8FOLD/ACRA: The Green Knight # 2
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Sat Nov 26 15:09:11 PST 2005
EIGHTFOLD COMICS PRESENTS
THE GREEN KNIGHT # 2
BY TOM RUSSELL
When Ray Cradle opens his eyes, his body does not
move; his head does not jerk; his breathing remains
deep and steady. Only his eyes open, silent,
discreet, invisible behind his faceless green mask.
The mask betrays nothing.
Martin's aged well in the last ten years.
Forty-three years old, and he looks it, but his body
is still clearly-defined, the edges still sharp and
dynamic, a gymnast's body, still lean and mean. A
Martin is perched on a stool next to him, finishing
up a burrito. He wears Burger's jacket. Of course.
His mind quickly dives into the archives of his
memory, scooping up all the facts that, together,
identify Klaus Burger as Klaus Burger: the pigeon-toed
limp, the stoop, the fluid, easy movement of his
hands. The way he draw attention to himself but
without being suspicious. Klaus Burger is the sum of
Ray's most obvious tricks, the very first ones he
taught to Martin a little over thirty years ago.
How could he not have seen it before? Klaus was
like a disguise put together by an amateur, only
Martin was no amateur. In some of their operations,
he had assumed guises so ingenious and well-conceived
as to fool even his mentor. This disguise, this Klaus
Burger, could only have been meant as an insult, as a
joke. A way to show Ray that he didn't have it
anymore, that he was not fit to be the Green Knight.
Martin had flaunted the most flimsy and elementary
tactics he had been taught, and the worst part of it
was, he had managed to fool him, and in doing so, make
a fool of him.
A tiny little pinprick of a beep pokes through the
air, and Martin retrieves a beeper from his pants. He
looks at the beeper, and then at the limp form of the
Green Knight, sprawled on the old cot.
The Green Knight keeps his breath steady. He'll
show him. He still has it, he's still golden. I'm
watching you, Martin, you ungrateful little
son-of-a-bitch. I've been watching you for ten
minutes and you still think I'm asleep. I'm watching
Martin gets up from his stool and walks across the
room. The Green Knight hears a familiar sound, the
shuffle of fabric as one skin is shed to reveal
another: the true skin, the spandex, the costume, the
mask. Martin walks back near the stool and past it,
and Ray sees that his costume is solid ebony, the
colour of the night, the shadows. The mask with no
"Martin." Ray drops the pretext of being asleep.
Martin turns back and takes his place at Ray's side,
putting a hand on his chest. And the two faceless
heads look at one another, green peering into black
and black into green.
"Are you all right?"
"Just a little dizzy. I like your costume."
The black head only nods.
"We have a lot to talk about, I suppose."
"You're Klaus Burger."
"Yes. We'll talk later. You stay here and rest."
"I'm fine," Ray says. With a tremendous but
surprising quick effort, he sits himself up and hops
down from the cot. He feels a little dizzy, but the
nap has helped a little. Maybe he'll do it that now,
after his chemo, he'll take just a little nap. "Where
are we going?"
Martin knows there's no arguing with this man. "I
just got a message from Pocket Vito. That Sheldon
Schultz-Oni meeting is going down in about ten
minutes. At the zoo."
"They've done it before. They think the cops don't
know about it."
"But they do?"
The black head nods.
"P. Pocket Vito...?"
"Well, you remember Jimmy Valentine, right?"
The green head nods.
"Well, he got the pockets. So he calls himself
Pocket Vito. Sense of humour, that one."
"Couldn't trust him when he was six feet tall. Can
you t. trust him at an inch?"
"I guess we'll find out, won't we?"
They take the tunnels below the sewers. The stench
brings back the nausea. The Green Knight presses on,
taking the lead several times as a matter of instinct,
even though he doesn't know where he's going.
"These tunnels. They're the Sipuncula's."
"And that was Rockhopper's hideout...?"
