given her maliciousness, her aggressiveness toward
him so far, but she didn’t. She mostly struck at him with force, but not
excessive force. Yeah. Someone trying to act tough and strong, but beneath it
all, simply wasn’t. Then again, the way she did that handshake wrist throw,
dropping him hard, showed some toughness. He could only really conclude he
wasn’t sure of her true nature, not yet anyway.
After about two minutes or so, she stopped the sparring. She
was breathing hard and looked a bit pale. Evan searched into her eyes. “What’s
She kept both her fists up and ready to go. She leaned her
head back slightly and stared at him. “Your…turn. Let’s see what…you
Her challenge didn’t add up right. For a brief flash in his
mind, he sensed from her a desire for him to beat on her, break her down,
something he would never do. Was she suicidal, maybe? Other thoughts entered
his mind. Dad’s bereavement. Alan’s insane, suicidal antics. But no time for
digging up the past now. He could handle her request. “All right. Sure.” He
gave her the focus pads and she put them on.
This was going to be quite the balancing act. He wanted to
give the sparring she was looking for, and what Carter and Lloyd most likely
expected, but he didn’t want to strike too hard.
He began striking his fists at her focus pads, with every
forward punch thrust from her. But she would also strike back at his punches
from side angles, allowing him more outward sweeping motion. He gave a few
kicks to her right shin protector too.
She stopped a moment and adjusted her shin pad. She glared
at him. “Is that all you got? Rather pussy of you.”
“What? I thought I was handling this with some good
She gave a disgusted face. “Balance as in what?”
“Giving you a training workout without beating on the woman
I’m supposed to protect.”
“At least move faster, Turrone,” Carter said, standing
nearby. Must have finished his discussion with Lloyd. “Training plus a
Dana looked at Carter. “I can handle it. I’m okay. I want to
feel this pussy’s strength.”
Carter laughed a moment. “All right if you want,” he said,
flipping his hand over at her. “You don’t perform until tomorrow.”
This definitely wasn’t feeling copacetic. Something was off.
“Fight at her like she’s a true threat,” Carter said to
Evan. “Give it all you got.”
“What? No! I was hired to protect Dana, not beat on her.”
Carter shrugged. “Hey, you don’t want to do as we ask, we
can always find somebody else.”
Letting out a harsh sigh, Evan stared down at the gym mat. Syrrah,
my beautiful Syrrah. He looked back at Carter. “All right, all right. I
just hope I don’t hurt Dana.”
“You won’t. Come on, Turrone. I got you figured out. Don’t
worry about it.”
Evan directed his attention at Dana.
She lowered her head, though keeping her stare locked on
him, and readied her focus pad-covered hands in a defensive fighting stance.
Evan didn’t say anything to her. He only began punching with
his intense, fast speed, but still kept the actual hits to her focus pads with
the same lighter touch he did earlier. And he did the same with his kicks to
her shin guards, though he did it faster, much faster. And he kept at it.
She abruptly stepped back a few feet from him and raised her
palm up, signally stop.
He relaxed his arms and stood motionless.
She was breathing quite hard again, whereas he barely felt
his lungs expanding and contracting. She looked at him. “Better…but you’re
still holding back too much. I want to feel what you got…Turrone.”
She’s even calling me by my last name now? What is up
with this woman?
Evan looked at Carter.
“Go ahead,” Carter said. “I’m thinking Dana wants to make
sure a member of her security team has what it takes.”
“But didn’t you watch me with Greg?” Evan asked her. “Wasn’t
“Honestly? Didn’t pay much attention.” Her breathing was
more normal now. “Come on.” She readied her focus pads. “Let’s go.”
Okay. If that’s what she wants, that’s what she’ll get, but
still not enough to really injure her.
Then again, maybe this was all just a test, to see if he
would ever really harm Dana.
But he couldn’t think on that now. Had to concentrate on how
to handle the sparring.
Master Mark Ren always told him his speed was exceptional.
He would strike shallow yet move like lightning.
