8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 3, My Enemy Myself!
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Thu Oct 12 21:53:00 PDT 2006
MY ENEMY, MYSELF!
Martin Rock is on a stage, pushing away a crowd.
"Please! I just want to be left alone!"
But the crowd is having nothing of it. "You're a
hero, Mr. Rock! You did what the Green Knight
couldn't!" says one reporter.
Another comments snidely, "If you ask me, the Green
Knight's all washed up in Jolt City!"
Behind the crowd, his arms outstretched, is the
Green Knight himself. "Now they shun me! I wonder
what they would think if they knew Martin Rock and the
Green Knight were one and the same!"
EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP
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# 3 OCTOBER 2006
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BY TOM RUSSELL //
Martin enters the office of Bierce Bail Bonds and
folds his coat under his arm. The receptionist, Anna,
looks up from her desk. "Coat rack's over there, Mr.
Rock," says the blonde.
"Thanks, but I'm going to ask for the rest of the
day off," Martin says. "Is Pam in her office?"
"Pam!" Anna bellows. "Are ya in?"
"No," calls Pam.
"She's not in," says Anna with a shrug.
"Thanks," says Martin. He starts towards Pam's
office. As he passes by Anna's desk, she grabs his
Anna reaches her fingers into her blossoming bosom
and plucks out a pen from her white cleavage. "I was
wondering if I could have an autograph."
"Sorry. I don't do autographs. But I'll tell you
what, I'm going to try and see the Green Knight today,
he's got this public appearance at this church in my
old neighborhood. I'll see if I can get his autograph
"No thanks," says the blonde. She drops her pen
effortlessly back into place. "The Green Knight
didn't stop the Crooked Man. You did." [*-- in our
Martin sighs. "I know. My whole class this
morning, the teacher kept looking to me and asking me
what I would do."
"Well, that's flattering, isn't it?"
"No, it's not," says Martin. "I really like to
have my privacy. I can't stand everybody gawking at
me like that, and it makes me hard to learn."
"You got certified, though," says Anna.
"Yeah," says Martin. He reaches into his folded
jacket and produces a folded piece of paper. He
unfolds it and presents it to Anna.
"I'll have to make some copies of it," says Anna.
"What, for the records?"
"No." She points to the bottom corner of the
certificate. "You signed it. I got my autograph."
Martin throws up his hands and heads in to see Pam.
The first thing he notices is her new desk: smooth
and clean and flat and long, flanked by sturdy
cardboard boxes containing the personal effects and
business papers rescued from the wreck of its
predecessor. There's also a new fridge to replace the
one that held the Crooked Man until the police
Pam's in the fridge (more properly, the freezer),
her back to Martin, tight creaseless leather pants
hugging her tight creaseless legs and round fleshy
ass. She closes the fridge (an industrial upgrade,
huge and silver-gray steel) and pivots away from it.
She's wearing a dark brown sweater, big and baggy and
formless, strangely complementary to the leather pants
and clunky wedge shoes.
"Hey," she says by way of greeting. She walks
towards the desk, her waist twisting to and fro like
an oscillating fan. She leans against the side of the
desk, her ass squeezed against the ledge, and leans
her arm back behind her across its length, setting an
ice-cold bottle of water onto its oak frame.
"Shouldn't you have a coaster under that?"
The fingertips of her free hand begin to lightly
tap-dance on the table, her long fingernails beating a
Martin reaches into one of the boxes and, with a
minimum amount of effort, finds a coaster. He puts it
under her bottle of water. "It's frozen solid," he
says. "How are you going to drink it?"
Pam's smiles are made of lip-gloss and eye-shadow.
"Let it melt," she says. "Just a little. I like
having that pillar of ice in there, just squeezing out
a few drops now and then. Makes me more appreciative
of the water I can get out of the bottle. How was
"Everyone treated me like some kind of celebrity,"
"But you passed?"
"Yeah. Anna has the certificate."
"I wouldn't worry about being in the spotlight,"
says Pam. "At the very least, it's good PR for us.
And Lord knows that bail bonds isn't exactly a
business that engenders good PR."
"Well, I don't like it," says Martin. "I'm a
"As long as you don't have anything to hide," says
Pam. She puts her palms on the edge of the desk and
hoists her ass up onto it; once seated, she swings her
legs and body around the corner, so that she's facing
Martin dead-on. She slips off her wedgies and kicks
her feet slowly, like a little girl on a swing. "So.
