“That’s good. Yes, just like that. No, harder. You want to make them feel the punch.”
I wiped the sweat out of my eyes and punched the pad hard, feeling the smack against my knuckles. Though they were protected by layers of padding, I could feel their soreness. My entire body felt like it had been strung out, muscles aching that I didn’t even know I had. But it was worth it.
“That’s good, take a break.”
I hung my head for a moment, drawing in a painful breath. My trainer, Joey, was working me extra hard tonight, but for a good reason. For the first time in my MMA fighting career, I had a title shot. “Geez man, you are fucking killing me.”
“You love it,” Joey grinned as he threw the towel at me. “Take a breather, get some water and we will start on the legs.”
I shot him the middle finger as he walked out of the cage, my body protesting as I attempted to do the same. The gym was quiet, the time approaching midnight and I wanted nothing more than to go home and get in the bed. Collapsing on the bench, I pulled out my water bottle and my phone, checking in on the ballgame I was missing tonight. I was a huge Cubs fan, even holding season tickets but all the fun things I enjoyed doing had been put on hold during my training. This was likely my one and only shot, working my way through the heavyweights in short order. By day I ran this joint, my brainchild, but by night I fought my ass off.
The phone was ringing as I flipped it over, answering it. “Hello?”
“Benji Lomns? This is the Chicago police department.”
My breath left my body, thinking that any time the police called at midnight if couldn’t be good news. “Um yeah, this is he.”
“We need for you to come down to the station.”
“Yes sir, now.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” I hung up and gathered my stuff, throwing my t-shirt over my torso as I stripped off my gloves. What had happened? Was it one of the guys? I didn’t have any family in Chicago. My partners in this gym were my family. Right now we were on baby watch, one of the partners, Paul, and his fiancée Sarah expecting their first child any day now. I couldn’t wait to become an uncle. I loved these guys like they were my own brothers, each one of them bringing something to the gym that I hadn’t anticipated.
“Where are you going? Are you already done?”
I looked back at Joey as I zipped up my bag, slinging it over my shoulder. “I gotta go, man. Something has come up.”
He waved me off, and I tore out of the door, hitting the button on my key ring to unlock my sleek, new two-seater roadster. It had been a splurge, but the money from the fights I had raked in had paid for it. For a kid who grew up on the streets of Philly and fought his way to where he was at today, I definitely deserved it. Hopping in the driver seat, I gunned the engine and pulled out onto the street, heading toward the police department. What was going on? Was someone arrested? Maybe that was what it was. Though I was the last of the guys that didn’t have a significant other, but I could see some of them not wanting to call their respective wife or fiancée if they had done something as stupid as gotten arrested. That had to be it.
I arrived at the station in no time and walked in, ignoring the sights and sounds of the station at night. I had spent many a night at one growing up, doing something stupid to get myself thrown in the slammer overnight. Now, I hated even walking into the place. It reminded me of the idiotic things I had done in the past and how I was even lucky to be alive at twenty-eight.
The police officer at the desk pointed me to a room, one of those rooms you see on TV that they use for interrogation. Shit. What had happened?
“Mr. Lomns, I’m Detective Townsend with the Chicago police force. Please have a seat.”
“Do I need a lawyer?” I asked immediately, my nerves on edge. I had been through this too in the past and had learned never to discuss anything without someone having my back.
The detective shook his head and gestured to the chair in front of him. “No, you don’t. Unless you’ve done something wrong.”
Warily, I took a seat, appearing calm on the outside when inside I was a fucking wreck. I didn’t like being here. I didn’t like the way the detective was eyeing me. I wanted out as fucking quick as possible.
“Mr. Lomns, what I’m about to tell you might be a shock but I want you to know we wouldn’t have called you if we didn’t have a complete reason to do so. Earlier this evening, there was a car accident on the north end of town. A young woman and her child were traveling south when a car jumped the median and slammed into them head-on. The young woman was killed instantly.”
I relaxed some. I didn’t know anyone who had a kid nor was I dating anyone currently. With the intense training, I had going on for the title match, I hadn’t had the chance to do so. “And? What does that have to do with me?”
The detective sighed. “We called the next of kin, a friend who came to the scene immediately and identified her and the child. She told us to call the child’s father.”
“The child’s father?” I echoed faintly, a strange sensation coming over me. Oh hell no.
The detective nodded. “We crosschecked the child’s birth certificate. You are listed as the child’s father.”
I sat back in the chair, forcing a lazy grin on my face. “Who set this up?”
The detective frowned. “What?”
I crossed my arms over my chest, some of the worry ebbing away. There was absolutely no way I was the father of anything except that gym. “Come on, who put you up to this? I won’t tell them.” Those fuckers, pulling a prank like this.
The man across from me smirked, shaking his head as he leaned back. “Mr. Lomns. I don’t know what kind of friends you fucking have, but anyone that goes to these lengths to prank you has to be a sick bastard.” He then leaned forward, his forearms on the table. “This is not a joke. There is a dead woman and a child who needs a father. I would be hesitant to use that word on someone like you.”
My grin faded as I saw the seriousness in his eyes. Fuck. This was not a joke. I had a child. “Damn, man,” I started, feeling nauseous. “I thought.”
The detective stood then, opening his folder and pulling out a picture, pushing it across the table. “Do you know this woman at all?”
Swallowing hard, I looked down at the picture, clearly a driver’s license photo. The blonde smiling up at me didn’t even jar my memory, her girl next door look not usually someone I tended to get involved with.
And now she was dead, and I was supposedly a father to her child. This day couldn’t get any stranger. “I don’t know her.”
The detective took the picture and tucked it back into his file with a heavy sigh. “Her name is Marcie Benton. Her child’s name is Amelia Lomns. She just turned one.”
A one-year-old. I had a fucking one-year-old that bore my last name. “Can I see her?” Would I even be able to tell that she was mine? A thousand questions whirled around in my tired brain as the detective nodded. “She’s here, currently with one of our female police officers. Before you see her, I have some paperwork for you to fill out.”
I gave him a nod as he walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him. I felt like I was having an out of body experience, one that didn’t seem real, but very much like a dream. I was in no position to be a father right now. My life, my career was about to bust wide open. What the hell was I going to do with a child?
With a groan, I placed my head on the cool surface of the table. I wasn’t going to walk out or run from this. If, and it still was up in the air, I was this kid’s father, then she was going to be well taken care of. But I had to find out first. Surely no one would hold that against me. I had to make sure that she was my kid and that I wasn’t some unlucky bastard who got chosen out of the crowd.