Experiment #369

The Valiant Part 10

“I never turned back to help him,” Hank continued. “I went straight ahead, praying only for Catherine and the baby. And the next thing I knew, the place exploded, just like I said…

“I took Catherine to the hospital. The baby, Rachel, she…she never had a chance. Catherine almost died too, her womb…ripped open like spaghetti. It was a miracle she bore Sarah a year later.”

Mr. Sturgess stood and though he faltered here and there, went ahead with his planned speech. “So let me…be sure I have this straight. You brought a child who idolized you to a meeting with members of the Ganglia crime family. Then you told him to wait in the car with a dangerous weapon. He then…he followed you into the meeting with a drug-crazed mobster with a tendency toward violence. He fired the weapon to save you. And…and you left him lying unconscious on the floor of a warehouse while you saved your wife…where he…where he continued to lie until the entire warehouse exploded? Does that sum it up?”

“Yes,” Hank said. “For the last thirty years, that’s the image I’ve seen every time I close my eyes.”

“No further questions, Your Honor.”

Hank didn’t mount any kind of defense. He walked to the defendant’s desk to retrieve a paper, then returned to the stand to read a prepared statement.

“Mr. Hess,” he said, “I cannot tell you how sorry I am for the loss of your son and my part in this tragedy. If I could offer you the money you asked for, I would gladly do it. But you and I both know it won’t bring him back. I am little more than a broken man, trying to help his daughter and grandson survive in a cruel and wicked world. A world that I could no more stop as a superhero than as a father and grandfather.

Hank looked up from his paper at Mr. Hess. “Whatever pain he may have caused me by his good intentions is immaterial. I failed to protect him, to bring him home safe to the father and mother who loved him. I failed to live out my namesake. I failed to be valiant.”

Hank looked down.

After a long pause he continued, “You may take what little I have, my money, the clothes on my back, even my dignity. They are yours. But you can never break me more than that callous decision to leave him did thirty years ago. Every day that I draw breath, it is a weight upon my shoulders, a debt I can never repay.”

The courtroom fell silent.

Mr. Hess rose from his chair, leaning heavily on the table.

He looked to the judge. “Your Honor,” he said, “may I approach the witness?”

The judge nodded.With the shaky movements caused by old age and the stroke, he shuffled toward the witness box. At the rail in front of Hank he stopped, placing his hand on it. He stared Hank square in the eye.

To Be Continued…

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