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walked up to get a flatbed cart to wheel it all in.
The place was already a madhouse, with guys setting up tables and laying out mats on the gym s
shiny, slippery floor.  This is us, Danny said, pulling the cart over to a nearby table.
One whole end of the gym was lined with tables, with bleachers on both sides and a judges area
at the other end. At least they were at the end closest to the open doors. It was already getting pretty
warm inside.
He helped Danny string the banner along the front of the table, then spread out the pamphlets.
Looked like all the sponsoring gyms had their own tables. Travis and Rick had signed up for their own
bouts, and Danny had agreed to referee a few of the advanced-level fights of course, not the ones his
own fighters were in.
They finished setting up, and Danny gave everything a once-over.  We forgot the cooler. He dug
his keys out of his pocket.  Here, you go get it. I need to find out where they need the mats.
 M kay. Tom headed for the door, walking sideways to avoid getting mowed down by other
exhibitors carting in their stuff. The six-pack-sized cooler with the sodas and deli sandwiches Danny
picked up was in the back of the SUV, pushed off to one side by all the other stuff they d packed
around it. He grabbed it, locked the car and started back inside
And froze at the sight of a white Ford van with a satellite dish on top pulling up to the back
entrance. KLIN-TV News was painted on the side.
Fuck. Last thing he needed was his face all over local TV.
He and Danny got back to the table at the same time. Danny took one look at him, deep creases
forming between his eyes.  What s the matter?
Tom didn t have to answer. The camera crew coming through the door said it all.
 Shit, Danny said under his breath.  Don t panic, okay? If you see them pointing the camera in
your direction, turn your back.
 What if they try to interview me?
 Just tell  em no. They won t be interested in the beginner s bouts anyway. Which would ve
been an insult if Tom wasn t so relieved. But it didn t last long.  Go put on your gi. Travis ll be here
soon, then you two can get warmed up.
Throat going dry, Tom fished his backpack out from under the table and headed for the men s
room. The disabled stall was empty, so he ducked inside to change. It was the first time he d worn his
gi in public, so he spent close to ten minutes tying and retying the belt, making sure it hung just right.
He must ve done an okay job, because none of the other kimono-clad guys he passed on the way
back to the auditorium stared at him like he d sprouted another head. Travis stood at the table talking
with Danny, and they both gave him the thumbs-up.
The setup crew hauled ass carpeting the gym with mats, including a warm-up area. Tom followed
Travis over, and they went into their usual training routine stretches first, then a few basic holds.
Didn t take long before they were rolling and grappling on the mat, Tom s muscles burning with every
movement. Travis tried to pin him, but Tom countered with a hard throw of his elbow to Travis s
chest, got a leg over and flipped himself into the top position. Then he slid his knees up under Travis s
arms, making it nearly impossible for Travis to gain a hold. Still, Travis gave it his best shot, kicking
and shifting his hips, trying to upset Tom s balance.
It was like riding a bucking bronco, but Tom planted his hands on the mat and held on, sweat
streaming down his face. Every move Travis made, he countered on pure instinct. They d sparred
together so often, he could guess what Travis was going to do by the way he twitched. Only six
months, and all Danny and Eddie taught him had become as natural as breathing.
Every fight counts. Damn fucking straight. Maybe this was just a warm-up, but he wasn t letting
Travis beat him without giving it everything he had.
As if on cue, Travis wriggled one arm free and went for a choke hold. Tom ducked, grabbed
Travis s wrist and pinned it to the mat. His palm was so sweaty he thought for sure Travis would
wriggle out of it, but
No. Fuck this. If he wants to win, he ll have to break my fucking fingers.
Their gazes locked, and for a second, he thought Travis might actually do it. Instead, Travis
huffed a gusty breath and tapped his knuckles on the mat.
Applause burst out, and a few whistles too. Tom rolled to his feet, jaw dropping at the dozen or so
people gathered near the mat. Fresh heat flooding his face, he gave Travis a hand up.  Sorry. Guess I
got a little carried away.
 Don t apologize. That was a great fight, Travis said, wiping his sweaty forehead on the sleeve
of his kimono.
 Thanks for letting me win.
 I didn t. He grinned and slapped Tom on the back.  You re gonna do great today.
* * *
Tom went to men s room to splash some water on his face. By the time he got back to the table,
they were letting the spectators in. They d already filled up the bleachers on one side of the room.
Danny smirked and tossed him a Coke.  What s this I hear about you kicking Travis s ass? he
asked, raising his voice over the buzz of the crowd.
 It was just a practice fight. Fuck, but that ice-cold can felt good against his flushed cheek.  No
big deal.
Danny chuckled and leaned in closer.  Kid, I don t think you get how gifted you are. Want to
know how many times I ve beaten Travis? He held up his hand, curled into a zero.
 You re kidding.
 Nope. Danny dug another Coke out of the cooler and popped it open.  You pick stuff up faster
than anyone else I ve ever trained. In another two, three years, you could be where Travis is. Not a
black belt yet, but definitely an instructor. A top-ranked competitor too.
Tom sank down heavily on a metal folding chair.  You re saying I could be a pro fighter?
 Why not? All those guys on pay-per-view started out in regional competitions like this one.
You re as talented as they are in jiu-jitsu. As for boxing . . . it ll take a while before you re at Eddie s
level, but we ll get you there.
He stared out at the gym, watching more spectators file in. The judges had taken their places at [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]


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