|Posted on August 2, 2016 at 8:00 AM|
South of Los Angeles
The moment she’d uttered the words, “Help me,” he’d come immediately awake. He'd been dreaming again. Same dream. Same feeling of urgency. He glanced at the clock. 3 a.m.. Rising, he made his way to the bathroom, flipped on the light and reveled in the sensation of cool water as he splashed it on his heated face. He glanced in the mirror and gasped. Staring back, floating before him for a brief instant, were “the eyes.” Raising a dark eyebrow, he shook his head and gave a soft chuckle. He could see the headlines now; Martial arts master, Eric Kino, dies of fright in his own bathroom.
He’d been having dreams and visions of “the eyes,” as his son called them, for some time now. He had no idea to whom the eyes belonged. They were definitely feminine. Beautiful, but always sad and sometimes filled with fear. He'd had precognitive dreams before, but they'd always involved someone he knew. These dreams were different and they were accompanied by an enormously intense feeling of desperation.
He’d struggled to interpret the meaning of the dreams. Who is this woman? Is she going to be appearing in his life? What does she have to do with him? Tonight, he'd heard her voice clear as a bell. “Help me,” she'd said, as if she'd been lying right next to him and whispered in his ear. He’d felt her breath against his cheek, felt the press of her body as she’d leaned close. He'd come immediately awake with the knowing that he had to find her. He had to actively search for her and not just hope that one day he’d run into her.
Decision made, he returned to his bed, stretched out, and visualized a white light moving throughout his body, commanding each muscle to relax. Taking long, slow breaths, he slowly sank into a deep sleep.
The next morning Eric tossed items into a suitcase as he packed for a regional martial arts tournament in Atlanta. He was glad to be on the move after the decision he’d made the night before. He intended to keep watch for “the eyes.”
When he and his son had first received the invitation to the Atlanta tournament they'd had to decline, but then Ricky's schedule opened up. Eric would be there only as observer and “honored dignitary.” He shuddered at the title. His son, movie icon Ricky Kino, was scheduled to perform one of his much demanded demonstrations. Eric wasn't immune to the pride a father feels when his son achieves success and he enjoyed seeing Ricky do his thing. After all, Eric was the one who’d schooled Ricky in the martial arts since he'd been old enough to walk.
Eric hadn't realized at the time that passing his knowledge on to his son would make Ricky a celebrity. Ricky had the “package” as the producers put it. The looks, the body, the talent, the personality. He'd begun as a child star and worked his way up to leading man. At only twenty-one years of age, Ricky was one of the hottest stars in Hollywood.
Even though thoughts of Ricky's success always lifted Eric's spirits, his mind was still heavy with images of the woman in his dream. It concerned him because other such dreams had turned out to be a prediction of unpleasant things. He'd dreamt of his wife in great peril and pain a year before she was diagnosed with cancer. He'd seen a branch of a great tree snap over and over the week before Ricky fell out of one and broke his arm. There had been numerous dreams touching numerous subjects.
Every once in a while he'd actually been in tune enough to be able to avoid disaster, like the speeding truck that ran the red light. He'd known not to go when the light turned green, avoiding his own death and the death of his son. And he'd known the time the punks waited in an alleyway with thoughts of murder and mayhem. He'd revised their actions if not their thinking. Those events, however, involved himself and people close to him. Now, for some reason, he felt he was supposed to help a woman he didn’t even know. Still, he trusted that nothing is random. Things happen for a reason, and so he was anxious to find her before it was too late.
The cloud hanging over Eric dissipated at the sound of his son’s voice. Eric glanced over. Ricky stood in the doorway with his usual wide smile. He was a breath of sunshine wherever he went, and Eric could think of no one in the world he loved and treasured more.
“What’s up, Dad? You look like you’re going to a funeral.”
“Yeah. And you’re not. You're coming to watch me and what could be more pleasant than that?”
Eric smiled. “Truly,” he said, not hiding the slight sarcasm.
Ricky grinned. “So really, why so down?”
“I’m not down.” Eric shrugged. “Guess I’m feeling a little– intense.”
Ricky circled around to massage his father's shoulders. “Whatever you want to call it, Dad, you gotta learn to lighten up. You know what they say– stress kills.”