Martin. How's the girlfriend?"
Before he answers, her features become hard and
"I don't like liars," she says.
"You made the front page again," says Pam. She
points with her painted toes to a newspaper that sits
atop one of the boxes.
Martin reaches down and grabs the paper,
consciously keeping his eyes off of Pam's soft feet
and dainty toes. He looks at the front page.
When news first spread of his victory over the
Crooked Man, a number of reporters started begging him
for interviews. One was especially persistent, and
kept hounding Martin until he spent a terse five
minutes avoiding her questions. Apparently he hadn't
avoided them well enough:
Mr. Rock is no stranger to heroism: he served
honorably during the first Gulf War, and several
soldiers credit him with saving their lives. He is as
modest about his war record as he is about his victory
over the Crooked Man. "I did what anyone would [do],"
Mr. Rock is single and apparently lives alone. He
would not consent to an
Martin looks up from the paper at Pam, her arms
crossed against her chest, giving her some form within
the floating sea of sweater.
"Well?" she says.
"We broke up," says Martin. "Couple days after..."
He points to the fridge with his open palm. "... all
this. Didn't really think you needed to know about
it." He glances at the paper. "Didn't think she
needed to know about it, either."
She drops her arms, resting her hands on her
leather-clad thighs; the pressure relieved, her shirt
billows out again where it once was taut. "I'm sorry,
Martin. I just... Look. You're a private person,
that's fine, and I respect that. I won't pry. Hell,
I won't even ask you if you've seen any good movies
lately or how your weekend was."
"Well, I'm not that private," says Martin.
"I respect your privacy," she says. "As long as
you're straight with me. No bullshit excuses, no
"Okay, fair enough," says Martin.
Pam grabs her bottle of water, unscrews the cap,
and squeezes a couple drops of water from its
unyielding pillar of hard, rigid ice. "Look, you
finished your class, there's no work for you to do,
why don't you take the rest of the day off?"
"I actually was going to ask you if I could have
the afternoon to myself," says Martin. "I'm going to
go see the Green Knight." Which is (mostly) the
"I heard about that," says Pam. "Want to take me
"Um, actually... you know what, I think I better
"What?" says Pam, stepping down from her perch.
She puts her hand on Martin's arm. "Do I make you
"No," says Martin. "I just... now that I think
about it, after all this publicity and everything, I
don't want people thinking I'm trying to upstage him.
Last thing I need is another front-page story."
Pam nods, not entirely convinced.
"Besides, I should be finding a place to stay, now
that the old lady's kicked me out."
"Where have you been staying?"
"With a friend," says Martin.
"Okay," says Pam, withdrawing the slight pressure
of her hand. "You want me to come with? I'm pretty
good at spotting flaws in real estate."
"No, that's okay," says Martin. "You go ahead and
see the Green Knight. If. If you want."
"Just might do that," says Pam. She brings the
water bottle to her lips once more, sucking at the
bottle neck, her lip gloss forming a slight pink
circle at its tip.
Martin pulls his new mask over his face.
"How do you like it?" asks Roy Riddle.
"I'm still getting used to it," says Martin. "The
padding makes me feel confined. But it does give me
more protection than just the cloth."
"Well, the number of times you manage to land on
"It takes years of training to ensure such
accuracy," says Martin. He pulls on his belt and his
"You nervous?" asks Roy.
"A little," says Martin. "I was never big on the
whole PR thing. In both identities."
He pushes up on the trap door that separates his
Knight's Den from the church basement. After Roy has
cleared the stairs, Martin puts it back in place.
"But," Martin continues, "I'm trying to make this
Green Knight count for something more than beating up
villains. I want to really help people, be part of
"So you've said," notes Roy, "many, many times."
They ascend the stairs into the church itself, walking
up the aisle together.
"I know," says Martin. "But so far they've only
been words. It's actions that count."
Roy puts a comforting hand on the Green Knight's
shoulder. "So, let's banish those butterflies in your
stomach, my friend. It's showtime."
He opens the door, confronting Martin with a
teeming, cheering crowd of two. Pam's one of them.
