In the stated twenty minutes the room over the garage contained everybody except the two kick boxers and the dogs who had been firmly excluded. Patsy made her offspring sit on the floor while she, Jim and Anna found some folding chairs. Sam and Rod came in quietly. They stood in the doorway talking for a moment. Sam was a big man, and muscular, but he looked small beside Rod. Anna felt a clutch of fear in her stomach and pushed it firmly away.
“I didn’t know Sam had a tattoo,” Patsy murmured.
“No. My secret until now. And I’d forgotten that Rod had so many.”
“Me too. Though it reminds me why he bought into that tattoo parlour.”
Then she fell abruptly silent as Sam and Rod walked onto the practice mat. Each man wore drawstring trousers and had his hands and feet bandaged. They carried head guards.
“Ten minute warm up?” Sam said.
Rod nodded and they put their head guards on the floor. The warm up began with both men stretching and running on the spot. Gesturing Sam back to the corner of the mat. Rod started a complex series of leaps and flicks which culminated in a set of side kicks whose speed was bewildering.
“Now,” Sam murmured, “you see why I wouldn’t care to get in a proper bout with this bugger.”
Rod bowed and moved to his own corner leaving the mat to Sam whose own set of moves climaxed in a two-footed kick, which he landed neatly.
“And that,” Rod grinned, “would have disembowelled me if it connected. Hats on?”
They put their head guards on and moved together. Sam said something Anna found incomprehensible and they began. Back and forth across the mat they went. Kicks and punches seemed to come from every possible direction, but all were pulled before they hit flesh.
“How do they do that?” Anna whispered.
“They’re calling the plays” Jim explained. “They are taking it in turn to call a kick or a punch, then throw it. It’s remarkable. Sam is outweighed and out-reached, but he is keeping up with Rod. I really wouldn’t like to get in a fight with him. He is in excellent nick.”
“He is,” Anna purred. She watched for a bit longer then said. “Will you just look at them. It’s like a ballet. Tattoos and all. I find myself surprised by how elegant Rod is. He looks so much less bulky without a shirt. He’s a big guy, but muscular and not fleshy. For the first time in my life I can see why women rave about him.”
“Yeah. And your Sam don’t exactly hurt the eyes. That dragon is hawt!”
“But you won’t let me have a tattoo,” Jim protested.
“True. I don’t usually like them. I’m just making a single exception.”
Jim cuffed her lovingly.
“So long as you only look.”
She rubbed her cheek against his arm.
Then she patted him and motioned towards the five boys who sat on the floor absolutely silent and watching the two kick boxers with absolute concentration. Even the twins had dropped their usual world-weary pose and were watching in open-mouthed fascination. He grinned and winked at her before turning his own attention back to the men on the practice mat.
And then it was over. Both men bowed, then they bumped fists.
“I need a shower,” Rod grunted.
They left the room together.
“Will you look at them,” Matt’s voice was barely above a whisper. “They’ve been boxing for half an hour and they ain’t even out of breath.”
“No,” Cy agreed. “They ain’t. I reckon Anna’s doctor is fucking fit.”
Then he flinched, as his mother clipped him smartly around the ear.
“Language my son.” She turned and grinned at Anna. “You not going to scrub Sam’s back?”
She left the room at a gallop.
“What got up her tail?” the twins asked in puzzled unison.
Six-year-old Charlie looked at them pityingly.
“You two are so thick sometimes. She’s going to have sex.”
Jim stared at him.
“Charlie my son, you may be clever but sometimes you ain’t very bright. That remark could just have got you in deep shit.”
“Why Dad? It’s true. Ain’t it?”
“Is. But that’s not the point. Look at your Mum’s face…”
Charlie looked and winced.
“Now look at the twins…”
This time Charlie crept under his father’s arm.
“Oops,” he said. “I should have done thinking before I did talking. Sorry Mum. Was that rude about Anna? I didn’t mean it to be. Sorry Gruesomes. I forgot that you offered to belt me the next time I called you thick.”
Patsy spoke up.
“It’s okay, little man. I know you didn’t mean any harm.” Then she turned her eyes to the twins. “Nobody is belting anybody. Are they?”
“No. I guess not,” Matt said and ruffled his brother’s hair. “Just be careful. You are too clever for your own good sometimes. You gotta learn to sit on that clever tongue of yours before it gets you into real bother.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Bill went to his father’s side and looked up at him. “Can you and Mum talk to him please? He needs to understand that he has to think before he speaks. He could get himself into big trouble if he don’t. It’s a worry.”
Jim put his arm around William.
“I’ll see to it, Bill.”
His son relaxed against him.
Patsy reached over and caressed his cheek.
“Good lad, Billy. Me and Dad will see to Charlie. Now. There are some other folks we need to talk to. Twins. You got anything to say to us?”
“Umm. Yeah. We do. About Sam you mean?” Matt spoke slowly and thoughtfully.
“Yes. About Sam,” Patsy said gently.
Cy took over.
“We thought he was a middle-class softie. But he ain’t is he? He’s tough. And he fixed Rod’s finger. And he looked after Bill. And…”
“And what?” Jim asked.
“Not theirs to say,” Jamie explained. “Uncle Rod is going to tell.”
“Okay. We can wait. However. We do want to know whether the Gruesome Twosome has reached a decision about how they are going to behave.”
“Yeah. We’re going to behave nice. For many reasons. Not least we think it might be a spectacularly bad idea to piss him off.”
“Might indeed,” his twin agreed. “Difficult, we think, but painful if achieved.”
“Fair enough. Let’s go see if we can find cake shall we?”