The two stood at the end of the tunnel looking into the room.
That room is nice and bright. For once I’ll be able to see what’s going on. It looks like another maze. I’m getting sick of mazes.
“Before we go in, I need to tell you something. In the middle is where some black tiles are that release tear gas into the room if you step on them. It would be nice to make it out of here without going through that again this year.” He walked into the bright light and a loud, single tone sounded from the ceiling and again as Tonya followed his lead.
“What was that?”
He said while walking backwards, “The doorbell. This is where he likes to hang out during the Race.”
“He? Why can’t you just tell me what is going on? How do you know so much about the Games? And why are you helping me?”
He stopped. “Are you serious? This is the Arena Games where it’s all about secrets and backstabbing each other for the sake of winning. By the way, I’m not helping you. I’ve been trying to get rid of you from the start, but you keep getting in the middle of everything. Once I take you to him I can go and win this thing.”
“Stop. Who is He? What does he have to do with the Games?”
He laughed at her. “You truly are in the dark, aren’t you?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Let’s go. He’s in here somewhere. You can ask him all the questions you want.”
The walls were high and textured concrete. The dirt fanned out from the tunnel from the countless footsteps of workers and contestants leading into large, two foot tiles. They were immediately confronted with a series of ten corridors all leading forward, but all turning in various directions. The guy in the red jersey walked towards the second one from the left.
“How do you know where to go? Do you come down here and practice?”
His shoulders tensed as her verbal darts found a target. “Just shut up and keep up.”
It was hard for her to keep up with him as his tempo increased. “Hey! Slow down.” A glimpse of red was the only thing that guided her through the concrete maze. She rounded a corner and faced three corridors leading different directions. “Which way do I go? Left, right, or straight?”
“Straight.” His voice echoed back to her.
Following his direction, the light intensified as the middle of the maze appeared. Surrounded by a double row of black tiles sat the three she saw on the giant screen earlier with the armed guard still standing behind them. The janitor woman held a fierce stare at her. Ash was crying and Jimmy sat rigid and gagged. All three had their hands behind them. Corridors encircled the room leading to every point of the compass.
The man in the red jersey stood off to the left of Tonya. “Where are you? I brought her like you wanted.”
Two men walked from a corridor on the right as the shorter one spoke. “About time the two of you showed up. I was about to send Dante after you.”
That big guy is the creep that broke Ash’s leg.
Dante’s devilish smile sent chills down her spine. The other man stood a head shorter than Dante but his body-builder figure filled his tailored clothing. He said, “Tonya Spartan. We finally meet. You’ve caused me a few headaches this weekend dodging my traps. Zane, go guard the tunnel. No one gets in here.” The armed guard nodded and jumped over the black tiles, running in the direction of the tunnel.
“Who are you?” Tonya asked.
“Jimmy didn’t tell you?”
“No. We fell out of touch when I left for college.”
The two men walked around to face Jimmy. “You let her blindly accept my invitation?” Jimmy stabbed the man with a frozen stare. “And here I thought you cared about people. Peggy was right, you let your work get the best of you.” Jimmy’s jaw tightened on the gag. “Cut his gag.” He turned to Tonya, “We haven’t been formally introduced. My name is Stu Collins. I’m the CEO of the Arena Games.”
Stu Collins…I’ve heard that name before.
While Stu spoke to Tonya, Dante jumped over the black tiles and clicked his knife open beside Jimmy’s face. His smile widened as he slid the knife behind the gag. A thin line of blood collected and ran down Jimmy’s jaw. As soon as the gag was out of his mouth Jimmy shouted, “Tonya get ou-” Dante grabbed Jimmy’s throat, coloring his face a deep purple before Stu called him off. Jimmy sucked in air and suppressed coughing. “Take these cuffs off and let’s go, Big man.” Dante looked to Stu like a dog wanting to play, but Stu shook his head.
Ash lifted her head and met Tonya with bloodshot eyes while her tears washed away trails of dirt. “I just want to go home.” Her sobbing choked out the words.
The guy in the jersey said, “Okay, can I go win the Games now? I did what you wanted.”
“There’s no need for that. I’ve already had it announced that you won.” Stu said.
“You did what? Why would you do that? You know how hard I’ve worked to try to win on my own.” He took the camera from his head and threw it at Stu.
“Steven, Son, the reason you’ve gotten as far as you have each year, is because of me. Look at you. You wouldn’t last five minutes against someone like Dante here. I pay my gladiators well to take it easy on certain contestants. It’s all for the ratings.”
The young man stood there as his soul died within. “You, paid people to go easy on me?”
“The same way I pay others to set people up and stab them in the back. Ratings is money. One day you will grow up and understand. Why don’t you do me a favor and take Claire with you on your way out. She’s done here.” A look of terror overtook the janitor’s face as Dante walked to her and removed the handcuffs and pocketed the key.
“So that’s it? I’m now just one of your errand boys?” Steven said.
“We’re done here, Steven. I’ve got more important matters to tend to. Dante take them out.”
