An Elephant

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Chapter 14: Boots

Chapter 14: Boots

“At Ryoan-Ji in Kyoto, the Zen garden has fifteen rocks placed in the raked gravel, but no matter where you stand, you can only ever see fourteen of them.”

- Japanese guide book



“Is that a real gun, Dog?” Boots whispered, nodding towards the concealed holster on Dog’s lower back, once he was sure Teddy et al had gone. They were still sitting at Table 4, waiting for the drinks to arrive, as instructed by Dog. He had suggested, wisely Boots thought, that this would minimise unwanted aggravation from the waiter, and would also mean he could bear witness to the fact that they were not involved in whatever was kicking off downhill. There was still as small group of onlookers gathered a few feet away, however none looked keen to join in, and none paid any attention to the trio sat nearby.

Dog was obviously unhappy with the way Teddy had left in such a hurry, but Boots dared a cautious smile, happy to be rid of his product, and still in one piece, not to mention the thought of a bag stuffed with cash at his feet.

He wondered what use Teddy might find for his new drug. He had expected to get the chance to ask, but the whole deal had been very hurried and jittery. An unprecedented level of safety had been Boots’s major breakthrough in the lab, but Teddy had seemed the type to be unconcerned by such things.

They hardly took any precaution to check that we weren’t just ripping them off with a bottle of Evian.

“I half-expected to be able to connect with Teddy [sniff] ’cos we’re in the same business, and he asked for me to be here,” said Boots “but he was so cold and unfriendly during the meeting. For a ‘Teddy,’ he’s not very cuddly, is he?”

“Unlike you, he’s only in it as a business,” said Dog. “But he did ask for you to be present at the hand over. He only wanted you here in person to prove that the product does what you say, so Pawel could gauge if you were on the level. He doesn’t just have trafficker status. I’ve heard whispers about him, and these people are very serious criminals, Boots. There’s no peace and love there, they’re arms dealers, too, you know.”

Boots suddenly shivered from his head to his toes.

Shit! Thank god I didn’t know that in advance…

Pawel was different, though. More respectful and more trusting: He believed that I’d done what I said, without doing any testing. He wouldn’t be able to open the bottle here anyway.

The waiter arrived with the drinks. Boots presumed he was surprised by the early departure of half of the group, but was hiding it well. He placed five bottles of Kronenbourg on the table from his tray, then the Armagnac, a can of Coke and the itemised bill, which he pushed under the ashtray.

“Leaving all this would look wrong and we don’t want to draw attention” said Dog. “Boots, drink all your beer, as quickly as possible. Grant, you drink half of yours, I’ll do the same. You and me need to stay as sharp as we can.” Dog looked around, then quickly flicked the contents of the brandy glass onto the pavement, then reached for his wallet to settle the bill.

There were still people gathered near them, standing and watching the trouble unfold downhill. Sitting next to Dog, Boots couldn’t see what was happening, and he couldn’t help but think about the gun that Dog concealed in the small of his back. He whispered: “That thing you have on your back, Dog. I think now I know why that Pépé bloke from the Basque Country turned up last night.”

“Yeah, it’s on loan from Pépé.”

“What… is it exactly?” he whispered.

“Browning High-Power semi-automatic” Dog whispered back, with his hand over his mouth, although the music from the café and shouting downhill would have comfortably masked his response.

What do you say to that? thought Boots, who normally cultivated total ignorance about guns and anything to do with war-mongering. Dog always wanted to improve, and make everything even more dangerous.

“Is it special? Customised or anything?”

“No. Standard is best. I may be able to take ammo from hostiles, and it’s better if ditched in an emergency – less easy to trace.”

Stone cold thought Boots. Almost everything Dog did seemed to have something to do with strategy, tactics, and violence. His job, his martial arts training, his fighting, everything about his personality seemed to embody preparation for something deadly, with a smattering of ‘no pain, no gain’ added.

