All the King’s Queens – Chapter 12: Breaking News

The only thing Thomas Sellars can do is stay put. Two minutes ago, he received a text from Stephen Callahan telling him to stop drilling. There are police officers snooping around the property, meaning any unnecessary noise must come to a complete halt until they leave. Thomas is more than happy to comply. He has no intentions of going back to prison.

The last hour has been murder on his equipment. Dylan Tanaka’s safe is much more difficult to penetrate than he had originally anticipated it would be. Already he’s completely worn down three titanium drill bits. The fourth one that’s currently being used should last 10 to 15 more minutes. Judging from the reading produced by his ultrasonic thickness gauge, Thomas estimates he’s almost 80% through. That would probably mean sacrificing this drill bit and wearing down a fifth one pretty well, though it may be salvageable if he’s lucky. He’ll cross that bridge when he gets to it. For now, he will enjoy the unexpected break that – if he’s being honest – he really needs.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh,” he says after taking a long swig of water from his bottle. “That hits the spot.”

He wipes a cascade of sweat off his brow with his sleeve. Thomas knows he probably smells like old socks, though that is the least of his worries. The idea of cops on the premises, investigating some shit that happened outside (Thomas is certainly going to rain hellfire down on the dimwit who let one of the hostage escape, unless Stephen plans to torture them instead, in which case he’ll gladly sit back and watch that unfold), is enough to give him massive anxiety. He feels his chest tighten. He isn’t in any danger of suffering a heart attack, but an incredible amount of stress on the human body can do things you would never expect.

“Come on, everyone. Just settle down up there. Hold tight,” he whispers while looking up at the ceiling, imagining his comrades sitting around one floor up. “Those bastards will be gone before you know it. Just play it cool…and don’t make any noise or let any of those bitches escape again.”

Thomas peers down at his phone for updates from Stephen. So far, he’s received none since the initial text telling him to cease operations.

“Damn it.”

***

The ominous red glow of police vehicles is still making Stephen nervous, even though he has no imminent reason to feel fear. All he needs to do is wait them out until they all leave. Then, he and his team can resume their activities. The bandits and hostages are sitting around a long hallway stretching from the foyer all the way to the dining room on the far end of the house. It’s the only large part of the house that isn’t near any windows. Stephen is the only one standing, looking at his phone for updates from Bill Marks. He’d know if the police were to request special reinforcements to deal with a hostage situation. It definitely pays to have friends like that on your side.

So far, nothing noteworthy to report from Bill. This is good news, Stephen believes.

Through the kitchen sliding glass door, the group can see a few flashlights dancing around the backyard. They aren’t able to understand what the officers outside are talking about. However, that matters very little to the people trapped inside. Stephen decides to let the light coming from Dylan’s bedroom stay on in order to maintain the charade that he’s all alone. Dylan prays silently to himself that the cop he spoke to understood that he was talking in code. Will help be on the way? Will there be an end to this nightmare that results in these criminals getting what they deserve? Dylan could only hope so.

“How is everyone feeling?” Stephen whispers to the hostages. For a long moment, nobody speaks. Melanie finally looks up, appearing as exhausted as she’s ever looked before.

“Fine,” she whispers back, not wanting to talk too loudly and incur the wrath of her captors. “We’re all doing fine. I’m guessing no more bathroom breaks for the rest of us?” Melanie resists the urge to look at Peggy, who for whatever reason reeks of urine. She’s sure to have a compelling story to tell, though that will have to wait for later – assuming there is a “later.” That is not guaranteed.

“That’s right. I think your friend here, no pun intended, pissed that opportunity away for all of you,” Stephen remarks with too much self-indulgence. Nobody seems to be smiling from that, which is not a surprise. “Just sit back and don’t do shit. If you have to pee all over Dylan’s carpet, so be it. It’s not like that would be the worst thing to happen to him today. Would it, old friend?”

“No, it would not,” Dylan admits. “I’ve experienced far worse.” Shortly after settling in the hallway, Dylan was forced to undress and return to Stephen his pants and shirt. He is now naked again with a fleece blanket wrapped around his body.

Cortez tries to maintain a stone face while he replays in his mind the incident with Peggy Cole in the bathroom. How the fuck did he lose his self-control like that? He’s a professional who has been in this business long enough to know that you don’t screw around like that while on a job. When you’re at work, it’s all business until it’s over. He’s tried to avoid making eye contact with his colleagues – especially Stephen Callahan, the big boss – knowing he’s in for some sort of sadistic punishment after this is all over. Heck, he may never do another job again if word of this spreads among the organized crime community. If exile – similar to the type of ostracization that Dylan has experienced these past few years – is what he has to endure instead of a bullet through his skull, that’s a price he’s willing to pay. He can always (hopefully?) find a legitimate job that pays a decent salary somewhere. It won’t be nearly as thrilling as being a criminal, but it sure beats having to work with people who would always be suspicious of you. Or would have an itchy trigger finger if you screw up again.

And if there’s anything that’s considered a near-death sentence in this business, it’s being labeled as “unreliable.” That’s the quickest way for your work to dry up. Or for you to end up with a bullet in your head.

“I don’t see no more flashlights, boss,” Roddy says quietly to Stephen. He nods his head.

“Good. Go to the living room and take a quick look, alright? And, obviously, don’t be seen by anybody, got it?”

“Oh yeah. I got it. Don’t worry about me. You can trust me.” Roddy shoots Cortez a dirty look. Cortez looks down at the floor in shame. Xander, who truly feels bad for Cortex, wants to say something encouraging to him but knows that now is not the time nor the place. Roddy tiptoes across the hallway toward the foyer, which connects to the living room. Once there, he sees no more flashlights outside. But that doesn’t mean the pigs are gone for good.

Roddy rushes to the front curtains. He stands against the wall next to them, then lifts a portion of the curtain with his finger. As cautiously as he can, he peers out to see what’s going on outside. All he sees in the distance are a few cop cars still parked close to the main gate. It’s fortunate that it’s dark outside, which makes it easier to see flashlights. It doesn’t appear as though there are any more police officers on the property itself. This is good news. Finally, he spots a few flashlights bouncing around the house next door on the left. It’s too far away to make out any voices, but that’s good enough for him. As quickly as he left, Roddy tiptoes back to the hallway to report the wonderful development.

“Boss! It appears as though the pigs have left. They’ve moved on to the next house, over there.” He points in the direction of where he saw the flashlights dancing around in the night air. Xander, who apparently was given the task of going to the dining room and checking out the backyard for any remaining cops, suddenly returns behind him.

“All clear in the backyard. We’re all alone. Not a soul in sight,” Xander happily reports. This pleases their boss immensely.

“Excellent! This is exactly what I wanted to hear. That didn’t take long,” he turns to Dylan, who’s still sitting on the floor. “And you have one hell of a large backyard. I guess they really bought your story, that you’ve been asleep the whole time. They don’t suspect a thing. Wonderful!” Dylan looks up from the floor, trying to figure out what Stephen’s next move will be. It appears as though that dimwitted cop didn’t catch on to the clue he left of wishing him good luck on catching them. Dear Lord, how much more obvious did he have to make it?

“I say we return to the basement,” Stephen suggests. “Up, everyone. Let’s get moving!”

All the hostages comply with his command. Two minutes later, everyone is back inside the gym, huddled around the same spot as before. It’s as though nothing happened. As if Peggy’s daring escape attempt was all for naught.

***

A quarter of a mile down the road, close to where the bandits parked their two vehicles, a SWAT van creeps up behind three more police cars. Right behind them are two FBI vehicles, one a sedan and the other an SUV. Four ambulances are not far behind them, obviously without their lights or sirens on. As quietly as possible, the six blocks of 43rd Avenue are taped off to prevent motorists or pedestrians from getting through. At this ungodly hour that shouldn’t be a major problem. However, precautions must be taken when hostages are involved. Two cops are situated on the street, each facing a different direction, instructed to tell drivers to take alternative routes for the time being.

Inside the SWAT van are four highly trained snipers who will be placed on the roofs of the two houses neighboring the Tanaka residence; as well as eight additional team members who are specially trained to handle hostage situations. Riding shotgun in the FBI car is Special Agent Jillian Mendoza (who will be the point person during the duration of this crisis), who is hard at work debriefing Robert L. Baker, the hostage negotiator sitting in the back seat.

“Once we make contact with whoever the hell is holding this woman and, presumably, Dylan Tanaka hostage, we will make sure to remind them that we have snipers up on the roofs and additional SWAT officers ready to storm the premises at our command,” Mendoza says. Baker takes notes on a pad of paper, the old-fashioned way. She appreciates that touch. “Sound good? I just want to be clear that this could be nothing close to resembling the crisis we think it is. It’s possible Tanaka is an abusive boyfriend who’s holding that woman against her will. However, we can’t assume that.”

“I understand,” Baker says. “Anticipate the worst, hope for the best. I know how it goes.” After scribbling down his last final notes, Baker checks his phone to see what time it is. It’s 2:19 a.m. The sun won’t be up for another four hours or so. The cover of darkness will work to their advantage, at least for the time being. “Great. Let’s get this show on the road. I don’t exactly find these types of assignments fun per se, but it is what it is. It’s work, important work, and it needs to get done or people die. Can’t have that happen, can we?”

“No, we can’t. You’re right about that. Okay, we’re here,” Mendoza says.

The SWAT van parks near the entrance of the cul-de-sac, far away out of sight from anybody inside the Tanaka residence. Unless they have night-vision goggles, there’s no way anyone can see a black van and SWAT officers dressed in all black from this far distance. As quietly as possible, the police already on the scene, led by Officers Dietrich and Gutierrez, have evacuated all the neighbors and moved them to a single house right at the corner of Winchester Drive and 43rd Avenue. Most of them are wearing pajamas or whatever clothes they could put on in a hurry. Mendoza notices how frightened the final few neighbors are who enter the safe house. It always breaks her heart to see innocent civilians caught up in horrifying situations like this.

A few police officers with flashlights pretend to inspect the houses next to the Tanaka residence. Within five minutes, all four snipers are inside their respective houses, looking for entrances to access the roofs. Getting ready is always the part that makes Mendoza the most nervous. She believes that a hostage-taker is the most likely to lose their cool and start killing hostages when they see police getting in position. Once everyone is in place, guttural fear kicks in and they are less likely to act irrationally. She hopes that pattern continues on this fateful early morning.

“Are we ready?” she asks into her earpiece.

“Yes, we are. All the snipers are in place. Over.” She recognizes the voice responding back to her as Cory Langdon, one of the best sharpshooters in the region. The SWAT are technically police officers, so they don’t work too closely with the FBI unless the shit hits the fan. But everyone in the regional Bureau office knows who Cory Langdon is – he’s that renowned.

She looks up to visually confirm that all the snipers are in position. They are. Good!

“Good evening, everyone,” Officer Dietrich says to the newly arrived feds. “Me and my associate, Officer Gutierrez, have successfully evacuated all civilians to the safe house down the road. No innocents should be in the line of fire.”

“Great! Thank you for that. I’m impressed you were able to wake up that many people at this late hour of the day,” Special Agent Mendoza remarks. “As you can see, the snipers are on the roofs. The SWAT members are in position in front of the brick wall. They’re all wearing enough body armor to shield them from any spikes on top of the wall. We’re ready!”

“Okay, let’s roll. I’ve already been on the property, so I’ll make the introductions, sound good?” When Dietrich sees the hostage negotiator approach him, he immediately gets the feeling he’s about to be usurped by someone above his paygrade.

“Hello, Officer Dietrich. My name is Robert L. Baker. I’m the hostage negotiator,” Baker introduces himself to the veteran cop. He and Dietrich shake hands.

“Yes, I know who you are,” Dietrich says.

“Your reputation precedes you,” Gutierrez chimes in, who suddenly materialized out of nowhere. Even Mendoza, who’s usually hyper-observant when engaging in a crime scene, is surprised to see this young lady show up to the conversation without being seen. “No activity on the ground floor, from what we can tell. Very few lights are on, except for one single light in the foyer. As you can tell, there’s one light on somewhere on the third floor. Probably a bedroom. We don’t have blueprints of the house, so I’m just guessing here. Rich people like Tanaka can keep secrets your typical ordinary person can’t. And I don’t know if you know this already, but our guys found something of keen interest in the backyard.”

“What is it?” Mendoza wants to know.

“A ten-inch half-circle of glass was cut in his screen door. Someone broke into his home for sure. No doubt about it,” Gutierrez reports. The two FBI agents look at each other, their nonverbal glances signaling that this is confirmation that something is afoot. Tanaka isn’t alone in his own home. After a brief moment of silence, Special Agent Mendoza turns to Dietrich.

“How did you make contact with Tanaka?” Mendoza asks.

“Right over there by pressing the call button,” Dietrich says, pointing to the callbox next to the gate. “That’s how we spoke at first. I asked him to come down and he did so after an unusually long time.”

“How long?” Baker asks. He takes out his pad of paper and restarts taking notes. The two police officers aren’t as impressed by his diligence as Mendoza was.

“Five or six minutes. I can’t imagine it would take him that long to get from his upstairs bedroom to the front door, but it did,” Dietrich says. “Especially when a police officer wants to talk to you after a shooting. The way he dressed was also unusual. He wore black pants and a black shirt that was way too tight on him. Almost like it wasn’t his. Like he had to wear it for appearance’s sake.”

“Hm. That is strange,” Mendoza concurs. “Well, let’s get started. Go to the callbox and request to speak to him again. Tell him we suspect the shooter is somewhere inside his house and that we request to enter his home. If he refuses or seems tongue-tied, that’ll tip us off that either he’s directly involved in something sinister…or someone inside his house is up to something sinister. Either way, we’re going to have to intervene whether he likes it or not. Sound like a plan?” Baker, Dietrich, and Gutierrez all verbalize the consensus that this is a solid plan. As Special Agent Mendoza and Baker chat among themselves, Officer Dietrich slowly approaches the callbox that he used earlier. He takes a deep breath, looks up at the sole light emanating from the third floor, and presses the “call” button. It takes a few moments until someone answers it. After a brief muffled sound, Dylan’s voice can be heard on the speaker.

“Yeah? Hello Officer. Did you catch the bastard who shot my neighbor?” Dylan Tanaka asks, a slight hint of nervousness in his voice. After many years on duty, Dietrich has grown adept at interpreting the various ways people attempt to hide their nervousness. Tanaka, to his credit, is doing a pretty good job at appearing to be (somewhat) calm.

“No, however my officers suspect whoever shot your neighbor might actually be hiding somewhere inside your home. We saw that the sliding glass door in your backyard had a portion cut out of it. We think someone has broken into your home. May several of my guys enter your premises, Mr. Tanaka?” Dietrich sees a few officers taking a couple steps forward so they can listen in on their conversation. The experienced officer shoos them away with his hand, not wanting too many people in blue uniforms to be seen in the security camera view. The fact it’s taking Tanaka a long time to respond is indicative that something is definitely not right.

Downstairs in the gym, Dylan is holding the transistor radio close to his chest as Stephen screams obscenities upon hearing Officer Dietrich request several cops to enter the home and search the premises. There’s no way everyone can hide in a closet or pantry while multiple officers search every nook and cranny. The mess Thomas has already made trying to break into the safe is damning enough. The five hostages relish watching their usually rational captor suddenly become explosively irrational at the flip of a switch. Dylan, who attempts to remain emotionless on the surface, cannot help but feel joy inside seeing his former colleague realize that his master plan is tumbling down like a ton of bricks.

“FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKK!!!” Stephen screams at the top of his lungs. His associates cower in fear as they realize that they too are going down with the sinking ship. Stephen kicks a wastebasket across the room. Thankfully, it’s empty. “Give me that bloody radio, NOW!”

Dylan obliges. Stephen, with the radio in hand, takes several deep breaths. He knows he must remain calm and logical if he and his men are to have a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting out of this mess intact. Of course, he hasn’t forgotten about the secret ace up his sleeve that he has enclosed in his backpack (which is sitting next to Thomas Sellars’ duffle bag of equipment). In fact, he brought that along just in case disaster were to strike. This, unfortunately, constitutes such a disaster.

“Hello, officer,” Stephen calmly says to Dietrich. “Well done. Well played. I thought I could get away with it, but apparently that wasn’t in the cards for me tonight.”

On the street level, Dietrich looks back at Special Agent Mendoza and Robert L. Baker. Both of them scurry over to the callbox to listen in on the conversation unfolding. “Who am I speaking to, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“My name is unimportant. You will find out soon enough. For now, you can call me Steve.”

Baker’s eyes pierce into Dietrich’s eyes. This is where a professional hostage negotiator is needed, and everyone present knows it. Officer Dietrich kindly steps aside to let the FBI man do his job. Meanwhile, Officer Cunningham and a few other police officers are setting up several powerful floodlights across the street, all pointed at Dylan Tanaka’s house. Four lights are being set up in the bedrooms of the two neighboring houses (to give the snipers a better view of the property) and three more in front of the gate. Any moment now, the entire mansion will be lit up like a Christmas tree. There’d be nowhere for someone hiding behind a curtain to evade being seen.

