Ch 5 Crossing the Line

After an almost imperceptible bump, the lift came to a halt. With a grating sound, the metal screen was drawn aside. Beyond was only blackness.

Reiko glanced nervously at her companion. Dixie was smiling serenely as usual, but in the younger women's imagination, this expression seemed in the extraordinary circumstances more than a little sinister. Why had the Texan brought her here? What could be out there in the darkness? Training facilities, as Dixie had said? Or some kind of dungeon?

Reiko tried to reassure herself with the thought that her host was a famous and respected wrestler. Then she recalled that Dixie's recent behaviour had been considered peculiar by her supporters. Could she be undergoing some kind of psychosis? Bringing Reiko here to take mad revenge? But for what? Japanese atrocities during the war? Ridiculous! She tried to pull herself together. Mae knew she was here, and Dixie had no way of knowing who else did.

Then Reiko remembered that the only person who had actually witnessed her arrival at the ranch, apart from Dixie herself, was Joe, the foreman. Quite likely a loyal hand who might keep his mouth shut.

Dixie was holding her hand out. "C'mon, Reiko." When Reiko hesitated, she threw her a mocking glance. "Not scared of the dark, are you?"

Reiko drew a deep breath, took the older woman's hand, and stepped out of the lift.

Their first footfalls on the concrete floor sent echoes across what seemed to be a very large space. The air was cool but dry. The pool of light from the lift illuminated only a small circle.

Next to the elevator door was a panel set with a row of switches. Dixie flipped these one after another. From high up, rows of arc lights suddenly blazed down. Reiko could now see they were in a huge area the size and general shape of an underground car park . As more and more floods came on, they illuminated a central arena, a low wall surrounding a wrestling ring.

Reiko let out the breath she'd been holding in. She said, "I'm impressed. But ..."

"...Why?" completed Dixie. "Well, my daddy said, we cain't have the hands ogling my daughter while she's training." She snorted with laughter. "The whole world and his wife kin see me mud wrestling on TV, and he's worried about the hands?! I guess maybe he thought it was a cool thing to have a secret training place. You know, men and their toys." She waved a hand. "There's everything here y'all need: gym, weight room, sauna, showers..."

"I was about to say," interrupted Reiko, "Why have you brought me here?"

"You cain't guess?" Dixie put her hands on her hips. "Or maybe y'all pretendin'?" She bent forward, tilting her head to one side, as if to examine Reiko more closely. "Do ya think I don't know what's burnin' in ya? How much you bin hankerin' to get back at me? You kin shake your head, but I've not lived in this world twenty and six years without learnin' a thing or two."

"I ... I ..."

"I know 'cos I felt that way the first time I lost. It gets you right in the guts, don't it, darlin'? N' you wanna smash that girl's face into the dust, and stomp on the bits. Don't be embarrassed to admit it."

Reiko fought to keep control of herself. In a voice of forced coolness, she asked, "You want a rematch?"

"No, you want a rematch, sweet cheeks. But this ain't gonna be just sparrin', no siree. This'll be a full-on, devil-take-you, last-woman-standing fight. 'Till one of us quits." She drew up her breeches. "So, what'd ya say?"

Reiko felt her tongue paralysed. On the one hand, she realised she'd feared and, paradoxically, hoped all along that this was the reason Dixie had summoned her. On the other, she was bewildered by the strangeness of it all.

Finally, sensing the Texan was growing impatient, she managed to speak. "Say? What d'you expect me to say? You bring me out here, to this - farm. Feed me chilli and ice-cream. Chat politely. Then suddenly you drag me down into your basement, and challenge me to some kind of duel to the finish? What in heaven's name am I supposed to say?"

Dixie snorted. "Ya won't do it, then?"

Reiko said nothing.

"I oughta've known, I oughta've known when I saw ya." Dixie began to march up and down, her voice getting gradually louder. "I thought maybe ya was a li'l Japanese pussy who'd never been in a real fight. Squealing the first time ya got hurt." She stopped and jabbed a finger right in Reiko's face. "Sure you can walk away if you like. I won't stop you. But you ain't worthy of being the daughter of Kamikaze Rose. She had real guts. She would never have cried and begged for mercy like a little girl. You don't deserve to be called by her name."

Reiko felt herself grow hot with anger. Suddenly all the emotions of the past few days flooded over her, overwhelming her with a desire for revenge. The Texan could not be allowed to get away with insulting her like this.

Scarcely able to speak with rage, she ground out, "You - will - take - that - back."

Dixie tossed her head. "C'mon, then, make me!"

