“Are you sure you saw them, Erik?”
I closed my eyes. “I suppose it’s possible it was my imagination,” I said slowly, but then my eyes snapped opened, and I could feel the fury rising in me once again. “It wasn’t, Doctor Clark! She was there, I know it! She called to me, and he took her from me again!” I leaped to my feet and started pacing the room, my hands in fists. “I swear to you, Doctor, if I see him again, I will kill him!”
“Erik, don’t say that. You don’t mean it.”
My back was to him as he said this, and the words stopped my pacing. I slowly turned and faced him. From his reaction, I was glad I couldn’t see my face, for his eyes went wide, and he sucked in a breath through his teeth.
“Don’t you dare tell me what I mean and what I don’t.” The growl that came from me was visceral and savage, but it felt good, and I had no desire to stop. “You have absolutely no idea what it’s like!” I gestured around me at the luxurious room. “Unless you found buried treasure, I’m going to assume all this was from your family.” The doctor’s eyebrows went up, and I nodded. “I’ve thought about it a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion that you grew up with a lot of money. Don’t think I didn’t notice the name of this hotel. Tell me, did you build it, or was it your father?”
“My grandfather, actually.”
The doctor’s soft tone only fueled the rage in me. “So, your family hasn’t had to worry about where their next meal was coming from for what…three generations, four, five?”
“Do you really want the answer to that, Erik?”
“No, I don’t! My point is that you will never understand me! My mother was the only thing I ever had in my life that was mine, and that bastard stole her from me! Twice!” I gritted my teeth, and my next words were deathly quiet. “I will kill him, Doctor, and I will enjoy every second of it.”
Turning my back on him, I stalked to the floor-length windows and flung them open. The balcony beckoned me, and I moved into the clear night air and rested my elbows on the railing before fisting my hands in my hair. I tried to take deep breaths and calm down, but it was useless. The mere thought of what I had lost kept me seething.
I didn’t know how much time passed before I felt the doctor’s hand on my shoulder. I didn’t want to be comforted, and I didn’t want to be touched, so I once again shrugged him off. He didn’t chastise me this time, but I heard him take a deep breath.
“Erik, what are you thinking right now?”
“You really don’t want to know, Doctor.”
“Yes, I do.” He moved to the railing, and I could see him out of the corner of my eye as he turned and leaned back against it.
I slowly turned my head and stared at him. “Fine. I was thinking that I really want to hit someone. I’d really like it to be my father, but at this point, I’d take just about anyone.”
He nodded as if this was not news to him. “Come on, then.”
“Come with me. You need to work out this anger, or it will destroy you.”
I was confused, but I followed him as he walked back into the suite. For a second, I thought he was going to let me hit him, but he didn’t stop. I followed him out the door and down the hallway.
“Where are we going?’ I asked as we got into the elevator.
“Somewhere you can hit something safely,” he answered cryptically, and I frowned at him, thinking he was making fun of me. “I’m serious,” he said, seeing my look, and then nothing more was said as we reached the lobby. We exited the hotel, and John appeared as if from thin air.
“Need your car, Doctor Clark?”
“Yes, John, thank you.”
The young man nodded and scurried away. When he drove the car to the front of the hotel, I just stood there as the doctor moved to his door.
“Are you coming, Erik?”
My frown deepened, but I slowly got in the car. As we drove away, I stared out the side window and refused to say anything, no matter how many times the doctor tried to talk to me. Finally, with a loud sigh, he stopped the car.
“We’re here,” he said, and I got out and looked around. We were in front of a red brick building, and there were four men lounging outside of a single, metal door. They were dressed in shirtsleeves and long pants, and when the doctor rounded the car, the largest of them gave a shout.
“Henry Clark!” The man strode toward us with a huge grin on his face, and my eyes went wide when I saw that he towered over the doctor and myself by a good six inches. “Good to see you! It’s been far too long since you left that pissant little town of yours to grace us with your presence.” He stuck his hand out, and the doctor shook it heartily, but he didn’t smile back.
“Good to see you, too, Hamish.” He looked at me and gestured. “This is Erik Taylor. Erik, this is Mr. Duncan.”
“Nice to meet you, Erik,” the man said, extending his hand to me.
I took it without speaking, and the doctor frowned even more. Mr. Duncan’s eyebrows rose, but he simply shook my hand.
“So, what brings you here, Henry?” he asked, dropping my hand and turning to the doctor. “Want to go a few rounds?”
The tall man’s eyebrows impossibly rose even higher, and he glanced at me.
“Him? With who?”
“Not who. What.”