“Hello, Steve. My name is Robert Baker. You can call me Rob. I am with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Is it safe for me to assume that we have more than a simple house party happening in there?” Baker, a veteran FBI agent in his mid-40s, is a tall balding man with a grey goatee, thin brown-rimmed glasses, and a logo-less dark blue baseball cap. The first thing he wants to do is discover the hostage-taker’s intentions.

“Yeah, you can say that. I suppose there’s no reason for me to lie to you, huh? I’m surrounded by cops, FBI spooks like yourself, and probably the National Guard right at this moment, am I right?” Stephen paces back and forth in front of Dylan and the four other hostages. Roddy, Xander, and Cortez split up to see what kind of mess has developed outside the house.

“I can’t say we invited the National Guard, but everyone else you spoke about is here right now, yes,” Baker politely informs “Steve,” the villain of tonight’s festivities. “Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? You seem like a smart, reasonable man. Who are you, Steve, and how many people are inside that house?”

“Let’s just say I’m a former disgruntled employee,” Stephen says, which is technically not a fib. “I have beef with Dylan Tanaka. Well, a lot of people do, so that biographical tidbit shouldn’t reveal who I am just yet. And I’ll be honest with you, Rob. I have five hostages in here. Dylan is one of them. You probably met the naked woman who tried to escape, right?”

“Actually, no. I heard about her, but I have not personally met her. In fact, I just arrived a few minutes ago. So I’m new to the party. I apologize for not bringing beer.” In an instant, all the floodlights turn on almost simultaneously. The bright white light temporarily blinds everyone near the gate, including Baker. He squints and faces away from the lights in order to regain his vision. “Do you see that?”

The floodlights are very visible through the gym’s upper windows. “Yes, I clearly see that you’ve apparently turned on all the lights in the neighborhood. Well done,” Stephen sarcastically remarks. The lights do add a much-needed ambient radiance to the basement, though no one is in a mood to form interior decorating observations at the moment. “Let me guess. There’s a SWAT team that’s about to arrive.”

“No, the SWAT team is already here. We have multiple snipers hiding in various locations, all with a clear view of the property. The street has been closed off to the public. And the neighbors have been woken up and escorted to safety. So, we can hang out and chat all night long, if you’d like. But I somehow doubt that would interest you.”

Stephen releases the “talk” button and swears to himself. “You’re all pretty lucky right now,” he says to the hostages. “You may have a way out of this that doesn’t result in a bullet going through your head. Good for you, fuckers.” He returns to speaking to Baker on the radio. “No, that would not interest me. Not in the slightest.”

“How many associates do you have with you?”

“Four others. All armed. Including me.” Stephen takes out his pistol and cocks it for good measure, making sure that the sound goes through to the other side.

“I see. Is anyone hurt?”

“No, just my pride. I thought I had an airtight plan. Everything was going so well until that slutty bitch escaped from our grasp.” Stephen glares at Peggy. She smiles back at him, satisfied that her daring escape ended up bearing fruit. Seeing this makes Stephen point his gun right at her face. Everyone gasps. “Speaking of which, I could shoot her right now. She’s in front of me, just a few feet away. One pull of the trigger and her brains will be smeared all over the wall. Should I do that, Rob?”

“Of course not, Steve. Let’s not do anything that you’ll regret later. Breaking and entering, combined with taking hostages and threatening to do them harm, carries a hefty enough prison sentence for you and your friends. If you add murder to that list, the consequences will be more severe. Don’t do it. Spare their lives. You don’t need to hurt anyone to prove your point.” Everyone surrounding Baker cannot believe how cool and collected he is right now, including Special Agent Mendoza, who smiles watching him go to work.

“Oh? And what point is that, Rob?”

“I don’t know for sure, but you said you’re a disgruntled employee. I’m thinking you want to punish Mr. Tanaka for wrongdoing. You want to kill him and his friends. Is that right? Why else would you be there?” Off in the distance, Baker sees that the entire cul-de-sac is packed with police cars, ambulances, and a few firetrucks (just in case). Combined with snipers on the rooftops and powerful floodlights making the mansion glow like it’s in the middle of a fish tank, it’s quite a scene right here in this (usually) quiet neighborhood.

“That’s exactly why I’m here, very perceptive of you,” Stephen lies. “So in other words, you’re trying to convince me that Dylan here has already learned his lesson, you know, being taken hostage at gunpoint, that sort of thing. Pretty traumatizing unto itself, huh?”

“Very much so. I’m pretty sure this is a night none of your hostages will ever forget, no matter how long they live.” Special Agent Mendoza, listening in on the conversation, is surprised at how intelligent this “Steve” guy sounds. If he’s a former disgruntled employee, as he claims he is, he certainly passes the smell test. Baker resumes the conversation. “Your situation is hopeless. We have you surrounded. You know that. You and your friends are going to face criminal punishment since you’ve already committed many felonies. Adding murder to that list will do you no good. Now, I can foresee you looking at this as a suicidal mission. Your beef is with Mr. Tanaka, but chances are your associates don’t feel the same way about him. Is that correct?”

Stephen looks at his fellow bandits, who have all returned to the gym after inspecting the outside. The look of dreadful fear on everyone’s faces is palpable. “Yes, you can say that.”

“Alright, so that means they probably are not up for a suicidal mission, even if you are. You might be willing to shoot every single hostage and then take your own life shortly before the police come running into the house. However, since we just established your associates don’t feel the same level of hatred against Mr. Tanaka as you do, they wouldn’t want to add “accessory to murder” on their rap sheet. Am I on the right track here?”

“Yes, you are,” Stephen says with a strong hint of defeat in his voice. He knows where this guy is going with this.

“So, that means they probably wouldn’t want to see you kill any of them. Because doing so would make their punishments even more brutal than it already will be. And since we established they aren’t as willing as you are to take your own life before the cavalry rides up over the nearest hill, odds are…they’ll try to stop you from killing anyone. They have every incentive to do so, right?”

“Yes.”

“At any moment, one of your guys may attempt to frag their commanding officer, or stage a mutiny, or whatever analogy you want to use. Are you familiar with this terminology, Steve?”

“I am, Rob. I’ve read about the Vietnam War in school. I know what fragging means.”

“Good. So…you don’t really want to shoot any of the hostages. Not Dylan Tanaka, not the woman, not anyone else we haven’t met yet.” Baker knows he’s this close to talking Steve off the ledge. The best way to do that is to frame his actions in terms of his own value system and how irrational behavior will undermine his own objectives. This is the best way to save lives. Persuade the hostage-taker that killing hostages will invalidate the very reason he’s taking hostages in the first place. Thus far, it seems to be working. “I shall be blunt. You seem like a smart guy. If you kill any of the hostages, your own men will probably do the same to you shortly afterward…to save their own hides. From our conversation so far, it doesn’t seem like you’re best friends with any of your associates. They’re probably hired guns, right? Employees working with you on a one-time basis. You don’t particularly care about them…and they don’t particularly care about you. Which means one of them – or all of them – will not hesitate to take you out if it means minimizing the body count and saving themselves from additional prison time. There’s a major difference between ten years in a federal penitentiary and, oh, say twenty-five years, or forty years, wouldn’t you say, Steve?”

“There certainly is, Robby boy,” Stephen smirks at his new pal. “Damn. You’re good at what you do. I can tell this isn’t the first hostage situation you’ve tried to diffuse. Very clever.”

“Thank you. But let’s return to your predicament, shall we? Since we just established your friends aren’t willing to go on a suicide mission, even if you are, you want some semblance of a victory, am I correct? You know your situation is hopeless, but that doesn’t mean it has to be meaningless. Unfortunately for you, the longer you talk, the more likely this fragging is bound to happen. So, this means you need to surrender as quickly as possible, lest you risk that terrible outcome becoming more and more likely to happen by the second.” Baker is confident he’s got him where he needs him. He has just (hopefully) saved that woman’s life, and possibly everyone else’s lives. If this ordeal ends with no dead bodies – pending the poor man who’s being rushed to the hospital at this very moment – that’s an A+ grade he deserves for this job.

“Hot damn. You’re good. Very good. Alright. Very well. You win. I think we should meet face-to-face, Rob. How does that sound?” Stephen looks right at Dylan, who also has a twinge of hope in his eyes. Melanie whispers something into Henry’s ear. Peggy and Monique are huddled close together but don’t say anything to each other. As angry as he is right now, Stephen isn’t a monster (technically speaking) who wants to actually kill people just for spite. And as much as he hates Dylan with a fiery passion, he probably couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger and end his life if it came to that point. He’s thought about it, of course, but he’s smart enough to know that obsessive feelings you get while stewing in your prison cell don’t necessarily translate into the real world.

“Okay, that sounds good to me. I would–”

“Except I’ll bring along two guests, just to prove that I haven’t already killed everyone. Well, you already heard from Dylan Tanaka briefly, so you know he’s alive. But, you don’t know for sure that the other four are alive as well, am I right?”

Baker, Special Agent Mendoza, and Officers Dietrich and Gutierrez give each other suspicious looks. Where is he getting at? “You are correct. We do not know for sure that you haven’t already killed anyone. Do you plan to visit us by the gate? I can assure you no one will impede your walk from wherever you are to the front gate,” Baker says. He makes a hand signal asking the police to clear the area as much as possible. After the officers had finished searching the property, they kindly left the area and shut the gate behind them by pressing a button located on the interior of the brick wall. They have no way of getting back in unless they break down the gate or scale the wall.

“I like that sound of that. Over and out,” Stephen says tongue-in-cheek. He switches off the transistor radio and tosses it to Roddy. He catches it with one hand, with his Glock in the other. “Dylan and the black guy. Come with me. Calmly.” He points at Dylan and Henry, who both slowly stand up after being summoned. Henry shakes his leg to get rid of a mild cramp. Dylan is the first to walk toward the door. Henry trudges along behind him. Stephen carefully follows both of them from behind just in case either of them decides to dash to their freedom like Peggy Cole attempted to do.

“Roddy, come with me. You two, stay behind and make sure none of these bitches do anything stupid, okay?” Xander and Cortez both verbally communicate their understanding of their boss’s order. Roddy unsheathes his firearm and follows Stephen, Dylan, and Henry to the door. Cortez, who’s keenly aware of his role in creating this mess in the first place, watches the three women like a hawk, determined not to repeat his earlier mistake again. Then again, he’s also aware that any of his associates will shoot him on the spot if he even comes close to screwing up a second time. Professional criminals tend to protect their own…until the very moment a dimwitted idiot jeopardizes their lives or livelihood.

Once their boss, Roddy, and the two hostages have left the gym, Xander decides to break the silence and take charge.

“Now, I’m only going to say this once. If any of you bitches decide to do anything, I can’t speak for anybody else, but I won’t hesitate to kill you. Got it? I got orders to only shoot you if you attempt to mess up our plan. Well, clearly that shit has already happened, hasn’t it, you dumbass?” He doesn’t need to look at Cortez in order to get his point across.

“Yeah…sorry man–”

“Ah, ah, ah, ah! I don’t need a fucking apology from you, you dumb piece of shit. Because of your dumbass, we’re all going to fucking prison, unless the boss man has any tricks up his sleeve. But whatever. If the loot we’re stealing is as valuable as everyone says it is, we may be able to cut a deal and avoid time in the slammer,” Xander says, who seems to be trying to talk his way into persuading himself that everything will be all right. So far, it sort of appears to be working.

“We get it. You want us to sit still and not move a muscle,” Melanie speaks up. “Or you’ll shoot us dead. Or whatever. Is that what you’re trying to say?”

“Yeah, you tranny. That’s exactly what I’m trying to say.” Xander points his gun right between Melanie’s eyes. She doesn’t flinch, though Monique and Peggy do. This makes him laugh. “I don’t know if you’re a dude or a ‘roided up chick, but you have balls. For sure. I got to respect that, as fucked up as that sounds.”

“I’ll accept your respect, for what it’s worth.”

Xander nods his head. Cortez lowers his gun, not wanting to accidentally shoot anyone prematurely before he has a reason to. Monique seems to be on the verge of tears again. And Peggy, the muscle chick responsible for getting the police here, can only grin at her captors. The two guys may hope that Stephen has an ace up his sleeve, but she has a hidden surprise of her own that she plans to reveal soon when the time is right.

***

Most of Dylan Tanaka’s neighbors are wealthy but largely anonymous individuals. They made their fortunes the traditional way: Climbing up the corporate ladder, stocks and investments, or family wealth passed down from generation to generation. Being woken up in the middle of the night to police officers telling them to quickly dress, evacuate their homes, and stay put in a safe house until a hostage crisis down the road comes to an end is certainly not a chain of events that any of these folks have ever experienced before…or will experience ever again.

There is, however, one neighbor who may not have ever personally experienced a crisis like this, but she’s reported on it as part of her day job.

Nicole Jarrett, a television video editor with eight years of experience working for Channel 7 News, and her husband live three houses away from Dylan Tanaka. During the media blitz that rocked their quiet little neighborhood in the wake of a national scandal involving their most famous (or infamous) resident, Nicole’s network was given easy access to interviews with the man himself because of her proximity to Dylan. And, it goes without saying, because they’re on friendly terms from being good next-door neighbors. Nicole has always treated Dylan with respect – even when the label “war profiteer” was maliciously thrown at him – which he deeply appreciated. When times were tough, Nicole was able to put her personal opinions aside (she actually thinks Dylan belongs in prison, though she’d never tell him that to his face) and still treat him kindly. That’s the spirit that has allowed her to work in the cutthroat business of television news media for so long.

Even though the police warned all the neighbors not to call or text their friends and family about this ordeal – because they were afraid if this were featured on the news the bad guys would panic and start shooting the hostages out of fear of being caught – Nicole couldn’t help herself. She’s a newswoman, and she must do what she’s been trained to do for the majority of her professional life: Report newsworthy information to her colleagues as soon as possible, lest they risk a rival station breaking it first.

Right now, all the civilians have gathered in the basement of Cory and Veronica Martinelli, who live in a house closest to the entrance of the cul-de-sac, on the corner of Winchester Drive and 43rd Avenue. Cory and Veronica have made hot tea for everyone (including a few of the police officers who’ve regularly checked in with them to provide infrequent updates on the ongoing situation) so they aren’t seen as indifferent hosts. Very few conversations are happening. Some folks have miraculously fallen back asleep. Nicole cannot fathom how anyone could go back to sleep when a group of armed terrorists has broken into Dylan Tanaka’s house and taken him hostage. When no one is looking, she texts her colleagues at the station who would be up at this time. The morning news broadcast begins at 6:00 a.m., which isn’t for another four hours, give or take. However, the anchors and crewmembers working the morning shift should be up by now, eating breakfast and showering. Thankfully, Derek Nguyen, the morning producer who decides which stories will be featured in every broadcast, is awake and excitedly responding to her illicit texts. As they’re texting each other, a news van is speeding toward their location, with a helicopter not far behind. She tries to respond to his messages without anyone seeing her – especially the cops.

DEREK NGUYEN: Holy shit! If this is for real this is the story of the century lol

NICOLE JARRETT: No kidding. Cops are everywhere. More cop cars and FBI guys are showing up literally every minute. It’s a circus. SOOOOOOOOOOO EXCITING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

DEREK NGUYEN: It sure is lol

NICOLE JARRETT: You have Bob and Candace on the way, right?

DEREK NGUYEN: Yes ma’am! They’re literally on the road right now. They should be there in less than 10 min. No traffic. Should get there soooooooon

NICOLE JARRETT: Thanks Derek

DEREK NGUYEN: Ur welcome. Stay safe. Don’t get shot!

NICOLE JARRETT: I won’t lol

DEREK NGUYEN: 😊

NICOLE JARRETT: 😉

And with that, the very scenario that the authorities were trying to avoid is about to unfold. Word spreads quickly around the local news scene, so it would only be a matter of time before a few of their rival networks – Channel 4, 5, and 13, respectively – caught wind of the word on the street that one of Seattle’s most infamous residents may be executed by a gang of terrorists.

Sure enough, word does spread like wildfire, even at this late hour. Newspapers, TV stations, bloggers, and magazines never sleep. And people who spend way too much time on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also rarely get the eight hours of shuteye that they need. The army of police cars with their lights flashing makes this section of Seattle look like a block-wide Christmas decoration. Many of the neighbors within a quarter of a mile have also awoken to the endless sirens that have roared throughout the night. With this comes people complaining about this on social media. And eventually, local news people will catch on and see a pattern.

Something sinister is brewing at Dylan Tanaka’s house.

By 3:00 a.m., the story begins trending on Twitter. The phrases “Dylan Tanaka,” “hostage situation,” “terrorist attack,” and “active shooter” all trend locally, but so far not a peep nationally. It is already 6:00 on Sunday morning for people on the East Coast, so it’s only a matter of time before they find out about it. And when they do, it’s sure to lead all the Sunday morning news shows. No talk about politics, the 2020 presidential election, or the economy. All the attention is bound to be on a small scale but dramatic scene happening inside one single home in Seattle, Washington. This is, without question, not the kind of attention Stephen Callahan had wanted when he planned this heist.

