8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 4, The Green Knight-Darkhorse Team!
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Fri Dec 1 05:47:39 PST 2006
WARNING FOR NEW READERS:
I have tried in this story to create the most vile,
repulsive villain that I could. As such, the first
half or so of this story is exceedingly ugly. People
who are familiar with my writing know that this is
atypical of me and my work.
Stick with the story to the finish-- it's not
spoiling anything, I think, to say that I firmly
believe in the triumph of good over evil, and
gaudiness, joy, and nostalgia _always_ trumps
ugliness, racism, and war-- at least in the end.
THE GREEN KNIGHT-DARKHORSE TEAM!
The Green Knight leaps over a barrage of bullets as
the new Darkhorse lets them vibrate through his body
harmlessly. Over their heads is a grizzled, almost
satanic figure, decked out in army fatigues and
holding a rifle.
To the left of the villain's gigantic head is Pam
Bierce, suspended in the air, bound at the wrists, and
writhing as a sniper target hovers over her luscious
EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP
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# 4 DECEMBER 2006
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BY TOM RUSSELL //
1991. Iraq. Operation Provide Comfort.
"God-damn sand niggers."
"Sorry, Martin. No offense. Just... I mean, what
kind of war is this, anyway?"
"War's over, Nate. We're just here to help."
"Then they need to get the Salvation Army or some
shit in here, y'know? We're snipers, man."
"We're still snipers," said Martin. He looked
through the sight on his gun, trolling the Kurdish
countryside for any sign of Saddam's forces.
"Hey, hey Martin! Look at two o'clock!"
"My two o'clock, or your two o'clock?"
"My two o'clock. Uh..."
Nine o'clock. "Okay. What am I looking at?"
"You see that woman?"
"Bet she looks good underneath all of those robes."
Martin sighed. "Keep your mind on the work, Nate."
"Hey, Martin, you ever been with a sand nigger
"No, Nate. Can't say that I have."
"Man, I wonder if their titties have pink nipples
or brown ones."
"I don't know, asshole. Why don't you ask?" He
clicked off his radio.
Nathan yelled from the adjacent rooftop. "Why'd
you turn off the radio? And why'd you call me
Martin clicked it back on. "Jesus Christ, you're
going to get us killed shouting like that."
"Why'd you turn off the radio?"
"You're breaking my concentration," said Martin.
"To do this job, we have to have complete focus.
Maybe that's why you're so shitty at it." He clicked
the radio off again.
"Rock, I understand that you turned off your radio
today while on active duty."
"Sir, yes sir! I'm sorry sir! Permission to speak
"Willis is a racist, sir!"
His commanding officer sighed. "Why is it every
time you boys have a problem with somebody, you call
it racism? Hmm? Answer me that."
"I don't know. Sir."
"This isn't the first time Willis has complained
about you. If I was a betting man, I'd say you're
still upset about his earlier and quite valid
complaints, and so you want to call it racism.
"I dunno, Martin," said Jesse, "but this thing
between you and Nathan can't keep going on like this.
Why don't you apologize, bury the hatchet."
"What for, for being black?"
"Look, we all know he's a racist. We don't like it
anymore than you do. But we still got to work with
the bastard. Why not work smoothly?"
"He's the one causing the problems."
"You're the one that insulted his shooting."
"His shooting sucks, that's why."
Martin took his place on his rooftop. Willis was
nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was removed from duty?
If only he could be so lucky. He called the base.
"He was there ten minutes ago," they confirmed.
"Probably went off for a smoke," said Martin.
"Don't worry, I can handle it."
That's when he saw Nathan Willis in his gun-sight,
inside a little house at nine o'clock, tearing a
blouse off. Martin didn't call the base. Instead, he
leapt into action, bounding off the adjacent building
before touching ground.
He ran to the little house and grabbed Willis by
the wrist. Nathan's pistol fell to the ground.
Martin punched him, propelling him away from the
She thanked him profusely. Martin told her in
Kurdish to get dressed as he kicked Nathan in the
"What're you doing?" said Nathan. "She never said
Martin snarled and tossed Nathan out of the little
house and onto the ground. He picked up Nathan's
"Give me one reason," said Martin. "One reason why
I shouldn't kill you."
"You don't got the guts," said Nathan. "How many
people have you killed in this war? Three? Four?"
"Five," said Martin. "I can easily make it six."
That's when the world came crashing down around
them, that's when gunfire and bombs lit up the streets
and brought down the buildings.
Martin came to.
"Martin! Help me! I'm trapped!"
Martin turned and saw that Nathan was pinned
underneath a large beam about a yard away from him.
Martin pulled himself out of the wreckage. "Hold on a
A new voice: the woman Nathan had tried to rape.
She's crying in Kurdish, crying for help. She, too,
is pinned underneath the rubble, some twenty yards
Martin turned and started for the woman.
"Wait!" said Nathan. "Where are you going?"
Martin dodged a beam as it came crashing down.
"It ain't safe all the way over there," said
Nathan. "I'm closer, you can save me!"
The floor gave way, and Martin leapt across the
chasm. Almost there.
"Don't you dare!" said Nathan. "Don't you dare
save that cunt before you save me, you fucking
Martin pulled the woman out of the wreckage. He
held her in his arms and began making his way to the
"I'm sorry," said Nathan. "I'm sorry I said that.
I was just angry. I'm in a lot of pain here. You
gotta get me out, man."
Martin carried the woman past Nathan.
"You'll come back for me, won't you, Martin?"
"Triage decision," said Martin. "Guess this makes
Aught-six. December. Now!
"I'll tell you one thing," says Nathan, "I can't
miss from this range. And you can't do a damn thing.
Your whole body is paralyzed."
Martin smuggles a shallow breath to his lungs,
trying but failing to steady it. He doesn't want to
appear nervous. It will give Nathan the upper-hand
"Fifteen years of hate," says Nathan. "Do you have
any idea what fifteen years of hate can do to a man?
"After you left me to die, I was captured by Iraqi
forces. Tortured. And I should have died. I would
have died. But the difference was, I hated you." His
face tenses up, vibrating with anger. "Hated you so
bad. And it kept me going. Helped me escape.
"I became a soldier of fortune. Honed my craft
with the sole purpose of finding you and killing you.
No other thoughts, no other hobbies. Fifteen straight
years of hate and practice. And I got good, Martin.
"I can pick off a fly on a steeple, and I'll leave
that steeple just the way it were. I know poisons, I
know how to survive, how to plan, how to kill. Only
problem was, I couldn't find you for so long. And
that made me hate you even more. Made me even better.
"And then about a year ago, you pop up. They say
you killed Anders Cradle. Now, I knew that wasn't
true, since you don't have any guts to kill a man.
You'll leave him to rot. But you won't kill him. And
so it turns out, you were innocent. [*-- see GREEN
KNIGHT ANNUAL # 1.]
"Didn't matter. I had my lead on you. And I've
been in Jolt City ever since, trying to find you. And
a couple weeks ago, you turn up again. Only this
time, you're gainfully employed. That made it very
easy to follow you. [*-- see JOLT CITY # 2-3.]
"And to see what mattered to you."
"Yeah, I've got your jungle bitch. Way I see it,
you took my slut from me. Only returning the favour.
And Martin? She's a good lay."