No pain… no pain Boots thought to himself. Simple. As a card-carrying pacifist, Boots didn’t see why people needed to fall out and argue while drunk in the pub, he didn’t see why they then sometimes took it outside to have a fight, and he had no comprehension at all of why one country felt obliged to send its young men out to kill members of their own species, purely over matters of land, oil, religion or whatever. He thought of Richie Havens’s performance of ‘Handsome Johnny’ at Woodstock, but he knew he couldn’t do the message justice, so he kept silent.

I could never have any involvement in death or an act of violence...

He looked at Angry Grant who, while smiling now, normally embodied all that was antagonism, animosity and turmoil.

We don’t need a War Against Drugs, we need a Drug Against War.

“It’s not like you needed that to deal with that little urchin though, is it Dog?” remarked Grant, gesturing that he meant the concealed gun on Dog’s lower back.

“I needed to de-escalate the situation quickly” Dog responded. “He had his mate with him. He could have had a knife… You never know who you’re fucking with.”

“It’s not like he looked dangerous though, Dog” said Grant.

“Sensei doesn’t look particularly dangerous.”

“No” said Grant, then he visibly winced.

To Boots, Grant looked genuinely frightened for a moment. Dog was an experienced martial arts instructor in his own right, so if he was prepared to travel most of the way across the world to learn from someone, that person must be truly, truly dangerous. Boots had overheard that Grant had been to a recent seminar in Manchester, where Dog’s Sensei, travelling out of from the Philippines for the very first time, had been demonstrating techniques from the family system. The moves must have been truly gruesome to have such an effect on someone like Angry Grant.

“Never take a knife to a gunfight, eh Dog?”

“Sensei’s brother, Jorge, once told me ‘a knife fight is when you’ve run out of ammo’…” Grant laughed unpleasantly. “Back in the Visayas, they all avoid crowded places as a rule, and Jorge would never go into town without carrying four knives as an absolute minimum.”

“Why carry more than two?” wondered Boots. “You’ve only got two hands” [sniff].

“Experienced knife fighters - and there are lots in the Philippines - know strips and disarms, so you need spares on you, just to be on the safe side. You may need to give one to your buddy… Sensei once joked that you may also need a spare to put in the dead guy’s hand, in case he turns out to be unarmed when the police turn up.

Lovely thought Boots.

They all sat for a few seconds, taking in the shouting and crashing noises at the bottom of the hill and the group of spectators, who seemed to be getting more excited at whatever was happening. Grant pointed at the can of Coke next to the empty brandy glass and tried to contribute to the afternoon’s swapping of drug anecdotes, said:

“I heard Coca Cola used to be made with real cocaine.”

“Still is” corrected Boots.

“Bullshit.”

“It contained a proper dose of cocaine up until 1903 [sniff], but the Stepan company in New Jersey is still licensed to grow it for them. They extract the active part of the cocaine and supply it to hospitals for anaesthetic. They still put the leftovers in the drink so it does still have coca plant extract in it.”

“Which one of your conspiracy theorist mates did you get that from?” sneered Grant. “That stupid pothead, Ray?”

“No. I read it in New Scientist,” said Boots, “and Cosmic Ray doesn’t smoke weed, he’s dead against it.

“Really” said Grant sarcastically.

“He’s an anarchist, and he says weed dulls the senses too much and makes people less reactionary.”

“Well he’s obviously paranoid already, so he doesn’t even need to smoke that squidgy black” taking care to speak beneath the sound of the music playing.

“Squidgy black probably helps paranoia [sniff].”

Grant pounced on this perceived inconsistency:

“In the paper the other day, a doctor said that all this skunk was making kids go schizo. It should definitely stay illegal” said Grant.

“Skunk has been bred to have a really high content of THC [sniff] which smells strong, so sells well. THC acts as a very mild psychotic, especially if the plants are harvested too early.”

Grant lifted his palms upwards, as this seemed to corroborate his point.

“… but there are loads of other cannabinoids” Boots continued. “Old-school smokes; indicas, and hashes from places like the Himalayas, the Middle East and Morocco, have a much higher proportion of the other cannabinoids, and lots of them act as anti-psychotics.” He sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “Smoking traditional squidgy black can help people with those kinds of issues… It’s just less fashionable.”