Nicole also has friends who work at a rival news station. She sends them a few cryptic messages saying her station has the scoop for the story of the year. One person has already responded, indignant that she’s not revealing more information. The other two are probably still asleep. Even though she’s full of adrenaline at the moment, Nicole would rather be sleeping if she could help it. However, sleep will have to wait.

Five miles away, the Channel 7 News van races toward the scene. Inside are a reporter, camera operator, photographer, and technician (who is also driving). As they pull up to 43rd Avenue, the van screeches to a halt when they see the whole street blocked off with yellow police tape. One of the officers swears to himself when he sees the news media have shown up. A few moments later another news van from Channel 5 appears. Then, a Seattle Times reporter riding a bicycle finds himself temporarily blinded by the seemingly thousands of red and blue lights flickering all over the neighborhood. Up above, a police helicopter has finally arrived on the scene, shining a bright spotlight – as if Winchester Drive needed additional bright lights – on the roof of Dylan Tanaka’s mansion. An already maniacal scene has just been kicked up a notch. Soon, it’ll get much worse once the national news outlets find out about this developing crisis.

What helps spread the word is an anonymous Twitter personality named Rufus P. Little, a Seattle resident who tweets nothing but weird rumors, hearsay, and chatter collected from a police scanner radio he (or she or they) owns. With an incredible 278,549 followers, Rufus tweets content at all hours of the night – including federal holidays – and is usually pretty reliable. Or at the very least, his content is entertaining enough for more than a quarter of a million people to want to consume it. As of right now, Rufus is tweeting furiously about a developing situation happening in the private home of infamous Seattleite Dylan Tanaka, the former CEO of Perseus Analytics who should be in prison but isn’t. His first tweet announcing the shocking news that Mr. Tanaka is being held at gunpoint by terrorists (or some sort of group of criminals) was retweeted 57,102 times within ten minutes of it being sent out. Subsequent tweets have accumulated similar engagement statistics.

Give credit to Rufus P. Little (who’s garnered a following beyond the Pacific Northwest, though the majority of his audience is from the greater Seattle area) for ensuring that newsmakers on the east coast are alerted to this dramatic situation. While he’s not a fan of Mr. Tanaka, he doesn’t want any harm to come to him. Unless the people holding him hostage are Syrian parents whose children were killed in a drone strike caused by faulty analytical intelligence. Then it would be him getting his comeuppance.

By 3:15 a.m. (6:15 on the east coast), all the major national television news stations have picked up on the story. ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and BBC are all reporting on what’s going on to millions of viewers in the United States and the United Kingdom. The usual left-wing and right-wing commentators choose to emphasize either the “corrupt billionaire experiencing blowback thanks to his crimes against humanity” or “(possible foreign) terrorists hold American civilians hostage” angle, depending on what gets them more clicks and social media followers. Even the crackpot conspiracy theory websites, who still think Dylan Tanaka is somehow a member of the Illuminati or the New World Order or whatever, get in on the action, insisting Dylan has been continuing his top-secret work for the Pentagon and the Department of Defense and that he’s now become “expendable” in the plot to take over the world. Or, Dylan “found out too much” and is being executed in order to ensure his silence. No matter where you choose to get your news, the CRISIS BREWING IN SEATTLE (a not-so-subtle reference to the Emerald City’s greatest cultural contribution, the Starbucks Corporation) is the top trending story across the nation (and certain parts across the globe).

A sample of announcements should shed light on what the “national conversation” sounds and feels like:

CNN: Breaking news out of Seattle, Washington. A few hours ago, local police were alerted to a possible hostage situation developing in the home of Dylan Tanaka, the former CEO of Perseus Analytics and consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense. At around 1:40 in the morning local time, a 9-1-1 call was made claiming a shooting had happened right outside Mr. Tanaka’s private residence. When police arrived on the scene, they discovered that he and at least one other houseguest were being held hostage by armed gunmen inside his home. It is unknown at this time how many gunmen there are, how many hostages there are, and whether or not Mr. Tanaka or anyone else has been shot or killed. This is a developing story, so stay tuned for further updates on this…

Fox News: We’ve just gotten reports that multiple armed terrorists have broken and entered into the home of former U.S. military contractor Dylan Tanaka, who you may remember was subject to a lengthy and public federal investigation for his activities combatting terrorism in the Middle East. Local police are not speaking to the media at this time, but an unnamed source close to the situation says a hostage crisis is brewing in Seattle. We will try to gather further testimony from eyewitnesses in the meantime. We do not yet know if anyone has been killed, though we do know at least one adult male has been shot and is being taken to a local hospital. More on this story a little later…

MSNBC: We interrupt for breaking news developing in Seattle. There are reports of a hostage crisis happening inside the residence of Dylan Tanaka, the former CEO of Perseus Analytics who had previously been working on a top-secret antiterrorism project for the U.S. government. Tanaka was the subject of a congressional investigation into his activities developing drone technology for the military and American intelligence agencies. The investigation resulted in Tanaka resigning from his position, Perseus Analytics dissolving, and several of his top lieutenants serving federal prison sentences. As you may recall, the reclusive billionaire did not face any jail time for his actions. Now, it seems like he is being held hostage inside his own home. Local authorities are not speaking to reporters on the ground. Eyewitnesses say several people, not just Tanaka, are being held at gunpoint. It is unknown at this time how many gunmen there are on the scene or if there are any casualties. One source who lives in the neighborhood says a man was taken to a local hospital after suffering some sort of injury. We will update this story as further developments come in. In other news, it appears that the White House will…

BBC: Good morning. Breaking news from the United States. American businessman and former military contractor Dylan Tanaka is reportedly being held at gunpoint inside his home in Seattle, Washington. At about 1:40 in the morning local time, police were alerted to an alleged shooting that had occurred outside Mr. Tanaka’s private home. Authorities later discovered a much more serious situation developing, though it is unclear at this moment how that happened. Several eyewitnesses say a significant police presence is now on the ground, as civilians have been escorted out of their homes and transported far away from ordeal. In addition to serving as a consultant for the American military, Tanaka’s former company, Perseus Analytics, contracted with the British government on several top-secret defense projects. Perseus Analytics’ U.K. headquarters used to be located in London before the company dissolved and merged with The McDermott Corporation. It is unknown whether or not there have been any fatalities. According to a source inside Parliament, the Prime Minister has been briefed on the situation, as Mr. Tanaka was working on a special project for the RAF before resigning from his position as CEO. We will keep you informed about this ongoing situation as we learn about further updates…

As national news outlets begin to report feverishly on this crisis, Rufus P. Little is rapidly becoming something of an international celebrity. His keenly accurate tweets, or at least they’re seen as accurate by the millions of people who are sharing his updates, have reached the furthest corners of the globe. Reporters who are too lazy to fly out to Seattle to investigate are simply sending him DMs asking for timely updates before he gives them away to the public for free. Rufus, not surprisingly, “blocks” them out of spite. Just because he’s willing to do their job for them doesn’t mean he’s going to give them inside knowledge just so they can chase Twitter clout. Rufus is a man of the people, after all. And the people deserve better.

As Stephen, Dylan, Henry, and Roddy walk outside on the driveway, at least half a dozen helicopters (two belonging to the police and FBI and the other four to local TV news stations) are swirling around up above. The deafening noise hurts their ears, though they quickly adjust and do their best to drown out the bedlam. They have more important matters to worry about. The driveway is clear but it is impossible to not notice the large crowd of people – mostly police and SWAT officers – gathered on the other side of the gate. It looks like an angry mob of armed militants getting ready to storm a foreign embassy. Stephen is walking right behind Dylan with a gun pointed at his neck. Roddy decides to be less dramatic, choosing to have his firearm in hand but not pointed at Henry directly. He knows the chef won’t attempt to do anything stupid like flee or climb the gate to escape. Stephen estimates there has to be at least forty or fifty police officers, and a dozen or so SWAT members, in attendance of today’s makeshift neighborhood block party. He sees a couple plainclothes people in front of the gate, which he guesses are the FBI people he spoke to earlier.

“Good morning, Steve,” Baker says to Stephen as the group comes to a complete stop. The fact that there are dozens of guns pointed in his direction makes his heart race a million miles a minute. He’s sure the others are feeling the same way.

“Is it morning already? God, it’s been a long night,” Stephen wryly replies.

“Yes, it has. You’ve been busy.” Baker takes a look at the man he just spoke to through the gate callbox. He’s exactly what he expected him to be: Fairly tall, clean-shaven, dark brown hair, dressed in all black, well-spoken, and determined to get away with whatever it is he’s trying to get away with. “Steve” looks like a schemer who’s planned this out, even for a worst-case-scenario such as this one. Stephen stops about ten feet away from the gate. Baker takes this as his cue to resume speaking. “Let’s talk like adults. As you can see, there’s no way you’re escaping from this nightmare. Eventually, even if it takes all day, or all week for that matter, you and your men will be brought into police custody. There’s no denying that. Do you agree, Steve?”

“I agree. Mr. Tanaka here and his personal chef are sure to want to end this nightmare as soon as possible,” Stephen says. Henry raises his hand to make sure the authorities know who he is. Dylan will never forgive himself for putting his friends in harm’s way. “You’ve probably noticed how calm I am right now, have you not?”

“Yes, that has crossed my mind,” Baker says. “How are you, Mr. Tanaka?”

“Oh, I’ve had better Saturday evenings,” Dylan jokes. “I sort of, uh, wish I had decided to binge-watch something on Netflix instead of dealing with this circus.”

“Are you hurt?”

“No, not even a scratch or a bruise. Other than the fact Mr. Callahan here and his buddies have been pointing guns at me all night long, I’m doing just fine.” Dylan looks at Stephen to see if he’s upset that he just revealed his name. The cops would have found out who he is sooner or later.

“Are you Stephen Callahan?” Baker asks. “The former Perseus Analytics executive who spent two years in prison–”

“Three,” Stephen interrupts. “Three. I spent three years in prison. Yes, you probably recognize me from the congressional hearings. Or that stupid PSA I did for Greenpeace all those years ago. I am indeed Stephen Callahan, Mr. Tanaka’s former right-hand man. We used to be close. We used to be friends. Well, I think it’s safe to say that’s not exactly true anymore, isn’t it?” He raises his gun to the back of Dylan’s head. The cops behind Robert L. Baker and Special Agent Mendoza draw their weapons in response. Baker puts his hand up to tell everyone to stand down. The police lower their weapons.

“Yeah, I’d say our friendship has come to an end. That ship has sailed. You’ve burned a hell of a lot of bridges tonight, buddy,” Dylan says. “Don’t expect a Christmas card from me this year.”

“I guess no letter of recommendation for you,” Henry chimes in. This makes Baker and Mendoza laugh. Roddy wants to laugh but refrains. Dylan smiles.

“Enough chit chat,” Stephen begins. “Let’s get down to brass tacks. I do have a backup plan, believe it or not. And Rob, this involves you. And you.” He points to Special Agent Mendoza, correctly sensing a well-dressed woman standing next to the hostage negotiator would be a person of importance. “I figured there would be a small chance that tonight’s plan would go haywire. So I planned accordingly. I have an ace up my sleeve. Want to hear what it is?”

Dylan and Henry, who are both aware of Stephen’s plan to steal top-secret scientific documents, have no idea what this “ace up his sleeve” is, or the fact that he even had one to begin with. The two men figured Stephen and his bandits simply planned to show up, break in, threaten Dylan with his life if he doesn’t cooperate, steal the loot, and walk out of here as quietly as church mice. As they are about to find out, Stephen came prepared.

“I am quite curious how you intend to get out of this pickle.” Baker points up in the sky at the police helicopters flying circles around the neighborhood. He doesn’t need to remind them of the dozens of police officers, highly trained SWAT team members, and snipers strategically positioned from above. “What is it?”

Stephen clears his throat, enjoying his temporary moment in the spotlight (both literally and figuratively speaking). He hopes he delivers a convincing performance since he’s pulling this out of thin air. He brought the dirty bomb with him, but that’s a last resort, not a Plan B. “I have several associates that I’m working with. Four of them are working with me tonight.” He gestures to Roddy, who nods his head. Roddy doesn’t know where Stephen is going with this, but he decides to play along and pretend like he’s fully informed about what he’s about to say. “The others are working, let’s say, elsewhere. Here it goes. I’ve planted a bomb in this city. It’s not large, but it’s significant enough to kill everyone who’s within, say, a 25-foot range. Now, in five to six hours, a new day will begin in Seattle. It’s Sunday, but not everyone likes to sleep in. People like to go to brunch, church, or watch sports in their favorite bar. Hidden somewhere is a bomb that will go off if anything were to happen to me or my men. Understand?

Special Agent Mendoza, Robert L. Baker, and Officers Dietrich and Gutierrez exchange quick glances at each other, expressions of surprise and dread filling their faces.

“Do you know where this bomb is located, Steve?” Baker asks. His eyes focus on Stephen’s face and voice inflection. Part of his FBI training included reading people’s verbal and physical expressions to see if they’re lying or not. Callahan, whether he knows this or not, is a hard man to read. This was evident during the congressional hearings. It’s evident now.

“I do not. That’s the beauty of my plot. I gave orders to my associates to hide the bomb in a random location. It could be anywhere. A car trunk. Inside a trash can. Under a restaurant table. In a library. Under a bus seat. Near the train tracks. Anywhere. It’s small enough to hide in plain sight,” Stephen teases. He senses genuine fear out of the hardened FBI spooks and the lead cops. “You can’t possibly evacuate the entire city. You can send the bomb squad to every public location possible, but that’ll only make my friends paranoid that something has happened to me. And if they feel like our mission has failed, they’ll detonate the bomb just out of spite. You could see upwards to twenty, maybe thirty people dead. Maybe more, if they hid the bomb in the right place. Wow, what a predicament! Bet you didn’t see this coming, did you?”

“How do we know you’re telling the truth? You could be lying.” Baker counters with no emotion in his voice. Dylan, who’s just as shocked as everyone else is, hopes Stephen is lying through his teeth to save his own hide. He’s a bad man (as he clearly found out tonight), but he’s not a mass murderer. Unless you count the work they did in Iraq and Syria…

“Yeah, I figured you’d say that.” Stephen puts down the gun once he sees the police back off. “Well, can you really take that chance? Can you really assume I’m lying just to save me and my colleagues from facing jail time? I could be. I could have just pulled that out of my ass. But…can you risk it? One of my men inside the house can send a simple text to a certain someone and, well, the bomb goes off. Yeah, it may not do that much damage at this early hour, but for sure people will die. Is that something you want to have to deal with, officers?”

Dietrich and Gutierrez both look down at the ground. They’re still trying to process the horror of possibly having to deal with a Boston Marathon-style terrorist attack in their very own city. They choose to not say anything to him out of defiance. Dylan suspects Stephen’s lying and that there is no bomb, but then again before tonight he never thought he’d be angry enough to pull off everything he’s already pulled off up to this point. So, it’s not totally unreasonable.

“I thought so,” Stephen says triumphantly. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is the ace up my sleeve. If I don’t make it out alive, I can guarantee you that people in this city will die. That’s the truth. You can choose to not believe me, but you do so at your own peril. Can you risk it?”

“No, we cannot risk it. Whether we want to or not, we have to take your threat seriously,” Baker acknowledges with a hint of defeat. “Okay, Steve. I hear you loud and clear. How shall we proceed?”

“I’m glad you asked!” Stephen quickly looks back at Roddy, whose expressionless face signifies that he’s also adept at playing along. Roddy knows the bomb threat is bullshit…but he’s doing a heck of a job selling it. For that, he deserves to be commended. “I want a private airplane waiting for us at Boeing Field. Me, my four men, and Dylan will all board it and go to a place of my choosing. After the flight has landed, I will call my other men and tell them to retrieve the bomb from wherever they’ve hidden it and dismantle it. There will be no evidence. The city will be safe. The four other hostages, one of them the black fellow standing right over there, will be left behind. As soon as my plane is ready, they will be released. How does that sound? Do we have a deal?”

A long silence ensues. Baker, Mendoza, Dietrich, Gutierrez, and a few other high-ranking police officers all huddle together like a football team planning their next drive. Stephen, self-satisfied with his performance, looks back at Dylan and Henry. Both men are trying to figure out if Stephen is telling the truth or is full of bullshit. So far, neither of them has any clue. Three excruciating minutes later, the feds and cops break the huddle and return to chatting with Mr. Callahan.

“Okay, Steve. You win. We all think you’re lying, by the way, but we’ve come to a consensus that we can’t take that chance. You could be telling the truth. And if you are, there could be major blood spilled on the streets of our city. We can’t abide by that. Not one damn bit. If you’ll excuse us, we have several phone calls to make. We’ll let you know when your chartered flight is ready. Now, how does that sound to you?”

“Like music to my ears,” Stephen says with the smuggest expression one could possibly give.

***

“I don’t like how long they’re taking,” Xander whispers to Cortez.

“Relax, man. The boss man knows what he’s doing. Yeah, he was pissed off, but he looked like he knew what he was doing,” Cortez reassures him. Melanie, Peggy, and Monique are still sitting together underneath their blankets. Melanie really has to pee but knows there’s no chance she’ll be able to. Not after what Peggy pulled earlier. She’ll be lucky to fart and not get shot.

