Queen's Fortress: A Short Story: Part One
Sally McCone was in the joint for conspiracy to commit murder. Her husband. For the insurance money.
At six-foot-nine, three-hundred-fifteen pounds, she could have done it herself. Throttled him with her bare hands. But she hadn't even considered it. Because she was smarter than people thought: a thousand miles away when the attempt had been made.
The numbskull she'd hired botched the job and barely got away. Two days later he'd been busted for possession with intent to sell and a glock with the serial numbers filed off, in the glove compartment of his car.
The numbskull sang like a canary, got his sentence pled down to probation, and the rest is history.
It would have been nice to get away with it. Put the S.O.B. in the ground. Clear a cool half million. Do a little traveling. But it would have to be alone.
There was no lover in the wings. There never was. Sally McCone's size and occasional meanness intimidated the opposite sex.
But what made her mean, sometimes, was the way sexism diminished her femininity. If you're a guy her size or bigger, people adore you. But a woman like her, people call a freak. And people did. Call Sally a freak.
But Sally had always found solace in sports. She had always been freakishly strong, even for an athletic young woman of her height and weight. She did weightlifting and basketball.
When Sally set a pick on a would-be defender, it was an experience the other girl never forgot. Sally was solid. When she ran into you, you fell down. When you ran into Sally, you fell down.
By her senior year in high school, Sally was bench-pressing more than the strongest boy on the football team. Which did not endear her to the fellas.
But she was optimistic and hopeful when she got a scholarship to play ball at a Division I school. Maybe her romantic prospects would improve.
Sally was the most feared center in all of women's college basketball. If you were on offense against her, you drove to the basket at your peril. When she posted up on you, you resigned yourself to the inevitable two points. And checked yourself for loose teeth and cracked ribs. Sally got meaner as she got older.
But none of the string beans on the men's squad would give her the time of day. They didn't gawk at her, of course. Many of them were taller than she was. They just tended to look through her. Which hurt even more. To a man, they all went out with tiny things, whom Sally could easily sling halfway across the campus with one arm.
But the sight that had made her see red was the school's star center. A bona fide seven-footer destined for the NBA. Going around with a smurfette, who couldn't clear five feet on her best day.
A hundred pounds?
Sally found herself wondering if dating these comparative midgets made them feel normal. That was probably it.
In Sally's opinion, giants should marry giants and take over the world. It was a known fact that tall people had higher IQs, made more money, and were more successful.
But what about if you were too tall? What about if you were a giant? Did the advantage go on endlessly? Or did the tables start to turn on you as you reached the 'How's the weather up there?' plateau?
Sally's love life: Exhibit A.
Now she had done it. Gone and made herself mad, as she sometimes did. Thinking about her suffering too deeply.
Unfortunately for the other girls, Sally took it out on the opposing team that came to town for an important semifinals game.
Sally turned in a masterpiece. She played ferocious but under control. For three quarters she had turned in a Wilt Chamberlain-like performance.
Sally was a whirling dervish on defense. Every girl on the opposing team had had her shot blocked by Sally, personally, multiple times. She had gone out of her way to do this. She wondered if she could singlehandedly hold an opposing team scoreless. Walk off the court beating them 60-0 or something like that.
Sally set herself to the task. A wily veteran by now, and surprisingly nimble-footed for a woman her size, she always got to the spot first and drew the 'charge' call on the other girl. She did this to every player on the opposing team, more than once.
Sacrificing her body. Not much though. Whenever a girl ran into Sally, the other girl always went down. She had eventually caused two of the other team's best players to foul out.
Sally set picks a defensive lineman would be proud of. She also knew how to put a little something extra on the hit without any of the officials seeing it. The other girl gets up wobbly and hobbling; she and her coach screaming for a foul call to no avail.
On the low post, Sally ground down whomever they put on her. Sapping the poor girl's will. Inexorably scoring. Or, grabbling her own offensive rebound after a miss and then scoring.
Defenders tried all afternoon to draw a 'charge' against Sally. But on that day, her body control was an exquisite and frustrating as her irresistible power. She would always stop at the last second, avoiding contact, and make the super-smart, super-slick pass for the easy score. Sally had never been so sure-handed with the ball than on that day.
Or, when a girl tried to draw the charge, was trying to get to the spot, and Sally knew she could beat her there, she would gleefully run over the would-be defender. And enjoy the added satisfaction of going to the line for free throws. With the foul called on the girl sprawled on the hardwood.
When Sally ran into a girl, the other girl always went down.