“Ah.” He turned to me fully and looked me up and down. I couldn’t read anything in his gaze, and after staring me in the eye for a long moment, he said, “I guess we can do that.”
“I need to talk to you first.”
Mr. Duncan nodded. He took Doctor Clark’s arm and walked a distance down the sidewalk and then bent his head to speak. They were far enough away that I couldn’t hear their words, but the doctor’s gestures told me that he was telling the taller man why we were there.
I took that time to look around me. The street was clean, but there were few people around. The three men at the door were all staring at me. Taking the time to really study them, I noticed that they all had enormous, muscular arms and torsos. None of them was shorter than me, and one was almost as tall as Mr. Duncan. My first inclination was to hide my face, but they didn’t seem the least bit bothered by my scar, and I returned their stares with what I hoped was detachment.
“So, boy,” one of them said, “ever fought before?”
“No,” I answered.
“Then why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” I said honestly.
The man who spoke laughed mockingly. It reminded me of my father and his constant insults, and the festering rage inside of me overcame the little control I’d managed to hold onto. I clenched my fists, took one step closer to the man, and snarled, “Stop laughing at me.”
Surprise at my cold tone caused the man’s eyes to widen, and he opened his mouth just as I heard the doctor’s voice behind me.
“Control yourself, Erik!”
I spun around and fixed my glare on the doctor. I was about to spew my venom on him, but he held up one finger.
“Don’t say something you’ll regret later. Let me explain.” I didn’t move, and he continued. “Mr. Duncan is a boxer. All of these men are, as I was at one time. You need to deal with your anger, and he’s going to help you. I promise that nothing and no one will hurt you.” He looked at me intently and then took my upper arm and led me away from the men. “Will you do this, Erik? Not for me, but for you.”
I didn’t know what to say. For a moment, I simply stood there and attempted to rein in my emotions, but they were primal and overwhelming, and I couldn’t do it. Fear of being around these men was warring with my fury, and together, they were threatening to completely unravel the loose ball of control I had tried to wrap myself in.
“Please, Erik, trust me. You will not get hurt.” The last words were said emphatically, and they created a tiny breach in the violent storm surrounding me.
Through that breach came one thought: Doctor Clark had never lied to me. I desperately held onto that thought as I would a lifeline, and I slowly nodded.
“Good,” the doctor breathed with a small smile. “Come on then, let’s go inside.”
He took my shoulder and turned me toward the building. The men were nowhere to be seen, but I couldn’t focus on that. Terror was bubbling up inside of me at the thought of being with these men who obviously knew how to fight, and as Doctor Clark opened the door, my steps faltered. I was disgusted with myself for being scared, but I couldn’t help it. An arm encircled my shoulders, and I was propelled forward against my will.
“Trust me,” the doctor whispered, and my feet began to move again.
Once inside, I immediately noticed the smell of sweat and leather. In the center of the room was a raised square surrounded by ropes held up by corner posts, and Mr. Duncan was standing next to it, leaning back with his elbows on the elevated floor. The other men were relaxing next to him, and when we walked in, all four heads swiveled in our direction. Mr. Duncan stood up straight, and I was once again awed by his height. I thought my father was large, but, as I took a good look at the man before me, I saw that even the tormenter of my childhood would seem small next to him.
“So, Henry, are we doing this?”
I nodded slowly, even though I was not exactly sure what “this” was. Mr. Duncan only shrugged, though, and he immediately took off his shirt. My eyes bulged at the sight of his muscles, and I flicked a fearful glance at the doctor. Before I could say anything, I was led to the shirtless man before me. He leaned close to me.
“Listen, son,” he said kindly, “I need you to understand something if you’re going to stay safe. You must do what I tell you so you don’t get hurt, got it?” I simply nodded. “Good. Doctor Clark has explained a little of what’s going on with you, and I have to say that I understand your need to hit something.” He cocked his head and smiled. “If you turn out to be better than I expect, maybe I’ll try you out in the ring, but for now we’ll confine you to the bag.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, and he must have sensed it. He gestured to his left, and I looked. Hanging from the ceiling was a large, brown, cylindrical bag with the word Everlast on it.
The terror had receded with his words, and that let the anger flow. I gritted my teeth and said, “I’m ready.”
He crooked his finger at the man who had spoken to me outside, and the latter brought over a set of large gloves.
“Strip your shirt off, Erik, and take off your shoes and socks,” Mr. Duncan said, and I did as he said almost automatically. I was actually beginning to get excited at the idea of hitting something for the first time. After I removed my undershirt, though, I suddenly felt very self-conscious. While my bruises had vanished, I knew my body was nowhere near as well-developed as that of the smallest of these men. Nevertheless, before I could say anything, my hand was grabbed, and Mr. Duncan slid on one of the gloves. I watched silently as he tightened the laces and then repeated the process with my other hand.