“What is he doing?”

“I don’t know man. I’m just trying to stay positive, you know? Maybe he has a backup plan, I don’t know,” Cortez says with frustration. Still mad at being responsible for this mess, Cortez is doing whatever he can to redeem himself. Remaining positive and steadfast in accomplishing the mission is the only thing he can do right now. That, and prevent any of the three ladies from trying to escape again.

“Hey, baby,” Peggy says to Cortez. She has a plan to escape…and sincerely hopes the other two gals are game as well. If they aren’t, this could backfire spectacularly. “Would you like to tell everyone how I managed to escape? It’s quite a story, if I may say so myself.”

“Shut the fuck up, bitch!” Cortez snaps. “No, I ain’t saying shit! Nothing! And you shut your mouth, okay? If you talk again, if any of you say shit, I’ll put a bullet right through your fucking head.” He points his pistol at all three women in an attempt to demonstrate toughness. Peggy knows she has him right where she wants him.

“No kidding! The reason you won’t say shit is because you were too busy drinking my piss!” Peggy laughs hysterically. Melanie and Monique look at her, shocked to hear what they just heard. “Isn’t that right? That’s how I did it, girls. He couldn’t help himself. He knows who I am. He loves me. He worships me. He’s one of my loyal subscribers, after all.”

“Oh, wow!” Monique says. “You are a celebrity, baby girl. Of course this perverted asshole knows who you are!”

“I sure am!” Peggy continues. “He really, really, really, reeaaaaaaaaaally wanted to drink my piss. Like, for real. He literally asked to drink my pee. That’s fucking gross, but it’s what he wanted. And when I did, when I crouched down over his face and pissed everything my bladder was holding, this creep literally drank it all! Like he was at a piss fountain!”

Xander bursts out in laughter. Melanie and Monique play along and add to the ruckus. Cortez is beet red, blushing like he’s never blushed before. Peggy smiles at him, knowing she’s pushing all the right buttons.

“SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU FUCKING BITCH!!! YOU FUCKING CUNT! YOU FUCKING WHORE CUNT!” Cortez screams at the top of his lungs.

Instead of shooting her, he decides to walk right up to her and slap her in the face. Peggy wanted him to do this so she could pull off her escape plan. Just as he’s a few feet away from her, Peggy stands up, bends her knees slightly, and pulls the switchblade out of her vagina, where it’s been secretly hidden this whole time. Peggy struggles to push the little release switch because her vaginal juices have made the knife slippery. Fortunately, she succeeds at extending the blade before Cortez could comprehend what was happening. In the blink of an eye, Peggy grabs Cortez’s right shoulder and jabs the blade as deep into his belly as she possibly can. Cortez goes from feeling extreme anger to feeling extreme pain. He cries out, in shock that a blade that long has penetrated his torso…seemingly out of nowhere.

“What the fuck?” Xander blurts out as he watches his comrade get attacked by the lady with big boobs. Melanie, who’s sitting closest to where Xander is standing, leaps from the bench and tackles him to the floor. Monique, surprised at first that all of this is happening so fast, stands up and tries to find a weapon to fight with. She cannot find one.

“Sorry, buddy,” Peggy says, twisting the knife inside Cortez’s stomach. “It’s not personal. I hate to lose a customer tonight, but you’re an asshole who deserves what he’s about to get. I’ll make sure to piss on your grave after they’ve buried you. I’m sure you’ll actually enjoy that!” Peggy pulls the knife out of Cortez’s belly and shoves it back in. This makes him scream even louder. He coughs up blood and spits it all over the floor.

Meanwhile, Melanie overpowers Xander. She knocks the gun to the floor. As he attempts to reach for it, Melanie wraps her powerful right arm around Xander’s neck. She doesn’t want to kill him, but she doesn’t know what other choice she has. She watched enough WWF wrestling back in the ‘80s to know what a sleeper hold is. A few of her muscle worship clients have requested that they put them in a sleeper hold, but every single time she’s refused, saying it’s too dangerous. She regrets not trying it at least once so she could have the experience of successfully doing it.

“Good night, sleep tight!” Melanie says to Xander as he struggles to escape from her strong grip. As the seconds pass by, his resistance diminishes noticeably.

A few feet away, Cortez falls to the ground, bleeding profusely. Peggy holds the knife above his face. She considers going for the kill shot, until Monique interrupts her thought process.

“Hold on, darling. I know how to finish him off,” Monique says. She notices out of the corner of her eye a bunch of heavy free weights lying around about twenty feet away. Monique, who has been training nonstop for the Olympics for the past nine years of her life, finds a 150-pound dumbbell sitting on the floor. She bends down, picks it up with perfect weightlifting form, and walks it back toward Cortez.

“Holy shit, baby…” Peggy mutters under her breath.

“The bastard deserves this. They all do.” With that, Monique squats down and (without arching her back) with all the force she could muster heaves the 150-pound dumbbell high in the air. It’s not quite a clean and jerk maneuver, but it’s pretty damn close. The heavy cast iron dumbbell lands squarely on Cortez’s face, exploding it in a pool of gooey blood and loose flesh. Peggy stands back to avoid the carnage landing on her bare skin.

Out of breath and feeling as powerful as she’s ever felt, Monique leans forward to admire her handiwork. Sure enough, Cortez’s skull has been completely smashed. Brain matter is splattered across the floor. Combined with being stabbed in the belly twice, Cortez is as dead as a doornail. Peggy wipes sweat off her brow. Monique can feel her shoulder and back get strained while attempting this heavy lift (without stretching or using proper form). Even Melanie, who’s still trying to put Xander to sleep, stops what she’s doing to react to what Monique has just done.

“HOLY SHIT! Wow! Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn girl,” Peggy squeals, punching Monique lightly on the shoulder. “You just killed him. Fuck, he’s dead. No doubt about it. He’s soooooooooooo dead. You fucked up his face real, real, reeeeeeeeeeal good!”

Melanie, Peggy, and Monique all gather around Cortez’s carcass. Xander is fast asleep several feet away. No man alive can ever escape from the clutches of Melanie’s enormous biceps. Monique takes Cortez’s gun. Melanie picks up Xander’s pistol. Peggy wipes off the switchblade with one of the blankets. The three strong, confident ladies look at each other, knowing they have one mission and one mission only. Peggy decides to speak for everyone.

“Let’s go rescue Dylan and Henry, and bring these motherfuckers to justice.”

Melanie and Monique don’t say anything because there is nothing else to say.

It’s Official. I’ve Joined Twitter

Well, it’s finally happened.

I joined Twitter.

Yes, the cesspool of bad opinions, personal attacks, venting, raging, score settling, election meddling, grievance airing, vengeance seeking, corporate influencing, product pushing, and narcissism. Yours truly has decided, after all these years of staying off social media (at least as far as my online alter ego is concerned), to join the fray.

May God have mercy on my soul.

For the longest time I decided not to self-promote and allow my writing to spread organically. And since May 23, 2012, that’s been the case. But no more. I’m not sure how to explain the change of heart. I guess I’d like to connect with you, my dear readers, in a way that goes beyond email. I’ll admit I can be slow to respond at times (when you have another personal email and a work account to keep track of, maintaining yet another one can be a hassle), so perhaps this’ll remedy that. You should have noticed by now that I’ve also changed the appearance of this blog. So I guess you can say “change” is in the air.

So, that being said, go ahead and follow me if you are so inclined to do so! I’m at @RyanTakahashi87. If you follow me, I may follow you back – assuming I’m pretty sure you’re not a Russian bot, a mean-spirited troll, or anything like that. I think that whole “Russian bot” is a bit overblown, but that’s neither here nor there.

As far as content goes, I’ll definitely promote new blog posts, remind you all of older posts, keep you in-the-loop about future posts, and curate opinions/takes/ideas for future posts. I may also sprinkle in stuff about pop culture, sports, bodybuilding news, sharing content produced by other female muscle enthusiasts, and conversing with you, my loyal readers. For the sake of everyone’s sanity, I’ll avoid (or try to avoid) discussing politics. There’s enough of that going around as it is. No need to add to the noise. And if we’re being honest here, talking about our favorite female bodybuilders is soooooooooooo much more interesting and worthwhile. I hope you agree with that sentiment.

So have at it! I’ll see you on the other side. Let’s keep things classy, fun, sincere, honest, and as positive as possible. We all need more of that in our lives.

Peace out.

Oh, Cindy

Cindy 1

Sometimes, perfection is attainable.

It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, you notice. Big time. You don’t need to be an art connoisseur to know that Michelangelo’s painting on ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is a once-in-a-millennium masterpiece. You don’t need to be an expert in music theory to agree that Beethoven’s 9th symphony is one of the greatest compositional achievements of all time. You don’t need to be an erudite dramaturg to understand that William Shakespeare’s Hamlet deserves its uniquely special place in theatre history.

There are many other examples of masterpieces in the world of art, literature, music, architecture, film, and photography. But there is one human being in particular who has achieved something that sounds rather strange when you say it out loud. And many of you should agree with me on this.

This person has achieved Human Perfection.

She’s perfect in every way. Her body, her looks, her intelligence, her personality, her accomplishments, everything and anything. She’s the perfect “bridge” female bodybuilder who pleases both the hardcore Female Muscle Fans and the non-Female Muscle Fans. She may even be able to convert a few cynical Female Muscle Haters. She’s curvy, strong, feminine, classically beautiful, independent, compassionate, relatable, charismatic, unforgettable, and instantly alluring. Once you are introduced to her, you cannot go back. She’s forever burned into your memory.

You begin to wonder what your existence was like before you discovered her: How on Earth was I able to survive without knowing she was out there? Did I really grow up thinking Megan Fox was the pinnacle of female beauty? Did I truly understand what “beauty” really was before knowing this woman had existed? Why did I spend so much of my time jerking off to Katy Perry when someone infinitely more gorgeous was just a simple Google search away?

The answers to these questions are simple: You hadn’t discovered her yet. And once you did, your paradigm shifts so drastically it makes Pangaea’s supercontinental break-up seem trivial enough to belong in a Taylor Swift album.

Who is this Mystery Woman I am cryptically referring to?

Cindy Landolt, of course!

Oh, Cindy.

Cindy, Cindy, Cindy.

You truly are a Female Muscle Fan’s dream come true. You are the physical embodiment of human perfection. When we look up “beautiful” in the dictionary, we’ll see a picture of you. That’s who you are. Beautiful in every sense of the word…and then some.

Cindy Landolt was born on January 11, 1985 in Wetzikon, Switzerland. The Swiss Muscle Goddess has always lived an active life, enjoying skiing, hiking, and mountain biking as a little girl (aren’t these typical activities of any self-respecting Swiss citizen?). She currently lives in Zurich but travels a lot, essentially making the entire world her home. Unlike many of the women we love, Cindy has never been a competitive bodybuilder. She finds such rabid competition distasteful and would rather spend her creative energy lifting up others instead of trying to defeat people.

Good for her!

At age 16 she stopped training to be a gymnast because of her considerable height. Standing at 5’10”, she’s a striking woman who is far from being a dainty ingénue. She’s a Super Woman who appropriately personifies the “Goddess” label. As a young adult Cindy embraced resistance training. Then she enrolled in the Swiss Academy of Fitness and Sports to become a qualified personal trainer and fitness instructor, learning the ropes of becoming a certified nutrition, rehabilitation, strength training, weight loss, and sporting coach. In 2009 she founded her own personal training company in Zurich. Her clients are diverse in their goals, but her approach remains the same: she prioritizes growth and progress over an unhealthy hyper-focus on end results.

Cindy 2

She’s also been on the cutting edge of virtual training. People all over the world – and that is not an exaggeration – can sign up for 1:1 online training and nutrition consultations. How she finds the time to manage all her business obligations is beyond me. I’m guessing she has to be selective about who her clients are. But nevertheless, she should be commended for being so tech-savvy, forward-thinking, and proactive in knowing where the fitness industry is going and how to exploit the voids in the market.

Cindy is a flawlessly beautiful woman. She is perfect. Ed Sheeran, eat your heart out. And best yet, as I mentioned earlier she has the potential for major cross appeal of which very few of her peers can boast.

She has plenty of muscle to appease the committed fans of female bodybuilders. She is also “safe” in that she’s conventionally beautiful, curvy, and unambiguously feminine. It’s a shame that traditional femininity is somehow a necessity for obtaining mainstream appeal, but it is what it is. But as it stands today, Cindy is not actually a mainstream celebrity. She’s well-known within female muscle fandom circles and the fitness industry, but don’t expect Miss Landolt to appear on the cover of Vogue anytime soon.

Her physique defines the word “statuesque.” She looks like she was chiseled out of marble, her flesh carved out of an artist’s erotically-charged imagination. She seems too good to be true. Too beautiful to be real. Too perfect to be comprehended. But alas, she is a real human being. She does exist. In our world. She didn’t fall from Heaven. She was born of fellow human beings. She is a woman, not a Goddess. A lady, not an angel. A mortal, not a deity.

But in our feverish imaginations, she is in fact a Goddess. She defies explanation. We are addicted to her and we cannot get enough. We need our daily Cindy fix, like a junkie furiously looking for their shady supplier. Unlike “normal” beautiful women, Cindy casts a spell on us that’s difficult to articulate into words. But I’ll try.

Let’s compare Cindy Landolt to Pamela Anderson. If you grew up in the 1990s, you knew who Pamela Anderson was. If you were a pubescent boy who spent his formulative years during the height of Miss Anderson’s fame, you definitely were aware of who she was. Is Pamela Anderson a flawless woman? Well, yes and no. She’s as physically attractive as any mainstream celebrity who has ever walked this Earth. No doubt about that. She was an international superstar for a damn good reason.

However, Pamela felt very two-dimensional. She was the perfect “Fantasy Woman,” a teenage boy’s ideal wet dream. She tapped into the naughty side of our psyches, providing us the perfect avenue for exploring our newfound sexualities. The scandals she faced, the high profile failed marriages, the “leaked” sex tape; all of it helped build her up as once-in-a-generation sex kitten who defined the decade and the childhoods of millennial men everywhere. The same could be said for Carmen Electra, Cindy Margolis (remember her?), or Jennifer Lopez.

Cindy 3

Cindy, on the other hand, is more three-dimensional. She isn’t just the perfect “jack off” material. No, that’s not her at all. She’s classy. She’s mature. She’s mannered. She has standards. She values her reputation. She isn’t reckless. She’s a forward-thinker. She isn’t obsessed with being popular or going “viral.” Rather, she’s carved out a niche for herself in an industry where entrepreneurship is the name of the game. You don’t get to “break into” the fitness industry like you do Hollywood. You make your own name for yourself. It’s all on you.

“Classy” is the best way to describe Cindy. She’s never crude or rude. She’s sexy, but not dirty. There are layers to her personality. She’s beautiful on the outside, but equally beautiful on the inside. The genuinely wants to help people, an altruistic spirit that is in short supply in show business. She isn’t a “sex symbol.” She isn’t any kind of symbol. She is who she is. What we see is what we get. She isn’t trying to put on a façade for the masses. She’s a businesswoman. An athlete. A coach. An expert. A model. She’s someone we aspire to become, whether we’re male or female.

This level of classiness can sometimes annoy her fans. Cindy never does full nudity in her photoshoots. You’ll never – at least not yet – see her nipples or genitals on full display. Yes, Instagram and other social media channels prohibit that sort of thing. But she doesn’t go there even on platforms (such as her personal website) in which anything is fair game. She chooses to be sexy in an elegant manner. She intentionally doesn’t give you everything you want.

The reason she’s shied away from doing fully nudity is unknown. I’m going to guess that she doesn’t want her brand to be associated with pornography. She wants to embrace her visual beauty, but not in an X-rated kind of way. She’s more PG-13. Sensual, yes. Graphic, no.

Also, in 2013 she did something groundbreaking that split her fanbase in half. She got breast implants. Before, Cindy was all natural and allowed her breasts to shrink as a result of gaining muscle. But in the spring/summer of that year, she did the unthinkable and “enhanced” herself. Unlike Yvette Bova her new endowments aren’t comically large. They’re certainly big, but not distracting. Well, maybe a little distracting. I suppose I mean they aren’t so big they bother you. It’s all semantics.

Cindy 4

Anyway, her boob job five years ago confirmed that she’s not shy about showing off her sexual attractiveness. Whether she did it for personal or business reasons, Cindy made the decision to increase her sex appeal. Now random haters can’t really claim that she isn’t completely feminine. She’s damn muscular…and curvy in all the right places.

In addition to not doing nudity, she doesn’t do any kind of hardcore porn whatsoever. Denise Masino, Angela Salvagno, Amber DeLuca, Brandi Mae Akers, and countless others are perfectly willing to show off every square inch of their bodies. Every. Square. Inch. They don’t leave anything to the imagination. Denise is so open about showcasing her genitalia that a gynecologist can probably give her a half-decent examination just by watching one of her videos. That is, assuming this doctor can concentrate properly while watching said video.