The subject of paranoia reminded Boots of his current predicament: He was still in the company of Dog and Angry Grant, he was still far from home, surrounded by football fans in the sweltering heat, and he still couldn’t smoke a spliff to relax. While he was rid of the legal dangers posed by possession of his product, he carried far more cash than even a major drug dealer like him had ever had to carry around.

From where he sat, he couldn’t see what the commotion was at the bottom of the hill, but more people were joining the group to watch from the corner of the square, a few metres away from him. Dog’s watchful gaze brought some small comfort, but nonetheless he squeezed the handles of the bag, which was still pressed firmly between his ankles beneath the table.

“Also, what’s never reported, is that is that at least seventy percent of schizophrenics smoke cigarettes, so they may just gravitate towards the quick release that smoking anything gives. Chicken or egg.”

“Less ‘fashionable?’” Grant asked, clinging to the only part of the explanation he fully understood.

“Yeah” said Boots, raising his free hand.

“It’s a drug, not a pair of trainers.”

“Drugs can be very fashionable: At the moment, ecstasy sales are falling as the quality is dropping, speed is becoming very [sniff] unfashionable as there are cleaner things to come down from. Coke is more available and affordable these days, it’s definitely a status symbol, a bit of a fashion accessory. You’ve got GHB [sniff] and Ketamine that are quite ‘in’, they’re both legal, too. I reckon using legal loopholes could be massive in the future.”

Clearly put at ease by the conclusion of the hand over, Grant didn’t snap like he normally might at such a correction from Boots. He relaxed into his seat and breathed in and out deeply.

“That’s long enough. We go now” said Dog.

“Engerlaaaaaand!” screamed a man a few feet away.

“Fuck off back to your sandpit, Ragheads!” shouted another. Both were looking downhill at the fighting at the bottom of the hill, but neither wanted to approach. It sounded to Boots like the fight may be coming to them.

Dog stood up and made to leave Table 4. Boots picked up the black holdall, now a third full of cash, as Dog checked around them. Boots chose not to even look downhill; people at the edge of the square were looking and pointing, and there seemed to be some kind of mêlée, with a lot of shouting going on. Sirens screamed out again, this time closer. They rounded the corner at Hotel de la Paix, as more people were coming to the vantage point to look downhill. He saw the three Scouse lads from earlier.

God, if any of these people knew how much cash was in this bag…

He walked self-consciously around the Scousers, noticing that one was surreptitiously passing something to another, with a closed fist. He looked at their eyes and knew immediately.

They’re all wasted. Lucky bastards.

The trio were returning to their hotel the way they had come, the long way round. The oncoming people walked well out of Dog’s way as they crossed the square, one or two turning around to point at him as he passed. Boots could never tell whether it was Dog’s all-over tattoos or his immense stature that shocked the most. He suddenly wondered why Dog and Grant had made so much of a fuss about his purple hair, when Dog stood out far more.

On the wall to his left, on the bricks beneath the window of an internet café, he saw some graffiti. A small, blue, two-legged bird had been scrawled, holding a football, a mascot for France ’98.

Not quite Banksy thought Boots.

He looked across the square at the small woman sat wearing a T-shirt with the Brazilian flag on it. She was speaking with a local man who leaned over her, almost menacingly. Someone shout ‘E-n-g-e-r-l-a-n-d!’ behind them and he turned to see the biggest of the Scousers sprint from the hotel terrace, around the corner, out of sight and downhill. He was immediately distracted, as he watched a beautiful girl in a pink vest that he had seen in the corner when they arrived. She walked back to a scruffy lad lying on his back in the far corner of the square, carrying a bottle of water. Boots turned to his left to look at Dog as if to get a second opinion on how beautiful the girl was. Dog was looking towards her and the lad lying on his back, who seemed to be staring back at Dog. Uncharacteristically, Dog seemed to wink at him.

Boots sped up slightly, keen to move away from danger: away from the deal with Teddy, and now the football riot that seemed to be approaching from the bottom of the hill was also being left behind. He pumped air into his ill-fitting England shirt with his free hand and breathed out.

“No trouble at all” said Grant, rubbing his hands together and echoing Boots’s relief. “Fucking excellent!” He looked to Boots like he was already mentally spending his earnings from the trip.

