As soon as word leaked that the police had found a guy in a Valiant suit, the news media, well-wishers, and protesters swarmed. He could have been a crackpot in a costume (and probably was). But given his age, his location, and the old, hand-stitched costume he wore, the court of public opinion made its ruling: he was The Valiant.
A few officers who’d been on the force since The Valiant’s glory days made it their personal mission to help him get some peace and rest. He had helped them take down the Ganglia crime family and that real deed meant more to them than the vicious rumors that precipitated his fall from grace. They guarded his room day and night, and didn’t let anyone in besides hospital staff.
When Sarah and Jimmy came to see Hank, having seen the news reports and pictures on TV, The Valiant’s guards would not let them in until they showed proof they were kin.
Sarah and Jimmy sat down next to Hank’s hospital bed.
“I’m sorry, Jimmy,” Hank said. He looked over at his daughter. She looked like a balloon about to burst.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Sarah asked.
“Why would I tell you? What good would it do? That life is long gone. No one wants to remember The Valiant anymore.”
“Hey!” Jimmy said.
“’Cept you, Jimmy.”
“Well, I just…I would have liked to know,” Sarah said.
“Why did you say it wasn’t you, Grandpa?” Jimmy asked.
“Even old men sometimes say things they shouldn’t.”
“Did Mom know?” Sarah asked.
“Eventually, yes,” Hank said. He remembered the look on his wife’s face when he’d told her about his alter ego. “I couldn’t bring myself to marry her without giving her a full picture.”
“Can you show me how to throw a bad guy up against a wall?” Jimmy asked, his disappointment turning suddenly to joy. “Or the stranglehold that knocks him out?”
“That only happened in the cartoon,” Hank said. “In real life the bad guys fought back a lot harder. Sometimes with lawyers.”
“Did she really have cancer?” Sarah asked. She sucked in her lips and raised her eyebrows. “Mom, I mean. Is that really how she died?”
With effort Hank swallowed. “Yes,” he said, “Your mom…had cancer.”
“And do we need to worry about radiation or gamma rays or anything?” Sarah asked.
Hank stifled a smile. “I wasn’t that kind of hero. My origin story’s pretty boring, just a blue-collar guy who wanted to help.”
“Wait,” Jimmy said. “Did you really kill that boy?”
“How did you know about that?” Sarah asked.
“Well,” Sarah said, “I’m not sure—”
“Let it be, Sarah,” Hank said. “He would have found out sooner or later.” Hank shifted in his chair. “Everybody does things they’re not proud of…” Hank broke off.
“Oh, my goodness, Dad, did you?” Sarah asked.
To Be Continued…