The first man was a big man. Not particularly tall, but broad at the shoulders, well built and heavily muscled. The other was very much the opposite. He was not imposing. In fact, he was very old, seemed shrunken, and quite frail. But there was life in his eyes, and he stared the younger man down as though a child.
They stared at each other for hours, without a word between them. Then 'lights out' came, and they spent the better part of the night staring. It seemed that the will of the younger man was beginning to crack. He yawned, rolled over, and went to sleep.
Morning came. The usual prison routine went by--calisthenics, breakfast in the mess hall, and time outside. Then lunch, then back to the cell. Back to the staring contest. Now routine.
Finally it had to come to an end. Days? Weeks? The bigger man wasn't sure. But the older man was nowhere near budging, and he was losing the will to carry on the game.
He looked down at the floor. "I give, old man. You win." He paused, but the old man did not answer, apparently unsatisfied. The bigger man let out a long breath. "What will you have as your prize?"
The old man cracked a smile. "The only thing you have to give. Your story."
Tommy winced. The old man knew that was something he didn't want to give up.
What? You know I didn't do that? You're wrong. I did. Well. Okay, he wasn't a geezer when I cracked his skull, that's the thing. He was a puffy faced, squeaky voiced sorcerer.
What's that you say? You don't believe in sorcery? That's okay. I didn't either. Back in the day. That's funny--the day wasn't even that long ago. The day was just about six months ago. I was a fighter in the tournaments. One of the triads, The White Dove Society, holds them. They put together the fights, among other things. Many other things. There's a tournament every six months, and they make a killing on the side bet. They get guys like me to do the fighting. Yea, bare fisted, no rules. We try not to kill each other in there. I mean, once you get a rep as a killer, they're going to be out to take you down. But the killers also bring in all the money, so we're quietly encouraged to do it.
I won two tournaments in a row. Yea, I had some money. Not as much as you might think, but I got a little bit. Enough to pay the rent on my place for a few years, at least. And keep my sister in nice clothes and out of the whore houses. So it wasn't all bad. What's a broken rib or two every now and then?
So. My story. I was walking home after work one night--yea, I worked nights as a bouncer at one of the clubs. White Dove Society, yea, that's their club. Pays well, keeps me close to them, and it's an easy job. I was walking home. It's only a few blocks, but once you get off the main street it gets pretty dark. I was walking, and I heard this woman scream.
I'm a sucker for that. Really. I didn't waste any time. I don't think I even thought about it. I heard her and I ran to find her. It only took a minute. I saw two guys half-dressed and the girl on the cold, wet concrete, held down in a puddle. One guy was trying to pull her legs open. She was struggling pretty hard and they were having to work, so they didn't see me. I grabbed the first thing I found and I hit the first guy so hard it collapsed his jaw.
The second guy didn't wait around to see what would happen and he tore off. I thought about chasing him, but she was bleeding pretty bad. I did what I could to stop it, and then I called the cops. They sent an ambulance out. I stayed with her until I heard the sirens, and then I took off. Guys like me don't want to answer a lot of questions from the cops.
No, that wasn't the geezer. That guy, he was just a mook. Except he turned out to be a mook that was a member of, are you ahead of me on this one? Yea, the White Dove Society. Just my luck.
Not surprisingly, I got a visit. A big black guy, almost my size, and a weasely little guy. I guess the nephew of the Boss, out doing the dirty work. He said I was lucky, I was too valuable to just kill. But I took one of his men out of commission, there would be repercussions. They wanted me to pay. And pay the kind of money I don't make ring fighting. And they know where my sister lives.
That's when the real surprise came. The second visitor was somebody I didn't recognize. He was relatively plain looking, with long hair in a pony tail. Casually dressed. Asked if he could come in, very politely. Said it was important, I wouldn't regret talking to him.
I shrugged. One guy, nothing to worry about. Didn't look armed. I opened the door and let him in. He casually glanced about, assessing me and my place all at once.
"That was a very brave thing you did, last night, helping that girl."
I shrugged. "Brave. But very stupid."
He nodded. "Only the foolhardy would have done such a thing. But that's the sort of thing that makes heroes. Do you know who it was you beat up?"