Unlike those ladies, Cindy keeps it fairly clean. Of course, not G-rated or PG-rated by any stretch of the imagination. She’ll show off her naked butt, back, and almost everything else. Just not her full breasts and genitals. She’ll pose in a sexy bikini or sultry lingerie if she feels inclined to. Just not in her birthday suit. If she is nude, she’ll artfully cover up certain areas in order to maintain her self-imposed limitations. Will her fans ever get to “see it all?” Eh, probably not. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Oh, and Cindy never has sex on camera. But that’s sort of a given. It deserves to be mentioned.

In many ways, Cindy’s appeal is based on how much we love to fantasize about her. We know we have 0% chance of getting to be with her. So all we can do is imagine what she’d be like as a lover. How is she in bed? How would she act in the bedroom? Would she be on top or bottom? Would she take control or let her partner carry the reins? What does her, uh, clit look like? Is it enormous like Denise’s? Or more “normal” in size? How large is her labia? How pink is her vagina?

These are, admittedly so, creepy questions. Very creepy. But can any of you say with any integrity at all that these thoughts haven’t crossed your mind?

Didn’t think so.

The fact we don’t associate Cindy with being a smutty female bodybuilder is an intentional choice. That’s not who she is. I’m certainly not judging any FBB who does choose to do porn – but Miss Landolt prefers to keep her sex appeal modest in nature. She sure as heck isn’t shy about showing off her body – and we are all infinitely grateful for that – but she does so tastefully.

She values personal empowerment. She loves to make people feel and live better. She serves people. She genuinely wants to make the world a better place, one personal training session at a time. And if she can find time to do some modelling, so be it. That’s her way of adding more beauty to the Universe. And she succeeds at that with flying colors.

For the uninitiated, Cindy Landolt may be a revelation. A paradigm shift. An awakening. She could be the one who converts someone over to “our side.” As I mentioned before, she’s a bridge. She can live in both worlds and accomplish the nearly impossible task of pleasing both sides. It’s remarkable.

Cindy 5

In a weird way, Cindy Landolt is a very charitable woman. She’s beautiful and she loves sharing her beauty with the world. That’s a rather odd way of phrasing it, but it’s true: She’s charitable with her beauty. For her Instagram followers and millions of others who follow her elsewhere, we need our daily dose of Cindy. If we need something to brighten our day or help us unwind after a long day at the office, we can just scroll through Cindy’s IG feed and…that’ll do the trick. It’s like a medicine that can cure the blues.

We don’t typically view modeling as being an act of charity. We usually look at modeling as a means for corporations to sell more clothing, makeup, jewelry, perfume, and diet books. Within our free market capitalistic system, models add sex appeal to products in order to help them sell better. Yet, Cindy is a different matter. Obviously, she models because it helps promote her personal training business. And she probably finds it personally empowering. That’s all fine and dandy. But her modeling also serves as an act of almsgiving. A virtuous donation that helps make society a better place to live for all of us.

Her beauty isn’t just intoxicating. It isn’t just alluring. It isn’t just addicting. It’s a dose of fresh air. It’s medicinal. It’s therapeutic. It’s just what the doctor ordered!

Cindy Landolt’s beautiful face and body aren’t just art. They’re a fountain of joy. Her beautiful body truly adds color to the dark palette of our existence. She is light where there is darkness. She brings hope where there is despair. She creates joy where there is melancholy. She is a much-needed beacon of beauty in a world of ugliness.

Cindy is, simply put, perfection. In every imaginable way.

We Need to Talk About Nataliya Kuznetsova

Nataliya Kuznetsova 4
This is a real human being. Seriously.

By now, you should be familiar with Nataliya Kuznetsova.

Nataliya is the kind of woman that even the most wildly imaginative female muscle fan will admit – if they’re pressed into being realistic for a hot minute – can’t ever really exist.

No woman, even with the help of all the synthetic steroids, supplements, food, weightlifting equipment, and expertise possibly available, can ever actually look like that. Whether you’ve been a bona fide female muscle fan for 40 years or 40 days, you’ve seen your fair share of muscular women. Perhaps even in-person. Yet, the rational part of your brain understands full well that no woman can ever look like her. No woman can ever have arms the size of a Mr. Olympia contestant. Or legs so thick that they resemble actual tree trunks. That’s not physically possible. It’s not scientifically possible. It’s even too absurd to draw a cartoon that looks like that.

Uh, right?

Well, you would be wrong. There is in fact one particular woman who walks on planet Earth – or is it continuously squats and bicep curls on planet Earth? – who defies your expectations of what a female bodybuilder can and cannot look like. She challenges what you previously thought was the limits of human achievement. Sure, guys who take drugs and work out like a madman with his hair on fire can become that huge. But…a woman?

No way! No how! That ain’t right!!!

Yet, it is so right. And it is possible. Her name is Nataliya Kuznetsova.

Nataliya was born on July 1, 1991 in the city of Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai in Russia. She was born just a few months before the Soviet Union officially dissolved; and although the Iron Curtain had fallen, a child had been born who would take her iron pumping quite seriously (did you see what I did there?). She has won many accolades in her life, including being the bench press and deadlift world champion. She’s also a champion armlifter, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen her arms.

She aspired to become a professional bodybuilder at age 14 and never looked back. In addition to breaking several records, she’s dabbled in the field of coaching and personal training – which is not uncommon for many bodybuilders, both male and female. She’s maintained a strict diet since the early days of her career, which has clearly paid dividends. After graduating from the Moscow State Academy of Physical Culture in 2013, Nataliya proceeded to pursue her dream of shattering several powerlifting records.

And put her name in the record books is exactly what she did. In 2014 and 2015 she won various contests in Russia and Europe. While it doesn’t appear that she continues to compete in powerlifting, she’s since gained international notoriety for her unusual eye-popping physique that she proudly promotes on her social media channels.

Oh boy. And she’s also not shy about her usage of anabolic steroids and estrogen blockers. I mean, it’s not humanly possible to get as huge as her without drugs. We all know that. But in her case, it isn’t really about whether or not she “fairly” achieved her musculature. What really matters is that she looks exactly how she looks – and that’s the way she wants it.

Her brand is dependent upon the final result, not the process it took to get to that final result.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 1
Muscles on the beach.

Nataliya is the Ultimate Real Human Photoshop Illusion. You’d swear that she’s not actually real. She must be the product of a female muscle growth fiction artist’s imagination. Someone must’ve artificially enhanced her arms and legs. Or, someone superimposed a male bodybuilder’s arms onto her torso, like a G.I. Joe action figure’s arms being popped inside a limbless Barbie doll.

Yet, that is not the case. She is not a character in an FMG story. Nor are photos of her not genuine (to be fair, very few Instagram and magazine photos are 100% genuine) in the proper sense of the word. Her biceps are really the size of most guys’ quads. Her quads are really as thick as your girlfriend’s torso. It’s all true. It’s definitely not all natural, but if we’re only interested in aesthetics, who cares?

And that’s the crux of the argument. Whether she could ever achieve so much muscle mass naturally – the short answer is “no way, José” – is not the point. Insecure guys who constantly insist that she’s “juicing” or “roiding up” are just projecting their own inadequacies onto a complete stranger. They’re envious that they are unable to get that “swole,” so they need to add as many caveats as possible onto Nataliya’s achievements because it, uh, makes them feel better. Or something like that. I don’t know exactly.

But that’s not really where I’m getting at. Nataliya is noteworthy because she is who she is. Whether she “cheated” or did it through unnatural means isn’t what’s truly important. What’s important is that she’s a human cartoon in the flesh. She’s a female muscle fan’s dream come true, if extreme FMG artwork happens to be your thing. It’s not for me personally, but it doesn’t have to be. I can acknowledge her importance without being totally smitten with her looks.

Personally, Nataliya is a bit too much. Everything about her is superhuman, including her lips. Dang. She makes Angelina Jolie look like the before-and-after photo at a lip enhancement surgeon’s office. I tend to prefer ladies who are both large and traditionally curvy. Alina Popa is my jam. So is Isabelle Turell. And Shannon Courtney. And Theresa Ivancik. And Lindsay Mulinazzi. And many others. I have nothing against Miss Kuznetsova as a human being. I’m sure she’s cool and pretty interesting to be around. Apparently, she’s bisexual – which will make any FMG artist go hog wild when crafting erotically-charged dime novel-style fan fiction.

Perhaps this is a reflection of my limited imagination. Is Nataliya’s physique now the new Mount Everest? Are former Ms. Olympia contestants like Iris Kyle, Tina Chandler, Debi Laszewski, Anne Freitas, and Yaxeni Oriquen-Garcia merely the tip of the iceberg? Previously, we may have thought of these ladies as being at the peak of the female muscle pecking order. But maybe our standards were set too low. Maybe women like Nataliya Kuznetsova (are there any others like her? Asking for a friend) are where the proverbial bar is now set. Or should be set. It’s not enough to train for a few hours, give yourself a couple of rest days, and intersperse within your daily routine plenty of Tupperware containers full of brown rice, grilled chicken, and boiled broccoli. Perhaps the new normal should be to train for several hours a day – as if it’s practically a part-time job – and eat as much protein as you possibly can without throwing up. This doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but one must suffer for one’s art.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 2
Nataliya’s quads don’t lie.

Hm. Maybe that’s exactly the point. One must suffer for your art. In Nataliya’s case, her body is her art. Her muscles are her canvas. Dumbbells, vitamin supplements, anabolic steroids, and protein are her paintbrushes. And her Instagram feed is her museum. And we are patrons of her art. Instead of sipping champagne, we down a carton of Muscle Milk. Same thing.

All bodybuilders are artists as well as athletes. They might consider themselves athletes first and foremost, and that would be their prerogative. But whether they consciously consider it or not, they’re also artists. Michelangelo used marble. Nataliya uses her own flesh and blood. That sounds odd, but it’s true. Bodybuilders don’t try to hit a baseball into the centerfield bleachers or dunk a basketball over a 7-foot tall defender. They try to look awesome, prioritizing muscle mass, symmetry, and aesthetic perfection over all else.

Yet, I’m perfectly fine with Nataliya being the exception and not the rule. She can be an Internet sensation who makes our eyes pop out of our skulls. She can be someone who essentially provides fodder for clickbait articles on second-rate news aggregate sites. I highly doubt female muscle fans worldwide are clamoring for more women to look like her. If more do choose to look as extreme as possible, so be it. But we’re perfectly content with more “conventional-looking” female bodybuilders (as contradictory as that may sound) such as Miss Popa and Miss Ivancik. At least, they’re conventional within the context of the world of female bodybuilding.

Here’s a question: Is Nataliya Kuznetsova good or bad for female bodybuilding and fans of female bodybuilders? It’s the question sports commentators always make regarding dynasties like the Golden State Warriors, New England Patriots, the UConn women’s basketball team, Alabama football, Manchester United, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ha ha). Is dominance a good thing? Can the lack of parity hurt the overall product? Or does it enhance it? Is temporary dominance – because dominance rarely lasts forever – actually a good thing because it provides an incentive for others to work harder in order to catch up?

Chances are she’s not going to have much of an effect on anything. Nataliya exists in her own little universe. She’s carved out her own unique niche. She doesn’t really exist in the realm of bodybuilding because she isn’t a competitive bodybuilder (to my knowledge). She’s a mini-celebrity whose body is her selling point. Her extreme physique is why she’s famous, not because she climbed up the industry ladder or won so many accolades that we cannot help but notice her. In a way, she’s the perfect example of how the entrepreneurial female bodybuilder is most likely the archetype that will survive the longest.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 5
Ever seen someone like this at the gym? Yeah, didn’t think so.

The bodybuilding industry’s marginalization of female competitors doesn’t need to be rehashed here. The death of the Ms. Olympia is really all you need to know. Wings of Strength is doing their best to resuscitate the spirit of the Ms. O, and we wish them all the best in this endeavor. Long story short, female bodybuilders need to find alternative avenues of earning an income in order to continue doing what they love to do.

Nataliya has done exactly that.

She’s found a void and filled it perfectly. Impeccably. She busted her tail to look as hypermuscular as possible. She knew not everyone would dig her look, but that didn’t matter one iota. There are plenty of people who will. And do. She’s made sacrifices – including long-term risks to her body – to achieve her Human Photoshop figure. She was able to go “viral” because she stood out from the rest of the herd. There are plenty of muscular women out there. But few are as surreal in their musculature as her.

So because of that, she was able to break through in front of more “mainstream” eyes because of her freakish physique. Cindy Landolt or Minna Pajulahti are famous within the small community of female muscle fans, but Nataliya has been able to rise above that and attract attention from non-female muscle fans. And chances are pretty good that for many people, Nataliya is the only muscular woman whom they care to follow on social media. She’s “famous” – in a 21st century viral Internet meme sense – for being a living and breathing statistical outlier, not because she happens to be a female bodybuilder who’s broken the mold of her predecessors and peers.

And that’s the meat and potatoes of our discussion. Miss Kuznetsova is nothing more than a freakish statistical outlier to the vast majority of Internet-savvy people out there. She won’t help the visibility of the female bodybuilding industry. She won’t hurt it either, but that’s beside the point. She’s a Human Island. A once-in-a-lifetime Black Swan Event. She’s like the people who love to follow Tiger Woods but couldn’t care less about other golfers.

There are golf fans. And there are Tiger Woods fans. And they are often not one and the same. Likewise, there are Nataliya Kuznetsova fans. And there are female muscle fans. And they are not necessarily the same thing.

Nataliya Kuznetsova 3
Can’t tell if those are her quads…or an actual tree trunk.

Some people love Eminem but don’t particularly like hip hop. Some people loved “The Dark Knight” but never read a single Batman comic book. And some people are enamored with Nataliya Kuznetsova but couldn’t identify Alina Popa in a police lineup.

Life is funny like that.

Whether you love her, hate her, or have neutral feelings about her, one thing is certain: You’re totally justified to initially think that this woman couldn’t possibly exist. This has got to be like “Simone,” that 2002 Al Pacino movie about a movie star who’s digitally animated and isn’t really real. Certainly Nataliya has got to be a digital avatar, right? A fake persona meant to punk all of us into thinking a woman could genuinely build muscle mass that male bodybuilders could only dream of? Well, the truth is that she’s real. Very real.

I have no idea how long she can maintain her physique. I’m not a nutritional scientist or biology expert, but it seems reasonable to worry about her long-term health. All that animal protein, steroids, and hormone-blocking drugs can’t be good for you. Years and years of living like that should eventually take its toll, right?

Eh. Maybe, maybe not.

For now, let’s just appreciate who she is and what she’s been able to accomplish thus far. Only time will tell as to how much of an impact she’s making on the visibility of female bodybuilders, if any at all.

The Female Muscle Dark Web

Faceless hooded anonymous computer hacker
You’ve just entered the Matrix…er, the Dark Web!

Deep within the shadowy depths of the Internet, there exists a dark and mysterious space where few dare to tread. You may have heard of it, or perhaps you’re hearing about it for the first time. No matter what, you’re scared to acknowledge it. You’re frightened to visit it. You cannot wrap your mind around why it exists in the first place. Its very existence is a conundrum to you, a macabre riddle that cannot easily be solved.

To attempt to understand this enigmatic space is to dip your toes into a New World that you never knew existed. Even if you’ve already heard of it, there is nothing that can prepare your mind for what is to come. No one is ever “ready,” even those who claim to be. No one.

And once you discover this New World, your mind is changed forever. Your attitude is permanently adjusted. Your worldview flips upside down. Your paradigm doesn’t just shift; it shatters into a billion pieces and is unable to reform itself. You aren’t sure if you would ever want to go back, but that debate is now over. You’re past that threshold, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Resistance is futile. That’s for damn sure.

What type of Internet space am I referring to? Shouldn’t the answer be obvious by now?

Of course, I’m talk about…

…Bronies.

Grown men who adore “My Little Pony,” a Hasbro-developed entertainment franchise aimed at little girls. Apparently, there are adult men – at least, they claim to be adult men – who are into this sort of thing. Very into it.

Wait. That might not be right. Maybe I’m talking about furries? “Twilight” fan fiction? Uh, people who actually liked the Star Wars prequels?

Nah. That’s been done before. Nothing to see here. Move along now. Outside of activities that are clearly criminal, there aren’t a whole lot of fetishes, strange fandoms, and social perspectives that we, as a whole, won’t tolerate. Chalk that up to our “live and let live” attitude that, for the most part, still permeates throughout our society. You don’t need to “approve” or “understand” these subcultures to acknowledge that it’s fine that they exist as long as no one gets hurt.

Arguably, the very concept of “common culture” is starting to go by the wayside. Sure, there will always be things that unite us as a culture – at least temporarily. The Super Bowl, the release of a new Marvel movie, and catchy pop songs are a few examples (this, despite the fact that sports is becoming increasingly more politicized in the wake of high profile protests during the singing of the American national anthem). However, what’s becoming a more significant facet of modern life is the growing acceptance of subcultures as acceptable off-shoots of our main culture.

Dark web - Angela Salvagno
Angela Salvagno chatting with her fans through webcam.

