The two women released their bows and circled one another, warily, with respect. All judoka know that underestimating an opponent is the surest way to defeat. Both women had competed at the highest levels; each knew the other was highly skilled and dangerous.
They were sizing each other up, testing each other's reactions, looking for an opening.
Emma Peel, at 27, was the younger of the two, and the taller. Long and lithe, her movements were graceful and yet coiled with tension. Her glossy auburn hair fell over her shoulders in a loose flip. Eyes, large and brown, were focused only on her opponent.
Cathy Gale was six years older and slightly shorter, more muscular and more buxom. She radiated power as she circled. Her sleek blond hair, in a tight curl above the shoulder, glowed in the artificial light. Her blue eyes were like steel.Emma had never seen Cathy in action, but knew of her through her exploits. After returning from Africa, Cathy had competed in and won several amateur championships in judo and taekwondo.
At the Ministry, her exploits were legend. In training, some said she tried too hard to win, occasionally hurting opponents through sheer determination. Or maybe because she enjoyed it. Even the men disliked sparring with her. It was no surprise she became John Steed's partner.
As for Cathy, she had done her homework before bringing Emma here. She knew Mrs, Peel was a great athlete, amateur tennis and golf champion, martial arts expert, deadly with sword or gun. She'd proven herself on the job -- with Steed. But that was the challenge, that was always the challenge for Cathy: to beat the best.
Moving in concert, the women engaged. Grabbing hold of each other's judogi, they now began the test of strength, leverage and balance that is judo. They struggled mightily, each trying to find some advantage, some way to throw her opponent to the ground.
These were trained athletes, in peak condition. Each was able to absorb the other's move and react with one of her own. Each body in balance, and in balance with the other.
As another formidable woman once wrote, "In a fight the adversaries become one, and the two duellists make up a unity," and so it was with Cathy and Emma.
They grappled on, flying through the air and rolling on the floor, one on top and then the other, they were two women forming one whole, yin and yang, blond and brunette, entwined, always together yet constantly in struggle.
Steed watched with fascination as the women threw and rolled each other across the mat, neither gaining more than a momentary advantage before her adversary countered.
After many long minutes of this, the two women found themselves, exhausted, still locked together, standing in the middle of the floor where they'd started. They only result so far was mussed hair.
Cathy looked through blond strands with rage; she was obviously frustrated. This wasn't going as planned.
"What's the matter, Dr. Gale," said Emma, flicking auburn locks out of her face. "Not as easy as the British Amateurs?"
Now Cathy redoubled her effort, desperately trying to overcome Emma, when she found an opening. She was able to cross her right leg over Emma's and throw Emma onto her back with a hiza guruma, or knee wheel.
Too late, she realized, it was a set-up. Emma went down, but at the same time she planted her right foot in Cathy's midsection and, keeping hold of her judogi, flipped Cathy over her head and to the floor with a thud.
Emma jumped up quickly to exploit her advantage, but Cathy was ready. On her back, she launched her right foot over her head, catching Emma square in the face and sending her onto her backside.
Eying each other, the women arose. Now they assumed taekwondo stances; the way of the foot and the fist.
Cathy came with fists flying, a combination right-left-right that Emma deflected. Emma shot up her left foot at Cathy's exposed stomach, only to be blocked by a knee. Cathy spun around to her right, 360 degrees, to deliver a roundhouse kick to Emma's head, hitting only air.
Emma had ducked and, doing her own 360-spin close to the ground, performed a sweep-kick that caught Cathy's planted leg and sent her crashing to the bamboo. With a leap Emma was upon her – only this time she'd been set up.
Cathy caught Emma's lead arm and, pivoting, flung her over her back and to the floor. Emma hit hard, and then received another hard hit: Cathy's diving elbow to her chest.
Now Cathy rolled her body on top of Emma's, pinning her to the ground, and loaded up for a right to the face.
But Emma, lying flat under Cathy's weight, hit her with a short open-handed left. Not enough to do damage, still it knocked Cathy off balance, and Emma used an arm drag to fling her off.
Cathy struggled to get up, and Emma slipped her legs around Cathy's midsection, catching her in a leg scissors. Crossing her feet together, she tightened her legs like a vice around Cathy's stomach.
A guttural "Ugh!" came from Cathy – anger as much as pain. First she'd been frustrated, now she'd been caught in a basic judo move. She was mad.
Cathy's back was to the floor. Emma was on her left side, her right leg over Cathy's stomach and left leg under her back. She squeezed with all her might.
Emma tried topin Cathy's arms, but Cathy – alert after the first shock – fought back. She was able to spin around inside Emma's scissors, maneuvering so she was face to face with Emma, and above her. Cathy struggled to her knees, all the time Emma applying the vice to her waist, draining her air.
Cathy made it to her feet, grabbed Emma by the front of her judogi, and lifted. Emma, refusing to release the move, found herself hauled up into the air – and then slammed back to the ground, with Cathy atop her.
