Penny - her bad dream
and what followed.
"..... FOUR!! - FIVE!! - SIX!! - SEVEN!! - EIGHT!!!! - NINE!!!! - OUTTT!!!!!!!! The referee finished counting over the limp body of the girl sprawled, dazed and bleeding on the canvass. The girl in the corner, still just about on her feet after fourteen punishing rounds of a fight to the finish with one of the illegal kickboxing world's most fearsome female contenders, stepped forward at the ref's signed command. He grasped her hand in his and raised her battered, weary arm.
"The winner, ladies and gentlemen, in the Blue Corner - The Naked Avenger!!"
A crescendo of cheers, that had started to build the moment the favoured contender had been floored, gathered strength, and the winner's ears began to ring painfully in tune with the buzzing in her head, battered as it had recently been by so many terrible kicks and punches.
She gazed in triumphant disbelief at her dreaded opponent over whom she just prevailed after a mammoth fight which had left her bloody and exhausted. She raised one bruised and bleeding leg, lifting her sore foot, bruised and raw after delivering so many kicks to that well-padded body, now lying shattered beneath her, and placed the said foot on the fallen girl's stomach , raising her other arm high above her head in a gesture of victory as she did so. The cheers continued to grow and she turned away to return to her dressing room, the ringing in her ears and inside her head becoming ever more painful and insistent.
Penny Lyle's hand reached out from under the bedclothes and firmly silenced the alarm. She groaned. Bloody Monday Morning Again! She raised herself and pushed back the bedclothes. Where was Mr. Smith, she wondered? Probably in the kitchen waiting for his breakfast - he certainly wasn't on the bed any longer. Well, let him wait - do him good, the greedy little sod!
Wearily, she made for the bathroom and got under the shower, feeling the sleepiness leave her by degrees. She always liked this cleansing cascade over her body in the morning, so warm and invigorating. Just possibly, Monday wasn't such a bad day as all that! After all said and done, she liked her job. She liked her immediate colleagues, and they all liked her. People always had liked her, ever since she was a cheery, sunny little mite at nursery school.
After drying herself she went over to the washbasin and brushed her white and perfect teeth, noting sadly the yellowish coating on her tongue! It had been a good weekend, over much too soon, as ever.
She looked down at her feet and her eyes travelled up her body. "Not quite the trim little girl I was a year ago", she thought. "In a year or two, I'll be an obese old bitch and I'm not quite twenty-one!"
Then she looked in the mirror and almost died from shock! She was looking at her own face, but it was an appalling sight. The puffiness that had lately begun to mar the fresh girlish beauty, whose passing she had just regretted, had gone. Bright healthy eyes stared back at her from a face whose youthful vitality was quite restored. There was, though, one terrible way in which this rejuvenated face was not pretty to behold! It was bruised and cut. Badly bruised and terribly cut.
One eye was almost closed, with a contusion under it which covered one half of her face. Her nose was twice its normal size and her mouth had been cut in two places. Horrible though it was to look at, it was to be preferred to the rather flabby and bloated condition of the physiognomy that had stared back at her last night, shortly before she went to bed after another weekend's overindulgence.
She blinked in utter incredulity. As soon as she opened her eyes again, she was relieved to see her familiar and uninjured face restored, along with its rather distressing flabbiness. What an extraordinary hallucination! And then she recalled that ludicrous, absurd and recurring dream she had just had.
With relief she inspected her reinstated features. Despite her incipient obesity, she was still attractive to look at. Sometimes she thought that maybe her forehead was a little too high - possibly she should change her hair style to cover it a bit. Other times she thought it was the best thing about her! Her nose was small, but perfectly straight, set between grey, calm eyes. Her mouth was an absolute dream to look at, with its wide and full lips, always seeming to be smiling at the world, even when there was little to smile about. Penny was a gentle, good natured girl, always kind and never angry - at least not for long and never very angry even then.
This good humour and kindness showed themselves in her features. People who had only recently made her acquaintance wondered if she were not perhaps just a little too good to be true. When they knew her better, they realised that underneath a sweet and cheerful exterior was an even sweeter and even more cheerful inner woman, whose tranquil good nature made all around her feel a little better with life for having known her.
Everyone loved her, but did they respect her, she was sometimes moved to ask, instantly suppressing this thought as soon as it rose into her conscious mind. Who needs respect anyway, she would tell herself, always inspiring fear in others? That was not for her, she would say.
She dressed in her smart business suit and went down to the kitchen to see what mischief Mr. Smith was up to. He was up to plenty! Somehow or other, after months of hitherto fruitless efforts, he had managed to prise open the fridge door and a fine piece of fillet steak was rapidly being demolished on the kitchen floor as a half enraged and half admiring Penny came downstairs and caught the thief red handed (red pawed would be a better phrase!).
She picked up the Russian Blue cat and raised him over her head, laughing at his thieving cleverness and complacently smug expression.
"You naughty, clever boy! Oh, I love you, my darling Mr. Smith, I really truly do - but you've had your breakfast for today. No Whiskas for you this morning! And this kitchen is barred to you from now on, if I'm not around to keep you in order!" She pushed him, purring, out into the garden to go and do whatever he did during the day, and prepared herself to leave, after first gulping down a cup of coffee and eating a slice of bread.
As she walked to the station, she made a resolution. She MUST do something about her figure! The trouble was - what, exactly?
As she settled herself into her first class train seat, Penny Lyle reprised the dream she had had that night. The details were fading, as is the way with dreams, however vivid they might have been at the time. She recalled being forced to fight naked in a kickboxing match against an opponent whose body had been well padded for protection and whose hands and feet had been encased in some kind of metal covering, so that every kick and blow had done terrible damage to her and caused awful pain. What rubbish! As if she ever would do a stupid suicidal thing like that!
Penny had been forced to rely on her superior speed and lightfootedness - That's a laugh for a start! she thought, I can't even run to catch a bus any more! - to evade the deadly fists and feet of her opponent. She recalled vaguely that, for much of the one sided contest, her bare hands and feet had beaten uselessly against her foe, who had laughed disdainfully and scornfully at her puny efforts as she continued to deal out terrible punishment.
