The Battles of Leuctra
by Max Christopher
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
Leuctra had got hold of Jimmy’s red bullhorn and was swinging it by the thong, feedback screeching like a damned soul as she used it to pummel Meredith on the arms, thighs and bottom until the case popped open and batteries flew out. Then Meredith, shorter, came in under Leuctra’s guard and delivered a mean one to the gut, which just seemed to make Leuctra angrier.
Olongapo Ollie was observing the fight judiciously, arms crossed. When a big man in a rugby shirt moved as though to intervene. Ollie raised a hand casually and the man stopped.
I sniffed. The sweet Italian sausages, left unattended on the grill, were burning. This was happening fast.
Fabric ripped. Beads flew. Colorful epithets filled the air. The crowd cheered and howled.
* * *
It seemed to take the police a long time to return. Maybe nobody wanted to call them. I certainly didn’t. I was enjoying feeding the baby. I was also enjoying Jimmy’s hand, still on my ankle, which he seemed to have forgotten. Unless he hadn’t.
This time there were three cruisers, one of which had a female police officer. Leuctra allowed herself to be led away, hobbling on one bare foot, the other sandal having been lost, but Meredith would not be calmed, raining blows on the refrigerator-sized male cop who got between her and the object of her displeasure.
The policewoman moved in. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a female cop choke a violent woman into semiconsciousness.
The police questioned Jimmy. His purple cheek and the blood on his mouth made him look like a combatant. His part, once explained, was accepted.
“But come along anyway,” said the sergeant.
Police headquarters sent a baby seat out for Marcus Dale. Jimmy and I rode with him in the cruiser.
* * *
The police station smelled like old wood and strong institutional cleanser. Meredith’s head was bandaged. She and Leuctra agreed to forgo pressing charges.
“But you committed mayhem,” the sergeant said. “We could charge you for that. We’re electing not to on the promise of your good behavior. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sir,” said Leuctra, eyes lowered.
“Whose manhood did you pleasure to get your stripes?” said Meredith.
The sergeant shrugged. “It was dark,” he said. “Yours, maybe?”
Leuctra smothered a laugh. Meredith’s mouth dropped open.
“On second thought, no,” said the sergeant, “I’m sure the hands gripping my ears were smaller.”
“You toxic male piece of—”
“Ho! Patrolman, escort our guest back to the ladies’ quarters. I’m sure Starlene and Ruby miss her already.”
When she was gone, the sergeant looked at Jimmy. “You’re going to have a hell of a bruise. You sure you don’t want to file a charge? I understand the attack was unprovoked.”
“Teach her a much-needed lesson,” said Leuctra.
“It’s all right,” said Jimmy.
“It is not at all all right.”
“What would be the use?”
“To send a message. Remember the whole point of today?”
A few minutes later a giant good ole boy in a sleeveless black Pantera tee came for Meredith.
“Butthead,” she said, stretching to swat the back of his sunburned slab of neck. “Where were you?” She raised her hand for a second slap. His flat head rotated like big slow machinery, and he looked down at her. She withdrew her hand and let it slap limply against her battered thigh. She winced. “Ouch.”
He helped her up into his truck, and they drove away in a smelly cloud of diesel.
* * *
The sun was setting as Jimmy, Leuctra and I left the police station. The baby held his arms out, and Leuctra passed him to me. She had produced a pair of teal flip-flops from a capacious bag I had not noticed.
We walked the block to Mogie’s and I treated. Leuctra fed Marcus Dale something from a little jar while I held him. After a while he reached for his mother, settled on her and fell asleep. I slipped out of the booth and visited the bathroom.
“This place is wonderful,” Leuctra said when I got back. “It smells like my mother’s old placemats made of tiny strips of wood. And I like your name. Riley means courage.”
“He probably knows that,” said Jimmy.
“Somebody did tell me. What language is your name?”
“Greek. From the battle of Leuctra.”
I skimmed my hand through the space above my head. “Whoosh,” I said.
“The Thebans defeated Sparta at Leuctra in three seventy-one BC,” she said. “It was this battle that finished Sparta as a major power in the Greek world.”
“There’s a story that, after the battle, two hoplites from the opposing sides—”
“Heavily-armed infantry,” Jimmy said.
“They were lying on the battlefield, exhausted. The Spartan looked over at the Theban and said, ‘Who the hell taught you to fight like that?’ and the Theban said, ‘You did’.”
“That probably didn’t happen,” Jimmy said. He caressed the baby’s head with its wisps of hair. “Makes a good story, though. And it’s true in a way.”
“Did Sparta teach the Thebans to fight?” I said.
“Sparta had been beating the tar out of Thebes for like thirty years,” Jimmy said, “since the end of the Peloponnesian war. They figured they’d better learn to fight like the Spartans or be destroyed.”
“My father taught history,” Leuctra said. “He wanted me to learn that the more people beat on you, the more they’re teaching you. If you’re willing to learn.”
“I’d say you learned,” I said. “What did you hit me with?”
Leuctra said, “My fist.”
I goggled at her slender hands. One knuckle had a fresh red scab, and there were fresh bruises and the odd scratch on her visible skin. “I guess I was Sparta to your Thebes.”
“I’m so sorry. I panicked. You must think we’re crazy. Or criminals. Or I don’t know what.”
“I think I saw crazy today,” I said. “What is Meredith’s problem?”
Jimmy said, “Meredith was Leuctra’s best friend. Or at any rate Leuctra was Meredith’s.”