"Yea. Chin Bu Mai. Big fish in a small pond. I hear he won't be talking for awhile. Maybe ever. Why do you care?"
"I care because true heroes--real heroes are rare. Heroes that will do the right thing without worrying about the consequences. Heroes like yourself."
I snorted. "I'm no hero."
"You remind me a lot of Mad Dog. He didn't think he was a hero, either."
I paused. That one got me. "Mad Dog? Mad Dog McCroun?"
"Yes. You know him?"
"I saw him fight a time or two. He was one of the best. Everybody knows him. Or knew him. Nobody knows what happened to him."
A shadow passed over the guy's face, then. "I know what happened to him. He was a hero. One of the best."
I looked at him. "He's gone, then. Really gone." He nodded. "Who are you? How do you know what happened to Mad Dog?"
"My name is Zheng Yi-Quan. I am a member of an organization that is in need of heroes. Heroes like Mad Dog. Heroes such as yourself. There are a great many things we can teach you. And you could do a great service for humanity."
Don't think I was buying this guy for a minute. Mind you, that was my mistake, but you have to admit, it didn't sound very convincing just then. But...well. You'll see.
"Not convinced, I see. I could show you."
"Show me what? Show me how to be a hero? What could you possibly have to teach me?"
"That," he said, "is very simple. Simpler than I thought you would ask of me. Strike me. As hard as you can."
I'm not particularly fast--but I'm not slow either. And it's hard to resist a challenge, and I admit I was not in the best of moods when he pulled this on me. So I hit him. Or rather, I tried to. What really happened is that I never touched him, and he put me on the ground before I saw him move. Until then, I'd never seen anyone do anything like that outside of the movies.
He stretched out a hand in offer to help me up. I took it. "Now you see that I have something to teach you. Now all that remains is to see that you are, indeed, a hero. A hero, I might add, in a very large amount of trouble. An amount of trouble that I just might be able to help you with."
And all I could think was, "Now you tell me."
Yes, all that stuff about heroes was true. I spent some time at Zheng-sifu's dojo, learning some of his art. He taught me all about Feng Shui, and what it really means. How to use Feng Shui to change the world. One angle at a time. But most importantly, he taught me how to fight against evil. And evil turns out to be easy to find.
A couple months ago, I got a call. Zheng-sifu said to hurry, and be ready for a fight. Something big was going down. He gave me an address and said to be there in fifteen. I had just enough time to grab a weapon. My baseball bat. Not just any bat mind you, but...really, my one prized possession. A Louisville Slugger. But not just any slugger. In 1934, Babe Ruth hit a home run with this bat. It was pure luck that I got it. But what a find. And here I grabbed it to use as a common weapon.
I ran down to the address Zheng-sifu gave me. And I mean ran--I wouldn't have made it otherwise, and guys like me don't own cars. I got there, and Zheng-sifu and two other guys wearing red headbands were there with him, waiting on the corner.
When I sprinted up to him, he said, "Ready to be a hero, Tommy?" I rolled my eyes. He grinned. "In this building are three sorcerers. Don't underestimate them."
"Sorcerers? Get outta town."
"Believe it. They're here to meet with someone high in the Hong Kong government. We need to find out what they're doing and stop it." He paused. "And there he is." As Zheng-sifu was speaking, a black sedan drove up. Four men, all wearing suits, got out and went into the building.
Zheng-sifu looked impressed. "That was Wu Ming-liang, one of the mayor's advisors. This is bigger than I thought. I don't like this. I don't like this at all." He paused again. "Let's go."
I'm not sure why I followed him. I mean, right in the front door? Wouldn't you think there's a better way to do these things? But in we went and up the stairs. Zheng-sifu seemed to have a pretty good idea where they went, because he zeroed in on a particular door very quickly. And I should have expected what came next. "Break it down," he whispered.
One steel-toed boot and several wood splinters later, we were pushing our way into the room. Six very surprised looking men greeted us. one who did not look so surprised greeted us as well--with gunfire. Zheng-sifu, however, ignored the gunfire (and I swear he took a hit, but didn't seem at all slowed down) and kicked the shooter square in the chest. The gunman went down and did not get up.