Somehow, though, she had managed to wear her opponent down, finally getting through her guard and demolishing her with a series of lightning blows of great force to the head, finally and memorably sending her, in that immortal and well worn phrase, crashing to the canvass. As she was taken towards her day's work at the Bank, something of the excitement of the dream's triumphant ending came back to her, although Penny Lyle had never lifted a finger against a fellow human or indeed any fellow creature at all, in her life. She had never wanted to hurt another and she still didn't, did she?
The train arrived, on time for a change, at Cannon Street and she embarked on the last short stage of her daily journey to work. The security guard gave her his usual cheery greeting, spontaneous and one hundred per cent genuine in her case, unlike for some of the stuffed shirts who worked there! She went into the lift lobby, getting into Lift No 4 with a handful of others, including Madge.
Arriving at the eighth floor she made her way to her office, pausing on the way to chat with a few of her subordinates, who had arrived already. Smiling to herself at a silly joke one girl had just told her, she went into her room and sat down at her desk. She started going through her papers. One of them she had no doubt about, despite having spent half the weekend worrying about it. It wasn't her job to deal with it! That wretched Tom Brewster had passed it over to her on Friday, since it was a tricky problem and he had wanted to get away early. She rang his office. He answered.
"Oh, Tom. Come and take the Fleming file away, there's a good fellow, and please don't even think about offloading your hard cases on to me again - you are paid to do your own job and I have enough on my plate without helping lame dogs over stiles!"
Tom Brewster put down his phone and stared across the desk at his colleagure, Andy Turner.
"I don't believe it, Andy! Penny won't take over the Fleming case, after all. That's not like her - she's usually so obliging and helpful"
"Too obliging and far too helpful, if you ask me! Thank God the girl's growing a bit of backbone at last! It's about time she told parasites like you to f*ck off!"
Tom growled angrily and after a pause got up and went up to Penny's office to retrieve the file. He knew he had been in the wrong to take advantage of her generosity. She was an able girl and people were in the habit of picking her brains and offloading their tricky cases on to her and it just was not fair on her. Being wrong does not always make one penitent, however, and often involves resentment against the wronged one. Tom was very resentful towards Penny and this was to have important consequences for her.
As he went into her office she handed him the file, smiled pleasantly and went back to her perusal of an office memo. He left and she continued reading.
She put down the paper and leant back in her chair, deep in thought. She usually had insufficient time to read the mass of internal memos that came round each day, but his one had caught her eye.
This excellent and highly recommended establishment is offering, for a limited time, discounted rates to personnel from this Bank. Two three quarter hour sessions per week will cost just £35.00 for the first six months, rising to £40.00 thereafter.
Time to tone up those tired muscles and shed that unseemly flab! In their own best interests, all staff are heartily encouraged to take advantage of this offer."
And so it went on for a few more paragraphs, but that was the gist of it. The gym was just around the corner from the bank. She could easily spare the time and the money! This could be her path to salvation!
For the eighteen months that she had been here at the Bank, she had worked long hours, taken work home with her and spent what little spare time she had, either drinking with her colleaugues after work or watching rubbish videos at home, eating all manner of junk food, nursing her beloved and equally sedentary and overfed cat. Her present way of life was no more than a short cut to the grave, and she was beginning to hate her flabby face, her expanding waistline and sagging bottom. Yes!! She would sign up today!
On the way down in the lift, she met Madge again. Madge was a girl of her own age, but not her own qualifications, who worked in the post room. Despite their differing rank, both girls had taken an instant liking to each other, and although Penny usually socialised with her peers, out of necessity as much as choice, she always tried to have a bit of a gossip with Madge every once in a while.
It turned out, after a brief conversation, that the other girl had the same idea in mind regarding exercise and its therapeutic desirability. In five minutes they were both being signed up for two sessions a week. They seemed to be the only two people from the Bank.
Forty five minutes soon passed and after a very hurried shower they both sped back to work. Penny was breathless and red faced, her heart seeming as if it were trying to burst out of her breast. It had been awful! She told Madge of her distress.
"No pain, no gain, Penny. We must both be in for a lot of gain, if that's a true statement! I feel quite utterly shagged out myself! See you on Thursday?"
"See you Thursday! In for a penny, in for pound and all that!"
When Penny returned home that first Monday night - the first, that is, of her new healthy life - she felt like death. Never in her wildest imaginings would she have thought that a few simple exercises, indulged in over a lunch break, could cause such aches and pains in every bone, every joint and every muscle and nerve ending of her poor young body! Why had she ever allowed herself to be seduced by that memo and gone on to subject herself to such appalling torment?
As soon as she had changed into casual wear and fed the ever hungry Mr. Smith, she prepared herself a strong gin and tonic. A voice within spoke severely and urgently to her. She paused, the glass only half way to those sweet and ever gently smiling lips of hers. With a sense of utter amazement at her own bizarre and frightening behaviour, she carried the glass out to the kitchen and poured its contents down the sink. Things were soon to get worse - a lot worse!
Returning to her lounge, she opened the drinks cabinet. One by one, each and every bottle was opened and its precious inebriating fluids sent to join the gin and tonic on a long journey through the sewers to the sea, or wherever. "There'll be a few pissed rats tonight," she thought! Having performed this tremendous and doubtfully sane deed of self-denial she looked long and hard at the cat.
"You're getting as fat as I am, Mr. Smith - and it won't do!"
A look of hurt passed over Mr. Smith's furry face at these words. He loved Penny very, very dearly, but she could be extremely tiresome when in the grip of one of her latest fads! Despite his initial resentment, however, he was soon to adjust to his new dietary regime, especially when his regained slimness and virility made him such a wow with the local queens!
Having so dramatically resisted temptation by discarding all those expensive beverages, she turned her attention to the fridge. Cream - OUT! Butter - OUT! White Bread - OUT! Peanut butter (yuck!) OUT! and so it went on, until all that was left were the kind of things she had once read about as being "Good for You." She slept fitfully that night, with angry rumbling noises from her stomach keeping both her and the rebellious cat awake.
In the morning she rose early and donned her shorts and trainers (and top!) for the first time in two years. She let herself out of the house, looked around to make sure she was not observed, and started running. She had only got as far as the end of the road (not a particularly long one) when a pain in her side caused her to stop and bend almost double, gasping with pain. If it wasn't a stitch, it was a full blown coronary! When she did not slump in agony to the ground, she decided it must be the former and resumed running, forcing herself to keep going through the pain. She went round the block once and arrived home, drenched in sweat and not in a particularly good mood, for once in her life.
