It was dark by the time Dave began his routine, but the old movements always came easily to him, and he knew his way around the ornate garden. The master watched on silently, a disapproving grunt here and there, as Dave displayed his knowledge. Balance, strength, speed and form were under scrutiny and his observer was a hard taskmaster, he would not accept excuses from his students. Dave was focused on his performance and failed to notice the old man slyly pushing a large Roman style earthenware plant pot a few inches to the right. Dave turned after punching through the penultimate board and kicked the pot full force. He screamed in agony and fell to the ground, stunned. He had been aiming for the board a few inches higher but the plant pot had obscured his clear path and felt as though it had broken his foot. The master smiled, pleased by his student´s pain, he had learned a valuable lesson. Perhaps something about looking before you leap he mused to himself.
"Ok, that's enough for today" said the master quietly.
Dave climbed slowly to his feet and bowed before answering, "Yes master".
The old man, nodded slightly and spun on his heel before ascending the stone staircase which would take him inside to the warmth and comfort of his home. Dave gathered up his belongings and left by the side gate, making sure it was locked behind him before leaving. He was never making that mistake again. Once before he had neglected to check if the gate was properly closed, the latch usually fell when it was closed, but he had left it slightly open and the master had punished him. Not that anything had actually come of it, but you would´ve thought the old man had been robbed blind by the ferocious way he went on, he described it as a "failure of discipline".
Dave limped his way agonisingly to the bus stop at the end of the road, his foot throbbed with every tentative step, but he was used to injuries. He worked in a tough line of business, he was an enforcer. Actually he was muscle for a nasty gangster but he liked the sound of enforcer, it made him sound like an action hero. The bus arrived at long last and Dave got aboard and paid before taking a seat, he always used public transport, it was safer and meant no-one would recognise him by his car, or steal it, or plant a bomb in it. Instead he could sit back and relax.
A pure mind is essential. The way of the dragon is long and lonely. Dave thought about the philosophy his master had taught him. He tried to live by it, he saw himself as a dragon and always went into battle with a pure mind, pure rage usually. He knew his skills had improved although he had to admit he rarely fought anyone who could challenge him and it was even rarer for him to find someone else who had been trained in the martial arts. Often at work he had had to beat people who could not come close to matching him. Many of them cowered or tried to run away but they could not escape his punishment. He prided himself on being clinically ruthless and efficient.
As Dave thought about it he realised he had not been beaten in a fight since he was fourteen. He rembered that one all right, it had left him with severe concussion and it had awakened his interest in the martial arts. He loved the films, the style and power of the performers, the effectiveness of the beautifully executed moves. After being beaten into submission by a much smaller kid who knew Tae-Kwon Do he vowed to learn some skills for himself.
It started with a film obssession, he was a Bruce Lee man, the lethal, clinical ferocity of his fighting was breathtaking. He always looked totally focused and could kill with one or two perfectly placed moves. Bruce didn't have to dance around his opponents he just took them down, and that was the way Dave saw himself. His favourite was Fist Of Fury which he had watched over 50 times, often kicking and punching along with Bruce, he had no time for these glorified acrobats like Jackie Chan or Jet Li. What Dave craved was genuine violence. He wondered to himself whether his master had any preference, probably not he supposed. He probably didn't even have a TV, although Dave had never been allowed in the house itself, so he couldn´t be sure.
As Dave sat on the bus lost in his thoughts, his master was sitting in a big, comfortable armchair laughing loudly at his latest martial arts film purchase. It was Mr Nice Guy, featuring his favourite martial arts exponent Jackie Chan. The master´s real name was John Ridley and he had been born in the USA although you wouldn´t know it from the way he spoke in broken English. His father had been American and his mother Chinese but John knew only a few words of Mandarin and had never visited China. He had no formal martial arts training whatsoever.
After years of working in a boring office job for a stationary supplier he had hit upon the perfect con. John was 54 and found he could combine his Chinese looks with fragments of philosophy and martial arts moves ripped off from the abundance of films he possessed to create a character for himself. People wanted to be taught by a real master and John found that looking and sounding the part was enough to fool most of them. He was able to charge $100 for an hour long lesson. It was an easy existence for him and he found playing the character hugely satisfying.
Apart from glancing at a couple of manuals he had gleaned the bulk of his knowledge from films. His favourites were Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, talented performers who had trained together at a Chinese Opera School and went on to make martial arts action films. The character he assumed around his students had originally been based on Sam Seed, the cruel master who trains Jackie in The Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle´s Shadow. Over the years he had thrown in a bit of Mr Myagi from the Karate Kid and several others. Whenever he saw a strange technique in a film he had incorporated it into his lessons. He always made sure to include some vague philosophy as he found that people read their own meaning into things, so he never really had to explain them.