Underneath his green mask, Ray Cradle grins.
Martin never should have left, never should have
stopped being the Acro-Bat. Ray Cradle, billionaire
boy genius and bon vivant, he has companies, banks,
mansions at his disposal. And Martin had it too, and
he would have had it if he had kept on, just been
patient, waited. Waited until the time was right for
Ray to let go, to retire. He screwed himself.
But Ray keeps smiling, and it's no longer
schadenfreude, but admiration. "Resourceful," he
Martin takes the lead. "This way."
"That must be the Oni," whispers Martin, pointing
at a lanky Japanese man. Martin and Ray are standing
in a cave some twenty-five feet above the ground, in
the long empty, ghostless lion's den.
"I'm surprised he's alone," says Ray.
"He's not," says Martin. He feels bad pointing
this out, but he also feels frustrated that it's
necessary to do so. The Ray Cradle he had played kid
sidekick to for twenty-one years would be pointing
things out to him. "Look behind him, in the shadows.
A couple of machines. Mecha."
Ray strained his eyes but saw nothing but shadows.
"Right. Big ones, huh?"
"Not the huge things you see in a lot of these
cartoons. But big enough. Man-sized, anyway." He
chuckles. "I'm surprised the guy's Japanese. I had
this gut feeling he was going to be just another white
kid obsessed with Eastern culture."
"You can't trust your gut. Only facts."
"I know that, Ray. You told me a hundred--"
"Don't you call me that," the Green Knight says in
a low, raspy whisper, sudden and violent. "That's the
first rule, and I never had to tell you that one more
than once. When the mask is on, I am the Green
"Sorry," says Martin. "I don't know how it
"You're slipping," says the Green Knight. Martin
thinks he's hot shit, but he's not. Only an idiot
would make a mistake like that. He's probably been
slipping for a long time.
"Say," the Green Knight says. "What do I call you?
You're not the Acro-Bat anymore."
"Don't call me anything." Martin's nameless
costume has become invisible in the starless night.
It's only the touching of their elbows that tells Ray
that he's there at all.
Ray puts his hand against the wall. He's feeling
dizzy again. All the shapes and colours around him
are blurring together, dimming, dimming...
It must be getting darker out...
"Schultz!" says Martin.
Ray tries to make out the shape. It's one he
should be familiar with. But all he can see are
shadows moving among shadows.
Martin procures a microphone from somewhere in his
sleek black shadow, and adjusts a speaker near his
ear. Ray can hear it, but just barely. Martin keeps
it low so as not to give them away.
"Nice... have you... this late," Schultz is saying.
"Yes," the Oni says.
"This... Vito... told... about... right-hand..."
"... have... cousin... pockets... sympathies..."
"So," Schultz says, loud enough so that each word
booms. "Show us what you're selling."
There's a hum of machinery and the sound of metal
clanging against the ground. Ray begins to feel ill,
begins to feel the cancer and the sickness growing
inside his body, causing it to convulse, causing it to
siphon his stomach acid up his throat. He keeps his
mouth closed shut and his throat tight, and it burns
but he will not throw up. He is the Green Knight, he
is a superhero, and superheroes don't throw up.
The mechas are moving, he can hear that much, and
now he can see them. Sort of... they're shadows,
everything is shadows, everything melting together, he
can see movement, flashes of colour... Green Knight...
Green "Knight... Green Knight!"
It's Martin. Calling for him. But why... oh.
I'm falling. Forward.
Off the edge...
Martin grabs him by the foot, and Ray's body smacks
against the artificially-coloured concrete, his jaw
and his nose colliding and in that moment, the vomit
comes and he feels himself slipping...
And now he's coming back up, being pulled back
Pulled back into the cave...
Sound deafening... sound of metal, of engines...
"... lucky." Martin's saying something. "They
didn't see you, didn't hear you."
The mechas. Thank god.
Ray throws up again before he passes out.
