8FOLD: The Green Knight # 3
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Thu Dec 8 06:09:50 PST 2005
EIGHTFOLD COMICS PRESENTS
THE GREEN KNIGHT # 3
BY TOM RUSSELL
Anders holds his father's hand while the old man
sleeps and wonders how long he's supposed to do it.
Does this even mean anything? Does he even care that
his father is dying? Is he supposed to care? He
doesn't have the answers, and so to be safe he just
holds his father's hand.
Ray abandons his disguise at the hospital. The
staff admits that they weren't really fooled.
Anders drives him home after he's received his
chemo. He wants to talk to his father, he wants to
have one of this big, long meaningful conversations
that people have on television or in movies or plays
when someone's dying. Where his father tells him
about his life, and how he feels about his impending
death, and how he misses his wife and, now your mom
and me will be together. But Anders doesn't even know
if his father misses his mother. He never cried.
They never discussed it. And it was Anders who
watched her die. His father was elsewhere, distant.
Anders doesn't know how to start that conversation,
and he doesn't know if people really have them. It's
up to his father, then, to start it. But Anders know
his father. His father never initiates any
conversation. His father never says a word.
A couple of blocks from the hospital, his father
throws up. They have a bag in the car for just that
reason, and Ray has it open, holding the rim with his
two thumbs. Anders pulls over the car and waits for
his father to finish.
"Are you okay?" he asks.
"What's it look like?"
That was his father. Prickly. A porcupine.
When they get home, Ray settles into an armchair.
He says he's going to rest awhile and then he'll call
Anders to help him up the stairs to bed. Anders sits
in an adjacent room and waits for his father's call.
An hour later, he goes back into the foyer to check on
him. He's asleep in his armchair. Anders lets him
Ray wakes up and hears furniture moving. He pushes
himself off the chair and, wobbling, walks over to the
doorway to check what it is. He sees Anders and
Martin carrying the box-springs to his bed down the
long, elegant stairway. He asks them what they're
doing, but his voice is low and hoarse and they do not
hear him. He asks again but still he is too quiet.
He stamps his foot, and now they turn and take
"We're moving the bed to the first floor," says
Anders is glad that Martin says it. It was
Anders's idea, but he would never suggest it to his
"I don't want you climbing any stairs," Martin
Ray knows this is best. He knows that he can't
climb stairs, that it will take too much out of him.
But if he admits that he can't climb stairs, then he
makes that true. Just like driving. He had driven
himself home before just fine, with only a little
vomiting here and there. Once he admitted he needed
Anders to drive him, then he needed Anders to drive
him. The admission made it fact.
I wasn't dying before, Ray tells his brain. It
wasn't until I said I was dying that it started, that
I got weak. I never should have admitted it. "I'm
fine," Ray says. "Put the bed back upstairs."
That's when he falls flat on his ass.
Out of instinct, Martin leaps from the stairs,
kicking off the wall and landing in the foyer,
covering fifteen feet in a matter of seconds. Anders
runs down the stairs, huffing and puffing, catching
up. He and Martin help Ray up and into his armchair.
Ray smiles at the two of them weakly. He smiles
seldomly and it's a little disconcerting. Then he
says, "Thank you, Martin."
"It's all right, Ray."
Neither of them acknowledge Anders.
Who is Martin Rock, anyway, and what does he have
to do with my father? How'd he do that, kicking off
the wall like some damn tennis ball?
Anders has questions. No answers. Not yet,
That night, Martin puts on his mask.
He sees a mugging in process about a block away,
and he melts into the rain, leaps into the shadows,
moving noiselessly and effortlessly towards them.
They do not see him, and this is the way he wants it.
A figure, a thing, half-glimpsed and surreal.
He grabs one by the throat and tosses him up in the
air, arcing his throw so that the mugger goes straight
up and down, doing a belly-flop on the wet pavement,
cracking his jaw on the dirty ground. It is
sufficient, and the others huddle on the ground, their
hands above their heads.
Many cases used to end like this, way back when.
In the old days. They had made enough of a name for
themselves that they just had to show up, banter a
little, and most of the crooks would throw their hands
up in the air. More than once, Ray wished aloud that
someone would come along that was strong enough to
give them a tussle. Every single time, someone did.
The Green Knight and the Acro-Bat had Ray's fortune
behind them, and Ray's company, and Ray's genius.
They had gadgets and doo-hickeys and weapons galore.
An awesome arsenal with which to wage a war on crime.
Ray always had an affinity for things; Martin liked to
concentrate on the essentials.
When he left the Acro-Bat behind, he also discarded
its accoutrements. The colour, the spectacle, the
gadgets, the armor. All the things that Ray delighted
in. All the things that were not essential. Not
important. Not Martin Rock.
He's just a body now, and his costume a disguise.
He's just a whisper now. He never speaks to his prey,
he never announces his presence with bravado. Bravado
is returned by bravado; a superhero is matched by a
supervillain. And that's not what Martin wants,
that's not what he's about.
