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The following is an original work of fiction and has no basis in reality.

Do not read this story if:

1) You're not 18 or over.
2) If it is illegal to read this type of material where you live.
3) If you don't want to read about gay/bisexual people in love or having sex.

The author retains copyright (2003) to this story.  Reproducing this story for distribution without the author's permission is a violation of that copyright.

Perry and Jesse:  The Incredibly Romantic (and slightly kinky) Adventures of Two Boys In Love  

Part V  Truths and Lies

Chapter 7  Hode Ranch Part II

I didn't know what I was expecting, but it was just a simple office-type room, almost like a small reception area might look at a doctor or dentist's establishment.  The room was carpeted and there were light panels in the ceiling.  There was a functional steelcase desk with nothing but a clean green blotter on it.  There was a small sofa and an upholstered chair taking up the opposite wall, again, much like a waiting area.  There were a couple of framed prints on the walls depicting the hilly, chaparral-type landscape that surrounded the ranch.  There was even a potted palm--plastic of course.

When we were all in, Zhen Woo closed the door and stood stiffly in front of it, effectively blocking any escape. 

"Why don't you hang your jacket up?" Billy suggested, pointing to a simple chrome plated coat rack in one corner.

"Um...yeah...okay," I agreed hesitantly.  The problem was that my cellphone was in one of the large pockets of my hoodie.  I decided to be up front about it and pull it out.

"Oh, you can leave that here," Billy said quickly, but still in a friendly tone of voice.

"I'd kinda like to keep it..." I said hopefully.

Billy shook his head slightly.  "Just 'til we're finished here.  Then you can have it back, okay?"

I nodded reluctantly and laid the cellphone on the desk in front of him.

"Of course, you won't be able to take that into the Cage with you," Billy noted.  I tried to hide the wave of despair that coursed through me when he turned it off.  "And you'll have to lose your watch and any kinda bling bling shit you got on."

"" I asked confusedly, realizing that he had just cut me off from Gary and the rest of the world!

"Nah, I mean before you go into the Cage," he explained.

I started towards the coat rack.

"Oh wait a sec," he said in a casual voice.  "Could I just see that for a minute?" he asked, pointing to my jacket.

I handed it to him and was somewhat surprised when he bunched it up into a tight wad as if he were making an impromptu basketball.  He felt it thoroughly with his fingers and then handed it back.

"Just had to check it out," he explained sheepishly.  He looked at me in a very strange and nervous way, his eyes kind of darting around the room and back to me.

"No problem," I shrugged, as I took the jacket back and hung it on the nearby coat rack.  I felt a little silly because I was still in my school clothes--a white, short sleeved polo shirt and belted black Dockers.  I had a nice Kenneth Cole black leather jacket at home, and I wished I had worn it.  I would have fit right in!  

Now I just I stood by the coat rack waiting for...I didn't know what.  I actually felt a little calmer now.  I didn't think they'd bother asking me to take off my jacket if they were just going to beat me up.  Gary seemed to be fine and was hopefully looking for Jesse--maybe had even found him by now.  Besides, Billy had some sort of forms that had to be filled out, so I guessed he was just going to ask me a bunch of questions.  I'd tell him just about anything at this point to get this over with.

"You can have a seat on the sofa," Billy offered as he scribbled something on one of his forms, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

It was more of a loveseat than a sofa, comfortable but not as fancy as the furniture in the other room.  Billy followed me closely with his eyes until I was seated.

"Comfy?" he asked with an uneasy grin on his face.

I shrugged and gave him a tight lipped smile.

"Okay then," he said, his voice starting to get a little shaky again.  "This is a form56a--that means a full body--invasive optional," he noted, glancing down at the forms in front of him.

What did I care at this point if he wanted to ask some invasive questions?  "Sure, ask what ever you want.  I'm just anxious to get downstairs," I told him confidently.

Billy looked at me in a weird way , his eyes blinking quickly behind the lenses of his black framed glasses.  "Uh...this isn't questions..." he explained hesitantly.  "What's gonna happen is you hafta get like  totally..."  He paused to swallow.   "Like totally undressed dude, and I have to go through your clothes  looking for anything suspicious, and then I have to examine...uh...certain parts of your body to make sure you're not...uh...hiding anything..."   The words poured nervously out of his mouth.  He glanced down and tapped the forms in front of him as if that justified everything he had just said.

Oh My God!  Billy was going to strip search me!  I felt all the blood leave my face and my stomach twist up tighter than it had all evening.

" you sure?" I stammered in disbelief, my former cocky attitude totally disippating in the blink of an eye.

"You heard Mr. J...." Billy reminded me, a helpless look on his face as he shrugged.  He even made a point of glancing over at Zhen Woo who stood as still and expressionless as a statue, his eyes staring straight ahead at some random point on the wall above my head.  "This is a 'no weapons' contest.  It's just that...once you're locked in the cage, no one can open it until a winner's been declared...And the winner's whoever's left standing, so we gotta be careful..."

Now things were starting to make some sense.  When Mr. Al-Jihuad had first suggested this security screening, Billy had been against it, probably thinking that it was very unlikely that I would have any hidden weapons on me.  But then I remembered Billy calling me 'cute' back in his little office downstairs.  I had vaguely mused that it might imply that he was gay, but hadn't really given it any serious consideration--after all, what did it have to do with cage fights, or my finding Jesse?  But now it seemed that Mr. Al-Jihuad was giving Billy some sort of...reward maybe?  Or even a birthday present!  How ironic that I would be someone else's birthday present--on my own birthday!

"I...I don't think I can do this," I told him sincerely.

"I know.  It's kinda rough.  I didn't think they even did this with kids your age but..." He shrugged, and I could see that he was still torn.  I think he actually liked me--at least a little--as a person, but judging by his sudden willingness to follow the boss's orders, he also wasn't beyond the temptation of seeing a boy get undressed under these humiliating circumstances.

"I told you I don't have anything like that.  Nothing hidden--honest--I promise!"  I blurted out quickly, feeling the panic causing my voice to rise a notch.

Don't, Perry," Billy pleaded.  "Don't make this any harder than it has to be.  Let's just do this and get it over with.  Then you can go downstairs and do what is you came here for--I bet you're gonna kick ass!" he added encouragingly.

I could tell he meant what he said, but there was nothing comforting about it.  I wanted so desperately to tell him this was all a huge mistake.  I wasn't a fighter and had no intention of getting into that fucking Cage.  I just wanted to find my friend!  But I remembered that Gary was downstairs, and was, for now at least, unharmed.  But if I blew our cover, what would happen to him then?

"I tell you I don't have anything!" I repeated despairingly, feeling my body growing weaker by the second.

