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A Gambler’s Requiem, Part II

Prologue: This is a continuation of ‘A Gambler’s Requiem’ and does not stand alone. You will have to read the earlier chapters for this to make sense. And again, those of you looking for a quick fix this one is not for you. This is a slow moving story as the characters continue to develop.

A Gambler’s Requiem, Part II

His eyes fluttered open as the hazy, streaks of pre-dawn light stole in through the creases in the curtains illuminating the body snuggled up against him. Julian St. Croix shook the sleep from his head suddenly aware of his sister, Samantha, lying in his arms their bodies entwined in a sleepy, sensual tableau. And it was then that the events of the night before washed over him like a tidal wave. He had fucked her! He had finally fucked his little sister.

Jennifer Haight, the Arab, the money and the impending fight seemed like a distant dream and something he would deal with later. For now, all he wanted to do was bask in the sensual feelings coursing through him; to enjoy the moment while they lay nestled together in his bed.

They were lovers now. Their incestuous desires having been consummated and the erotic images indelibly imprinted on his brain played like a mirage of steamy silhouettes; painted statues frozen lewdly in euphoric union bridging the narrow schism between thoughts and actions and irrevocably cementing their relationship. Making love to her had been much more than he could have ever imagined, more intense than any fantasy he had jerked off to and contrary to what he had expected, he felt no guilt or regret – only love and relief and an intrinsically obscure uneasiness.

Just being with her and holding her had subjugated his rationale, flooding his body’s sensuous response, keeping him in a state of hyper-arousal. He had cum in her more times than he had thought was possible, a debauchee incapable of being satisfied, returning to her time and time again to fill her mouth and her cunt with his juices until finally there was nothing left in him.

He had feasted on her body, taking his time to taste every part of her, savoring the subtle flavors of her skin, her fingers, arms, belly, calves, thighs and finally her sensual core, lapping at her wet, swollen slit like a kitten at a saucer of milk. He was inebriated by his incestuous thirst, licking her for what had seemed like hours and drowning himself in the sweet nectar of his sister’s seeping passion.

Her heady fragrance, a sweet, musky effluvium that reminded him of moist cloves and honey, overpowered his senses, priming the erotic beast and coupled with the firm, pliable feel of her flesh had driven him insane with desire.

He had made her cum several times, way too many to count, her body writhing in a perpetual state of orgasmic release; jerking and twisting without control. He had used his fingers and his tongue until she finally pleaded with him to fuck her. Their ensuing frenzied lovemaking had been too much for him. He had taken her with an urgency that betrayed the forbidden desires he had harbored for so long and within the intense excitement of making love to his sister for the first time, he had climaxed a lot sooner than he had wanted to, shooting his ejaculate deep into her quivering belly.

He could still feel the incredible sensations of her silky canal, constricting around him, milking his turgid scepter as he labored on top of her cresting in the final throes of his climax.

And now, as the synthesis of their lovemaking floated through his mind in a lazy collage of non sequitur thoughts and images, he couldn’t help himself; he reached down and began languidly stroking his cock while running his hand down her recumbent body. He felt her stirring and then noticed her eyes blinking open.

“Hi sleepy head … are you awake?” he murmured, releasing his cock and kissing her on her forehead, pushing back the strands of hair that had fallen across her face.

“Mmmm … what time is it?” Sam asked softly, nuzzling into the crook of his neck.

She was a bit diffident; unsure of how she should act considering the breach of their filial relationship and the intimacy they had shared. She had been eager and aggressive indulging in acts she never thought she would but in the sanctuary of his bedroom, freed from the shackles of societal norms, she had satisfied her erogenous curiosity, thrilling in the very aspect of their incestuous bond.

It had been her first time and it didn’t disappoint her. She had fulfilled every fantasy she had secretly nurtured and now, having tasted the ambrosia of forbidden desires, she was filled with a nebulous love for her brother, something stronger than she had ever felt before but indefinable in its incipience and which had her feeling inexplicably awkward and aroused.

He sensed her shyness and wanted to reassure her.

“It’s early, why don’t you sleep for a few more hours? I’ll come and get you after I finish at the gym and we can go an’ get breakfast.”

“Mmmm … that sounds perfect,” she answered, hugging him, “but I have to pee … sorry!” and laughing a short nervous laugh she disentangled herself and stumbled out of bed.

He watched as she covered herself with the sheet and then ambled towards the bathroom. He couldn’t help but smile at her girlish modesty and wondered what she was feeling; what she as thinking; whether she aware of just how much she excited him.

After a short while, she crawled back into bed and snuggled up to him. She had washed her face and was now fully awake. But, he sensed her bashful restraint and mistaking it for her having second thoughts, he lifted her face by her chin and looking into her eyes he asked, “You don’t regret what happened, do you Sam?”

The question surprised her. It was certainly not what was on her mind.

“Regret? No, Jules …never! I have fantasized about this for years and it was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined!” she answered with simple honesty and then impugned, “Do you?”

“No … absolutely not; I would never want to change it, baby, never!” he reassured her emphatically.

That was all she had wanted to hear. She shimmied closer, climbing on top of him and kissed him on the lips, slipping her tongue into his mouth and as he sucked on her, she felt him harden fully, his cock throbbing lasciviously against her thigh. She reached down and held him, gently stroking him while they continued to kiss, the breaths rasping into each other’s mouths as the urgency of their bodies heightened.

He rolled on top of her while she spread her thighs using her fingers to guide him into her, his engorged dome spreading the moist petals of her venal flower, skewering her open. He let out a strangled groan as he felt the wet constrictions drawing him deeper into her core, her legs wrapping around him anchoring him inside her.

“Arrggh …fuck,” he hissed as his cock bottomed out, the tip throbbing salaciously at the opening of her uterus, “God, you feel so tight, baby … so good …”

They were perfectly matched in size, shape and feel and this was only to be expected as their bodies were of the same DNA, made for one another - brother and sister fused in perfect union.

“Fuck me, Julian, please … oh God, please … please fuck me, darling, fuck me …yes, yes, yes …” she whimpered as he began stroking into her.

This time he was going make it last.

*******

Rolling with the Giants

“Benny, this is Julian,” he said while driving to the gym his mind still preoccupied with thoughts of his sister but also aware that he had a fight coming up.

“Julian! Well, well, well … where the heck have you been, man?” the deep, gravelly voice boomed in his ear.

Benny was the Strength and Speed Coach for the University of Miami’s football team.

“Just busy, amigo … you know how it is!”

“Alright, you can tell Uncle Benny … now, you didn’t call me to bullshit about the weather so what can I do for you?” his friend asked getting straight to the point.

“Is Ed Muskie still there?”

Ed Muskie was a three hundred pound Offensive Tackle with a legendary reputation for drinking and tearing up Barrooms. He was from the Appalachian Mountains in Alabama, a wild man with a chip on his shoulder the size of the mountains he came from.

“No, he transferred. What did you get yourself into this time?” Benny replied, recalling the intense sparring sessions he had watched between Julian and the monstrous Offensive Tackle.

“I’ve got a fight coming up and I need a big, strong kid to roll with.”

“How big?”

“About three hundred pounds … like Ed,” Julian responded.

“Come on over, soldier … I’ve got just the boys for you!”

*******
That’s what he liked about Benjamin Desmond Harper. No bull, no smart aleck remarks, no comedy but if you wanted someone who would be there when the proverbial shit hit the ceiling; Benny was it. They were friends and had served together in Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion’s 8th Regiment known as “America’s Battalion” until that fateful day in Kandahar. He would never forget those events and though time had dulled the edge there were parts of that day which continued to haunt him in his nightmares - memories which included Gunnery Sergeant Benny Harper.

It had started out as just another beautiful, sunny morning offering no hint of the violence that was to come. They were on their daily reconnaissance engaging in the normal derogatory banter regarding the pedigree of their mothers when they were ambushed by a horde of Taliban Guerrilla fighters.

They had been pinned down behind a dilapidated brick wall which provided just enough cover from the hail of gunfire reigning down on them. And during the raging inferno of bullets and mortar, a part of the wall on the far side had crumpled exposing the marines on the outer flank. While the others huddled closer, two of them made a mad dash for a building across the narrow, dirt road. It was a mistake and they paid dearly as the angry volley of enemy gunfire cut them down in their tracks in a dusty requiem of blood and smoke.

“Fuck! Cover me!” Julian yelled.

He had reacted almost instantly jumping over the short barricade and zigzagging towards the fallen men, ignoring the susurrant hissing of bullets whizzing by his head, a strident symphony accompanying the deafening roar in his ears.

But through the din, he heard Benny screaming, “Down! Get down, damn you … Julian, get the fuck down!”

And as he bent down to drag the soldier nearest him, he saw the Gunnery Sergeant running across and in front of them, a Black Shiva dealing out vengeance in the rowdy bursts of his machine gun screaming defiantly at the unseen killers and escorting them back towards the safety of the barricade.

They had made it to the edge of the wall when Benny was hit; the streaking projectiles ripping through his abdomen dropping him instantaneously in a mangled pool of his own blood. Julian had dragged the listless body of his friend to safety and had stemmed the bleeding until the Medics arrived but it had been a gory mess with little or no hope for the Gunnery Sergeant’s survival.

And in the aftermath, after it was all said and done, Benny was gone; headed back to the US fighting for his life. They used to kid each other about who would be the first to make it back and his buddy had won; not because he wanted to but because he had to.

That the Gunnery Sergeant had survived was a miracle and a testament to the toughness of the marines. It had taken him a while to recover and now here he was, back again, descending like an Avatar sent to help Julian through another of his challenges.

*******

Jenny Haight

During his workout in the gym, Julian heard his cell phone ringing and knew immediately that it was Jennifer Haight. He had always been intuitive, blessed with a certain prescience which had, on more than one occasion, saved his life and now feeling a similar compulsion, he broke away to get the call. It was indeed Jenny.

“Hi, Jenny?” he answered dialectically.

“Hello Julian,” the husky timbre of her voice betraying her identity.

“Hi, I’ve been thinking about you …” his quipped in between breaths, still recovering from the intense exertion involved in ground fighting.

