I squinted at him. "This has become tedious, Carol." His friend Pat Hughes was with him. Pat hadn't hassled me since I broke his nose.
"'This has become tedious,'" Carol mimicked in a high voice. "You're such a prancing faggot."
OK, that image was ridiculous. My body had never been suitable for prancing. "This is low class even for you, Flagler," I said. "Can't you see I'm on a date?"
"Sure thing, faggot."
I gestured vaguely in Kirsten's direction. She was standing slightly behind me and to my right. "See, girl." I paused briefly and then said, "Come to think of it, you're the one who went to the movies with a guy."
Yes, it was an unfair shot, but I had learned through hard experience that Carol Flagler interpreted any show of restraint to be a sign of weakness. He rushed me.
Ursus's style of hand-to-hand fighting was intended to be a last ditch defense when all else had failed. It wasn't meant for sport. It wasn't meant to control the intransigent. It certainly wasn't meant to be an art. It was pure gutter fighting or, to put a more positive spin on it, commando fighting. Its principles were to attack the most vulnerable parts of the opponent's body as savagely as possible with the intention of ending the fight without getting hurt oneself.
I stepped inside Carol's right-hand haymaker and jabbed with my left palm. My fingers were curled into claws. He had his chin tucked, so my blow didn't have a lifting effect, but I gave him a good smack in the teeth. I didn't pull back but dug my fingers into his face.
He tried to grab my coat with his left hand. I did grab the arm of his with my right and pulled downwards. The thrust from my left hand and the pull from my right broke his balance. I slid my left leg behind him and kicked backwards while at the same time changing the pull to a push. I threw him over my hip. He landed hard on his right side facing away from me at Pat's feet. I refrained from attacking Carol's spine with my boots.
The fight was over in a lot less time than it takes to describe it. I quickly straightened up in case Pat attacked, but he seemed disinclined. By the way Carol was screaming, crying, and swearing, I concluded that he was no longer a threat. I noticed that Kirsten had moved so that she could flank. She had been taking jujutsu lessons for almost four years.
I stepped back. Pat knelt down beside his friend. Kirsten pressed herself against my side. It sounds like something is broken, Ursus observed.
Carol was now on his back and writhing a lot. "It looks like I'm going to need witnesses," I said loudly to the crowd outside. "Could anyone who saw Carol Flagler's aggression please stay around."
I led Kirsten back into the lobby. As I headed for the payphones, I noted that during the fight I hadn't felt Ursus take over control of our body, as I had during my other recent fights. Rather, it felt as if we had seamlessly worked together. I overheard someone on another phone. He apparently had already called the emergency number: "Yeah, there's a kid outside the cinema at Infinity Mall. He was in a fight, and he's screaming as if something's broken."
I fed in some coins and dialed my home number. Mom answered. "Hi, Mom. Kirsten and I are completely fine, but Carol Flagler attacked me again."
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah, as I said, I'm totally unhurt. Carol, though, is screaming like he's injured pretty bad. Someone is already calling it in, so the police are definitely going to be involved. Is Mrs. Kennedy with you?"
"Yes, she's still here. Is Kirsten all right?"
"Nobody laid a hand on Kirsten. The only person who's hurt at all is Carol, and he's making a lot of noise. You and Mrs. Kennedy better come over here. I'm calling from the lobby of the movie theater, and Carol is lying outside a few feet from the door."
"Shit damn it. We'll be right there."
After I hung up, Kirsten said, "He didn't leave you any choice."
"I guess not." I felt a bit ill. I supposed it was a mixture of my quasi-execution of Guzman the diabolist mixed with the knowledge that Carol hadn't stood a chance, given the protection spells I had cast upon myself.
He's been constantly picking on us, Arthur said.
He started the fight all on his own, Ursus said, and he didn't leave us any gentler options.
I know, I thought. At least we didn't stomp him.
"He challenged you as soon as we stepped outside," Kirsten said. My feelings must have been written all over my face for her to feel the need to reassure me like that.
"I know," I said. "I'm all right." Pat passed us on his way to the pay phones. Kirsten and I went back outside. The cinema manager and a security guard were squatting by Carol. Some bystanders were talking to them. One of them pointed at me. Carol wasn't screaming as much, but he still was making a lot of noise. Kirsten took hold of my hand.
The emergency workers were stationed at the firehouse less than a mile away. They arrived within a few minutes with their lights flashing but their siren off. It was the same two paramedics who had attempted to examine me after my battle with the demon. I had been wearing a ski mask at the time, had given them a false name, and had made my escape as quickly as possible. I hoped that they didn't recognize me. Be calm, said Ursus. There is no reason that they should. Ursus started a standing version of our relaxation exercise.
When the paramedics took over, the security guard and the manager, after being directed by the crowd, walked over to Kirsten and me. "Are you hurt at all?" the guard asked.
"Not a scratch," I said.
Neither the guard nor the manager was wearing a coat. "Let's step into the lobby," the guard said. Once we were inside, he said, "I need your names and your telephone numbers. I'm going to have to call your parents."
"Arthur Powyr." I spelled it. "I already telephoned my mother. Both mine and Kirsten's are on their way."
"Let me have your number anyway, in case I need it." I shrugged and told it to him. He got the corresponding information from Kirsten.
"What happened out there?"
Kirsten told him, and then I told him. The cinema manager walked away and went through a door marked, "Employees Only." Mom and Mrs. Kennedy arrived. Presumably, Mary had been told to watch the other kids. Kirsten and I each had to tell the story again. I moved so that I could see out the glass door. Carol was on a stretcher and being loaded into the ambulance.