Billy looked at me almost as if he was grimacing.  Then I noticed his eyes slowly moving over to the corner of the room where the coat rack stood.  Was he telling me to grab my stuff and make a run for it?  How could I with that three hundred and fifty pound hunk of solid muscle blocking the door?  Then I saw his eyes go up and I followed his gaze.  There was a small reflective half-globe imbedded in the ceiling, right at the top corner above the coat rack.  Obviously, it was a not-so-well hidden camera.  So the room was being monitored.  And if there was a camera, then there was surely a microphone somewhere as well.

What could I do?  I had to admit to myself that this was all totally my fault.  I had been impulsive and reckless.  I had foolishly thought that I could rescue Jesse!  How many times had Jesse told me he could take care of himself?  And now I had clearly dragged Gary into danger as well.  I had truly fucked up in a way that made every wrong choice or screw-up I had ever made in my entire life up until this point pale in comparison.  This was no game.  The danger was real.  No doubt, most of the guards we had seen tonight were armed.  I didn't know if Zhen Woo was packing, but then why would he need to?  He could obviously crush two skulls in his huge hands like hollow egg shells without breaking a sweat.

When Billy saw that I had noticed the hidden camera, he just nodded subtly.  Whatever he was thinking, however much he was torn, he was telling me that neither one of us was in control of the situation at the moment, and obviously, that scared him as much as it did me.  I felt tears starting to burn my eyes but I willed them back.  I'd be damned if I was going to cry in front of these guys!

Billy nervously cleared his throat.  "We have to go in the order here on the form," he noted in a shaky voice, "so, the first thing you need to do is...uh...take off your shoes and socks." Billy looked at me expectantly.

There was a lump in my throat that was so hard, I didn't think I could swallow it without choking.  I dismally looked down at my feet and reluctantly toed my black Vans off, leaving the big white bows still tied.  I hesitated before taking off my socks, realizing that if a person was to look closely enough, they could still make out the vague imprints of Tom's teeth on the top of my right foot.  But what did it matter now?  If Billy noticed, I'd just make up something anyway--I was getting pretty good at lying.   I bent over and peeled off my socks with trembling fingers.  

"Nice to cool your toes for a bit, huh?" he joked, apparently trying to put me at ease.  I just ignored his stupid comment, realizing that being barefoot in a strange and dangerous place like this just made me that much more vulnerable.

Billy nodded nervously.  "Good just bring them over to me," he ordered.

I stuffed my crew socks into my shoes and scooped them up, my bare feet sinking into the plush beige carpeting as I walked the few paces over to the desk, only managing to glance briefly at Billy, who looked at least as nervous and uncomfortable as I did.  

"Just put them on the desk," he said.  I did as I was told, setting them in the middle of the clean blotter.

"Now come around to my side," he said, gesturing to my right.  I slowly came and stood next to him, my hands folded tightly in front of me.

"Now turn around..." he ordered.

I turned and faced the wall with the upholstered chair and plastic palm, fully aware of the small reflective half-dome in the ceiling.  I tried not to look at it.

"Now bend your left knee so I can see the sole of your way back..."

Gees, this was embarrassing, having this kid stare at my feet like this.  I was so nervous, I was sure I was going to lose my balance as I reluctantly followed his instructions.  

" the right..."

I switched legs, tottering a little but quickly catching my balance.

I was surprised when he suddenly reached over and grabbed my ankle, nearly causing me to tumble.  "You have awfully soft looking feet for a blackbelt," he noted, his face close enough to my toes to get a good whiff.  Good--I hoped he'd just pass out from the smell!

"We mostly practice in sneakers and sweatpants," I offered, remembering my disappointment at seeing a class dressed like that once on my way to the comic book store.

"Nice though..." he muttered under his breath as he released my ankle.  Then he cleared his throat.  "All right.  Now just go back and stand in front of the sofa," he said, his voice noticeably quivering.

I went back and stood facing the desk.  Gary pulled my crumpled socks out of my shoes and straightened them, using his fingers to feel for any hidden objects.  He took each of my still tied sneakers and shook them.  Then he examined the outsides--tops and bottoms.   Finally, he stuffed his hand all the way into the toe of each shoe.  Satisfied that there was nothing suspicious hidden in my footwear,  he stuffed my socks back in, and set my sneakers down on the floor behind the desk.   Apparently, I wasn't going to be getting them back any time soon.  He  diligently wrote his report out.

"All right, Perry.  You need to take off your shirt now," he said, taking in a deep breath and then releasing it in a long quavering sigh.

I wondered angrily where he thought I could have hidden any weapons in my short sleeved polo shirt.  This all would have seemed like such nonsense except for the fact that Zhen Woo was standing there blocking the only way out, his shoulders nearly as wide as the door itself.

I undid the one button at my collar and pulled the polo shirt off over my head.  It was strange to not feel all that long hair tumbling back down in it's usual state of disarray, although I did feel my shorted bangs fall back to my ears.   I dropped my shirt onto the sofa.  I tried to keep my face as expressionless as Zhen Woo's, but even though I was now shirtless and barefoot, it still felt like the room was becoming uncomfortably  close and warm.  I felt a thin coat of sweat forming on my forehead.

"All right," Billy said, nervously clearing his throat.  "Now lock your hands behind your head..."  I lifted my arms and clasped my fingers behind my head, plainly exposing my nearly hairless armpits to Billy's scrutiny.

"Whoa!  I's good," he stammered, absently scratching at the little scar on his cheek.   "Now uh...just stay like that and turn and face the sofa," he said.

I turned and stared at the bland watercolor print of rolling hills and a broken rail fence.  I thought how unimaginative and lifeless this painting was compared to Tom's work.  Right now I missed his big brown eyes and sweet smile so much, it caused an ache in my chest.

"That's great," Billy said rather loudly.  "You can...uh..turn around now," he noted.  As Billy continued to scribble things on his form,  I noted that he was left handed.  "Okay, now bring me your shirt."

I picked up my shirt and handed it to him across his desk.  He held it up by the shoulders and examined it carefully for--who knows what?   Then he crumpled it into the smallest ball he could, apparently feeling for any cleverly hidden objects embedded in the thin cotton fabric.  I thought he was going to hand it back, but he just set it on the desk between us.

"I have to admit, dude, you''re in pretty good shape there," he remarked with a creepy little smile.  "It's just that your face looks so young that I..."  His voice trailed off as he realized he was telling me something I had no interest in.  As he stared at my naked torso I shuddered because I knew that look, that odd little smirk and that lustful gleam in the eyes.  Even though I was afraid and embarrassed, I realized that it disgusted me to have some arrogant young computer punk ogling my half naked body like I was a piece of meat.

"You have no idea," I muttered through gritted teeth.  "And if I ever catch you out in the real world..."