For example, once upon a time ago drag culture was an underground subculture that existed out of sight and out of mind for the majority of us. Today, it’s still not quite a “mainstream” culture (properly understood), but it lives just outside that bubble. Or, it lives tangentially within mainstream culture. Or on the fringes of our main culture. Or, drag performers like RuPaul have one foot inside main culture and the other food inside the drag subculture. RuPaul’s popular TV show certainly contributed to the evolution of drag going from “out of sight, out of mind” to “not quite out of sight, not quite out of mind.”

Female bodybuilding fandom, on the other hand, is still considered an underground subculture. While going to a strip bar or smoking weed are still fairly taboo activities, they’re not as taboo as they once were. You don’t need to “approve” of what goes on inside a strip club, but you can accept it existing right next to your favorite nail salon. You don’t need to like the smell of marijuana at a public park, but that won’t stop you from walking your dog along his or her favorite dirt path. Just try to avoid the odor if you must.

Yet, engaging in a muscle worship session with a female bodybuilder is not like going to a nudie bar or getting high while watching reruns of All in the Family. It’s not a very well-known activity. In our mainstream culture, female bodybuilders are nowhere close to being within an ear shot. Thus, for those of us who love FBBs, the Internet is the only place where we can enjoy our mutual love for them.

Is there such a thing as the “Female Muscle Dark Web?” Eh, sort of. But not really.

There are popular websites like HDphysiques.com, saradas.org, sexymusclegirls.com, wb270.com, areaorion.blogspot.com, and sessiongirls.com. Heck, a small number of you might consider my humble blog to be among them. I’m also a fan of Female Muscle Slave. He’s an incredible blogger who is keenly tuned-in to the competitive side of the industry in addition to the fandom side of the industry. Check him out if you haven’t already.

So are there popular female muscle-themed websites where fans gather to congregate? Sure. Does that qualify as a “Dark Web?” Meh, probably not.

Hold on. Before we proceed any further, let’s try to define what the “Dark Web” actually means.

The terms “Dark Web” and “Deep Web” sometimes get used interchangeably. This shouldn’t be the case. Technically speaking, the “Deep Web” is a portion of the Internet that exists below the Surface Web. The Surface Web are things like Amazon.com, Facebook.com, Twitter.com, NFL.com, ESPN.com, StarWars.com, Reddit.com, and any other “normal” website you come across every day. These websites – and countless others that aren’t as popular – are indexed by Google and other search engines for easy access. The idea of the “Surface Web” doesn’t need too much explaining.

However, beneath the Surface Web exists a whole host of websites that aren’t indexed by these search tools. The concept of the Deep Web includes all the websites that are intentionally (or unintentionally) hidden from traditional search applications. Most of them are beta sites or old websites that have gone out of commission. Most of it is useless junk. Most of it is boring.

Dark web - Callie Bundy
Callie Bundy has become sort of a mini Internet “celebrity” due to her Instagram page.

Some of it can be exciting. Or useful. Journalists and human rights activists who live in repressive regimes use channels like Tor that are outside of the Surface Web to network with peers in other countries. How do you think we’re aware of the diabolical starvation methods employed by the Kim regime in North Korea or the anti-theocratic movement in Iran?

That being said, there’s a portion of the Deep Web that is a bit more, uh, scandalous. This includes websites where you can sell and purchase illegal guns, stolen credit cards, drugs (both narcotics and prescription medication), child pornography (and other kinds of illegal pornography), leads to hired assassins, and anything else you can think of that you can’t exactly find at your local Target.

This is what is meant by the Dark Web. Dark, scary, frightening, unethical, illegal, and potentially deadly. Terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda communicate with each other through Dark Web channels. So do Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other extremist groups that are under FBI surveillance.

Not exactly the type of stuff that you want your Grandma to know you’re into.

To be clear, female muscle fandom exists solely on the Surface Web. I highly doubt much of it exists below that. And if any of it does, it’s probably there for a reason. By and large, female muscle fandom can be found through a simple Google search. No need to go further than that. Thanks to Instagram, our access to our favorite FBBs, fitness models, and weightlifting enthusiasts is more open than ever before. Thanks to video curating sites, I can watch endless footage of Denise Masino playing with her clit without having to put on my detective hat. Of course, such videos shouldn’t be viewed during work hours or on your office computer.

Yet, FBB fandom remains an Internet subculture. An Internet subculture that can be found on the Surface Web. So while the so-called “Female Muscle Dark Web” isn’t really a thing, we can use it euphemistically to describe the forums where this subculture is alive and well.

Dark web - Lindsay Mulinazzi
Not following Lindsay Mulinazzi on Instagram? Shame on you!

In many ways, the Internet is the only substantial place where female muscle fandom can happen. Not too many of us get to attend bodybuilding shows. Only a small number of us have the expenses, inclination, and opportunity to meet an FBB for a muscle worship or fantasy wrestling session. So when it comes to experiencing these beautiful women, our computer screen and smartphone are really the only avenues in which we can do that. I can easily go to my local shopping mall and purchase a brand new Star Trek shirt. I cannot easily go to that same mall and find any paraphernalia affiliated with female bodybuilders.

This is why many FBBs utilize social media as much as they can. It’s their best way to connect with their fans. Or to put it another way, it’s the only way they can regularly connect with their fans. Many FBBs offer webcam appointments, AMA chats (“ask me anything”), and members-only content through their personal websites. This is a classic example of meeting your clients where they’re at. Why break your back working a traditional 9-5 job when you can easily make $100 per hour just chatting with a bunch of strangers from the comfort of your living room?

The Female Muscle Industrial Complex – a term that apparently I just coined – is a niche market with a fairly undefined consumer base. In any given city, town, or municipality, you could have 200 female muscle fans, 2,000 female muscle fans, or 20,000 female muscle fans. You don’t know exactly. But it doesn’t matter where they are geographically. It doesn’t even matter what language they speak. The only thing that does matter is whether or not they have Internet access and enough privacy to feel “safe” to experience their love of muscular women. That’s it, practically speaking.

The Female Muscle Dark Web isn’t dark, nor is it just confined to the web. But it is a real space full of real people who share a mutual interest in women with lots of muscle. And this space hasn’t been driven underground by some prudish cabal of anti-FBB misogynists. In fact, it’s always been underground. Or rather, not within the mainstream. Just because something isn’t considered “mainstream” doesn’t mean there’s some massive conspiracy to ensure it remains outside of the mainstream. Some things just don’t pick up steam. Some things are just destined to stay put where they are.

This isn’t a tragedy by any stretch of the imagination. Muscular women will always be here, regardless if mainstream bodybuilding organizations want them included or not. As long as there are women who desire to become a better version of their current selves, female bodybuilders will always be with us. As long as there are women who believe being “strong” and “independent” means being something beyond a simple corporatized rallying cry, FBBs will never die out. The demise of female bodybuilding has been greatly exaggerated. I don’t see any evidence of that happening anytime soon.

Dark web - Goddess Severa
The 6’5″ Goddess Severa is a fan favorite of female muscle/dominance enthusiasts.

Long story short, FBBs and fans of FBBs cannot wait for legacy media outlets to give them their due. It just won’t happen. Sports Illustrated or ESPN aren’t going to cover female bodybuilders (or male bodybuilders, for that matter) like they do basketball or football stars. Those athletes enjoy a powerful perch that doesn’t appear to be eroding. To expect FBBs to ever be mentioned in the same breath as Kevin Durant, Serena Williams, or Julio Jones is folly.

So the obscure and not-so-sinister parts of the web are where FBBs are allowed to shine. And fans don’t seem to mind all that much. Some of us may hope and pray for a day when FBBs can enjoy mainstream status as any normal celebrity would, but most of us aren’t holding our breaths. And the good new is that we don’t need to.

Our access to our favorite athletes is as open and easy as it’s ever been. Just because you don’t feel comfortable talking about Alina Popa’s glutes or Theresa Ivancik’s pecs openly at Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t mean you have a reason to feel ashamed or embarrassed that you are secretly into that sort of thing. On the contrary, you have nothing to worry about. You can be into muscular women without having to tell a single soul about it. That should feel liberating. But if you do want to tell somebody about it, you know where to look. And that can also feel liberating.

Your female muscle community is just a few clicks away. Like it or love it, you can choose to engage in this community, or you can choose to ignore them and keep your interests to yourself.

Either way, it’s your choice. And that’s truly liberating.

Nostalgic for Naughtiness

An old issue of Women’s Physique World featuring Shelley Beattie and Sharon Bruneau.

Every man who was once a teenage boy with raging hormones should be able to identify with this scenario:

You borrow a copy of a dirty magazine from a buddy at school. Or you steal it from a grocery store with the stealth skills of a Special Ops commander. Or you’re lucky enough to stumble upon an old issue of Playboy or Hustler sitting in a garbage can or recycling bin. No matter how you acquire said dirty magazine, it’s a prized possession that you will guard with your life.

Your brothers and sisters cannot know about it. Your parents especially cannot know about it. So it must be kept a secret from prying eyes, forever fated to be stuffed in your sock drawer or underneath your mattress. The only time you can look at it is at night under the cover of darkness. Bring it to school and you risk one of your teachers discovering it, confiscating it, and telling Mom or Dad about it. Talk about bad news. Can’t possibly risk that. No bloody way.

But what’s in that dirty magazine that’s so damn intriguing? It’s simple: Beautiful girls wearing very little (or no) clothing. Just a few short years ago, girls were disgusting creatures who were annoying, bad at sports, and had different hobbies than you. Today, it’s a whole different story. Girls are enigmatic creatures who make you feel wiggly inside. You cannot help but stare at the ones who were the prettiest or had the shapeliest bodies. And you definitely struggle to stop staring at the ones with big boobs. Oh boy…

But your magazine offers a special glimpse that you cannot possibly have while sitting in math class. Your treasured magazine shows you a whole new side of the female species that you’ve only just begun to discover. You finally get to see what a pair of breasts look like. You finally learn why Dad married Mom in the first place. And, you finally find out what girls have between their legs that you don’t.

This scenario should be especially familiar with those of you who are older than 30. However, as the Internet Age rolled around, teenage boys don’t have to sneak dirty magazines into their bedrooms in order to get their “fix.” Pictures of gorgeous naked women are only a simple Google search away (not to mention a furious effort to delete one’s browsing history before Grandma next uses the family computer). So as time goes on, one presumes this familiar scenario will become less familiar.

Will you accept this rose from Raye Hollitt?

Nevertheless, for those of us who love female bodybuilders, there’s an added dimension to our story of how we discovered what turns us on. In addition to conventionally beautiful lingerie and fashion models, we were also introduced to pretty women who sported a bit more muscle mass than usual. So not only were we smuggling copies of Playboy into our coat closets, we were also sneaking in contraband fitness and weightlifting magazines.

Sure, the majority of those publications featured big burly men. But on occasion, we got to feast our eyes on ladies with big burly muscles.

Oh baby.

In today’s modern world in which everything you can possibly think of can now be accessed through the Internet, it’s becoming easier and easier to indulge in your vices in complete privacy. Private web browsing has been a helpful tool in hiding your fetishes from anyone who also happens to use your computer. Granted, you still need to be cautious when you’re at work, but when you’re sitting at home you can be as freaky as you want to be without a single soul knowing about it.

Yet, with all this erotic material readily available at your fingertips, doesn’t it seem like the “old days” were a bit more, how shall we say it, “naughty?”

What is meant by that is the general feeling that back in the days when images of beautiful muscular women were rare, the few opportunities we got to feast our eyes on them seemed much more exciting than they do now. Today, we can easily scroll through hundreds of female bodybuilders, fitness models, and athletes on Instagram, Tumblr blogs, and fan websites without breaking a sweat. No need to sneak in magazines underneath your Mom’s watchful eye. No fear of Dad finding out. Also, no need to research where you can find these photos, which in our youth we treated as precious commodities like gold, diamonds, and crude oil.

With search engines and social media making our beloved ladies more easily available than ever before, why do simple Google searches fail to send that same tingling sensation down our spines that peering through old photos of Rachel McLish late at night in our bedrooms once did? Is it because we’re older and more accustomed to seeing photos of gorgeous muscular women, or is it something deeper?

Let’s explore the latter. It is not beyond comprehension that part of the reason why our adolescent brains were kicking into overdrive was because, well, the clichéd phrase “raging hormones” exists for a reason. So is it fair to say that as we get older our hormones get more under control, thus we become less fanatical in our desire to ogle beautiful women? Maybe, but that doesn’t appear to be the only answer. For the female muscle enthusiasts out there, another explanation must cover the territory of the “forbidden fruit.”

As if peering at photos of beautiful women weren’t scandalous (relatively speaking) enough, being turned on by photos of muscular beautiful women is a whole other story. Now we’re crossing into “weird” ground, not just “scandalous.” It’s not embarrassing to admit you’d like to tap Pamela Anderson (especially if you grew up in the 90s), but it would definitely raise a few eyebrows if you declare proudly that you’d also like to screw Kim Chizevsky. Especially if the people you were with knew who Kim is and what she looks like.

Talk about awkward.

But awkwardness is exactly the point. We’re embarrassed because we don’t want others to find out about our attraction to female bodybuilders, but we’re also somewhat embarrassed for our own sake. We start to wonder if something is wrong with us. We ask questions such as: Am I normal? Am I secretly gay? Why don’t more people feel the same way as I do?

But even those questions are starting to diminish. The Internet has played an integral role in breaking down almost every social taboo you can think of. You can easily locate like-minded individuals who are into the same “unusual” stuff as you. Do you enjoy drawing Game of Thrones fan art? Or writing Harry Potter fan fiction? Or immersing yourself into “Furry” culture (don’t look it up if you aren’t prepared to truly find out what it is)? Well, finding other people who are into the same things as you has never been easier. This is quite a blessing, especially if you are prone to wondering whether if you’re alone in the Universe. Odds are you are not.

The statuesque Bev Francis.

The same goes for female muscle fetishism. For all its flaws, Saradas.com is a popular forum for discussing and sharing content related to female bodybuilding, sessions, fantasy wrestling, and the like. You can easily connect and communicate with people all across the globe who enjoy the same female muscle-related activities as you. This level of connectivity with souls spread around the planet is unprecedented. Yet here we are. What a time to be alive.

However, despite the ease of which we can access photos/videos of muscular women and meet people who share our common interests, why does it seem like (to repeat the question articulated earlier) the old days were much naughtier? Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but it’s not beyond the stretch of the imagination to say that once something becomes mainstream, it starts to lose a little bit of its juice. Granted, female bodybuilding is still (and probably never will be) not considered mainstream, but within the world of Internet subcultures, anything can be mainstream if you look in the right places. What’s the deal here?

The best explanation has to be the fact that before the Internet existed, most of us truly didn’t know if other people felt the same way about female bodybuilders as we did. Before Google allowed us to discover information faster and easier than before, we had no idea how many other people (if any at all) shared our fascination with them. It’s not just loneliness. It’s the fear that nobody else is crazy enough to get turned on by a woman with big muscles. And if that’s the case, isn’t the next logical conclusion that there must be something “off” about us?

Hence, our uncontrollable and unexplainable attraction to female muscle felt supremely naughty. And not just naughty in a moral sense, but also in a psychological sense. We didn’t know if our brains were working properly. That’s taking naughtiness to a whole new level.

The other explanation is the supply of female muscle-related media. Back in the pre-Internet age, our exposure to FBBs was limited to magazines, bodybuilding contests on television, and your old dusty VHS copy of “Pumping Iron II: The Women.” That’s about it. So the few instances in which we could find new photos of female bodybuilders were few and far between.

That made the experience all the more exciting. The rare occurrence when we could get our sweaty hands on a brand new issue of the latest fitness magazine seemed like a quasi-religious experience. It was as if we had found a Golden Ticket in our recently purchased Wonka Bar. We felt as giddy as if it were Christmas morning. But instead of a new bicycle or autographed football, it was a magazine chock full of images of powerful women with bulging biceps and massive quads. Hell, this beats the experience of tearing up presents underneath the decorated tree by a mile!

Who wants to lift with Cory Everson?

Back when the product is scarce, we appreciated it more. Now that the product is available in abundance, you’d think we would appreciate it more, but we don’t. Ironically, an overabundance of the product actually ends up making us appreciate it less. Thirty years ago, we had to risk life and limb to sneak a copy of a bodybuilding magazine into our rooms without our parents detecting it. Today, we can skim through endless Instagram feeds of scantily clad female bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness models with our only concern being whether we’ll run out of battery power.

This is a good thing, right? Of course it is. But human nature being what it is, we can’t help but sense a diminished sense of giddiness living in today’s media-saturated environment. Our love for female bodybuilders seems cheap. Easy. Casual. Maybe not mainstream, but certainly less-out-of-the-ordinary-than-before. Female muscle fetishism has lost some of its naughtiness. What should we make of this?

Well, not much. But this does provide a valuable lesson about the relationship between cultural acceptance and modern communications technology.

