Old and new sweat mingled, the hint of blood too. Smells you couldn’t get out of the old wood floors if they were scrubbed down each night, which they are. The floor creaked, their feet all over the place. Only Adlai had been coming for more than a few days.
“Oi! Adlai, go easy on the new blood. Yeesh, little scamp has some wallop in him. Showed him that straight jab four days ago and I think it’s his best friend now.”
Senator Olstin’s upper lip twitched, fighting a sneer. “Mm-hm, yes. It looks like he’s quite skilled in punching the other children in the head. You ever read up on CTE, Jana?”
Coach Jana nodded, pulled her hair back and put it into a ponytail. “Of course, senator—”
“Then you run this…Operation with full knowledge that the children will leave more damaged than when they came.” Olstin looked about the gym. The old heavy bags patched with rolls of duct tape, the speed bags that didn’t move as quick as they used to, the ring with sagging ropes and warped floor.
Jana chuckled. Under her breath she half repeated the senator. “More damaged than”—she cleared her throat. “No, sir. I don’t think that’s half right. The places most of these children come from are as close to hell as you can imagine. The chance of them truly hurting each other here is quite low. At least in here they don’t have to clean puke up off their drugged out parents’ face, or digging in trash for a bite to eat, or”—she stopped herself, no sense in sharing the real dark bits. “I was a professional boxer for six years, sir. Am I a little rattled? Are some words a challenge for me to find? Yes. But I was going into the ring every other week with professionals. Other gals that’d been training their whole life to knock me out cold. Happened a few times too. But here I am, owner of this gym.
“If it hadn’t been for this place when I was their age I’m certain I wouldn’t be talking to you. Out there they might get CTE and worse, on the same day. Mum comes home a little tipsy and throws him into a wall. Or her, there. Maybe dad doesn’t like her tone and beats her till she walks with a limp for the rest of her life. Or Adlai, his big brother on another meth fueled bender decides to take him along for a night on the town. God only knows what for.
“At least they’re here, senator. While they’re here they’re safe.”
Adlai thumped his partner in the stomach with that jab. The other boy fell onto the busted mat laughing.