"Well, as Luc knows, I have a brother, Lincoln, who's six
years older than me and a sister, Madison, who's five years younger."
"You're all named after presidents?" Maxine asked.
"Stating the obvious, Maxine, but yes. That was down to my
great-grandfather, Jacob Mitchell. He was never one for following fashion, so
when this trend for giving children Biblical Christian names started up, he
decided to set his own trend. Hence my grandfather was Kennedy Mitchell and Dad
is really Buchanan which he shortens to Buck Mitchell."
J helped himself to a cookie and continued. "Anyway, I was
- am - the middle one of three children, which isn't good. The eldest gets
treats and privileges by virtue of his age while the other two are too young.
On the other hand, the youngest can get away with murder by virtue of her youth
and inexperience, while the other two are old enough to know better."
"I'm a middle child too," Maxine pointed out,
"but I never felt like that."
"Maybe it's different with girls," Ash suggested,
"plus you're highly intelligent."
"Well, thank you very much!" J exclaimed.
"You're welcome," Ash grinned to chuckles all round.
"Yes well, I felt, rightly or wrongly, that I was getting
none of the treats and all the blame, so I developed a very short fuse. By the
time I was twelve, I'd already been on several wreaking sprees after I'd been
thwarted. My parents were very worried about my inability to control my temper.
That gave me a slight sense of power over them, which was also not good for me.
"The only person who could get through to me was Maddi. I
adored my little sister. Still do. She could twist me round her little finger.
Still can. I was on good terms with Linc too, most of the time. He was always
cheerful and easy-going, and thus a good roll model. Not that I saw it quite
that way back then." J smiled reminiscently.
"Things came to a head when I was fifteen years old. I was
involved in a sailing week for children aged ten to fourteen. This had been
organized by the local church. I was involved because I was a strong swimmer
and I'd been sailing since I was ten years old, same age Maddi was at that
event. Sailing Week took place at a marina on a reservoir near Florissant
"Florissant Fossil Beds?" Luc asked.
"That's what they used to be called. They were renamed the
Graveyard of the Deluge about fifteen years ago," Theo explained.
Luc gave a derisive snort. "Why am I not surprised? Apart
from its being so recent? Um, sorry. Do go on."
"If you're sure..."
"Don't worry, you're not wriggling off the hook
that easily," Maxine grinned, "so get on with it!"
J sighed. "Okay. Well, throughout the week, I'd had this
lippy fourteen year old in my group. Eddie Smart, his name was, though that was
about the only smart thing about him. He'd been giving me a load of grief all
week. Linc said he was proud of the way I'd handled him, given Eddie had taken
every opportunity to flout my orders - which were based on the club's rules and
mostly concerned with safety afloat.
"The final straw came when Eddie lured Maddi into going
out in a sailing dinghy with him. Neither of them was wearing a life-jacket in
direct contravention of the first rule of sailing: always wear a
life-jacket when on the water, however good a swimmer you think you are.
"Naturally, I was worried about my little sister and I was
enraged beyond words when I saw them out in the middle of the reservoir. That
was out of bounds to novices unless accompanied by an experienced sailor. I was
waving furiously at Eddie and yelling at him to go about and return."
J was almost foaming at the mouth as he recalled the event.
"And then, not only did Eddie disobey that order, but he made Maddi change
places with him then deliberately gybed while she was standing up. The boom
swung sharply across, cracked her on the side of the head and knocked her
"Oh god, no! How awful!" Maxine exclaimed.
"I dived in, and pumped on adrenalin, swam as fast as I
could to where she'd gone in. By the time I arrived, she was floating face
down, her blood staining the water. I flipped her over, supported her head with
her face out of the water and made my way to the nearest jetty as quickly as
"Linc, who was a lifeguard, saw most of what had happened
and he'd already called for medical assistance. He ran to the end of the jetty,
hauled Maddi out of the water and started CPR. It was an awful moment. We
really thought we'd lost her.
"I pulled myself on to the jetty and noticed as I did so
that Eddie was sailing towards the farthest jetty. I ran hell for leather
towards that jetty to cut off the stupid idiot's escape. Eddie wasn't looking
so cocky then - scared if anything.
