Michael laced up his gloves and stepped into the ring. Once the bell rang, his opponent tucked his head down and approached swiftly so Michael paced himself, allowing him to throw a few quick jabs which he blocked. His breathing was controlled and he wasn’t in a rush. He bobbed and weaved around the next few strikes, found his opening, then delivered a straight jab with his left, followed by a right hook. His heart was pumping blood at a steady rate and he was calm, at peace. He pressed the attack.
A day earlier, Michael helped his father clear the table after their lunch.
“I don’t really know why I lied to your mother and had you come out on patrol with me,” Arthur admitted, “I told myself it was because I wanted to spend more time with you. That was a stupid excuse and your mom said as much. Maybe it’s some generational thing; genetics or whatever. My dad trained me and his dad trained him and there was always some reason for it just like the one I made. Who knows. Maybe you were right all along,” he shook his head, “Maybe the Hawkwood men are cursed.”
“Dr. Ansari said that this whole thing is a cycle, curse or no curse,” Michael told him, “But dad, I agreed to come along on patrol. I lied to Mom, too. And like I said, we both should have talked to each other about this a long time ago.”
“No, it’s on me,” Arthur leaned against his kitchen counter and folded his arms, “I was supposed to protect you and your mom and I failed.”
“Don’t put it all on you. What happened was a freak accident. We were out late. We didn’t check the Dragon after we landed. Jack was in the wrong place and the wrong time. Then he got spooked and…,” Michael was tempted to stop the conversation but made himself press on, “… And he didn’t mean to do what he did… Besides, I was the one who followed you to a drug den that night and… I was the one who -“
“You didn’t kill anyone on purpose,” Arthur interrupted him quickly, as if the thought could only be made real if it was spoken out loud.
“Yes, I did, Dad,” Michael put his hands on his father’s shoulders, “It took me years to come to peace with it, but I can say it. I killed Springheel Jack. I knew what I was doing. It’s still hard for me to say it out loud and I know it’s hard for you to hear it but we have to be open about this shit.”
In the ring, Michael’s opponent forced him in the corner. Michael remained calm as the opponent began delivering body-blows. He absorbed the hits. He welcomed them. Just as he began getting used to the sensation of taking punches, his opponent stepped back into the center of the ring. It was only a friendly sparring match in the gym but Michael wished he hadn’t stopped. He needed the punishment.
“You wouldn’t have been in the situation to kill Jack if I didn’t make you my sidekick. Your mom,…” Arthur looked down as his lip quivered, “… Do you wanna know why I didn’t want to stop all this sooner?”
“Yeah, I do. Why can’t you just retire, Dad?”
“I looked up to my dad and my grandfather. They were heroes, they were husbands and they were fathers; I wanted to at least be half the men they were. I think I could have retired years ago with the satisfaction of a job well done, knowing that I was also a good husband and a good father,” his voice cracked a bit, “… I didn’t exactly stick the landing when it came to those last two. Being a hero was all I had left.”
Tears filled Michael’s eyes and he quickly hugged him, “God, I never knew you felt that way. You were a great dad. You still are a great dad.”
“I made so many mistakes,” he felt the wetness of his father’s cheeks.
“So did I. We all make mistakes and I think if Mom were here, she’d agree with me. You did everything you could. You saved the world. You protected me and Mom. You wanted the satisfaction of a job well done, you have it.”
“I don’t feel that way.”
“It’s true,” he raised up and looked his father in the eyes, “It’s true and I’ll prove it to you.”
Michael circled around the ring, making sure his opponent followed. He made a feint, tricking his opponent who raised his gloves to block, then gave him a shot to the ribs. The opponent leaned in, briefly putting his gloves down to protect his torso. This gave Michael an opening.
“I can’t prove to you that you were a good husband but I can prove you were a good dad and a hero.”
Michael threw a haymaker, catching his opponent across the jaw. He spun around on the tip of his boot before hitting the canvas.
“I can take down this drug operation,” Michael told his father, “Tell me where to find the dealers and I’ll make them talk. They’ll tell me where the drug shipment is.”
“You don’t have to do this, Mike.”
“I want to, okay? I want to do it so you don’t have to. I’ll wear the armor. I still have moves. I’ll find the shipment, contact the cops and have the whole thing shut down in a day or two. We end this thing together.”
“That’s not gonna make me feel any better, I don’t think.”
