When he was through, I asked, "Already done benching?"
"How much you put up tonight?"
He shrugged, but I detected a slight puffing of his chest that told me his vanity had been kindled.
"Not so much. Hundred and forty kilos. Could have done more, but with that much weight, it's better to have someone spot you."
Perfect. "Hey, I'll spot you."
"Nah, I'm already done."
"C'mon, do another set. It inspires me. What are you putting up, twice your body weight?" My underestimate was deliberate.
"Shit, more than twice your body weight? That's what I'm talking about, I'm not even close to that. Do me a favor, do one more set, it'll motivate me. I'll spot you, fair enough?"
He hesitated, then shrugged and started walking over to the bench-press station.
The bar was already set up with the hundred and forty kilos he'd been using earlier. "Think you can handle a hundred and sixty?" I asked, my tone doubtful.
He looked at me, and I could tell from his eyes that his ego had engaged. "I can handle it."
"Okay, this I've got to see," I said, pulling two ten-kilo plates off the weight tree and sliding them onto the ends of the bar. I stood behind the bench and gripped the bar about shoulder-width with both hands. "Let me know when you're ready."
He sat at the foot of the bench, his shoulders hunched forward, and rotated his neck from side to side. He swung his arms back and forth and I heard a series of short, forceful exhalations. Then he lay back and took hold of the bar.
"Give me a lift on three," he said.
There were several additional sharp exhalations. Then: "One . . . two . . . three!"
I helped him get the bar into the air and steady it over his chest. He was staring at the bar as though enraged by it, his chin sunk into his neck in preparation for the effort.
Then he let it drop, controlling its descent but allowing enough momentum to ensure a good bounce off his massive chest. Two thirds of the way up, the bar almost stopped, suspended between the drag of gravity and the power of his steroid-fueled muscles, but it continued its shaky ascent until his elbows were straightened. His arms were trembling from the effort. There was no way he had another one in him.
"One more, one more," I urged. "C'mon, you can do it."
There was a pause, and I prepared to try some fresh exhortations. But he was only mentally preparing for the effort. He took three quick breaths, then dropped the bar to his chest. It rose a few centimeters from the impact, then a few more from the northward shove that followed, but a second later it stopped and began to move inexorably downward.
"Tetsudatte kure," he grunted. Help. But calmly, expecting my immediate assistance.
The bar continued downward and settled against his chest. "Oi, tanomu," he said again, more sharply this time.
I pushed downward instead.
His eyes popped open, searching for mine.
Between the weight of the bar and plates and the pressure I was delivering, he was now struggling with almost two hundred kilos.
I focused on the bar and his torso, but in my peripheral vision I saw his eyes bulging in confusion, then fear. He made no sound. I continued to concentrate on the clinical downward pressure.
With his teeth clenched shut, his chin almost buried in his neck, he threw everything he had into moving the bar. In extremis he was actually able to get the weight off his chest. I hooked a foot under the horizontal supports at the bottom of the bench and used the leverage to add additional pressure to the bar, and again it settled against his chest.
I felt a tremor in the weights as his arms began to shake with exertion. Again the bar moved slightly north.
From Hard Rain: A John Rain Novel by Barry Eisler, copyright © 2003 Barry Eisler, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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