Chapter Sixteen – Moondance

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Alice stepped out into the cold, the glow of the street lamps reflecting off the snow lit up the night. All of the shops on the street were closed, excepting the liquor store a couple of blocks away. The snow that had been threatening to fall since she landed was finally making good on its promise. She heard the door close behind her as the man she had just saved from a beating came out after her. Now that she had the time and the inclination to look him over, she supposed he had something of a professor look to him. Glasses, short beard. She guessed under his heavy coat he probably had something with elbow patches on. “Hey,” she said.
“Hi, thanks for… uh, for that.” He replied.
“For saving your ass?” Alice smiled at him in what she hoped came off as good natured.
“Uh, yes. For that. I’m Stip. Cal Stipelman. Stip.” He held out his hand.
Alice looked at it, then reached out and shook it. “Alice. You have a car, Stip?”
“I walked. But um, yes. I do. At my apartment. A car, that is. I have one.”
“Okay. I could use a ride. Can you give me a ride somewhere, Stip?”
“Sure… I just… I mean, of course I will. I just need to shovel out. But it’s no problem. Thanks again. For what happened in there.”
“Don’t mention it.” Alice looked around the street. “We should probably get going in case those kids decide they want a rematch. Or they call the cops. Which way do we go?”
Stip nodded and pointed down the street. As they walked together Alice thought about what happened in the bar. She didn’t really feel one way or the other about how things played out in there. It was unusual for her. Normally, she would at least feel like she had let off some steam, winning a fight, and handily at that. But this didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment. She hadn’t really let herself get too amped up against them. They were just idiots. Drunk idiots. And she sort of felt good about stopping them from applying their idiocy to Stip’s face. But at the same time, he had gotten involved when he really hadn’t needed to. So he had sort of brought it on himself. On the other hand, he was trying to do something good, misguided it might have been. That had to count for something, right?
She didn’t know. Her thoughts kept drifting back to Travis, and the fact that he didn’t believe her. He didn’t believe what they had both seen with their own eyes, been there for. She didn’t know how a person could do that, watch something like that happen, and then after the fact choose to believe the official story over what he had witnessed himself. She sighed.
Stip looked over. “So you’re sort of the quiet type, huh?” he asked.
Alice gave him a mirthless grin and changed the subject. “What are you doing out in this weather, Stip?”
“Man’s gotta eat.” He paused, and then added, “and I had a date. But she canceled.”
Alice nodded. “And you had already planned on dinner.”
“Yeah. Well, mostly.” Stip stopped and pointed at a snowbound car in the driveway to a tripledecker. “This is me.” Stip made his way to the steps up to the front door and rummaged around underneath until he found a snow shovel and brought it back over to the car. Alice followed him and found a second shovel. Stip started uncovering the car while Alice worked on clearing the driveway. There wasn’t anywhere to put the snow, so she just shoveled it out into the street.
Stip continued to talk while they shoveled. “It was just a first date, so I didn’t know her, and we were supposed to meet at this coffee place, but then she texted to say she wasn’t coming because of the snow. But I was already out, so-”
Alice didn’t hear what Stip said next. She didn’t see the strike coming, but when it connected with her, hammering into her ribs, she felt the air go out of her, and she fell backwards hard against the car, her head smacking against the glass. She didn’t know what she had been hit with. She struggled to her feet and blinked.
She forced herself to focus. She hadn’t even caught a glimpse of who had hit her. She looked back in the direction of the strike and was surprised to see someone standing there, blurry, in the snowy light. She couldn’t seem to make her eyes work. There was something bright in the person’s hand, a knife. That made sense. The knife was still moving. Her assailant had rammed it into her ribs, hard enough to knock her backwards, and was continuing the attack. This time, it was slashing back toward her face.
Her training kicked in, and without giving it time to think, Alice stepped forward and ducked low, just barely fast enough that she stayed ahead of the knife’s sweep. She didn’t have time to bring her hands up or to pull out a weapon of her own. Her only option for the moment was staying out of the way of the blade. The attacker turned, following her as she darted past, drawing the blade back toward himself as he tracked her. The knife didn’t connect on the backswing, but her assailant just pressed forward, stabbing toward her again.
Alice continued moving, keeping just ahead of the blade. She couldn’t afford to stop and give whoever was attacking her the time to catch her motionless again. She parried a stab and a slash, the attacks coming faster than she could think. She couldn’t track where it was, or what was coming next. She just relied on her training, the hours of practice, and the muscle memory, letting her body do the thinking. In moments, she found herself matchign his speed as a strike slipped past her, clamping her hand down on his wrist. He yanked his arm away from her and she pushed forward, going with his momentum to twist his arm back toward him, aiming to force his wrist back over his shoulder and drive him hard into the ground.
But he was strong. Stronger than she was prepared for. Stronger than human. His wrist came free from her grip before she had the chance to redirect his force. She could feel the fabric of his sleeve tear loose from her fingers, and she let go, jumping straight backwards as he again turned the blade toward her and swung it at her. She was standing in the street now. Stip was standing on the hood of his car, holding his shovel.
She couldn’t risk taking her attention off her assailant. One misstep and she was dead. The problem with knife fights was that it was easy to nick an artery and bleed to death because of dumb luck. It was hard to kill someone by accident with your fists. Knives raised the stakes. And guns… well, you couldn’t accidentally kill anyone in the next building over with a knife. She shook her head. Get it together, Alice.  Without taking her eyes off the guy with the knife, she shouted for Stip.

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