As you already know, I’m releasing Strike of the Mantis on June 5th, but I’ve written some short stories leading up to my next novel. I’ll title this series “War Games.”
I won’t reveal much, but Strike of the Mantis makes Angel of War look lighthearted in comparison, and War Games provides the background to make sense of it all.
With that said, this story is not for children or the faint of heart, nor do I support the actions of my characters. They are products of their environment, very much like people in real life, and they are sometimes victims of manipulation and toxic upbringing.
I hope this story illustrates that as well as my last two novels.
Dahntay Peters snapped awake when he heard a knocking sound and he frowned and squinted as sunlight poured into his eyes. He then cringed and groaned at his piercing headache and pinched the bridge of his nose. The knocking made his throb like a second heart. It grew louder, stopped, and then knocked again. Dahntay turned his head away from it, but he couldn’t escape the sound.
He couldn’t remember what happened. One moment he was kissing Achilla. The next, he was sitting in his car with a throbbing head, and that damn knocking wasn’t helping. Each pound on the window pulsated his forehead until tears filled his eyes. It needed to stop. Now.
Stop that damn banging!
“What, man?!” Dahntay screamed before he looked out the window and saw a white brunette wearing black long-sleeved t-shirt waving at him. She smiled and knocked again until Dahntay opened the door. When he swung his legs out, his head rippled like a waterbed. He held his ears as he groaned as he fell to his knees, fighting the nausea in his gut.
“You’ve got quite the concussion there,” the woman said with a slight Boston accent.
“Yeah,” Dahntay replied. “Shit, man, my head’s killing me.”
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you work?”
“In what town.”
“Stratford, man, where else?”
“Well your memory’s fine,” the woman said. “I guess Achilla went easy on you.”
Easy? Achilla did this to him? Dahntay frowned and tried to stand but the woman held his shoulders and pushed him back down.
A little too hard for a woman her size.
Dahntay frowned at how tight she gripped his shoulders.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked.
“Name’s Ailina Harris,” she said. “I’m Achilla’s mom.”
“The mom Mr. Johnson took her away from?” Dahntay asked.
“More like the mom who lent her to him,” Ailina said as she rubbed Dahntay’s head. “You are a cutie. No wonder she likes you so much.”
“She’s got a funny way of showing it,” Dahntay muttered as he lowered his head.
“We didn’t cover dating before she left,” Ailina sighed. “It’s not one of her strengths, but it wasn’t mine either when I was her age. She favors me a lot, you know.”
Dahntay remembered how difficult it was to date Achilla in high school. She loved him one moment and couldn’t stand him the next, but she never left his side. She never hit him either until now. Dahntay figured she inherited her strong personality from her father, but last he checked, Mr. Johnson couldn’t lift a car. Achilla had to get that strength from somewhere, and if it wasn’t from the Johnson side of the family…
“Are you as strong as she is?” Dahntay asked.
“Nope,” Ailina replied. “But you don’t care about that. What you’re really asking is if I can hurt you as bad as she could, and the answer to that question is yes.”
Dahntay tried to stand but she held him to the ground. He grimaced when his head pulsed again.
“Don’t move, Dahntay,” Ailina said. “You still haven’t recovered. A human head can’t take all that much damage without shutting down. It’s like an old Mac computer.”
Ailina loosened her grip and knelt in front of him. When Dahntay looked up, she held his face in her hands with a gentle caress. It almost gave him hope her touch would make his headache go away.
“The fact that she didn’t kill you tells me she’s got a lot of control,” Ailina said as she rubbed the top of his head again. “And she took care to use that control with you. Something to keep in mind.”
Dahntay’s eyes adjusted to the light and he studied Ailina’s face. Her cheeks were a little fuller than Achilla’s, but her eyes were so similar they could’ve been transplants. He could see the resemblance. Ailina was no doubt Achilla’s mother. Dahntay frowned when he realized one cheek was fuller than the other and had a green bruise.
