It was time. David parked the car a few blocks down. Up ahead, along the lively strip of Ocean Boulevard, the city was abuzz with people. Bright lights flicked on and off from the various windows, attractions, restaurants. The glowing spokes of an enormous Ferris wheel churned slowly through a darkening sky, flashing its neon colors in all directions. Less than an hour till showtime, David thought to himself. The managers were probably beginning to worry. The idea of them gnawing their fingernails amused him. In the thirteen years since that night, as far as fighting had gone, David had remained mostly silent.
That is, up until the past year. In twelve months David had re-entered the underground scene and defeated exactly six challengers. While his mother slept. While the television flashed its lifeless, artificial glow across her worried forehead and the Pavilion cast myriad neon-highlighter hues through the sky, six men had fallen. Only one remained.
Before—ages ago—this district had been foreign to David. By now, though, the new managers all had Lightning on their tongues. They had heard the news. They had witnessed the other fights. It was the same Lightning a Giant had come along and broken a half-generation prior.
The crowd would be buzzing with energy—rabid, restless. Ready for blood. And there, like before, he’d be standing. Hulking, muscled, blonde hair greasy and tied back into a sickly ponytail.
David shook his head. The absurdity of the thought struck him.
Thirteen years. He thought. The chances of Titus looking anywhere near as strong and fit as he had once been were slim to none. David was approaching forty years old, now. Titus had to be somewhere close, if not farther down the line. Time had a way of weathering a fighter unlike any man could. He’s an old prune, David mused, and fumbled in his coat pocket until his fingers felt the cool cellophane of the cigarette pack.
The lights of the boulevard Pavilion reflected off of every hotel window and store-front. They danced, alien and curious, in the wide-eyes of tourists who photographed and wowed and wound their way between the endless circus like bugs on rotting meat. Another thought crossed David’s mind:
I can’t believe I haven’t seen him in that long.
It was true. Since that night, short of reading the news articles much later, after the hospital, David had never seen or heard about Titus Grant again. Like Daisy, he had disappeared. Far off, children were screaming as a fast-moving, pinwheel-looking amusement ride spun faster and faster.
Or it was me that disappeared.
He packed the Newports roughly against his palm. The sound was inaudible in the din of the Pavilion. David looked out across the sea of strangers. The endless faces that never knew him and never would. All around, the vibrant city embraced them. The city that had destroyed his mother, that had nearly killed him. The city that had trapped every chance of a future dimly between the narrow halls of their run-down hotel. Absently, he recognized the dull sensation of the cigarettes against his palm. The continual thumping. He stopped, lowering his arms limply. He slowed his pace. He stopped walking. All around the city was alive.
They might as well be ghosts. David considered. They might as well never know a thing. And, as he imagined their weightlessness—their pallor and their unreality—the cigarettes grew heavier and heavier in his hand. He looked down at the sparkling sidewalk.
The city is alive, and I am dead. He thought. For a moment, his mind lingered on the notion. On the possibility that perhaps, maybe, he had never escaped the arena that night. That no hospital was able to save him from the Giant’s crushing blows. Then he heard it. It was quiet at first—barely noticeable above the carnival noise of the seaside town. But it grew louder and louder until it drowned out the whole ocean of sound and light and faces that surrounded him.
It was his heartbeat.
Solid and heavy. Hard and strong.
I’m ready. He thought, likening the rhythm to a war drum. Thirty minutes. He considered. Time for a smoke.
“For fuck’s sake, Titus, did you kill him?” Daisy said in a screech.
The huge man in front of her seemed to shrink with her scolding.
“No, he lived. They took him to North Shore Emergency. That’s what Dan said.” he said in a grumble, his voice wavering slightly. “I didn’t know it would cause that much damage,” he muttered pitifully. “He just wouldn’t fall down.”
Daisy’s eyes narrowed. “Was that something else Dan told you?” She said in a voice like a razor blade. “He’s a pathetic excuse for a manager.”
The Giant Titus said nothing for a time. Daisy smoked a long cigarette with renewed vigor, averting her sparkling eyes from the huge man who kept growing smaller in front of her.
