An Agent Scorned
Chapter 7

Oxygen

"There's that unique style of yours again, Cathy," said Steed, recalling some of their cases together, the ones metioned in her personal file.

Cathy smiled and rolled to a sitting position, flipping Emma onto her back. Emma's head remained trapped between Cathy's legs, which were locked at the ankles beneath her. Emma tried to bridge up, but a right to the stomach sent her back the the bamboo.

Cathy sat up, and then sat down, hard, landing her full weight on Emma's chest.

"Ohhhh!"

Cathy reached down with her left hand, grabbing Emma's forelock, and reared back with her right fist.

Emma looked up in terror, kicked and bucked beneath her.

Steed, looking on with pity, yelled, "Cathy, no!"

Nothing stopped Cathy now. Her fist crashed down into Emma's face again and again and again. Finally, she paused, fist cocked.

Emma's head lolled to the side. Cathy pulled it up by the hair. Not out yet, she thought. Good. All the better.
Cathy untangled her legs and stood up, pulling the brunnete up after her.

Before Emma could steady herself on wobbly legs, Cathy buried a right fist into her stomach, then a left, then a big right to the jaw. The blow sent Emma spinning. Cathy greeted her on the other side with a left foot to the gut, doubling her over, and then sent her to the floor with a double forearm to the back.

Taking Emma's left arm in two hands, Cathy spun around on her left heel – a full pirouette. As she spun, Emma's arm twisted around, in turn sending Emma's body flying feet first over her head and back down to the mat.

Keeping hold of Emma's left wrist with her own left hand, Cathy dug her right hand into Emma's hair and pulled her up. She let go the hair and sent a right into Emma's gut.

Cathy ducked down under Emma, sent her right arm between Emma's legs and scooped her up in a fireman's carry. Emma struggled atop Cathy's shoulders, but she was at Cathy's mercy. Cathy held Emma tight by the right wrist and right leg. She lightly turned and walked a few steps toward Steed, as if she bore no burden at all.

Emma was carried helplessly along. Cathy smiled at Steed, and – in one quick motion -- shrugged her shoulders to the left, pushed up Emma's hips up and yanked Emma's arm down.

Emma was slung down to the floor with a thud.

Keeping hold of Emma's left arm, and twisting it, Cathy brought her right knee down across Emma's face and neck. She sank her right hand into Emma's hair and pulled her head back, until she could look into her face.

"Say it Mrs. Peel," said Cathy, twisting Emma's left arm putting her weight down across Emma's neck. She tugged her hair. "Say it."

"Never."

Cathy brought her right fist down across Emma's chest and dragged her up.

"You're making this difficult, Mrs. Peel," said Cathy.

She sank a left and right into Emma's gut – eliciting two cries – then pivoted and landed a straight right kick to her midsection, sending her backpeddaling.

Emma recovered her balance and looked up – only to see Cathy's two outstretched hands closing in on her throat. Eight fingers dug into the back of Emma's neck and two thumbs pressed down on her windpipe.

Emma's mouth opened wide but only a dry "Gack!" came out. Cathy tightened the vice, tossing Emma's head to and fro as she pressed her thumbs in deeper, choking off all air.

Emma clawed at Cathy's hands but couldn't loosen the iron grip. When she thought she could take no more, Emma found herself – horribly -- hoisted up off her feet by the throat.

Cathy held Emma high above her head, arms raised high, hands cinched around Emma's throat. Emma's legs kicked wildly,
some two feet off the ground, and her hands held tight to Cathy's wrists in an effort to lessen the pressure.

Cathy stood there like Atlas, the world on her shoulders. Legs spread, back arched, she held Emma high, her thumbs digging into Emma's throat -- the brunette's full weight was bearing down on her own windpipe.

Steed, with horror, saw Emma's arms go limp and eyes roll to the back of her head. Cathy shook her, truly like a ragdoll, arms and legs and swinging lifeless, then with a thrust hurled Emma to the floor. Emma, landing with a crash on her back, gasped for breath with hands at her throat.

She was alive, at least, thought Steed.

"Don't worry, Steed," said Cathy. "I'm not done with her yet."

Like a cat playing with her prey, Cathy watched Emma struggle to her knees. Moving behind Emma, Cathy wrapped her right arm around her throat and left hand behind her head.

A chokehold! Cathy pulled Emma up off the ground by the neck and stepped back, dragging her across the floor so Emma's weight came down on her windpipe. Emma gasped, ripping at Cathy's right arm around her throat and kicking as she struggled desperately tried to stay on her feet.

"Say it, Mrs. Peel," said Cathy as Emma thrashed wildly in her grip. "Admit I'm the better woman!"