The others quickly overcame their surprise. Wu Ming-liang stepped forward with the stereotypical "What is the meaning of this! This is an outrage!" His two remaining suits pulled guns. The other three men, also wearing suits, didn't pull guns. Instead they started glowing.
Zheng-sifu shouted to me, "We need Wu alive! Do what you can with the rest!" I was already moving though. I didn't like that glowy look, and I was so right. All three of them started shooting lightning out of their eyes at Zheng-sifu. He did a great job of leaping about avoiding it, giving me all the time I needed to get in their faces. Babe Ruth be proud! Two of them crumpled to the floor beneath the fury of the Louisville Slugger, but the third one disappeared on me. From behind, I heard gunfire, and then two more thuds as my red headband friends took down the shooters.
Then I felt the lightning hit me from behind. Oh that smarted. I dove, and the rest of the bolt went into the wall, sending shivers of wood and brick everywhere. But Zheng-sifu was on top of things. I looked up and all I saw was a whirlwind of fist and foot, and the third sorcerer went down.
Wu tried to run, but his only exit was blocked. Zheng-sifu caught him in the corner. Wu fell into a corner and quit making sense, half-babbling and half-crying. Zheng-sifu went around restraining the fallen, righting a chair and tying one of the sorcerers into it.
Zheng-sifu explained to the rest of us, "I think Wu Ming-liang is under some kind of spell. And I think one of these guys is behind it. We're going to have to work them for information. You ok with that, Tommy?"
I nodded. I was pretending not to be freaked out, but these guys were shooting lightning! That ain't right!
Zheng-sifu tossed a glass of water in Lightning Boy's face. "Wake up. I need a word with you." He looked at me. "If he starts chanting, hit him. Try not to break his jaw, though." I grunted.
"Hey! Wake up, eunuch!" Slowly the guy's eyes opened. His face was all puffy, like a young child's, but he obviously wasn't a young child. He was balding and had a big bruise on his temple where the bat had taken him down, and blood was in his eye on that side. It was going to swell shut soon, probably.
"Ah, there you are. What's your name, eunuch?" He spat on Zheng-sifu. I smacked him.
"Wrong answer. Try that again. What's your name, eunuch?" He opened his mouth to say something--I don't know what it was, though. It was interrupted by the sound of a window crashing. I looked over just in time to see a figure disappearing through the window.
"Shit! Tommy, get him! Don't let him get away!"
Apparently, I fit Zheng-sifu's definition of a hero perfectly. What do you think I did? Yea, I jumped through the window. Did I mention we were on the third floor? About the time my feet left the safety of the carpet, I realized what I'd done. I also got a good look at him. He didn't jump through the window. I swear, he flew. His arms were out and he touched the ground gently. And he had time to turn around and throw a ball of some kind of energy at me just as I hit the ground.
I'm not sure how long the chase went on. I'm fast, but he wasn't following the rules. I had to turn corners and go around hedges. He'd just go up and over. But I did finally catch up to him. And when I did, I clobbered him so hard that he wasn't going to be doing any more of that flying shit.
Unfortunately, I'd failed to notice a few things. The first is that while he was running, he'd been somehow changing clothes. The second is that while he'd been running, he'd somehow changed his face. The guy looking up at me had the same puffy features, but this guy had thin white hair, a long beard, and was wearing, of all things, a Hawaiian shirt.
The last thing I'd failed to notice is that he'd led me right to a police station. While I was busy looking down trying to figure out if I'd got the right guy, four guys dressed in olive green pulled out their guns. Yea, you know the drill. Police. Don't move. You're under arrest.
They gave me two years for assault. After the trial that guy disappeared. Zheng Yi-Quan said he can't get me out, and he's sorry about that. Chin Bu Mai, on the other hand, says he might be able to. For a price. I don't know which is worse. The price or sitting in here, talking to you.
"Dragons, hm? I know something about dragons. And Mad Dog. Oh yes. Dragons." He laughed, a dry, sort of cackling sound which reverberated off the cold stone walls.
The younger man looked at him, and his eyes narrowed. "What do you know about dragons, old man?"
His only reply was a quiet, calm stare. The younger man sighed with resignation and returned it. How many weeks would he have to keep this up, he wondered. And did he have enough time in this cell to actually win?
"You know it."