The other, Derek Mason-- a drug dealer whom the Green
Knight had saved from the Crooked Man. But that's not
all that Martin did to Derek, and he has the sinking
feeling that he's not there to thank him for the
Martin turns to Roy. "Is this it?"
The pastor shrugs. "Gotta start somewhere."
"I mean, I don't want to be egotistical or
anything, but I'm Jolt City's only four-colour. I
figured there would be a bigger turn-out."
"I think you might still have egg on your face,"
says Roy. "Especially since Martin Rock beat the
"Yeah, but I didn't think it would be this bad,"
says Martin. "I mean, Pam wouldn't even be here if I
hadn't mentioned it this morning."
"GK? They're staring."
Martin pivots away from Roy, smiling at the 'crowd'
underneath his mask. "Well," he says, adopting his
Green Knight voice, "thank you for coming, uh,
everybody." It occurs to him now that Pam may have
heard Martin use the Green Knight voice, when he used
her office phone to call Danielle Handler, his police
contact. He deepens the voice further, making it more
"I am the Green Knight," he says. "And I'm here to
talk to you about this community. I grew up in Jolt
City, in a neighborhood much like this one." In fact,
it was this one; but better to play it safe. "Over
time, Jolt City has changed and in some ways
flourished. But other parts of Jolt City-- my Jolt
City-- poverty, crime, and drugs have been strangling
the-- they've had a stranglehold.
"Fighting crime is part of it, but we have to
strike at its roots. And together, I think we can do
that. Work. Working together." Martin feels the
sweat piling on his face, compounded by the hot heavy
padding of his new mask. As it itches his way across
his face, he has to resist the urge to tear the mask
off and scratch.
He means these words that he's saying, means them
with all his heart. But they way they're coming out,
it's insincere. It's hard to be a public figure, an
icon, a rallying point for a community, when you're a
"So, I'd really like to hear to your-- to listen to
you and your concerns. Who. Who's first?"
Pam raises her hand nonchalantly. Martin notices
that now her leather pants are complemented by a
leather top. It's molded to her torso like plastic;
as she approaches to make her voice heard, her body
does not move so much under the clothes as with it, as
frozen in place as a plastic doll's too-perfect molded
"My biggest concern is gun violence," says Pam. "I
lost my father to a man with a gun. The thing is,
what can you or I do about it? That's not a community
issue. It's a political one. And unless you're
planning on running for office, I don't really see how
you can address that."
"That's a good point," concedes Martin. "And
certainly something we have to work on."
"But how? Are you even listening to what I'm
"Yes, I'm listening," says Martin.
"You're just evading the question," says Pam.
"Because there's no answer."
"Well, look, what can we do?" says Martin. "You're
right, it is a political issue, and voting for the
right candidate doesn't mean he's going to make the
right decision, or that enough other people are going
to agree. But that doesn't mean we're helpless. If
we can't eliminate the guns, or enforce stricter gun
controls, we can eliminate the need for guns.
"There's a lot of young men on the streets, and
they think in order to be men they have to have guns.
I'm a man. I don't have a gun. Neither does Pastor
Roy here. What about you?" Martin nods towards
"No, I don't have a gun," says Derek. "But I don't
feel safe, either."
"I hate guns," says Pam. "But I still carry one.
I'd be a fool not to."
"It's not something that has an easy answer," says
Martin, feeling more confident and at home with his
words. "And I'm not pretending there is one. But
we've got to try. And to be absolutely, uh,
transparent about it?
"This is what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to show
young men that you don't have to be part of a gang,
don't have to... run drugs or have a gun, in order to
be a man. To show them that there is a different
path, that you can live clean and be an example.
That's what I'm trying to be."
"Sounds good in theory," says Derek. "But how good
of an example are you when you screw up?"
Martin nods. "It's a valid criticism. And it's
something I'm aware of. But I'd like to think that by
jumping right back into the fray after I take a few
lumps, I'm showing people something about
perseverance. And I actually think this business with
the Crooked Man and Mr. Rock shows that ordinary
people don't have to be afraid, that they can surprise
themselves, that they can act."
"That's not the kind of screw-ups I'm talking
about," says Derek. "But you're right. Why depend on
some dude in a costume? You can only count on
yourself." He walks away.
"What's that about?" says Roy quietly.
"I'll tell you later," says Martin.