"You son of a bitch!" Martin's body jerks forward,
straining against the paralysis. He hardly moves at
all. His muscles contract and he falls to the floor,
"You're a strong young buck. But it won't do you
much good. Not even will power can beat this toxin.
It'll wear off after a spell.
"And, don't worry, you will live that long. I'm
going to show you, Martin Rock." He takes a black bag
and slips it over Martin's head. "I ain't shitty at
all. I'm going to show you that I'm the best damn
sniper that ever was."
Martin feels his body being lifted into the air.
They're moving. A door opens and closes. (A sliding
Suddenly, his body is bouncing up and down: stairs.
They come to a sudden stop. Nathan takes in a deep,
sharp breath. (Waiting. For something, or someone.
A close call. But what?)
There's noise, people laughing and talking, dozens
of them. And a strange sound Martin can't quite
place: rhythmic, quick, smooth and yet metallic.
Suddenly, they're moving again. The noise gets
louder and then disappears. They must have passed
through a hallway. He must be avoiding the group of
More stairs. His legs butt up against something
hard and metal and yet yielding. The sound of cars.
It was a door. They're outside. Another sound. A
car trunk? Yes.
Martin's body falls in a clump into the trunk.
Nathan slams it shut. A moment later, the car is in
He can't get a handle on where the car is going,
whether its turning left or right or going straight.
He steadies his breath (his lungs don't feel so
tight now) and begins counting seconds. If he can
figure out how far apart wherever he was and wherever
he's going are, how long the travel time, he might be
able to trace his way back after he gets out of this
It's no use. The drug makes his brain hazy. He
loses count more than once, starting over only to
realize he has done so.
The car comes to a stop, the trunk opens, and
Martin is carried and then rolled onto the grass.
Martin lies there and waits for his body (his best
and most accurate weapon) to come back under his
command. As he waits, he tries to formulate a plan.
But there's not enough information. To try and put
something together without knowing what the score is
would be folly. He knows himself well enough to know
that he would try to stick to whatever plan he came up
with. Better not to have a plan. He has to take
things as they come. Be free to improvise.
"Mister? Are you okay?" It's a girl's voice, very
"Janie, stay away from that man!"
"I think he's hurt." The black hood is lifted from
his head. She's five years old, maybe six, pretty
little dress. He tries to open his mouth to speak,
but his jaw still won't cooperate. He can feel his
fingers twitch, though. Just a few minutes longer...
"Are you okay?" asks Janie.
Martin hears the bullet coming, soft and terrible,
a second before it rips through her skull. There is a
quick spurt of blood, pirouetting in the air. She
falls backwards with a dusty thud.
Her mother screams her name, over and over, and is
silenced by another bullet.
More screams. Panic. People rushing, their feet
digging into gravel and grass... and bullets, bullets
whizzing through the air and hitting trees and flesh
and metal. I'm in a park, Martin realizes. Bunch of
kids. He's going to kill them, going to kill a bunch
of kids and their parents.
He can't let that happen.
His joints are still locked up, his muscles still
turgid solid rock. Just a few more minutes. But he
doesn't have that long. He made himself move before,
he can do it again. He has to do it again.
He was angry when he did it, he wasn't thinking,
wasn't trying. Must have been a surge of adrenaline.
If he can get himself angry again...
But he is angry, he is keyed up. They're kids!
His body quivers with outrage, and all he manages to
do is flops onto his side.
What kind of hero are you?, Martin asks himself.
Come on, get up! Get up! People are dying! Because
of you. Their blood is on your hands, Martin. In
The park. The one park in Jolt City that Martin's
been avoiding since he was twelve years old. This is
where it happened. This is where another white man
with a gun changed Martin's life forever. This is
where he was raped. [GREEN KNIGHT # 6.]
"No! Not again!" Martin throws his body up on its
feet violently. His body's still in the rapture of
the toxin, still fighting him. His muscles lock up
and shake with every step. It hurts so bad, he has to
grit his teeth. Even through gritted teeth, though,
he still manages to scream.
"Everybody get down!" he says. "It's me he wants!
Me! Leave them alone!"
The shooting stops for a moment. Martin surveys
the blood-stained grass and counts four bodies in
addition to Janie and her mother. Jesus. His eyes
dart around, looking for Nathan and his perch.
They both had the same training, both had been
taught how to pick the most strategic spot possible
for sniping. Martin spots the bastard in a
second-story house window, gun poking out of the
alcove. The house is positioned diagonally from a
clearing in the trees.
Martin runs towards the house, hoping to catch
Nathan off-guard. Unfortunately, his legs still
wobble and his muscles still spasm. He hears a shot.
Bullet's coming his way. Got to get down...
Too late. Martin grunts as the bullet grazes his
arm. If it hadn't been for his erratic shaking, it
would have went through his heart. Something to be
thankful for, he supposes, as he falls to the ground,
a quivering, shaking heap.
No. No. No... Get up, get up...
And then, another sound, like a tornado moving
through the grass. It lasts for about three seconds.
That's when Martin realizes he only heard the bullets
fire; he didn't hear any of them make any kind of
Shaking and bleeding, he rolls to his other side,
coming face to face with a sleek, pitch-black boot.
It's not a fancy boot, not a dress boot, or a style
statement. No, from its cut and design, Martin
recognizes it as belonging to a member of the spandex
He looks up, sweat heavy on his eyelids, to see the
tall, svelte, and dynamic figure before him. His mask
reveals the lower half of his face. He smiles at
Martin with his white teeth in his white face.
"It's alright, citizen," says the man as he
disintegrates the bullets he's caught by rubbing them
together at super-speed. "You're safe now! The
"He's in the house," says Martin. "White one,
third from corner." He shivers, suddenly very cold.
He feels something inside his brain, gaping and
terrible and ready to swallow him whole. Before he
succumbs to it, before he lets himself fall to sleep,
he focuses his eyes on the speedster. "And you're not
He can't remember an image. But a sound haunts
That weird sound he heard en route to the trunk.
That rhythmic metal sound he couldn't quite place.
It spins around in his head, regular and
Martin awakens in the hospital. He feels his lungs
swell up to full capacity; he feels a certain
languidness in his muscles that tell him that his
control of his body has returned.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Rock." It's Michael Reynolds,
the federal agent. "In answer to your unspoken
question? Yes, you are in deep shit."
"Did you catch him?"
"Who, the shooter? No."
"I told him where he was."
"Yes," says Reynolds, allowing his eyebrows to
squat against his squinted eyes. "Unfortunately, by
the time Darkhorse got there, there was no one inside.
We found some cigarettes. Other than that, no
traces. How did you know he was there?"
Martin bristles a bit, knowing where Reynolds is
going with this. "We both served in Iraq, sniper
unit. For what he wanted to do, that would be the
most advantageous spot."
"That's where you would go, huh? If you wanted to
shoot up a park full of kids."
Martin doesn't dignify that with a response.
"So you know who this guy is?"
"Nathan Willis," says Martin.
Reynolds starts to jot the name down.
"Military will say he's dead," says Martin. "I
left him behind in the field. Triage decision. I
could only carry so many people."
"So he's a little pissed at you?"
"I guess you could say that, yes."
"So why didn't you tell me about this yesterday? I
asked you point blank if there was anyone you were
hiding from." [*-- JOLT CITY # 3.]
"I wasn't hiding. I thought he was dead. Everyone
else seemed to think so."