By the last third of the first half, the score was 35-0. Sally had scored 27 of those points. Sally and company---but mostly Sally---were winnowing down the ranks of the other team. The opposition was down to all third string personnel and there was still a lot of ball to be played. Who would stop the bleeding?
For a long time after that day, there would be whispers. Why didn't the coach pull Sally out of the game with such a commanding, frankly insurmountable lead?
Sally knew the answer. The coach knew that she would have pounded his pasty white face into rice pudding, if he dared pull her out with her feeling the groove.
For some reason, Sally started to lose control. And it showed. The crowd, as rowdy as they come and up for anything, began to grow quieter and more concerned, in the midst of the suddenly escalating carnage.
Sally was a one-woman war zone. The humanity!
Three quarters into the second half now, and Sally made a strong move to the basket. Much too aggressively.
She bowled over her would-be defender. Who took out the legs of the referee. And they both landed in a pretzel on the hardwood.
A couple of the bigger girls on the opposing team, made as if to confront Sally about this.
But Sally forestalled this. She grabbed the basketball and said to the girls, calmly, "This is your head. And this is your head between my hands."
Sally crushed the ball with a pop. "Any questions?"
Then she ran off the court in tears.
She had fouled out by that time. The referee, a little man who enjoyed breathing, had been steeling himself to inform Sally of this.
You felt for Sally. Had compassion for her. She was obviously in emotional pain about something. You wanted to reach out to her.
But Sally was a wounded lioness. And you were liable to get shredded like rice paper for your trouble. So Sally was left to cry it out---whatever 'it' was---alone and un-consoled.
Sally ended up marrying her college coach: Greg McCone. A six-five, Division II washout, just a few years older than Sally.
She had thought she could do better. But the decided lack of notches on her bedpost declared otherwise.
Sally McCone did not go to the pros. It had not been injury that stopped her. Sally had given the pain, not taken it.
The simple fact was that, despite the holy hell she had raised in college, Sally was aware that she was not good enough for the WNBA.
Greg continued to coach women's college basketball. Sally found that she had a degree but hadn't really learned anything. What's more, after four years, all she really knew how to do was play basketball.
So, naturally, Sally McCone went to work for LoveBurger. Initially, stripped from her element, people gawked at her again, like she was a freak. Then, later, people started to recognize her from her playing days at college.
They approached her. Asked for her autograph and a picture. Wanted to talk basketball. It as okay again. Tolerable.
Three years later, Sally McCone had scaled the breathtaking heights to become the store manager.
The thing was: she had a bunch of prepubescent-acting macaroni heads working for her. Which means they were notoriously unreliable. Which means they were always calling out. Which means Sally had to spend more time working the register than she would have liked.
Did they have to build the counter so low to the ground? This is the agony she had endured her first year. Going home every night with a sore back.
What was worse was that every time she had to bend over to get something from under the counter, she could feel the eyes of the dwarfish losers in the back, ogling her butt. Everything on her was just too high up.
The alternative was to squat. But eight years of her irresistible force thing on the hardwood, both in high school and college, had taken their toll on her knees.
Well, three weeks after her promotion to store manager, all her workers came into a big surprise. Literally. All the counters were raised at least two feet to suit Sally. The shorter shrimpos had to stretch. Some of the truly pint-sized ladies had to actually stand on milk crates.
But Sally didn't care. She wasn't going to ruin her back for the LoveBurger corporation.
But honestly though, what was it about this neighborhood where her workers came from? Sally had never seen so many abnormally diminutive people in one place. It was like a refugee camp. And she was Gulliver's wife in the land of the Lilliputians.
Sally took a part-time job as a bouncer at a go-go bar. She was the biggest, baddest, hardest-hitting bruiser they could find. She ate and trained like a monster; and put on forty pounds of solid mass.
And yet, Sally McCone remained every inch a woman. She dressed to boldly accentuate her feminine curves. Because she wanted the sodden losers she pounded into the ground, and tossed into the alley, to know that they had gotten their butts kicked by a woman. An unusual woman, to be sure. But a woman nevertheless.
She stood in a darkened corner, sipping a beer. Sally McCone was the Mount Everest of women. Were any of the tipsy losers in this place, man enough to climb her? She thought not.
Her husband, Greg, was having an affair. She had suspected for some time. A wife always knows. But she had it confirmed by the private investigator, whom she engaged to follow him.
She had the investigator text the pictures to her phone.