He readied his hands. This time she lunged those pads right
at his face and stomach. But he blocked with intense speed that pushed her arms
back forcefully. She attempted swift, forecasted kicks at his shin guards but
was met with his immediate leg blocks and maneuvers that caused her to step
back a few paces. She came at him again, and again, in similar maneuvers and he
fought back faster and harder each time. Bewilderment and alarm began
materializing on her face. And misplaced anger. She appeared tired too.
So she lunged harder, more forceful punches at him. But each
time he was able to block, swipe, or push them away.
She came at him with a decisive, forecasted swipe at his
protected shin and he instinctively struck back hard at her shin.
Directly after his hard strike, he sensed she was done, her
steps staggering, erratic.
She collapsed to the floor on her knees. She leaned forward,
placing her focus pad hands on the mat. She hung her head down. “No. Why?” She
spoke softly, between heavy breathing. “Not…now.”
“Dana.” Evan stepped a little closer to her. “What’s wrong?”
He looked at Carter. He expected to see fake concern on that face, since maybe
this was just another one of Dana’s tricks, to lure his unsuspecting ass right
into another devious maneuver. But he didn’t see that; Carter showed true concern.
She lifted her head and looked at Lloyd yet sitting on that
Evan could see her eyes. She was crying. And it didn’t look
fake. Something was wrong.
Lloyd stood up and began rushing over.
This had gone on far enough. Evan ignored away how any of
them expected he treat her and rushed to her. He tossed off his focus pads, not
caring where they dropped, and gently placed his hand on Dana’s shoulder.
“Dana. Are you hurt?”
But she didn’t answer. She kept her head down so he was
unable to see her face. She took off her focus pads and wiped her eyes.
“Evan,” Lloyd said, approaching, “it’s all right. Let me
handle this.” Lloyd knelt next to her and took hold of her hands, as Evan
stepped back a few feet.
Lloyd was able to help her stand up. He walked with her,
slowly, toward the bench. She walked with a limp, and still did not look back
“Dana,” he called out to her. “I’m so sorry if I did
anything to hurt you.”
But she, and Lloyd, said nothing back to him.
“I told you I didn’t want to do this, I told you that!” Evan
said to Carter. “And now she’s injured!”
“Now, now, settle down, son.” Carter stepped closer to Evan.
“You didn’t hurt her.” He spoke softly. “She, well, she has a condition. An
illness. And it flares up at times.”
“An illness? What illness?”
“Doctors have tested her for Fibromyalgia and Lupus, but
believe it’s mainly Fibro. Either way, she can get hit with sudden, intense
“No way. Really? Could it be Lyme disease instead?”
“Nah. She was already tested and treated for that. Didn’t
“Maybe she has PTLDS.”
Carter’s face took on a confused, annoyed appearance.
“P-T-L-D-S? What the hell is that?”
“Post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. You know, where it
becomes long-term, never really goes away?”
“Yeah, I don’t know.”
Greg walked over by them. “Is Dana okay? I overheard she has
“Yes. Fibromyalgia. She’ll be fine, once her meds kick in.
She’s been trying to exercise more, take less meds, but it doesn’t always
help.” Carter gave both Evan and Greg a steely stare. “Remember the contract
you two signed. Not a word of this to anyone. Not your family, not your
friends, and especially, above all else, better not be even the slightest,
imperceptible mention of this on any form of social media. When Dana is ready,
when she knows for certain what’s wrong, I’m sure she’ll let her fans and the
rest of the world know. But she needs to be the one. You understand? Any breech
of this and you two are fired, if not worse.”
“Yes,” Evan said, “of course.”
Greg nodded. “Same here. She has enough troubles. Don’t need
us adding any.”
“Yes, exactly,” Carter said. “She might be a superstar, but
she is only human.”
Only human. Sure. If that’s what you want to call her, after
what may have happened to her.
Evan directed his gaze away from Carter, Greg, and the now
arriving Brent, to the far end of the room. Dana was just exiting through a
backdoor of this building, with Lloyd guiding her out.
He looked back at Carter, speaking with Brent.
Yeah. Not posting this on social media. But not telling
anyone? That, unfortunately, he could NOT do.