She went up to the bathroom and took off her clothes. A painstakingly minute inspection of her nakedness gave her little to be cheerful about. The process of restoring her figure to its pristine prime did not appear to have advanced perceptibly in the last twenty four hours of her torture by exercise! She was red all over and a bit blotchy. Tiny beads of sweat shone on her nose, making her feel slightly sick at the sight of them, and that was it!
Still in the grip of her new found enthusiasm for the healthy life she forced her protesting body to endure a cold shower, and then got dressed.
She arrived at work at her usual time, punctual to the minute (Connex South East permitting!), and was pleasantly surprised at Bill the Security Guard's greeting.
"My word, we do look well this morning, Miss Lyle!"
Whether or no it was her imagination, she appeared to be attracting quite a few approving glances as she made her way to her room. The aches of the previous evening were much less severe and she found herself polishing off her workload in record time. Gosh! It really was working already! Roll on Thursday, she enthusiastically thought. I can't wait!
She called poor old Tom Brewster, still struggling with the file she had dumped back on his desk.
"Hi, Tom! How's that Fleming case going? Let me know if you need any help! I've not too much on at the moment Sorry to bite your head off like that! I just can't imagine what came over me. No hard feelings, I hope!"
Tom was tempted to take her up on her offer, but he still felt anger at his well merited and justifiable slapping down of the day before.
"OK, Penny! I can handle it!" he said, in a confident tone. He was damned if he would ever ask for her help again!
Of course, he couldn't handle it, the incompetent oaf! He was such a proud and stupid fool to reject her offer, and the severe bollocking he received a few days later from an irate boss for his inept handling of the case made him even more resentful towards the amiable, efficient and good hearted Penny than he had been before. Strange how one uncharacteristic moment of asperity on the part of a normally placid person can inspire such totally disproportionate resentment!
Tom's colleague was right about one thing. Penny was a bit spineless! A nice girl, but too easily manipulated. Being kind and good natured are not enough to ensure success in the rat race of life. Forces were at work which would inject the most rigid and inflexible back bone into this sweet girl, and the consequences of this process would make a lot of difference to a lot of lives!
Penny never had another repetition of that violent dream, and had virtually forgotten it after a couple of weeks. They were weeks which saw her continue her twice weekly visits with her friend Madge to the gymnasium. They both made a lot of friends there and both professed to feeling a great deal better in themselves. Penny would stand before her full-length mirror every morning and will herself to see the signs of her improvement in shape and tone.
The morning jogging sessions lengthened and she was becoming able to run for an hour each day without becoming breathless. Once, she saw a man - one of her neighbours, running in the park dressed only in shorts and running shoes. She envied him this male freedom to discard so much clothing and regretted that Society frowned on the exposure of the female breast. She was quite proud of hers and was sure no one would be offended at the sight of them. She did look around, though, for wear that was as revealing as the law would allow, and soon began to attract admiring glances from the rest of the people in her street, several of whom, male of course, took to rising early in order to see her go by.
It was not until after six weeks of this new, energetic and Spartan regime that she decided she would run all the way to work every morning. It was only eight miles, she decided, and this early morning exercise was getting to be insufficient for her. Trouble was, it would involve a few logistical problems. She decided to consult her boss, Harry Burns.
He was very helpful.
"Yes, I think it would be very good for you. You really look so much fitter lately, and your work has improved no end - not that I had any complaints before. You'd need to shower and then change into your business things, and we don't have the facilities here - yet. Why not ask at that gym you go to? It's just around the corner and I think they open quite early. See old Tom Brewster. Tom's a friend of the owner - that's how we got to know about it here and get favourable terms."
This was a bit of a setback. Relations had been frosty between the two for some time now, to Penny's distress. She had been uncharacteristically sharp with him once and he had never forgiven her, despite all she had done to make amends. However, on this occasion Tom was helpfulness itself and immediately got on the phone to Patric Murphy, the gym owner. Penny was to chat to him about the arrangements at lunch time.
She arranged with this affable Irish gentleman to use a locker to store her working clothes at night and running gear by day. Once a week she would collect her things for the weekend. She'd have to come in by train a couple of times, but for three days weekly she could run to work in the morning and back home at night. By the time a month of this regime had been in place, she was looking very, very different to the lazy, unfit and overweight girl that she had been at the start of this little story.
Pat Murphy was taking an interest in her, which she only partly welcomed. She suspected, in some way, that his interest was anything but a good thing, especially as she had seen him chatting to Tom Brewster a few times, and she knew that this fellow worker definitely meant her no good.
Early one morning, she was standing in the shower in the gymnasium, when she heard a woman scream in a terrified way, and the sound of blows. She ran out at once and saw Madge, her face bleeding, and clutching her handbag, which an intruder was trying to wrest from her. Dashing to her friend's assistance, Penny pulled at the man and aimed a high kick at him which caught him on the cheekbone, causing him to disengage from the terrified Madge and turn his attention to Penny, who squared up to him.
Before the situation could develop further, Pat Murphy came in and saw what was happening. The intruder ran off and Penny tried to comfort her shaken friend. Patric came up to the pair.
"I saw what you did there, Penny my dear. I didn't know you were into that kind of thing! Very impressive!"
"I'm not", said Penny, smilingly. "Never raised a hand against anyone in anger in my life! I'm just not that kind of person. But I do watch a lot of totally rubbishy videos! It's pretty well my only vice, now that I've given up sloth and gluttony! Some of them - OK! most of them! - are these Hong Kong produced Martial Art movies with atrociously dubbed dialogue and execrable acting! It relaxes me, somehow - empties my mind. Maybe I've subconsciously picked up a few moves from them."
"I'd say you'd be a natural, my dear. I could put you in touch with a lady friend of mine. Come and chat to her this evening, if you can spare an hour or two - the two of you would like each other! And now, I think you'd best get dressed. The sight of you is doing my blood pressure no good - not to mention other kinds of pressure!"
