Officer Jones opened the door of the interrogation room and beckoned to me with his left hand. “C’mon you’re free to go now. Thank you for cooperating as a witness.”
I pushed my chair back and stood up, then walked to the door. “Glad I could help. Hopefully that sidewalk café that Mrs. Rhiner mentioned was nearby has some good food.”
A grunt from Officer Jones. “Food’s OK for a greasy spoon, I’ve heard, but strong coffee and decent doughnuts is all it really needs to attract the folks that work nearby.”
I laughed, and he smiled. “Fair enough, I could use some good coffee and a bite to eat.”
“I said strong coffee, not good coffee.”
“Is there really a difference?”
“You sure you aren’t an undercover cop?”
As we approached the door I watched as Officer Jones’ face got a bit tighter, and his whole body got a bit less relaxed.
“Mind me asking where you served?”
“Don’t mind you asking, as long as you don’t poke for details. Afghanistan. Served three tours there. Don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk on a road again without being keyed up and expecting trouble.” He set his jaw.
“I see. I won’t ask any more.”
He cut his eyes at me, waiting. Obviously expecting me to say something else about Afghanistan or how hard war is on people.
“I said I won’t ask any more, and I meant it. What would you suggest I order at this place?”
He relaxed a bit. “I always bring my own lunch. All I get there is the kerosene, err, coffee.” He turned to one of the officers near the door at a desk. “Keplin, what does the Cop Stop sell for food that isn’t likely to hurt someone without an immunity built up over a few years?”
“Ham sandwich is good”, he said to some chuckling from around the room and a couple more suggestions.
“Seasoned fries ain’t bad.”
“Hey, I actually like their mac & cheese!”
“Just don’t eat the pizza unless you have an iron stomach.”
As we were passing through the front doors, I wanted to thank Officer Jones for having people watch my room for me, but I couldn’t, because he had never mentioned that he was doing it. He had only mentioned that he had dropped me off to let me change clothes and take a quick shower. It was pretty obvious that he wanted me to leave the gun behind as well. I chose to leave the money behind. Taking a backpack full of money (that I couldn’t prove I had any right to) into a police station when I was going to be questioned was just absurd to the point where it would be safer in the hotel room. I knew I was going to have to risk storing it somewhere secure soon. Maybe in a bank in a large safe deposit box? That was definitely worth looking into.
Anyway, apparently in the ten minutes or so that he was outside my hotel room, Officer Jones had made some phone calls and called in some favors. Possibly because he was covering for himself, since he knew damn well I was packing a real pistol, not a fake.
“Thanks for letting me get a shower in earlier, Officer Jones, I appreciated not having to do the whole interview thing stinking of sweat.”
“No problem Bob. Call me Erik. Thanks for the help with the Romans. They had the people in that area paralyzed with fear, they would hardly talk to an officer. You took out all of their active members simultaneously, which should allow us to make some headway. A few of them are already starting to turn on each other, begging for plea bargains and asking if they can work out something where their probation can be linked to getting vocational school training for useful skills.”
“Good. I suggested to them that they really weren’t good enough to be doing that sort of thing, and the next person like me might not be so nice to them. Glad some of them are taking it to heart.”
Erik laughed. “Wish we could put the fear into them like you did. You run into any more trouble in town near here, you come to me. We’d really appreciate it if you didn’t run into any more trouble though. We can see from your records, or lack of criminal record anyhow, that you aren’t a troublemaker. Thing is, now you’ve shown what you can do, you are probably going to have people try to test you. Don’t hurt them too badly, please, if you can help it.”
“Yeah, I understand that for sure. That’s one reason I never went pro, never really fought anyone after I hit puberty and started getting a temper. Too easy to hurt people. I hurt a couple of people pretty bad learning that. Everyone else is so slow, even the professionals. Everyone I’ve ever seen fight would be like a kindergartener against me. Some of the best professionals in the world might be able to touch me, but none of them could hurt me.”