At the sound of his name, Dante threw Claire over his shoulder and jumped over the black tiles while she yelled and thumped his back with balled fists. He walked to Steven and clamped a hand around his neck and forced him to walk away. They were out of sight when Stu went to Ash’s side.
“Ash, it’s your turn.”
She rose unbound and wiped away the faux tears. In a second, she transformed into a venomous snake with cold, staring eyes and leapt over the black tiles, heading straight for Tonya.
Stu took her seat next to Jimmy. “This should be entertaining.”
Tonya slipped off her head camera and tossed it aside. “I trusted you.”
“Not my problem.” She fired a front kick straight to Tonya’s abdomen, grazing her shirt.
Stu yelled from his seat, “Get her, Ash!”
Ash led with a series of jabs and danced back when Tonya threw a counter left hook barely missing her jaw. They continued testing their speed and skill with neither gaining the upper hand.
Jimmy said to Stu, “Ash is going to lose. See how Tonya is studying her. That was always something I couldn’t get through your thick head. Your opponent’s weakness is always right there in front of you.” Stu was silent as his eyes followed the women. “Ash won’t last long. See how she’s already breathing through her mouth? Tonya has this fight in the bag, she’s just waiting for Ash to tire.”
Stu stood. “Ash! Finish her off! Quick dicking around! Watch her left! Do what I taught you!”
Jimmy’s eyes narrowed. Ash’s movements were shadows of Stu’s fighting style. “Tonya! Watch for her combo patterns. You can do it.” Stu turned and punched Jimmy’s right eye. His head lulled around as his eyes searched without thought.
There’s the pattern. Her hands are sagging each time she throws it. She’s tired.
Ash faked a punch and when Tonya ducked to the left, Ash caught her off balance with a kick to her ribs, sending Tonya to the ground. Ash dove on her and tried to pin her arms to her sides. Tonya bucked her hips to the side and rolled Ash under her. With Tonya in a full mount position, she rained punches to Ash’s body and head. Ash rolled her head from side to side trying to evade as she flailed her arms about.
Stu screamed, “NO!” Jimmy caught his foot with a toe as he jumped over the black tiles and Stu caught himself in a push-up position, sprawling over the tiles. Maneuvering over them, he raced over and tackled Tonya. Ash lay still and whimpering, holding her head. Stu was on his feet in a second, standing over Tonya. He grabbed the straps of her chest camera and used them as handles to slam her into the ground. Each blow forced more air from her lungs and the constant movement prevented her from defending herself as her head contacted the concrete.
Jimmy lurched forward, but the handcuffs attached to the chair restrained him.
He felt someone fumbling with the handcuffs as first one hand, then the other were released. Jimmy was across the space in seconds ending Stu’s attack on Tonya. The two collided and tumbled over one another as they fought for control.
Tonya stared at the spinning ceiling as someone grabbed her wrist and pulled her to her feet. “Jimmy…” She staggered and the hands were there to catch her, pulling her close. She pressed her face into the red fabric and breathed in the mixture of faint sweat and earthy cologne.
“He can handle himself. Let’s go.” His voice was firm yet gentle.
“No. I need to help him.”
“This is between them now.”
The two men were on their feet facing each other.
“I’ve waited a long time for this moment.” Stu said unbuttoning his shirt.
“And I’ve been working on your case longer than that.”
Stu removed his shirt and slapped his muscular arms. “Looks like one of us decided to stay in shape over the years.”
Jimmy laughed at him. “I’m past chasing criminals on foot. But I still got enough left in me to teach you a thing or two.”
“Then you should have taught yourself to take care of Peggy. Maybe then she wouldn’t have left you. I always told her I would make a better man for her.”
“Leave her out of this. I want to settle this now, man to man.”
“Finally coming out from behind the badge, huh? Now you’re acting like the Jimmy I know.”
“One round, last man standing.”
Steven and Tonya stood near the middle of the room, watching the two men fight in the fashion of their glory days. Neither man was faster, Jimmy was out of shape and Stu too muscular. When their punches landed, the target stepped back catching their balance. Jimmy’s eye was now completely swollen shut thanks to a few jabs. Stu’s lip was swelling at the corner as each man’s knuckles burned bright red.
Stu said, “I can do this all day, Jim.”
“The hell you can. You hit harder, but you still don’t have any endurance.”
Stu growled as he unleashed a flurry of punches. Some glanced off target while others hit home. A final shot to Jimmy’s ribs sent him back a step and to his knee, holding his ribs. “Looks like you’ve lost.”
Jimmy looked up to him. “Not today, Stu.” He stood and put pressure on his ribs with an elbow.
Stu charged and knocked him to the ground, pounding at any vulnerable area. His punches ceased as a loud hissing sounded and a dense, white fog descended from the ceiling. Stu looked to Steven and Tonya standing on one of the black tiles.
“Steven, you Cretan.”
Steven gave his father the bird. Stu ran to Ash and helped her up and the two fled through a side corridor.
Steven and Tonya raced to Jimmy. “Jimmy, get up. We gotta go now.” Steven said through clenched teeth.
My skin feels like it’s on fire! I can’t hold my eyes open. Ah! It burns. It burns. It burns.
TO BE CONCLUDED…