“Did she do that to you?” Dahntay asked as he pointed at the welt along Aililna’s jaw.
“Sure did,” Ailina said with a smile. “And trust me, she hit me way harder than she hit you. Made me proud.”
“Huh?” Dahntay blurted as Ailina rose to her feet. “Why would that make you proud? You’re not mad?”
“I had to test her strength,” Ailina said. “So far, she’s progressed nicely.”
“What are you talking about?” Dahntay asked.
“I’ll explain later,” Ailina said as she reached under Dahntay’s armpits and pulled him to his feet.
“You should be able to walk now.”
Dahntay shifted his balance before walking to the other end of his car and back. He still felt a little woozy, but his headache was gone.
“Thanks, Ms. Harris-”
“Oh God, call me Ailina,”Ailina said. “And don’t thank me yet. You’re not completely out of the woods.”
“Ailina,” Dahntay replied. “Why would you help me?”
“Because I need your help,” Ailina said as she ran her fingers through her hair. “I need a place to stay for a couple of days while my father recuperates. You need to recover from your head injury. Let me stay with you, and I’ll nurse you both to health.”
“That…doesn’t sound right,” Dahntay replied with a frown.
“No bullshit, I promise,” Ailina said with a hand raised. “It’s just that I can’t stay here any longer, and my father’s health gives me pause. He’ll be fine with some rest, but I can’t give him that without a stable environment, one a man with a cushy gig at Sirkorsky like yourself can provide.”
“Then take him to a hospital,” Dahntay said. “I’d be happy to give you a ride-”
“Not an option,” Ailina snapped with a hard stare. “I would rather handle this myself.”
Dahntay knew this game. The last time someone got seriously hurt and refused a hospital visit was when one of his cousins tried to break into someone’s house and got bit by a dog. Before that, his aunt died from a drug overdose because everyone else in the room feared the police. Dahntay learned that injured people who refuse medical care either can’t afford or can’t afford to get caught.
Which category did Ailina fall under? Achilla didn’t talk about her much, but he heard she was a Bridgeport detective. A trip to the ER wouldn’t hurt her pockets all that much. If the doctors found something funny with her father, that might hurt her pension. Dahntay shook his head.
He hated corrupt cops, and he wasn’t helping one.
“You would rather nobody know he’s here,” Dahntay said. “I know some hustlers, Ailina. Some gangsters too. You sound like one of them, even if you’re a cop. Some of you guys are just as bad as any Blood or Crip, and if Mr. Johnson had to take Achilla away from you, then…”
Dahntay finished his sentence by crossing his arms.
“I won’t lie about having a rough past,” Ailina replied with a shrug. “And I’m no saint, but my father shouldn’t suffer because of that.”
“True,” Dahntay said with a nod of his head. “Then take him to the ER. What’s stopping you-”
“All right, you have two options,” Ailina said before smacking the side of Dahntay’s head. He fell to his knees and groaned as his head throbbed again and his vision blurred. Where the hell did that come from? Dahntay had been in a lot of fights growing up and watched even more.
Achilla was the only other person he knew with hands that fast.
Ailina grabbed his shirt and turned him around before pinning him against the car and leaning against him. Her breasts rested against his chest as she rubbed his arms and nibbled his ear. Now she was…coming on to him?
“You can let me help you,” Ailina whispered with a silky voice that made Dahntay’s heart drop. “Or you can let me hurt you. Choice is yours, but I’m a lot meaner than my daughter. I’m a lot nicer too. Which one do you want? I’ll demonstrate again.”
Ailina rapped Dahntay’s temple and clamped a hand over his mouth as he cried out. She then pinned him against the car with her forearm and rubbed his thigh with her free hand, kissing him on the cheek and nibbling his jaw bone.
“Your place?” Ailina purred. “The sooner we get there, the sooner I’ll be nice to you.”
“Fine,” Dahntay said. “My place.”