Frank piped up in my head. “Lies! No human could touch us in a sport fight, if I didn’t let them, even without juice!”
“If I hadn’t seen that video, and seen the wounds on the Romans to prove it happened, I’d just assume you were exaggerating, smile, and start to ignore your bragging – but I did see the video and wounds. If you stay near town and open a dojo, I know for damn sure every law enforcement branch within hundreds of miles would push a lot of business your way if you can teach even a little of what you showed. I would see to it personally. I informally help to arrange training for a lot of the nearby departments, and we compete between each other, quarterly.”
“I’ve never even taken a martial arts class, Erik, I couldn’t begin to teach.” I couldn’t mention that I had been in the military, because the military took blood samples for genetic testing to identify dead soldiers. Been doing that since before I was old enough to have served, from what Darla had said when I brought it up. I remembered doing the blood draw for genetic identification myself. It was normally done from the right index finger, which I had lost shortly before I did the blood draw, shortly before I got out on medical discharge due to the injury. Best they could do on the fake ID was give me some high school Army ROTC course references and security job history to explain why I could walk the walk and talk the talk.
Now Erik was looking at me funny. “All of that was completely untrained?”
“Yeah, crazy ain’t it?”
Erik shook his head. “Man, if you’re that good, you don’t have to beat people up to make money fighting. Have you ever thought about just going from city to city and charging an admission fee for people to try to hit you? Charge fifty dollars per ticket to try to knock you down. Offer a big prize or something. If you really are that good, you will make a good living fighting, without ever having to hit anyone.”
“Could actually work, Bob.” Frank again, interjecting.
That… actually sounded tempting. Especially considering that I’ve already been TheTubed proving that Frank in my body is a melee fighter with few or no peers. I just looked at Erik with a slightly open mouth. Then I closed my mouth, blinked a couple of times and said. “I’m going to have to think about that, but it sounds like a really good idea. I wish someone has said that to me about thirty years ago.” I shook his hand. “You got a card? If I decide to do this, and it works, I want to be able to reach you and see if you want a new job.”
“Sure thing.” He pulled out his wallet, opened it and fished out a card, then handed it to me. “I got paperwork to do on the Romans. You decide you want to do that, you call me up and we’ll talk.” He pointed to his right, my left, to a little café about half a block down the road. “That’s the Cop Stop.”
“Wait. It’s actually called that, that’s not just a nickname?”
Erik laughed, “Yes, the guy who owns it retired from the force after forty-five years as an officer. It was the only job he ever had. He knows us pretty well. Been trying to poison us with his free coffee for the last fifteen years to get even according to the old timers on the force.”
“Thanks Erik, I owe you one, maybe more than one. I’ll call you for sure within a week one way or the other to let you know what I decide.” I held out my hand and he met me halfway. A good firm grip, and a solid shake.
I have met so many good, quality people since this shit started happening to me. Of course I’ve paid for that privilege by being chopped up, shot at, and chased across half a country before being set upon by a dozen thugs. Not to mention nearly burning myself to death a couple of times due to self-combustion.
“We really need to call that business card you got, the first one, with the backwards number. This would not be illegal to run a fight contest like Erik described, and you could quickly legitimize that money as a ‘signing bonus’ ”
“Yeah” I said out loud, then mumbled quietly. “I think that’s a good idea, will have to think about it after we speak to Mrs. Rhiner.”
I walked down to the cop stop and Mrs. Rhiner and her cameraman were waiting, drinking coffee and going over notes on the table. There was another man with them. Very fit looking, oriental. I suspected that he was brought to be some sort of tester for me. Mrs Rhiner wanted something juicy on tape. I’m glad I spoke to Erik about this, I should be able to steer this into something to self-advertise.
“Good Day, Mrs. Rhiner, sorry for making you wait, but it wasn’t exactly a scripted discussion I had at the precinct.”
“Understood, Robert. I’ve met a couple of people here over the years. I know the deal.” She smiled. “You’ve met Mike, my cameraman.”