People tend to react viscerally to things that are unusual, even if they aren’t necessarily “weird.” Unusual is simply anything that is not usual. But the more common it becomes, the less unusual it is, and the more “normal” it seems. This is not rocket science. This simple observation is also true for female muscle and our reaction to it. We think it’s strange to see women with big muscles precisely because women with big muscles are rare. But as our definition of “mainstream” starts to veer away from legacy corporate advertising and toward more grassroots-based media, the doors to almost anything will swing wide open.

The list goes on regarding things you once never saw but now can see whenever you feel like it: Plus-sized models, South Korean soap operas, documentaries about dwarfs (not the Lord of the Rings kind), Bollywood movies, Japanese pop music, Australian rugby matches, Brazilian cooking shows, cosplay conventions, Facebook groups for people who identify as “Gender Non-Conforming,” and so on. And yes, this includes photos, videos, blogs, and communities dedicated to female muscle. Almost anything you can think of is out there for public consumption.

An iconic female bodybuilder, Rachel McLish.

You just have to know where to look for it. Because not all of it will appear right under your nose when you least expect it.

Maybe this is why our love for female bodybuilders seems less naughty in today’s world than it did in yesteryear’s world. It’s not mainstream in the traditional sense of the word, but the very concept of “mainstream” is being challenged like never before. The Internet has allowed for the proliferation of subcultures and subcultures within subcultures to meet and convene in ways that were unimaginable even twenty years ago. And that’s not a long time ago, in relative terms.

Hence, we may be reaching – or have already reached – the point where the familiar scenario outlined in the beginning of this article will no longer be familiar to the younger generation. Those of us in our late 20s and early 30s might be the last cohort who remembers sneaking dirty magazines into our bedrooms. Today, this is a thing of the past. Those days are over. Everything we love is now digitalized. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Only time will tell.

Laurie Noack Gibson by the swimming pool. Want to jump in?

But what we can conclude is that for lovers of female muscle, this is a fantastic cultural development. Our access to beautiful muscular women has reached unprecedented levels. Well, actually, our access to anything you can possibly think of has reached unprecedented levels. As much as this can be a cause for celebration and popping the champagne corks, there is something tangible that’s been lost. That rush of adrenaline we all felt when we were scared out of our wits about being caught with muscle magazines has now been replaced with remembering to delete your browsing history. Ho hum. Boring!

Or is it? Is feeling naughty – and by extension, guilty – really a positive thing? Or does it only serve to suppress our natural desires and keep us shackled to society’s stringent standards? The answer to this is impossible to fully know, and perhaps we’re just being prisoners of nostalgia. We want the next generation to experience the same things we did when we were younger…for no other reason than we enjoyed it.

But will they? Maybe all this sneaking around wasn’t healthy at all and that society will actually benefit from being more open about sexual attraction, desire, and impulses. In this case, we should applaud the trends we’re currently witnessing.

But one suspects that being naughty, no matter what form that takes, will always be with us. And if that’s the case, does it matter how crotchety old fogies like us think about it?

Muscular Women in Still Motion

This old school photo of Cory Everson still gives us chills all these years later.
This old school photo of Cory Everson still gives us chills all these years later.

They say a photograph is a moment in time captured on film; one that can never be reproduced because such a moment will never happen exactly as it did ever again.

Well, today most photos are taken digitally from point-and-click cameras or cell phones. But the idea remains the same: The purpose of still images is to provide a snapshot of a particular moment in time and to allow the viewer – whether they see it a hundred days later or a hundred years later – to experience from a distance what the moment might have been like.

Maybe we’re talking about a photo from your kid’s 6th birthday party. Or your father’s grand retirement celebration. Or when your mom won a prestigious community service award. Or when you and your buddies experienced your team winning the World Series. Or when your lovely partner finally said “I do.” The possibilities are endless.

That’s the inherent advantage between a still photo and a video clip. A still photo captures a precise moment in time. A video captures a stretch of time, which could last seven seconds or seven hours. Technically speaking, a video clip is more accurate in documenting reality while a photograph can be deceptive. How many times have we seen a nice photograph of a couple enjoying a night out on the town only to learn this couple tragically died in a fatal car accident only hours later? Or an image of a star high school athlete relishing in triumphant victory…but later his or her life is unexpectedly cut short after he or she is victim to a heartless shooting?

Thus, the beauty of photographs is that they encapsulate a specific moment without delving too deep into the context of said moment. Even if the subjects of the picture are moving around (as opposed to posing for the photographer), moments very rarely happen in stillness. Yet, a photograph is still. They don’t move or communicate motion. Think about those creepy turn-of-the-century black and white family photos where one of the “posing” members is a dead body. Don’t believe me? Look it up.

The subjects of photos appear to be not just still, but frozen in time. We see who they are instead of what they’re doing. It illustrates the poetic truth that time is not a continuous arc of events, but rather a series of individually poignant moments.

Except when it comes to female bodybuilders.

You knew I’d eventually get around to this subject, right?

For us fans of female bodybuilders, muscular women, athletes, fitness models, and amateur gym rats, the most prominent way we’re able to “experience” these women is through still images. Thanks to YouTube, social media, Vimeo, and other video sharing platforms we’re also able to watch them in action. But the most significant avenue through which we satisfy our female muscle fix is through good old fashioned still photos that we can view on our computer, phone, or tablet device.

What hides under the pasties being worn by Larissa Reis?
What hides under the pasties being worn by Larissa Reis?

Back in the day all we had were fitness/bodybuilding magazines that we tried to purchase inconspicuously at the grocery store and hide under the bed away from prying eyes. Thank God for the Internet.

Recently, I had a bit of an epiphany while scrolling through a Tumblr blog dedicated to muscular and fit women. This blogger also posts photos of “normal” women – meaning they’re gorgeous but gorgeous within mainstream parameters. I began to notice something strange when seeing images of muscular women juxtaposed with images of non-muscular women.

The muscular women seemed to be more alive.

That’s an odd observation considering all the women featured on this blog are, uh living and breathing. No dead bodies posed to look like they’re still alive. But when you take the time and actually look at images of female bodybuilders next to images of non-muscular women, the contrast is both jarring and difficult to explain.

Their body language is nearly identical. Most modeling shots consist of the subjects (or “talent,” using industry parlance) sitting on couches, standing around, laying down provocatively, leaning against a wall or large object, engaging in a suggestive activity, or contorting their bodies in weird ways. Sometimes the subject looks directly at the camera, other times they pretend like there’s nobody in the environment with them. While FBBs will frequently pose for photos of them at the gym doing what they do best, for the most part what their non-muscular counterparts do they will do also.

So, what exactly do I mean when I say that female bodybuilders seem to exist in “still motion” when photographed?

More old school images: Laura Creavalle.
More old school images: Laura Creavalle.

In short, there’s something inherently and inexplicably “active” about a muscular woman. Her muscles give her a sense of liveliness that isn’t present in women who aren’t muscular. A photograph of an FBB conveys energy, vivacity, and dynamism like nothing else. This isn’t true of all photos of female bodybuilders, of course. Ones taken in poor light, terrible conditions, or on a grainy cell phone camera obviously aren’t nearly as good as ones taken by a professional photographer (which goes to show you that the world still needs professional photographers, online photo “filters” be damned). I’m only referring to images that are produced with a certain degree of artistic integrity.

A lot of this has to do with how a woman earns her muscles to begin with. She didn’t get big and buff sitting on her couch eating potato chips and watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory. She earned her impressive physique through sweat, labor, supplementation, dieting, and making wholesale lifestyle changes. So because of this, when we see a still photo of a female bodybuilder, even if she’s not doing anything explicitly active, we know she leads a highly active lifestyle when she’s away from shutterbugs.

She’s constantly lifting, running, stretching, eating, cooking, drinking protein shakes, working, lifting, jogging, eating, lifting some more, eating a bit more, cooking more food that she’ll eat later, and lifting.

Did I mention that female bodybuilders lift weights on occasion?

The point is that female bodybuilders seem to be more active because they are more physically active than the average adult. So it makes sense that their proactive and demanding lives would transfer over to photographs taken of them, even if they’re just sitting down on a chaise or lying down in a frilly white bed. When you see her posing for the camera, you know in the back of your mind that she wouldn’t be in that position in the first place if it weren’t for her impressive muscularity.

That is, you wouldn’t be completely enraptured by her beauty unless she were as muscular as she is. She could very well be quite beautiful even if she didn’t have muscles, but it’s not the same thing. Not even close. A female bodybuilder’s muscles is what takes center stage when we look at her.

Sharon Madderson definitely jumps off the screen.
Sharon Madderson definitely jumps off the screen.

Yes, we know that muscular women are active in their everyday lives. That’s obvious. But that still doesn’t fully explain why they look like they’re ready to jump off the celluloid and into your lap.

Another reason is how surreal it is to actually look at a woman with big muscles. For as many years as I’ve been appreciating female bodybuilders, I still sometimes do a “double take” when I see a picture of a muscular woman unexpectedly. For example, not too long ago a friend of mine shared on Facebook an article talking about HIIT – or high intensity interval training. I don’t know whether this method is best for burning fat and staying in shape, but that’s not the point. The point is that the article featured a picture of a beautiful young lady with gorgeous curvy muscles. I was taken aback. My heart fluttered a bit. I felt a surge of energy run through my core.

Why did I suddenly react this way? I’ve spent countless hours watching and looking at hundreds of muscular women. Why did this “out of the blue” experience cause me to react as if I had just seen my first ever female bodybuilder?

It’s because it was unexpected and out of context. When I’m searching my usual lineup of blogs for pictures of beautiful muscular women, I know what I’m going to get. But if I stumble upon an image of one accidentally, it’s as though someone just socked me in the face. I think this is because at the end of the day, no matter how many hours I spend looking at images of muscle-bound women, my brain is preconditioned to produce a strong reaction whenever I witness them. I’m socialized to think of muscular women as being “abnormal” no matter how normalized they seem to be to me.

This is why muscular women appear to be suspended in still motion when photographed. My brain subconsciously tells me that this is unusual and therefore I should react accordingly. No amount of zombie movies will actually prepare you for a real-life zombie invasion. You can read all the post-apocalyptic themed fiction you want; if World War III is ever right around the corner (don’t be too surprised!) you’ll have no idea what to do next.

Likewise, you can watch thousands of hours of female muscle videos and meet dozens of FBBs for muscle worship sessions. Still, your mind will intuitively tell you that the sight of a woman with muscles is strange. Strange, bizarre, peculiar, irregular, atypical, odd. That’s not a product of how you personally view muscular women; rather it’s a product of the lack of muscular women in our society.

Anything that’s rare will stand out when it happens. Throwing a perfect game is so unusual that many baseball aficionados could probably name at least a dozen pitchers who’ve done it throughout the game’s history. And when it happens, it’s huge news. The same goes for muscular women. No matter how familiar you are with seeing FBBs, it’s still a memorable experience when it happens outside of normal parameters.

Unlike most amateur photographs, modeling shots are intended to capture the essence of the subject, not the moment. What a model is actually doing is not nearly as important as what they look like doing it. The same goes for FBBs who pose for model shots, but our reactions to seeing them are remarkably different. We don’t just see who they are. We also see their accomplishments, hopes, dreams, successes, aspirations, and passions. A muscular woman doesn’t just stand around and look pretty. She invades her space. She communicates a clear message to the viewer. She owns the frame. She doesn’t want you to just look at her, she wants you to react viscerally toward her.

See the difference?

Back in the glory days of the 90s, I’d surf the Internet and ogle photos of Pamela Anderson, Cindy Crawford, and Anna Nicole Smith. As an inexperienced teenager with raging hormones, I was introducing myself to a whole new world that I’d never known before: female beauty. It was an epic time of discovery. But even back then, I never experienced any sort of spiritual connection with the gorgeous ladies popping up on my computer screen. As odd as it sounds, I sort of feel that way with photos of muscular women. Sort of.

The lovely Elena Oana Hreapca rocking a sexy silver dress.
The lovely Elena Oana Hreapca rocking a sexy silver dress.

It’s as though photos of FBBs exist for purposes that go beyond that of normal photos of beautiful women. Cindy Crawford wants you to appreciate her natural beauty. Debi Laszewski wants to challenge your notions of femininity, gender roles, social stereotypes, and human biology. I don’t think these thoughts literally go through Debi’s mind as she’s posing for the camera, but that’s the sense I get when I look at her flawless visage. Pamela Anderson inspired hundreds of thousands of teenage boys – myself included – to masturbate in the privacy of their bedrooms. Cory Everson may have inspired similar reactions (though on a much smaller scale), but what she’s done that Pamela couldn’t is transform the way you view humanity: Women can be as buff as men – and look fabulous at the same time!

Muscular women can do that, even though many of them don’t intend to. They allude a degree of power and influence that most of them – including fans like us – don’t entirely comprehend. Hell, I’ve been writing about muscular women for nearly five years and even I continue to struggle to articulate this phenomena into words. Our love for female bodybuilders isn’t just rooted in good old fashioned lust. It’s also explained by our intrinsic desire to make sense out of a hectic and chaotic world. Muscular women, simply put, create chaos. How we adjust to that chaos is up to us on an individual level.

So that must be it. There’s the kicker. Muscular women create chaos in our brains. They cause our imaginations to spin out of control. They challenge our beliefs. They unleash our hidden impulses. They awaken our basest desires. They grapple our minds and refuse to let go, even for a moment. And this is something we don’t try to stop because we love every single minute of it. Isn’t that something?

Female bodybuilders appear to be in still motion because they’re perpetually active, even when they’re captured in a lifeless photograph. They activate our hearts, minds, and souls like nothing else can. In this respect, a photograph doesn’t just capture a single moment in time. It captures many moments, both those that have come and those that are yet to be.

As the old cliché goes, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. But not just words that immediately come to mind, but also words that are yet to be written or conceived. When we stare at a still image of a beautiful muscular woman, we’re not just staring at her. We’re staring at ourselves. And others. And everything around us. All at the same time.

Minna Pajulahti is the Flawless Female Bodybuilder We’ve All Been Waiting For

Flawless? I think so.
Flawless? I think so.

Alright, ladies and gentlemen. Stop whatever you’re doing. Right now. I don’t care if you’re sitting in a waiting room about to undergo open-heart surgery and the nurse just called your name to get prepped. I don’t care if you’re about to have tea with the Queen of England (happy 90th birthday!) or if you’re in the middle of writing your doctorate dissertation that’s due in an hour. Just stop whatever you’re doing and do what I’m about to tell you to do.

Find a device with Internet connection and do a Google search on Minna Pajulahti.

I’ll wait.

Ready to proceed? Great.

I’ve already shared photos of Miss Pajulahti on this blog, but I think now is the time to dedicate a whole blog post to her. She isn’t new to the scene, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t newsworthy at this particular moment. Have you seen what this gorgeous woman looks like? She’s newsworthy 27/7/365. Hopefully we can all agree on that!

There isn’t a whole lot of biographical information about her available, so I’ll summarize what I can.

Minna is a Finnish IFBB bodybuilder who was born on May 4, 1980. At the ripe age of 36 (although she looks 26!), Minna competes in the women’s physique division. She works as a flight attendant and fitness coach when she isn’t busting her butt at the gym.

She placed 14th at the 2010 IFBB Fort Lauderdale Pro, 7th at the 2011 IFBB Toronto Pro, 5th at the 2011 IFBB FIBO Power Pro Germany, 16th at the 2014 IFBB Europa Dallas, and 6th at the 2016 IFBB Karina Nascimento Pro. She also participated at the 2010 IFBB Arnold Amateur International Bodybuilding, Fitness, Figure & Bikini Championships. She might have competed in other contests, but the history on that is scant.

In addition to competing in bodybuilding, Minna is also a powerlifter. She says she also enjoys cheerleading and everything related to fitness. Standing at 5’4”, Minna may not be super tall, but her gorgeous good looks, beach blonde hair, and powerfully built physique makes her stand out above the rest. She currently lives in Nokia, Finland.

A strikingly gorgeous female bodybuilder.
A strikingly gorgeous female bodybuilder.

Every so often I’ll come across a female bodybuilder whose striking beauty and impressive muscular development gives her enough “crossover” appeal to please both female muscle fans and “female muscle skeptics” alike. We all know (or know of) people who are skeptical and irrationally disgusted by strong women. The stereotype they have ingrained in their brains of a female bodybuilder is someone with a man-like face, grossly unfeminine muscles protruding everywhere, excessive body hair, a voice deep enough to make a 17th century pirate blush, and overly aggressive behavior. Minna Pajulahti takes all those harmful images and smashes them with the hammer of Thor.

Minna is different. Despite her huge muscles, her curvy figure is undeniably feminine. Her face is as gorgeous as you’ll ever see. She seems approachable, pleasant, and “normal.” But more important, her incredible good looks makes you stop dead in your tracks. You see her once and you’re hooked. How can you not want to check in on her Instagram every single morning?

First impressions matter. I can guarantee you your first impression of seeing pictures of Miss Pajulahti is to be hypnotized by her flawless combination of beauty, muscularity, and etherealness. She’s so physically beautiful she seems almost not real. She’s like a female muscle fan crafted a flesh-and-blood female bodybuilder from scratch and created the Perfect Dream Woman. Minna is that damn gorgeous.