She laughed and he felt himself feeling like a schoolboy again.

“Good thoughts, I hope,” she said playfully, “what are you doing? You sound like you’re out of breath!”

He had been wondering about her and whether he should introduce her to Sam and what was going to happen when they met.

“I am … I’m in the gym training for the fight. I’ve got to get back into fighting shape.”

“I don’t think you need to worry. You look like you are in great shape,” she reassured him.

He smiled and though he felt ambivalent about her meeting his sister, he wasn’t going to begin this relationship hindered by secrets.

“I’m okay but not in fighting shape. There’s a difference and I only have a few weeks before I take on King Kong,” he joked and added, “I’ve to get back or Benny’s going to kill me but how about I pick you up for lunch and you can meet my sister?”

“I’d love that. What time?”

“Does 12:00 – 12:30 work for you?”

“That sounds good,” she acknowledged, “tell me where it is and I’ll meet you there. I have some errands to run after lunch and I don’t want to bore you with shopping.”

“You could never bore me, Jen, but how about Tito’s place … he’s crazy about you and it would give him a thrill to see you again.”

She let out a soft laugh at the mentioned of the little Spaniard.

“Okay… I’ll be there at twelve!” She echoed, her voice lilting happily over the phone.

Now all he had to do was figure out what he was going to tell Samantha.

*******

During the drive to the restaurant, Sam sat close to Julian, leaning her head against his shoulder listening halfheartedly as he explained the events of the previous evening distracted by her own thoughts about them but her curiosity had piqued when he mentioned Jennifer. The fact that he found her interesting and beautiful and like no other girl he had dated had her feeling irrationally jealous. The timing couldn’t have been worse. She was glowing from their lovemaking this morning and the last thing she had wanted to hear about was some other beautiful woman.

“I want you to meet her, Sam, I know how confusing this must be for you … shit, it’s confusing for me but I feel something for her, something I haven’t felt with anyone else but you,” Julian confessed, “and I do want to try and work this out.”

Sam moved away, turning to look at him, surprised by the contradictions in his statement.

“I am confused, Jules, then just what do you feel for me…” she shot back then added quickly, “you say you met her yesterday and that she was someone special; someone you wanted a relationship with but then you came home and made love to me like I was the only person in the world for you! Where do I fit in and what happens to her and … and us?”

He looked over at her quickly and then focused back on the road. He knew that this was inevitable and sooner or later they would have to define their relationship or rather, redefine the boundaries of their sanguinary ties.

“Okay, I’m going to give this a try …” he started and then paused, getting his thoughts together.

How was he going to explain his feelings? About all the times he had fantasized about her and the intensity of his emotions when it came to her? But also the doubts that plagued him, the underlying argument that their relationship was doomed, or was it? Was there a way to make it work? Could a brother and sister live like lovers? How could he explain the objective limitations defined by society and the irrational sexual desire he felt of her? He knew that he had to try.

“I can’t explain it. I’ve struggled with my feelings for you for years because they weren’t the feelings a brother has for a sister. I’ve loved you for so long and I’ve wanted you for so long but Sam, you’re my sister and I hated the fact that you were my sister … that is, until last night. Then, when we made love I knew that something that perfect couldn’t be wrong, that there would be no one as right for me as you!”

He fell quiet again smothered by his ineffectual rambling. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“So, what happens now, I mean with her?” she asked staring at her brother wanting to know exactly what he was going through and what he was feeling.

“I don’t know, baby. I do know that when I was with her I felt that I had finally met someone who could save me from these feelings I had for you but now, after last night? I don’t feel that way anymore. I know it sounds weak but I can’t explain it …” his voice trailed off helplessly.

She remained quiet for a while; appreciative of his attempt to verbalize his feelings. She had loved him for so long; loving him in ways only fantasies allow you to. But now reality had changed her perspective and she needed more from him not as a fantasy lover but one who would be there for her.

“Did you think of me when you were with Ashley?” she whispered, leaning against him again, reassured by his blunt admission but wanting to know when his feelings for her had morphed.

Ashley Keating was the girl he was with when he left for Afghanistan.

“What do you mean by ‘think of’?” he asked, “… do you mean in a sexual way?”

“Yes … sexually. Did you think of me like that?” she echoed then continued, “I’ve fantasized about you for as long as I can remember … it was always you, Julian. I don’t know why or how that happened but for me, it was always you” she confessed her voice so soft he had to struggle to hear her, “We agreed; no secrets … remember?”

He was surprised by her frank admission and titillated by the thought of her fantasizing about him.

“Yes, I did even when I was with Ashley. I’m not sure exactly when it began but I would beat myself up for having all those thoughts about you!” he replied, his mind filling with memories of the past.

They drove in silence while he contemplated their situation. She had been an integral part of his life in more ways than one for as long as he could recall. Why was he taking her to meet Jennifer? It dawned on him that he was attempting to have the best of both worlds – an accepted relationship with a beautiful woman which would provide him the excuse he needed to foster the deep-rooted feelings he had for his sister. That was not pretty but it was the truth.

But he also knew that Jenny excited him in a different way and he didn’t want to give that up without exploring the possibilities.

“Can we just take this a step at a time?” he asked, “I’m not sure where she fits in or why we are doing this except that I know that we need to. But I want you to know that if there is a choice to be made, it would be a no-contest; I would spend the rest of my life pleasing you!”

She squeezed his arm and then turned and kissed him on the cheek, a gentle, lingering kiss.

“What was that for?” he quizzed.

“Because I love you and, I do understand because I feel the same way,” she replied, laying her head back on his shoulder, “I don’t know how we are going to make this work but I think it is good that we meet her and take things a step at a time. I don’t ever want to lose you, Julian.”

*******

The Meeting of Swans

When they arrived, Jenny was already seated at a table and Teófilo Mendez, the owner of the Cuban Grill & Bar and a good friend of Julian’s, was entertaining her but when he saw Sam his face lit up and he came running over.

“Samantha, my God you are all grown up, so beautiful … you were a little girl when you came here!”

Sam gave him a hug and then scolded, “You’re so full of it Tito … I was here last month!”

“No! No, no, no … don’t say that, little dove,” he countered looking forlorn and downcast, “… last month you were not here! Julio, be honest when did she come here? Two years? Maybe three?”

“Last month.” Julian confirmed.

“He always sides with her,” he said, complaining to Jenny, “See, Jennifer, you cannot count on him … this is why I said you should run away with me!”

Playing along, Jenny offered, “He’s been trying to convince me to visit Spain with him!”

“To Spain, unh? What’s with you, little man, I thought you were Cuban?”

“Oh, my friend, you are being cruel, you know I am from the Northern regions of Galicia … I come from a family of sea faring warriors who came to Cuba to teach them how to make cigars!” except he pronounced Galicia as Gali-th-ia with a soft ‘th’ as the Spaniards do.

“And here I was thinking you guys were just a bunch of lousy sailors and had lost your way trying to find the Promised Land … you know, America!” Julian playfully ribbed the Spaniard.

“Cigars? I didn’t know Spain was famous for Cigars,” Jenny chimed in.

“That is why we need to go to Spain, pretty lady!” he assured her.

“And what about Angie?” Sam asked him.

“Angie? Who … who Angie?” Tito faked surprise shrugging his shoulders.

“Angelica, your wife!” Sam reminded him.

“You never mentioned your wife, Tito!” Jenny interjected sounding put out and now fully engaged in their game.

“Oh yes, my wife … she is a very fat and nasty woman. I will leave her!” he replied, “Just tell me you are ready and I will leave her immediately!”

“Oh, oh, you … just wait … you just wait till I tell Angie!” Sam said laughing and shaking her finger at him and then turning to Jenny, “She’s a beauty; way too beautiful for Tito … we have no idea why she picked him!”

“Because he’s a sea faring warrior from Gali-th-ia who has no sense of direction,” Julian said mimicking the Spaniard.

“And a lousy Cigar maker,” Tito echoed, “and that is how I came to be a culinary master!”

They laughed and then Jenny stood up and before Julian could introduce them, she came around the small table and gave Sam a hug.

“You must be Samantha,” Jenny said and stood back, “there’s a strong family resemblance … do people tell you that?”

“When she was in junior high, they used to call us ‘Beauty and the Beast’!” Julian interjected, “And I never understood why they would want to call her the beast!”

Jenny was leaning into Julian, holding onto him by his waist.

“Very funny … you are such a comedian!” Sam hissed trying to ignore the pangs of jealousy noticing the familiarity with which the beautiful stranger held on to her brother.

Their jocular banter had eased the initial awkwardness as they pulled up their chairs around the table.

“You all relax and have a good time. Julio, I will cook for you … for all of you! You know, today the angels have come down from Heaven and that means it is time for a feast!”

“Don’t go crazy, little man, I’m in training …” Julian cautioned.

“Don’t worry, my friend, this food will give you strength,” and bowing to the ladies with exaggerated flourish, he strutted off to the kitchen screaming and gesticulating at the help.

“Sorry we’re a bit late. We were tied up,” Julian explained as he pulled the chair back for Jenny and felt Sam’s eyes boring into him at the play on words.

“Not a problem. Tito kept me entertained; he told me about how you helped him get this place.” Jenny said, looking at Julian her expression softening, “Hey, Julian St. Croix, you are the last of the good guys, aren’t you?”

“He is!” Sam corroborated and reaching over squeezed her brother’s hand, looking into his eyes and then blushed self consciously.

“Tito talks too much,” was Julian’s quiet response, he held onto Sam’s hand reassuringly for a while before letting it go.

The rest of the conversation was filled with frivolous stories and laughter and by the time lunch was over Jenny and Sam were friends and had decided to go on a post-lunch shopping spree together.

“We need it!” Jenny exclaimed, “We have to walk off all this food and the shopping will help with the guilt!”

“It was absolutely divine,” Sam concurred, “Tito … if I keep coming here I will end up a very fat and nasty woman!”

“That can never happen, little one, food cooked with love can only make you more beautiful!” he replied with a big smile, “ You know, like mama makes for you!”