Mike lifted his cup in greeting as he was scribbling with a stylus on a tablet computer with his other hand. “Heyas.”
Then she turned to the other man and introduced him. “This is Sifu Liu, I asked him to join us after showing him the TheTube video. He agreed because he wants to speak with you.”
“Good day, Sifu Liu, it is a pleasure to meet you.” I knew Sifu means ‘master’ in Chinese, it’s in lots of the Chinese martial arts movies. So I gave the man some real respect, pre-emptively. Easier to start off on the right foot than have to make up for starting off on the wrong foot.
“Are you going to ask us to fight to ‘prove’ how good I am, Mrs. Rhiner?” I asked.
Sifu Liu spoke up. “I would be more than happy to just talk and watch you do some of whatever training exercises you use, and perhaps arrange correspondence.” He paused. “Mrs. Rhiner did ask me if I would be willing to spar with you in front of the camera, if you were willing. I told her yes, that I would spar if you were willing. My studio is not far from here, and we are well equipped for safe sparring.”
Mrs. Rhiner just let us talk but she and Mike were watching like hawks. I saw that Mike’s camera was actually aligned so that it could see both Sifu Liu and I in full view. They were certainly recording this without trying to be obvious about it, which seemed strange, but I didn’t mind. In for a penny, in for a pound.
“Sure, under one condition.”
“What condition?” asked Sifu Liu.
“I will not attempt to strike you. You must knock me to the ground once to win the match.”
“Why do you ask for this?”
“I don’t like hitting people if I don’t have to. I can demonstrate my skill sufficiently by fighting you purely defensively. I imagine that you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am highly skilled without me having to hit you to prove it.”
“You are placing me in the position of the young student? You are the master challenging me to demonstrate my skill to even touch you? You assume that much superiority?” He frowned.
I thought about how to word this without insulting the man. “I mean no disrespect, Sifu Liu. If it proves to be the case that you can knock me down, then you have chastised someone who is prideful and needs a lesson. After that, if you wish, I will spar with you and attempt to strike you. If you cannot knock me down when I am only defending and allowing you to concentrate fully on attacking me, then I am not wrong about my skill, do you agree? Would five minutes be sufficient time to prove it one way or the other?”
Sifu Liu grinned. “I believe you are prideful. I have seen the video of your fight though, so I will give you a chance to prove you are not. If you are not prideful, then it will be a beautiful thing to see such skill and perhaps to learn from seeing it.”
Sifu Liu and I walked two blocks to his studio, and walked in during a class. The students kept practicing. The younger man leading the class gave a short bow in our direction. Sifu Liu made a couple of hand motions, which I didn’t recognize. At the end of the current exercise, the younger instructor had the students take seats around the edge of the practice mat and do deep breathing exercises as Sifu Liu and I crossed the floor.
Sifu Liu stepped into the middle of the mat and bowed very shallowly to each side of the square mat, then started speaking. “In a few minutes time, Master Robert Hawk will demonstrate defensive techniques and I will demonstrate offensive techniques. Master Jason will judge the match. A television crew will be arriving shortly to film the event. The rules are very simple. I must knock Master Robert to the floor within five minutes, or I lose the match. If I knock Master Robert to the floor within that same five minutes, he loses the match and we will spar another match where we will both attack and defend, with all of the same rules except allowing Master Robert to attack me. If either of us leaves the practice mat, the match timer will stop and we will return to the center of the mat, and begin again at Master Jason’s direction. Either party may forfeit at any time. Master Jason, please bring the sparring pads.”
“If you wish, we can spar without pads.” I offered. Knowing how badly Frank would hate the extra weight. Sifu Liu actually perked up a little bit, apparently he also liked the idea.
“That would be unwise without some sort of recorded agreement. If one of you is hurt, the other could easily have legal recourse.” This from Master Jason.
“We can agree to it in front of the camera if you want?” I asked.
“We have sparring waivers. I believe they have the options to add other conditions.” Master Jason said. “I will go check them and see if we can add terms, if that is acceptable, Sifu Liu?”