"Everyone thought you were dead, too," says
Reynolds. "But here you are. And there he is, some
psychopath with a gun, killing children. I'm going to
ask you this once, and only once: did you know about
"Of course not," says Martin. "One minute, I'm
asleep, the next, I wake up in some room I've never
seen before, paralyzed. I had no idea he was still
alive. He blindfolds me, stuffs me in a trunk, drops
me off in the park, and starts shooting."
"Do you remember anything about the car?"
Reynolds exhales. "What about the place he kept
"There were a lot of people," says Martin. "Maybe
he was hiding in an attic or something?"
The door opens. Danielle Handler. She's
completely exhausted. "We meet again, Mr. Rock."
She's not happy about it.
"We've got a name," says Reynolds, passing his
notepad to Danielle. "Apparently, the hero here left
him for dead back in Iraq. Now he wants revenge." He
turns to Martin. "You'll want to tell us the whole
story, from the beginning."
Martin nods. "After that, can I go?"
"There are dead children," says Danielle.
"I didn't do it," says Martin. It comes out a
little colder than he wants. Perhaps a little more
"You brought this monster into my city," says
"Besides," says Reynolds, stepping in, "you're his
primary target. It wouldn't be advisable to have you
on the streets while he's still loose."
"Yes," agrees Danielle, cooling down to her
professional simmer. "The Green Knight will want to
talk to you. We're going to keep you here under
police custody until he arrives."
"You get a hold of him yet?" says Reynolds.
"Not yet," says Danielle. "But he's never let me
down before. Darkhorse has offered to help, and he's
out searching the city now."
"Goody," says Reynolds bitterly. "Maybe if we're
lucky, he can destroy more evidence. What kind of
idiot disintegrates the god-damn bullets?"
"Okay, hero," sneers Danielle as she takes a seat.
"So why don't you start at the beginning?"
He goes through the story roughly a half dozen
times. Danielle occasionally steps out to call the
Green Knight. Martin wonders if he left his pager at
Pam's, or if Nathan has it. Either way, it's a bad
situation: police are scouring Pam's now for clues.
And, blip, that's the end of his secret identity. But
what if Nathan is able to trace the pager to the cops,
what if he puts two and two together?
Either way, not good.
Danielle enters the room again. "Still no answer.
I don't understand it."
"What do we need him for anyway?" says Reynolds.
"We've got the police searching the crime scenes.
They'll turn something up. Things get too hard, we've
still got that other dipshit in tights to take him
down for us. What difference will the Green Knight
"I know what you're saying," says Danielle. "We
can handle this. At the same time, he's a damn decent
detective. A little too short on patience, but he has
a good eye for detail. And, personally? I'm worried
"Nothing like that," says Danielle. "Strictly
"If he's not going to show," breaks in Martin,
"then can I go?"
Danielle snaps her fingers. Two police officers
enter. "This piece of shit does not leave this room
under any circumstances. Not until the Green Knight
has talked with him." She makes her exit. Reynolds
tips his hat and follows.
Martin knows why police will have witnesses recount
events again and again, from the beginning: it helps
them to structure the events, it frees up the memory.
The surest way to solve a problem is to understand it.
So, he thinks to himself, very careful not to say
any of this aloud: here's the problem.
There's a psychopath on the loose. He's after you.
It's your fault. He has Pam. You have to stop him.
You can't leave this room until the Green Knight
shows up to talk to you. But.
You are the Green Knight. So, until you arrive to
talk to yourself, he's still free. So, that's the
situation. What are the solutions?
He could try to escape, try to overpower the
guards. But then Reynolds and Danielle would
certainly suspect him of being somehow involved with
Nathan, that he's hiding something. Likely, they'll
divert resources and make it a two-man man-hunt.
And, beyond that, it just makes life ten times more
difficult for Martin Rock once this whole thing is
over. The last thing he wants is more attention, more
legal bullshit. And he can't run away from that. The
last thing that he needs is to be a fugitive from
He could sit this one out. Danielle's right, the
police are competent, and this white guy claiming to
be Darkhorse can probably handle Nathan. Hell, he can
handle him better than Martin can: Martin can't catch
bullets in mid-air or phase through matter. Martin
doesn't have any powers at all.
Assuming he does get out of this room and confront
Nathan, Nathan will undoubtedly have the advantage.
As the Green Knight, Martin's armed with a grappling
hook and some gas pellets and an electric torch:
that's it. Hardly anything that can stop a bullet.
But Martin's had the same training as Nathan.
What's more, he's better at it. It's been more than
ten years since he's fired a gun, but he knows he'd
still be the best damn shot that ever was. He could
meet Nathan, gun to gun, sniper to sniper.
But when you bring bullets into the game, there's
more of a chance that people can be hurt, that
innocents can suffer. Besides, he cannot and will not
take a human life.
So, really, maybe the best thing would be to sit it
out. After all, he's getting older, he's only a man.
Better to let the cops take down the gun-man.
Hopefully too many of them wouldn't get shot down in
Only, and he knows this: he made this bed. He
can't, in good conscience, ask others to lie in it.
He has to fix this problem, he has to take Nathan
down. It's not a question of honour or hubris (at
least, this is what he tells himself): it's a question
of what's right.
And sometimes, Ray Cradle had told him, doing the
right thing means compromising yourself, it means
taking off the mask. It means sacrafice. Of course,
Ray never made that kind of sacrafice. And he let his
wife die without ever taking off the mask. But Martin
had learned, slowly and over time, to separate the
teacher from the lesson.
He has to stop Nathan. He has to get out of here
to do that. To get out of here, the Green Knight must
show up. Or...
Or he must reveal his secret identity.
Okay. So what are the consequences of the big
reveal? First, it gets him out of here, and it gets
Nathan off the streets. That's a plus, but that's
only the immediate picture. Too often, Martin is
focused on the here and now. He doesn't plan for the
future, doesn't stop to consider the long-term
ramifications. In fact, it was that same tendency
that landed him here in the first place.
The larger picture? Everyone's going to know that
Nathan Willis was going after Martin Rock. That it's
Martin Rock's fault that there are dead children. If
he reveals that Martin Rock and the Green Knight are
one and the same, people will blame the Green Knight
for what happened. The chance of him making any kind
of impact on the community is reduced to nil.
And that's the whole reason he took on the mantle,
that's what he's been trying to do for the last year:
to make a difference, to clean up the streets, to
inspire. To show that you don't need a gun to be a
man, that you don't need to join a gang. To summarily
reject that caricature of black life and to say, look,
you can be more.
But no one's going to be inspired by the man whose
responsible for today's massacre. So that's out. He
can't reveal it publicly. But maybe... maybe just to
If he confides in her, it doesn't damage the Green
Knight's reputation, at least not publicly.
But at the same time, it would damage their
relationship. Both the Green Knight and Martin Rock
are already skating on thin ice with her. To conflate
the two identities would only increase her anger. And
she couldn't respect, couldn't work with someone who
unleashed Nathan in her city.
Either way, he's no longer as effective as he used
to be. No longer able to make a difference. But is
that really that important? Or is it more important
to him? Is he being selfish by trying to maintain
that status quo? People have died. Pam's in danger.
All this suffering, and all because of Martin Rock.
That's ironic. The whole reason to maintain a secret
identity is to keep your loved ones from reprisal.
But when it's the civilian identity that's targeted,
it renders the whole thing kind of moot, doesn't it?