“We still need to keep sharp, people,” warned Dog, “but so far so good.” He didn’t allow himself a smile just yet, and was checking behind them. Boots thought about the cash he carried, and Dog’s gun, yet there was still a feeling of relief to be rid of the product, and his crippling paranoia was finally starting to wane.

Just as they rounded the corner to leave Place St George a group of apparent English supporters jogged toward them, and one shouted “Run!” Dog stepped to his left, pushing Boots and the bag full of cash into the wall, and raised his hands in readiness. There was a confused commotion as the men hurried past, two of whom were wearing Union Jack afro wigs, obscuring the view of the road ahead. Just as the English fans passed and the danger vanished, a new menace presented itself.

Oh Christ there’s a fucking police ambush!

Twenty or more police officers stamped towards them, half with riot shields, and all of them brandishing batons.

“Don’t panic, Boots” whispered Dog, but it was too late. Boots could feel his head shaking and his grip on the bag of cash, and his bladder, were fast disappearing.

Bang! Bang! Bang! The three riot police at the front of the formation started whacked their Perspex shields as two from the back of the group ran towards them carrying what Boots guessed were smoke grenades.

“It’s not for us, Boots” murmured Dog, releasing Boots from the pressure against the wall and testing his legs’ ability to remain upright. “Keep moving. Stay calm”

Grant grabbed the holdall led the way and a couple of the passing police ushered Dog to follow, as if relieved that he was not to be involved in whatever was to follow. Yet more police appeared from further down the road, their side caps distinguishing them from the stomping riot police wearing helmets who took the lead. Boots stumbled over the cobbles but Dog gripped his upper arm for support, and they were away, as a steady stream of police officers hurried right past them, then stopped at the mouth of the square. The crashing of truncheons on Perspex heralded the arrival of the police on the other side of the square by the hotel.

Within a few seconds Boots had passed all the police, but all three could tell there was a major operation about to happen on the Place St George. Orders were barked from a megaphone a street away but it was drowned out by the shouting of the civilian crowd.

“Fuck me, that was close!” said Grant with a familiar manic look in his eyes. Their pace slowed.

Safer territory now. I’ve got no gear on me at all, and nothing back at the hotel. He wondered how much trouble the cash in the bag could get him into. Dog’s carrying a gun… Just deny everything. They’d have nothing on me that could stick, so I’m pretty much safe from the police… but not from an ambush… I could murder a spliff.

Minutes passed and no one spoke until they had left the busier roads, and made their way to the small alley, the way they had come. There was no one around, and Dog took a few seconds to re-check the cash they now carried. All was in order, and Boots’s sense of relief, mingled with the exhilaration at the deal’s success, worked well to lessen the physical discomfort of the heat as they took the round-a-bout route to their hotel.

“This product of yours, Boots,” asked Dog once he was sure no one could hear them. “How did it get its name?”

Ha! Boots flushed with pride. He had been waiting for this question all day.

“I came up with it while thinking about Albert Hoffman, the man who first isolated LSD. In the forties [sniff] psychoanalysis was a fairly new idea but was becoming popular in the medical community. Ergot fungus, which grows on rye bread, was known to induce a temporary psychotic state sometimes. Basically you can trip off it.”

“Shhh” said Dog lightly, as a couple of local men approached, both heavily tanned and smoking strong-smelling French cigarettes.

“You can’t get high on fucking rye bread!” said Grant, under his breath, once they had passed.

“Not usually, but you can if it has enough ergot fungus growing on it. Ergot-poisoning was called ‘St Anthony’s Fire’ in the Middle Ages. A whole town got ‘poisoned’ and tripped out on it in France in 1951. It also gives you a rasping throat, and it’s where the phrase ‘barking mad’ comes from.

“Anyway, Sandoz, the pharmaceutical company thought that the substance could be synthesized [sniff] and if they could induce ‘madness’ for a few hours in a normal person, like a psychiatrist or a doctor, it may give them an insight in how to help people that were permanently in that state, and give clues on how to help them.”