He awakens with the scent of dung in his nostrils.
There's a television on. The light is faint, the
sound muted. He spots Martin, sans mask and in a
"You're sick, Ray."
"I have cancer."
"Oh, lungs. Heart. Liver. Brain. Little of
this, little of that."
"You're dying, Ray."
"Nah. I'm getting treatment, I'm getting better."
"You're getting treatment?"
"Sure. Chemotherapy, radiation."
"And you're out jumping on top of buildings while
you're getting chemo?"
"I'm fine, really," Ray says.
Martin knows better to argue with him. He does it
anyway. "You should stay home, rest. And when you...
when you get better, that's when you put the mask back
on. You keep it up and you'll be working against the
"We still at the zoo?"
"Hmm-mm. Underneath the monkey house."
"No, it's Abigail's," says Martin. Abigail
Notebloom. Debutante-turned-vampire-turned-hero. The
Nocturnal. "Don't worry, she's in California."
"No, not for a long time," says Martin. But. "You
wouldn't know, though, would you? We've got catching
up to do, Ray."
"Nothing much new with me," says Ray. "Riana died
last year. That's about it."
"I know," says Martin. "Did you tell her?"
"You should have."
"You owed it to her."
"I don't recall asking for your advice," says Ray.
He lifts himself off the bed. "I have to get home.
Wait. What happened with...?"
"Schultz made a deal to buy some mechas. The deal
itself will be going down in two weeks time. Which
still begs the question: why is the Oni gathering up
"People to drive the machines?"
"Not likely. Schultz only works with his own men."
The old Ray would have known that. But the old Ray
wasn't dying. Martin puts a hand on Ray's shoulder
and feels a twitch behind his eye. He hugs the
enormous square body.
"What the hell was that for?"
"Never hugged you before," says Martin.
"No reason to start now."
"I can give you a ride," Martin offers.
"I'll walk, thank you." Martin leads him out of
the hide-out and lets him go. He doesn't want to see
him fall down again.
He doesn't want him to fall down without someone to
pick him back up. Martin puts his shadow back on,
turns off the TV, and follows.
After Ray Cradle's body is treated by the chemicals
measured out for Gregory Lobs, he drives himself back
home. He vomits several times upon his return, and
finds that the all-ready thinning ranks of his hair
are being massacred by the chemicals running through
his bloodstream. When Anders makes a comment about
it, Ray just says he's getting old and heads off to
He sleeps. He does not dream.
Anders wakes him up around seven-thirty. Ray
thought that the afternoon's rest would have given him
strength, but he finds himself just as weak as before.
He's not happy to have been woken up.
"There's a guy here to see you," he says. "He's
waiting in the foyer."
Ray knows who it is. Of course he knows who it is.
"Okay, I'll be there in a minute."
"I'll go let him know."
After his son leaves, Ray tries to push himself off
the bed. When that fails, he tries to roll himself
out. He cannot muster up the strength to even fall
from his bed. Apparently fifteen minutes have passed,
because Anders returns.
"Are you all right, dad?"
"A little weak," he admits. The words feel strange
and soft in his mouth, like cotton-candy. Dry.
Sticky. A little weak. He's not sure if he's ever
said them before. Their honesty haunts him. He does
feel a little weak.
"Let me help you up," says Anders.
He grabs his father by the arm and tugs, pulling
him up into a sitting position. It's too fast, too
swift for Ray, and though there's no food left to
sacrifice to his toilet, he vomits.
Anders is saying something, but Ray can't hear it.
The blood is pumping all around his head.
His son's flabby little arm snakes underneath Ray's
armpits, and soon Ray is on his feet. His massive,
stocky bulk weighs down on his son, but Anders
shoulders the burden admirably and without complaint.
And, step-by-step, moment-by-moment, they near the
door, they clear the hallway, the stairs, the living
room, and they arrive at the foyer.