Who is Martin protecting by wearing the Green
Knight's mask? What person could possibly be in
danger if his identity was revealed, that wasn't
already in danger because they were known
acquaintances of Martin Rock? Roy.
"Hey," says Martin.
The guards blink.
"Can I make a phone call?"
The guards exchange looks, trying to figure out the
"You can listen in," offers Martin. "Put it on
speaker phone. Just want to call my priest. Uh.
Pastor. I was going to meet him tonight for Wednesday
mass, but it looks like I'm going to miss it."
The guards have blank faces.
"I'm real religious," says Martin earnestly, hoping
that will seal the deal.
"Tell me the number," says one of the guards,
picking up the phone. Martin gives him the number and
"Our Redeemer Church," Roy's voice pips up over the
speaker phone. "You sin, we absolve."
"Who is this?" barks the guard incredulously.
"Father Riddle," says Roy. "May I ask who's
"I got a Mr. Martin Rock here, wants to talk to
"Hi, Roy," says Martin.
"What's going on?"
"I'm in the hospital," says Martin. "I was shot in
"Are you okay?"
"Just grazed it a bit. That was a police officer
you were talking to."
"Yep. I was shot by a sniper, and they're keeping
me here as a witness."
"Yeah," says Martin evenly. "They're keeping me
here until the Green Knight shows up to talk with me."
"Oh," says Roy, trying to disguise his
understanding. "You'll get his autograph?"
"Sure thing, Father Riddle," says Martin. "Just
wanted to let you know I won't be able to make it
tonight. I don't know when the Green Knight's going
to show up. But I have a feeling I'm going to be here
a long time."
"Well, let me know how it all turns out, Marty,"
says Roy. "Take care."
"You too," says Martin.
Roy hangs up the phone. Martin thanks the guard,
takes a deep breath, and waits.
An hour later, Danielle enters the room. She nods
at the guards, who exit. "You're free to go," she
"Did you catch Willis?"
"No," she says testily. "The Green Knight will
only talk to you in his lair. His, uh, public liaison
is downstairs. He'll escort you."
The elevator door opens, and Martin steps out,
followed by Danielle. He can see Roy at the end of
the hall. As he gets closer, he sees that Roy is not
alone. Standing next to him is Derek Mason.
Derek shakes Martin's hand. "My name is Derek," he
introduces himself. "I'm one of the dealers the
Crooked Man was after. I just wanted to thank you for
saving my life." [*-- see JOLT CITY # 2.]
"You're welcome," says Martin.
"Now remember your promise," says Roy. "No
"The Green Knight can trust me, just like I trust
the Green Knight," says Danielle. "Though more and
more, I'm wondering why I trust him in the first
Martin climbs into the passenger seat.
"So," says Roy, "what's this all about?"
"You first," says Martin. "What did you tell
"I told them I was the Green Knight's go-between,"
says Roy. "That you needed to be brought to, uh, your
"Did they ask why?"
"Yes," says Roy. "I figured it wouldn't be very
seemly for me to lie, and, to be frank, I'm a bad liar
besides. So I just said that you had your reasons,
that I couldn't disclose them, that they should trust
you. And Miss Handler obviously does."
"What was Derek Mason doing there?"
"Well, just because she trusts you, doesn't mean
she trusts me," says Roy. "She knew somehow that he
had attended your press conference on Monday. He was
able to confirm that I was there with you."
"Thanks, Roy," says Martin. "You really got me out
of a tight spot."
"You're welcome," says Roy. "I'm just glad to be
of service. Now, it's your turn. What's this all
"What is it always about?" says Martin with a deep
sigh. "The past coming back to bite me in the ass."
Roy clears his throat. "Martin. Language."
Our Redeemer. The Knight's Den.
Martin winces as he slides his injured arm into his
"You think maybe we should make it bullet-proof?"
He hands Martin a green sack of cloth. Martin
pulls it over his face and creates a Mask, a skin that
covers his whole body. The only parts left of him are
his eyes, his soul: his essence, the essential
Martin-Rockness of Martin Rock.
"No," says Martin, finally. "There's no time."
"But in the future," says Roy. "Someone's bound to
shoot at you again."
"And I'm sure someone will try and use fire as a
weapon," says Martin. "Should I line the suit with
asbestos? Someone will use a knife. Should I make
the padding extra thick, should I wear steel armour?
"This is a dangerous job, that's true. It's also a
dangerous world. But do you walk around with a Kevlar
"No," says Roy.
"Do you feel safe?"
"Sometimes," says Roy. "Sometimes I don't."
"I can't plan for every eventuality," says Martin.
"And I can't be scared. Otherwise, I'd just keep
covering myself, protecting myself, and what message
does that send to ordinary people? If a hero needs
that much protection, shouldn't they need more? I'm
not going to scare mothers and fathers."
"Not to play devil's advocate," says Roy, "but is
sending a message, being a symbol, more important than
Martin exhales sharply: the tiny dagger of breath
stabs into the cloth, inflating it for a brief moment,
before it melts back into verdant obscurity.
Martin considers climbing up the side of the
building, making a dramatic entrance through
Danielle's large office window. But he doesn't dare
use his grapple, not with his arm. It only got
nicked: he still has to be careful not to let it show.
It'd be another dot for someone to draw a line to.
He just heads in the front door. There's a certain
grayness in the air this dying afternoon, a somber
gloom that always descends when the victims are
children. Which, in Jolt City, in Martin's Jolt City,
in Snapp's Jolt City, is far too often.
The Green Knight's stock hasn't exactly risen
dramatically since his screw-up with the Crooked Man.
But the appearance of the colourful figure brings some
light to these hollowed faces. It brings some hope,
and nowhere does that emotion burrow and nestle and
prosper more than in Martin's own breast.
He is quickly escorted to Danielle's office, in
which she is already waiting, along with Reynolds.
"You just better have a good explanation for this
Rock business," says Danielle.
"Rock... it's complicated. And maybe I'll explain
it to you, someday."
"That's not the way it works," says Reynolds. "You
don't get to keep your secrets, carte blanche."
"I'm sorry," says Martin. "But you've just got to
"You keep giving me fewer reasons to," Danielle
retorts. "Where is he?"
"Rock's in a safe place," says Martin.
"You better keep ahold of him," says Danielle. "We
got some questions that don't have answers yet. We're
going to want you to turn him back over to us after
this is done."
Martin exhales deeply, hoping the pause will sound
natural and afford him some time to think. "He's
innocent," he gambles. "Completely innocent. You
have my word on that."
"Not the way it works," Reynolds says again.
Gamble failed. "You turn him back in. After the two
of you capture Willis."
"Two of us? Who? Me and Danielle?"
"You and Darkhorse," says Reynolds.
"I don't think so," says Martin. "I work alone."
"Whatever happened to your sidekick, the Acro-Bat?"
Martin freezes. Many people, especially those
outside of Jolt City, have no idea that there were two
Green Knights, that the Acro-Bat had traded up last
winter. It's in Martin's favour that this fact
remains unconfirmed. But he doesn't have an
explanation for the Acro-Bat's disappearance, not yet.
Perhaps 'he just retired' would do.
Before Reynolds can demand an answer, a blur of
motion catches Martin's eye. The sleek, black-garbed
"Great, you're here," says Darkhorse. Martin
observes a pink pimple on his pasty white face,
divided in half by the tight line of his spandex.