Billy's eyes actually widened with fear at my ridiculous threat.  "Chill...dude!" he pleaded uncertainly, and I could tell that I had really frightened him and that made me feel a little better!  But he quickly regained his composure.  

"Okay, back by the sofa and take off your pants," he said, giving me a malicious smirk when he saw me wilt a little at his order.

I knew that I had a problem undressing in front of other people.  I avoided it whenever I could, even when changing into my basketball uniform at school.  Last year, when I was in seventh grade, I would almost always wait for a stall to become available before I would get undressed, even if it meant showing up on court a minute or two after the coach blew his whistle.  Riegert had scowled at me a few times, but he never actually reprimanded me for it, which was pretty cool of him.  The worst thing now, I realized as I unbuckled my belt and undid the button at the top of my Dockers, was that I knew this wouldn't be the end of it.  As I unzipped my fly and pushed my pants down to my ankles I started feeling a real sense of dread.  I used my feet to finish clumsily stepping out of my crumpled Dockers.  I stood there dressed only in my plaid boxers, thinking that I would stare defiantly at Billy, seeing if I could intimidate him a little more.

But I actually flinched when I saw him staring intently at me.   For a moment, I lost my confidence, knowing that I hated to have people staring at my stupid body.  But then I felt something else, something stronger than the shame and embarrassment.  What gave him the right to leer at me like that?  There was no one, other than my sweet angel, that I wanted to look at me that way.  I wanted Jesse to desire me and I was glad that he did, but to have this four eyed computer geek staring at me with that unbridled hunger in his grey green eyes like that...I clenched my jaw, focusing on the anger I felt towards this invasion of my privacy rather than my feelings of shame.  Billy was gay and getting a thrill out of making me strip.  How dare he...HOW DARE HE?

"Bring them here," he ordered, his voice now heavy with the anticipation of what was to come next.

I scooped my pants up from off the floor and went over and slammed them brashly on the desk.  But my pimply faced interrogator was beyond being intimidated now.  He grinned at me in a lustfully malevolent way that indicated that he had no more doubts about what he was doing or why he was doing it--he was enjoying this!

He grabbed my belted pants and quickly dug out my keys and wallet.  He rifled carelessly through my wallet, although he seemed disinterested in the cash or anything else in it.  He tossed it on the desk and then crumpled up my pants the way he had my shirt, feeling with his fingers, searching for any object concealed in the twilled fabric.  He located a few loose coins and a flat brush and set them on the desk as well.  All the while his eyes looked me up  and down and I felt myself trembling with a mixture of conflicting but potent emotions.

He disdainfully dropped my pants on the floor behind his desk, folded his hands tightly and rested them on the desk, right on top of my shirt in fact.  "All right, my man..." he declared as he stared at me in the most penetrating way.  "Back up and get those boxers off!"

I knew I shouldn't be freaking out about this.  We were all guys, all with the same parts, the same plumbing.  It wasn't even that I was particularly ashamed of my privates.  I was pretty much convinced that they were standard issue for a kid my age, and while it would have been great to be as well hung as my friend Morgan, I didn't exactly have anything to complain about either.  I nervously glanced over at Zhen Woo, but as far as I could tell, he was completely disinterested, just staring intently at that spot over the sofa past my head.  It was clearly Billy who was making me so apprehensive.  While he was older than my dear, sweet Tom, I wasn't sure he was any more in control of his own sexual desires than my young Hispanic friend had been that afternoon in his studio.   If I did what I was told, would Billy stick to the script--do his job and no more?  And would Zhen Woo deign to interfere if Billy went over the deep end?  The way that young hacker was staring at me, clasping his hands so tightly that I could see his knuckles turning white,  I just knew there was trouble brewing.  I realized that if I did this, if I stripped in front of this horny eighteen year old bastard, it would only be for Jesse.  But Jesse wouldn't stand for this shit, would he?  I mean, talk about bogus!  It was clear to me now that Mr. Al-Jihuad knew full well that I didn't have any hidden weapons or shit like that.  He was just throwing his cute little puppy dog, Billy, a bone.  And of course Billy liked boys!   It made me sick!

"!" I stammered, my voice softer and raspier than I had intended.

"W...what?" Billy asked, stunned by my modest defiance.

"No!" I shouted loud enough to cause Mr. Woo to glance briefly my way.  "I won't do it.  This is totally fucked.  You know I don't have any weapons or any of that shit!" I said, and then I spun and faced the silvery half-globe up in the corner.  "And you know too, Mr. Al-Jihuad!  I'm not gonna strip in front of this...this...fag!"  I screamed, my voice dry and squeaky but nevertheless loud enough to hurt my throat.

Billy glanced nervously over at Zhen Woo.  "Now Perry...there's no need for that...that kind of language, dude.  I'm just doing my job here and..."

"Fuck that!  You're supposed to be doing a job, but instead, you're just getting your rocks off watching me take my clothes off!" I retorted.

This seemed to sting him even more than me calling him a fag.   "Hey, dude...Don't...don't say that.  I am doing my job.  Mr. J. trusts me..."

"Yeah, he trusts you to be his little computer geek fag boy!" I sneered.

Billy finally snapped and  sprang to his feet.  "Now I've had just about enough out of you, you arrogant little piece of shit!" he growled through a clenched jaw.

"Yeah, what're you gonna do about it--huh?  Get Zhen Woo to beat the crap out of me so you can rip my boxers off and poke your nose up my ass or whatever the hell it is you queers do to get your thrills?!"  I couldn't believe the words that were coming out of my mouth.  This wasn't an act I was putting on to psych Billy out.  I had friends who were gay who would have been horrified to hear me say these things with such vehemence.  I myself had those kinds of feelings--at least for Jesse and maybe for some other guys as well.  And yet, I also knew that Jesse, Tom, or even Gary, would never do anything like this to me, never intentionally humiliate me or treat my body like a piece of meat...

"Actually, that's a great idea," Billy smiled evilly, "and no, I won't be using my nose..."  He nodded to Zhen Woo who looked very much like he didn't want to get involved in this.  But reluctantly, he took a few steps toward me and it was now crystal clear that I was in deeply serious shit!

I posed myself in one of the defensive stances I had seen Jesse take, one hand close to my face the other stretched in front of me, firmly planting my bare feet so that I could theoretically strike out in any direction in the blink of an eye.  I realized I must look ridiculous--a fourteen year old boy who looked more like a twelve year old (thanks  to my stupid hair cut), dressed in nothing but a pair of plaid boxers.  I wondered if Mr. Al-Jihuad and his companions were laughing their asses off out there, watching my pitiful antics.

To my surprise, Zhen Woo actually stopped his approach just out of what would have been striking distance if I really did know what I was doing.

"I don't want to hurt you, Mr. Woo.  You're a cool guy and I think you know this isn't the right thing to do!"  I threatened, but my voice was quivering as I spoke.