He disappeared back to his inner sanctum. Penny, aware after all the excitement, that she was still dripping from the shower and quite nude, assisted Madge to a seat, telling her she would be back in a minute. Then she went to dry and dress herself. She pondered Murphy's words, as she towelled herself and put her working clothes on. It had, in truth, given her quite a buzz to do what she had just done, and she almost regretted the fellow had run off, but she could not imagine ever wanting to fight someone just for the sake of it. No way!
Madge, a brave and resilient girl, was totally recovered when Penny came back, and the two friends went to the office together.
"How do you come to be here at this time, Madge?" asked Penny.
"Oh! I was early this morning for some reason and thought I'd drop in and walk to work with you when you were ready. Not a good idea as it turned out. I'm going to have a terrible black eye!"
"You already have! I think it suits you! Makes you look mysterious and interesting. It doesn't matter how you explain how you got it! No one will believe you!"
Madge said she had no wish to tell others about her experience and just wanted to forget it. Penny agreed. The girls parted for two days, today being Tuesday.
When she finished work she went round to the gym to change back into her running gear and maybe, see this friend of Pat's.
It was to be avery momentous meeting for both of them. But that will have to wait.)
"Hi, Penny! Meet my friend Miranda"
Penny looked at Pat's friend. Her first thought, illogical perhaps, was that she looked very little like a Miranda ought to look. If she had been asked what a girl with that name should look like she would have been hard pressed to come up with an answer, but it would have included femininity and a hint, perhaps, of Latin fire. It would not have been a description which included short, almost spiky hair, a hard and lived-in face and a body which looked both spare, hard and gracefully supple at the same time.
"Had a good look? So you're the female Bruce Lee! Glad to meet you!"
To say that the above description was uttered in a sarcastic tone would have been utterly to fail to convey the combination of irony and sneering dismissiveness in which the words were spoken. Penny was already more than a little frightened by this woman, a few years older than herself, perhaps, but an age ahead of her in terms of her obvious and arrogant self-confidence. And it was an arrogance firmly based on realism. This was not a woman to trifle with!
Miranda turned to Patric.
"OK, Paddy! Piss off! Get lost, mate! We've girl things to talk about and girl things to do. I'll lock up."
A grinning proprietor ambled back to his office and a few minutes later reappeared dressed in his coat - it was beginning to be a trifle chilly at nights - and left to spend a few convivial hours at the Crown and Anchor before pushing off home.
Miranda turned her attention again to Penny.
"OK Wonderwoman! Get undressed, and make it snappy. We don't have all night!"
Again, the ironic contempt in this woman's voice was not lost on Penny, who began to feel very apprehensive.
She took off her jacket, blouse and skirt (she'd have to in any case, if she were to run home rather than catch the train) and stood in her panties, shoes and bra, shivering slightly in the unheated gym.
"And the rest! Everything!! Those sensible undies and nice smart shoes and tights. I want to see this fearless naked avenger in the raw, like Patric did earlier!"
Tremblingly, she complied and stood naked, barefoot on the cold stone floor, while the hard-faced Miranda inspected her closely.
"Soft! Flabby and soft! And I bet you're both those things, through and through in every aspect of your feeble little life!"
She emphasized her meaning by grabbing at Penny's stomach and administering a painful belly claw, kneading and pulling away at her soft and ample flesh. She sneered and closed her hand harder, making the poor girl squeal in pain. Then she relaxed her hand and withdrew her grip, smiling in a friendly way, giving light and warmth to her face and making Penny all at once feel a whole lot better about her strange new friend.
"Now take a look at what you should look like and will, if you let me take you in hand!"
With a deft economy of movement Miranda slipped out of her clothes, leaving them in a neatly folded pile on the floor. Penny was impressed. This woman was so quick and so decisive. And she felt she knew her, somehow. Despite the frisson of hostility between the two of them, she was drawn to Miranda and anxious to earn her approval - why, she hadn't a clue, but she really did want this hard faced bitch to stop despising her.
Miranda's body was as hard as her face. She invited Penny to, as she put it, "grab yourself a handful of my belly - if you can!". Tentatively Penny complied, finding that Miranda possessed no such yielding and malleable layer of fat as she did. She was clawing away at an abdomen of total hardness, warm, firm and lean. She longed for a body such as this! All the progress she had made these last energetic weeks seemed pointless when set against this woman's tautly disciplined physique.
"What will I need to do in order to be like you? I'll do it - I really will!"
"Go through Hell! Sheer bloody hell! Really think you are up to it?"
"Yes! I hated myself a few weeks ago, when I was so unfit and have been so pleased with myself lately - until now, that is! I've a long way to go, but I'm definitely going there!"
Miranda smiled again - the same warm grin -and started putting Penny through a series of warm up exercises, still nude, as she was always to be when under the tough girl's direction. As soon as Penny was properly warm, which took a while in the increasing chill, Miranda commenced inducting her into the art of kickboxing, being very careful not to make contact with that pretty face and delicate little nose, although the girl was convinced many a time that she was about to be sent reeling! Finally, the time came for Miranda to leave after putting a compliant Penny, for a horribly long time, under a shower of icy cold water. Penny was sternly told never again to take a hot one - either here or at home.
"Run along home, now, my girl. No shoes! I want those feet nice and hard by the end of the month, when we step up your training. Try surgical spirit if they start getting sore! See you here tomorrow!"
Mr. Smith was waiting for her as she finally staggered, barefoot as instructed by her oddly compelling new task mistress, up her gravelled drive, the stones cutting into her already sore feet. The faithful pedigree tomcat mewed piteously. His beloved owner was late and he was hungry. Not only that, but he quite missed her company!
She picked him up and kissed his sweet little face, opening the door and dropping him gently into the hallway. He made his way hurriedly to the kitchen and was soon guzzling eagerly away at his dish of cat food.
Penny prepared her own healthy, protein rich and starch reduced meal, and retired to the sofa, switching on the TV and putting on a tape. The phone rang. It was Miranda.
"And stop watching that crap! Put on something mentally stimulating for once in your rotten lazy life! They're doing "Don Giovanni" tonight - live from Covent Garden. Watch that! I'll have a few questions about it tomorrow and if I get the idea you weren't attending, I'll beat the living shit out of you! Sweet dreams, Penny! Oh...and another thing."