Boots looked at Dog who was still checking their surroundings, as they crossed another alleyway and onto a wider road. The street they walked down was unpopulated now, and Boots could speak freely without being overheard.

“Albert Hoffman was a chemist, and his job was to isolate the psychoactive part of the fungus. They suspected it was a Lysergic Acid Diethyl amide – LSD, but there were loads of variations, so he numbered them as he went along. LSD-1 didn’t work, neither did LSD-2 or LSD-3, all the way to LSD-24.

Boots changed hands with the holdall full of cash, as the sweat loosened his grip.

“On April 19th 1943, ‘Bicycle Day’, when he’d tested LSD-25 he left the lab on his bike and had the first ever synthetic LSD trip while still cycling home. It had seeped into his fingers in the lab. He came up on the way, got home and his furniture was scaring him, so he went next door. When his neighbour brought him some milk to calm him down, he didn’t recognise her and thought she was a witch wearing a mask.”

“He saw a witch? He must have shat himself!” said Grant. “What’s the fucking point of doing that to yourself? I heard a bloke in Scotland thought he could fly and jumped off a building.”

“If he thought he could fly,” said Boots with a sniff, “he should have tried it out from the ground first”.

Grant gave a derisory snort, unaware of Boots’s perspective that, as long as you stay away from roofs, some experiences have a beauty and value worth braving evil witches for.

“He calmed down a bit later, and really enjoyed the visions. He counted the variations the next day, and found that the full name should be LSD-25.

“Isn’t it unusual to have a drug with a number in it?” asked Dog.

“The correct chemical name often requires numbers, but you don’t usually use them for the street name, though come to think of it, one of my favourites is TMA-2.”

“Tomato?” said Grant

“No T-M-A-2. You need the number because there are TMA’s 1 to 6, but TMA-2 is my favourite: 2,4,5 Trimethoxy amphetamine, it’s basically a synthetic mescaline. There’s a biblical reference to it, too.”

“I don’t remember amphetamines ever getting a mention in my school assembly bible readings” said Dog.

“According to Exodus, Chapter 30, calamus - or cassia - was part of the anointment that God gave to Moses [sniff]. The bible lists the full recipe: acacia wood, liquid myrrh, cinnamon, stuff like that. A major constituent of Calamus is TMA-2.

“So if you believe what it says in the book of Exodus, then Moses was anointed by God with amphetamines, a synthetic…”

“Mescaline. Yeah.”

“You really know your subject, don’t you, Boots?” said Dog, genuinely impressed.

Boots just smiled and continued:

“Anyway, numbering systems: I was playing around in the lab with an opioid analgesic called Fentanyl, and ran it through some different processes, to see how its action changed each time.

After a load of trial and error, when I finally ran it through twelve lots of one step, and six steps of another, the resulting variation had a really unusual property that made it much more stable than usual, and loads safer.” He sniffed again and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. Boots looked at Angry Grant who was ogling two local girls walking past them, not listening to a word.

“I could have called the result (12,6)-Fentanyl, but I realised that if I used letters of the alphabet instead of numbers; (12,6)-Fentanyl would become (L,F)-Fentanyl, which shortens to L-F-Fent: ‘Elephant!’ So cool!”

Boots was positively beaming, but was disappointed to see that Grant still took no notice at all, and Dog just raised his eyebrows as he checked around to see if they were being followed.

“Pay attention Grant, it’s not the end of the job yet, not by a long way” said Dog. “Now we have the money. It’s possibly more dangerous than the product. We need to get back to our hotel room and then get this gun” although he only mouthed the word ‘gun’ “back to Pépé.”

Dog was scratching and rubbing his chest through his T-shirt with his huge left hand. They walked past a poster advertising a local boxing competition, prompting Grant to ask:

“What rules do your students fight with, Dog?”.

“Some do Muay Thai kickboxing, which they call the science of eight limbs: punches, kicks, knees and elbows, and some fight in the cage.”

“In a cage?” Boots asked. He had a vision of Mad Max in the Thunderdome, with Mel Gibson attached to a bungee cord for Tina Turner’s entertainment.

