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Where: Luchas de Apuestas

When: June 4, 2012; Late Afternoon

What: Foregoing bodyguards and retainers, Zan goes to Fletcher seeking lessons in self defense.

Remembering where the gym is located wasn't a problem. Getting there without cluing his parents in was harder. But a late afternoon bus ride from campus and some walking brought Zan, in his usual blue jeans, t-shirt, and backpack slung off a shoulder, to the place. While instruction inside was closing up, he lingered outside, sending a couple of text messages off on his phone. Once things appeared completed and he was sure he wouldn't be interrupting, he pushed inside through the doors.

Pulling his pack higher onto his shoulder with one hand, the other pushing his phone into his pocket, Zan looks around as the way back to the street is shut off with the door closing. He glances behind with the light banging sound it makes. Slipping his other arm into the free strap, he turns to make his way more deeply into the training facility, moving in obvious search for someone.

Though he is not an instructor in any official sense, Fletcher often assists at Luchas de Apuestas. The manner of his assistance usually depends on his ambition-to-sobriety ratio. Some days he sweeps the floor. Some days he sends the instructors home and takes on classes himself. Today it's the latter.

The last of his students have filtered out of the building, leaving him standing alone in one of the training rings. He's dressed for mobility in a close-fitting sleeveless shirt, loose, lightweight cotton pants, and a pair of calf-high wrestling boots. He doesn't look up when the door opens. Not at first. All too often, someone has forgotten a cup, a water bottle, or a mouth guard. Humming a nameless tune under his breath, he swings a long leg over the ring's top rope and slides down to the floor.

After a few seconds, he finally turns toward the door. "Ho!" he calls by way of greeting. "Hey, kid. How's it going?"

"Hey," Zan calls back, looking in the direction of Fletcher's greeting. His hands find his pants pockets next, fingers curling around cell phone as he crosses the floor toward the older man. "Things are alright," he answers with a shrug. He's made it through a week without further trouble, at least, with no new bruises added to the healing mark on his cheek.

"Sorry to drop in again." He looks toward the door, just a brief glance, then returns his attention to Fletch again. "You got a few minutes to talk? Don't have any problems following me this time. Don't think even my dad knows where I'm at."

Fletcher's rough, bearded face is creased by a grin. "No sweat. We've already closed up shop for the day, so I've got nothing but time."

Carefully, he flexes his taped-up hands, then picks at a free edge. Layer after layer is peeled back from his knuckles and wrists until it forms a softball-sized wad. The wad is considered briefly, then tossed over his shoulder and into the ring for later cleanup. "What's on your mind?"

"I keep finding myself in situations that aren't necessarily healthy," Zan admits, with a self deprecating grin. "Often enough that it's got me thinking I should do something so I have a little bit more of a chance." While not exactly stalling, he's obviously trying to determine how best to approach his purpose for dropping in again.

"If I wanted a bodyguard, I'd just go to my dad," he continues after a pause. "Which would open up a can of worms I don't care to get into. I'd rather not involve my dad at all, you know?"

"No offense, but I'm not sure you could afford to have me on retainer," Fletcher replies, but not unkindly. "I either charge a daily fee or by the job, and either way, it's pretty high. So if that's where you're going with this…" he trails off and gives a brief, apologetic shrug. There's a smile tugging at one corner of his mouth, though. "Unless you had something else in mind?"

Zan nearly looks insulted at the suggestion before shaking his head. "No. Not that at all. Like I said, I'd go to my dad if that's…" He shakes his head again. "He's got connections is all. But that's not what I was going to ask." His head bows slightly as he reconsiders his approach. "What's it take to start learning here?"

The brutish fighter eyes Zan appraisingly, as a cattle merchant might size up a potential purchase. He's not shy about it, either. After several long, silent moments, he raises one eyebrow slightly. "You seem fit enough. And training here is free. The guy who owns this place used to be famous. He opened it up because he loves the sport. You don't want to learn a sport, though. You want to learn to defend yourself, yes?"

It's a rhetorical question. Fletcher paces a slow circle around Zan, looking like nothing so much as a hunting cat stalking prey. "A smart man carries a weapon. Fists are no match for a gun, or even a knife in the right hands." Having made a full circle, he stops again in full view. "A real fight is about hurting the other man as much as you can as fast as you can. Rip his balls off, gouge his eyes out, stab him in the guts. Better yet, shoot him from a distance before he can ever get his hands on you. Whatever it takes to survive. If you want to learn how to survive, I can teach you. Do you have the constitution for it?"

His question asked, Zan's head comes up to put a critical look on Fletcher. He watches the older man just as silently, a sense of caution to counter the outright appraisal. His head doesn't turn, but his eyes follow, remaining angled until the big man's moved on to the other side. "I guess," he answers finally. "I just want to be able to stop someone from kicking my ass and be able to walk away after they've tried."

The smile tugging at Fletcher's lips pulls into another grin. A fierce, toothy one. "That'll do," he says. "Oh, relax. I just don't want you walking into this with any fair-minded notions. Guys rarely stand up straight and politely trade punches when they really want to hurt you."

"Don't I know it," Zan mutters ruefully. He gives a lift of his shoulders, settling his pack more comfortably on his shoulders in the motion of a shrug. "I have no delusions of fighting being clean and fair. Been on the receiving end of a beating enough times to know it'll never be fair." And not just recently, though childhood battles rarely ended with worse than a bloody nose.

Fletcher lets out a low chuckle. "Good. Marquess of Queensberry is for suckers." He fishes in his pocket for a moment and comes up with a stick match and an unfiltered cigarette that's battered, but somehow intact. He screws the cigarette between his lips and strikes the match with his thumb. The flame wavers in the air, partially blocking his view of Zan for a moment. When he does light up, he takes a long draw and blows the flame out with his first cloud of smoke. "When do you want to start?" he asks.

"Tomorrow," Zan answers almost immediately. "Or any time this week." He pauses briefly, frowning a little. "You got to let me do something in return for lessons. And no special treatment, just because of who I am. Don't really want it getting around or following me back home."

"I don't believe in special treatment," Fletcher replies easily. "I'll make you a deal. I won't follow you home if your home doesn't follow you here. As far as compensation, we can figure that out at our leisure."

That said, he rolls his shoulders and gives them another shrug. "Call me when you're ready. If I'm not in the middle of a job, I'm usually good to go. Sound good?"

Zan nods, allowing a grin to twitch up one corner of his mouth. "All under the table," he agrees to keeping the venture away from unwanted eyes. "Sounds good." He tips another nod, hands coming from his pockets. His cell phone is held in one hand, though easily ignored, while his other is offered in handshake to Fletcher.

As he did when they last met, Fletcher gives Zan's hand a firm squeeze instead of a shake. He nods briskly. "Just call the number on the card I gave you with a time. We'll meet here." He releases Zan and lets his own hand fall back to his side. "I'll see you then."

Nodding, Zan thumbs through a schedule on his phone once his hand is released. Bus listings, it looks like. "I'll see you around," he says a beat later, as he looks up from his phone to Fletcher. Then he turns for the exit, thumbing out another text by the time he's shouldering his way through the door.

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