What now, thought the weary girl? The harsh voice continued.
"I know tomorrow's one of your train days. Forget it! No more train days for you - and shoes are just for the office - take them off now if you're wearing them - and anything else you've got on!
"I've booked the gym for Saturday and Sunday nights, as well. No heating over the weekend so you'll need to work harder than ever to stay warm. Seven days a week from now on you're going to be put through it and it'll get harder all the time. Remember what I said about sheer bloody hell?"
Penny switched to the appropriate channel and was soon immersed in the glories of Mozart's masterpiece. What an incredibly and wonderfully odd mixture Miranda was! She'd never have taken her to be a lover of the fine arts - never in a million years!
She gave her full attention to the performance. At the end, as the audience's applause faded away and the late night news came on, she was very grateful for her new mentor's command. And why was the woman going to all this trouble on her behalf? It wouldn't come cheap if she were paying for such an intensive course as this, and no mention had been made of a fee - she'd need to sort this out next day.
The gymnasium was a little late opening next morning and a scantily clad and barefoot Penny was left hopping from one foot to another, trying to keep warm, until Patric arrived, apologising profusely for her inconvenience. He looked down appreciatively at her sore and dirty feet. He smiled. So Miranda had decided to take the girl in hand, had she? How absolutely splendid!
She hurried into the gym, hoping none of her colleagues had seen her standing around half naked in her bare feet in the middle of the City! Not a good career move!
It was a pleasant surprise for her to find clean underwear and a nice crisp white blouse, waiting for her, placed neatly beside her locker. One reason, apart form the welcome respite from so much exercise, for coming in by more conventional means from time to time was the need to see to things like laundry and clothing changes.
Miranda was obviously an expert! The bra and panties fitted perfectly, although they were not the staid and conservative style that Penny usually favoured. She took a look in the mirror and decided that she liked the look of herself in them! Very seductive! Reluctantly she donned her business suit and went off to work and an uneventful day.
In the evening Miranda was waiting for her, unembarrassedly naked in front of Patric, to whom she was chatting animatedly as the pupil walked in. Pat made his excuses and left, his mind already fixed on the three pints of draught Guinness in the Crown and Anchor, and the chat with his friend, of whom, more later.
Miranda, clenching her fists menacingly, lost no time in interrogating Penny about the opera. Penny eagerly gave her fierce new friend her observations, hoping, fervently that they would be well accepted!
"It's been ages since I saw it last, Miranda. I sung in it at school, believe it or not! I thought Donna Elvira was sung beautifully and I loved Lepirello. Not so impressed with the Don, I'm afraid. All in all, though, it was a solid performance and I'm glad you persuaded me to watch it! The famous duet was done splendidly - it always melts me to hear it!"
Miranda nodded. "I agree. It wasn't the greatest ever performance, but a joy to hear all the same. And now to business! Off with the clothes, Penny! I like to see you nude, even in your present feeble and flabby state! Let's get straight ahead with the fisticuffs! Put these gloves on - you don't want to hurt those sweet little hands on my hard face! And don't fret, I won't hurt you!"
Miranda was as good as her word, and Penny had no need to fear, either for her hands or for Miranda's face - covered, she could now see, by a network of fine scars. She kept aiming straight at her instructor, as urged, but the said face was never any where near her gloved fists, which flailed uselessly at empty air for the entire session. At the end she was drenched with sweat and thirstier than she recollected ever being before. Miranda sat herself on the stone floor and motioned the weary and perspiring Penny to sprawl beside her. She put her hand on the younger girl's shoulder and inspected her flushed features.
"You've got the stamina, Penny. All the exercise you've been doing these last months has not been wasted - don't think it has. What worries me about you, though, is that you are much too damned nice for your own or any one else's good.
"If only there was a hard edge to you! Do you want to be stuck in your present position for ever? You will be, you know! In five years all the girls and guys who work under you will be miles up the ladder and you'll be stuck where you are now! Such a waste of all that talent!"
Penny reddened. She knew all too well that this strange and increasingly compelling woman was dead right. Even Tom Brewster was rumoured to be in line for promotion and he was such a mediocrity! But she couldn't be any one other than herself! And she was happy! She had her own lovely house, left to her by her prematurely and tragically deceased parents, and plenty of money - she didn't have to work at all if she didn't want to! Who needs the rat race, she asked herself?
And then she looked at Miranda, whose hand was still lightly resting on her shoulder. Look at her, she thought! Hard as nails and confident in herself - not a person whom anyone could push around. She came to a momentous decision! It would be very satisfying to be like her and worth any amount of effort! Some of those guys at the bank did take advantage of her and it was always galling to a secret part of her, despite her amiable sweet nature.
Penny shyly returned the older woman's friendly gesture with a touch of her own hand on the firm shoulder next to her, turning , as she did so, to look into that hard but strangely likeable face. Miranda's face was only inches away from hers and near enough for its warmth to be excitingly perceptible. She felt the lightly exhaled breath against her skin and trembled deliciously. Then they both rose and began to prepare to go their separate ways. The shower seemed a little less traumatic this evening than either the one in the gym last night or her first ever cold shower at home in the morning.
Mr. Smith was waiting for her yet again, looking pleased to see the wearily returning Penny running barefoot over the gravel towards him. He had never understood why she wore coverings for her feet and was extremely pleased to see that, at long last, at least one member of the human race was behaving sensibly! How lucky he was to have such a wonderful mistress!
After feeding him and herself, she opened the Radio Times to see what appropriate mental stimulus was to be her evening fare today. Observing that, in keeping with the relentless dumbing down of the mass media in this brave new Blairite world, only a selection of mind-numbing pap was on the evening's agenda, she opted for a book instead, and took down Motley's "Rise of the Dutch Republic" from its time-honoured place on the highest shelf in her bookcase. These three volumes had been accumulating an ever deepening layer of dust on their learned leather covers these last few years. She blew the dust away, making both herself and an irritated Mr. Smith sneeze violently.
Gosh! What stirring times they must have been, she thought, as she turned the pages and refreshed her memory, reading again of the deeds of William the Silent, et al. The cat slept on the familiar, well loved and now naked, warmth of his darling mistress's still soft and flabby stomach, relieved that the television was switched off for a change. Some evenings he just couldn't hear himself think for the din!