"Initially, I just went on a rant about how his stupid
disobedience could have cost Maddi her life. So then Eddie chose to make bad
worse by referring to my beloved baby sister as a snivelling little brat.
" I lost it. Big time. The red mist came
down and suddenly I was sitting astride him, slamming my fists into Eddie's
face and chest like a mad thing.
"Fortunately for Eddie - me too, I guess - Linc had handed
care of Maddi over to the marina's medical team, and arrived in time to pull me
off him before I'd beaten the idiot to death, which, without Linc's
intervention, I really think I would've done.
"Linc said, 'Leave him be, J. Don't get into trouble over
the stupid pipsqueak. He's not worth it.'
"'After what he did to Maddi'," I yelled, trying to
free myself from Linc's death grip on my arm.
Eddie was shuffling backwards, working on making a getaway
unnoticed, which might have worked if he hadn't sneered at me, 'I'm gonna tell
my Dad about what you did ta me!' As I said, Eddie was obviously Smart by name
"So Linc grabbed him by the arm and swung him
round, then his other hand grasped a handful of clothing and yanked him upright
till he was right in Eddie's battered face.
"'No. You won't,' Linc said. His voice was so cold and
calm and low-pitched, like I'd never heard it before. 'Because if you
do, the authorities will be told about how you - deliberately - tried to drown
a ten year old girl, who is not only J's sister. She's my sister
"Eddie gulped nervously. Linc let him sweat a little.
"'Of course, if you're seriously thinking of trying to
make trouble, we could easily save ourselves that trouble... Grass is nice and
long here.' Linc looked around. 'There's no one looking this way. How about we
dunk you in the water and hold you down till you're good'n'dead? There's two of
us and only one of you. Should be easy. Then we'll hide you in the reed beds.
Likely by the time your body shows up, the fishes will've done their work and
there'll be nothing to link us to you...'
"I swear, I had never been so surprised - no -
shocked. I was certain Linc didn't really mean it. Ah, that's wrong. I was
almost certain Linc didn't mean it, but there was a lingering seed of
doubt. My brother's scenario was a viable one if he was so minded. If that seed
of doubt had taken root in my own mind, what effect must it have had in
J snorted at the memory. "The damp patch on his trousers
suggested that he believed Linc's threat.
"Linc looked down where I was looking. 'Hm, looks like
you're going to need to take a little dip anyway.' he said.
"'Okay, this is the way it's going to be. We'll let you
live. This time. After you get out of the water, you're going to walk
away and say nothing about this, and if Maddi's okay, neither will we.
"'If she isn't okay, keep looking over your shoulder,
because sooner or later, one of us is going to be behind you...
"'And if anyone asks about your wet clothes or bruises,
you're going to tell them that you stupidly went out of bounds without an
experienced sailor with you, and without a life-jacket. Like the useless novice
you are, you got hit in the face by the boom when you gybed, you overbalanced,
"Linc paused - then gave Eddie a brutal shove. 'Fell in.'
"Eddie thrashed around in the water as we both glared at
"'At least gimme a hand out,' he whined.
"'Like you helped Maddi?' Linc growled. 'You got yourself
into this mess. Guess it's up to you to get yourself out. C'mon J. Let's go.'
"Eddie had lost his cockiness and was pretty much
pleading. 'Y-you can't leave me!' he cried.
"'Ah, yes. We can.' Linc said. 'We're going to see how our
little sister's doing. Just think of this as one of life's lessons: if you
can't take it, don't dish it out.'
"With that we walked off along the jetty and left him.
Apparently, but not actually. Once we were hidden by the long grass, Linc sent
me off to check on Maddi. He would stay behind and make sure Eddie survived.
"Linc said it took a while as Eddie spent a lot more time
on whining and later, cussing, than he did on trying to get out. Finally he
moved on to pleading - he couldn't swim, he said - and then the word 'sorry'
came sobbing from his lips. Only then did Linc drag him out."