A couple times, the crime bosses have hired some
ultra-powerful whack-jobs in costumes to bring them
the head of the mask with no name. Both of his
would-be assassins are still in the hospital, still
out cold. Martin didn't write a note, he didn't say a
word, but he left a message just the same: no
four-colours. I'm a man and I'll fight men. There's
a code of honour and we're going to stick to it; you
might kill me, but you're going to kill me fair, a man
killing another man. No four-colours.
That was six years ago. And since then, the
supervillains have given a wide berth to his part of
town. They gravitate, instead, to the opulent
brownstones and mansions and lake-front properties and
museums. To the Green Knight.
So what happens when a supervillain does come to
town? Now that the Green Knight is retiring, who's
going to protect all the uptown folk? Martin can't do
it. He has no powers to speak of and he doesn't have
the gadgets. What's more, he doesn't want to do it.
He likes to keep his life simple, his world
uncluttered, his mission clear. Keep things ordered.
As soon as dream-demons and suped-up technological
maniacs and freaks-of-nature enter the picture, there
is no control.
No order. No Martin.
Vito sits in his little toy chair behind his little
toy desk and he rankles. "You want to know the worst
thing about it, Ducky?"
Ducky Lewis is Martin's alias when dealing with
Vito. The name comes from the slurring squawk he uses
"The worst thing is that I can't smoke a cigar,"
says the one-inch man behind the desk.
"Your lungs are so tiny, one puff will kill you,"
"Yeah. Well, they got these cigars in Bottle City,
made proportionate to my size."
"Then order some."
"You kidding me? An arm and a leg! And a
regular-sized arm and leg, at that."
"Why so much?" As Ducky, it's important that Martin
plays dumb. But not too dumb. "I figure, if they're
smaller, then they'll be less money.
"No, they need some fine motor movement, little
machines and everything. Everything's more expensive
when they make it for people with pockets. Only
reason I got this piece of shit toy desk and chair is
because of money."
"Well, you got money."
"Don't get smart with me. You know what this suit
cost me? This isn't doll clothes, by the way. That
piece of shit nephew of mine, he got me little doll
house clothes. To rub it in. But I ordered a suit,
made in Bottle City, and you know what it costs?
Fifteen hundred dollars. For a scrap of cloth!"
"Maybe you should stick with the doll clothes,
"It's a matter of stature," he says, taking
umbrage. "A matter of being taken seriously." He
pounds his desk and it squeaks at him. "Eh. I might
go ahead and buy the desk anyway. This is a joke."
He pushes the squeaky rubber desk over in a sudden fit
of pint-sized rage. "I mean, look at me, Ducky! I
used to be somebody, be something big! People opened
the door for me, they called me sir, and when the boys
took my daughter out, they kissed my hand and asked
permission before they even held hers. Now, she's
knocked up and I feel like I'm an inch tall."
"You are an inch tall. Why don't you just move to
"Because there I'm nobody at all! Here, I'm still
Jimmy Valentine. Even if they call me Pocket Vito.
Whatever my name, I'm still who I am, which is more
than I can say for Sheldon Schultz. Dirtying up the
business! Friggin' robots for chrissakes. Mobsters
don't use robots."
"It's a dirty business, Vito." Now he moves
closer, he lies on his stomach and rests his chin on
his hands, his huge face pressing near Vito. This is
their ritual. Vito talks, and talks, and talks, and
then he decides that it's time to get down to
business. Martin moves closer, and Vito, very
succinctly, imparts the wanted information.
"Schultz is meeting the Oni in three weeks for the
tradeoff, the money for the mechas. Keeps getting
postponed; Schultz is feeling antsy. No word yet on
where, and you know he's going to lie the first two
times at least."
"You're not telling me anything I don't know
already. I could have stayed home, Vito."
"What you don't know is that Schultz is hard-up for
cash. And so half the money is coming from a certain
Mr. X. And a third of the units..."
"Are going to Mr. X. Any idea who he is, where I
can find him?"
There's a fact that Martin's been avoiding: he's
going to have to do this. He's going to have to find
the mechas and shut them down, or fight them. Man
versus mechas, gymnast versus gadget. This is exactly
the kind of thing he doesn't want to do, this is
exactly the reason he adopted the Klaus Berger
identity in the first place: to pass the information
onto Ray, onto the Green Knight; let the superhero
take care of the super-threats and let Martin guard
Ray's hair has fallen out. When he looks at
himself in the mirror, it doesn't look like his face.
Gradually, he becomes used to it, he accepts it as his
face. He comes across a photo of himself from a
couple years back, with his hair intact. The picture
This round of treatment ends. The cancer still
grows. Ray climbs into the bed now occupying the
first floor. He waits for his body to die.
The pain is excruciating. Anders tries to medicate
him more heavily but Ray refuses. The only thing he
has left is his brain. The boy genius and his brain.