I could see that Billy was just about ready to jump right over the desk with anger and frustration, but there was also fear in his eyes.  Maybe he really did think I was a blackbelt and that I could seriously hurt him.  He quickly turned to the huge bodyguard.  "Mr. Woo, show this snot nosed, punk-assed kid what happens when people don't follow the boss's orders!" he demanded.

But Zhen Woo didn't move, at least not immediately.   He stood there, stony faced and silent, but I sensed that he was also prepared in his own way to do battle.  Whatever he might lack in speed he surely made up for in brute strength.  If he had a decent technique as well (of which I had no doubt) then he was nothing less than a deadly killing machine.  And here I was, a skinny eighth grader dressed in plaid boxers and a wristwatch, warning him to stay away!  

"Mr. Woo, this kid is plainly not cooperating!  Mr. J. wants this done and done right!  He trusted me!  You heard him--He fuckin' trusted me!"  When Zhen Woo still refused to budge, Billy pulled his glasses off and shook them threateningly  at the inscrutable Asian.  "Do something you big bloated ape!!!" he screamed, the veins in his pimply forehead looked like they were going to pop right out of his skin.

Something told me that  Mr. Woo didn't take kindly to that particular remark.  I saw the big man bristle.  But still he didn't move.  Billy clearly realized that he had shot off his mouth in a very nonproductive way and slammed his fist frustratedly on the desk.  He too turned to face the ceiling above the coat rack.  "Mr. J., can you see this?  Can you see what the fuck is happening in here?" he shouted in a pinched and hoarse voice.  "What am I supposed to do?  What the fuck am I...?"

I tried to ignore Billy's rantings and kept my eyes locked with Zhen Woo's, just the way I had seen Jesse do with Gus on the basketball court.  I knew he had been more than a little irritated by Billy's gross insult, but I also knew that his boss was not the distraught young man shouting at him, but Mr. Al-Jihuad himself.  And Al-Jihuad had been the one to order this little scenario for whatever reason, whether it was to test me somehow or really offer me as some sort of twisted birthday present to his invaluable teenage hacker.  I realized that if I didn't want to have any bones broken, I would need to give in.  I had come this far for Jesse, risked not only my own, but Gary's life as well, and all I had to do now was take off my boxers and let BIlly leer at me for a few minutes--and hopefully that was all.  It was blatantly clear to me that it was time to concede, before I got seriously hurt.  I took in a deep breath, preparing to stand down and admit defeat.

Just then, there was the ringing of a cellphone.  At first I thought it was mine, and then remembered dismally that Billy had turned it off.  Zhen Woo carefully backed up a couple more steps and calmly reached into the breast pocket of his suit coat to pull out his ringing phone.  The already tiny device looked like a novelty miniature next to his enormous head.  He grunted some acknowledgement a couple of times to whoever was speaking on the other end, his face remaining completely impassive the whole time.  "Right," was all he said in a voice thick with some sort of far eastern accent.  He calmly flipped the cover of the phone closed and slipped it back into his pocket while Billy and I both stared at him expectantly.

I had no doubt that I was in for some serious hurt now.  Suddenly I flashed on that nightmare Gary had emailedme about.  He had been shocked to see me bruised and beaten, blood pouring from my nose and mouth...Now I had to wonder if he really had experienced some sort of premonition!

"Mr. Al-Jihuad say that Iron Ninja's contest has been moved up.  He is to go down to floor now to prepare," Zhen Woo reported in clipped and slightly broken English, looking more at me than at Billy.

", that can't be.  Can't he see we're not finished in here?" Billy protested.

"You--get dressed," Zhen Woo said to me.

I approached the desk but Billy grabbed my shirt and quickly  scooped up my pants and shoes and held everything up to his chest.  "No way!  No fuckin' way!  You need to get those goddamn boxers off right now and spread those tight little ass cheeks of yours!" he told me, his eyes, which looked so small without his glasses on, now wild with unmitigated lust.

For some reason, even though he was bigger and older than me, he just didn't scare me the way that it seemed like he should.  I walked passed Zhen Woo and right up to the desk, my heart pounding forcefully in my chest.  I clenched my jaw, hoping that would keep my voice from quivering too much.  "If you wanna fight, I'm sure your boss'll arrange an appointment for us--in the Cage," I told him in an outwardly confident voice.  "Otherwise, just give me my fuckin' clothes and I'm outta here."

Billy's head swivelled back and forth, first looking to Zhen Woo, and then glaring at me and then looking back to the impassive bodyguard.  When it became clear that Zhen Woo had said all he was going to say, and had done all he was going to do, Billy finally locked gazes with me.  I could see that he was shaking with rage.

" isn't fair!" he moaned in a hoarse voice,  picking more vigorously at his scarred cheek.  "Your sweet little ass is supposed to me mine!   It's my birthday for fuck's sake!  Mr. J. wants me to have you--I know he does!" he whined like a six year old.

I just stood my ground, doing my best to keep my eyes locked onto his.  Fortunately for me, anger was the dominant emotion I was feeling at the moment and for once, I hoped my big stupid eyes would convey that to this snivelling coward in Spades!

"This ain't right, Perry," he said in a quiet, shaky voice.  "You're gonna get us both in a shitload of trouble with the boss!"

"It seems like you're the only one who's gonna get in trouble," I pointed out, "if you don't give me back my stuff!"

I was surprised that Zhen Woo hadn't made any kind of move yet.  Maybe he was also convinced that I was a blackbelt and figured I could take care of Billy myself!

The youth looked vainly to Zhen Woo one more time, before I saw his shoulders slump.  "Awww, fuck man!" Billy exclaimed, finally plopping all my clothes down on the desk and then collapsing back into his chair.  He buried his face in his hands and I could see his whole body shake as loud and wet sobs erupted from his throat.

I had to admit that I felt a teeny tiny bit sorry for him as I quickly got dressed.  I pulled on my pants and fumbled nervously with my belt buckle.  I put on my shirt as quickly as I could.  I still wasn't sure that he was ready to give me up without a fight, so I remained standing with one eye on his trembling form while I pulled on my socks and stuffed my feet into my still tied sneakers.  I hurried over to the coat rack and grabbed my jacket, slipping it on and grabbing my cellphone and stuff off the desk as fast as I could.  I turned the phone back on and tried to suppress the disappointment I felt when I saw there were still no messages--still nothing from Jesse.  He had to be here--what other explanation could there be?  I picked up the rest of my things and stuffed them in my pockets.

Zhen Woo already had the door open for me.  As I passed him, I could have sworn there was the slightest smirk of satisfaction on his wide face.  

"It's not fair!" I heard Billy cry once more.  But Zhen Woo quickly followed me out and closed the door behind him, effectively muting the distraught young man's sobs.