Pam touches her hand to his green-clad chest.
Martin turns towards her. She looks into his eyes,
the same eyes she sees at her office every day. He
gets a sudden chill as he realizes this: maybe Ray
Cradle had a point, after all, when he told him to
make a mask that covered his entire face. He hopes
that Pam can't tell that they're the same eyes, just
as he hopes she can't tell it's the same voice.
"I didn't mean to come down hard on you," says Pam.
"I really do appreciate all the things you do. I
just don't know what you're going to accomplish here.
Maybe you should leave the real work to real people,
and just go about your way beating up the Psychopomp
and whoever else."
"I can't believe that that's all I'm good for,"
says Martin. "I won't believe that."
"Well, good luck then," says Pam. She grabs his
arms and kisses the exposed bridge of his nose. She
relinquishes the psuedo-embrace and licks her lips,
tasting the salt of his sweat. Then she leaves.
"And what was that about?" says Roy.
"I don't know," says Martin.
Martin pulls off his mask once they get inside the
church, his face covered with sweat and the faintest
trace of pink lip gloss. He puts his hand into the
basin, intending on washing his face.
"Ahem," says Roy. "Not with the holy water."
Martin sighs and pulls his mask back on, heading to
the Knight's Den.
He washes his face and explains the Derek Mason
"Derek was going to testify against Snapp. He
pretty much was giving us everything we needed to put
him behind bars for good, God willing."
"I needed information. I needed to know who the
Crooked Man was so I could find him and stop him.
Snapp had the information and he wouldn't give it
unless Derek agreed not to testify."
"Not exactly," says Martin. "I agreed for him."
"Oh," says Roy. "Not exactly your decision to
"I know that!" says Martin. "I screwed up.
Danielle's still pretty pissed at me about it."
"I overstepped my boundaries, and technically,
they're not bound to follow through on it. But..."
"But you gave your word," says Roy. "And you can't
break that. You're only as good as your word.
Besides, you needed that information."
Martin simply nods; better not to complicate things
by explaining that the police actually found the
information through legitimate channels around the
same time Martin made his devil's bargain.
"What do you want for dinner?" says Roy.
"I'll get a burger," says Martin.
"You got a lead or something?" Roy is very
enthusiastic; it's times like these that the fanboy,
long kept at bay by the frock and collar, asserts
"No, more of a personal day," says Martin. "I'm
going to find a place to stay."
Roy exhales loudly.
"Don't start with me," says Martin. "I've made up
my mind. And especially with all this..." He picks up
a newspaper, the first front page story, from last
week. His photo in full colour on the front, right
next to the Green Knight's. "My whole professional
life, I've been protecting my secret identity by not
having one. I mean, who the hell is Martin Rock?"
Roy clears his throat.
Martin rolls his eyes. "Who the heck is Martin
Rock? A nobody. Sure, he could be the Green Knight,
but so could a thousand others. There's nothing for
people to look at, no dots to connect, because Martin
Rock doesn't have any dots.
"But now? Now I'm under scrutiny. If I don't have
a place to live, people start to wonder where I hang
my hat, maybe they follow me around. I don't want the
Knight's Den compromised."
"So live upstairs," says Roy. "I've got a spare
room in my manse."
"You're being naÃ¯ve," says Martin. "People
already know that Roy Riddle is a friend of the Green
Knight, thanks to today's press conference. If Martin
Rock is living with the guy, I'm screwed. What-- can
I say screwed?"
"I suppose it depends on the context," says Roy.
"Look, I'll still base my operations here, I'll
still come to you for advice, I'll still be your
friend-- but as the Green Knight. Martin Rock has to
have a different life."
"Yeah, but Martin Rock is the one I agreed to
help," says Roy. "But I understand. I'm not a dummy.
You going to move uptown, then?"
"No," says Martin disdainfully. "I'll still be
close by. It'd be more conspicuous if people noticed
me taking cabs and buses across town every night.
I'll stay close-- just not too close."
The pastor nods. "I'll make sure the coast is
clear," he says, lifting up the trap door.
The first place he tries is a house about three
blocks from the church. There's a room for rent. The
homeowner is eighty years old, rail-thin, dignified
with a full head of blaring white hair. Her name is
Ida, and she recognizes Martin immediately.