Julian was going to pick Benny up and meet with John Hawthorne and then head for the Arab’s place – they were scheduled to check on the Ring and agree on the rules. Contrary to popular belief, there were some rules in no-holds-barred fighting and these varied from region to region. And of course, there was the minor detail of how the money was going to be transacted.

As they left the restaurant and walked towards their cars, Jenny pulled him aside and whispered, “Your demon is an Angel and I like her, Julian … I like her a lot and I may have found a friend.”

Her incisive insight into the abnormality of his filial relationship shocked him.

“How did you know? Is it that obvious?” he asked, blindsided by her observation; convinced that he had somehow let his emotions show.

“It’s her ... I could tell the moment I hugged you. She wears it on her sleeve!” Jenny replied and smiled, “She’s young and loves you unconditionally and it shows!”

He just hugged her to him, holding her tightly for a moment and then placed a quick, soft kiss on her lips, “I don’t deserve you, Jen, but we will work this out … I’m not sure how but we will!”

“Like I told you earlier … you are stuck with me, baby boy!” She reaffirmed holding him briefly in a warm hug before walking towards her car.

He stood there watching them drive away and wondered how this was going to play itself out. He was drawn to them both in different ways but his intuition cautioned him of the improbability of this love-triangle. He could hope though and maybe, just maybe dreams do come true.

*******

The Prefight Meeting

Salim Akbar Al Siddique’s place at The Bay Point Estates was nothing short of spectacular. It could very well have made the cover of Architectural Digest and was the envy of almost every resident within the famous, gated community. The mansion stood overlooking the Biscayne Bay off of Sabal Palm Road; all marble and glass with manicured lawns and Japanese Gardens and a long, white driveway fringed by Virgin Palms to heighten the aesthetic experience.

They entered the house through a Grand Foyer, a large hallway, which led to the formal living room where the skylights in the high Cathedral ceilings created a warm and airy ambience and was complimented by the stunning ensemble of the mosaic, marble flooring merging artfully with the exquisite Persian rugs strewn with calculated indifference enhancing the remarkable décor. It was obvious that the place was done up by a talented interior designer.

“Glad you could make it, Mr. St. Croix,” the Arab said as he came down the large spiral stairway into the living room, “and who is your friend?”

“Benny Harper,” Julian introduced the men, “Salim Al Siddique.”

“Benny Harper? Not the same Benny ‘The Jet’ Harper who played up in the Canadian league for a while?” Al Siddique said as he shook Benny’s hand, “It’s a pleasure! For what it’s worth, you belonged in the NFL!”

Benny smiled, impressed by the rich man’s knowledge. The casual fan would never have known the players who had played in the CFL.

“Gentlemen, would you like something to drink? John, you know where everything is so you can help yourself,” Al Siddique motioned but before the big man could move, almost magically a butler materialized. He was a Latino dressed in black trousers and a white Nehru Jacket.

“I’ll take a beer,” was John Hawthorne’s choice.

“Coffee, black … if that’s not too much trouble,” Julian requested.

“Nothing … I’m good,” Benny said and smiled.

“Coffee for me too,” the Arab ordered and then turning to his guests, “we can go take a look at the ring before he gets the drinks and then discuss the rules.”

They followed him through another high arching hallway flanked by imposing pillars to the back of the house and though Julian tried to ignore the overt opulence, he was overwhelmed. This was something he had never seen or experienced – it was hard to imagine that people actually lived like this.

They continued across the back porch and by a manicured lawn which bordered a gurgling waterfall that gently cascaded into a large, infinity pond filled with brilliant Japanese Koi fish and shaded on one side by a wooden cabana with a pretty thatched roof. Julian stopped to admire the fish and the lotus flowers floating on the surface, their pinkish white petals gleaming in the late-afternoon sunlight. He was struck by incredibly setting of the pond.

“The Hindu Goddess of Wealth and Beauty, Lakshmi, sits on a Lotus which is why it is considered to be a very auspicious flower and the Koi are famous for bringing good fortune in Japan,” Al Siddique explained, walking back to the pond, “I had both imported specially for this place.”

“It’s a good thing I don’t live here because I’d cook those suckers!” Benny said in response unimpressed by the fish.

“They don’t make good eating. They are from the carp family but have been bred for centuries for show,” added Big John, smiling at Benny.

“I guess you’ve tried it then?” Benny replied.

“Yup, many years back at a previous assignment … not here,” the bodyguard explained.

After a short walk they entered a large Annex, a building similar in design and architecture to the main mansion, and which housed a fully furbished Gym. The place was like the rest of the estate; simply extraordinary. It was roughly three thousand square feet of mirrored walls and large, glass-paned windows and had everything from Free Weights to the latest Nautilus equipment. It also accommodated a steam room and a large Jacuzzi behind a wooden partition. And to the far right of the room was the full-sized boxing ring with a series of heavy and speed bags behind it.

It was a 22 X 22 foot professional version set-up by someone who knew the fight game. The four ropes were tightly strung with very little give and the padding under the canvas was firm with no creases to slip on. The canvas itself was of excellent quality, 18 oz thickness which was far superior to the 16 oz variety used in most rings.

Julian and Benny walked from corner to post examining the ring closely and satisfied by the feel and integrity they jumped off the ring’s apron.

“Looks good,” was Julian’s simple appraisal.

“Okay then, let’s get to the rules. All the normal rules apply. No groin and kidney blows, no biting or gouging of the eyes … you know … the normal stuff. The only exceptions we would like to see are kicks and stomps to a grounded fighter,” Al Siddique said, “John would like to see these included.”

Benny and Julian exchanged a quick glance and Julian nodded.

“We’ll go with that if he agrees to the use of head-butts and a ten-minute first round,” said Benny.

The Arab glanced at his man who shrugged, “Okay by me. Ten minutes for the first round and then five minutes thereafter with a minute’s break in between until one of us taps or is counted out.”

“That’s fine,” Julian said surprised by the bodyguard’s concurrence to the longer than normal first round.

“That was easy, we’ll see you in three weeks then,” said the Arab as they made their way back to the main house.

“Well there’s still the issue concerning the money,” Julian reminded the Arab.

“Oh, of course … forgive me. I just assumed that John is going to win!” he said smiling broadly, “That’s presumptuous of me but you can’t blame me for having confidence in my man. We can put the money in an escrow account with the appropriate conditions for withdrawal and I can have my accountant set this up if that’s okay with you.”

They were back in the main house, in the living room, when a gorgeous blonde was waiting with a cordless phone. The men could help but ogle her and noticed that she made it a point not to look at any of them.

“It’s for you, sir,” she said softly going over to the Arab’s side of the couch.

“Who is it?” he asked, the tone indicating his abject indifference.

She leaned and whispered in his ear. He took the phone without looking at the woman and then perfunctorily dismissed her with a wave of his hand.

“I’m sorry but I have to take this. Business and it cannot wait,” he offered as an explanation looking at Julian and then got up and walked into the large verandah overlooking the pool, shutting the door behind him.

They could see him through the large window speaking animatedly in to the phone, pacing back and forth in front of the pool. It was obvious that whatever he was discussing had him pretty worked up. When he noticed them looking at him, he waved and walked farther away to the other side of the pool and continued his diatribe.

“Must be his father, the old man doesn’t approve of the epicurean lifestyle of his son,” Big John offered and then stood up, “I’m going to get another beer; you guys want anything?”

“I’ll take a beer,” Benny answered.

“How about you, chief?” Big John asked Julian.

“Water … if that’s okay,” he replied.

“Sure. Give me a minute.”

When the big man handed them their drinks he noticed the small, intricate Cross with an American eagle and the word ‘Kandahar’ that was tattooed on each of their forearms.

“What’s with the Ink?” he quizzed looking at Benny, “A marine thing?”

It was in Southern Afghanistan in the desolate Kandahar-Helmand region that Benny had almost lost his life and where they had seen too many of their friends die. They had sworn never to forget and had the tattoo done as a tribute to that memory.

Before Benny could answer, Julian said, “Yeah, it’s a marine thing. Let’s just drop it, okay?”

The big man studied Julian for a minute realizing that their fraternity was impenetrable; bonded by a trust that was tempered by life and death, so he let the matter slide.

“You can still get out of this, chief, it’s not too late … this isn’t going to end well for you,” he said, the matter-of-fact intonation of his voice revealing his confidence.

“Thanks but I’ll take my chances,” Julian replied getting up and walking over to the far end of the room, his footsteps echoing softly as he made his way to a beautiful picture on the wall.

“He doesn’t like me, does he? You know that this isn’t personal,” the bodyguard muttered to Benny.

“It had nothing to do with you, big man; he just doesn’t like your boss! You should reconsider your choices … you seem like a decent fella and there’s really no point in your getting hurt,” Benny said smiling at the bodyguard, “he’s gonna put a serious beating on you. Where I come from, you don’t step on Superman’s cape.”

But before John Hawthorne could reply, the Arab was back.

“Okay so where were we? Ah, yes the money … like I said, I can have my accountant set this up if you’d like?”

Julian turned away from the picture he was admiring.

“Cash, I’ll take cash and we can have Tony Castellano hold it until the fight is over, if that is okay with you,” Julian said.

They looked at each other and then the Arab nodded his acquiescence, “Sure, not a problem … it can be cash and I’ll make sure Tony is here for the big event,” then he strolled casually over to join Julian by the picture, “You seem to have an appreciation for the finer things, Mr. St. Croix, do you know who painted this?”

Julian shook his head, “No … but it’s really beautiful.”

“That’s a painting by John Constable, an English artist from the eighteen twenties. It’s an original called ‘The Cornfield’ … the Brits think they have the original hanging in the National Gallery in London but that’s a replica, albeit a truly amazing one, but it’s a fake. It was done by a very talented Dutch artist,” he laughed, “I happen to know the man. This one here is the real deal. I had it authenticated and it cost me over five million dollars and that was a steal!”

They looked at the picture together, admiring the artist’s careful attention to detail, the incredible realism of the scenery jumping out of the canvas and overpowering their senses.

