Richard didn’t know which was scarier; the ominous-looking building that his driver just parked in front of, or the large-muscled man that resembled a character from Ian’s Street Fighter arcade game. The man was large with cropped hair, tanned skin, and was even dressed in camouflage-a tight-fitting tank and cargo pants. He had to be the guy and this must be the place because it was his uncle Vincent who had just stepped out of the brick two-story building the commando was standing in front of.
“That building looks abandoned, or it should be,” Richard mumbled. He surveyed the dilapidated building with a frown.
“Come on,” Ian said enthusiastically. With more vigor than a kid stepping into the darker side of the District should have, his little brother sprung from the car.
“Hold on, Ian,” Richard called. He told the driver to stay close, then got out of the car and caught up to his brother. As always, Vincent put his hand out for Ian to shake before Ian was able to give him a hug. His brother stopped, then held his hand out to shake their uncle’s.
When they released each other’s hands, Vincent gave Ian a halfhearted smile before turning. “Hello, Richard. It’s nice to see you.” Vincent shook his hand. “Will you be joining Ian in learning self-defense?” They walked toward the man who looked like a very capable bodyguard.
“No, just here to watch,” Richard said.
“Jasper, these are my nephews, Richard and Ian,” Vincent introduced. “This is my very good friend, Jasper.” Jasper shook Richard’s hand but gave a slight bow to Ian. “Jasper is very good at what he does. He’ll have Ian straight in no time.”
They followed Jasper into the building, and to Richard’s surprise, it didn’t look too bad inside. It was some kind of warehouse with high ceilings and visible beams. A nice gym with large mats and lots of equipment was to their left, and to the right was a fairly nice garage with two motorcycles and two tricked-out cars. A third car that was obviously being worked on sat off to the side with its hood raised and doors opened. Richard found himself wondering what the second floor looked like.
He and Vincent took a seat on one of two benches near the floor mats while Jasper began Ian’s first lesson. Richard looked at his little, frail, calm brother and wondered how he would fair with the mammoth of a man called Jasper. But this was their father’s requirements for Ian’s possible placement in a school. Ian had to learn to protect himself if he would be going to school with kids older and bigger than him.
“Let’s see if this kind of training is for you,” Jasper said to Ian.
What does that mean?
Richard rose from the bench in a panic, but Vincent took his arm and held him in place as Jasper’s palm connected with Ian’s face, whipping his brother’s head to one side. The hit was loud enough to echo to the rafters and hard enough for Richard to wonder if his brother’s jaw was broken.
“What the fuck?” Richard yelled as he struggled to get free of his uncle’s strong grasp. “Are you insane?” His focus was on Jasper, who didn’t even acknowledge his comments.
“Relax, Richard,” Vincent instructed. “Jasper needs to know if Ian is right for this kind of training.”
Richard looked over his shoulder at his uncle. “And he does that by beating him to death? Ian is a sensitive kid with medical issues!”
“Our government invested a lot of money in making Jasper into the lethal weapon he is and as a favor to me, he has agreed to teach Ian to defend himself. He’s the best. But he can’t teach Ian if Ian doesn’t have that certain something-”
“What is he looking for in a student?” Richard asked angrily, “The desire to drink his food through a straw?”
In spite of Richard’s anger, his uncle laughed. “Look at your brother, Richard. Look at him.”
Richard turned but didn’t find Ian on the floor bawling where any kid and most grown men would be if they’d been struck like that by a man as big as Jasper. Ian was crying, but there was really no way to tell other than seeing the tears stream down his inflamed cheek. His brother’s breathing was normal, or maybe it was too calm. His gray eyes were fixed on Jasper, his fists were clenched tightly at his sides, and his shoulders were squared off. For a kid that had never been hit in his entire life before today, Ian took it like…a fighter.
“Well?” Vincent shouted.
“I’d say Ian was made for this.” Jasper shrugged. Then the brute smiled at Vincent as if it was a punch line to an inside joke only they shared.