We all have a reason for coming here. I’m a bouncer, building up my toolbox. Daisy’s tired of getting hassled on the street. Kurt just wants to be a badass. Charlie’s a delivery driver who’s been robbed a couple of times.
It’s always been a small group. The core of it’s been the same for years–me, Daisy, Kurt, Charlie–but others have come and gone. The four’ve us have been around so long that none of us can remember when he started showing up. Nobody remembered his name for the first few days. Nobody knew quite how he’d found out about our place, either. You have to know somebody, but we never did work out who it was that he knew. We like it that way. There’s a certain kind of person who takes the time and effort to find an underground club. They’re persistent. Likely to stick around.
Of course, he’s got ways of knowing about things like that.
But nobody mentioned it. We know each others’ stories, and we don’t. It’s not a social club. I think that’s why he came to us. He knew we wouldn’t ask a lot of questions.
Why did he go looking for a place at all? He’s rich, he’s connected, I know for a fact he studied with teachers the rest of us will never have even the slightest hope of meeting, never mind learning from. But once I figured out who he was, it was obvious.
You can’t practice for a fight by yourself. That’s what all those movie training montages get wrong. Punching the air doesn’t tell you a thing about how those moves will work in a fight. You might as well sit on your couch and watch Youtube.
I think something happened. He’s cagey about media, you know. I mean for his vigilante activities. His other life, his public life, the more PR, the better.
I think he lost a fight. That’s the sort of thing you don’t hear about. But there was all this chatter about him going up against some crime boss, even videos and photos of the start of the fight, then it moved out of public view and nobody ever heard a thing about the outcome. You’d find something on Google and by the time you clicked the link, it was gone.
It wasn’t long after that he showed up. I mean, I’ve seen him fight. Not in real life, but I’ve watched the videos like everyone else. I’d call his style abrupt. Lots of jerking motions and quick sideways moves. No flow at all, but it seems to work for him.
But when someone’s been in a brawl they’re going to be a bit stiff afterwards, even if they won. And he was moving those first few days like someone had kicked him in the kidneys. That’s why it took us a little while to figure it out. We might not have recognized his face, but we’d have known him by how he moved. Everyone’s a little different there, and his style, well, it’s distinctive.
I remember the moment when I knew.
We were doing a sticking-hands drill. We do it to learn balance and control, and develop sensitivity to an opponent. It can transfer to being able to anticipate an opponent’s moves. Perfect for getting into a lot of fights with adversaries of unknown skill. I could tell it wasn’t his favorite thing to be doing–his patience is situational–but he went along with it. And there was a moment where I felt an opening. Just a little one, but we’re trained to exploit those, to open them up and use them to reach our opponent. So I did that, closing inside his guard and scoring a palm strike to his chest.
His reaction was extraordinary: a surprised grunt, a widening of the eyes, and then a turn to the side that, had I not anticipated it by the barest fraction of a second, would have ended with me flying across the room and into the wall.
I disengaged, with a nod to acknowledge, and went for my water bottle to cover my consternation.
Obviously he hadn’t wanted anyone to know. That’s the whole point of a secret identity, right? I don’t mean his public face, which all of us were careful not to recognize–it’s not like he was the first local celebrity to show up there, though usually they’re professional sports players or show fighters looking to up their game. I mean who he really was, the identity for which the playboy public persona was just a front and a funding source.
Why took me longer to figure out than it should’ve. I thought back to his evident physical pain those first few days, which we all chalked up to unfamiliarity with fighting, or an unpleasant experience with the personal trainer he could no doubt afford, or, mostly likely, getting mugged. Lots of people don’t try out this stuff until after the first time they could have used it.
But then I realized. He’d been beaten in a fight. The goddamned Batman had been beaten in a fight, and he didn’t want that happening again.
I just hope none of his nemeses show up here too.
Though I guess we wouldn’t know it if they did.