Ailina leaned her forehead against his and smiled.
“You can’t drive in your condition,” she said as she dug into Dahntay’s pockets and pulled out his car keys and dangled them before speaking in a sing-song tone. “Found them.”
Ailina inserted her hand into Dahntay’s pocket again.
“Found something else too,” she whispered in his ear. “No wonder she gave you one last night before she left. You’re a gifted young man.”
Dahntay fought the nausea from Ailina’s assault while she yanked him into the car and pulled the seat belt over him.
“Be right back,” Ailina said before closing the door. Dahntay held his pulsating head as tears streamed down his face. Knowing he had a severe concussion, she struck his temple? Then she groped him? What kind of person was this woman and how did Achilla survive a childhood with her? No wonder Achilla switched from making love to him to knocking him unconscious. She took after this woman.
Dahntay sniffed as he watched Ailina help a man with brown, shaggy hair and traps the size of his head walk out of the hotel. Despite his massive muscles, Ailina had little trouble carrying him by his left arm while he took slow steps to the car. He then leaned against the passenger side back door as Ailina unlocked it. She eased him into the back seat, and Dahntay felt the car sink a little. Based on the car’s reaction, this guy weighed at least 250 pounds and he looked like he could bench Dahntay with a warm up set. So why did he need so much help walking to the car? Dahntay turned to look at him, and he looked asleep.
He must’ve been sick. Dahntay knew a few guys who took steroids and looked like him. They also snorted cocaine before their workouts. Roided muscles, unable to walk, knocked out the moment he lies down? This guy had bad high written all over him, but cocaine kept you up. Whatever he took must’ve been laced with something.
If Dahntay were Ailina, he wouldn’t want to be discovered either. This guy must’ve taken some powerful shit. When Dahntay peered closer, his eyes snapped open. Those eyes were so bright green, they made Dahntay lose his breath as his heart pounded. The man in the backseat held his trance, and no matter how much he wanted to, Dahntay couldn’t look away.
He felt trapped.
“Take a good look,” the man growled with thunder for a voice. “This will be the last chance you’ll ever have to kill me. I recommend you try your luck or stop staring. Or else I’ll kill you later.”
Dahntay immediately turned and faced front as he heaved. Who the hell was this guy?
“Ha!” Ailina cackled as she stepped into the driver’s seat. “I knew he’d do that. I guess I should’ve warned you. Yeah, my dad’s pretty scary if he doesn’t like you, but I think you’ll get along all right-”
Dahntay shoved his door open, unlocked his seat belt, and jumped out of the car, falling to the pavement before breaking out into a sprint. He didn’t know who that guy was, what drugs he took, or if he was really Ailina’s dad. Whoever he was, he never wanted to see him again. Those eyes weren’t normal. They looked like Achilla’s but stronger, fiercer.
Dahntay did not want to find out what it meant to be close to someone deadlier than Achilla. So he pounded the pavement and huffed and exhaled as he ignored his returning headache. He had to get away from them. Nothing else mattered, not even a head injury.
A kick tripped his legs and he crashed to the ground. Dahntay rolled three times before stopping on his back. He looked at the scrapes on his hands and saw Ailina strolling toward him. He was pretty sure he had a head start while Ailina was buckling her seat belt. How did she catch up so quick?
“Running, Dahntay?” Ailina asked with a sneer. “Really? We’re going to your house, remember? Where were you going to go?”
Dahntay jumped to his feet. When he turned to run, Ailina stood in front of him with her arms crossed and he stepped back. How the hell could anyone move that fast? Could Achilla do that too all this time? Who the hell was he dating? What were these people?
“Ugh, don’t feel too bad,” Ailina said as she slapped her forehead. “You’re not the first man to run away from me, but we need your help, so you’re not going anywhere. We have a deal, Dahntay.”
“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” Dahntay said with his hands raised.