“How many years would you have to work to make that kind of money, Mr. St. Croix?” the Arab questioned rhetorically and then continued, “That is the difference in working for a living and creating a living!”

Julian studied the rich man for a minute not sure if he was being patronized.

“The difference is simply ‘God given talent’,” Julian replied, “the money is a game played by traders and speculators – parasites who offer no real value but to create a false market by feeding into human greed. I am more than happy to work for a living, Mr. Siddique … it sure beats the heck out of being a slave to the almighty buck!”

Al Siddique and Big John were surprised by the quick and scathing retort.

“You are an interesting man, Julian, a very strange combination indeed,” Al Siddique replied sincerely. It was also the first and only time he had referred to Julian by his Christian name.

“I guess we’re done. Thanks for the coffee,” Julian said and looking over at the big man, he nodded before heading for the foyer.

At the entrance of the hallway, he stopped and turned, addressing the Arab.

“It’s a shame that it’s hanging in here,’ he said, motioning to the painting, “… it should be where people can enjoy the beauty in it. Some things shouldn’t be owned but shared and maybe you should consider giving it back to the Brits.”

Before Al Siddique could reply he walked out and headed towards the car. The Arab smiled ruefully, shaking his head and his bodyguard looked over at Benny not quite sure what was going on but Benny just shrugged and followed his friend out.

*******

As they drove through the large, ornate gates of the mansion, Benny said softly, “That’s a lot of fuckin’ dough, man … you sure you want Castellano holding it?”

“Tony is okay; I trust him.” Julian answered and added, “That was a beautiful place, almost like being in the movies.”

“Different kinda money, man, those cats don’t worry about bills and stuff … it’s a different life!”

The drove in silence for a while and then Julian turned to his friend.

“What did you think about the painting?”

“What the fuck do I know about paintings? I grew up in the South Bronx; the only paintings I saw were the gang-riddled graffiti on the buildings. Not exactly the foundation for the Louvre!” Benny replied and chuckled.

“I hear you, man, but it is beautiful, more beautiful than anything I’ve seen and it affected me … it’s a fuckin’ shame he’s got it hidden in his house!”

“You want to steal it or do you want to fight? Because, trust me brother, that big dude is going to be a fuckin’ handful and your head’s gotta be in the game.”

“Okay, okay … I was just makin’ an observation. I do want to kick that cocky bastard’s ass though!”

“Alright then, let’s get ready for this. Beat the big man and you’ll get even with that prick. The bodyguard is going to be tough but he’s over confident; we can use that,” Benny said and flashed Julian a big smile, “Hey, considering some of the other shit we been through, this is a piece of cake!”

“Sure … easy for you to say, Holmes!” Julian retorted nonchalantly and then they both burst out laughing!

“I’ve got a surprise for you, soldier,” Benny remarked casually when they had stopped laughing.

“A surprise?” Julian repeated.

“Yeah, what are you and echo? You’ll get a kick out of it!”

*******

An Uncommon Friendship

In the weeks that followed, Jennifer and Samantha had become almost inseparable. Not only did Jenny fill the void that Sam’s older sister had left but she genuinely enjoyed the older girl’s company. They found that they had a lot in common - both of them were into using natural make-up, working out, eating organic foods and shared a predilection for chocolate-chip cookies. And since Julian was preoccupied with his training, they had been calling each other almost all the time.

They also knew that they were sharing Julian and avoided the topic of their peculiar relationship with him; both hoping that it would work out for the best.

After spending a day together at the Animal Shelter where Sam volunteered, they had decided on an early dinner. The experience at the shelter had given Jenny a new perspective on the dire needs of the many animals that were neglected or mistreated and the essential role that these organizations played. It could have been a cathartic response to feeding the dogs that were to be euthanized or maybe it was just that she needed Sam to know about her past but while discussing their experiences in high school, she had brought up her uncle and their idiosyncratic closeness.

She wasn’t quite sure just how Sam would react so like an ecdysiast shedding the layers of her clothing, Jenny gradually revealed the erotic nature of their relationship weaving a crusty labyrinth of the sublimating love and lust; gauging the reaction of her younger friend before unfolding the intimate details of her incestuous experience. And before it was over she had told Sam pretty much everything.

“So there … now you know.” Jenny said, relieved that there was nothing for her to hide.

Sam had listened quietly, fascinated by the story and intrigued by the nature of Jenny’s experience and the similarities to her own situation, some of which she could empathize with.

“Did your uncle take advantage of you? I mean, you were pretty young,” Sam quizzed.

“No … in all honesty, I initiated a lot of it even though I was pretty naïve. I may have even pushed myself on him. Growing up I used to think he was so gorgeous and wanted to marry him … I had all these fantasies of running away with him to some foreign place like Switzerland or Italy where no one would know us!”

“Did you feel guilty or jealous?” Sam persisted, uncomfortably aware that some of her fantasies were almost identical; fantasies where Julian and she would move to some distant place and live in quiet anonymity as a couple.

“Anger, jealousy, guilt … I felt all of it but it was the guilt that really got to me. I was convinced that God was going to punish me! That’s how silly I was … I would pray for forgiveness and then it was like I had a ‘get out of jail pass’; I couldn’t wait for him to touch me again. I thought I was in love,” she said looking straight into Sam’s eyes, unashamed of what had transpired in her past, “and then I realized that I had to move on and that it had reached a point of becoming unhealthy. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I still miss him … miss the physical side, especially the sex!”

The younger girl sat in willful disbelief at the transparency and honesty of Jenny’s tale. Sam wanted to go over and hug her but contained herself.

“Do you regret it, Jen?” she said looking away wondering if the same thing was going to happen to Julian and her, “Do you wish it had never happened?”

“No … no regrets. Every experience we have makes us who we are, Sam. You know what they say; if it doesn’t kill you, it only makes you stronger, right? And, I wouldn’t have met your brother if all this hadn’t happened.”

“That’s true but … wow! You’ve been through some real heavy stuff. I wish I was more like you … you know, being able to verbalize things,” she said and quickly looked away again.

“When you’re ready you will; just know that I am here if you ever want to talk,” Jenny offered and reached across the table and held Sam’s hand.

They sat sipping their coffee and reminiscing about the craziness of their childhoods, talking late into the evening before Sam said goodbye. She knew that she now had a friend for life no matter how things turned out.

*******

Julian and Samantha

It was past 8 PM by the time Sam made it back to the apartment and before she could get the door fully opened, Bronson barged in literally knocking her aside.

“Bronson! Damn it … you’re a bad boy!” she yelled as the mastiff went bounding towards the couch where Julian was lying, shirtless and sprawled out, watching and old movie on TV.

“Hey boy! Where’ve you been? You’re my good doggie, Charley … yes, you are, come here, boy!” Julian said babying the big pooch petting him and scratching him behind the ears while the animal licked his neck and face.

Then he slid off the couch and Sam had to smile as they wrestled on the carpet. Her brother reminded her of an animal, quick and agile, avoiding the nips and paws, knocking large canine down. The dog had been named after Charles Bronson, one of her brother’s favorite actors.

“You’re in trouble, Charley boy,” Julian kidded grabbing Bronson by his body and front paws, gently pulling him around in a circle.

And as the play-fighting escalated, she could see the muscles in Julian’s arms and back rippling in the hazy effluence of the television’s scattered light and felt herself reacting to him. As far back as she could remember, she had been attracted to her brother and the memory of her first physical reaction to him came flooding back.

*******

It was a few years back when they were vacationing at their Uncle Larry’s summer home near the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. She had been sitting with her cousin, Ann, at the edge of the wooden platform, their feet dangling in the water, talking about boys when they noticed Julian walking towards the river.

“God, he’s gorgeous,” Ann said, “I’d do anything …” her voice trailing off, laced with lascivious innuendo and then she called out, “Hi Julian!”

He waved to them standing for a moment by the water’s edge surveying the scenery, his body gleaming golden brown in the brilliant sunlight. Then he waded into the water, splashing himself before diving in. He swam a short distance away before turning and heading for the platform.

“Hey girls, are you coming in?” he asked, pushing back his dark hair, “Come on, Sam, let’s race!”

“No … I don’t want to get my hair wet,” she had replied even though she had been tempted.

“You’re kidding, right? You hair?” he was incredulous.

Samantha had always been a tomboy and an athlete but as she was getting older, her feminine side was beginning to take over and it bothered Julian. It had added a dimension to their relationship which he was uneasy with.

“Julian, we just got it done … didn’t you even notice?” she pouted.

“Yeah, what do you think? Do you like the swimsuits? They’re new!” Ann added pushing her chest out towards him, the skimpy bikini leaving little to the imagination.

Sam felt herself blushing when Julian looked at her, his eyes trailing down her body, stalling momentarily at her boobs before turning to Ann and giving her the once over.

“You look lovely. Now, I can’t believe you’re not coming in … the water’s great; you don’t know what you’re missing!”

“I’d rather look good than feel good!” Ann said, striking a pose that had the girls giggling, “Come on, get up here and talk to us, Julian.”

“Maybe later,” he replied before swimming out again, slicing effortlessly through the water, until he was a blurry dot on the horizon.

The girls continued to sit on the platform talking when without warning he had come up from under them and grabbing their ankles, dragged them both into the water. It happened so quickly that neither girl could react and they had tumbled in with a splash, shrieking and screaming hysterically as he dunked them both.

“Oh, that’s it … you’re dead, Julian, I’m going to get you for this!” Sam squealed as she swam after her brother, “Help me, Ann … come on, let’s get him!”

Sam was an excellent swimmer and had caught up with her brother about twenty feet from the riverbank and after some pushing and grabbing, she managed to duck him a few time for good measure until finally they were all out of breath from the laughter and the exertion.

“Okay, okay … I give, I’m sorry …” he croaked, coming up for air.

“That will teach you to mess with us, Julian St. Croix,” his sister hissed as she let him up.

The three of them swam together talking for a while and then worked their way over to a shallow embankment where the water was about chest high. Julian had stood behind Sam with his arm wrapped casually around her stomach, holding her loosely to him. It was then that she felt him; his hard fleshy rod throbbing against her butt, and as soon as she realized the significance of his arousal, she felt that tingling feeling in between her legs spreading upwards through her body. It was the same feeling that caused her to finger herself at night and instinctively she brought her thighs together, squeezing tightly to heighten the sensation.