Reiko responded merely by drawing a finger across her nose in characteristic fashion.

"Alrighty." Dixie punched her palm with her fist. Then curtly, she added, "There's a changing room through that door. Get yourself ready."

The wrestling outfit that Reiko had brought with her was identical in style to one she had worn on her debut, but replaced red and black tones with yellow and grey. It was almost as if she felt she had to earn the right to wear red again. Red was the colour of fearless endeavour. Reiko wasn't at all sure if she was the same person that had gone forth in such a bold array. Yet it seemed as if a red mist was in front of her eyes.

Perhaps there was also something symbolic in Dixie's choice of clothing. Like Reiko the style was unchanged, but the hue was deepest black. Whatever message was being sent, it was an uncompromising one.

The two women approached from opposite sides of the vast, empty arena. Without ceremony, they climbed between the ropes to enter the ring. For a moment they stood facing each other, the sound of their breathing loud in the otherwise absolute silence of underground. Then Reiko raised her fists to indicate readiness, and Dixie responded in kind.

Immediately following this signal, Reiko raced forward, launching her body into the air, and catching Dixie full in the chest with a flying drop kick. The Texan crashed heavily to the ground, taking just an instant too long to rise, as Reiko followed up with another savage kick, this time to the stomach. She then grabbed one of her opponent's arms, and pulling her to her feet, used it to swing her onto the ropes. As Dixie bounced off them, Reiko jumped into the air and felled her with a tremendous uppercut. It seemed as though her anger was giving her strength beyond anything she'd experienced.

Dixie was taking her time on the canvas, shaking her head, but also smiling to herself in a way that further enraged Reiko.

"Get your ass up!" It was almost as if a stranger was speaking, the aggressive, abusive tone quite unlike her. She caught hold of the Southerner's hair and punched her twice while still on the ground.

Suddenly Dixie countered, kicking up at Reiko, regaining her feet and causing the Japanese woman to back away. Trying to recover the initiative, Reiko bounced off the ropes hoping to catch Dixie unprepared, but instead the Texan used the momentum of the charge to throw her to the ground. Reiko instantly rolled to her feet, ending up facing away from her opponent. Grappling with the younger woman from behind, and putting an arm across her throat, Dixie fell backwards, propelling Reiko to the floor with her.

With an "oomph" of expelled breath, Reiko appeared temporarily winded. Dixie exploited the opportunity to grab her leg. Before she could get a firm hold, Reiko planted her foot in Dixie's chest, and used the leverage to throw her over her head. In the back of her mind Reiko was becoming aware that, although her fury was driving this fight, it was also in danger of getting out of control. Not only might this result in dishonourable behaviour, it could give her opponent an advantage.

It was now the Texan's turn to make a slow recovery. Reiko meanwhile had mounted the turnbuckle, and back-somersaulted off it to catch Dixie in a pinning dive. As the fight was to the finish, Reiko released the cover hold, and instead seized her opponent's leg. The red mist rose again, as she bent it back savagely.

Suddenly Reiko realised that in her rage, she was close to breaking Dixie's leg. Turning to look, she saw that, although the older woman was wincing slightly, the expression in those clear blue eyes was one of calm acceptance, almost as if daring Reiko to do her worst. That coolness in the face of peril broke through the surface of Reiko's anger, and she eased the pressure, eventually letting go the hold completely.

As the two faced off once more, Reiko began to recover her composure. Her energy was now focused like a blow torch, channelled into a determination to continue the fight no matter what. But the unreasoning fury had subsided, along with any desire to inflict serious harm upon her opponent.

Reiko stepped in, her arms and legs blurring in a rapid kick/punch combo. Dixie blocked and countered with a forearm smash. Reiko dodged, then swung at Dixie with a roundhouse kick. The Texan ducked beneath it, seized Reiko round the waist, then wrapped an arm around her arm to apply a submission.

The strength of the Southerner's hold was, if anything, greater than in the first match, but Reiko felt stronger too. She found that she could block the pain from her mind, allowing her to apply her new reserves of energy and determination to escape. With a sudden surge of power she won free, then immediately grappled with Dixie again. This time she came close to catching her in a headlock, but the Texan resisted in turn. And now they were breast to breast, gripping one another, Greek wrestling style, each trying to pull the other off balance, and try a throw or hold. Their breaths came in fast pants, perspiration trickling off their bodies, grunting and moaning with the effort.

"Reiko!" Dixie voice was muffled and strained. "Reiko! Its enough."