The gloves were heavy, and I raised them up to my face, testing their weight. I clenched my fists and envisioned driving one of them into my father’s face. The thought made me smile.
Doctor Clark stepped behind the bag and held it steady. “Come on, Erik; let’s go.” I glanced at him and then moved close to the bag.
I flinched as Mr. Duncan stepped behind me and took my wrists in his hands, but I stifled the fear and stared at the bag.
“Okay, son, listen. When you punch, you’ve got to keep your wrist straight, or you could break it, understand?”
“Good. Now, there are a few basic punches…straight, hook, and uppercut.” As he said each punch, he moved my hands to show me the proper way to execute it. “Feel free to use them all.”
“Go ahead, Erik,” the doctor said, “hit the bag.”
I glanced at him and then snapped my eyes back to the leather in front of me. I gave a half-hearted swing at it. The men surrounding the platform laughed, and the sound boiled my blood. When one of them hollered out, “That was pathetic, boy; you can do better than that,” my control snapped. The words were too close to what my father had always said to me, and my vision narrowed to the bag in front of me. I swung my fist as hard as I could, and I gasped in surprise as it made contact with the bag with a resounding smack, while at the same time I took great pleasure in the primitive rush of power it gave me.
“That’s better, boy! Do it again!”
The same voice came to my ears, and I swiveled my head toward it.
“Don’t call me ‘boy’,” I growled, and then I turned to the bag and began hitting it with a vengeance. I imagined that it was my father that I was hitting, and everything around me disappeared. All I was aware of was the pounding of my blood in my ears, the sensation of my knuckles crashing into the leather, and the intense satisfaction I felt each time I made contact. Eventually, the machine gun rapidity of my strikes ended as my body betrayed my mind’s desire to do severe violence to the bag. I tried to keep swinging, but my hands began to felt heavier with every punch, and my arms suddenly fell to my sides. I was panting heavily, and my legs didn’t seem to want to hold up my weight any longer. My vision began to darken at the edges, and I felt hands underneath my arms.
“Whoa, son, take it easy.”
Mr. Duncan’s voice sounded as if it was coming from a great distance, and for a moment, I was aware of nothing beyond the extreme exhaustion that had abruptly swept over me. The tall man led me to a chair and sat me down. My eyes closed as he removed the gloves from my hands, and I only dragged them open when I heard the doctor.
“Erik, are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” I could only whisper as I tried to catch my breath, but the worry on his face disappeared.
“I…” Swallowing against my dry throat, I grimaced. “I’m too tired to be angry.”
The snort that came from Mr. Duncan startled me, and I slowly turned my head to glare at him.
His eyes narrowed, and he took a deep breath. “Don’t be mad, Erik; I’m not making fun of you.”
“No. I was just thinking about what Daniel said while you were killing the bag.”
“The man who called you ‘boy’ earlier. Just before he left, he said that he’d hate to be whoever it was you were thinking about. He said that if your body held out long enough, you’d could easily beat someone to death. I was just thinking that you definitely held out long enough for that to have happened.”
I frowned as I looked around and saw that, other than the three of us, the room was empty. I thought about what Mr. Duncan had just said. I didn’t know if it was a good or a bad thing that I could kill my father with my bare hands. Part of me said that I could never do that, but another part got a sadistic thrill from the idea. The doctor obviously thought it was a bad thing, for when he cleared his throat, I turned to him and saw disapproval etched in every line of his face. He, too, glared at Mr. Duncan for a moment and then spoke to me.
“Do you think you can make it to the car?”
My body was aching all over, but I didn’t want to seem weak, so I nodded. He helped me dress, and he kept his hand on my arm as I stood. My legs still felt as if they would buckle at any time, but I forced myself to walk next to him to the door. When we got there, Mr. Duncan put his hand on my shoulder, and I glanced at him.
“Feel free to come in any time, Erik,” he said with a small smile. “You could make one hell of a fighter with the proper training.”
“Thank you, Mr. Duncan, I’ll remember that,” I answered, and then we were outside on the sidewalk. It surprised me to see that darkness had fallen. When we were on the way back to the hotel, I asked, “How long were we there, Doctor?”
“Almost two hours. You must be exhausted.”
“I am.” Taking a deep breath, the corner of my mouth twitched upward. “It’s a good tired, though.”Neither of us said anything more, and it didn’t take long before we were back in our suite where I took a quick shower and collapsed into bed.