When selecting students John would act sternly and often openly criticise them before demanding a display of what they could do. His criteria was simple, he picked the ones who looked like they did not have a clue, as they were easiest to fool. In five years as a master he had never been found out and he assumed that the role he played was a convincing one. People were so used to seeing the old wise master character in popular culture that they readily accepted him. He mostly taught guys who had delusions of hardness and much of his training was really just torture, but the more pain they felt the more the students seemed to believe in the character. He had one particularly stupid student whom he particularly enjoyed injuring, the idiot who had just left, big Dave.
Dave slammed the front door of his flat behind him and in one swift movement swung his bag onto the floor and slipped out of his jacket. He hobbled over to the couch and sat down gingerly raising his damaged foot to inspect the injury. He decided it did not look too serious and, filling a bucket with ice before plunging his foot into it, he settled down to watch TV.
The phone rang almost immediately and he reached back to the small table and snatched up the receiver.
"Yeah" he barked, his customary greeting, which he thought, sounded mean and moody.
"Is that big Dave?" asked a nervy sounding voice.
"Yeah, who's this?" he replied, knowing full well it was Sammy from the Security Firm which fronted as the legal business for his boss´s myriad of dodgy dealings.
"It's Sammy, listen where you been? We had some trouble tonight", said Sammy agitatedly.
"Training, I always train on a Thursday night, you know that" chided Dave.
"Oh yeah, I forgot. Anyways some guy working for Barker turned up at O'Grady's tonight and messed up three of our boys pretty good. Apparently he´s a wildman, all that kung fu crap like you" said Sammy.
"Who got messed up?" asked Dave.
"Joe, Sabby and Bill", replied Sammy, "The guy put them all in the hospital, I don't think Bill is gonna make it".
"Shit!" exclaimed Dave, "You mean big Bill the Bull?"
"Yeah" replied Sammy.
"This motherfucker must be tough, I can see why you called me" said Dave excitedly.
"Listen Dave, I want you to train and prepare, do whatever it is you do, and then come to the Fletcher Street club a week on Saturday, we got a meet set up and the guy'll be there", Sammy sounded angry, he wouldn´t be happy until they got revenge.
"Sweet" said Dave, "I can't wait, I'll wipe the floor with this guy!"
"Allright Dave, you just see that you do, I'll send a car for you, a week on Saturday bout 8pm ok?" asked Sammy.
"Yeah sure, see you then", replied Dave but Sammy had already hung up.
Excellent thought Dave to himself, a real kung fu man to fight and a week to train for it; this was a fantasy come true. He turned back to the television but his thoughts remained with the prospect of a major battle, three guys and not just any three, Bill was huge and enormously strong, this guy must be seriously tough. Dave resolved to try and find out more about his mystery appointment before the Saturday in question, it might help him train.
The week passed slowly for Dave, he couldn´t concentrate on anything until he had faced this mysterious fighter in combat. He hadn´t been able to find out much about his opponent, no one had seen him before and the three victims were either unable or unwilling to say much. Dave had eventually gotten hold of an old friend of his who used to work with Barker, Archie Tydings. Archie had told him that the man in question was known simply as the Ghost and had been drafted in from overseas, he could tell him nothing about the fighting style or even where he had come from. Dave´s excitement grew with each passing hour, he never entertained the possibility of failure for a second, after all his master had taught him everything he needed to know to win.
John was cooking a quick breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon with a nice side order of hot buttered toast and a pot of tea. He laughed as he remembered the diet he had proscribed for his students, fruit, fresh fish and rice was about as exciting as it got. He wondered if they actually followed it, it was hard to tell with some of them. Others were more obviously under his spell, like that brute Dave, a total moron, he thought to himself. The guy had phoned him early this morning asking for extra lessons. John had agreed, he needed a new fridge, and told him he could have a couple of extras. The man had raved about some big fight he had coming up. John decided it was time to teach him some of his "special" techniques.
After breakfast John began to prepare his garden for the arrival of Dave. It was important that he came up with something different. He eventually decided to go for the set up in Snake in the Eagle´s Shadow. He set up two large wooden barrels full of water with an extra empty barrel suspended in mid air above them on a wooden framework. Dave would be made to hang upside down on the wooden beam and reach back to collect water, which he would then deposit in the top barrel. The trick was that John was only going to give him egg cups to move the water with. He sniggered to himself at the thought.
At 2pm Dave arrived. He looked jumpy and slightly nervous. "You´ve gotta show me something special" blurted Dave as soon as the master appeared at the gate to let him in.
"OK, have patience, like the lotus blossom in autumn" muttered John, groaning inwardly.