Her breathing had turned shallow, rasping softly and she felt her face flushing; she was hoping that her cousin wouldn’t notice but she needn’t have been concerned, Ann seemed oblivious of what was happening.

“Why are you leaving so soon?” Ann asked him.

“Because …” he answered, distracted by his sister, feeling her pushing back into him, “because I have to leave for camp, for training,” he said his voice sounding strained.

Sam could feel the thudding of his heart against her back and the wicked pulsing of his cock pressed into her ass and wished that Ann would leave but instead it was Julian who had turned and ducking under the water, swam away.

She remembered the unrestrained excitement when she hurried back to her room; the discovery of the sticky wetness in her cunt and the overpowering urge to touch herself. And as her body responded to her fingers, she was unable to rationalize the feelings and images of her brother that had pushed her rapidly towards the edge of her orgasm, her body racked by the waves of pleasure cresting through her while she called out to him. She had hoped that no one had heard her plaintive squeals and cries pleading with him to take her willing body.

*******

“Hey, baby girl, I missed you … where were you?”

He had finished wrestling with the dog and had come up to her and was holding her against him, his voice snapping her out of her reverie.

“Oh, I was with Jen,” she replied softly, pulling him closer, “I really like her, Jules. Now, don’t get mad but I told her … I sort of told her about us!”

“Shhhh … it doesn’t matter. I’m happy that the two of you are getting on,” he said leaning down and kissing her.

He felt her tongue sliding into his mouth and her arms coiling around his neck drawing him nearer to her. She shifted her weight, parting her legs as she felt him pushing into her. He had cupped her ass pulling her against him and she could feel the hardness of his cock pressing into her through the flimsy material of his pajama trousers.

“Mmmm …” she sighed, her hips pushing back at him, “Julian, do you remember Uncle Larry’s place in New Hampshire?”

The question caught him by surprise.

“Yeah … why?” he quizzed, recalling the events of that afternoon by the river.

“I wanted you so badly, darling brother, I couldn’t contain myself,” she confessed, “Didn’t you know? I was hoping that Ann would leave us alone!”

His mind was spinning. There were so many nights following that incident where he had wanted to sneak up to her room to make love to her; his lust spurred on by the prurient memory of her ass pushing back into him.

“Oh God … if you only knew!” he whispered and then kissed her again but now his kisses were laced with urgency.

Then reaching behind her he tugged her t-shirt upwards easing the top off while she raised her arms in quiet submission.

“What about Bronson,” she queried breathlessly looking over at the mastiff who was lying still, curiously observing them.

“What about Bronson? Don’t worry about him,” Julian had replied trying to reassure her, his desire taking over him.

“No … please, Jules, put him in the kitchen,” she said shaking her long hair loose, “I don’t want him watching us.”

When he came back, she was standing naked except for the tiny panties she was wearing and as she walked towards him, the shadows danced like bursting nebula floating down her milky body. She was a shimmering Naiad glowing golden in the diffused light and like the mythical nymphs, she held the promise of untold pleasures. He could see the swell of her breasts, jiggling like firm Jello, her nipples, hard and pointed and the flare of her hips melting seductively down her abdomen disappearing into the shadowy V of her thighs.

They kissed again, their mouths locked together in the sweet fusion of incestuous love, their moans and sighs fading into the muffled cacophony of the television as she tugged on his drawstring, reaching down, groping for his turgid penis. Her fingers wrapped around the base and stroked upwards, gently caressing the sensitive coronal ridge sending jolts of pleasure shooting through him. He stood with his eyes closed and his head thrown back, his cock jerking in response to her sylphlike touch rewarding her with a clear, sticky stream of precum, trickling from the tip and onto her slender fingers.

She continued to pump him, her fingers moving slowly upwards, palming the slippery dome before sliding back down along its rigid girth. She kissed his neck and his chest, slowly making her way down his body, leaving a trail of tender love bites until she was kneeling on the carpet with her face inches from his quivering scepter. Her expression was clouded in an amalgam of curiosity and lust while she stroked him downwards pulling the skin away from the plum shaped dome. He watched, thrilled by voyeuristic curiosity, as his sister’s tongue snaked out licking the top of his engorged cock, whisking away the sticky droplets into her mouth.

“Oh, God …” he groaned, holding the back of her head, grabbing her hair as his cock flexed in anticipation.

She moaned in response, running her tongue along the sensitive underside, prying the crease around the mushroomed ridge with the tip of her tongue. Then without further hesitation, she took him into her mouth, her lips wrapping around him, holding the base while she swirled her tongue around the bloated head sucking him with a skill well beyond her youthful inexperience.

“Mmmm … I want more,” she sighed then swallowed quickly, savoring the taste of him before sucking on him again.

He held her with both his hands and began thrusting into her face, fucking his sister’s mouth, lost in the ecstasy of the moment. And as he plunged deeper into her, he felt the tip of his cock bumping against the back of her throat and heard her choke, fighting to stave off the gag reflex. He wanted to push his cock as deep as he could into her, down her throat and into the core of her very being, to impale her to him so they would forever be fused as one.

She struggled pushing him back, holding the base of his shaft to control the depth of his strokes establishing the boundaries of his incursion until they had built up a steady rhythm, moving together like dancers in a practiced ballet. Her hair forming a dense, shimmering veil swirling about her face as her head bobbed back and forth allowing him glimpses of her lips stretching lewdly around his bloated crown, her cheeks hollowing with the effort as she sucked for all she was worth like some wanton seductress determined to drain him of his very life.

He leaned over and toyed with her nipples, squeezing and pinching them, escalating the pleasure-pain threshold, sending ripples of ecstasy racing through her core. He felt her body tremble and her mouth tighten around him pushing him further into the depths of his incestuous passion. Then reaching behind her back, he slid his hand into her panties running his fingers along the crack of her ass, amazed by the wetness of her. And as he ran his finger farther along her slit, searching for her opening, he realized that she had her fingers buried firmly inside her pussy, moving them in and out while manipulating her clit with the heel of her palm. Her hips were pushing against her hand, undulating in synchronized rhythm to the unyielding phallus sliding in and out of her mouth. The slurping cadence of their fleshy union played in sybaritic harmony, resonating with the sounds of their moans like the strident symphony of mating animals, echoing listlessly against the backdrop of the TV.

He felt his climax building as the fervor of her suction peaked, her lips riding rapidly across the sensitive ridge of his cockhead. The paroxysmal tremors, which had begun at the base of his cock, raced along its trembling stem, hurtling through to his cortex, his orgasm exploding in his brain in a fantasia of brilliant colors.

He groaned loudly, feeling his cock swell and stiffen against her tongue pulsing as it ejaculated the first ropey stream of viscid cum into his sister’s hungry mouth. He felt her swallowing and just as her throat constricted, it pumped again and again and again flooding her mouth with the sticky manifestation of her sensual contrivance.

And though she sucked and swallowed as quickly as she could, there was just too much for her and it dribbled thickly from the sides of her mouth, running along her chin and dripping down in gooey droplets onto her chest. She was anointed by the raunchy rivulets of her brother’s cum, a symbolic slave to his unending passion.

She continued suckling him until there was nothing left and his cock began softening in her mouth.

“Ohhhh …. Baby! Stop, enough …” he whispered and pulled her slowly off of him, his distended cock glistening lewdly with the stains of her saliva.

Then pushing her back he crawled in between her thighs, inhaling the incredible fragrance of her musky garden.

“Your turn, baby sister,” he sighed and pushed his tongue into her.

*******

The Surprise

Early the following day when Julian entered the gym he was greeted by the usual suspects; Benny, Clay and Darren. Clay and Darren were three-hundred pound Linemen who had been helping Julian train. Though they lacked the required skills for mixed-martial-arts fighting, their size and strength helped him adjust his moves to counter the strength advantage of bigger men. And since Clay was also a member of the University’s wrestling team he was able to roll on the mat with Julian. Of all the various martial art forms, Brazilian Jiujutsu is about the most taxing and having a wrestling background was a distinct advantage.

But there was something about this morning that was different. Instead of warming up, the three men were lounging by the mats, sipping coffee and chatting. Darren was chomping on a huge chocolate covered donut and was still in his t-shirt and jeans. That is certainly strange, thought Julian.

“Hey, ladies … you ready?” he called out shedding his shirt and preparing to warm up.

“Yeah, I’m ready!” said a soft voice from behind him.

And when Julian turned he was greeted by a familiar though awesome sight, a Paul Bunyan look alike. The bearded giant scaled six-foot seven inches and weighed three hundred and twenty pounds of prime, unadulterated muscle; it was Ed Muskie, the Appalachian Mountain Man.

“Surprise!” yelled Benny and stood up smiling and then, all hell broke loose.

The giant let out a roar and rushed at Julian, knocking chairs and benches aside like they were made of Styrofoam and before the smaller man had a chance to ready himself they were at it again, reminiscent of their epic sparring sessions which were legend.

About an hour later the two men lay exhausted on the mat, drenched in sweat, their muscles burning from the lactic acid build-up, a result of the intense exertion.

“What made you come down here?” Julian gasped, turning to the giant.

“Selfish motives, little man, purely selfish motives,” Ed Muskie replied, his soft voice incongruent with his enormous size.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, when Coach called and said that you were taking on some dude who was set on kicking your sorry ass, I wasn’t ready,” he responded raising up onto one elbow, “I wasn’t ready to share the title as the only man to kick Julian St. Croix’s butt!”

“When did you ever kick my butt?” Julian asked, sitting up.

“What about today?” the giant asked laconically.

“You tapped three times!” Julian retorted, incredulous at the big man’s distorted presumption.

“Yeah sure, but I was taking it easy on you!” Ed Muskie smiled, “Tomorrow, little man … you’re gonna scream for bloody, fuckin’ mercy!”

Julian rolled his eyes, smiled and lay back. Damn, he was tired but it felt good to have the big galoot back. Now, he knew he was in training.