No response. Cathy yanked Emma left and right, keeping her off balance and painfully tightening the pressure. Emma resisted but was borne down under Cathy's weight. As Emma sunk to her knees, Cathy wrapped her legs around Emma's midsection, hooked them at the ankles and squeezed.

Emma fell the the floor with Cathy coiled around her like a snake wrapped around her prey, suffocating it before devouring it. Cathy's arm was like a vice around Emma's neck as powerful leg scissors crushed her waist. She couldn't get air! Emma felt the strength draining from her.

Steed watched in dismay as Emma went down under Cathy's weight. He couldn't see Emma's face, hidden behind her own hair, and only knew she was breathing when he saw strands fly as she gasped for air.

Emma's struggles grew weaker and then stopped. Cathy felt Emma's muscles slacken and let her own fatigued body relax. Finally, she released her hold on Emma's neck, and Emma greedily sucked oxygen into her depleted lungs.

Cathy lay on her right side, almost lounging, with her head propped up by her left arm. Emma lay on her back next to her, Cathy's legs still cinched around her midesction. With her right hand, Cathy brushed the hair out of Emma's face, which Steed could now see was almost purple. She was breathing but her eyes remained closed.

"I'll hand her one thing," said Cathy, stroking Emma's hair as she looked down on her tortured face. "She's tough. And damn stubborn."   
   

The Girl and Uncle

Emma became a school football star when she was still the youngest player on the team. Though skinny as rail, she'd almost reached her full height of 5-foot-9, and with her speed and agility was almost impossible to cover. She became a goal-scoring machine and led her side into the playoff tournament. 

Out of ideas, an opposing coach came up with a new strategy to stop Emma: physical intimidation. He picked a big brusing blonde to mark Emma, and instructed his players to hit her whenever they could.

It started from the opening kickoff and didn't stop till the final whistle. Emma was tripped, kicked and knocked to the pitch at every opportunity. And her personal escort, an American import named SueAnn, was an expert in cheap shots behind the referee's back. Punches in the back, yanks of the shorts, headbutts on head balls.

Emma's teammates and coaches complained right off, but the referee let them play on. The hostile crowd even cheered when their girls took Emma down.

The worst incident happened in the second half, after Emma had scored to tie the game at 1. Emma's team lost the ball at midfield and she was trailing the play, with SueAnn shadowing her. Once referee turned upfield, SueAnn reached out with both hands, grabbed Emma's long braid – Emma wore her hair down to her waist in those days – and yanked.

Emma's head snapped back and she was whipped to the turf. It was only when play turned around that anyone saw her writhing on the ground and stopped the clock. Her coach wanted to take her out, but Emma insisted on staying in, and later scored the winning goal.

Losing on the field apparently didn't sit well SueAnn. She and two teammates arranged a private meeting with Emma, behind the stands. Whatever frustrations SueAnn couldn't take out on Emma on the field, she took out now.

SueAnn didn't have any kind of training, but she was big, strong and had been a bully for a long time. She had experience hurting the young, the weak and the frightened. Emma was all of these. The other two girls just made sure Emma didn't escape her beating.

She got it pretty good, too. Emma had never been in a fight before in her life, and she hadn't yet developed her interest in martial arts (this, in fact, would be the spark for that). She was at SueAnn's mercy.

After five minutes of hard fists and twisted arms and pulled hair, Emma found herself pinned to the ground with SueAnn sitting on her chest.

"Say uncle," the big girl said, with a smile.

Emma just looked at her – she had no idea what she was talking about.

"Say uncle!" the girl cried. "Say it!"

When Emma still didn't say anything, SueAnn reached down and placed her right hand over Emma mouth, closed her nose between her thumb and forefinger. Emma couldn't breathe! She panicked as the girl held tight, smiling down as Emma's eyes popped out in fear.

Finally, when Emma though she could take no more, SueAnn let go.

"Uncle! Uncle!" Emma sputtered as she sucked in the fresh, cool air. "Uncle!"

SueAnn and the other girls laughed.

But it wasn't over just yet. As Emma lays curled up, crying, wishing they'd just go away, she felt a yank on her braid. The next thing she knew, SueAnn was dragging her by the hair across dirt and grass and a gravel path as the other two ran along.

SueAnn finally left her in a heap, not 20 feet from the lockerroom entrance for Emma's team. Even then, SueAnn had to add one last kick to Emma's gut before she left. The other two added kicks of their own, and then all three ran off giggling.

A teammate spotted Emma a few minutes later, and soon the whole team and coaching staff were out there. She was carried in to the trainer's office, where she came to.

