The noise of Matt’s fists hitting the rough surface of the punching bag was like lightening cracking across the desert. Sudden, severe, and overwhelming. Like thunder, or a downpour of rain, pain followed every blow. It traveled up his fists, and danced through his arms and into his burning lungs.
He didn’t stop. He just counted. One, two, three, four. Like his father had taught him. Don’t give up, don’t stand down, just keep fighting.
Matt should have known, should at least have supposed, when his father told him that he didn’t want Matt to be a fighter. He should have asked, if there was so much honour in the art of boxing, why he was sheltered from it. Like it was a disease. Like it corrupted, and corroded, and he, Matt, needed to be protected.
It made sense now, but it should have made sense then.
He had been foolish, and trusting. And very, very foolish. And he had seen his father as a victim, a victim of a cruel and unusual world that would take advantage of an honourable man, and an honourable sport.
His blood was pumping with an unusual furiosity, and he could hear it rushing about his body. It was all he could hear except for the crack of his fist on the bag in front of him. This was what drowning in rapids must sound like. That same unstoppable, all powerful, wet sound. Maybe that was why he was having a hard time breathing.
He could smell blood in the air, over-top the dusty, aging smell of the gym. It left an unpleasant metallic aftertaste, and he knew it was coming from his hands. He had not wrapped them properly, because he had been shaking too much. All there was in the gym was stillness, and all there was inside him was movement. He could hear his blood rushing, and his bones reverberating with the impacts that tangibly, audibly stretched his muscles, tearing delicate fibres.
Matt had seen Foggy once today, and Foggy had asked him:
“Do you want to talk about it?”
And Matt had done him the decency of not pretending everything was okay. Instead he had just said:
And his voice had sounded clipped, odd, and coldly courteous even to his own ear.
Foggy had not asked questions, and Matt had destroyed someone on the witness stand. That helped, but not as much as this. The savage violence, the simplicity of one, two, three, four, it made it easier for him to think.
He had been going to call his priest, but it didn’t seem right to confess his father’s sins.
Matt was very clear on one thing, these were his father’s sins. He had felt so very guilty, so very heavy with guilt, when his father had died. Matt had convinced him to do something stupid. He had manipulated him, and he had known what he was doing when he had done it. He tried to tell himself it was his father’s choice, but that seemed terribly weak. So did his justifications after the fact. it all seemed so abstract. What was on the line was nothing more tangible than honour. The honour of a man, the honour of a sport.
That incident had taught him the cost of a code of ethics. He never forgot that lesson. He never forgot the feeling of his father’s face, cold and waxy, beneath his fingers. The smell of death, mixed with the familiar scent of home.
But this… this was something else. If Matt had manipulated, his father had betrayed.
Suddenly, the energy seeped out of Matt’s body. There was a rush of heat, and then a cool wave of night air washed over him. Feeling every one of his joints, Matt sat down on the padded ground. He could not sustain the vicious rush of anger. The heady spirit of destruction settled into a dull, joyless throbbing between his temples.
Matt wondered if his father felt the same thing. Before he went to go break someone’s legs, or threaten their children. If he used the anger as a crutch; if it helped him do what he needed to.
Or maybe he enjoyed it. Maybe the whole time Matt had seen his father as a victim of Hell’s kitchen, he had been coveting a dark side Matt’s young mind couldn’t even comprehend. Boxing made sense. Fighting for something made sense. He even understood cheating, understood throwing fights. All those things made sense to Matt, they fit in like satisfying puzzle pieces in the picture of his father. It was a picture he held with him, a portrait of a man who had loved him, cared for him, been stitched up by him with careful fingers.
Working for the mob did not fit in. Not into Matt’s picture.
Matt could now taste salt, and he was consciously aware he must be crying. That was the only explanation for the tightness in his chest, and the wetness on his cheeks. But he wasn’t making any noise. Just sitting there. He wasn’t sure why he would be crying.
His father had lived a double life. One with Matt, and one without him.
He thought of his Daredevil mask. Like father, like son. Perhaps they were more alike than he had thought. The gift of deception could be hereditary.
In one of his father’s lives, he had been a good man. Matt wondered, sitting hunched on the soft floor of the old gym, tasting copper and salt in his mouth, if he had known he was a bad man in the other.
Matt lived two lives. In which of them was he a good man? And in which a bad one? Would he know?
He should call Claire. He could almost sense her in the air, hear the movement of her hair, feel her steady, smooth hands. When it was quiet in the gym, sometimes ghosts of people would flicker in his senses. The sound of a voice, or a fragment of memory alive and dancing.
But Claire was not here, and neither was his father.
He couldn’t ask him why he’d done it, or how he’d kept it secret. He couldn’t summon the smell of cheap whiskey, or aftershave, or the cough medicine he used to force Matt to take when he was sick. It had been ostensibly cherry-flavoured, and disgusting.
Matt stood up.
He couldn’t know why his father had done what he had. But he could make amends. After all, the sins of the father, and all that. He was a good Catholic boy. His father had made sure. He knew what his responsibility was.
Fortunately, Matt also knew exactly where to start making amends. The mob’s record keeper hadn’t just revealed Jack’s dark secrets, but those of a few very powerful men. Tomorrow night, the devil was going to pay them a visit.
Tonight, Matt focused on one, two, three, four. Just like his father had taught him.