*******

A Meeting of Friends

A week before the fight, the friends met at the Cuban Grill & Bar and were seated at a table sequestered in the back, away from the main dining area. It was just Benny, Tito and Julian. They had been there for a while going over every detail to make sure that things worked out as they had planned. It could have been their military training but the two ex-marines were both obsessive about detail.

“That’s really what I need,” Julian said looking at Tito, “And, if you have any issues at all, just let me know because this can get pretty rough. There’s a lot of money involved and I don’t want any of you getting dragged into my troubles. Remember, if anything goes wrong it’s on me!”

“Hey, why do you say that? Your trouble is my trouble; you know that. You don’t worry, Julio, I will have my cousin Adolpho sit with Jenny and Sam and the rest you just leave it to me, amigo.”

“I’m bringing Bronson and will leave him with Sam … just in case,” Julian said, adding, “Why don’t you have Adolpho come over and meet him so things are cool between them?”

“Done. I will have him come over tomorrow,” the Spaniard replied, “Benny, do you need help in the ring, you know, in between the rounds? My cousin Balisio was a boxer when he was younger and also trained a few kids.”

“We can sure use a good cutman,” Benny answered, “I will be working the corner and Ed will be helping out but if your cousin can handle cuts, the enswell, mouthpiece, water … you know, all that stuff, that would be great, Tito.”

“Baz is your man. He will come to your gym tomorrow and you can talk to him … you will like him. He doesn’t say too much but he’s a good man.” Tito reaffirmed.

They continued to talk late into the night sipping shots of Café Cubano, the strong Cuban Espresso coffee sweetened with Demerara sugar, a natural brown sugar that infuses the coffee with an uniquely distinct flavor. They revisited every minor detail and responsibility until they had it all memorized. And though Tony Four Fingers Castellano was going to hold the money, there was a chance that it could get complicated.

*******

D-Day (the Fight)

When they arrived at the mansion there were a slew of cars lining the large driveway, many of them were stretch limousines with unformed chauffeurs who stood in small clusters most probably exchanging stories about the comic indiscretions of their bosses. Benny drove past them and pulled up to the front door where an attendant hurried over to assist them.

“You guys get off here and I’ll park the car,” Benny said as he got out, opening the rear hatch to let Bronson out of the SUV.

As soon as the large mastiff leapt out, the attendant stepped back, startled.

“No dogs allowed, sir!” the valet exclaimed, perturbed by the presence of the large mastiff, “Please get him back in the car, it’s a hard and fast rule; no dogs allowed on the property and there are no exceptions!”

“The dog stays. He stays with them,” Julian interjected quickly, motioning to Jenny and Samantha, “or you can tell your boss that everything is off … you get it?”

The man’s expression betrayed his uncertainty and being undecided he nodded and ran into the house leaving them by the side of the fountain in the middle of the roundabout.

The fountain in itself was a work of art; a hand crafted design made of stone and travertine with a large, engraved pond. The water bubbled up from a small, stone finial in the shape of a three-headed Gargoyle, cascading over the tiered, sculpted bowls before spilling into the main basin. The hidden laser lights shimmering through the gurgling water turned it into a brilliant spectacle of liquid art.

“Wow! This is just unbelievable!” Sam gushed, scanning the property in wonder, “It is so beautiful!”

“It’s even nicer than the Versace mansion in Milan!” Jenny echoed.

Just then a tall man in a light suit wearing horn-rimmed glasses, Italian loafers and a brushed-on tan came out accompanying the valet. He had an air of self-importance and walked straight over to Ed Muskie and extended his hand.

“Mr. St. Croix, I am John Hara, Mr. Al Siddique’s Estate Manager. I’m here to …”

“Not me dude, him,” the big man voiced softly motioning to Julian.

“I’m sorry. I just assumed …” the man stammered, turning to Julian.

The man was about the same height as Julian, a little over six-one and roughly the same build except that he had indulged in too much of the good life and not enough time in the gym as witnessed by the small paunch straining against his belt.

“The dog stays or I leave. It’s really very simple,” Julian informed him without any preamble while shaking the man’s hand firmly.

“Sir, there’s no way for me to …” the Assistant began but wasn’t allowed to finish.

“The dog stays!” Julian reiterated tersely, cutting the man off as Benny walked up to them.

“Let’s go. It’s fuckin’ over … come on, let blow this shithole!” Benny spat out, walking towards his car.

“Wait! Please, let me speak to Mr. Siddique,” he pleaded and then addressing Julian he added, “Can you keep the dog in the car till I get back? Mr. Siddique has an aversion for dogs.”

“You’ve got five minutes, mister, five minutes before we leave,” Julian stated, looking the man straight in the eyes.

The man turned on his heels and went back into the house with the valet trailing behind him.

“Shithole?” Julian questioned softly, looking at Benny.

“Hey, it all in perception, man, had to play the part!” was the quip back from his buddy.

While they waited, Tito and his entourage arrived. Accompanying him were four men. Adolpho and Curro, two small, wiry Spaniards who could have passed for twins; Basilio or Baz, an older man with a face cut from granite and Víctor, a good looking Latino with dark, burnished skin and a contagious smile.

“Ladies, you look absolutely breathtaking!” Tito fawned, bowing with his usual exaggerated flair.

“Hi Tito,” Sam said, giving him a hug, “looks like you brought the whole brigade!”

“Just family, Sam, just family,” he said, smiling and then bent over to pet Bronson, “you know, Angie has been pestering me to have you over for dinner so you better call her.”

But before Sam could respond, Julian stepped in.

“Do you have everything you need?” he asked the diminutive Spaniard.

“Everything, my friend, we have everything we need,” Tito confirmed, “Don’t worry, I have it under control.”

Though Julian looked relaxed, he was on edge affected by the prefight nervousness. Jenny had sensed this and was holding on to his hand, trying to make small talk to ease the tension. And while they waited she explained the reason for the delay to Tito and the problem they were having with Bronson.

“Never trust a man who doesn’t like dogs,” was Tito’s profound pronouncement.

“Amen!” rejoined Benny.

Tito’s men were standing off to the side talking amongst themselves in Spanish while occasionally glancing over at Jenny and Sam.

“They are beauties, no? The blonde one, she is too beautiful,” Curro remarked, revealing his predilection for blondes, “She’s like a movie star … mama mia!”

“You, my friend, will need a Sherpa to get on top of her and I suggest you pay for your coffin. Her man had a tough bark on him,” was Basilio’s quiet response, “I know; I’ve seen him fight.”

“Hey, I’m just looking, huh, no harm in looking!” shrugged the smaller man.

“Parakeets should fuck Parakeets and leave the Swans alone!” suggested Víctor, smiling a dazzling, white smile and unable to resist poking fun at his friend.

“What do you know, unh? You’re a fuckin’ faggot from Venezuela!” Curro shot back, obviously sensitive about his size and the aspersions being cast by the analogy.

“Who are you calling a faggot, you little, midget motherfucker?” Víctor spat back moving towards Curro.

“Hey, hey … you cut it out! Now! Show some respect! Both of you!” Tito intervened then looking over at the women he smiled, “Ah, I’m sorry, my angels, I apologize for their bad manners. It’s the hot, Latin blood, no! They cannot help themselves!”

Just then John Hara returned walking towards them with a smug look on his face.

“It’s okay. I’ve got it sorted out. We have decided to make an exception,” he said, regaining his air of confidence, “but please keep him on the leash and close to you, Miss. We certainly don’t want to frighten any of the guests!”

And with that they made their way through the gardens towards the Annex which housed the gym. There was a carnival atmosphere with several stalls set-up offering every imaginable cuisine with formally dressed waiters and waitresses cruising through the crowds of guests offering Hors d'œuvres and drinks. It was surprising just how many people had turned up and it was evident that most of them were wealthy and were like sharks attracted to the bloody gore of the sport.

Just before they reached the gym, they spotted John Hawthorne, surrounded by a throng of people like some celebrity but as soon as he noticed Julian he pushed his way through and came over.

“Hey chief, just wanted to wish you luck,” the big man proffered and then noticing Jenny, he looked at her and nodded, “Miss Haight.”

“Thanks. Let’s give them a show, big man,” Julian replied, acknowledging his opponent’s sincerity before walking away.

As they entered the building, Ed Muskie smiled and whispered, “He’s scared of you, chief,” mimicking the bodyguard, “he knows you’ve been training with me and that spells trouble for him!”

“Yeah, right!” was Julian’s wry reply.

Scared was the one thing that John Hawthorne didn’t appear to be.

********
The Fight

When the men entered the ring the obvious difference in their size became painfully apparent. John Hawthorne stood a little over six foot four and weighed in around three hundred pounds with very little fat on him. He was densely built with wide, heavily muscled shoulders, a deep, barrel chest and thick, sturdy legs and despite his height, seemed all but stocky while in comparison, Julian appeared slender, almost fragile at a hundred and eighty five pounds. The narrow waist, broad shoulders and long, sinewy legs creating the aberration of a runner rather than a fighter, that is, until you looked closer. To the experienced eye, he was the prototypical model for a no-holds-barred fighter.

There was an immediate buzz in the crowd as the betting intensified based on physical appearance and their perceived attributes. Like thoroughbreds during the ‘post parade’, strutting towards the starting gate of a big race, the two men stretched, flexed and bounced in their corners waiting for the fight to begin. The air hung thick with anticipation for the primal spectacle of blood and guts.

And though Big John Hawthorne looked powerful, he lacked the clean, striated definition Julian possessed; the limber, shredded musculature that many athletes strived for; muscles which represented speed and endurance. This conspicuous contrast in body types set-up an intriguing argument for strength versus speed. But, there was a variable that couldn’t be measured until the war was actually waged; it involved the one muscle which counted most: the heart.

“I can’t bear to watch,” Jenny leaned over and whispered in Sam’s ear, “Julian seems so much smaller than that man!”

“Don’t worry, Jen, I’ve seen Julian choke out bigger men and I’m sure he’ll find a way to win this,” Sam reassured her sounding more confident than she was really feeling, “he’s a creative fighter and you can’t teach that.”