“Precisely, neither do I,” Ailina said. “And there won’t be any if you help us without running like a coward. God, you’re just like Brendan.”
Mr. Johnson ran from her too? The same Mr. Johnson who was loved and respected by everyone fled from this woman? Dahntay swallowed hard. She had to be pretty horrifying to frighten a man even Achilla obeyed.
“Seriously, generation by generation men are getting so pussified,” Ailina whined before pointing at Dahntay. “I mean I slapped the shit out of you and you did nothing. Nothing!”
“I don’t hit women,” Dahntay replied.
“Of course you don’t,” Ailina groaned with a roll of her eyes. “If you did, you might get a little respect from one.”
“Achilla respected me,” Dahntay blurted.
“Oh?” Ailina replied as she rubbed Dahntay’s head. “Is that why she left you knocked out in your car? Was that a token of her undying admiration?”
Dahntay pushed Ailina’s hand away and she flinched. She then grinned and hooked her arm under his before yanking him toward the car.
“That’s a start,” Ailina said. “But we’ll work on getting you a little bit rougher than that.”
Ailina and Ares(the man in the backseat) stayed in Dahntay’s apartment in Stratford’s South End for the following month. Ares slept and ate while Ailina cooked and brought him a bucket whenever he vomited. True to her word, she cleaned Dahntay’s apartment and served him food while checking for any lingering signs of a concussion. When the symptoms stopped one night, Ailina patted Dahntay’s shoulder and smiled.
“All better,” Ailina sang as she stood with her hands on her hips wearing one of Dahntay’s t-shirts. “Once my dad recovers, we’ll be out of your hair.”
Dahntay nodded his head when she strolled off to the kitchen finish dinner. When she called him to the kitchen table and served him his plate, Dahntay ate beef stroganoff with a glazed look over his eyes. Why was she doing this? When they first met, she hardly seemed like the subservient type, but she insisted on waiting on him. When she took his plate away, he couldn’t help watching her with a wary eye, one that still admired her curves but feared touching them.
When Dahntay came home from work one day, Ailina tossed a pair of boxing gloves into his chest the moment he walked in the door. She wore a bright green t-shirt and black yoga pants as she strolled to the kitchen. Dahntay frowned as he followed.
“Ailina, why would you-”
“Training begins now,” Ailina said as pink and green dots burst into Dahntay’s face. He stumbled back as Ailina stood before him in an orthodox boxing stance. She bounced on her feet and stepped side-to-side as she eyed him with a grin on her face.
“The fuck is wrong with you?” Dahntay demanded as he checked his lip for blood and stared at the red smudge on his fingers.
“We need to work on your fighting instincts,” Ailina said with a hard stare as she stepped around the kitchen table. “I went slow. Real slow. My daughter would’ve seen that coming, slipped it, and replied with an uppercut by the time she was nine.”
“That is IT!” Dahntay said as he slammed the gloves on the table. “You guys need to get the fuck out of my-”
Pink spots burst into Dahntay’s eyes again and he slammed into the wall. He rubbed his nose and saw crimson blood drip into his hand.
“I like your anger,” Ailina said as she bounced on the balls of her feet. “It’s a start. On your feet, Dahntay. You want me to leave? Make me.”
Dahntay stood up and stalked around the table with his fists at his sides. Ailina threw another punch and he leaned back, only to feel another rock his jaw. When he fell to the floor, Ailina shoved him with her foot.
“Don’t slip back,” Ailina snapped. “Not unless you’re much faster than your opponent. You’re not. You’re not fighting one of your punk friends from high school. You’ll need to learn defensive responsibility if you want to fight in the pocket with me. Now get up.”
Dahntay hopped up and threw a punch that Ailina ducked. A shock to the belly made Dahntay gasp and fall to his knees.
“Good!” Ailina growled. “A little animosity. None of this gentlemanly shit. We just need to give you the skill set to back it up.”
Dahntay coughed before he struggled to his feet and raised his hands.