Reynolds clears his throat. "Darkhorse is an
employee of the Federal Government, and has been asked
to assist in the apprehension of the sniper. He'll be
tagging along on your investigation."
Martin sighs. "Fine. Let's get down to business,
then. Any leads?"
"Beyond what Martin Rock told us?" says Danielle.
"Then we have to look for more clues. We'll hit
Bierce's residence first, as it's closest. Then the
house and the park. Hopefully, we'll find something
that will lead us to him."
Before he can say anything further, Martin finds
himself weightless, the world spinning around him, a
sudden digging pain in his arm.
Two seconds later, Darkhorse sets Martin down in
front of Pam's apartment. Surprisingly, he doesn't
find himself to be dizzy or disoriented, though the
arm stings. Absent-mindedly, he rubs it.
"Are you okay?" asks Darkhorse.
"Yeah," says Martin, withdrawing his arm. "Just a
"I can rub it at super-speed," offers Darkhorse,
putting his words into action before they echo into
"No, thanks," says Martin, withdrawing in agony.
"I, uh, don't like being touched."
Darkhorse reaches his vibrating hand into the door,
popping open the lock with his immaterial fist. He
vibrates through the yellow police tape. Martin
grumbles before ducking under it.
Darkhorse is zipping to and fro inside, opening
drawers, turning over cushions and replacing them in
the same instance, giving the entire scene a strange,
squiggly static quality.
"Stop," says Martin. "That is not the way you
conduct an investigation."
"Might not be the way you conduct an
investigation," says Darkhorse. "But when I can
process information at super-speed, I..."
"There's a difference between processing
information and observing. Observation takes time.
It's not just looking for answers, verifying facts.
It's taking a long, hard look at the big picture."
"We're not going to find anything," sing-songs
"Then what do you suggest we do?" says Martin as he
bends down in front of Pam's couch, the same couch he
was sleeping on just the night before. "Just whiz
around town at super-speed, vibrating in and out of
every building until you find him?"
"Well, that's certainly one way to do it," opines
Martin's hand lands upon his pager, dropped the
night before. The police hadn't discovered it. Good.
"I suppose you've tried it already?"
While Darkhorse is distracted with the question,
Martin quickly but discreetly slides the pager into
one of the pouches on his belt. He pulls out the
electric torch, looking for some trace of the nerve
gas: a pellet, perhaps.
Darkhorse, in the end, doesn't answer the question.
Instead, he responds with one of his own: "Why do I
get the feeling that you don't much care for me,
"I dunno," says Martin. "Why do you think that
might be? Darkie?" This last word has the intended
"So you don't like the nickname," says Darkhorse.
Martin stands up and heads into Pam's room.
"What?" says the speedster, following.
"Darkhorse retired last year," says Martin.
[*-- see SPEAK! # 7.]
"The original Darkhorse," says his successor.
"Phil Whaley. He's a friend of mine. Still is. I
took it on with his blessing."
"He stood for something," says Martin. "What do
you stand for?"
"The same things, largely," says Darkhorse.
"Truth, justice, the American wise-crack. He wasn't
exactly a serious and somber man."
Martin starts to shrug his shoulders, but decides
against it. He doesn't want to concede the point.
And so he falls silent once again. He starts to push
past the speedster, but instead of giving way,
Darkhorse just vibrates out of synch with reality.
Martin passes through his molecules, and it's that
sensation that makes him slightly queasy. He heads
into the bathroom, armed with his electric torch.
He's quickly satisfied with the bathroom, and then
the kitchen. He heads towards the door to exit, only
to be scooped up again.
A second later, he's at the park. The park...
This park. Why does it always destroy children?
And Martin thinks about the white man that
destroyed him, and the white man who killed these
babies, and the white man standing next to him,
impatiently tapping his black-garbed foot. Is it
racism? He doesn't think so. It's not racist if it's
justified. A white man did rape Martin as a child. A
white man did shoot these children in the park. And
as for this so-called Darkhorse...
"Phillip Whaley stood for something," says Martin
again. "He was a black man, and he wanted people to
"Not was, is," says Darkhorse. "He's still alive,
just retired. I'm trying to honour what he stood
"But how can you?" says Martin. "You're not
"But isn't that what he stands for? A colour-blind
society? I think by choosing a white guy as his
successor, he made that point. Remember, he chose
Martin shrugs, leaning down in the grass, touching
the blood with his gloves. It's dry, like powder.
"He was someone that black men could look up to and
emulate. Replacing him with a white guy is like
saying, hey, assimilate into white society."
"Because, y'know, the poverty and drugs and
shootings in the parks are so much to be proud of."
"That's why it's important to have a strong symbol
of black manhood," says Martin. "And I think that's
what the original Darkhorse was. You? You neuter
"What's more important?" says Darkhorse. "Sending
a message or getting the job done?"
"I'm trying to do both," says Martin. But, try as
he might, he can't see any clues here. "Guess we
better go inside," says Martin, pointing to the window
from which Nathan conducted his massacre. "Nothing
here but grass."
Darkhorse sighs. "Look, Greenie-- uh, GK. I want
to find this guy. But nothing seems to be working."
"We can't give up," says Martin.
"I'm not suggesting that," says Darkhorse. "But
two out of three came up empty, again. If we don't
find anything inside, we're stuck. We have to start
thinking outside the box. Maybe... maybe I can run at
near the speed of light and catapult us back into
time. I'm still a little shaky at it, though, and so
I might overshoot by a couple hundred years."
"No thanks," says Martin. He plants his feet on
the bloodless parking lot pavement and sits down on an
oblong cement block.
"There were other witnesses," says Martin, "besides
Rock, who saw the shooting. Maybe one..."
"None of them saw the car," says Darkhorse. "At
least, none of them that survived."
"The little girl," says Martin suddenly, sitting
up. "The first one, the one that tried to help him.
Which one is hers?"
"This one," says Darkhorse. He grabs Martin by his
bad arm and yanks him ten yards across the grass.
"He said that she was standing over him," says
Martin. "So he would have lain..." He settles down
into the grass, standing in for his own paralyzed
body. It's an eerie feeling. "Willis carried him
from the car, from the trunk. What are the chances he
would have done so in a straight-line?"
"I'd say the chances are good, if he hoped not to
be seen. He would have chose the shortest path."
Darkhorse extends his left hand, reaching for Martin's
right. His bad arm, again. Martin takes a sharp
breath and lets Darkhorse pull him up.
"No footprints," says Darkhorse.
"Police would have noticed," says Martin. "But I'd
say it's safe to assume the car was parked in one of
these five spots."
"Sure," says Darkhorse. "But with no witnesses and
no video, I don't see where that gets us."
Martin turns towards the orange sliver of sundown.
"How good are your eyes?"
"Sharp enough," shrugs Darkhorse. "Have to be, at
the speeds I move."
"There haven't been any cars in that parking lot
since this morning," says Martin. "Police have made
sure of that."
"You want to follow the tire tracks?" says
"If you can," says Martin. "There's about five
minutes of sun left."
"Give me two."
Darkhorse blitzes off at super-speed, a blur of
black and energy, following first one track, and then
another, doing it so quickly that he appears and
disappears almost instantaneously.