“It is certainly acceptable. Please see if we can do this in a way to protect one another legally if we are going to intentionally neglect to protect ourselves quite so well physically.”
It turned out that we could add terms to the standard sparring waiver, so we added terms for no pads. By that time Mrs. Rhiner and Mike had arrived and set up their recording equipment, and she was giving background on the agreement.
Sifu Liu and I faced each other at the center of the mat, and bowed. I bowed deeper to him than he did to me, but not much. Master Jason stood to one side of us several feet away, with a stopwatch.
Frank asked. “No juice, correct.”
I blinked once.
“Do I let him hit us a few times, but not make us fall down?”
I think for a second. He is a master, and I am cheating with Frank. I blink once. Let the man save some face.
Master Jason advised us that the match was to begin when the stopwatch beeped. A couple of seconds later, the stopwatch beeped.
Sifu Liu dropped to the ground with amazing speed, his left leg curling towards my ankles like a scythe. Frank’s perception distortion kicked in, and the rest of the fight was rather comical from my point of view. Frank didn’t even move from the center of the mat. If Sifu Liu attacked with a powerful blow to the body or upper legs, Frank just used his hands to slow down the attack until it hit us with almost all of its power absorbed by our arms. If an incoming attack to be slowed was a truly powerful blow that couldn’t be dodged without seeming inhuman, Frank would jump a bit with the blow and swing away from it to prevent an impact hard enough to put us off balance. Frank did allow Sifu Liu to hit solidly and loudly with some of his fastest light attacks, but always swayed with the blows, clearly in complete control of the momentum.
For his part, Sifu Liu was amazing. He was a whirlwind of attacks, Frank was very vocal about how good the guy was. He never seemed to tire through the entire match. At the end of the match, he was grinning ear to ear even though all of his students and Master Jason were looking somewhat shocked.
At the end of the match Master Liu waited for me to bow, and he bowed deeper, slightly, then said “It seems you were not prideful, Master Robert. Can you tell me where you learned your techniques? I do not recognize the school, I do not even recognize the branch of martial arts.”
“I’m afraid that I’ve never taken a martial arts class Sifu Liu, I am just very fast and very accurate, and I have better response times than anyone else I’ve ever met. I can just read what people are going to do and act against it before they even start doing it.”
Sifu Liu narrowed his eyes at me. “That is remarkable. For that much capability to be based purely on raw physical ability is amazing. It does explain the lack of a recognizable school though. Thank you for the demonstration. It is good to be humbled now and then when you grow prideful.”
“Indeed Sifu Liu, though I have never found a person to humble me physically, I have been humbled many times in other ways by people far more skilled than I.” Sifu Liu smiled at that, and I turned to the camera. “Mrs. Rhiner, was that a good enough demonstration for you?”
“More than good enough. Thank you. Can I give you a ride back to your hotel, and maybe buy you a dinner over a short interview?”
“I’m not partial to telling long stories about myself Mrs. Rhiner, but I will answer some questions if you like. If you are not happy with my answers, I will buy your meal instead.”
She agreed, and I got a ride in the news van to a sports bar near my hotel where I ate a very good, very large burger with seasoned fries, and had a good dark draft beer.
The first questions were about my family, which I mostly refused to answer, other than my cover’s fake names, professions, and the fact that they had all passed away. We moved on to my personal life and I continued to answer sparsely, based on Frank’s memories of the documents, which were impeccable. When I hesitated to answer once, thinking Frank was wrong, he actually projected an image of the document to me, apparently inside my eye or maybe even directly into my brain or optic nerve. It startled me and I jumped a bit, and Mrs. Rhiner jumped a bit back too. I apologized, saying I was distracted and tired, and answered the question as Frank told me. Then I begged off a longer interview, so she asked me a few simpler questions, including what I was doing for a living now.