"Wow," Ash said, "you sure have a scary
"Oh yeah! It was a real eye-opener for me. The most
profound lesson I learned from that incident was that realistic threats issued
with calm certainty are way more scary than any amount of yelling and
"The two of you make a good team," Maxine observed,
"but what has this to do with Japanese?"
"Hey, it was you who wanted to know my history," J
pointed out with a mock scowl.
"Yes, I do, so cut to the chase!"
"Well, Linc couldn't in all conscience keep quiet about
my total loss of control. Even then, I didn't blame him for ratting me out.
Anyhow, it led to a family conference - just Mom, Dad, Linc and me. I wasn't
entirely repentant. Strike that. I wasn't the least bit repentant, but I
couldn't deny that if Linc hadn't arrived when he did, I would probably have
beaten Eddie to death.
"Then Mom pointed out that Maddi had survived pretty much
intact, so my possible execution for Eddie's murder would have been a waste of
my own life. She broke down in tears then, which was pretty uncomfortable. I
think Mom's tears, more than anything else, brought it home to me that I
had to find a way of controlling my temper.
"Once I'd acknowledged that, Dad looked real pleased with
me. Said I'd had no chance of changing until I accepted that I needed help. Now
he could tell me that he knew just the person to help. A man under his command,
Bill Morley, was a martial arts instructor and I was signed up with him for
karate and jiu jitsu."
"I don't get that," Ash said. "If you already
had a tendency to violence, wouldn't that just make you a bigger, better
J smiled. "That's what a lot of people think, but actually
not. It's all about knowledge, practice, self-control and discipline.
Especially discipline. You learn how to control your body, make it do
what you want it to, how to react in various situations, how to assess those
situations - when to fight and when to avoid fighting. If you
know you can flatten a potential opponent - someone who's baiting
you - asking for it - you no longer feel any need to prove it. You don't get
sucked in. Why bother? And if you do have to fight, you know you can
wrap it up in short order."
"Like you did today?" Luc grinned.
"What?" Ash asked.
"Don't worry, we'll get to that later," Theo smiled.
"Go on, J."
"Apparently I had a natural aptitude, despite being a
relatively late starter. I'd always kept myself fit, and where I was so minded,
I could focus to the exclusion of all else for hours on end. I read every book
on martial arts I could get my hands on. Mom and Dad were delighted to see the
way I was channeling my energies. And no one outside the family knew about my -
well, obsession isn't far off the mark.
"Three years later, I'd achieved the ranks of sandan at
karate and nidan at jiu jitsu. Then I had the chance of a lifetime. I have
no idea how Dad fixed that one but I spent the next three years of my life
in Japan at a 'samurai school' in Kyoto."
"You lived in Japan for three years!" Maxine
exclaimed. "Well that certainly 'splains a lot!"
J laughed. "When it's the only language you hear, it's
amazing how quickly you pick it up, and as you said, it is an easy language to
"What did you do there?" she asked.
"I learned ken-do - the way of the sword - up to godan and
a little nin-po, or you might call it nin-jutsu. I also increased my karate and
jiu-jitsu ranks to rok'dan and godan."
"Not tenth dan?" Maxine asked, sounding a little
"No, Maxine. There are only seven j'dan in the whole
world and there have only ever been twenty-one, I think, since the ranking
system began. They were mostly founders of a particular style, like shotokan or
wado-ryu. In conclusion, when I returned from Kyoto, I enlisted at the Air
Force Academy, and the rest you pretty much know."
After that - and more coffee - the whole team told Ash of their
exploits that day. When they reached the meeting in the tea house, Luc cracked
out laughing and pointed at Theo and Maxine.
"Oh, you shoulda seen their faces when I walked in with
this samurai!" he chuckled, indicating J with his thumb. "It was
priceless. Just wish I'd had a camera!"
"You're not really a samurai, are you?" Ash asked
"Not really," J replied. "Technically, I'm a
ronin. That's a samurai who serves no master."
"What about the S.G.C.?" Ash suggested. "You
J looked thoughtful. "Hm... Maybe I am a samurai