Two and half minutes later, he comes to a
"Sorry I'm late," he says. "Had to get some
Darkhorse points outwards, and Martin sees a few
sparks twinkling in the distance. "Twelve cars," says
Darkhorse. "Some tracks looked fresher than others,
but I thought it'd be better to be safe than sorry."
Darkhorse sets Martin down in front of a flare.
"--work. Will you not do that?"
"Sorry," says Darkhorse. Martin examines the
license plate and flashes his electric torch into its
darkened windows. The back and the passenger seat are
covered with candy wrappers, fast-food burger
containers, and soda cans. It could be Nathan's, if
his personal hygiene habits extended to his car.
They head up to the house and knock on the door.
As it turns out, it belongs to the owner. The same
goes for the next car. And the next.
They get lucky with the fourth, which is parked
about six blocks away from the shooting. No one has
any idea where it came from. They head to the house
it's parked in front of.
They ask the homeowner if they can borrow a phone,
and Martin inquires after the plate number with the
Secretary of State. It's a rental. Martin calls the
As the phone rings, the owner of the house offers
him some cookies. He politely refuses just before the
girl answers the phone.
He explains who he is and rattles off the plate
"Yes, that's one of ours," says the girl. "It was
reported stolen this morning."
"Was it rented to a Nathan Willis?"
"No," she says. "Jack Corner."
"Did you meet him?"
"Yeah, he came in report the theft."
"What'd he look like?"
"Small skinny black guy. Kinda shrimpy. Bald.
Maybe thirty, maybe forty. I'm bad with guessing
"You got an address?"
"He's out of state," says the girl. "You still
want the address?"
She gives it to him. "You know, he probably filed
a police report. Otherwise, his insurance company
can't reimburse him for the loss. Not that it'll be
necessary now that you've found the car."
"Right. Thanks a lot."
"No problem," says the girl.
He hangs up. "Thanks for the use of your phone,
citizen," says Martin grandiosely.
"And thanks for the cookies," says Darkhorse as he
stuffs his face.
Police report says the car was last seen by Corner
at the Jolt City Expo Center at six o' clock this
morning. That was about three hours before the park.
"So, some time between six and nine, Nathan Willis
stole the car," says Darkhorse.
"Corner's staying at the Cedar Oak Motel," says
Martin. Before he can give the speedster the address,
"This is where I'm staying," confides Darkhorse.
"How long are you staying?"
"Until I can find a house or a good apartment,"
says Darkhorse. "Me and the wife are looking around."
"So you're staying in Jolt City," says Martin
"Ooh," says Darkhorse. "Are we going to have a
problem again? Because if we do, I think we should
hold off until after we talk to this guy."
Martin shrugs and knocks on the door.
"Who is it?"
"The Green Knight," says Martin.
The man laughs and opens the door a crack. "Holy
shit. It is the Green Knight and Darkhorse."
"That's what we said," says Darkhorse as he
vibrates through the door.
The man turns and looks at the speedster.
"Ah," says Martin. "You're Jack Corner?"
"Can we come in for a moment? It's about your
Jack steps aside and lets Martin in, closing the
door behind him.
"You told the police you saw it last at six
"Yes, that's when I arrived at the convention
center. When I came out around eleven, it was gone."
"We have reason to believe it was stolen by this
man." Martin shows him a photograph of Nathan.
"Never seen him before in my life."
"Well," says Darkhorse, "thank you for your time,
"Are you sure?" says Martin. "This was taken over
ten years ago, so he'd be a little older." Darkhorse
throws up his hands, exasperated, and speeds into the
"No. I mean..." He stops. The sound of urine
hitting the water at two hundred miles per hour is a
little disconcerting. "There's a lot of people at the
con, but the face doesn't ring a bell."
Martin nods and puts the photo away. "Thanks
Suddenly, Martin hears it: that sound, that weird
rhythmic sound, the one from his dream. Martin turns
his head to see the black blur of his erstwhile
partner slam into the wall. He lands on his back and
slowly disentangles himself from a unicycle.
"This things are harder than they look!" says
The wheel keeps on spinning, and Martin zeros in on
its sound, on the sound, the sound that carried him
from Nathan's hideout to the trunk. Dozens of single
spinning wheels. And Martin smiles, because he should
have known this sound all along: he had been quite the
unicycle enthusiast for an entire summer. That was
back when he was a gymnast, before he was an Acro-Bat.
Before the park...
"Why are you here in Jolt City, Mr. Corner?"
Jack points to the still-spinning wheel. "Unicycle
"At the Jolt City Expo Center?"
Martin gets Darkhorse's attention. "That's our
Two seconds later. The speedster's getting a bit
exhausted, getting slow with the night. Either way,
here they are: the Expo Center.
Martin can hear the wheels spinning even now. They
make him lightheaded, but its not an unpleasant
Darkhorse whizzes around the perimeter of the
building before setting Martin down at the back
entrance. "This is probably the door he used," says
Darkhorse, noting that the back parking lot gives
quicker access to the street. The quickest man on
earth reaches for the door.
"It's a fire exit," warns Martin. "You'll set off
"I'll just vibrate through and get him."
Hell no. "It's too risky. He may be armed.
There's people in there. Let's go to the front and
evacuate the building."
Darkhorse throws up his hands. Instantaneously,
they're at the front. They head inside.
From the reception area, they can see the large
open floor space, dotted with now-empty booths.
There's about twenty people, mostly men, wobbling and
whizzing across the floor on their unicycles.
The receptionist is a pudgy man in his late
thirties. "The Green Knight," he says breathlessly.
"And some guy in a Darkhorse costume. What are you
"We need to evacuate the building," says the Green
Knight. "Official business."
"That shouldn't be too hard," says the
receptionist. "We're just winding down."
The Green Knight grabs a couple unicycles. "Mind
if we borrow these?" he says.
"Go right ahead. Free of charge. My pleasure."
Martin hands one to Darkhorse. "We don't want to
tip him off, don't want it to suddenly go quiet and
then he wonders what's up."
"But I don't know how to ride one of these things,"
"That's alright," says Martin. "I suspect a couple
crashes will increase the authenticity."
Martin climbs onto the unicycle and slices smoothly
into the room. All eyes rivet to him. "Ssh," he
says, raising a finger to his mask.
At the center of the room, he turns on a dime and
balances the unicycle to a stand-still. He holds up
both hands and pushes the air towards the exit.
The unicyclists nod and move out, their wheels
humming across the floor. Martin picks up the slack
and speed, allowing his unicycle to bob and weave
around the floor, in and out amongst the booths. He
takes special precautions around the booth of an
Hawaiian-themed unicycle dealer, whose table is
adorned with tiki masks and burning torch-poles.
Darkhorse crashes once but, to his credit, is soon
riding as smoothly as Martin. "I'm a fast learner,"
he says with an irritating smirk.
Once the unicyclists and the receptionist have
left, Martin nods towards the back the hall, and to
the thin corridor that leads to the back exit. As
they wheel towards it, they notice a stairway just at
the hallway's neck.
"That's it," says Darkhorse, picking up speed. He
wheels into the corridor.
Suddenly, Nathan leaps from the staircase, shoving
his rifle into Darkhorse's face. He pulls the
There is a bright and booming blast, and then
Darkhorse's body leaps back, falling limply to the
ground. His unicycle comes out from under him,
sliding across the floor.
Martin picks up speed, zeroing in on his enemy.
Nathan lifts the rifle into the air and shoots.