“I hope so, Sam, I don’t want him to get hurt,” she lamented, “I wish he didn’t have to do this!”

When she looked up, she saw the Arab sitting across from them, a condescending smile playing on his lips as he stared at her with brazen insolence and nodded almost imperceptibly. As far as the rich man was concerned, the fight was a formality and he had plans for Jenny – indeed plans which would keep her tied to him in more ways than one. He had chosen his seat strategically across from them, making sure the ring was between the large mastiff and him. He still had nightmares about his father’s large Alsation which had mauled him when he was a boy.

“Just ignore him!” was Sam’s advise when she noticed Al Siddique staring at them, “He won’t be so smug when Julian is through with his bodyguard.”

*******

Of Styles and Fights

The referee was a tall, heavyset man who had adjudicated several Abu Dhabi Cage fighting contests and one with an impeccable record for fairness. He brought the fighters to the center and gave them their final instructions before sending them back to their corners. He looked once again at both men to make sure that they were ready then raised his hand and brought it down just as the bell sounded signaling the start of the fight. And then it was on.

Most of the spectators expected Big John to rush in and overpower Julian but that didn’t happen and instead, both men approached the center cautiously. The bigger man was crouched low, his chin tucked down and hands held high much like a large crab, inching closer in typical Muay Thai fashion. He was indifferent to where the fight was going to be fought; on their feet or on the ground – he was comfortable striking or grappling and was going to play the “wait and see” game before he made his move; that was his modus operandi and he had yet to lose.

Julian, on the other hand, needed to be first to keep the big man guessing and wanted to eventually take the fight to the mat but with a very different strategy. Benny and he had come up with a simple but effective plan: keep the pressure on the big man without giving him time to breathe and by the end of the long first round, he would begin to tire. While doing this, he was going to work on his opponent’s lead leg with kicks to the muscles bracing the knee. Once he weakened the joint, the bodyguard would have trouble pushing off, hindering his ability to generate power while throwing those anvil-sized fists.

And when he had the man exhausted, hurt and confused, he would take him down to the mat. Julian felt certain that his Brazilian Jujitsu was far superior and that he could submit the big man. The trick was to stay out of danger until his opponent faded.

With that in mind, he unleashed a flurry of kicks and punches mixing the strikes to the inside of the bodyguard’s lead leg and to his body. These were hard, snapping kicks which the bigger man had difficulty reading and by the end of the first round, the grimace on his face betrayed the incremental damage that was being done to his leg.

Julian didn’t dance away like many expected but instead, remained in the strike zone using his elusive skills and speed to dodge or block the haymakers being thrown at him and punishing the big man each time he missed.

By the end of the third round, it was evident that the speed of the smaller man was giving the bodyguard more trouble than he had anticipated. He was using a lot of energy trying to land those looping, roundhouse punches which would have ended the fight if they had connected but each time he missed he was punished by a percussion of lightening fast blows which were being delivered from all angles. Shinbone, knees, fists and elbows with the occasional headbutt had the larger man confused, unable to adjust his defense to block the blows.

John Hawthorne was bloodied up. There was a welt under his left eye and he was bleeding from his nose. The left side of his body was red from the repeated kicks and his lead leg was beginning to give. He had to do something or risk being unable to continue. He had never fought a fighter quite as quick as Julian and it was the extraordinary speed that was dictating the fight. The cliché that speed kills was certainly playing true.

And just when it looked like it was going to be a cakewalk for Julian, in the fourth round he got careless and dropped his left hand while moving in and that’s all it took. Like a wounded Grizzly, the bodyguard exploited the opening and threw a hard right clipping Julian’s jaw. It was a tribute to his reflexes that he avoided the full impact. But despite the glancing blow, everything went blank for a millisecond; his legs wobbled and he stumbled but the years of training had prepared him for this. Falling forward and fighting through the maroon haze, he grabbed the big man and held on for dear life while they wrestled for advantage.

Hawthorne tried to push him away, to create space for another strike that would end the fight but it was like trying to get away from the suffocating coils of an Anaconda and as they struggled awkwardly the bell sounded ending the round.

The revived giant gave Julian a close look to see whether he was still hurt and smiled through split lips. That’s it! That’s all I have to do, he told himself, as he limped back towards his corner. A few more of those and Julian St. Croix would be another notch on his belt.

Benny was halfway across the ring helping Julian back to the stool, concerned for the first time in the fight.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Benny screamed at him while dousing him with water, “Keep your fuckin’ hands up! Damn it! You were kicking his ass until you got lazy!”

“I’m fine … he just buzzed me a little,” Julian responded.

“Julian, you’re killing him, man!” echoed Ed, “Keep striking … he’s confused. Work that leg, it’s buckling under him.”

And while they worked on his arms and legs, Basilio quietly stopped the bleeding from the cut in Julian’s hairline. The quiet Spaniard was as good as Tito had said he was.

In the opposite corner, the advice was considerably different. They were swayed by the damage the big man meted out at the very end of the round. They had gone into the fight feeling that one clean shot could end the contest and their perception had been reinforced.

“John, you’ve got him hurt,” the chief second advised, “Finish it. Get him to the ground and finish it … he’s hurt badly!”

“Yeah, John, the fucker is done! He’s shot his load, man, it’s your fight!”

As the fighters made their way towards the center, each man felt like he had gained an advantage. Julian knew that the bodyguard would push the fight to gauge the level of his recuperative powers and sure enough, the big man straightened up faking a strike and then shot low, coming in hard and fast going for Julian’s legs. In that split second, Julian uncorked his right knee, driving upwards in perfect form, using the leverage from his left leg and hips to explode against his opponent’s face.

Impact is a direct function of Mass and Velocity. The combination of the bigger man’s forward momentum and Julian’s knee strike was analogous to two cars in a head-on collision. The blow literally lifted Hawthorne off the ground and poleaxed him.

Stunned by the blow, his brain careening against his skull and with his mind buzzing numbly, the fallen fighter shook his head trying to clear the proverbial cobwebs certain that Julian would jump on him, to ground and pound him and wreak ungodly havoc on him. But much to the surprise of everyone, the smaller man stood back casually motioning to the Ref to stand the bodyguard up.

“What are you doing? Get on him, Julian, he’s hurt … come on, he’s done!” Ed Muskie was outraged.

“Julian, he’s hurt … finish him! Finish him, Julian!” Sam yelled in support, her voice hoarse from screaming over the din.

But as the big man staggered to his feet, bloodied and battered, Julian backed off allowing the man to gather himself and regroup before he was back delivering kicks to the lead leg, followed by flurries of punches to the head and body. But the giant had recovered sufficiently to withstand the assault and when the bell sounded, he staggered back to his corner, collapsing in heap on his stool.

“He is fast!” was all he could muster while his corner pleaded with him to take the smaller man to the mat.

The sixth round was uneventful with Julian continuing to punish the big man but refraining from delivering the kill shot; the coup de grâce. It was frustrating for Jenny and Sam but more so for Ed. It drove the Appalachian Giant to the brink of his patience and when Julian returned to his corner, he let the fighter have it.

“What are you doing, little man? End it, he’s dead!” the huge man implored Julian, “A mercy kill, brother, end it!”

Julian looked questioningly at Benny.

“No! Not yet. Carry the fucker for another round,” he asserted, whispering into Julian’s ear while quickly scanning the crowds.

“What the fuck? Did you bet on the fight? What are you dudes playing at? He’s dangerous … end it!” Ed implored.

“Easy, Ed, we’ve got it covered,” Benny said trying to calm the irate giant.

When Julian looked over at Al Siddique, the smug, arrogant look was gone and in its place was an expression of sheer anger and panic. He was sure that it wasn’t the money but the thought of losing and the fact that his plans involving Jenny was slipping away.

In the middle of the seventh round, with the big man tiring quickly and hobbled by the damage to his left leg, the fight was pretty much one-sided.

At one point the referee stepped in and asked Big John, “You want to continue?”

“Yeah, I’m good! I’m okay!” was the big man’s emphatic reply.

The only hope left for him was that he would catch lightening in a bottle and land a clean shot or entice Julian in and then grab a hold of him. It was then that Julian saw Tito standing next to Benny.

“Finish it!” Benny shouted giving him the Thumbs Up sign.

That was all he needed. He moved in feinting with a leg strike and nailed the bodyguard on the chin with a Superman punch. The leaping blow delivered downwards using gravity and the striker’s momentum is devastating when performed correctly but it requires the element of surprise and Julian had timed it well. Big John dropped his arms in an attempt to block the kick he was sure was coming and took the full impact of the punch on his jaw.

“Toe-tag the sucker and kiss the ladies goodnight!” was the Appalachian’s terse expletive as he watched the bodyguard crumble to the canvass.

But just as Hawthorne buckled and fell, out of the corner of his eye, Julian noticed a commotion where Jenny and Sam were seated. One of the Arab’s men had grabbed a hold of Jenny while the other struggled with Adolpho and Sam. The ruckus had created a crowd around them but his vantage point from the ring allowed him a clear view of the tussle.

Without a second thought, he left the fallen fighter and leaped over the ropes and headed for where Jenny and Sam were but the scuffle had now escalated to an all out melee. Tito’s Spaniard’s had joined in and Bronson had gotten loose, attacking the bodyguard who had grabbed Sam, snarling fiercely at anyone who dared venture near them.

And amidst the chaos, Julian saw Ed Muskie knock people down like Bowling Pins while Benny got Jenny away from her assailant. And then just as quickly as it had started, it was over. They stood by the women in protective circle while Julian hugged them both to him.

“Are you okay?” he asked them, while they pressed themselves to him, staying close.

“There he is!” Tito exclaimed, pointing to the Arab scurrying across the lawn and into the house.

“Let him go … it’s over,” Julian said, happy that the women were okay.

Just then they saw Tony ‘Four Finger’ Castellano coming over to them.

“What’s happening? Are you okay? You shouldn’t have left the ring, Julian,” the fat man said, speaking animatedly.

“I had to; they were going after Jenny and Sam,” he responded, “I wasn’t going to standby … screw the fight!”