Martin. Of course. Just as he. Thought. Martin.
Martin takes up the other side of this huge hulking
mass of fatherhood, and together his two sons help him
into a chair. Ray is a little stunned, a little
shocked. This doesn't feel right. This doesn't feel
like Ray, like the Green Knight who only yesterday
evening walked home through the bitter cold and with
his head a buzzing nest of vertigo. Is this the same
man who ignored his screaming limbs and aching body
and tried to climb the stairs up to his meeting point
with Burger? The same man who drove himself home this
very afternoon after his body was injected with
poisons? A self-sufficient man, who needed no-one,
not his wife and not his son and certainly not his
sidekick, certainly not Martin...
A self-sufficient man who had to be carried from
his bedroom to his armchair. Yesterday he would have
refused the help. What caused the difference today?
Three little words, a little honesty? A little weak.
Were those powerful enough to reduce the Green Knight
to poor old Ray Cradle?
"Are you going to be okay, dad?" Anders says.
"Thank you, I'm fine now," says Ray.
Martin looks at Ray but speaks to Anders. "Your
father has cancer."
Ray's mouth tightens and his heart beats
"Are you his doctor?" says Anders.
"No, I'm an old friend," says Martin. "He has
cancer. He told me yesterday."
"Dad, why didn't you tell me?" says Anders.
"We'll talk about it later."
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I'd like to talk with Mr. Rock right now," says
his father, the little wheeze in his voice undermining
the sudden return of his granite. "We can talk about
this later. If you could leave us, and after he's
gone, we'll talk about this."
Anders looks to Martin, and Martin shifts his gaze
to his sixteen-year old doppelganger. Martin doesn't
say anything, and after a moment, Anders does leave
the room. Ray, his body shaking slightly, snakes his
head around the armchair and watches his son head back
up the velvet staircase. Then he turns to Martin and
nods curtly. Martin shuts the door and sits down
across from Ray.
"What was that?"
Martin doesn't play dumb. "He has a right to know.
Just like Ree did."
"I wasn't dying then. She was."
"She had a right to know who you are. So does your
"Well, it's not any of your business, is it? You
had no right to tell him about the cancer."
"You weren't going to tell him. He wouldn't find
out until you were dead."
"Again, I don't recall making this your business."
"Ray, I have a stake in this, in your life."
"You're not getting it," Ray snarls.
"I don't want it. I'm doing fine on my own, with
"Then what stake do you have in this?"
"Do you have to ask this question? Do you
seriously have to ask this?" Martin looks hurt.
"What, you think twenty-one years of spending close to
sixteen hours a day at your side amounts to nothing?
That'd I have no feelings about you."
"I'm not your father."
"I'm not your son."
"You're not even my sidekick anymore."
"So what does that make us, Ray?"
"I don't know. You tell me. What does that make
"You weren't bitter last night," Martin says. "It
was you and me, like old times. Only, it wasn't like
old times. And that's because you're dying, Ray."
"I am not," Ray says. He pounds his fist on the
armchair for emphasis. It shakes and it lands with a
soft, squishy thump.
"Gregory Lobs is terminal," says Martin. "His body
is more cancer than body."
He's seen my medical records, Ray realizes. "Have
you been following me?"
"I followed the money," says Martin. "You ran it
through four dummy accounts before it got to Lobs. So
I followed the money. First thing you taught me."
"The first thing I taught you is to follow my
lead," says Ray. "And not to blow my cover."
"Telling your son that his father is dying isn't
blowing your cover."
"I'm not dying!"
"Yes, you are. Ray. You're dying. And I want to
help you. I don't want the suit. I just want to help
you... end. And make it peaceful. And I think if you
die and you never tell your son who his father is...
than he'll never really have known his father, and
you'll never have been a father to him at all."
Ray sits in his chair for a long time, and then he
says, quietly: "I'm dying." The honesty exhausts him.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2005 TOM RUSSELL.
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