“He’s alive.” Titus finally managed. “He’ll live. And we can do what we want.” He added. Daisy didn’t look at him. She sucked down long drags of nicotine.
“You should quit that smoking, too.” Titus added. Daisy snapped her eyes back to the deep creases of The Giant’s face. Scowling.
“Advice from a murderer?” She said, coldly. Titus set his jaw. “I’m out on a limb here, with you. It’s enough that Kay will feel my knife in her back from now till kingdom come, but if her fucking kid dies…oh Jesus, it was just a little lead. It was supposed to add some extra strength to your punches, not become the equivalent of a cinder block! You didn’t have to smash him up like glass, Titus.”
“I’m not a murderer.” He said in a voice of granite. “He’s alive. And you need to quit that stupid fucking habit before you start showing.” His voice rumbled out like a great earthquake. He stretched a broad hand, palm-first and opened wide, to Daisy’s stomach. “If Kay notices you’re pregnant…” He started to say. She exhaled a puff of smoke, her scowl dropping uselessly from her face.
“She won’t. I won’t be showing for weeks yet. Plenty of time. Besides, she won’t see me again.” Her eyes sparkled dangerously in the hallway. She inhaled a few long breaths. “He’s not dead?” She said, sounding more like a young girl than a grown woman.
“No.” Titus was solid.
“Good,” Daisy said, exhaling in a dainty sigh. “Because if he dies, I’ll kill you next. With my own lead-weighted gloves. I only agreed to this method because it was short and sweet,” she added. “Not because I wanted it to be lethal.”
Titus brushed a massive hand through his blonde hair. “I know, I know.” He said softly, reaching down to stroke her rosy cheek. “I stopped as soon as I knew it was over.”
Daisy took another long drag, hanging her head. Time passed infinitely in this way. It was just the two of them. Finally, she lifted her gaze back up, looking Titus squarely in the eye.
“What if he comes back?” She said. Her voice wavered. “What if he comes back and tries to square the whole deal? What if Kay finds out?” She was a nervous wreck. After all, the fight hadn’t left Titus Grant without a few cuts and bruises of his own. “The Lightning” had certainly left a mark.
“What if?” Titus said. “I don’t think he will,” he concluded.
“What if?” Daisy mimed, dropping her cigarette on the cold floor. “What if he comes to try?” She held her small, pale hand over her stomach. Titus winced, feeling the lead weight of all that they had wagered. Knowing that Daisy had sacrificed a friendship for him. For their child.
He’d met Daisy when they were young. They had been friends, then confidants, then lovers. Later, when she was older, she would take time off from her factory job out of town to visit. One day, the little pink lines on a pregnancy test had determined their necessary future. Carefully, slowly, they came up with a plan.
The sun had beamed down on them as they strolled the pier, when Daisy suggested that Titus quit fighting. That they leave town together and never look back. Titus merely smiled his broad, beastly grin at her.
“The bookies would have me hunted down, beautiful.” He’d told her. “After they got through with you, that is.” His grin failed him. Daisy looked as if she might faint. The Giant had wrapped her in his massive arms, holding her steady in the salty air. “Come on,” he told her, cheerfully. “Let’s go get some ice cream. Baby’s gotta eat.” Daisy’s dimples appeared, and she smiled back at him. They kissed and walked on toward the little straw hut where teenagers sold frozen treats from sun-up to sun-down.
But now, there was only this dark moment in the empty hallway. Only the question of what might become of David Wymond.
“Then we take care of him,” Titus said, standing like a mountain in the shadows. Somewhere David was laying in limbo on a hospital bed. “Once and for all.”
Daisy’s eyes grew wider with worry. Titus stroked her cheek—ran his finger through a few strands of her shining hair. “If not, it will have all been for nothing, beautiful. We can’t chance him knowing anything about us. He could expose us, destroy our family. Right now he’s got a chance.” He said softly. “But if he doesn’t take it for what its worth. If he comes back…” The darkness of their solitude was wrapping around them like a great, constricting snake. “Then it’s the only way.”