Master Shinowa sat Indian-style in the middle of the training floor.
Hildreth sighed with relief.
“You are late, Mayhew.”
“I’m sorry, Master. Wait. Late? How did you know?”
Master Shinowa opened an eye. “Vansing called. Also, it is the right time for you to return.”
“What do you mean?”
He opened his other eye. “I mean it has been too long since you have returned.”
“I’m sorry, Master.”
Hildreth walked over to him and sat across from him.
“You are much troubled. Why?”
“I need your help.”
“That is understood, Mayhew. Otherwise, you would not be here. My question is: Why are you troubled?”
Hildreth closed his eyes and contemplated his master’s question. “Ambrose Smith.”
“He troubles you.”
Hildreth laughed. “Troubles me? No. No, Master. He goes twelve thousand leagues beyond troubling me.”
“Speak of it.”
“I don’t want to.” He lowered his gaze. “I have to kill him.”
Master Shinowa said nothing to that.
“If I don’t, Elsie will have to do it. And I can’t let her do it.”
He still had no comment.
Hildreth raised his head. “If I let her do it, that rotten vampire will work his vampiric hoo-doo on her and he’ll change her. And he’ll do it just to spite me.”
“I need your help, Master. I can’t lose to him. I need to win. I need to kill him. Show me, Master.”
Master Shinowa frowned.
“Teach me how to defeat him.”
“Mayhew. You are a hunter. All of your lessons have been learned.”
“There’s more. There has to be more.”
“You think I withheld important lessons?”
“No, Master. I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong. That vampire…That rotten vampire. Every time I go up against him, he winds up knocking me out. Last time I got lucky. This time, I need more than luck. I need skill. Skill that I don’t possess. Can you help me? Will you help me?”
“You are speaking too fast, Mayhew. Calm yourself.”
They sat in silence for five long minutes.
Hildreth waited for Master Shinowa to speak first.
“Yes. I will help you. If you are willing to learn.”
“I am, Master.”
“Then, put your weapon into your room and return to me. We will start tonight.”
Hildreth bowed. “Thank you, Master.”
“One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Good. Now fast. Now slow. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Smooth. Not choppy. You are staking a vampire, not chopping a tree. Faster. Faster. Do not think. Think is bad. Action. Action. Action. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Move your feet. Do not shuffle. Stop.”
Hildreth wanted to drop to the floor and stay there till morning. But he knew better.
“Sit and breathe.”
He nodded his head.
Sit and breathe. I can do that.
“Close your eyes. Do not think. Do not speak. Listen.”
Hildreth closed his eyes and listened to the sound of his breathing, the pounding of his heart.
Only to be tossed half-way across the room.
He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling.
“I told you – Listen.”
“Not to the right thing, then. Listen to what is outside you. Not to what is inside. Come. We will do again.”
And again and again and again until I get it right.
But this what I wanted. This is what I need to know.
Hildreth dropped into bed.
I’m sore and sweaty and stinky and I just want to die. I would love to take a hot shower, but I just want to die. But I have to do one thing first.
He grabbed his phone off the red wicker table next to the bed.
He dialed her number.
It went to her voicemail.
Figures. “Hi. It’s me. Hildreth. Well. I made it. I’m here. All is well. Even though I feel like a tribe of ancient elephants just trampled me. You’ll be happy to know that Master Shinowa is still Master Shinowa. He kicked my tailside and threw me across the room and punched me more times than I can count. But that’s pretty normal for him.”
He paused as he thought about her. “If you were here…If you were here, I’d say let’s go play hooky. Find a nice Jacuzzi and stay in there for a couple of hours. The jets of hot water would feel wonderful bashing against my back. Though, considering how I feel right now, that could be a dangerous venture. I’d…” He laughed. “I’d probably fall asleep and slip under the water and you’d have to rescue me and do CPR. I hope you know CPR otherwise I’d be quite doomed. I think I’m babbling. I’m going to go to bed. I miss you. G’night..”
“I’m going to go to bed. I miss you. G’night.”
Elsie closed her phone. “I miss you too. Good night.”