The bullet flies from the chamber. Martin throws
his weight backwards, dodging the bullet. His entire
body pivots backwards like a great lever, with the
unicycle serving as a fulcrum while still in motion.
Martin's back brushes lightly against the floor,
but he does not fall, does not stop moving: he keeps
pedaling, advancing the cock-eyed unicycle towards his
foe, his arms stretched out mere inches above the
Nathan tries to refocus his aim on the floor, but
it is too late: now Martin is slipping under his legs,
now he's grabbing his ankles: now Nathan's sprawled on
the floor, his gun thrown from his reach.
As his unicycle heads towards the back exit, Martin
struggles to right himself, to throw his weight
forward and up. With a little difficulty (after all,
it has been thirty years since he's ridden one of
these things), he manages to do it, turning around
just as Nathan is starting to get back up.
He pours on the speed, racing back into the hall.
He passes Nathan and reaches down, scooping up the
rifle with the smooth and violent grace of a hawk.
Martin makes another sharp one-eighty and points
the rifle at Nathan. "Where's Pam Bierce?" he Martin.
"You'll never find her," says Nathan. "You'll have
to kill me first, Mister Hero."
"Yeah, well, he's the one with the gun, Willis."
It's Darkhorse. He's getting up, brushing himself
"How...?" begins Martin. He takes his eyes off of
Nathan for a second.
That's all the time the bastard needs. He drives a
pocket knife towards the side of Martin's thigh.
He doesn't have time to dodge it; instead, he lets
it dig into his flesh a split-second before he pivots
the unicycle. The knife sticks in his leg and flies
out of Nathan's hand. Helluva way to disarm a guy.
Martin back-pedals, putting some distance between
him and his foe. He pulls out the knife and tosses it
down the hallway behind him.
"You want me to take care of him?" offers the
strangely unscathed Darkhorse.
"No," barks Martin. "Look upstairs for the girl.
"I'll be right back," says Darkhorse. He whizzes
up the stairs.
"This isn't your business," says Nathan, slowly
backing away from Martin. Martin approaches,
cautiously. "This is between me and the man that left
me to die."
"This is between you and me, Willis," says Martin.
"It is my business. When you killed children playing
in the park, it became my business. No one hurts the
innocent. Not here. Not in my Jolt City." He points
the rifle at Nathan.
"What're you going to do?" says Nathan. "Shoot me
while I'm unarmed? I wouldn't advise it. We're being
televised, live. How did you think I knew you were
here in the first place?"
"No, I won't shoot you, you son of a bitch," says
Martin. He empties the bullets and lets them fall to
the floor, never taking his eyes off of Nathan, never
losing his balance. "I'm not going to stoop down to
your level. I'm going to beat you. My way. My
terms. My rules.
"Grab that unicycle behind you," says Martin.
Nathan hesitates before he grabs Darkhorse's
"Get on it," says Martin.
Nathan climbs aboard the unicycle. Martin winces a
bit when he sees that Nathan is perfectly capable of
keeping his balance. But he is also relieved.
"No more bullets," says Martin. He throws down the
empty rifle. "No more innocent blood. Now, we're
fair and square. And that's the way I'm going to beat
"I found the girl," says Darkhorse as he comes down
the stairs. "Secret room, door hidden in a wall."
Pam is wearing his black costume. Darkhorse wears
only his mask. Only. His mask.
Martin notes this out of the corner of his eye, and
keeps his vision focused on his enemy, situated about
ten yards away.
"She needed something to wear," he explains. "Um.
What's going on here?"
"Jousting match," says Martin.
"And without weapons," says Martin. "Just fists."
He spins his wheel towards Nathan.
The sniper wheels towards the Hawaiian booth and
whips a tiki mask through the air like a discus.
Martin dodges it with ease.
"Get the girl out of here," he says. "And get some
Nathan grabs the burning torch, breaking the stick
in half and brandishing the flame towards Martin. He
wheels towards his opponent.
"Are you sure?" says Darkhorse.
"I'm sure," says Martin. He holds his ground as
Nathan charges towards him. At the last moment, he
throws his weight sideways.
Nathan rushes past him as Martin's palm hits the
floor. With a simple push off the ground, he's
upright. He begins to turn himself towards his foe.
"Arrgh!" Nathan had started back quicker than
Martin had anticipated. The torch catches the side of
his bad arm aflame. Martin quickly pats it out with
his other hand. It burns, burns his arm, burns his
fingers, burns his pride.
He turns around again.
Nathan reaches the front of the hall. He does not
make his exit. He's too pissed off.
His anger is controlling him, thinks Martin. His
hatred. Maybe his fear.
But Martin? Despite the seriousness of the stakes,
despite his anger and disgust, he is not tense and
Quite the opposite.
He's more at peace atop this unicycle than he's
been in years. He takes a deep breath and thinks of a
time before the park. Another breath, and he thinks
of a time before the war, before he split with Ray.
When life was fun.
Nathan bears the unicycle towards him.
Martin rides in to meet him.
The wheels spins and sing, and the flames lick the
Martin counts in his head. One. Two. Three!
He lifts his feet off the pedals and instead locks
them under, the bottom of the pedals rigid and tight
against the slopes of his feet.
He throws his weight backwards slightly and pulls
The unicycle leaves the ground.
Nathan gets closer and closer. Six feet away.
The unicycle ascends, climbing three feet into the
Two feet away.
Four feet into the air.
A foot away.
Martin's starting to lose altitude. He throws his
weight all the way back.
The wheel kicks into the air, jumping three more
feet and colliding with Nathan's nose.
The flames lick at Martin's back.
He starts to fall, his head threatening to hit the
floor. With a gymnast's practiced skill, he turns a
somersault in the air. The sudden movement puts out
Nathan hits the ground with a hard thud.
Martin's wheel touches the ground, and he remains
perched atop his steed.
Nathan's unicycle spins dramatically across the
length of the floor, smacking into the back wall.
Darkhorse stares at it, lividly.
"Holy shit," he says. "You popped a wheelie in his
"I told you to get Pam to safety," says Martin,
wheeling past the unconscious and bleeding sniper
towards the naked speedster. "And to get some pants
"Sorry, GK," says Darkhorse. He vibrates his white
groin out of synch with reality. It gives Martin the
creeps. "What can I say? I just like to go
The police arrive and take Nathan Willis into
custody. Martin, still perched on his unicycle,
watches it with Darkhorse from the sidelines.
"So," says Martin, "last time I saw you, you just
got shot point-blank in the face."
"I've been waiting for you to ask me that," says
Darkhorse, smiling with glee. "As soon as he pulled
the trigger, I inhaled and exhaled ten thousand,
six-hundred-mile-per-hour breaths in half a second.
It created a cushion of air that stopped the bullet
dead. It made me a little light-headed, and I fell
unconscious for a short period of time."
Martin feels a twinge in his arm, where he has been
shot and burned. The pain in his leg doesn't twinge:
it's a constant throb.
"You really kicked ass in there," says the
"Thanks," says Martin. "You did good, yourself.
It was a pleasure working with you."
"What the hell are you talking about?" snaps
Darkhorse. "I mean, you call that working together?
You took out the villain, you called the shots.
That's not how you work together with someone. This
doesn't count as a team-up."
"And, y'know, one more thing," says Darkhorse.
"That's not how you hold a conversation with someone,
either. You can't just avoid what you don't want to
talk about or pass it off with a shrug. You don't get
out much, do you?"