"Ah, Mr. Perry," Al-Jihuad said, rising from his seat on the forward facing sofa.  "I hope that was not too much of an inconvenience for you!"

I first glanced up at the row of monitors above the observation windows, expecting to see a shot of the 'back room' with Billy hunched over his desk sobbing.  But if they had been watching our little scene in there  (and I was pretty sure they had), he had switched to another camera by the time I walked out.  One screen showed two guys yet again dragging some poor dude out of the Cage.  

I fixed my gaze on the short and dapper Middle-eastern man in the tan suit, trying my best to look unflustered.  I doubted if he really was concerned for my well being.  After all, it had been his idea to send me in there with his gay hacker boy.  I wiped the sweat from my brow with the sleeve of my fleece jacket, my fingers still trembling with fear.  "I'm ready to go!" was all I said, still feeling the anger burning inside me, but knowing that expending it on this little man would be the most foolish--and possibly last thing that I ever did in my entire life.

"Yes, I can see that.  I am most glad and truly apologize for any inconvenience--security is the bane of my existence, I assure you!"

All I could do was shrug and nod my head in understanding.  The bastard had thrown me to his queer little computer geek, and had presumably seen his precious Billy crumble before his eyes.

The raven haired woman came up next to me and handed me a glass of water.  "Drink," she urged me.

I hesitated, wondering if they might go so far as to drug me for some reason.  I couldn't put anything past these people at this point.  Seeing my doubt, she took a quick sip herself and then smiled.  I took the glass and thirstily chugged down it's entire contents.

"It seems that one of our young fighters has defeated three opponents in half an hour's time," Mr. Al-Jihuad noted.  Quite remarkable--and also--quite frankly-- a little dull.  It tends to dampen the wagerers' enthusiasm if you know what I mean.  I believe some fresh blood--excuse the expression--in the Cage will arouse some additional excitement."

Oh, this was just great!  Some hulking sixteen year old had probably smashed in the faces of a few scrawny Tae Kwon Do students and now the crowd was looking for some new thrills, someone who could give this monster  a run for their money.  If only they knew!  Still, I wasn't ready to just empty my bladder into my boxers quite yet.  All I needed to do was to get down there, find Jesse and Gary, and get the hell out of here as fast as possible!  No looking back, no regrets--and no bruises!

"The title itself has a most intriguing ring to it," Al-Jihuad said, turning to Zhen Woo.  "The Karate Kid versus the Iron Ninja!  Surely, that will spur some significant interest, don't you agree?"

Zhen Woo just snorted, his face remaining impassive.

Oh My God!  The Karate Kid!  It had to be Jesse!  I was going to face my beautiful blond angel in the Cage!  Pumped up as I was on adrenaline, my mind raced with the possibilities.  We'd get in that stupid Cage and they'd lock it up.  I'd tell Jesse to throw me around a little just like he did that first time he had come over to my house to 'show me a few moves.'  We'd make it look real good of course.  Maybe he'd even let me get a few quick blows in just to add to the excitement.  Then I'd go down with a loud groan and the crowd would go wild.  Jesse would collect his winnings and we'd haul ass out of here--victorious to the end!

"I'm looking forward to it!" I told him with genuine enthusiasm.

"I admire your spirit, Mr. Perry, but I caution you not to be overconfident.  This boy is perhaps your age or younger, with a sweet, angelic face, though not nearly as pretty as you I think.  Do not let his appearance deceive you.  He moves like the wind and strikes like a cobra!  Very dangerous I assure you!"

Not nearly as pretty?  Obviously, the man needed new glasses!  "Thanks, but I think I can handle it," I dared to boast.  Jesse would kick my ass--so what?  We were never coming back here again, and I was never going to see these people again--especially Billy!

"Incidentally, there will be a very exciting celebratory party for the victors--and their managers, of course--after the final contest tonight," Mr. Al-Jihuad informed me.  "There will be food and drink, ecstasy, girls, whatever your heart desires--that is, if you prevail!"

"I don't do that kind of shit," I told him.   "Well...except for the chicks maybe..." I added thoughtfully.

"Very good--a clean boy.  I like that--I like that very much.  I don't suppose you are good with computers?" he asked pointedly.

I shrugged.  "That's for geeks and nerds," I noted disdainfully.  

"Ah yes...Perhaps you are right about that.  Well then, Zhen Woo, will you escort Mr. Perry downstairs?  I'm sure you're most anxious to be reunited with your manager.  I'm afraid you won't have much time to warm up..."

"I'm good to go," I assured him.

Al-Jihuad shrugged helplessly and chuckled one of his cold laughs.  "Then go, and may victory be yours!"

I turned to go but felt someone grab my arm.  I felt my face go white with panic.  Slowly, I turned to see that it was the raven haired woman.  She leaned in close.

"Win this fight, Perry, and later tonight--anything you want...anything!"  She slowly licked her glossy colored lips and I got her message loud and clear.  I glanced over at Myashi, and he gave me a little nod of acknowledgement before turning his attention back to the floor below.  I wondered if the two of them had been entertained by my little scene in the back room, laughing their heads off as they watched a pathetic fourteen year old boy being forced to strip down to his boxers.


Again Zhen Woo was already holding the door open for me.  I let him lead as he took me back down the plain metal stairs that ended in the corridor through which we had first entered.  There was a door there behind the stairs and he knocked loudly three times.  Soon the door opened, letting in the full noise of the crowd on the floor.  My nose was immediately assaulted by the pungent odor of sweat accompanied by the bittersweet smell of beer and the pungent scent of cigar smoke.

There were spotlights randomly scanning through the crowd.  I saw that there were several large tracks of movable lighting--probably all computer controlled.  Blaring music--heavy metal appropriately enough--blared from loud speakers somewhere in the lofty rafters.  Zhen Woo led me through the crowd, which parted quickly for him.  From what I recalled, we were on the opposite side of the Cage from where I had spotted Goreski and his entourage.  I realized that seeing them now, or more importantly, them seeing me now, could cause some serious trouble.  Obviously, Goreski knew that I was no fighter or I would have kicked his fat ass that day in the john when he tried to get me to suck his huge, disgusting dick.  I didn't know if Arnie or Mario were around, but hopefully, it wouldn't even occur to them that I would be here, and they wouldn't be looking for me.  

Soon enough, we were in what was apparently the VIP section, which consisted of padded folding chairs (as opposed to the bleachers where everyone else sat), several rows deep near the entrance to the Cage.  I was suddenly surrounded by the older men I had seen from  above, most of them dressed in expensive suits and ties, all bedecked in glistening gold and silver chains and with rings of every size and color covering their knuckles.  I realized that every fighter would have to pass right before their scrutinizing eyes before entering the Cage itself.