If only the contented cat had known that the stomach in question was destined soon enough to become neither soft nor flabby! Never mind, Mr. Smith! It will always be warm - that soon to be systematically, cruelly and mercilessly hardened stomach of the new Penny! And always that belly will be there for you to rest upon! And the heart of your adorable mistress will never cease to be soft as putty insofar as you are concerned!
Four weeks had passed since Penny Lyle had come under the sway of Miranda, Patric's intimidating but oddly lovable friend. On the second day of her tutelage, Penny had asked this unlikely new buddy what her fee was for the intensive training she was putting her through.
"Nothing, my dear. Just the wonderful pleasure of making you suffer and bleed and finally seeing a new and wonderful woman emerge from it all, purified in the fierce and cleansing heat of suffering. That will be reward enough, believe me!"
"Bleed?" asked Penny, rather apprehensively.
"Purely figurative! Don't fret!"
Purely figurative it was for the first few weeks. Penny became ever more skilled in all the moves involved in the sport of kickboxing, but never once did her fist land on that ever moving and ever unhittable face, and, by God, she tried hard enough! Some days she thought she was becoming sharper, and almost hitting the laughing face in front of her, but never did she lay a glove on that elusive target.
And then, one day, it happened! A day she would never forget, or wish to forget.
Shortly after they had just started an evening session early in November, a glove flipped out from in front of the skillful Miranda and landed plumb on the tip of Penny's nose. It hurt! God! How it hurt! Penny grunted in pain, but put it down to a rare lapse of concentration on Miranda's part. Then her nose was bashed again - much harder this time. Penny sensed that a new phase had been reached in her education.
The first punch had made her eyes water. The second made her blood boil! She knew she had to repay this hurt. For the next few minutes she aimed for the now hated face, directing blow after useless blow at the infuriatingly moving target. And all the while that pretty nose of hers was being mercilessly pounded, harder and harder each time.
Finally, Miranda directed a quick, light, but economically effective blow at Penny's jaw and sent her to the hard concrete floor. As Penny scrambled to her feet, the brutal teacher laughed and signalled that the session was over. For once Penny was disappointed! She wanted to carry on and on and on until she landed at least one revenge punch on the face of the girl who had just made own face a bleeding throbbingly painful mess. She was close to tears as she considered the humiliation of it all!
"Never mind, Penny! Your nose will be right as rain in a few days. Unless it gets another bashing tomorrow, of course. And it will, unless and until you learn how to defend it! You're too slow, my girl - much too slow! See you tomorrow, or have you had enough? Believe me, if you carry on after today, it gets worse - much worse. I'll show you no mercy from now on. You've been warned."
"See you tomorrow, Miranda. Don't be late. I won't be!"
And Miranda briefly kissed her cheek and firmly hugged her. Then both girls left.
As she ran home on those by now well seasoned feet of hers, her nose throbbing with pain and the blood still seeping out onto her upper lip and into her mouth, Penny felt better than she could ever remember! Miranda had kissed her and complimented her! She knew enough about the older woman to appreciate that this new stage of her training had only started because she was well and truly ready for it. It made her feel so immensely proud! Her bare feet flew across the distance to her home. When she arrived, she seized a surprised Mr. Smith and held him to her face, kissing him and telling him what a clever mistress he had! "I know that any way you silly bitch, let me down, you daft cow!" Was his unspoken reply!
Next day, she was asked by a waggish colleague if she had been drunk again and fallen downstairs! Her reply, to the effect that she had taken up boxing and wasn't too good at it just yet, was greeted by hoots of laughter, until she punched her chief mocker hard and very expertly in the belly leaving him doubled up and gasping for breath.
As soon as she saw her boss go into his office she marched straight over and went in without knocking. Not our usual polite and well-mannered Penny, thought Mr Burns!
"Why are you giving that cretin Tom Brewster charge of Overseas Accounts instead of me? You know damned well, I'm worth ten of him. It bloody stinks!"
An amused Harry Burns sank back into his well upholstered executive chair and smiled up at his favourite subordinate.
"The job was always yours for the asking, my dear. The trouble was that you never asked! Now that you have - it's yours! And that is one hell of a red and very sore nose. Are you really serious about taking up the Noble Art?"
Penny nodded, smiling happily. "Kickboxing, to be precise. I surprised myself one day when a colleague was mugged and it's sort of grown from there. I love it! Trouble is, my teacher thinks I need to learn the hard way!"
Harry told her that the hard way was the only way to learn, and that he would dearly love to be able to shake this teacher by the hand.
"Time someone knocked a bit of sense into you, my sweet. I've a shrewd idea that it's thanks to him you're going places at last. About time, too!"
"It's a her, as a matter of fact, Harry. I think she's the most fabulous person I've ever met. Tonight she's going to beat me up again! I'd love you to meet her!"
She went back to her room. Soon the news that she had got this plum job had got about the building. All morning people were coming to congratulate her, although Tom Brewster was not one of them! Most thought that it could not have happened to a nicer person. None knew that it was only because she had ceased to be quite so nice that she had got the job.
The next evening was indeed, very painful for Penny! Once Miranda had decided that her nose was sufficiently pulverised, she started to mark, in a very painful way, the rest of that pretty face. Both eyes were blackened and her lovely lips were cut by some brutal and well aimed blows. Penny was forced as never before to concentrate on defending herself. She managed to fend off and evade a fair number of kicks and punches. By the time it was over, she was totally whacked and her head was on fire. They both sank onto the floor at the end.
"Well done, Penny. You're getting the hang of it at last! Do you think you can make it home on those tired feet tonight? I've a spare bed at my place!"
Penny explained that she did not live alone and must get back, come hell or high water.
"I don't live alone either! I'd have liked you to meet my partner! Some other time! I suppose it hurts that battered face of yours far too much to kiss your cruel teacher tonight?"
Penny put her arms around her tutor, breathing in the heady smell of their mutual and fight induced sweat, and kissed her hard and long, paying no heed to the pain.
"How's that for an answer?" she laughed. "See you tomorrow, Miranda my love!"