Martin's about to shrug again, but thinks better of
it. Luckily, before he is forced to provide an
answer, Danielle walks up to the heroes, carrying
"Believe this is yours," she says. Before it
leaves her hand, it's already on him.
"How is she?" says Martin.
"As well as could be expected," says Danielle.
"She's been through a living hell. Just thank God she
wasn't raped by this bastard."
"But he told Martin Rock..."
"He made some threats to her," says Danielle. "But
didn't try anything. Turns out his genitals were
destroyed back in Iraq. Crushed when he was trapped
underneath some rubble."
Martin unclenches. Thank you, God, he prays
silently. I never want anyone to go through what I
went through. Thank you for saving her.
"I better get going," says Darkhorse. "Be seeing
you, GK. We'll have to do a real team-up one of these
days." He disappears.
"Well, hero," says Danielle. "Looks like you saved
"Looks like." Martin bites his lip. "Am I out of
"I dunno," says Danielle. "Are you? There's still
this business with Martin Rock."
"He'll show up at the station tomorrow," says
"Will you deliver him there personally?"
"No. But my liaison will."
"Your liaison won't be going to be meeting me now,
is he?" smirks Danielle.
"No." He smiles, though no one else can see it.
The next morning.
"You're a piece of shit, Rock, you know that?" says
"I said I was sorry."
"Sorry doesn't cut it. Sorry doesn't bring little
girls back from the dead!"
"Okay," says Martin. He adds an artificial edge to
his voice. It makes him queasy, but it might get him
out of here intact. "Look, you said your piece, you
asked me your questions. Are we done?"
Danielle looks to Reynolds, who nods.
"Yeah," says Danielle. "Yeah, we're done."
"How'd it go?" says Roy as he enters the Knight's
"I've had better days."
"Well, the hits just keep on coming," says Roy. He
opens a newspaper to the second page.
An unflattering black-and-white photograph of
Martin is featured prominently. Martin quickly skims
"People often have strong reactions when children
are involved," says Roy. "You made the front page as
He flips it over. A full-colour photo of the Green
Knight and his unicycle splashes across the center of
the page: GREEN KNIGHT RUNS DOWN PARK SNIPER!
"You're big again," says Roy. "I've gotten at
least two dozens calls from schools wanting to book
you as a speaker. And three unicycle companies want
to custom-design your official vehicle. People are
looking up to the Green Knight again."
"Which means I can finally do some good," says
Martin. "Something that lasts, something that
"Hmm. Loved in one identity, despised in the
other. Just my luck."
"At least they're separate in the public's mind,"
"But this also means I'll have to work extra hard
to keep it that way," says Martin. "If my secret
identity was ever revealed, everything I've worked for
would shrivel up and die."
"Hey, my lips are sealed," says Roy.
"And then there's still the question of finding a
job," says Martin.
"What, did she fire you?" says Roy.
Martin blinks at him in disbelief. "She spent
sixteen hours naked and tied up, scared for her life,
because of Martin Rock," he says. "What do you
"You never know until you ask."
Martin sighs. "True. And I might as well
Anna nearly screams when she sees Martin walk
through the door to Bierce Bail Bonds.
"Nice to see you, too," says Martin. He starts to
take off his coat, and then decides not to bother.
Pam appears in her office doorway. "You're late
for work, Mr. Rock," she says. "And Anna tells me you
didn't even bother to show up yesterday."
"Well," says Martin. "I was a bit tied up."
"Me too," says Pam. "Literally." She smiles.
Martin's not sure if it's a good smile, or a bad one.
She motions for him to come into her office, and
disappears inside. He hangs up his coat and follows.
Anna grabs at his arm. "That woman I sold your
autograph to, she wants her money back," she says
sourly. [*-- see our last issue.]
Martin yanks his arm away from her and heads into
"You want something to drink?" says Pam.
"No thanks," says Martin.
"Sit down," she says flatly.
Martin takes a seat, glancing at Pam's attire
before she sits down on the other side of the desk:
loose baggy dress pants, a big fluffy turtleneck
sweater that swallows all but the tips of her fingers,
about a pound more make-up than usual. It seems
incongruous at first, the modesty of her dress and the
excesses of her make-up, until Martin realizes that
other than her fingertips, there's not a single inch
of Pam's real skin that's visible to the world. (And
even her fingernails are acrylics.)
"I'm sorry, Pam," says Martin. "I'm so sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry for? Ain't your
"Well, I'm sorry it happened to you."
"Doesn't mean I'm not mad at you." She bites her
lip, and her face becomes hard. Her fingers poke out
from their woolen caves as she unscrews the cap on her
bottled water. Pam takes a hard swig and sets it back
down on the table, screws the cap back on.
"But I know I shouldn't be," she continues. "I was
there with you, Martin. In his hideout. Paralyzed.
You couldn't see me, but I could see you. I was
paralyzed, too. Couldn't call out.
"But I could hear him talking, hear him explain how
you left him to die. How you had no idea he was still
alive, that he was out there. And you did the right
thing with that bastard in Iraq, Martin. It's
probably what I would have done, with one small
"I would have shot the bastard in the head.
Wouldn't have taken any chances. So I'm not... I
shouldn't be mad at you. The papers, they're going to
say how you brought this monster to Jolt City, how
you've been hiding from him for ten years. But I know
the truth. Up here." She taps her head with her
sweater. "And in here." She touches her heart.
"I know you're a good, decent man. Knew it the
first time you walked into this office."
"But that doesn't change the fact of what happened.
Doesn't change the fact that I was paralyzed for
hours. Doesn't change what he said to me. Doesn't
change his hands on my body. I could feel him,
Martin. And I couldn't move. It was like I didn't
exist. Like I was a thing. Like I wasn't a person.
"And the simple fact of the matter is, if it wasn't
for you, I would never have went through that."
Martin nods. "Am I fired?"
A laugh tries to press its way through Pam's lips
and nostrils. It dies upon impact, nothing more than
a cloud. "Yes, Mr. Rock. Yes, I'd safely say that
"Can't say that I blame you, Pam." Martin pushes
himself up from the chair.
"Martin? Can I ask you a question?"
"Is it a personal question?"
"Yeah, it kinda is."
"I'm a private man," says Martin, choking the words
out. "But I'll try my best."
"Why are you a private man?" says Pam. "Do you
have... do you have many enemies? Like Nathan
Martin breaths deeply and exhales sharply, carbon
dioxide winding its way out of his nostrils like
desperate, quivering serpents of air. "Yeah," he
says. "I kinda do." He considers qualifying it,
adding that those enemies don't know him by name, but
there's too much to explain and what would be the
point? What difference would it make?
"You're a dangerous man to know, Martin Rock," says
Better to make a clean break of it, Martin decides.
But he can't bring himself to leave the office, not
yet. Something in his brain nags at him, like a
flicker of light dancing in reflection upon an empty
"Can I ask you one question, Ms. Bierce?"
"Why not?" says Pam.
"Why did you ask me... that one question...?"
She smiles weakly. "It's personal, Mr. Rock."
"Fair enough," says Martin. "Good luck."
"You too," says Pam softly. "You'll need it."
(C) COPYRIGHT 2006 TOM RUSSELL.
| TOM |
\ RUSSELL /
/ ..\ *
\____/ * | *
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