"You're the man who stopped that awful Crooked
Man," she says.
"Yes," says Martin through gritted teeth. "I've
come about the room."
"Where's your stuff?" asks Ida.
"Well, let's get you moved in."
"What about references, rent...?"
"I've got all the references I need right here,"
says Ida, pulling out the newspaper. She's
practically beaming. "As for rent, how about fifty
dollars a week?"
That's cheap, even for a room on this side of Jolt
City. But Martin readily accepts it.
Martin finds that she's a gracious host. She
spends most of her time baking, and has no less than
seventeen loafs of banana-nut bread in her house, with
three more in the oven. She seldom receives visitors,
and keeps most of the bread frozen.
She pushes him until he agrees to take a slice.
Well. At least it's good, as far as banana-nut bread
He doesn't go on patrol this night, opting instead
to get a few hours of sleep.
The next morning, she insists on arming him with an
umbrella, despite the fact that it is unseasonably
warm and clear outside. "You have to be careful," she
says as she foists the bumbershoot into his hand.
Martin hurriedly makes his exit before she can whip
out the galoshes.
"There's a Fed in Pam's office," says Anna as
Martin enters and hangs up his umbrella. As if
emphasis is required, she points to the closed door.
"What about?" says Martin.
As if on cue, the door swings open. The agent is
balding, grizzled and poc-marked, but not unfriendly.
Martin simply nods.
"I'm Special Agent Michael Reynolds. Could I speak
to you in private?"
"Can I see some ID?"
Reynolds nods with his hands. He digs out his
badge. Martin looks at it, checking for the four most
common signs of forgery, and nods his head curtly.
"Miss?" says Reynolds, turning to Pam.
She's standing in her doorway, arms against her
chest. "Be my guest." She steps out of the way,
looking at Martin. She is not happy.
Martin shrugs, mouthing, I dunno.
"After you, sir," says Reynolds.
Martin heads in first. Reynolds follows, closing
the door behind him. "Take a seat."
Martin sits down in Pam's chair; it's the most
psychologically advantageous position, the position of
power. He's behind the desk, leaving Reynolds in
front. Martin's not sure what the gesture will
accomplish: Reynolds still has the authority and still
holds all the cards. But at the very least it shows
Reynolds that Martin isn't scared of him.
Pressing the advantage, Martin doesn't wait for
Reynolds to speak. "May I ask what this is in
"In 1994, a friend reported you missing. In 2001,
you were assumed dead. All this time, no one hears
anything about you. Not your old army buddies, not
your friends, certainly not the IRS. You haven't paid
taxes in ten years. That's a pretty sizable gap of
time. I'm wondering how you'd account for it?"
Martin leans slightly over the desk; he doesn't
want to overdo it. "And I'm wondering why I'm talking
to the FBI and not the BMP?"
"What, a bitmap?"
"No. Bureau of Missing Persons."
"That's at the local level, Mr. Rock," says
Reynolds. "I'm not even sure if Jolt City has a...
"They do," bluffs Martin. "I'm just wondering why
I've attracted federal attention. Is it the-- the
"Partly," says Reynolds. "But this isn't the first
time you've been on the front page, Mr. Rock. Back in
January, you were questioned about the disappearance
of Anders Cradle. Then you disappeared again. Until
now." [*-- see GREEN KNIGHT ANNUAL # 1.]
"Actually, I was arrested for his murder," says
"Well, they were mistaken," says Reynolds. "The
Cradle case was very high profile."
"Rich white people often are."
"You got a chip on your shoulder, Mr. Rock," says
Reynolds. "That doesn't reflect well on you."
"I'm a private man," says Martin. "I don't like
all this prying, and I don't like being on the front
page. Now, is there something that you want?"
"I want to know where you've been the last ten
years, for starters."
Not having an alibi ready, and with it now
abundantly clear that he can't stall any longer,
Martin tells as much of the truth as he can, in
clipped, staggered statements. "Here, mostly.
Squatting. Living on the streets. Doing odd-jobs for
food." He takes a deep breath before he starts lying;
he hopes it won't give him away. "I fell on hard
times, ran out of money, couldn't really find work."
"You had family," says Reynolds.
"My father and I never had a good relationship."
"What about Ray Cradle?"
"What about him?"
