The two men who held the struggling woman noticed me first and shouted a warning. The third man turned and looked up in surprise as I pushed off the wall with both feet and arched through the air above him. I tucked my knees and flipped at then end so that I came down feet first, facing the greasy-haired rough.
I landed with a splash in a shallow puddle that glistened like gasoline in the faint light filtering from the street. My arms came up, ready to block as Greasy Hair whipped his belt from the last loop, and brandished the heavy gold buckle like a weapon.
“This ain’t none of your business girlie.” His words slurred slightly as he spoke.
“I’m making it my business.”
Greasy Hair smiled, revealing a row of gold teeth.
“Fine by me, but you gotta wait your turn.” He swung the buckle, aiming for my head.
I reached out, caught the belt, and pulled Greasy Hair toward me as I brought one knee up and drove it hard into his soft gut. He grunted, but recovered faster than I expected and came up swinging.
The first punch grazed the end of my nose as I dodged backward. I blocked the next, then moved in and landed a punch of my own square in those bared golden teeth. Greasy Hair cursed and swung again. I side-stepped and drove my fingertips into his windpipe. He let out a choking sound and doubled over as both hands flew to his throat. After driving my elbow down against his temple, I stepped back and let him fall into the puddle with a heavy thud.
Only one man held the other woman now. The second approached me with a swagger and a cocky smirk. His right thumb pressed down on something hidden in his fist and a switchblade flipped out with a soft click.
I stepped into his first thrust, grabbing his right wrist with my right hand. My thumb pressed hard against the pressure point at the base of his wrist as I whirled so that my back was to him. My left elbow connected with his nose as my right heel came down hard on his planted foot. The knife dropped from his hand before I continued to spin away and out of his reach.
Blood poured from his nose, soaking the front of Switchblade’s dirty white tank-top. He paused to wipe the blood off his face with the back of his hand. I used that moment to draw a taser from my utility belt.
Switchblade growled and lunged. I managed to keep my right hand clear as he tackled me to the ground. My breath escaped with a huff as my back hit the pavement. The stench of alcohol and rancid body odor almost made me gag as I pulled air back into my lungs.
My right hand came up and pressed the flat end of my weapon against Switchblade’s neck. I heard the buzz as I pulled the trigger, and then the smell of burning hair joined the mix of unpleasant odors which filled my nostrils.
Switchblade twitched, then went limp. I squirmed and pushed, feeling claustrophobic as the man’s weight pressed down on me like a boulder.
All but one foot had worked free when pain exploded through my ribcage. An involuntary cry escaped from me as I turned to see the last man preparing for another kick.
I half-turned and tried to block the blow, but grunted as the toe of his boot caught me in the stomach. Wrapping my arms around his leg, I twisted and rolled, pulling him down with me as I also jerked my foot free.
I heard him curse, and felt him fall; then I heard a dull thunk. Kicker stopped moving.
I rolled clear and turned to see the other woman standing about a foot from the man’s head. She clutched a short metal bar in both hands. Her chest rose and fell with her rapid breaths.
“Thank you,” I said as I stood and walked a wide circle around Kicker.
“Thank you,” she replied, looking me up and down. “Now what?”
I scanned the three inert forms as I tested the damage to my ribs. They didn’t feel broken.
“We get away from them and call the cops.”
“Done,” the other woman replied, holding up her cell phone.
“Nice,” I said with a nod. “Let’s wait at the corner.”
I retrieved my rope and hook with a flick of my wrist as I passed the place where it hung from the rooftop, then stuffed it back in my pack. As we approached the street sign on the corner, the woman let the bar fall from her hand. The clang echoed down the silent alleyway.
“You all right?” I asked.
She took a long, shaky breath, then nodded.
“Do you know those guys?”
“One of ‘em, yeah.”
We stopped and leaned against the post. I watched the alley, she watched the street.
“It’s happened to you, hasn’t it?” she asked.
I nodded slowly.
She nodded in response.
“He waits at that corner bar most nights. He knows when I get off work, knows the closest subway stop is three block from my house.” She sighed. “This is the first time he’s brought friends.”
I glanced down toward the subway station.
“Do you have a friend that can pick you up?”
She shook her head before she answered.
“The only person I know is my neighbor and she’s watching my kids.”
I chewed my lip a few times, then straightened and turned to face her.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll meet you at the station and walk you home from now on, agreed?”
The woman cocked one eyebrow.
“Why?” she asked. “Why would you help me? You don’t have anything better to do than walk me home every night?”
“Nope, I don’t.”
Her eyes narrowed and then she asked, “And why should I trust you?”
“You don’t have to trust me, but I am going to help you. It’s my job.”
“Your job? Says who?”
The woman smirked. “You gonna save everyone?” she asked. “You’re gonna be workin’ overtime like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I probably can’t save everyone, but I’m gonna try.”