“Waste no time,” Ares’ voice boomed from the kitchen doorway. Dahntay frowned and saw him leaning against the wall wearing no shirt and a pair of jeans. He crossed his arms over his massive chest and glared at Dahntay with those high-beam green eyes.
“Attack and show her no mercy,” Ares barked.
“I can take it, Big Guy,” Ailina said with a taunting tone as she stuck her chin out.
Dahntay heaved a few breaths as he clenched his fists.
“Oh come on, you fucking pussy!” Ailina said with a scowl. “Do it!’
“No,” Dahntay said as he dropped his hands. “I don’t hit-”
Dahntay cried out when he felt slicing sensation on his cheek and whirled around before falling on the kitchen floor. He looked up and saw Ailina standing over him with a knife, and her eyes glowed like light bulbs. Dahntay had never seen a human being’s eyes do that, and his body trembled at the sight. Ailina’s eyes glowed even brighter as her face twisted until she looked less like Achilla and more like Ares. Was this what Mr. Johnson ran away from?
“You have two options,” Ailina snarled. “You will put those gloves on and attack me like a man with some backbone or I’ll dissect you like the spineless squid you are, you worthless pile of shit!”
Dahntay crawled around her feet and grabbed the gloves. A roll of hand wraps fell out and he shoved the gloves over his hands.
“Wait,” Ares said as he stepped into the kitchen. “No gloves. You will fight her bare knuckle.”
Ailina’s eyes stopped glowing when she glanced at her father, and Dahntay looked back and forth between them. If she didn’t get angry at him, how strong was he? Dahntay didn’t want to find out. He dropped the gloves, and Ailina shrugged and stuck her chin out as he stepped forward.
“I’ll give you a free one,” Ailina said.
“Take her head off,” Ares demanded. “No mercy, Dahntay! She’s literally asking for it.”
Dahntay glared at Ailina, but he didn’t move until he felt Ares’ beard against his cheek.
“You want to know why Achilla left you in that car?” Ares asked with breath that reeked of yesterday’s dinner. “It was because she feared for your safety.”
“Yes, she loves you, but she can’t be with you,” Ares said. “She can’t be with you because you’re not strong enough. You’re not the protector she needs or the warrior she wants. She loves you the same way any woman loves her pet dog, but as a man you don’t cut it.”
Dahntay lowered his head.
“You’re too weak, and it has nothing to do with physical strength,” Ares said before jabbing Dahntay’s temple with his finger. “It’s in your head. You’re not willing to do what it takes and she knows it. So she ditched you. What are you going to do about it? Are you going to just accept that?”
Dahntay’s jaw dropped as tears filled his eyes. Was that true? Did Achilla have such little regard for him that she felt more comfortable damn near killing him than being his girlfriend?
“He’s right,” Ailina said as she clapped her hands. “Women like me and my daughter, we need strong men. Men who will punch your throat if that’s what it takes to make sure you understand who’s in charge. It makes our pussies wet.”
Ailina then stepped closer until she was inches from his face.
“Right about now, I’m very dry,” Ailina whispered with a curled lip. “I don’t see an alpha male. I don’t see the lion I crave. I see weak pup, a little cub, a baby. You’re nothing but a little wuss boy, you weak son of a bitch! I should put you out of your misery right now because I can’t bear the sight of you. You disgust me!”
“She has no respect for you,” Ares growled into Dahntay’s ear. “What will you do-”
Dahntay roared and punched Ailina’s face so hard she stumbled back. He held his trembling hand out as she grinned at him with crazed, glaring green eyes.
“Yes,” Ailina said with a trembling voice before sticking her chin out again. “That’s the way. Hit me again.”
Dahntay screamed and punched her neck, then her temple. He grabbed her throat with one hand and yanked her hair back with the other before shoving her head against the kitchen counter. He would show her. He would show Achilla. He would show them all he was a man.
He wasn’t weak.
He wasn’t a punk.