“They use a matted cage for mixed martial arts: you can kick, punch, throw and grapple, often a mix of boxing and Muay Thai for stand-up, and wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on the ground.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Boots shook his head slightly in confusion. “Isn’t it Japanese?”

“Originally, yeah,” said Dog “but Brazil has more Japanese people than anywhere else outside Japan. In the early 1900s in Belem, a bloke called Gastao Gracie was a businessman who helped a lot of Japanese immigrants who were trying to get established. One of them was a guy called Mitsuyo Maeda. He was a Jiu-Jitsu master that had trained under Kano, the founder of Judo.”

“You know your subject, too, don’t you Dog?” said Boots, with a knowing smile. Dog smiled back.

“As a show of gratitude for helping him out, Maeda offered to teach the art to Gracie’s eldest son, Carlos.”

“A teacher straight from the Orient - like Mr Miyagi!” suggested Grant, highly excited.

“A bit” Dog’s smile continued with the crass comment. “Carlos Gracie taught his brothers, and with an interest in boxing and street application, they added punches. They were rough siblings, and Brazil has always had a lot of ‘anything goes’ prize fights or vale tudo, most of it is bare-knuckle. He wanted training partners, but kept beating them all, and ended up having to advertise on street corners for people to test himself on. His brother Helio went from being a frail underweight kid to become a prize fighter who even challenged the boxer Joe Louis. Louis declined. Helio’s a legend in Brazil.

“Jiu-Jitsu wasn’t supposed to be taught to non-Japanese, and Carlos was only supposed to teach his family members, which he did until Maeda died back in Japan. When he found out that Maeda had been poisoned, possibly for disrespecting the art by taking on prize fights, Carlos decided to teach his art more openly, so it would not be lost. He had twenty-one children, all his sons were black belts, and he had over a hundred grandchildren, so Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is in no danger of dying out any time soon.”

“How come they’re keeping it all in Brazil, Dog?”Grant asked.

“They’re not. Some of the family moved to the States. They started to teach in their garage and Rorian Gracie eventually offered a challenge: If any fighter could beat a Gracie, with no rules, they’d win $100,000. So-called masters of karate, taekwondo, wrestlers and boxers started to turn up to accept the challenge.”

Boots tried and failed to comprehend why anyone would choose to engage in a fighting competition without rules, where you could presumably get poked in the eye or kicked in the balls.

“What happened?” asked Grant, clearly keen for fight details and tales of maimed and mangled prize fighters.

“They usually fought Royce. Quite a few became students” was Dog’s response, leaving Grant desperate for more.

“Is that it?”

“They still haven’t paid out the $100,000. It’s spreading everywhere, France included. Rickson Gracie came over here in ’95 and did a major seminar; four hundred people turned up. Rorian started something called the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the States five years ago, to show the strength of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu against all the other martial arts. It was a no time-limit, no weight category, bare-knuckle, very limited rules competition. It was meant to find out once and for all which martial art was the best, and who was the best fighter. People came from all over the world to compete.”

Boots could almost understand legitimised violence like this. As long as it was a competition between consenting adults - it was just like boxing, and he supposed it was OK.

Come to think of it, different fighters, representing different countries and styles, maybe that’s a really good idea. Didn’t some of the ancient Greeks do that? If a country just sends out their best champion, to fight the other country’s champion, they could all just leave the cannon fodder at home.

“Royce Gracie won it. They’ve had about fifteen competitions now and they’re still going, if you fancy testing yourself and competing, it’s right up your street, Boots.”

Dog looked Boots in the eye and smiled warmly as he said this, Grant snorted again.

“Bare-knuckle fighting? Me?” laughed Boots. “I don’t even eat meat.”

“You have to wear gloves now, and you’re not allowed to headbutt or strike the groin any more. If they introduce some more rules, the UFC could even go mainstream.

“So why don’t you do this Gracie Jiu-Jitsu stuff Dog, if it’s the best style?” asked Grant.

“It’s brilliantly effective for the octagonal cage they fight in, but the cage was designed by a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. It has soft mats and is very forgiving on the ground, where their art works best, but even with minimal rules, the competition still has the limitations of a sport - there is still a referee to stop it if you’re unconscious, and there are no weapons or multiple attackers.”