This is how we react. Will others follow and be captivated by her like we are? Maybe, maybe not.

Whether Minna is likely to become a “mainstream” celebrity isn’t the point. Bodybuilders as a whole, even today’s most popular male competitors, are only known to a limited number of people. Guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno had what it took to become household names, but this isn’t the 1970s anymore. The sport still exists, but it can’t compete with soccer, basketball, baseball, football, and MMA in terms of widespread popularity. Bodybuilding’s market share isn’t what it used to be.

Minna has fantastic muscle development...
Minna has fantastic muscle development…

In a previous blog post, I talked about the difficulties of maintaining the so-called “perfect balance” of being a female bodybuilder who can appeal to a wide audience. Miss Pajulahti is someone who comes very close. I personally think she hits the nail on the head, but not everyone will agree with me. That’s perfectly okay. They have every right to be wrong!

But seriously, Minna is striking for being two things at once: She looks like a Baywatch lifeguard while at the same time having the muscle mass of an NFL linebacker. For my non-American readers, I apologize if I can’t come up with a better analogy. Heavyweight boxer, perhaps?

If you follow Minna closely on Instagram – and I highly recommend you do if you don’t already – she does everything you’d expect a beautiful woman on IG to do. She posts selfies, photos of what she eats, her friends, her work life, her accomplishments, inspirational quotes, and shots of herself modeling. The fact she isn’t a world-famous supermodel by now astounds me. But I get it. Women with biceps that large can’t possibly draw interest from the general public.

Or can they?

If given a chance, I have no doubt Minna could shake up the advertising industry. If she were 10-12 years younger (though like I said earlier, she looks a lot younger than she is) and were born and raised in Southern California instead of Finland, perhaps things could be different. If she chose to pursue a sport like MMA or if she became famous for posting viral fitness videos on YouTube, Minna could be a bigger international star than she is right now. Today, Minna is only “famous” to people who pay close attention to the fitness/bodybuilding world. But it didn’t have to be that way.

This “missed opportunity” isn’t necessarily tragic, but it is a bit disappointing. Minna is unquestionably beautiful, feminine, and accomplished. She also has bigger muscles that most people aren’t accustomed to seeing on a woman’s body. I can’t fathom how anyone would be shocked or repulsed by her. She would force you to do a double-take, but that’s not the same thing as wanting to turn away from her because you find her appearance unbearably unpleasant.

...and a gorgeous face to boot!
…and a gorgeous face to boot!

How can you not help but stare at videos of her deadlifting, squatting, and bench pressing massive amounts of weight? It’s impressive for anyone to be able to powerlift all that, never mind someone who also looks like she could be arm candy for Hugh Hefner (try not to vomit when you think about that). I am not in the least bit surprised that she used to be a cheerleader. She definitely looks the part.

Is Minna a “flawless” female bodybuilder? Well, that depends on how we define flawless. I find no fault in her physique, attitude, professional goals, and accomplishments. Will a diverse array of people, both those who are already sympathetic to muscular women and those who are not, like her in the same way? That remains to be seen. Sadly, we may never have the chance to find out. This is the missed opportunity I am quietly lamenting.

I will not attempt to project where her career goes from here. Will she score a small role in a big studio Hollywood feature film and become a major celebrity hereafter? Probably not. The odds of that kind of good fortune are nearly nonexistent. However, that isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility given the pop culture trends we’re seeing play out today.

Superhero movies are more popular than ever. The sci-fi and fantasy genres are about to take off to new heights. The rebooted Star Trek franchise and reinvigorated Star Wars universe are prime avenues for non-traditional looking performers to hog the spotlight. New episodes of Game of Thrones is starting to become a national holiday. Lots of popular sci-fi/fantasy books and graphic novels are ready for an HBO or Netflix executive to greenlight. Nobody knows what the future will hold.

So it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a sexy, gorgeous muscular woman to score a role in a major TV or film project that will attract millions of eyeballs. I won’t hold my breath for such an occurrence to happen, but it’s not inconceivable. It may not be Miss Pajulahti who lands this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity per se, but it doesn’t have to be.

I cannot bring up Minna Pajulahti as being the flawless female bodybuilder we’ve all been waiting for without giving proper respect to Shannon Courtney, Dani Reardon (despite an unfortunate domestic violence arrest), Sheronica Sade Henton, Beata Antoninas, Lauranda Nall, and other young rising stars. I wouldn’t say Minna is my favorite current FBB, but she’s definitely one who’s effortlessly captured my heart.

We will definitely be experiencing some turbulence during our flight this evening.
We will definitely be experiencing some turbulence during our flight this evening.

This lineup of young female bodybuilders who aren’t afraid to build abnormal levels of muscularity is impressive and encouraging for the future of the sport. It is unreasonable to expect the sport to become as popular as tennis or golf, but it doesn’t have to be. The goal shouldn’t be to find ways to expand the brand of female bodybuilding just for the sake of expansion. The ultimate goal should be to maximize the amount of support these incredible athletes receive so that they can feel emboldened to pursue their dreams.

Who knows? Maybe sometime in the near future someone else will emerge as the much-awaited “savior” of female bodybuilding. Perhaps this hypothetical person will be blessed with supermodel-level beauty, a charismatic personality, top-notch performance talent, intelligence, wisdom, grace, humility, passion, drive, the desire to be great, and an unapologetically hyper muscular frame. She’ll love who she is and will refuse to apologize for her muscles. She’ll be an inspiration, a one-of-a-kind pioneer, and someone who we can truly say revolutionized the way society views strong women.

That day may never come. Or maybe it’s right around the corner. Either way, all we can do is wait and see. This Ultimate Female Bodybuilder may or may never arrive on the scene. This could just be a pipe dream. Regardless, until that day comes, we’ll just have to embrace Minna Pajulahti – and hundreds of women just like her around the globe – with a full heart and an open mind.

You Don’t Have to Like Every Female Bodybuilder

Who doesn't like Cindy Landolt?
Who doesn’t like Cindy Landolt?

There’s a strange misconception out there that people who like female bodybuilders are “into” every single female bodybuilder in existence.

I’d venture a guess and say that a lot of us appreciate most muscular women, but not all. Thanks to the Internet and social media, FBBs can promote themselves in ways that were unimaginable twenty years ago. Today, a muscular woman with a prominent number of followers can post a picture of herself on Instagram (at no cost) and immediately have tens of thousands of people see it within minutes. Wow. Not even ten years ago was this possible. What a time we live in.

Because of this, we are exposed to thousands of women of all shapes and sizes who gladly post photos of themselves at little to no cost to the consumer. Celebrities, singers, models (and wannabe models), politicians, athletes, and the like are out there for our prying eyes to witness. Without social media, do any of us think Kim Kardashian would be nearly as popular as she is today? Maybe so, but her Q Score would not be nearly as high.

What exactly is a Q Score? It’s a metric that measures the familiarity and appeal of a brand, celebrity or company based on a panel of judges pulled from the general population. Obviously, people like Leonardo DiCaprio and Katy Perry have extremely high Q Scores. For the general population, Lisa Cross and Debi Laszewski do not have high Q Scores. However, among female muscle fanatics, these ladies are off the charts. But sadly, not everyone appreciates strong muscular women like some of us do.

Due to this fairly low profile, many people in society tend to group all muscular women into one singular cluster. They’re the big, brawny she-males you see with gross looking faces, man-like muscles, and excessive body hair in places where hair shouldn’t exist. We all know this stereotype exists. To be fair, there are some female bodybuilders who do (to an extent) fit this profile. But there are plenty out there who do not. There are lots of female bodybuilders who are just as “feminine” as any “normal” woman.

Wake up! Victoria Dominguez says it's time for school.
Wake up! Victoria Dominguez says it’s time for school.

Perhaps that’s the key. People who do not like FBBs look at one or two and think that’s how they all are. So when they find out that someone they know really digs women with muscles, they automatically conjure up in their minds all the negative stereotypes they’ve previously held about female bodybuilders. No matter how much you insist your attraction to them is completely normal, preconceived notions can be hard to break.

One can like muscular women without liking all muscular women. Yes, this is possible. Just like it’s possible to love Japanese food but at the same time despise wasabi, female muscle fandom isn’t an “all or nothing” proposition. We all have discriminatory tastes, even when it comes to strong women.

So the lesson to be learned is simple. You don’t have to like every female bodybuilder. You should respect every single female bodybuilder on planet Earth (unless they’ve done something in their lives that you find morally objectionable), but that’s a given. But it’s perfectly fine to be attracted to some but not to others. It’s socially acceptable to find certain personality traits desirable and others repulsive. Beauty is, as the age-old cliché goes, in the eye of the beholder.

My preferences are quite pointed in the direction of Sheila Bleck.
My preferences are quite pointed in the direction of Sheila Bleck.

But of course, it’s not that simple. I understand why some of us get defensive about our beloved FBBs, even if we ourselves don’t particular like some of them. I once tried to set up a muscle worship session with an FBB who, for reasons I still cannot figure out, was supremely rude to me. I think there was some miscommunication going on between us, but regardless I felt like she could have handled matters better. Nevertheless, I don’t judge every single FBB as being difficult to deal with just because I had one negative experience. If anything, I might give them the benefit of the doubt because of how much I love and respect them. So there’s that.

For many FBB fans, to admit that you don’t find all FBBs attractive is to open the door toward legitimizing hateful criticisms of these women. That’s why a lot of (or maybe most) social movements tend to view the world in black and white terms. There are absolutely evil people out there and absolutely pure and virtuous people as well. If you’re sympathetic to folks in the latter category, you might be more inclined to overlook their flaws because you don’t want to provide unwanted ammunition to those so-called “evil people” who don’t happen to like “your people” as much as you do. I won’t get into specifics (in order to avoid a shouting match in the comments section), but hopefully you understand where I’m going with this.

This is why I won’t say anything negative about any particular FBB. I won’t even mention the name of the person I just referred to earlier. Heck, I don’t even reveal the identity of the women I write about in positive terms! Maybe I’m being a little too overprotective. Whatever. It’s better to be safe than sorry, I say.

All of this is to say that we’re allowed to have different preferences. Personal choice is an inalienable human right. If you prefer slimmer, “toned” women as opposed to bigger bodybuilders, that’s okay. If you are genuinely disgusted by the large female bodybuilders who compete in the heavyweight category but you get uncontrollably turned on by the “athletic look” instead, I’m not one to judge. There’s plenty of room in the Beautiful Strong Women Lovefest Train. All aboard! Choo, choo!

Cute pink dress, Tarna Alderman.
Cute pink dress, Tarna Alderman.

So in your own minds, you can like or dislike whatever you choose to like or dislike. I will never tell you that you’re wrong. I can tell you that you’re misguided or blinded by prejudice, but that’s not the same thing as “calling out” someone for being in the wrong. However, in the public sphere, I totally get why you tend to get defensive whenever some random Internet troll decides to defame the good names of Shannon Courtney or Danielle Reardon. I’d probably react in the same way, to be perfectly honest.

But I don’t, generally speaking. I don’t have the time nor the inclination to respond to trolls or skeptics. Or people who aren’t trying to start an argument but say something derogatory about a muscular woman anyway. Nah, life is too short to deal with that kind of commotion. I accept the fact (tacitly, perhaps) that not everyone will accept the unique beauty of a muscular woman into the “mainstream” of society. That’s probably not going to happen anytime soon, for that matter. But that’s not a huge tragedy either. There are enough fans like us who adore these women that an aspiring female bodybuilder will never feel unappreciated. Mainstream culture may not completely embrace them, but there are lots of subcultures who will. I realize the word “subculture” tends to carry deviant connotations, but that’s not actually the case. There are countless subcultures in our world. Almost in a literal sense, countless. Many of them are more prevalent than we think. It’s not just talked about. I sincerely believe female muscle fandom is one of them.

Take this message to heart, female muscle supporters out there in the wide, wide world. You don’t have to like every muscular woman you happen to come across on the Internet. Some of you like big beefy bodybuilders. Others of you like smaller, figure competitors. There are folks whose cup of tea is beautiful, feminine athletic women with curves in all the right places. And believe it or not, there are people in this world who really love “normal” looking women who can display feats of strength (either real or pretend) when called upon to do so.

Our fandom stretches across a wide spectrum. I am in no position to say what a “real” female muscle enthusiast is supposed to like or dislike. There are no “real” FBB fans just as there are no “fake” FBB fans. What tears apart fandom culture – whether we’re talking about comic books or punk rock – is infighting from within. This is why I don’t really spend a whole lot of time browsing and posting on female muscle-related forums. I am not against anyone who does, but that sort of thing isn’t for me.

Life is too short to deal with unnecessary negativity.

This isn’t to say that this sort of infighting is common. I have no clue if it is or not. This is also to dispel the myth that people like us who appreciate strong women are unequivocally head-over-heels attracted to all strong women. Everyone has different tastes, which is perfectly fine. Personally, my appreciation range is quite wide. I still get distracted by the cute girl at the gym just as I am by photos of Lindsay Mulinazzi that randomly pop into my Facebook feed. I’m fairly open-minded in that respect. You certainly don’t have to be, but it never hurts!

Do you like the vascular look of Cris Goy Arellano?
Do you like the vascular look of Cris Goy Arellano?

Here’s a message for female muscle skeptics out there: You don’t need to find the most grotesque photo of a female bodybuilder who has abused steroids for far too long and shove it in our faces and ask us incessantly, “So, do you like THIS?” That’s unfair. That’s mean spirited. It’s okay for us to say “no” and not be a “sell out” toward the Female Muscle Cause. I’ll be honest here. There ARE a handful of FBBs in this world that I don’t particularly think are attractive. Yes, a few actually disgust me. But that doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things. I’m still a committed female muscle fan through and through. My Female Muscle Fan membership card won’t be revoked.

Personal choice. It’s what makes us autonomous human beings. It’s what makes us flawed, but it’s what makes us who we are as people. We have the right to choose what we like and don’t like, what we think is beautiful and what we find to be ugly, what our favorites are and what we’d rather not have to deal with if we can. It all boils down to personal choice.

Thanks to the Internet, we’re exposed to beautiful women of all shapes and sizes. In an age that celebrates diversity and opens the doors to anyone to publicly express themselves, we have more freedom to choose what we want to be into and what we don’t want to be into. There are lots of beautiful women out there. Don’t put any of them into a box. Nor us.

What a time we live in, indeed.

Check out Amber DeLuca’s Blog!

The Goddess of Fetish herself, the unparalleled Amber DeLuca.
The Goddess of Fetish herself, the unparalleled Amber DeLuca.

The Internet can be a funny place. Just four years ago I was a random guy who started a blog so that I could publish my female muscle-related fantasy fiction. Predictably, I didn’t get a whole lot of traffic to my site. I didn’t expect to get a whole lot of traffic either.

Then, I made a shift and started publishing essays explaining in greater depth the issues and fascinating topics associated with female bodybuilding and the men who love them. A few viral posts later, and I’m suddenly receiving anywhere between 400 to 500 views per day. Yikes!

People from all corners of the world (and this is no exaggeration) stop by my blog to see what I have to say. Thank you for being such loyal readers! Without you, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing nearly as much as I am. I may not be as prolific as Female Muscle Slave, but I do my best to produce quality content on a fairly regular basis. Expect more articles and stories from me in the coming years.

One of my consistent readers happens to be an active female bodybuilder herself. Amber DeLuca, who should be quite familiar with anyone who reads this blog, is apparently a fan of my work. Fantastic! I’m also a fan of her work, so I guess that’s the way things should be. Amber, in addition to being a gorgeous and strong woman, is also an ambitious entrepreneur (like many female bodybuilders in the 21st century) who is seeking every opportunity to promote her brand to the wider world. I guess you can say I’m just doing my part to spread the love.

Her official blog can be found at steeluniverse.blogspot.com. She updates it fairly regularly, as recently she’s been posting new content every week or so. She tells me she doesn’t get nearly as much traffic as she’d like, so I’m encouraging you all out there to subscribe to her blog or bookmark the URL for future reference. Amber says she started her blog to help her promote her actual website, goddessoffetish.com, which is where you can purchase her videos, become a member and learn more about one of the true Goddesses of Female Bodybuilding.

Amber also has a documentary film coming out soon, which apparently is two years in the making. I don’t know a whole lot of details about it, but I’m sure it’ll be worth watching once it gets released to the general public. I get the feeling the film will aim to combat negative stereotypes associated with female bodybuilders and let the world know what the lifestyle is really about. I try to address many of these prejudices on this blog, but Amber and her creative team appear to be taking this to a whole new level. More power to them!

From what I can gather the documentary has a tentative summer release date scheduled. If you want to learn more about Amber and her journey to becoming a celebrity – at least within the realm of female muscle fandom – you should definitely check it out. I’ll be sure to provide further details as soon as I know them.

So check out everything she has to offer! She promised to post more content on her blog as time permits her. Also, don’t forget to “like” her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

I cannot imagine how busy of a life she must live. It must be overwhelming at times. But if there’s anyone strong enough to weather the storm and achieve her wildest dreams, no matter how insurmountable they may seem, it would be Amber DeLuca. No doubt about it.