He needs his thoughts to be lucid, clear, concrete.
The pain he could deal with, as long as he had his
wits about him. But he knows that that too is
slipping away from him.
He doesn't think much, spends most of his time
watching television, the super news channel. He hopes
that Anders will ask him why he's always watching the
super news channel, so that he can get it over with
and tell his son that he is the Green Knight. Or
better yet, Anders just figures it out on his own.
But no. That would require the boy be smart.
Ray always hoped his son would be another boy
genius. Anders disappointed him in that regard. So
did Martin. But Martin at least was an athlete, he was
exceptional at something. Anders was the kind of
bland born-into-money rich boy that Ray always hated
when he was making his first millions. Anders was...
Of course, it's not fair to ask him to be
exceptional, is it? Ray avoids the question.
Oddly enough, he concentrates most of his thoughts
and meditations on his death, on the cancer. What a
nothing death, what a mediocre end for the Green
Knight. I should die facing incredible odds, Ray says
to himself. In the heat of battle. Saving lives. A
sacrifice for the greater good.
Or I should end up in some wilderness somewhere,
struggling, being bathed in harsh cold stinging snow,
freezing till it burns, until I am exhausted and
hungry and awesome in my futile defiance.
I should die good. Cancer. Eh. What a nothing of
Sometimes the nature of disease itself is too
difficult for him to grasp. He always understood it
before. Science had been his strong point in school.
He knew what cancer was and how it worked. But now,
the thought of something inside him, growing, gnawing,
destroying... The thought cannot be comprehended.
He imagines it as a monster, pulsing and growing
inside him, filling him up until he bursts, his
innards spilling out in a mass of flesh, a mass of
disease, a monster born from his fragile puny shell of
a body. One day, you're healthy. And the next, it's
inside you. Inside. Changing your body.
Controlling. Changing. Warping.
And it cannot be stopped. It cannot be denied.
One struggles and hopes entirely in vain.
Still, one struggles and one hopes.
And with a smile, Ray reconciles himself to his
death: it is a good death, after all.
Martin sits next to Ray; Anders is out with some
friends for the evening. Martin had to talk him into
"I should stay here," Anders had said.
"Why? I'm here."
"I'm his son."
"What are you going to do for him anyway? You know
the way he is."
"Well, what are you going to do, Mr. Rock?"
"I'm going to let you go out and try to seduce your
poor Catholic girlfriend. Now go."
"Today's top story: the Mask Statement of
"Earlier this year, the speedster known as
Darkhorse suffered a mental breakdown as a result of
superhuman battle.[*] Now, he has retired and
publicly disclosed his identity.
"He was born Phillip Whaley in 1976, to Patricia
and Frederick Whaley of New Jersey. When he reached
puberty, he converted to Black Islam, and says that at
that time he was blessed with super-speed. He took on
the identity of Darkhorse and..."
[*-- SPEAK! # 7.]
Martin turns down the volume. "You given it any
"You mean a Mask Statement? No."
"It's my secret. It's all I have." The answer is
too candid, and so he back-tracks: "And besides,
there's Anders to think about. I don't want anyone
coming after him."
"That's baloney," says Martin. "No self-respecting
supervillain attacks a hero's family after the hero's
released a Mask Statement. The whole point of it is
to come clean and announce that you're out of the
running. Out of the game, as it were."
"That was fine and dandy before," Ray says. "B.
But. Times have changed. You don't get the same kind
of people that you did before. Bunch of punks now."
"I think Anders can take care of himself anyway.
He's got the money."
"It gives them an edge. You got to play the game
fair, but you never, never give them an edge. Though.
Like I said. P. Punks these days. Even playing
fair gives them an edge."
"Times have changed," Martin agrees. "But you
still have to have some faith in people."
Ray doesn't answer.
"Look at it this way," Martin says. "When you're
gone, if you take your secret to the grave, then no
one will ever know who you were, what you did, what
you stood for. We had some great adventures, didn't
we? Wouldn't it be a pity if they"-- here he sweeps
his hand out to indicate the television, the city,
perhaps the world itself-- "never found out the truth
"You know the truth."
"That's enough, then," says Ray.
"What about Anders?"
"I'll tell him, sure. When the time's right. But
I'll do it. You're not going to tell him."
There's something strange about this last sentence:
partly, it sounds like a command, like Ray's taking a
stand on the matter; partly, it sounds like a
question, like he's asking for Martin's help.
Martin's answer is the same either way: "No, I'm not
going to tell him. You're his father."
"That's right," says Ray. "His father." He smiles
"What's the smile for?"
"Nostalgia," Ray says. The smile gets wider, and
he squeezes Martin's hand gently. "What grand
adventures we had, so very long ago."
"Yes," says Martin, squeezing back. He watches as
the old man drifts to sleep. He turns off the
television and sits there in the dark. What grand
So very long ago...
(C) COPYRIGHT 2005 Tom Russell.
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