“Really, if I’m willing to do this for you, doesn’t that mean you were a good dad? That I’m willing to go through this with you?”
“If you get hurt…”
“It’s my choice. Just like it was my choice when I went after Jack. You’re gonna have to stop blaming yourself for my decisions.”
The bell rang. Michael’s opponent stood to his feet, removed his gloves and shook his hand. It was a great exercise. Michael knew he was ready to go out that night.
He drove the Knight-cycle out of the sewage tunnel leading from The Castle. It had been a while since he piloted the Dragon so it was probably best that he left that at headquarters (not that he needed something so big, anyway as the situation was only temporary). According to Ohm, Big Fun had two dealers stationed on a curb behind a factory. Michael parked on the other side of the building and peeked around the corner, spotting two men talking to a third figure. Money was quickly exchanged and the third man shoved a baggie in his coat before leaving. Michael remembered what his father taught him years ago. He stepped around the corner, scraping his metal boots along the pavement before taking a hard step. The sound got the attention of the two dealers who soon noticed Michael ominously approaching. He slowly drew his broad sword and pointed it at them, a display that served to intimidate them into compliance. Michael smirked beneath his helmet as he admittedly had fun when he saw the look of fear in the two men. “When you get them good and scared, they usually surrender or freeze in place,” his dad told him years earlier, “Sometimes they have enough courage to run… Of course, sometimes they panic and start shooting, too.”
The bravest dealer drew a gun and his first shot whizzed past Michael and the second hit the wall next to him a half-second later. The third found its way to his chest plate and while it bounced off harmlessly, Michael was still rattled inside his armor. The second dealer followed suit and pulled his gun as well, proving to be a better shot as he hit Michael several more times in the torso. It pushed him back and forced him to drop his sword, which gave the dealers the chance to turn and run. “Shit,” Michael muttered to himself and raised his gauntlet, taking aim with his shield-disc launcher. They were almost halfway down the block before Michael had a sure shot. The disc zipped out from the small compartment under his wrist guard. The first projectile hit a dealer in the back of the shoulder, making him twist his knee. The second struck his hip and forced him to the sidewalk. Michael rushed to the fallen dealer as his partner continued to run. He grabbed the dealer by the lapels and dragged him to the brick wall.
“We weren’t doing noth’n!,” the man shouted.
“Really?,” Michael asked and began fumbling through his coat pockets before pulling another baggie, “Then what’s this? Your friend is holding the money, I noticed. Look, here’s what I know -“
Just then, a two by four was smashed over Michael’s head, knocking him to the ground. He assumed the second man had escaped but there he was, holding a broken board over his head. Michael rolled onto his back and slammed his metal boot into the man’s shin, forcing him to the pavement. Michael quickly climbed on top of him and rendered him unconscious with a punch, then made a mental note that if an enemy runs away, they might return with a weapon.. He stood up and walked back to the injured dealer, still sitting against the wall.
“As I was trying to say, I know your boss is called Big Fun and he has an entire cocaine shipment from Costa Triste hidden somewhere in the city. You can tell me where it is or you can tell the cops.”
“Screw you! I ain’t say’n shit.”
“See, I know you guys usually take a plea deal when you get arrested, right? You get a reduced sentence and in exchange, you give the cops information. Same thing is happening here. First, I’m gonna take the drugs, guns and money from you and your friend here. Next, you’re gonna tell me where I can find that shipment and then I let you be.”
The dealer furrowed his brow in frustration, “There’s a place out in Bronwsville. Skylark Storage. Unit 26.”
“Who owns that unit?”
“The place is out of business. No one owns anything there. We just took over.”
“I see. Thanks for cooperating,” Michael struck him across the face, rendering him unconscious.
Michael gathered the guns from the men, making a mental note to learn how to disarm them. Then he stashed the baggie and money in his belt, all to be handed over to police later. Then he removed their phones from their jackets as well as their car keys, throwing them in a nearby gutter to keep them occupied once they woke up. After that, he used the Dragon’s computer database to find Skylark Storage in Brownsville and soon found an address. As promised, the place had gone out of business but the property remained, making it prime real estate for illegal activity. He considered giving this information to the police but he wasn’t sure the shipment would be there. The dealer could have easily lied to him. He decided to find out for himself, then retire as promised. But first, he’d have to go back to the Castle and get the Dragon.