Dave entered and quickly changed clothes. John watched as the seven foot hulking figure slipped out of his jeans and into his kung fu pyjamas. The man was huge, yet John never felt intimidated by any of his students, they had such a misplaced respect for him that they would never have dared fire an angry word in his direction, much less a physical assault.
"Up here" called John, motioning towards the set up he had constructed when Dave looked ready.
The big oaf climbed into position and glanced quizically at John. John smiled and handed him the eggcups.
"Fill the top barrel" he said, and turned sharply, sitting on a small bench in the corner and lighting his pipe. He had gotten a metallic bong type instrument, as these seemed to make frequent appearances in martial arts films. It had been difficult to find, but you can get just about anything on the internet nowadays. He usually didn´t smoke but as it turned out the pipe was great for adding believability to his character, and John had soon grown fond of it.
Dave sighed as he realised the magnitude of the task facing him; he seemed on the verge of refusing. The look of indecision was soon replaced however, by a veil of determination. His bulky arms fired down into the water and up expelling it in the top bucket, the movement soon became mechanical, his biceps like two great pistons, looping down and up, down and up. John got comfortable and gazed on amused, he wondered if Dave would actually manage this task.
Three hours and forty minutes later an exhausted Dave slumped from the wooden frame and landed with a thump on the wooden decking below. John tried to control his laughter; this guy was unbelievable, he decided to teach him the steel finger technique. The steel finger technique was something John had wanted to try out for ages. He had seen it in The Master With Cracked Fingers, the fighter would strengthen his fingers by striking a wooden board with them repeatedly. Eventually he would be able to crush a windpipe or inflict a nasty bruise with his fingers alone. John had always suspected that all that would really happen is that you would stave all your fingers, so he was curious to see how Dave would respond.
He walked slowly and deliberately over to Dave´s slumped body, picked up the water barrel he had filled and emptied it over the guy. He sprang to his feet, John noted a flash of anger in the eyes and met his gaze, this had the desired effect, as Dave seemed to remember who he was and looked down respectfully. John handed him the wooden board with five points on it and told him to repeatedly strike them in order with his outstretched fingers. Dave nodded and got to work, earnestly firing his fingers at the wood. It was not long before his hands were purple and he turned to the master with a pleading look, John took pity and dismissed him. They arranged one final lesson for the Friday before Dave´s big fight.
John watched Dave go, the guy was very strange. Who the hell was he intending to fight? John guessed he would worry most people with his size but it was all brawn and no brains. If his opponent could really fight, if he had really been trained, then Dave would be in big trouble.
Dave was sore again after the gruelling visit to his master's place. Still, he felt sure he would be better prepared for the Ghost. He was going to unleash all of his expertise, he intended to impress everyone there by taking the guy out in a couple of moves.
Friday was hot. The sun beat down mercilessly on Dave´s back as he walked along the tree-lined avenue. Small birds twittered and sang in the branches, skipping around as though in a perpetual game of musical chairs. He felt good, positive, strong. This was his last lesson before the greatest test of his skill so far. Dave was building it up in his mind, he had been all week, he saw his life as a film at the worst of times, but just now he felt it very strongly. The final showdown, he would avenge Bill the Bull and the others, he could hear the "Eye of the Tiger" begin to play on repeat in his head as he pictured his victory, savouring the visualisation he failed to notice the softly melting dog waste in his path and stood right in it.
John knew Dave was expecting some special piece of wisdom that he could impart before the fight. He had taught Dave nearly everything he knew and loads of techniques from films, but he still had one or two ideas left. Today he would go with the pressure points lesson. It was often highlighted in martial arts films, if you pinch someone here, here and here in quick succession, you can paralyse them. The trick would be bluffing Dave and ensuring he believed it. John knew that most of his students weren´t quite stupid enough to fall for this, but if anyone was, it would be big Dave.
When Dave arrived the master led him over to the prepared exercise. He had managed to steal an old manequin from out the back of a department store just last week. He had spent the morning painting it to look fierce and marking on the pressure points. John guessed where to put these, one on the back of the neck, one between the shoulder blades, and so on. Dave was wide eyed and looked excited at the prospect of battering this plastic woman.
"You can immobilise your enemy by striking at pressure points with your steel fingers" said John forcefully.
Dave nodded, his fingers were still sore but he wouldn´t admit it. The master indicated where he should strike and then had him repeat the motions in order. They worked on the dummy for a couple of hours, until it was no longer pretty enough to grace a shop window. John suspected Dave had learned nothing, he just seemed to enjoy hitting things. He was still curious about the fight.
"Who are you fighting?" he asked.
"The Ghost, some fighter from overseas", Dave explained.
John nodded, "Well good luck and remember all I´ve told you" he said. Not waiting for a reply he skipped up the stairs into his house, he had had enough of Dave for one day.
"Thanks" muttered Dave to the master's back. He gathered himself together wearily and set out for home, intent on getting a decent sleep before tomorrow.