“Well, I was offered a job as a driver for a mining company in the fracking industry recently, and plan to take the fellow up on that for a while. I’m going to consider going into sports fighting, but with a twist that was suggested to me earlier today. Basically the same rules I fought Master Sifu Liu by, except I’ll pay a prize to anyone who can knock me down, and they have to pay an entry fee to try. I never went into professional fighting before because I didn’t want to hurt people, but if I make my part a purely defensive role, I’ll be happy with it. If it takes off, it will be nice to make money doing something that I’m extremely good at.”
“Mike was telling me that the two videos of you fighting the Romans got a total of thirty million hits in the last six hours. TheTube has squelched comments on both of them. I imagine there would be interest in the contest fighting you are proposing, even if it’s just people who can’t believe you are that good and want to spend a few bucks to prove it. Good luck to you!”
We parted ways and I walked the short distance back to the hotel. Erik was there talking to a few guys who all had the look of ex-military or cop. I walked up to Erik and said “I’m definitely going to do what you suggested Erik, I had a practice run tonight with Sifu Liu at Mrs. Rhiner’s request, and it went well.” I looked around at the other guys Erik had been talking to, pretending to not know what they were there for, then shaking my head like it didn’t matter. “Do you or your fellows want some pizza delivered? It’s late and if anyone needs to drive a long way, I’ll pay for a hotel room if they would prefer?”
One of the guys spoke up. “Nah, Erik’s a good fellow. We all owed him favors already, he just called a few of those favors in tonight, nothing to do with you.”
“Fair enough. You are all safe to drive? Like I said, I’ll cover a room if anyone is not safe to drive.”
One of the others spoke up. “Nobody’s been drinking, and if anyone is tired, they can stop by the Cop Stop and get coffee that keeps you awake because it’s too scary to imagine it in the car with you when you are asleep.”
I laughed, several of the others chuckled briefly at the obviously well used joke. “Fair enough. Even if I don’t owe you, thank you all. Thank you again, Erik, I’ll be in touch in the next week or so if the whole fight contest thing looks like it might work out. I’ll need to talk to some people, and see if I can get together people willing to help start it up. I know a few people with money, but I surely don’t know any fight promoters or anyone in that industry.”
Erik grinned “Fair enough. Give me a call when you are ready, and we can talk.”
I shook hands with Erik and all of his friends and headed to my room after a few more pleasantries.
“It’s been a long day. Want me to show you that thing I told you about earlier?”
“Tired. It has been a long day. Wonder if they bugged my room?” I mutter to myself.
My body started walking around the room without me controlling it, Frank controlling me as he searched, then at each window he looked out and my vision distorted pretty severely, the colors shifting rapidly but the image staying clear and crisp. “Not detecting any electromagnetic signals nearby that might be concealed, and I can’t see lasers on the windows.”
“OK, shower time.” For the first time in a while I took a nice, long, steaming hot shower. Frank complained about the heat, but I hushed him after asking him if there was any real danger from the heat. “Let’s wait till tomorrow for you to show me your new whatzit, and we can call that backwards number tomorrow too, but I’d rather do all that from a newly purchased used RV on the way to go meet Bill. There is nothing stopping someone from simply listening by ear in the next room over with some sort of spy stethoscope against the wall or something. Captain Bosko was not happy with us in the least, remember? That’s why we’re talking in the shower, and why I’m talking in muttering tones.”
“I remember. You’re right, we need to be careful.” Frank agreed
“How were you able to hear them in the next room so well, aren’t interrogation rooms normally sound insulated?”
“Yes, the room was insulated. That’s part of what you wanted me to tell you about tomorrow. The ‘new whatzit’”, Frank teased. “Sure you want to wait till tomorrow?”
“Yeah, I think so. I probably won’t fully appreciate it tonight. Remember not to move around too much when I’m supposed to be asleep.”
I turned off the shower, dried off, tossed on a pair of boxers, and flopped onto the bed on my chest, arms wide, not even bothering to get under the covers. I went unconscious almost immediately, without any help from Frank.