The fat man was quiet and then smiled at Julian extending his hand in a congratulatory gesture.

“It was a great fight, Julian, I knew you could take that big dude!” he said shaking Julian’s hand, “It’s a pleasure watching you work.”

“Thanks but now what?”

Castellano’s expression changed to disappointment.

“I can’t give this to you, you know that, right?” he explained indicating the attaché case full of money that he was carrying, “I have to go by the rules and technically you didn’t finish it. The guy got up after you left the ring and the Ref actually counted you out for not returning in time. The rules are simple: one of you has to tap or get counted out!”

“You are kidding?” Tito asked, incredulous, “The bum was out and they did this shit intentionally … to create a distraction!”

“I’m sorry, Julian, I’d love to give it to you, man, you know that! But I can’t.” Four Fingers reaffirmed then added, “Let me arrange a rematch and this time you can end it … for real! What do you say?”

“Hey, screw the rematch! He won and they are stealing his money … tell them to go fuck themselves!” Benny spat back.

“Jenny’s not going out with him. You tell him the deal’s off! Just tell him that,” Julian said pulling her close to him, then turning to Benny, “Hey, it’s cool brother,” assuaging his team, “we’ll see about the rematch. I doubt they’ll want to do this again.”

Then he winked and smiled, “And anyway, we know what we really won!”

Tony Castellano didn’t quite understand the exchange and looked a bit confused but Tito and Benny nodded and laughed, slapping each other on the back.

“Yeah, baby … we won! We know that! Screw the rest of them!” Benny yelled out.

“You were fuckin’ awesome, man, unbelievable! Like I said; you’re the best I’ve seen,” Castellano applauded shaking his head in appreciation as they all ambled towards their cars.

*******

A Meeting of Friends

A few days later they were seated at Tito’s place, a reunion of friends. Ed Muskie was heading back to Alabama, to the mountains he loved and the band of unlikely brothers had decided to throw him a farewell lunch.

“To the big man and to friends,” Tito said raising his glass of the red wine he reserved for those special occasions. It was from the famous Marqués de Murrieta winery in Logroño, Spain.

“To Ed Muskie, the baddest big man there is!” Benny echoed sipping the smooth, dark libation.

“Don’t forget, also the only man to kick Julian St. Croix’s ass!” added the giant gulping down the remnants of his glass.

Once the laughter had died down, Julian stood up and somberly offered his appreciation to the group, “I want to thank all of you … you guys are more than friends, you are my family! Ed, thanks for helping, big man, it was fun while it lasted! And Benny, what can I say, brother? ”

“Hear, Hear!”

And while the talked and laughed Jenny sat quietly and after a while said, “I’m really sorry, baby. If I hadn’t been there you would have won and we would have gotten the money!”

“Jenny, it was not your fault,” Tito consoled, “there is more to this … where is Sam?”

“She’ll be here soon. She’s got classes today,” Julian answered, “but you can go ahead, tell her.”

Jenny was confused, “Tell me what?”

“We won, Jenny, the fight was good and Julian was the best, we know that but more importantly we got what we really wanted and that was the picture, you know the one the famous policeman painted,” Tito explained, coming over and holding her hand.

Julian had to smile at Tito’s obvious misconstruing of the famous artist’s name.

“It was a picture by John Constable, the English artist, the one I told you about. Siddique had it on his wall.” Julian continued, “He bought it from a black market dealer and we decided that it really belonged to the Brits. So we returned it to the British Consulate General. It’s going back where it belongs, to the National Gallery in London.”

Jenny was shocked, “But how? How did you get it? ”

“Curro and Víctor,” Tito answered motioning to the adjacent table where the boys were finishing up lunch, “They can steal the hubcaps off a moving car! But this time we did a small exchange … we replaced it with a good copy!”

It dawned on Jenny then, the manner in which Julian had kept the fight going, carrying the big man when he could have finished it. She recalled all those clandestine meetings Tito, Benny and Julian had orchestrated. She should have guessed that there was something going on.

“What about Canada and the money from the fight?” Jenny asked.

“Yeah, what about Canada, brother dear?” it was Sam; she looked flushed and happy as she walked up to the table.

“Don’t sweat it, we’ll get there one way or the other. I promise,” Julian assured them.

“Samantha, what would you like to eat? I can make you anything you like!” Tito offered standing up.

“Thanks, Tito but there someone who wants to say hello to Julian and he’s been waiting for a while. Basilio wouldn’t let him in so he was out front waiting for you to come out,” Sam said dropping her backpack by Jenny’s chair before she went back into the main dining room.

When she returned she had John Hawthorne and another tall man with her. Hawthorne’s face still bore the telltale signs of the beating he took.

“Just wanted to give you what’s yours, Julian,” said Big John, “You won, fair and square … you whooped my ass, chief! Here, this is yours,” he added and extended the attaché case towards Julian.

“What about your boss?”

“He’ll live; he won’t even miss it and if he does, he can deal with me!” the big man replied.

Julian took the attaché case, studying it for a while. He knew that there was no compelling reason except his innate decency which had brought the bodyguard here.

“Much obliged,” he muttered quietly to Hawthorne.

The big man turned to Sam and said, “If I don’t ask you now, I’ll never get the chance to do so again, so here goes. Would you care to have dinner with me, Sam, or if you prefer we could just go out and talk?”

“You’re asking me out?” Sam was shocked and bewildered.

“Yeah, I’m asking for a date!” Hawthorne corroborated.

It took everyone by surprise and they looked from Sam to Big John. This was certainly an interesting turn of events and Jenny couldn’t help but laugh – the bodyguard and Sam? How bizarre! You just never know!

“You didn’t bring the money back just to ask her out, did you?” Ed Muskie remarked, “That’s a bloody expensive date, chief!”

Sam had regained her composure after the initial shock and staying with the jocular mood said, “I’m flattered, John, I really am but there’s a rule I have: the person I date will have to at the least be able to handle my brother in a fight!”

Everyone burst out laughing. Julian stood back with a smile on his face surprised by the Big John Hawthorne’s interest in his sister and her agile repartee.

“Touché!” Tito exclaimed, then addressing the bodyguard, “Touché! And that means you have some work to do!”

“Fair enough. I’m putting you on notice, chief, I’ll be asking you sister out again and if that means kicking your skinny ass then I’ll just have to figure out how to do it!” was John’s ardent rejoinder.

They shook hands all around and the bodyguard and his friend left.

“You do realize that if you live by that rule, Sam, I’m the only man you can date, don’t you?” offered the Appalachian Mountain man in his soft peculiar voice, “How do feel about living in Alabama, up in the Mountains?”

And for his weak effort he found himself being mugged by Tito, Benny, Samantha and Jen.

“What are you smoking, Eddy?” Benny questioned, choking the big man playfully before letting him go, “Or is it that mountain hooch you carry around?”

Later, as they were leaving the restaurant Julian handed the attaché case to Tito, “Keep it safe, my friend, and then let’s share this with everyone ... they deserve it.”

“I will keep it safe, Julio, and when you are ready you can give what you want to whom you want. You know we do not expect anything; you have done more for me than a brother would and I am in your debt for life!” Tito espoused, his emotions getting the better of him.

“You are my brother, little man, and don’t you forget that!” was Julian’s answer as he hugged the smaller man.

*******

Ten Months Later in Nova Scotia, Canada

It was a brisk, sunny day in late October. The countryside was alive with the resplendence of fall, brilliant splashes of reds, yellows and oranges that lit up the backdrop like nature’s flaming quilt. Jennifer and Julian were sitting on a grassy knoll with Bronson looking down at the house being built. It was their new home on fifteen acres of pristine land and was coming along nicely. Another month and it would be done.

The Curator of the National Gallery had sent them a check by way of gratitude, a handsome reward for the return of the priceless artifact. It was for five hundred thousand British Pounds or roughly seven hundred and fifty thousand US Dollars. Philip Cromwell, the intermediary who had facilitated the return of the painting was so impressed by the fact that Julian had asked for nothing in exchange that he had pressed the Gallery’s Board of Governors to thank him appropriately and they had, more than willingly.

With his share, Julian and Jenny had decided on Caribou in Nova Scotia, near Prince Edward Island, to build their new home. It had taken their collective inputs to finalize the design and watching the manifestation of their efforts was a thrill for them. Julian was going to open a dojo and teach martial arts while Jenny, with Tito’s help, was going to try her hand at managing a small restaurant … a smaller version of the Cuban Grill & Bar. Things certainly looked promising for them.

“Are you excited?” Jenny asked him, snuggling closer as a gust of wind kicked up.

“You mean the house? Of course I am. It’s a dream come true!”

“I meant Sam, she’ll be here in two days!” she replied, “I can’t wait for her to be here. There’s so much we have to do and she needs to be a part of this.”

He pulled her to him and kissed her. He loved her more than he had thought was possible but he was eager for Sam to join them. He couldn’t stop thinking about her especially when he was alone. She aroused him in ways that even Jenny couldn’t.

“Do you think about her?” Jenny persisted with uncanny insight, “about how things are going to be?”

“Yeah, I do but not when I’m with you … when I’m alone and …” his voice trailed off.

“It’s okay, baby, it doesn’t matter! I just want us to be happy!” she whispered softly, “I want you to know, I’m okay with you loving us both!”

Julian didn’t say anything. There was nothing to be said. They sat holding on to each other, looking out at their version of paradise and the only thing that went through his mind was that dreams do come true if you want them badly enough.

The End

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Comments(5)

HotBttmInBriefs
Posted 14 Dec 2013 03:10
Great story. Great descriptive writing. Enjoyed it.
Boombabong
Posted 02 Dec 2011 11:47
Like It...great story
whispers
Posted 12 Nov 2010 07:05
An amazing story. So descriptive, and all around enjoyable. Definately worth the wait for the second part. 5/5 for sure. Well done!!!!
looloo
Posted 30 Jul 2010 13:46
good,not great, but i can't make my mind up,if it was worth the wait
Lister313
Posted 28 Jul 2010 07:02
I think that the most describing word is excellent... really enjoyed the reading... 5/5
 

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