He was a lion, dammit!
He was the alpha male!
This was his house!
He was in charge!
Dahntay pounded Ailina’s head until his hand cracked and he stepped back, nursing his middle knuckle. He huffed as he watched Ailina’s limp body hang over the counter like wet t-shirt. Did he go too far? She seemed so strong before. What happened?
“Ailina,” Dahntay said as he stepped forward. “Are you-”
Ailina whirled around and yanked him close by his shirt, hoisted herself onto the counter and wrapped her legs around him. Her face showed no signs of the beating he just gave her, and she smiled with the same glowing green eyes as her chest heaved up and down. She bit her lip and rolled her eyes as she moaned. Ailina then pulled him closer by wrapping his tie around her hand.
Dahntay’s face flushed as Ailina kissed his neck. Ailina, Achilla, what were they? What kind of women lifted cars, knocked you out, and could eat punches from men three times their size? Was this what it took to be strong enough for women like them?
“We’ve got work to do,” Ailina purred in his ear as she caressed his hand. “But at least I’m not so dry anymore.”
“We’ll stop for now,” Ares said with a stern tone. “He’s no good injured. Eat. Sleep. We start tomorrow before work and resume after. Is that understood?”
Dahntay stared at Ailina while she looked him up and down. She then kissed his sore hand and then kissed his lips, flicking her tongue in his mouth before nibbling his bottom lip. Just like that she transformed from hostile to affectionate. Would Achilla have done the same all this time?
Was this what it took for Achilla to finally love him? If she knew he had it in him to do this, would she come back? Would she be his?
Could Achilla love him if he became this kind of man?
“Yeah,” Dahntay said with a nod of his head as he looked Ares in the eye over his shoulder. “You’ve got it.”
“You look me in the eye with no fear,” Ares said with a grin. “We’ll make a man out of you yet. By the time we’re done with you, Achilla won’t even recognize you. You’ll be the warrior she needs. Consider this training recompense for allowing me to stay in your home. For now, Ailina will reward you for your hard work today.”
Ares turned his back and walked out of the kitchen. Dahntay winced as Ailina ran her fingers over the broken knuckle.
“It’ll heal,” Ailina whispered as she wrapped her arms around Dahntay’s neck. “Tomorrow we use hand wraps. He just wanted bare knuckle today to draw out your strength. You’re a lion, Dahntay. You just need a little practice ruling your territory.”
“Right,” Dahntay replied before yanking her arms down. “Go make me some dinner.”
“Bitch, make my dinner!” Dahntay barked in her face.
Ailina glared at Dahntay before smiling and rubbing her hand across her chest.
“Yeah, sure,” she said as she grabbed his good hand and led him out of the kitchen. “But if you don’t mind, I’d like to give you a snack first.”
Dahntay felt a grin grow on his lips as Ailina led him to his bedroom. She then ripped off his tie and shirt before throwing him on the bed and pinning him down by his wrists. Her strength returned, and Dahntay knew he couldn’t escape. For the first time, he didn’t want to. He could handle it. He was the lion in this house.
“You know why I like lions?” Ailina asked as she straddled him and rubbed her crotch against his. “Because no hunter leaves the heads of cubs on his mantle. I need some fangs, honey, and you’ve got them. You just need a woman like me to sharpen them for you.”
Dahntay closed his eyes as Achilla leaned forward and nibbled his ear.
“Achilla didn’t know how to make you a man,” Ailina said. “I do. I will.”
She kissed him and ripped off his pants. Dahntay craned his neck back and let her handle the rest. Achilla didn’t have to know about this part, but the next time he saw her, he would be the man she needed. He would be strong.
She’ll never leave him behind again.
So what kind of man will Dahntay become, and why are Ailina and Ares training him? You’ll see when you read Strike of the Mantis June 5th!
In the meantime, please, don’t take advice from the Ailinas in your life.
Stay gentlemen, my friends.