The Foxxburgh-Wellington combat gymnasium was a massive dome structure akin to a small sports arena, capable of seating 10,000. The cherry-oak walls and floors were shining with fresh polish. Long florescent lights stretched across the ceiling.
Above the bleachers was a large observation room with floor-to-ceiling windows. In the room sat four members of the Academy’s executive board. Two women and two men, all lined up in a row of plush leather chairs.
The oldest one in the room was Mr. James, pudgy and short with a bald head and a smoky gray mustache.
Next to him was Ms. Dawes, a woman of style, brushing her brown hair and smiling at the reflection of herself in the window.
Mrs. Warren was at her side with her arms folded, the most annoyed of all the members. Her black hair was wrapped into a bun so tight that you could see strands of it pulling out of the scalp.
At the end of the row was Mr. Taylor. At 45 years old, he was the youngest of the board.
“Am I the only one in here who feels this is a complete waste of time?” Mrs. Warren asked.
“Perhaps,” Mr. Taylor replied. “But you have to admit that there’s something a little intriguing about this event.”
“Not at all,” Mrs. Warren sneered. “Organizing a match that puts Daniel Wellington against a cretin from the city slums is highly irregular. And dangerous.”
“Daniel Wellington?” Ms. Dawes interjected. Her voice was southern, soft, and as feminine as it could be, almost like a whisper, the complete opposite of Mrs. Warren. “No one told me this fellow was gonna face Daniel Wellington.”
“As usual, Ms. Dawes, you failed to read this morning’s memorandum,” Mr. James said, half-coughing out the words through his British accent. “If you could pry yourself away from the mirror every now and again, perhaps your lack of focus wouldn’t be such an issue.”
“Quiet!” Ms. Dawes snapped back at him. “Shouldn’t you be at your nursing home resting or taking your medicine? I’m surprised you got here without the assistance of your oxygen tank.”
As they argued, Mr. Taylor noticed Mrs. Warren opening a black folder. It was a short profile of the prospective student who had requested an exhibition match.
“What was his name again?” Taylor asked.
Mrs. Warren read from the folder. “Slater Lee. Black male. Age: 14. Height: 5’8. Weight: 167 pounds. Transcripts from East Central High School report below average grades in both science and math. Several suspensions and other behavioral issues are also noted.”
“Well that’s not good,” Ms. Dawes said, breaking away from bickering with Mr. James. “How’s a boy like that suppose to team with Elena Miguelas?”
“Exactly the question I posed to Principal Nelson when I asked why he agreed to have this match,” Mrs. Warren said.
At that very moment, the doors of the observation room opened. Principal Nelson entered, a tall man with a full head of sharp, closely cropped black hair. Beaming with a warm smile that stretched across his long face, Principal Nelson was far younger than the members of the board.
Of course, “principal” was just an OSI cover. Nelson had a job to do.
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