Emma said she must've passed out from the exertion of the game. Everyone knew what a beating she'd taken, and it seemed plausible. The trainer was skeptical, though, and wanted her to go to the hospital. She refused.

That night, Emma made two vows to herself. One, she'd learn how to defend herself. Two, she'd never cry uncle again.

A week later, as soon as she was able, she showed up at Master Toyota's dojo. He was the only one she ever told about
the fight – she was embarassed, she thought he'd laugh. But he didn't. He listened in silence, with gravity.

When she was done, telling the story, and crying, he finally spoke.

"If you will attend me well, daughter," he said. "This will never happen to you again."

Thus Emma was started on the long road to keeping her first vow.

As for her second vow, up till now, it hadn't come up.

***

"I can attest to both," said Steed, "the toughness and the stubborness."

"I'll bet you can," said Cathy, untangling herself from Emma and standing up. "And because she's been such a good sport, I'm going to give her one last chance."

"One last chance?"

"To admit I'm the better woman."

"Oh, Cathy, really. Isn't this enough?"

She glared at him. "I'll decide when it's enough."

Emma lay curled on her side, finally breathing normally again. Her head swam somewhere between reality and dreamland; she felt pain all over.

Cathy reached down and grabbed her shock of aubrun hair.

"Let's go, Mrs. Peel," she said, giving it a yank, and another, harder. Emma rolled slowly to her knees, unsteadily. Cathy tugged and she fell flat again, only to be pulled up once more. "Come on!"

Emma half-crawled and was half-dragged across the room, where she was thrown to the floor in front of Steed.
"I hope you've enjoyed this, Steed," said Cathy, patting Steed on the cheek. "You're a very lucky boy."

She then turned back to Emma, who'd managed to get to her hands and knees. Once more Cathy reached for Emma's hair, entwining her left hand in it and pulling her head up. Emma moaned and clung to Cathy's left arm with her right hand, but it was all she could do to stay conscious.

Cathy stood facing Emma, legs spread, right hand on her hip as she held Emma's hair with her left. 

"You've been very tenacious, Mrs Peel. Very impressive indeed," said Cathy. "But now is the time to end it. I can't beat you up all day. I've got places to be. Now say it – say I am the better woman. Say it!"

Emma heard the words, but as sort of an echo. Her eyes were unfocused. She swayed under Cathy's grip.

Her lips moved, but nothing came out.

"I didn't quite hear that, Mrs. Peel," said Cathy, leaning forward. "Please repeat it. Who is the better woman?"

Cathy smiled above her, waiting to finally hear the words she came for.

Steed, watching this tableau carefully constructed in front of him, wished only for the punishment to end for Mrs. Peel. He was consigned to his own fate. As a spy, he courted death. He just never expected it from Cathy Gale.

Emma's lips quivered as she struggled for words. Cathy shook her by the scalp.

"Say it Mrs. Peel!"

No reply. Cathy raised an open right hand, swung it forward in a wide arc, and brought it down flush against Emma's left cheek. Smack!

Emma's head twisted wildly and snapped back, in Cathy's grip.

"Say I am the better woman -- say it, Mrs. Peel!" Cathy raised her palm again. "Say it!"

It was a pitiful sight. Say it, begged Steed, say it, just to end this torture.

Emma's lips came together, painfully, and her eyes welled with tears…

"You… you…" she could hardly get it out. "You… bitch! Never!"

Cathy didn't expect that response, nor did she expect the right-hand punch to the stomach that followed. The left to the chin and the two-hands-to-the-judogi flip – those were more predictable.

Still, finding herself slamming to the floor on her back at this point was NOT what she expected.

Damn this Peel, she thought. Just when she appeared finished –

Cathy's thoughts were interrupted when Emma, with two handfuls of hair, slammed the back of her head to the floor. Cathy, laying flat on her back, saw stars. Her head was ringing and she reached both hands for it.

Emma, on her knees behind Cathy, yanked her up by the hair and slammed her head down again, and again, and again. Crack! Crack! Crack!

Cathy's eyes were rolling as Emma pulled her to her feet. Holding Cathy up by the hair with her left hand, Emma fired right after right into Cathy's midsection.

Emma was a woman possessed, her teeth clenched and eyes raging. She hit Cathy until her arm ached. Spinning, both hands entwined in Cathy's hair, Emma snapped her over her shoulder. A hair mare!

A taste of her own medicine, thought Steed, amazed at the turn of events. "I should never underestimate you, Mrs. Peel," he thought.

Emma reached down and hauled Cathy up by the front of her judogi.

"Get up, Dr. Gale," she said, with a growl.