Five more weeks of this went by. Bit by bit, Penny's colleagues saw her face gradually cease to bear so noticeably and colourfully, the marks of her training. In time Miranda was forced to admit that there was little more she could teach her pupil, who was now pretty well as good as she. Henceforth they would meet for the occasional friendly duel and more often than not their evening sessions would end up with a drink at a local wine bar.
The more Penny learnt about Miranda the more bewitching she found her company. This was a woman who believed that, since Man was Mind Body and Spirit, the health of all three was inter-dependent. Having seen to Penny's body, she began to look to the other two components of her being. They started to go to the theatre from time to time and the opera, of which Miranda was a fanatical devotee. Penny realised that she loved this woman as she had never loved any one before.
Thanks to Miranda, that hardest of taskmistresses, she was fast becoming the career woman that part of her had always secretly desired to be. The new job was bringing out all manner of qualities and abilities in her that she would never have imagined herself to possess. Day after day, she was finding out just what a very able and resourceful young lady she was.
And it was all because this mysterious person had appeared out of the blue and taken her in hand! She could not imagine that she would ever be able to repay her. A thousand bloodied noses would be a small price to pay for what she had learned from this dear friend!
One day, Miranda stopped at the door of the gym as they were on their way out at the end of a session.
"I can't teach you a lot more, Penny. You know my moves by heart after all this time! I'd like you to fight a girl I know. I'd be interested to see how you do. I warn you - she's hard and she's good! No audience - just me! Are you game?"
Penny agreed, not without misgivings. This had only been a means to an end so far. She had no great desire to reduce some other poor girl to unconsciousness! But she agreed nevertheless.
The fight that night was long, hard and very bloody. At the end she stood over the senseless body of her defeated opponent and looked down with a feeling of utter exaltation, despite the fact that her own blood was dripping steadily onto the defeated foe beneath her. When she got home it was a different story. All she felt then, as she prepared for bed, was abject shame! She vowed never again to fight another human being. Not as long as she lived!
A week later, she was sent on a trip to the USA and was away for three months, keeping fit at a gym, of course, but not indulging in that addictive sport which she now hoped never to take part in again. The memory of the battered face of that poor girl on the canvass still haunted her. How could she have done that to another woman? What had she turned into? Despite this revulsion, however, a secret part of her still gloried in her hard won proficiency and itched to prove herself again. And again and again and again!
Penelope Lyle returned to London and the routines of the office, her superiors unanimous in their praise of the mature, adroit and sure footed way she had handled her foreign assignment. Also she returned to the gym and her barefoot running to and from work. This had come to mean a lot to her. She still dieted rigorously and took only cold showers whatever the season. She continued to undergo training from Miranda and sparred with her in a friendly way every night. It wasn't quite the same, though! The edge was gone.
Finally she was persuaded to meet and fight another girl and this time she lost and lost extremely badly! The sheer utter terrible shame of staring up at the ceiling as she was counted out never left her. As she groggily walked back to her changing room, supported by a scornful, angry and utterly unsympathetic Miranda, who furiously promised her a beating to not only match, but far surpass the one she had just had, (a promise she kept!) she vowed that she would never again let this happen to her. She had gone soft these last few months and this was not good enough!
The cat, newly adjusted to the return of his mistress after being fed in her absence by an indulgent neighbour who had let him become far too fat, was also disappointed to see his owner being dropped off from a taxi, fully clothed and shod and walking unsteadily to the front door. How dare his mistress shame him like this, by being beaten, when he could lick the arse off any cat within a three mile radius? She saw the reproach in his eyes and wept tears of shame.
Next day she went to the gym to face the wrath of her tutor. As soon as Miranda saw her, she barked out an order to the quailing and ashamed Penny.
"Get undressed and into that ring, Penny. I promised you a beating to remember for the rest of your miserable rotten life and I keep my promises."
This time, Penny did not assume a horizontal position, although she would have dearly liked to as the merciless drubbing reduced her face to a bloody pulpy mess. By a magnificent effort of will she withstood her friend's savage assault and was still just about standing when Miranda confessed herself too exhausted to continue. As soon as the angry tutor had recovered her breath she gasped out. "Why didn't you show that kind of spirit last night, you daft bitch?"
"I was just out of practice. Too soon after getting home from the States. And I still had pangs of conscience about that girl I slaughtered before I went away."
"Don't worry about her, Penny! She'd have loved to do the same to you, you silly girl! And if she had, she wouldn't be reproaching herself about it. I despair of you sometimes, I really do!"
Then Miranda's stern face softened.
"You are such a nice girl, though! I love you Penny! Yes, I suppose you're really much, much too nice for this sort of thing. More's the pity - because you're pretty damned good at it!"
She put her hands on Penny's shoulders.
"If you want to give this up, fair enough, my darling girl. I suppose it's not very ladylike and it's served its purpose by putting a bit of spine and some guts into you! Just don't go back to being Miss Sugar and Spice and all Things Nice again - whatever you do! Get back into that Bank and show them all who's boss! I hope we can still be mates, though!"
"Oh, Yes, Miranda. I'll always want you as my friend. I really will!"
And this should have been the end of their acquaintanceship, save for the odd friendly chinwag from time to time. But Fate had other ideas. Well! Not Fate, exactly!
"Are you alright Penny?" Harry Burns was concerned as he saw the worried look on Penny's face early one Thursday morning.
"Yes, Harry. Just a bit worried - it's probably nothing. Just that my cat wasn't waiting for me last night when I got home and that's not like him. He'll turn up soon enough, I expect!"
She tried to busy herself with her work, but the tears would not be banished, unlike when she had been painfully and soundly thrashed by Miranda on many an occasion and remained bravely dry eyed throughout. She was so awfully fond of that silly infuriating animal! The phone rang. Probably that disgusting Patric again. Couldn't that creep ever learn to take "No" for an answer?
She was far too busy of late to be able to go to his gymnasium every day, and he had been in the habit of ringing her at work. He wanted her to take part in another fight, damn the fellow! She was beginning to think that his introducing her to Miranda had all been part of some deep laid scheme of his.
She picked the phone up.
"Penny my love. I have this fight arranged for you tonight. You will be there, my sweet and get the shit knocked out of you! I have a few friends of yours who want to see it!"
"Penny! You'd like to see that pretty Russian Blue cat again - alive and well?"