"Mr. Van Driesen no here," Zhen Woo stated.  I couldn't tell if he was as surprised as I was or if he was just making an observation.

Just then, a small and pale faced man in the traditional black and white stripes of a referee, shouted at us in a high pitched voice.  He was  shorter than me even though he was obviously in his mid-thirties or so.  He had a balding head surrounded by thin black hair that was slicked back.

"You--!" he shouted, pointing to me.  "Are you Iron Ninja?"

At first I didn't know what he was talking about, and then I slowly nodded my head.  I was the Iron Ninja!  He came up and nodded respectfully to Zhen Woo.  "They changed the schedule around and you're up right after this next fight," he noted excitedly.  "He needs to get to the waiting room right away!" he told Zhen Woo.  The big man only nodded his understanding as the referee scrambled away.

As Zhen Woo led me around the outer edge of the Cage, I noticed that people were staring and pointing at me.  I guessed the fact that I was with an imposing figure like this hulking Asian bodyguard was bound to attract some attention!  I flipped my hood up, not so much to avoid the general scrutiny of the spectators, but to avoid being recognized by Goreski and his crew.  I also realized that Julio or at the very least Gus, was likely to be around someplace.  The crowd seemed mostly high school or college age, and most were nicely dressed for an evening out, in sleek leather, tight shirts and blouses, rings, chains, beads, ear rings, and various other facial piercings.  Most of them were holding plastic cups of beer.  Apparently, there was no age discrimination at this bar!

  I also noticed everyone occasionally glancing up at a big digital display which was actually located right under Mr. Al-Jihuad's suite with the big--but from here mirror-like--windows.  It listed about half a dozen fights, noting which ones were already completed.  The name 'Karate Kid' was indeed flashing in three places.  I noted the next fight was The Crusher vs. The Terrorist.  And after that, in glowing red letters:  Karate Kid vs. Iron Ninja!  It looked pretty cool up there and I had to admit, it sounded a lot more exciting than Jesse vs. Perry!  The odds were posted next to each fight.  The contest before ours had odds of two to nine in favor of the Terrorist.  I was somewhat surprised to see that the odds for our fight had Jesse favored only by three--at seven to my four.  I wondered if Mr. Al-Jihuad had somehow let it leak out that I was going to be a more serious challenger.  Or perhaps it was just the fact that our fight had been bumped up in the schedule.  I really didn't have a clue how all this betting stuff worked.

I also noted the two guards dressed in long black coats, pacing the flat roof right above Mr. Al-Jihuad's observation room.  They appeared like shadowy figures up in the dim rafters of the large metal barn.

We finally went around a set of bleachers--the ones where I had spotted Goreski-- and arrived at another door.  It was marked Authorized Personnel Only.   Zhen Woo pounded forcefully and it was soon opened.  I thought he was going to take me in, but he just stood there holding the door for me.

"Oh, you're not going in?" I asked, somewhat surprised and a little distressed.  Even though I knew this guy was essentially a criminal, I kind of liked having a giant bodyguard around, and I appreciated his professional attitude.  The fact of the matter was that he could have torn me to pieces up there and he hadn't.

He just shook his head.

"Well, thanks for not...for not letting Billy..." I stammered.

"Honor me with your victory!" he said, and gave me the slightest hint of a bow and it was...kind of respectful!

I just looked at him wide eyed as he closed the door.  The light in here was dim and again came from bare incandescent bulbs.  Outside, I heard the noise level of the crowd increase and I assumed it was time for the next fight to begin.  Suddenly, there was a loud metallic groaning and two large doors a few yards from where I was standing were opened up.  Bright light poured in from the floor and the music had changed to some sort of brassy fanfare.  Now I could see that there were simple benches lining the walls of the shallow rectangular room, and much to my distress, I was unable to recognize Jesse among the half dozen or so fighters strewn along their lengths.  A couple high schoolers were sparring quietly in one corner, mostly just moving around, taking an occasional swing at each other.

I just caught a glimpse of a tall and lanky young man as he stepped out into the bright light.

"Ladies and Gentlemen.  May I have your attention.  The next contest is about to begin.  All bets are closed.  I repeat--all bets are closed," the voice echoed through the empty shell of the building.  "The challenger--weighing in at one hundred and ninety nine pounds and standing six feet three inches:  The Crusher!" I heard over the loudspeakers.  The tall high schooler, dressed formidably in a black sleeveless T- and tight black jeans, with leather, metal studded bands  around his neck and wrists, stepped out of the room to some modest cheering and a few boos from the crowd.

I got a little closer look at his opponent, who now left his bench and stepped into the light.  He wasn't as tall, but was definitely bulkier.  He had to have been at least sixteen since that was supposedly the age limit for this particular event, but would have easily passed for seventeen or eighteen.  He wore a bright orange T-shirt with a grinning skull on the front and 'The Terrorist' boldly printed on the back and in a move right out of WWF Smackdown, he wore a ski mask over his large round head.  He stood patiently in the bright lights that were shining in on him from somewhere up in the rafters until the announcer proclaimed,  "Weighing in at two hundred and forty eight pounds and standing six feet tall,  current Junior Master of the Cage: The Terrorist!"  The crowd roared enthusiastically as the obvious favorite stalked out into the arena, hands clasped triumphantly over his head as he left the waiting room.

The two large doors immediately closed and the light seemed to vanish.  It again took me a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to the  dim lighting in the room.

"You're Iron Ninja?" a  young man asked.

I turned when I felt his hand on my arm and was shocked when I thought I recognized Alejandro Gutierrez--or Gus as he preferred to be called.  But it was only someone who resembled him, maybe even a blood relative.  He was tall and dressed simply in a white T-shirt and black jeans.  He had a few chains around his neck, a dragon tatooed on his left bicep, and a ring through one eyebrow.  Sweat glistened off his closely shaven head.  

I nodded.  "Who are you?"

"Jaime--some call me Jimmy," he said in a friendly but humble voice.

"Glad to meet you," I said, offering my hand.

"Honor to meet you, little dude," he responded, taking my hand enthusiastically.  "Upstairs says you're good to go," he noted.  He led me over to a table in one corner where there were trays of cell phones, wallets, chains, watches, and other 'bling bling shit' as Billy called it.  There was also a rather intimidating guard diligently watching over the stuff.  It was clear what I was supposed to do and I slipped off my watch and set my cellphone, wallet and keys in one of the cheap plastic trays.  

"Which one's the Karate Kid?" I asked in what I hoped sounded like a moderately curious tone.  "I'm ready to pound his ass!" I added enthusiastically.

"He's still cleaning up from his last fight.  Don't know if he'll make it back in here or just meet you out by the Cage."