Reiko continued to tug away. "You said ... urgh ... to the finish. Why ... uhh ... are you quitting?"

Dixie carried on holding her, but Reiko could sense she was simply resisting her opponent's moves, taking no initiatives.

"I'm not ... ooomph! ... We don't need to fight ... aargh ... anymore. You've proved you're worthy of that great name."

With a huge effort, Reiko pulled Dixie off balance, throwing her to the floor. "You mean like this." She followed up with another attempted head submission. Before she could seriously apply it, Dixie had countered with her own headlock. However as in the first fight, she simply held Reiko motionless without trying to hurt her.

"We can carry on if you like. But I don't want t'fight ya anymore today. Lets leave it till the tournament starts."

Reiko was aware of Dixie's closeness, her breathing, her tight embrace. The Texan was no longer smiling.

"Are you serious? This isn't another trick?"

"No, it ain't." Dixie lowered her voice. "Listen to me Reiko. I've gotta lot of explaining to do. I've treated you real mean, and that's not in my nature. I did it, because it was the only way to find out."

In her curiosity, Reiko had forgotten to try getting free. "Find out what?"

"I watched your videos, just like I 'spect you watched mine," Dixie replied. "They showed me a lot of things. That you were a wrestler with speed like I've hardly ever seen, and technique like I couldn't believe for one so young. But there was one thing they couldn't show me. Whether you had real heart and soul."

Reiko was trembling. "Go on."

"Y'see, all those fights you dominated," Dixie continued. "But even if that weren't the case, I had to take you on myself to be sure. When it gets to the level of combat we're at, its all about one woman's will against the other's. Everyone in Rumble Roses is a damn good wrestler, so its in the mind and in the soul that you have to win. And that's why Kamikaze Rose, your mother, was the great wrestler she was. She fought with all her heart and might; she never let up, not once. I admired her so much as a girl, and I yearned to fight against someone like her. I hoped that you might be the one."

"And now I've disappointed you." Reiko felt the weight of sadness, thinking about her mother, how much she had missed her. "In the first fight, I gave up."

"Its true, you did, in the end." Dixie's voice was tender, compassionate. "But you fought so hard, darlin'. You probably never realised how close you came to beatin' me. Took me all my courage to carry on. Then I did something terrible. I went to break you, break your spirit. I had to do it, believe me. To see if I could, to find if there was a weakness somewhere. And I found it in the end." She sighed. "See, when it comes down to it, we all have our failings. 'Cos we're just human. When we know about them, then we can try to deal with them. Best you know now, 'cos others will try the same."

"So what was it?" Reiko asked in a small voice. But she already suspected what the answer might be. "What did you find?"

"Lemme ask you this first. What do the folks that come to the tournament want to see?"

Reiko didn't need to think long. "They want to see two attractive women wrestling."

"That's right, sugar. They want to see two beautiful women wrestling. Now folks being as they are, and women being as they are, we're gonna use that if we can. That beauty. And there's more than one way, be sure on it. It can get the crowd all worked up. And also ..."

Reiko said, "You don't mean ... not in a fight?"

"In that more than anytime, darlin'." Dixie sighed again, and relaxed her hold. "Look, I'm no shrink. But I heard that song There's a thin line. And there is. Between love and hate, pain and pleasure. Even maybe between saints and sinners." She paused, reflecting. "In a fight there sure is a lotta hurtin', and maybe some hatin' too. And when the heat is on, its easy to git confused about what you're really feeling. Particularly ... "

Reiko felt her heart thumping, waiting on Dixie's every word.

"Particularly ..." Dixie continued, a note of disgust entering her voice. "If the other girl figures what your feelin', and makes the most of it. Do you understand what I'm sayin', darlin?"

"I understand." Tears were welling in Reiko's eyes. "It was all a trick then. To put me off my guard, weaken me. To make me think ..."

Dixie caught Reiko by the chin, looked into her eyes, traced the line of the moisture down her cheek. Then she said, huskily, "It weren't no trick."

Reiko whispered, "What are you saying?"

Instead of replying, Dixie leant forward, pressed her lips to Reiko's. For a moment she was hesitant, as if unsure about Reiko's reaction, but Reiko responded fully in kind, turning her head and parting her lips in a deep kiss, caressing Dixie's tongue with her own. She felt as if all the suppressed emotions she'd been feeling since she first saw Dixie were being released into this one moment of ecstasy.

Dixie finally broke from the kiss, and gently brushed Reiko's hair, looking deep into her eyes. "You sure you want this?"

And Reiko replied, "Yes, Dixie, I've wanted it more than anything."