“Have you got any on video?” Grant asked.

“I’ll sort you out when we get home.”

Dog’s explanation seemed to be aimed as much at Boots as at Grant, but he couldn’t relate to any of it.

“There’s some fantastic stuff, standing and for the ground though, and I do train it, but there aren’t many decent high level instructors in the UK. There’s Rick Young in Edinburgh, and only a few others.”

“As you said before, Dog,” asked Boots, “Bruce Lee wanted to try everything to see what worked best. Would he be trying this ground-fighting, Jiu-Jitsu, grappling stuff if he was alive today?”

“He was doing it back in ’72. He wins his first fight in Enter the Dragon, against Sammo Hung, with a juji gatame arm bar. A classic Jiu-Jitsu move.”

There was a pause as all three mulled this over.

“Jiu-Jitsu competitions are a fantastic test though, even Sensei trains it a bit now, it actually complements the groundwork of Kali and Silat.”

Boots noticed how the trio’s mood was relaxed, despite the cash they carried. Dog was still attentive, looking all around for possible dangers, but he was talking freely and his tone was more upbeat. Grant no longer looked quite so ready to attack, and even the temperature had dropped below the uncomfortable level of earlier in the day. They walked along the edge of a building painted pink, in contrast to the whitewash and solid white stone they had become accustomed to.

“The ‘ritual, spiritual stuff’ that you mentioned earlier, Boots: the ceremony that I took part in the Philippines” said Dog.

Immediately, Boots was all ears.

“The people of the Hiligaynon mix pre-Christian religions, and mix them with some more recent philosophies, like Catholicism. Their practices sometimes include the use of certain, um, herbs.”

Instantly interested by exotic substance use, Boots had to ask what Dog had taken.

“The mixture was made of some different jungle plants, and possibly something to do with a jungle frog…. “I asked, but didn’t fully understand the answer.”

Boots was always amazed that people took drugs without wanting to get as much information as possible about exactly what was in them.

“Did you eat it?”

“No, I smoked it in the village ceremonial pipe, made of kamagong wood, like their fighting sticks. It was part of a power ceremony, after I completed a test and received my anting anting protection. The pipe is older than anyone knows, but apparently a glass pipe also works perfectly. Sensei smokes it occasionally, after a big test herself, she says it helps to ‘solidify’ her experience.

Boots was struggling to process these two revelations at once.

“She!?” His jaw dropped.

“Yeah” Dog nodded.

“This Sensei of yours is a woman?” Boots was aghast.

“I have lots of teachers, but my main teacher of the Filipino arts is, yeah, and she’s certainly a massive influence on all my training.”

Boots’s thought processes span back and forth between Dog smoking exotic hallucinogens, and him travelling to Asia to train for years under a woman.

“You may have seen her.”

Now totally lost, Boots frowned, and swapped hands with the bag full of cash again, as they turned a corner to their right.

“What?”

“She’s been over, teaching some knife defence seminars around Europe. Just by chance, she happened to be competing in an open mat Jiu-Jitsu competition, the day before yesterday, just north of here. Sensei Maria uses Kali and Silat for her ground fighting, and much of it is very similar to Jiu-Jitsu, although it also needs to take into account of concealed weapons. She is the head of her family system, which is very rare for a woman but her elder brother died in a car accident, and she inherited the role.”

Boots was too stunned to speak. Grant nodded approval.

“She was still wearing a Gracie Barra T-shirt, with the Brazilian flag on it. Gracie Barra means the club run by the Gracie family: the founders of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That was her sat down on the south side of Place St George.”

Boots thought for a moment.

That little woman in the white T-shirt! He had seen her talking to a local man, just as they left the square.

“She didn’t look particularly oriental, for someone from the Philippines” was his response. He was still overwhelmed by the revelation, he had noticed the olive-skinned woman sat on the square to his right, as they left.

“The rest of the family often take the mickey,” Dog explained, “because she looks more like the early Spanish invaders.

Dog’s teacher is a woman, and she was here in the square today... Headfuck!

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.