The Other Woman was a redhead: not bad, but nothing special either; nice shape on her---she wasn't missing any meals; and tall, for a puny human female: maybe pushing five-ten.
The Other Woman might conceivably pose a slight challenge.
On the day of the confrontation, Sally dressed in her bad-to-the-bone outfit. Faded and shredded jeans: as tight as she could stand without passing out. Five-inch heels for extra intimidation: custom-made for a full grown woman like herself. A cutoff Bold's Gym T-shirt, exposing her midriff. Exposing the encircling tattoo of barbed wire. Short, black leather jacket. Black, no-finger leather gloves. Black eyeliner, lipstick, and nail polish. Earrings that looked like a couple of trees of Christian crosses. A spiked collar around her neck.
Queen of the Biker-Goths. Cruising down the highway on her three-wheeled, black and silver chopper. Not a care in the world.
Greg and the Other Woman were doing the deed at some no-tell motel. Sally showed her husband's picture to the desk clerk, an oily tub of lard with too much to live for to give her a hard time. He told her the room number and gave over a spare key.
Sally walked in unannounced. Greg: just coming out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist. The Other Woman: sitting on the bed in her underwear.
They had not showered together, Sally knew. Greg was fastidious that way. The time he spent cleaning his body was always solitary, sacred, and compulsively germaphobic. The erotic implications of shared bathing were completely lost on him.
If her husband knew what was good for him---and he did---he would keep his mouth shut---which he did.
Sally went over to the woman. "What's your name?"
"You don't seem surprised to see me, Leslie. And you don't even seem surprised at my appearance. I take it you know who I am?"
"Speak up, please."
"Then I can only conclude that you're a woman who likes to live dangerously." Sally looked at her husband. "Do you like women who live dangerously?"
Greg dared not answer. Dared not say a word.
"Well, good for you, I say," Sally said, "making your life an adventure like that. Now stand up."
"What?" Leslie said.
If only Leslie could have fallen through the bed, through the floor. If only she could have turned to vapor and floated away. Greg had told her his wife used to play college basketball. So she thought the woman might be tall. But he had never mentioned anything about being married to Paul Bunyan's sister.
"Stand up," Sally said. "I won't tell you again."
Leslie stood up.
"How far do you think I could throw you?"
"You know the saying: 'I wouldn't trust you as far as I could throw you,'? The thing is, though, I think I could throw you pretty far."
Sally grabbed her around the throat with one hand. Encircling it entirely. Leslie tried to scream but didn't have enough air. She tried to fight but didn't have enough strength.
Sally walked her over to a wall and pressed her against it. Hand still around her throat. Sally concentrated, trying to figure just the right amount of pressure.
"Leave her alone," Greg said, going for Sally's back.
Sally dropped him with an elbow. Caught him flush against the side of the head. "Try that again and the slut goes right out that window. Sit down and shut up."
Greg was seeing stars.
Leslie passed out.
Sally checked pulse, heartbeat, and respiration to make sure the tramp was still alive. She was.
"Fragile little thing," Sally said, hoisting her over a shoulder like a sack of sugar.
"What the hell are you doing?" Greg said with his head in the clouds. "Where're you going with her?"
Sally smiled. "Shocking, ain't it? Don't give it another thought, love of my life." Her expression went stone. "Get dressed, go home, and wait for me. We have to talk."
When Sally got home, she sat Greg down and began by expressing regret that things had gotten so far out of hand. She explained that when it had looked like her home and family came under threat, she went crazy.
Greg was her home and family, she told him. In any case, Greg was not the first man to be enticed outside the bonds of matrimony, and he wouldn't be the last. Everybody makes mistakes and nobody's perfect. 'Cast the first stone,' and all that.
Sally said that she was committed to their marriage. And determined, therefore, to make it work.
Greg had tried to ask about Leslie.
Sally waved him off. "Don't worry about... what's her name?"
"Yeah, don't worry about Leslie. The important thing, love of my life, is you and me. You see, I love you so much. And I'm going make you love me, if I have to break every bone in your body to make it happen."
With that they adjourned to the bedroom. No kissing or caressing. Sally did not want tenderness or understanding.
Instead, as was her wont, she put Greg on his back. Used the hand motion to get him hard. Impaled herself upon him. Rapid-fire until she got what she needed to get.
The next day saw Greg McCone fitted with a neck brace. He had actually sustained whiplash in that motel room.
He would never again ask what happened to the Other Woman. Sally would certainly never volunteer any information.
Leslie's the name. He hoped it still was.
End of Part One.