This produced such a thud, Steed gave out a "Oh!"
Cathy brought a knee down on Emma's chest – "Ooof!" -- and then swung her left leg under Emma in an attempt at a head scissors. Emma, though stunned, foresaw the move and ducked below Cathy's right leg. Coming up from behind she threw her right arm around Cathy's neck in headlock.
"Grggh!" Cathy spat. "You're like a snake!"
Cathy worked her left arm around Emma's neck, and now the two women were head-locked together -- legs entwined, arms around each others necks, blond and auburn hair mingling, literally face to face.
"I feel I'm getting to know you better now, Dr. Gale," said Emma, her lips nearly touching Cathy's.
"The pleasure," hissed Cathy, "is yours entirely, I'm sure."
The women somehow rolled over, onto their knees, still clutched in mutual headlocks, their free hands linked together.
Making it to their feet, they pulled their hands apart and started pummeling each other with fists into stomachs, chests and poor trapped heads.
The two women held on to each other for dear life as the rain of blows came down. Finally, as if in a synchronized performance, each reared back scored with a shot to the other woman's the jaw.
They flew apart as if an explosion had taken place between them, landing on their backs with a single thud.
"That's GOT to hurt," said Steed, wondering what could happen next.
Each woman rolled, pushed back her hair with a hand, and looked about to see what the hell had just happened. They sighted one another, senses cleared, and up they stood.
Fists clenched, they charged together with a fury. Rights and lefts flew and kicks came from impossible angles.
Heads of red and gold danced around the room like two flowers in a violent storm.
But neither could score a knockout, and they found themselves faced off again in the middle of the floor, bruised and breathing hard.
"Ladies, ladies," said Steed, "why don't we just call it a draw? We can talk it out over a spot of tea."
His attempt at mediation was ignored, if it was heard at all. To the two women, there was nothing outside of their own confrontation, their own Unity, and there wouldn't be until it finally was finished, one way or another.
They closed again, fists at the ready. Cathy, so far thwarted by Emma, unleashed a barrage of punches and kicks, heavy blows designed to bring a quick end to the fight.
Cathy was like a machine, arms and legs pumping like pistons, forcing Emma to back up under the onslaught. But Emma was deftly able to block or avoid the worst of the attack, and this only made Cathy madder, encouraging her to take more chances.
Seeing an opening, Cathy released a big right uppercut. But Emma felt it coming; she pulled her head back at the last moment. The punch whistled past her face. This left Cathy's midsection wide open, and Emma drilled it with a short left.
The punch knocked the air out of Cathy, and Emma took advantage with a solid right to the jaw, knocking Cathy back and down to all fours. She was sucking hard, trying to get her breath back.
As Cathy looked up there was rage in her eyes, and now she made a run at Emma, looking to take her down with brute force. But Emma sidestepped, like a matador, and threw her hip into Cathy's. The blonde crashed head over heels onto the bamboo.
Cathy turned, anger boiling over, but as she stood she was caught with a foot to the face and sent skidding back to the floor. Cathy rolled to her feet, seething, and squared off with Emma. But now her arms heavy and head was ringing.
Emma sensed her advantage and took the fight to her opponent. She peppered Cathy's face with jabs, and buried brutal shots in the midsection.
Cathy was doing her best to defend herself while still trying to land a knockout blow.
Emma ducked under a wild right and then, spinning to her own right, did a 360-degree pirouette, delivering a left-footed kick flush to the side of Cathy's head. It hit with a smack of flesh on bone, and now it was Cathy spinning, 180 degrees to her left, where she fell to her knees.
"That's my girl," Steed said to himself.
Cathy made it up to her feet, but Emma – from behind -- threw her right arm around Cathy's neck and squeezed tight with her left—a chokehold. Emma hung on and pushed down, using her height for leverage, trying to drive Cathy to the floor and add her body weight to the move.
Cathy, bucking, let out a howl. She pulled at Emma's arm but couldn't break the grip. Her head pounding and chest tightening, she tried to elbow Emma, then rap her in the face with the back of her hand. Emma expected the moves – all basic -- and avoided them. She continued to tighten the vice and drive Cathy downward.
Frantic, Cathy she reached back, to claw or scratch her opponent, and came away with two handfuls of long hair. She pulled.
Cathy threw her backside up against Emma, and—digging her hands into those auburn locks—yanked Emma over her shoulder and down to the mat.
Emma landed hard but was able to roll to her feet and turn, quickly taking a defensive posture, before Cathy could pounce. Emma pushed the hair out of
her face, running a hand over her painful scalp.
"So that's how we're going to play, are we?"
Cathy just sneered.
"I'm not playing at all, Mrs. Peel."
To be continued...
And more Mrs. Peel here: kingofhairpull.com/mrs-peel