"Fine...whatever," I said dismissively.  I knew it would seem suspicious if I got too curious about my opponent or his whereabouts.  We'd meet soon enough...

"Word is, you're good!" the Hispanic teenager offered conspiratorially.  "I understand they pushed you up the schedule to give this Karate Kid some serious competition."

"Hey, I'm not going to get all cocky here," I told him with a smugly lopsided grin on my face.  I felt like I was acting in one of Jesse's role playing games.  "But I'm sure it's gonna be a good show!"

"All I know is that the wagering just about tripled from the last round," the young man declared in a way that showed that he was clearly impressed.

I noticed there was a TV  on the wall next to the large closed doors.

"You wanna watch?" the young man asked.  "Some of the guys...well...they get a little jittery watching the other fights, so's I usually leave it off."

"Let's check it out," I said with a disinterested shrug.

 As he flicked a remote and brought the screen to life, I went through some of the stretches Coach Riegert had us do before our games.  As much as I tried to conceal it, I was as nervous as hell.  I still felt creeped out about that awful strip search, and I was still plenty angry with Billy.  I really envied Jesse his amazing street fighting abilities.  If I could do the things he could do, I'd surely give Billy the drubbing of his life.  I wasn't sure if I had made friends or enemies of Mr. Al-Jihuad and Zhen Woo.  Perhaps it wasn't even possible to be friends with people like that.  Mr. Al-Jihuad was a consummate businessman, interested in deals, money and prestige.  Clearly, all his thinking ran along those lines.  Zhen Woo on the other hand, seemed, on the surface anyway, a much simpler man,  committed to duty and obedience.  His greatest joy, I imagined, was carrying out his boss's orders with honor and dignity.  I guessed that was why he hadn't helped Billy out when I refused to cooperate.  I wondered if my little tirade had been what had caused Al-Jihuad to bump me up the schedule all of a sudden.  Maybe he thought that I really had some backbone, and that I really could pose a serious threat to this Karate Kid--if he only knew!

As I did my stretches, I glanced up at the black and white scene on the monitor.  The angle on the Cage changed from time to time, from a couple of different side views to a view that approximated what Al-Jihuad and his crew would see from the upstairs room.  At the moment, the Terrorist had the Crusher up against the chain link barrier.  Suddenly, the Crusher lowered his head, preparing to ram the Terrorist, but the reigning champ quickly grabbed the taller guy by his short blond hair and whipped him around.  That had to hurt!  Around and around they went, the shorter kid twirling the taller kid in a wide circle as the helpless victim stumbled along just trying to stay on his feet.  Finally the masked Terrorist released him, using a combination of centrifugal force and his own bulging biceps to fling his hapless opponent forcefully into another wall of chain link.  I saw the tall youth grimace with pain as he slammed up against the unyielding fencing.  Obviously, whatever it was, it was a lot stronger and thicker than the fence that Jesse and I hopped on our way up to our secret hillside rendezvous behind the school.

I tried to spot any familiar faces in the crowd and as one camera swept past the VIP section, I noted that Gary was back in place.  I only had a brief glimpse, but he didn't look happy.  I wondered if that meant he hadn't spotted Jesse yet.  Well, that wasn't necessarily alarming if my sweet ninja angel was just in the can getting cleaned up.  I wished I could tell Gary not to worry.  We'd all meet again soon enough and then this place would be nothing more than a really bad memory.

The Crusher did his best to clear his head, and then started running along the outer boundaries of the Cage.  The Terrorist  seemed content to just follow his opponent with his eyes, waiting to see what he was planning to do.  Well, he didn't have to wait long.  The Crusher let out a wordless war cry and flung his whole body at the Terrorist.  I thought that this time he might actually gain the advantage.  But the Terrorist was surprisingly quick and agile and he stepped aside just at the right moment, causing the Crusher to land face first on the hard surface of the Cage.  What happened next shocked and horrified me.  The Terrorist leapt up in the air and landed on the back of the Crusher with both feet.  The unabashed brutality of that particular move wasn't lost on the crowd, which bellowed its approval.   I thought for sure the taller youth's back must have been broken by that bone crushing attack, but I was surprised to see him slowly roll over on his belly, his face twisted in agony.

The Terrorist stood by, obviously confident that he was going to prevail.  He waited patiently for the Crusher to stagger to his feet.  Only then did he approach his dazed opponent, violently backhanding him in the face, first one cheek and then the other.  The Crusher weakly tried to block the violent assaults with his hands, but his defense was futile.  I couldn't believe that he was even able to keep his feet as the Terrorist now pummeled his opponent full force in the stomach.  

Finally, the Crusher collapsed in a tangled pile of arms and legs.  But the reigning champ wasn't finished yet.  He ran up to his prostrate opponent and forcefully kicked him in the side with a heavy booted foot.  For the first time, I saw the referee enter the picture.  He was still outside the Cage itself of course, but I could see him puffing a way on a whistle which I could vaguely hear over the roar of the crowd and the thick doors of the waiting room.  The small pale man waved his arms frantically, obviously beseeching the Terrorist to lay off his opponent, who was too stunned to get back to his feet.  But the more the referee waved and blew his whistle, the more the Terrorist kicked his opponent and the more the crowd roared with approval!

I felt nauseous as I watched the barbaric scene unfold on the mute TV screen.  I didn't know how anyone could stand to watch something like that going on right before their very eyes.  I couldn't imagine Gary's girlfriend, who he said was so sweet and thoughtful, screaming as bloodthirstily as the rest of the crowd.

Finally, someone came into the frame and made a big show out of unlocking the Cage.  I realized that it was Gus!  Even though I figured he'd be here someplace, it was still quite a shock to see his tall and muscular form again.  I thought he was going to go in and help the injured teen but first, the referee climbed the short flight of steps and entered.  He approached the Terrorist, grabbed his arm and raised it, proclaiming the obvious victor to a cheering crowd.  Only after the Terrorist and the referee had left the Cage, did Gus enter.  He made a signal and a couple of other young men joined him.  They hovered around the Crusher for a few moments before Gus gestured for them to pick him up.  This they did, one grabbing the teen's shoulders while the other got his legs.  I was amazed to see that the Crusher was still not entirely out of it as he weakly fought against the guys carrying him.  I was also horrified to see the trickles of blood dripping from his nose and mouth.  I finally had to turn away.

"Fuckin' 'A,'!" Jaime exclaimed.  "That was a good one!  The crowd loves it when there's blood!"

I didn't say anything.  This evening had been a nonstop nightmare and I was more anxious than ever to get it over with.  Despite all that had happened, I knew that, once we were safely out of here and on the road home, I would take Jesse in my arms and squeeze him tight, regardless of Gary's presence.  Somehow, I felt that Van Driesen would understand, and keep our secret if we asked him to.