“Really? What do 'they' say about the surviving children? Do they say anything about the guilt that must consume them?”
“Funny, Dad. So it seems you have a sense of humor after all, be it ever so small.”
Eric closed the suitcase. “Large enough to accommodate you every day.” He placed an arm around Ricky’s shoulder. “Let's go.”
“You know, you don't have to come if you’re not up to it.”
“Are you kidding me? I'm looking forward to it. Besides, I'll be able to keep an eye out for my MART student.”
Ricky smiled. “I have no doubt you'll find the right one.” He thought about his father's legendary status as MART instructor. The MART, an acronym for Martial Arts Recruiting Tournament, had become a huge event. An instructor takes a rookie student and turns them into a black belt champion in one year's time. The MART, the Olympics of the martial arts world, had become big business, thanks in part to his dad. What Bela Karolyi is to the world of gymnastics and Vince Lombardi is to football, Eric Kino is to the world of martial arts.
“I will find the right one,” Eric agreed. “And after last night’s dream, I’ve decided that I also need to find the owner of ‘the eyes.’”
Ricky nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe they are one and the same.”
Eric shrugged. “Maybe.”
Throughout the long and tedious flight to Atlanta, Ricky kept up a steady stream of chatter. Hours later in the elevator of the Atlanta Hilton, Ricky eyed his father. “You’ve been awfully quiet.”
Eric touched his son on the shoulder and sighed. “I guess I haven't been very good company. I'm okay, just a little preoccupied.”
“As long as you’re okay.”
“You're starting to sound like your grandmother,” Eric teased, trying to lighten the mood.
Ricky's smile flashed. “Well, Grandma did tell me to take good care of you.”
“That’s funny. She told me to take care of you.”
“Well, I was about to go straight in and order up some room service for the both of us. Would you consider that trying to take care of you or just being polite?”
“I’d never think you were just being polite,” Eric quipped, knocking Ricky in the back of the head as he swiped the key card.
Ricky headed straight to lower the thermostat and next, to the phone to order food. Atlanta in June was unbelievably hot and humid. Having been raised in Los Angeles, Ricky was accustomed to the heat but not the humidity. He placed his order quickly then plopped across the bed, bemoaning the heat.
Eric smiled at his son’s discomfort and decided he would make up for being a lousy traveling companion by resorting to some of their old antics. “Heavy air, lots of oxygen, this would be a great alternative to your training– give some diversity to your workout.”
“Yeah, until I have to fight on a mountain top.” Ricky rolled over, grabbed a pillow. “Work out if you want, I'm already in great shape and even if I wasn't, I'm not leaving the air conditioning.” He grabbed the remote. “Let’s see what the Braves are doing.”
Nonchalantly, Eric made his way to the bathroom, ice bucket beneath his arm. “I don't know Rick,” Eric called from the bathroom. “You're looking a little soft to me.”
“No way Dad, you're just jealous.”
“Of your youth maybe,” Eric said quietly, having crept up beside Ricky. “Or, maybe because I'm standing here all hot and sweaty and you're nice and cool.”
“What are you talking ab– ”
The bucket of water hit him square in the face. Eric's laughter almost botched his quick retreat to the bathroom. He locked the door, but could hear Ricky sputter and threaten to do all kinds of ill will to his own father. Ricky's tirade soon ceased and the room became eerily quiet. Smiling, Eric folded his arms and waited.
It took Ricky only a few seconds to pick the lock. Slowly, the door eased open. Ricky stood calmly in the entry, grinning wickedly, dangling his nail clippers before his father's eyes. “I'm gonna kick your butt, honorable father.”
Eric sprang forward with blinding speed, disarming his son and tossing him handily and unceremoniously into the shower. Before Ricky could get his footing Eric flipped on the cold water. Ricky gasped for breath, reached out and grabbed at his dad, but Eric easily deflected his son's arm, leaving Ricky to clutch nothing but air and cold water.
“Honorable father kicks honorable son's butt, amazingly effortlessly.” He bowed to his worthy opponent. “Like I said son, you're getting soft.”
Ricky returned the bow. “Well, you ARE 'the Master'.”
“And don't you forget it” Eric called back as he left the bathroom to wait for room service.