"His will's a matter of public record, whether you
washed your hands of it or not. He was going to leave
you his house, most of his money."
"Anders needs it more than I do," snorts Martin.
"That's not what I'm asking," says Reynolds. "Why
would a billionaire like Ray Cradle leave you
everything in the first place?"
"We were friends," says Martin. "I didn't make a
big deal of it, and neither did he."
"Well, excuse me for being skeptical, Mr. Rock, but
if I had a friend like Cradle, I wouldn't have lived
on the street for ten years like a bum."
"I'm not going to beg for money, or a job," says
Martin. "I wouldn't ask Ray to do that, and if he
offered, I wouldn't take it. I wasn't proud of what
became of me, sure. But I wasn't doing anything
illegal and it's really no one's business but my own.
I didn't make any money in those ten years, but now
that I am working, I will be paying my taxes come
"You're still legally dead," says Reynolds.
"There's papers to file in court, that kind of thing."
"Fine, then I'll do that," says Martin. Feeling a
little more confident, he leans over the desk: "Are we
"Not just yet," says Reynolds. "I'm going to be
looking into you, asking questions, and if any
discrepancies come up, if I find out you're
"Look," says Martin. "You're the FBI. You're the
best. If there was anything to find, I know that
you'd find it. It would not profit me to be anything
else than forthright with you."
"That's damn right," says Reynolds. "I just get
the sense that you're hiding something. If you're
hiding from someone, if you have any enemies..."
"Nothing like that," says Martin. "Like I said,
I'm a man who likes my privacy."
"Fair enough," says Reynolds. He stands up and
pulls out a business card. "Anything you forgot to
tell me, give me a call."
Martin neither nods or shrugs, but simply pockets
the card. Reynolds opens the door, tips an imaginary
hat to Pam, and is on his way. Pam lingers with Anna
for a few moments before entering the office.
She snaps her fingers. "Out of my chair."
Martin smiles and makes a show of it, slowly
walking around the desk and sitting in Reynolds's
chair. Pam sits in her chair and smirks a little.
"Nice and warm," she purrs.
The pleasantries, however, prove to be brief.
"Care to tell me what that was about?"
"Not really," says Martin.
"What? You said no bullshit, I'm not bullshitting
"Fed walks into my office, asking what I know about
you, asking about your references..."
Shit. It's only now that it occurs to Martin that
the two references he listed were Roy Riddle and
Anders Cradle. More dots.
"You said you wouldn't pry into my personal
business," says Martin.
"Look, I have to know I can trust you," says Pam.
"We're not a babysitting service, we're bail bonds.
We're dealing with criminals here. And the job I
hired you to do is to find these criminals when they
skip out on bail. Most of these men, Mr. Rock? They
don't want to be found."
"You can trust me to do that job," says Martin.
"Yes, but can I trust you?" says Pam. "And that's
more important. I don't like secrets. I need to know
that when I ask where you are, that you'll tell me
where you are."
"You can trust me," says Martin.
"Fair enough," says Pam. She reaches into her desk
and pulls out a folder. "Larry Strode, failed to
appear this morning at his sentencing hearing. Plead
guilty to theft from JCU."
Martin pops his eyebrows, waiting for her to
Find him," says Pam, as if it's obvious. "Bring
him here, and I'll go with you your first time to
"I know where it's at," says Martin. He was there
many times as the Acro-Bat.
Pam sighs. "You know, you said on your application
that you have no criminal record. If you're lying,
"I don't have a criminal record," says Martin.
"And I'm not going to lie to you. And you're..."
"Not going to pry, I know," says Pam. She reaches
into her desk again. "Strode's got a few priors,
nothing dangerous. Still, to be safe, you better take
this with you."
She foists a gun in his general direction. He
doesn't take it; the sight of its black handle makes
"I won't need it," says Martin. He adds: "I don't
like guns. Personal reasons."
"Yeah, me too," says Pam. "You be careful, Martin.
Don't get in over your head. Don't make me regret
giving you this job."
"Thanks for your vote of confidence," says Martin,
taking the file.
He already knows Strode won't be at his apartment,
but you've got to start somewhere. The landlord is
congenially balding and eager to help out the guy who
stopped the Crooked Man. (Nonpayment of rent might
also have something to do with it.)