“That’s unkind, Jimmy.”
“I’ll accept that moral burden. We three and Terence—”
“The mountain with the truck?”
Jimmy nodded. “We were a regular foursome for the longest time. Now, Leuctra has what my parents would have called a hot temper.”
“We call it an anger management problem now,” she said. The baby fussed and she shifted him.
“And we four were leaving the movies about two weeks ago.”
“What did you see?” I asked.
“The latest installment of this endless series with female superheroes in tight costumes,” Leuctra said.
Jimmy said, “We were strolling through the parking lot, enjoying the unseasonably cool night. Meredith asked if we had seen a particular Julia Roberts movie.”
“Now, I love Julia Roberts,” said Leuctra.
“And I said, ‘Oh, is that the one where she cries?’ You see, this is my go-to joke when the topic of Julia Roberts comes up.”
Leuctra said, “Part of it. The rest of his routine involves saying he won’t watch a Julia Roberts movie unless there’s at least one close-up of her face, eyes glistening with tears while those big, um, sensuous-looking lips—”
“That’s not what I call them,” Jimmy said.
“Lips quiver as she tries to smile bravely in the face of whatever tragedy has hit her like a pillowcase stuffed with bricks.”
“So vulnerable. Every movie. I call it the money shot.”
“That is the least offensive thing you call it,” Leuctra said. “And it set me off this time. Maybe because we’d let the boys pick the movie. It was clear this giant girl-power comic-book saga was still not over, and possibly would not be concluded in my lifetime, so I’d have to sit through God knows how many more of these boobfests.”
“Very trying,” I said.
Leuctra squinted at me. “Isn’t it, though?” she said. “I started pummeling Jimmy. Playfully.”
“Those little fists are hard,” Jimmy said.
“And I still had my soda and popcorn,” Jimmy said. “One in either hand. I shoved that big popcorn bucket into the crook of the arm that held the soda, kind of wedging it between my arm and body so I’d have a hand free to defend myself.”
“All in fun,” Leuctra said. “But annoyed, too. You know.”
“I swung out my open hand to ward off a blow. Only her fist wasn’t where I expected it to be, and I bonked her on the chin.”
“And I bruise if you look at me hard.”
“Your poor chin,” Jimmy said.
“My own fault,” Leuctra said.
“I can’t bear to think of it.” Jimmy said. “Come here.” The command in his soft tone surprised me.
Leuctra tilted her face up so her chin cleared the baby’s head. Jimmy rose off the seat, cradled her jaw in one bony hand and gave her chin a long, tender kiss. She closed her eyes.
“That’s worth any number of bruises,” she said.
“And Meredith saw this,” I said.
“Went off like one of those fireworks that spins and makes sparks,” Leuctra said.
“Popcorn and soda everywhere,” Jimmy said.
“Where’s a busty superheroine when you need one?” I said.
“Terence had to pull her off me,” Jimmy said. “Actually pinned her arms to her sides and carried her away like that while she kicked his shins.”
“What Meredith has is beyond an anger management problem,” Leuctra said. “Meredith snaps and goes crazy.”
Jimmy pulled his shirt collar open. “See that?”
I peered at a serried row of fading scoop marks where the beautiful column of his neck met his collarbone. “Teeth?” I started to reach over and touch his pale skin but stopped myself. My hand dropped on my thigh like a hunk of two-by-four.
“One of those cheap rings she wears. The fake pearl or whatever popped out and the exposed metal rim dug in pretty good.”
Leuctra said, “She still wears it. Likes to wave that hand around. I don’t know why Terence puts up with it. He could do so much better.” Her expression brightened, became eager. “How about you, handsome? Got a girl?”
“Looking?” Her eyes twinkled.
A smell of coffee and Mogie was at the table with three mugs and a carafe.
“I could have got that, Mo.”
“Relax, Hercules. I need you healed. And rested. Donny just quit.”
“He gave notice?”
“Yes, if by gave notice you mean walked off the job. Something about the vibe.”
“No loss. Count the spoons.”
“Implying that Donny steals. Which would involve initiative.” He looked at Jimmy. “That’s some bruise.”
“You should see the other guy,” said Jimmy.
Mogie poured for Jimmy and me then came back with decaf and skim milk for Leuctra. He also left a baggie of ice in a clean white kitchen towel for Jimmy.
“I’m feeling profoundly ashamed,” Leuctra said after he left.
“It’s all right,” I said.
“He has no idea?” Jimmy said.
“Why would he?” I said.
We concentrated on making Mogie’s coffee drinkable. Leuctra tapped half a brown sugar envelope into her decaf. Jimmy pretty much turned his into coffee-flavored candy.
But he’s a porcelain doll, I thought. Even with the bruise. And the dried blood. Not a pimple to be seen. For me one candy bar plus one soda equals two new zits by morning.
“Anyway!” Leuctra said. “Looking?”
“For a girl.”
I looked down as I said, “It’s... not like that.” I just caught her told-you-so glance at Jimmy.
“Some special guy?” she said. “Who’s gonna come kick my ass?”
“I do apologize,” said Jimmy. “As you see, I can dress her up, but I can’t take her anywhere.” He applied the makeshift ice pack gingerly to his face.
“It’s all right. Not anymore.”
Leuctra said, “Oh.”
“You already knew,” I said to her. “What gave me away?”
“Despite the untucked plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and the scruff, and looking like you could build a shed at a moment’s notice?”
“Despite that, yes.”
Copyright © 2020 by Max Christopher