I turned back to the TV screen in time to see the man who had been sweeping the floor earlier, now on his hands and knees with a bucket and rag, wiping the blood off the Cage floor.  Did kids really need money so badly that they'd be willing to risk life and limb like that?  Or was there more to it?  A chance to achieve some exalted level of machismo?  A way to impress a girlfriend or score a few envy  points with the homeboys?

"You ready to go, man?" Jaime asked.

"Already?" I asked with surprise, my gut still aching from the bloody violence I had just observed.

"Gotta keep it moving.  There's lots of contests--and then second and third rounds and a championship bout."

I nodded.  Actually, after my frightening ordeal with Billy, and all the screaming and shouting I had done, I was feeling a little thirsty..."Is there...ah...someplace I can get a little water?" I asked.

"Sorry, man.  Most guys bring their own drinks in here with them but..."  He went to the back where there was a little table with a lamp on it and piles of paperwork, that might have passed for his desk.  He picked up a bottle and handed it to me.

It was a half empty bottle of Corona Extra.  I looked at him with a mild look of shock.

"It's all I got to offer, dude," he shrugged apologetically.

"Well, thanks...I appreciate it," I said, taking a quick gulp.  I hated the taste of beer, and it looked like piss.  At first, it burned on its way down my dry throat, but the sensation soon diminished as the disgusting taste sank into my buds.  Still, I was thirsty, and I took one more substantial drink before handing it back.  I wiped my mouth on the sleeve of my jacket.

"Hey, I got some serious money on you, dude," he informed me quietly.  "I got a good feeling about you."

"Just outta curiosity, do you know that guy who went into the Cage after the referee?"  I asked.

"You mean Gus?" the young man asked.


"He's my cous, but we're pretty tight."

"I've met him before," I noted.

"Oh man, is he the one that recruited you?"

"Well, not exactly, but he did give me the idea..." I told him truthfully.

"He's a second degree blackbelt himself.  He'd be in there fighting tonight except that the boss wants him to get into the real fights and doesn't want him wasting time with all these young punks!"

Gees, if what I had just seen wasn't considered 'real,' I wondered how much more brutal the adult version of this maniacal sport could be.

"I bet he'd kick that Karate Kid's ass right through the fence!" he boasted.

I wanted to tell him that I wasn't too sure about that, but I held my tongue.  "Why does he want to do it?  It looks so dangerous!"

"What about you, little dude?  You and your pretty face and all.  Why'd you wanna get locked up in that thing and fight and claw like an animal--maybe get seriously hurt?"

I realized that I had asked a foolish question, but there was no getting out of it now.  "It's just something I gotta do," I replied simply.  And that was certainly the truth.

"Gotcha!" he said with a wink.  He pulled out a cellphone and spoke a few phrases of rapid Spanish.  "Okay, here we go.  Just stand in front of the big doors here and you'll be announced.  Take your time walking around the floor.  You gotta give the crowd a little build up."

"What about the Karate Kid?"

"He'll meet you at the Cage."  Then he put a large hand on my shoulder and leaned in to whisper in my ear.  "Don't let this kid fool you.  He looks like a little angel or something--you almost wanta pat him on the head.  But he's Satanic I tell ya.  El Angel Diablo if you ask me.  Don't let your guard down for a second!"

It was my turn to give him a cocky little wink.  "I'll be okay," I assured him.

Just then, we heard the now familiar brass fanfare, slightly muffled through the still closed doors.  I stood nervously in the dim light, my hands stuffed in the pockets of my hoodie as I heard the announcer's voice.

"Ladies and gentlemen.  The next contest is about to begin.  All bets are closed.  I repeat, all bets are closed!  This is a special--I repeat--special event, personally sponsored by the head of Golden Ranch Enterprises himself!"  The crowd shouted and whistled their approval.  "And now, weighing in at one hundred and twenty two pounds and standing five foot eight inches, making his Hode Ranch debut, the challenger--Iron Ninja!"

It was kind of funny how they had slightly exaggerated my stats.  I decided to add a little mystery to the proceedings by flipping my hood up and over my head.  If I kept my head slightly bowed, no one--including Fred Goreski, Mario Hernandez, or Alejandro Gutierrez would have a chance to recognize me before I got to the Cage, and my beautiful blond angel. There was a surprisingly enthusiastic response from the pumped up crowd as, with an rumbling shudder, the two large doors swung open.  I was immediately blinded by the bright spot lights pointed directly at me from above.  I was forced to look down, but that was what I had planned to do anyway.

"Buenos suerte!" Jaime called, and I knew the time had finally arrived.

I stepped out into the arena, relying on my earlier memories of the layout to make my way past the cheering crowd and around the outside of the Cage.  I became aware of my heart beating powerfully in my chest in wild anticipation.  Would Jesse be shocked and surprised to see me here?  Or had Gary already clued him in?  It would be kind of funny to see Jesse caught off guard for once!  I glanced quickly up at the brightly lit display, and noticed that the odds for our fight had changed to seven to five!

As I turned the final corner, I first spotted the VIP section with it's cigar smoking, well dressed assemblage.  My nostrils burned at the sweetly pungent odor of burning tobacco. Again, Gary seemed to have disappeared.  I wondered what he was up to.  Hopefully he was pulling the car around so we could make a quick getaway.  Or maybe he was off in some corner making a plan with Jesse.  I wasn't worried though.  Nothing could go wrong at this point.

I caught sight of Gus and hesitated for just a split second before continuing my brief journey.  Standing next to him was a smaller kid wearing a black jacket with his hood on.  I vaguely made out a youngish looking face, but it obviously wasn't Jesse.  At first, I didn't pay him much heed, but then I realized I had seen him before someplace.  He seemed  a little too big to be Gus's brother Joey.  

Still trying to keep my head bowed as much as possible, I looked around for Jesse.  But he was no where in sight.  I glanced into the Cage itself but it was empty.  Had he and Gary already made some alternate plan?  Maybe they were just going to grab me by the arm at the last second and pull me out of there.  We'd race to the parking lot and kick up as much dust as Gary's old Nissan could manage as we tore our way out of here.  Then my arms would be around my beautiful angel and all would be right wth th world again.

"Ladies and gentlemen, once again, weighing in at one hundred and sixteen pounds and standing five feet four inches--The Karate Kid!"  The crowd roared enthusiastically.

"Iron Ninja--meet the Karate Kid!" Gus announced over the din, obviously not recognizing me.

I stopped in front of the VIP section, at the foot of the small flight of plain wooden steps that led up to the Cage door.  The kid next to Gus flipped his hood back, revealing curly blond hair and crystal blue eyes.  This was the Karate Kid?  No, it couldn't be.  It just couldn't be!!  This wasn't my beautiful blond angel--it was the freakin' Altar Boy!!!!!!!!

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