Two police officers arrived. The security guard took them aside, and then one officer went outside while the other came over to talk to us. He turned to Mom. "Who are you, ma'am?" Mom identified herself. Mrs. Kennedy identified herself. They both gave the officer some ID. He separated Kirsten and me, with our mothers, before we told him the story, but then he let us back together. The police officer then took the names, telephone numbers, and statements of several of the witnesses. Everyone seemed to agree that Carol had attacked me.
The other officer came back in. He and the officer who had talked to us stepped aside and talked to each other for a few minutes. About then, Mrs. Flagler came into the lobby. She spotted me and yelled as she advanced, "I told you to stay away from my son you damn bully!" The officers interposed themselves between her and me. Good men. The one officer maneuvered her as far away from us as he could without going outside.
The officer who had questioned us said, "You're all free to go. Everyone agrees that this Flagler lad started the fight. It looks like clear-cut self-defense. We'll contact you if the prosecutor's office thinks otherwise, but I can't see how they will."
"This isn't the first time that Carol Flagler has attacked my son," Mom said.
"You can file a complaint," the officer said, "but given his age and the fact that the aggressor was the only one hurt, nothing is likely to come of it."
Mom looked at him for a second and then shrugged. "All right. Let's go then."
"What's wrong with Carol?" I asked.
"It looks like a broken collarbone," the officer said.
We were about to head for the door when I heard someone say, "Just a moment, please." We turned. A bald headed man in a suit and the cinema manager walked over to us. "I'm Howard Gordon, the general manager of Infinity Mall," the bald man said.
"Hello," Mom said. "I'm Agnes Powyr, general manager of the local lunatic asylum and den mother to hoodlums, ruffians, and budding curmudgeons. This is Helen Kennedy, my assistant and confidante."
Howard Gordon smiled and said, "Would you step back to the office for a minute." Mom looked at Mrs. Kennedy, and then they allowed us to be herded along. Once we were in the office, Kirsten and I again had to tell the story. Mr. Gordon produced a document and offered it to Mom, "Please look this over, ma'am, and then sign it, if you will." Mom held it so that Mrs. Kennedy could read it, too.
"It looks to me that you want me to promise not to sue Infinity Mall," Mom said.
"That's the essence of it," Mr. Gordon said.
"I don't think I should go signing away my rights without a good reason," Mom said.
"Your son was unhurt, correct?"
"So he has told me."
"Why, then, do you want to preserve your rights to sue Infinity?"
"Why do you want me to sign them away?"
"Your son was allegedly attacked on Infinity's property. As far as we're concerned, we provide an environment as safe and secure as can be reasonably expected by a prudent individual."
"This is ridiculous," Mom said.
The manager must have said something that aroused Ursus, for I found myself saying, "Mom, he's worried that you'll get a hold of some shyster who will hit the mall with a lawsuit that's stupid and unreasonable but enough of a nuisance that they'll settle rather than go to court."
Mom looked at Mr. Gordon and said, "Guy, you're paranoid." She turned around and led us out.
When we reached the van, Mom said to me, "I guess I told you to give Carol a good thrashing next time he attacked you."
"Yeah, but I reacted with pure instinct," I said. "I hope he's finally learned to leave me alone."
"What are we going to do with you, Arthur?" Mrs. Kennedy asked.
"Mom," said Kirsten, "Artie had no choice at all."
We all climbed into the van. Kirsten and I took the middle bench seat and held hands on the way home.
These motor vehicles of your people are insane, Ursus observed. He no longer went into a near panic when he had to ride in a car, but Ursus still loathed them. It's obviously a symptom of some deep suicidal tendencies within your society.
I don't want to think about it. I don't want to think about anything.
When we got home, Kirsten and I shared a fast hug, and then she and Mrs. Kennedy left immediately. "I guess I'm going to have to make something quick for dinner," Mom said.
"I guess. Sorry for the trouble."
"Could you have avoided it?"
"I don't see how."
"Arthur, you have the right to defend yourself. You didn't do anything wrong, and I'm glad you weren't hurt."
"OK." We went inside. I again had to tell the story. I escaped to the basement as quickly as I could.
As I lay on my bed, I thought, I wonder if I can become a hermit.
I'm pretty sure I've done that, Ursus thought.
Doesn't it get boring? Arthur asked.
Sometimes boring is good, Ursus replied. Boring can be peaceful when the world is too much with you.
I think I'll become a hermit, I said.
We just need some more personal time, Ursus said.
Supper was macaroni and cheese and corned beef hash with rolls. I couldn't eat much. I had to tell the story of the fight to Dad. Mom told him of her encounter with the mall manager. Dad asked Mom, "Didn't this Flagler woman threaten to sue you once?"
"I can't believe she would be that stupid," Mom replied. "Although she does seem to be an idiot."
As was our custom, Mike and Terry arrived shortly after supper for some dedicated guitar work. Of course, I had to tell them the story.
"Bam!" said Mike. "I wish I had been there to see it."
"I'm not feeling very good," I said.
"Didn't he deserve it?" Terry asked.
"I suppose he did," I said.
Danny arrived. I told him the story.
Mr. Kennedy dropped Kirsten off for band practice. I had to tell him the story, too. "It doesn't look like you had any choice, Art," he said.
Band practice went OK. I called it about a quarter to eight. Dad and I took Kirsten home. I walked her to her door. We had a brief hug and kiss. "Artie, are you OK."
"I don't feel so good."
"You look like you want to throw up."
"I kind of feel that way, but I don't think I will. My nerves are just a bit strained; that's all."
"Are you still upset over the fight with Carol?"
"You didn't have any choice."
When I got back home, I said to my mental companions, Let's charge the amulet right now. I want to go to bed early. So that's what we did. The post-spell exhaustion put me to sleep.