Bomber Run

“Why did you duck the fight, Jason?” I felt tired. And old. “You’ve never turned down a match for as long as we’ve known each other.”

“You’ve seen the videos of The Killer’s fights, yeah?”

“Yes,” Alex replied when I remained silent.

“Well, have you seen any footage of his opponent’s fights after they lost to him?”

“What are you trying to say?” I rubbed my temples and kept my eyes closed.

“They’re ruined. Total shells of the fighters they used to be. Those that ever boxed again, that is.”

“What do you mean?” Alex asked, his voice as flat as the floor.

“Five of the guys he knocked out never fought again.” I opened my eyes and looked up to find Jason staring at me. “Three couldn’t get medical clearance, one didn’t even try, and the other one... just couldn’t.”

“Just couldn’t?” I repeated without blinking.

“His name is Barrett Webster. You can look him up if you want to – last I heard he’s still in Victoria. He’d never been knocked down before, forget getting his lights turned off. So he took some time off after his loss to Kofi before hitting the gym again.” Jason paused for the distribution of our drinks. The waitress, sensing the mood of the table, vanished without a word and Bomber continued on.

“The first time he sparred he didn’t throw a punch – he was too busy protecting his head. The second time his coach managed to get him to open up a bit and the first jab he took dropped him to the canvas. The guy went from having a granite chin to being as brittle as Tommy.”

“You’re exaggerating,” I said but my heart wasn’t in it.

“He hung up his gloves the next day." He placed his elbows on the table and leaned toward me. "I got nothing else, Nate. Boxing is my life, my only road to success. I don’t have a backup plan. There’s no way I’m putting my livelihood on the line for one paycheck.”

“Bomber, I’m sure you would—“

“The Killer doesn’t just finish fights,” he cut in. “He finishes careers.”

This was not what I wanted to hear the night before the fight. This was not what I wanted to hear ever, for that matter.

Silence fell at the table until the waitress returned with our food. She mutely offered fresh pepper before making herself scarce again. I picked up my fork and stabbed a grape tomato with excessive force before bringing it to my mouth. As I did so I met Alex’s gaze for the first time since Bomber had begun his tale.

I was surprised by what I saw, though by then I suppose I shouldn’t have been. There was no fear, no intimidation, no anger. There was simply confidence, with no trace of arrogance.

“Well then,” he said as he cut his lettuce into perfect squares, “I think it might be time for him to get a taste of his own medicine. That is the phrase, is it not?”

“Yeah man, that’s the one.” Bomber glanced at me before turning to look at Alex. “I’m sorry for not telling you sooner. If it makes any difference, I think you stand a much better chance than I would. Having Nate in your corner will only improve your odds. You’re lucky to have him.”

Alex smiled and I nodded my thanks and we dug into our meals without further ado. By the time we’d emptied our plates conversation was still stilted but was on the uncertain path back to normal. I excused myself to use the washroom, intercepting and paying the bill on the way there.

“Alright, you kids ready to hit the road?” I asked when I got back to our table.

“Still waiting for the... oh you sneaky old bastard!”

“Pay close enough attention and you might learn a thing or two, Bomber. Let’s go.”

Traffic was light leaving the city and it wasn’t long before we were speeding along the winding highway toward the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay. Alex sat up front and I was in the back, fussing with my hand, while the stereo blared music from a band I didn’t recognize. There was a bit too much screaming being done on lead vocals for my taste, so I didn’t bother asking who it was.

My eyes traced the outlines of the palatial homes jutting from the cliffs below us, buildings I had no desire to ever set foot in. People with too much money and not enough ways to spend it make me uncomfortable. But my thoughts were still back at the lunch table, my ears still hearing the hint of fear in Jason’s words when he spoke of Alex’s opponent. My hand ached and my head throbbed and my heartbeat felt strained.

Jason pulled the car into the parking lot by the ticket booth for walk-on passengers and we all climbed out. Overhead the sun was fighting a losing battle with the clouds and seagulls scouted in wide circles for unprotected garbage. The air was cold enough to see my first breath after exiting the warm confines of the car but the rest that followed were invisible. I breathed in the salty air and forced my doubts to the side.

“Thanks for the ride, Bomber,” I said with a nod. Alex retrieved his bag from the trunk before passing me mine. I slung it over my shoulder and checked to make sure my pills hadn’t fallen out during the trip.

“No problem boys – you have a ride waiting for you on the other side?”

“Yeah, Gregor offered to pick us up. I guess he had to do some business in Nanaimo anyway.”

It would have been more direct to take the southern ferry in Tsawwassen straight to Victoria but traffic would have been a nightmare going through both Vancouver and Richmond. So we took advantage of the Palace’s position on the northern edge of the city and opted for a longer drive on the Island.

Doc was planning on catching the first sailing the following morning and meeting us at our hotel for lunch. I would have done the same but I never liked travelling on the day of the fight and I wanted to show Alex around Vic a little bit as well.

“Alright. Tell that prick I said hello and I hope you survive the drive to Victoria.” Bomber gave me a wink before turning to Alex. It had been at least two years since I’d last caught a ride with Gregor and I wasn’t certain that my stomach had recovered yet. “And good luck, man. Do the boys proud and give that jerk the beating I never could.”

“Thank you Jason, for all your help with my training. And do not worry,” he said as he placed a hand on Jason’s shoulder, “what you told me changes nothing. I will win this fight. I must win this fight. That is all that matters.”

Bomber just nodded and slapped him on the arm before retreating to his car and bringing her rumbling back to life. He didn't ask us to keep his fear a secret and he didn't have to. Alex and I waved goodbye before joining the short, fast moving line at the booth.

“Two tickets to Nanaimo, please.”

“Here you are; follow the line to waiting room two. Conditions are good today so the sailing should be departing right on time.”

“Glad to hear it,” I said as I took our boarding passes and handed one to Alex. Seeing his frown I smiled and said, “If you win you can pay for the trip back.”

“When I win,” he replied, all business.

“Exactly.”

As we made the long walk to our assigned waiting room I wondered where his deep well of confidence sprung from and whether I might be able to steal a bucket or two for myself.

Because, right at that moment, as I reached for my bottle of painkillers, mine was just about dry.

The End

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