The buzzer set off a nervous chain reaction in the pit of Dave's stomach. He stood up and went to leave the flat, stopping in front of the big mirror next to the door. He stared himself in the eye, you can do it, he thought to himself. Content that he looked scary enough in the mirror he slipped out of the flat quickly and took the stairs two at a time.
Sammy was waiting in the back seat of a black merc. Dave walked over and opening the door, swung himself in beside the wrinkled old hood. "Hello Dave" said Sammy, a smile briefly flickering across his face before normal service was resumed.
"Sammy, what are you doing here, I thought you were just sending the car?" asked Dave puzzled. This was really out of the norm, Sammy never usually left the office.
"Everyone has to be there", he replied.
Dave nodded and the two sat in a contemplative silence for the remainder of the journey. Fletcher Street was practically deserted. To an observant person the high number of black mercs might have looked suspicious but the club was closed so there wasn´t anyone around. The driver parked a few feet from the entrance and Sammy and Dave got out.
Dave could feel the beginnings of his adrenaline kick in, his palms began to itch and he felt a strong impulse to hit something. They entered the club through the fire exit in the side alley. A fat man dressed in a long black overcoat showed them into a small room with a bar and some tables and chairs. The boss was there, talking to Barker. Dave stood and concentrated on looking menacing, this was the usual extent of his duties.
Scanning the room Dave could only see two men he did not recognise. One of them was the fat bouncer who had shown them in and he certainly didn´t look likely. That left the short, pale guy in the corner. Dave stared at him with malice, he was small, it would be no problem to crush him.
He turned to Sammy and whispered "When is it going to kick off?"
"Soon" said Sammy "Don't worry you wont have long to wait".
The conversation between the two head hoods began to get louder and soon spilled over into an argument. The room filled with tension, like electric current in the air crackling through the gathered assembly. Dave saw the pale guy make a move and before he knew it, he was diving across the room towards him. The guy looked wide eyed with shock as Dave kicked his scrawny torso sending him flying backwards into the wall. This guy was a wimp, he hadn´t had a chance to react and Dave knew he was too good for him. He was about to finish him when the boss grabbed his arm and twisted him around.
"What the hell are you doing!" he bellowed ferociously.
"I thought I was supposed to take this guy out" protested Dave.
"Why you got something against my accountant?" asked Barker sharply, walking over to face him.
"No sorry, I thought he was...." Dave trailed off, unsure what to say next.
"Oh I see" laughed Barker "you thought Luke the scrawny accountant was the Ghost? Oh well, you aren´t too big on brains now are you?"
Dave just stared, angry and confused, his breath was coming in short sharp bursts as he looked on the verge of exploding.
"If you are so eager to meet your death then fine' said Barker, "The Ghost is waiting for you through there", he pointed through into the next room, which housed the main dance floor.
Dave made for the door, eager to expel the embarrassment of attacking a weak accountant. The assembled hoods followed him through to spectate. Dave didn't intend to dissapoint them.
The Ghost stood at the far end of the room. He was about six feet tall, slim, with jet black hair. He wore an expensive suit and when he spoke the accent sounded central European.
"Hello" he said calmly, "Who has come to die?"
Dave ingeniously bellowed "I have!" and began to run towards the Ghost.
The first charge was easily side stepped and answered with a swinging kick to the temple which immediately felled Dave. He tried to retain focus, already struggling with his reeling head after that painful blow. He decided to use the steel fingers technique and as he turned he threw his jacket over the Ghosts face to distract him and went for those pressure points. He carefully struck each one in order, as the master had shown him. The Ghost stood there looking puzzled as Dave poked him in the neck, back, chest and even the lower leg. Dave was triumphant, it had worked, the Ghost was paralysed and he could finish him with ease.
Dave worked up to a flying kick, running madly towards his opponent he threw himself into the air. The Ghost was still trying to work out why this idiot had poked him, he surely didn´t think he was paralysed? The flying kick seemed to suggest that he did, so the Ghost waited until the last possible moment and jumped out of the way, swinging his legs around as he did so, to catch Dave in the back and propel him with even greater speed into the wall. Dave´s spine had been badly damaged and his left ankle broke on impact with the wall, his right elbow broke on contact with the ground. The assembled gangsters laughed, even his own boss, as Dave lay in a crumpled heap.
Eventually Sammy took him to the hospital. Dave was admitted straight away and after undergoing emergency surgery he was told that he would have to work hard if he was ever going to walk again. The doctors were horrified to find all sorts of injuries which seemed to have been inflicted repeatedly over a long period of time. Dave was just upset that he wouldn´t be able to fight any longer, he couldn´t figure out why that steel finger move had not worked. He had months of recovery to figure it out though.