Hildreth ended the call and returned to the training room.
Jim-Marie sat in the middle of the floor. He sat silent and with bowed head.
Hildreth knelt before him. “You all right?”
“Am I in trouble?”
“What, for running away from your master?”
“Nah. You’re okay.”
“Is he coming?”
“Yeah, he should be here in a little bit.”
Jim-Marie traced the lines in the maple-colored wood floor with his fingertip. “Is he mad at me?”
“Not at all.”
“He should be. I ran off. He threw me. I was scared. I ran off. I always run off.”
“What are you thinking?”
“Hey. Look up here.”
“It’s okay. Master Shinowa is a good guy. Yeah, sure he’ll toss you like a softball and he’ll land some solid punches too. So, be prepared for that.”
Hildreth put his hands on the boy’s small shoulders. “But know this: Every throw and every punch is there to tighten your focus, to quicken your reflexes. You don’t want to be thrown, you have to stop him in time. Block him. Stop him. Throw him. Do whatever it takes to bring him down.”
Jim-Marie shrugged again, but a bit more helplessly. “I’m just a kid. How can I throw someone like him?”
“It’s all a matter of keeping your footing, staying centered, and knowing how to use his size and weight against him.”
“Can you show me?”
“Sure. Take your shoes and socks off. It makes things easier when you can feel your feet on the floor.”
Hildreth smiled as Jim-Marie hastened to obey.
Master Shinowa walked downstairs and entered Hildreth’s training room.
“All right! That was good, but try it again.”
Master Shinowa leaned against the doorframe and watched Hildreth teach Jim-Marie a proper throwing technique.
Mayhew still can surprise me.
He gave the hunter and the student fifteen minutes of solid training before clearing his throat.
They both startled as if they were caught doing something wrong.
Jim-Marie let go of Hildreth’s shirt. He cringed as if he expected to be clobbered.
They both bowed to him.
He approached them. “Parker. Are you ready?”
Jim-Marie stood up straight and nodded.
“Good. Go to car. I’ll come in shortened time.”
As soon as Jim-Marie left the scene, Master Shinowa smiled at Hildreth. “You teach him well. Should stop being hunter. Become Master.”
Hildreth smiled. “Thank you for the compliment, Master. It is a good thought, a very pleasant thought, to no longer have to deal with life and death every single night.”
Master Shinowa raised an eyebrow and waited.
“But. Even with all my doubts and fears, I belong at Elsie’s side. I wouldn’t be happy letting her go hunting alone.” He chuckled. “Maybe when I’m all grown up, I’ll want to settle down.”
Master Shinowa nodded. “It is as expected. All same is same, think about it, Mayhew. You would be excellent Master.”
“Better than you?”
Master Shinowa threw his head back and laughed whole-heartedly. “Never.” He held up one finger and grinned impishly. “But that close.”
He turned to leave.
Master Shinowa heard the change in Hildreth’s voice and it worried him. But he kept his worries quiet and unseen as he turned around.
“It has been several months since your brother’s death. How are you doing?”
His worries softened into the usual heartache. “Has been long time. Pain still lives. Grief comes and still hold me. But I live. I eat. I smile. I don’t die. All day every day, I choose not to die.”
He studied Hildreth’s expression. “You have sorrow for letting vampire live.”
Hildreth shrugged. “Not as bad as before, but I still feel it. It’s always there. That unspeakable thought.”
Hildreth walked past him and took on his punching dummy. He punched it into what should have been a severely cracked ribcage.
Master Shinowa stayed put. “Speak it, Mayhew.”
Hildreth threw in one more round of punches before stopping. He bowed his head. “I would be better off if that vampire…if Ambrose Smith were dead.”