She froze at this. A rage took over her, such as she had never known before, not even when Miranda had been pounding her nose into her face with such vigour.
"You hurt my cat, and I'll kill you. That's no idle threat, either, you bastard! I'd spend the rest of my life in jail just for the pleasure of killing you, and don't think I'm joking. Just try me!"
"Won't do Pussy any good, when he's dead and dead in a not very nice way! I want you at the Kennington Community centre at 6 O'clock tonight to take part in a very special fight. You can't win it, sweetheart, but you'd better put up the show of your life, or else! Stay on your feet for ten rounds before your opponent puts you down and you get your feline friend back alive and well. Otherwise, it's bye bye Puss Cat!"
The phone went silent. A distressed Penny could not think what to do. Then she remembered Miranda, whom she had not seen for weeks, since their last fight, when her tutor had punished her savagely for being beaten the night before by a very low grade opponent. Miranda would help! She knew Patric and all his dirty ways. She would surely help! There was no answer from her number, and she kept trying all morning and all afternoon with no result.
The poor distressed girl hardly noticed anything for the rest of the morning and just sat in her room, tears pouring down her face. She did notice Tom Brewster once or twice and it occurred to her that he had a rather satisfied smirk on his flabby chinless face. Realising that tears would not rescue Mr. Smith, she managed to regain some kind of hold on her emotions and forced herself to carry on for the rest of the day.
She was at the appointed place at the time specified. What else could she do? She would go to any lengths to rescue her beloved companion. A burly looking bouncer admitted her to the changing area.
From the auditorium she heard a growling barrage of noise. The spectators were obviously delighting in something! A seedy little man came into the changing cubicle.
"You should be on in about twenty minutes, the way things are going. Only girl fight on the bill! You're the one who gets massacred, I'm afraid darling. I hope you think the money's worth it! That pretty face won't be so nice to look at for a very long time after that other cow has done with it!"
Penny asked the man what he meant and he explained that she would enter the ring naked against an opponent gloved and booted with metal strips and with a body well padded to protect her from any blows. Only the face and head of her opponent would be unprotected. She was going to be bloody well slaughtered and the crowd would love it! She nodded her head. So be it, she thought. "Just as long as Mr. Smith is returned safe and well, they can do what they like to me! I'm tough enough by this time, after all said and done!"
A roar of sadistic cheers announced the end of the current fight and Penny was ushered naked into the arena. She climbed into the ring, with easy practised skill and looked across at her well armoured opponent. It was Miranda! Her friend!
Miranda looked every bit as surprised as she! She did not look as if she relished what she was going to be asked to do, and Penny began to suspect something. It would have to wait until after, though. She had a cat to rescue.
Then the referee announced the contenders for the next bout and Penny was introduced as the "Naked Avenger" It all clicked!
Her dream! This was the beginning of the fight whose bloody but triumphant ending she had dreamed of so many times until the dreams mysteriously ceased. She looked around at the arena and all was exactly as she had seen it!
And Miranda! Of course the woman had looked familiar the first time they had met! This was the opponent who was to half kill her for thirteen long horrible rounds only to be beaten at the end!
She was totally calm now. OK! So she about to take the beating of her life, but she would win and last the requisite number of rounds and her darling friend would be safe. What else mattered?
All went as she had dreamt, save for one small detail. She did not put her bare foot on the fallen body of her friend. Instead, she knelt down on one bloody knee and put her arm under Miranda's head, helping the dazed but reviving girl to her feet and helping her out of the ring and back to the dressing room. The audience did not like this piece of chivalry, utterly foreign to their nature, but they had had their fun and Penny was not about to let them have any more.
A friendly official brought the girls a cup of sweet and strong tea apiece. Penny let Miranda recover for a while. Then she spoke. "Why did you come to fight in this crummy sleaze pit, Miranda?"
"I was about to ask you the same, darling Penny. I knew I was beaten the minute I saw you get in the ring!"
"Really!" said an astounded Penny. "I knew I was bound to WIN in the end. I dreamt it ages ago"
Miranda put her cup down and stared disbelievingly at her protege.
"Of course, Penny! I knew there was something about you the minute I met you. You are the girl who beat me in my dream all those months ago. And you had the same dream in reverse? Is that what you're saying?"
By various kinds of cross checking the amazed pair were able to establish that they had their mirror image dreams on exactly the same nights and that both girls' dreams had stopped at the same time.
"But why did you come here tonight, Penny?" asked Miranda.
Penny explained and Miranda looked sad herself.
"I had my Siamese kidnapped and was told to be here, or else. I'd die to save that little darling. I even half killed you for her sake, God forgive me!"
There was a muffled knock on the door and the girls said "Come in" but no one came in. Penny went and opened the door and two cat baskets were on the threshold.
"Oh Boofums, darling!" said Miranda.
"BOOFUMS!!" shrieked Penny. "A hard nut like you and you call your cat BOOFUMS! I don't bloody believe it!"
She looked at the other basket and tears started to flow.
"And here's dear lovely Mr Smith! Oh you lovely old sod! Come here and be kissed!"
The two cats were released and allowed themselves to be kissed by their respective and very tearful owners. They then inspected each other and seemed pleased at what they saw, purring loudly and rubbing themselves against each other.
"Come on, Miranda. Time to get these two home. Give me a call in a couple,of hours. I think we've both got a bit of arse to kick in the next couple of days! And - Oh Boy, aren't we going to love kicking it! We'll take Patric and his gym apart tomorrow, and that'll just be for starters! How did he think he could ever get away with it?"
Miranda started to get ready to go back home with her Boofums. Then she had a thought.
"Did you see anyone you knew in that dump, Penny? 'Cause I bloody did! Two of your colleagues, one of them being Patric's gay partner, one Tom Brewster! They've been hanging about his gym for a while, only never when you're around! Make any kind of sense to you?"
Too bloody right it made sense, she thought with her anger at that piece of shit rising by the second! Was he ever in for a nasty shock in the morning! The two friends embraced. Penny winced as her horribly battered face came into contact with Miranda's, but she kissed her firmly and for a long and hugely enjoyable time - pain or no pain! Then she took her darling pet back home. Time enough on the morrow to sort out those swine!
And she did. But that is another story!