Home > Strike Me Down(8)

Strike Me Down(8)
Author: Mindy Mejia

Forensic accounting had even more rigorous standards because every testimony became an invitation for attack. Defense attorneys checked Nora’s background on a daily basis. Her identity theft protection software pinged like a heart monitor during big cases, when entire teams of legal interns tried to find even a hint of shade in order to convince the jury that Nora’s testimony was unreliable. They found nothing. Her cardinal rule to dissociate all personal and professional interests had made her into a model investigator. For fifteen years, Nora had thrived on the basis of her integrity, her independence.

But when it came to Strike, she was anything but neutral. And it had nothing to do with Gregg Abbott.

Pushing away from the skyway glass, Nora turned around. Through the second-story floor-to-ceiling windows she could see the Strike studio hung with rows of punching bags. This was the exact spot where she’d first seen Logan Russo. Nora had been crossing the skyway on her way to some appointment, and stopped dead in her tracks. Had it been almost a year ago now? One year since she’d stood here, transfixed by the blazing fighter in the window, an olive-skinned woman who strode between the bags, correcting fighters’ postures and demonstrating kicks. She wasn’t beautiful. Spare and dense, she was a miracle of flesh on whom too many clothes would be tragic. She’d worn a ripped tank top and shorts that day. Her dark eyes had glowed with humor, her black hair slicked into a low bun. Nora had traced the shadows in her arms as she moved, the line of her jaw as she threw her head back and laughed. The woman worked her way through the bags until Nora couldn’t see her anymore, but it was impossible for someone like that to ever disappear. She would burn through the back of your eyelids first. Nora had stood frozen at the glass for another minute, waiting for the woman to come back into view. When she didn’t, Nora walked into Strike and added her name to the waitlist to join the gym. Six months later she’d taken her first class.

That first session, Nora had hovered nervously in the back. She’d bought several books about martial arts form and technique—one had even mentioned Logan as a condescending aside “testament” to the growing presence of women in the sport—and Nora had memorized the basic punches. Jab, hook, cross, uppercut. She strapped and re-strapped the black boxing gloves she’d received with her locker key, oddly comforted by the padded restriction of movement in her wrists. When Logan appeared and cued up a song she’d never heard, a song probably meant for millennials or whoever came after millennials, she felt old and out of place. She followed along to the warm-up, though, drawn out of herself by the woman at the front of the studio.

Logan Russo was a cyclone, a brilliant burst of energy orbiting the room. She made them forget they were lawyers and hassled fathers and accountants, and turned them one by one into warriors. Halfway through the first class, as they worked through a combination drill of punches and kicks, Nora felt a hand circling her arm.

“Don’t collapse your elbow or you’ll lose all the power in your back.”

Nora nodded at her punching bag, not daring to turn around, to trace the grip back to the woman attached to it.

“Here.” Logan shifted behind her and held Nora’s elbow down by her side. “Hit the bag.”

Nora obeyed, feeling her knuckles burn while the bag barely stirred. Logan didn’t comment, but lifted Nora’s elbow straight out to the side and placed her other hand on Nora’s sweat-soaked running shirt, pressing the point between her neck and her shoulder where masseuses found hidden tendons that released shards of white light through her body. “Now hit it again.”

Nora did, and the muscles underneath Logan’s hand engaged and flexed, shooting energy into her arm.

“Well, hello, gorgeous trapezius.” Logan’s gravelly voice curled with humor as she patted Nora’s back. “Now keep hitting it. Don’t give that fucking elbow any opportunities. It wants to defend. Make it attack.”

Then she moved to the next student, while Nora became aware of her entire body in a way she hadn’t been since she was a teenager. She felt the connection between muscles, tendon, organ, and bone, all firing with a new, unnamed excitement. The awkwardness faded and she felt, for the first time, like she was strong.

After that first class her hands were meat, raw and bruised even through the protective gloves. Her knuckles mesmerized her. It was like she’d never seen them before, and maybe she hadn’t. She tried to remember what Logan’s knuckles looked like when her ungloved hand encased Nora’s elbow, but she’d been too nervous to look. She’d focused only on the bag, Logan’s instructions breathing hot against her back, and the pounding of her own heart.

Nora concentrated on her technique after that, reserving a spot in every available lunch class and trying to lose herself in the forest of bags. When Logan paced the rows, Nora crouched further into her stance, guard up, always pivoting away from the sleek black hair and piercing eyes.

They did push-up breaks. They did Heisman drills. One day an entire obstacle course of tractor tires was laid out when they arrived and they had to leap over them with their legs bound, pull themselves into the ring, and try to land a punch on Logan, who shouted them all on with throaty curses. Another day giant bolts of fabric had been stretched across the room, effectively dropping the ceiling to five feet off the ground, and they had to do the entire session in a squat. Nora couldn’t walk down a flight of stairs for two days afterward, taking elevators everywhere and tracing the outline of wasted muscle in bed at night.

Nora knew she wasn’t the only devotee in the Logan Russo cult. A sea of eyes followed Logan’s every move, and peals of sweat-flushed laughter echoed when she told stories about the absurdity of having a doorman (“The building says he can curate our mail upon request. Isn’t that the fanciest fucking term for a felony you’ve ever heard?”) or being invited to a gala for the mayor’s urban outreach initiative (“My shoulders have hulked through more sleeves than Marvel could CGI-imagine. I’m having nightmares of reaching for a meatball and spraying sequins into some senator’s drink.”). She drew them in with the illusion that they were all friends chatting on some rooftop bar, before annihilating them with a drill that brought them gasping to their knees.

Nora thought of dozens of responses, witty things she could say to Logan as she walked by, but none of them made it past her lips. Instead she threw silent punches and kicks and hurried to the locker room afterward to change. Because what could an accountant ever say that would interest someone like Logan Russo?

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