"He's a quiet guy," says the landlord as he unlocks
the apartment. "Only time I ever heard from him was
when he was complaining about the noise upstairs."
"Were they noisy?"
"Not really. But he's real sensitive."
Martin steps into the apartment. The floor is
clean, dirty laundry's in a basket, the bed is made.
Looking under the bed, he finds a stash of
pornographic magazines: mostly cheesecake stuff,
airbrushed bosoms with artful lighting. It takes a
moment to realize that they're organized in
alphabetical order, followed by issue number.
"Was he real meticulous about things?" Martin asks.
"Did he like them just so?"
"He was fussy," says the landlord. "Very punctual.
Always left the apartment at the same times, always
came back at the same times." He snorts. "Only thing
he was ever late with was my money."
"Did you know where he went?"
"No. Like I said, I didn't talk to him much."
"Well, thanks anyway," says Martin.
"Not a problem," says the landlord.
"I just need a few more moments to snoop around and
concentrate," says Martin.
Martin stares at him, waiting for him to leave.
The landlord smiles. "Say, could I have your
autograph, Mr. Rock? I'm a big fan of what you did."
"I don't give autographs, sorry."
"Then that will make mine twice as valuable, won't
it?" He grins, all teeth.
"What, you going to sell in on E-Bay or something?"
"Well, you ain't gonna be in the news forever.
Martin sighs and relents.
"Just tell me when you're leaving, so I can lock it
up," says the landlord as he departs to whore Martin's
Martin shakes his head in disgust and disbelief,
and in doing so his eyes light upon that most
wonderful of things, the incongruous detail. For
though the bed is made, it is made sloppily, the sheet
is slightly crooked and is wrinkled instead of flat.
He was in a hurry when he made this bed, probably
realizing that Pam or the cops would come after him.
"The question is," Martin says aloud, a habit
that's becoming increasingly disconcerting, "if you're
in such a hurry, why make the bed at all? Is it
because you were undecided and desperate, you didn't
know what to do...?" He lets the question hang, as if
expecting an answer from the molecules floating around
him. He looks around the room, hoping for another
detail that might volunteer this information.
Now that the landlord's gone, a new sound comes
into focus: the dribbling of a faucet. He heads into
the bathroom and turns it off. On the sink, there's a
cup full of razors, toothbrushes, and combs. They're
all arranged neatly and proud, with one exception. He
touches the toothbrush with his thumb. Is it still
damp? He can't tell. He thinks he can detect a tiny,
tiny drop of water upon the bristles, but he's not
sure if it's really there, or if he's fooling himself.
He notices the seat is up, but that doesn't really
tell him anything; guys seem to be split fifty-fifty
on that. He pulls back the shower curtain. A soap
scrungee lies at the bottom, and it certainly is still
wet with a mixture of soap, sweat, and water.
Maybe he takes a shower everyday. Just like maybe
he makes the bed. He has a routine.
And even in a hurry, even when his freedom depends
on his speed, he keeps to that routine. Not because
he's still deciding what to do, still coming up with a
plan of action.
But because he can't help himself. Irregardless of
anything, he must follow his routine.
"If only I could figure out what that is," says
Martin. It's eleven-thirty. "If I can just figure
out where he'd be everyday at twelve."
Chances are he'll still be there, whether he wants
to be or not.
He begins to rifle through the drawers (all the
clothes are arranged and folded very, very neatly) and
upon opening the drawer to the night-table finds
several hundred match-books stacked in piles of ten.
A cursory glance reveals that they're all the same:
Amory's Bar & Grill. They open at eleven and they
Ray Cradle always told him, match-books never tell
you anything, they're only clues in mystery books.
But with this many, Strode had to have been a regular
There are no beer bottles in the apartment. That
doesn't mean Strode couldn't do all his drinking at
the bar, but at the same time, obsessive-compulsive
behaviour usually doesn't go hand-in-hand with
alcohol: it disrupts itineraries and distorts
character. So, he probably just goes there to eat.
Dinner, or maybe lunch...
It's not much, but it's a lead.
"I'm done up there," says Martin. "Say, about what
time does he get home?"
"Four-thirty, maybe," says the landlord. "And he
pretty much stays in most nights."
Lunch, then. "Thanks," says Martin.
"No problem," says the landlord. "And thanks for
the autograph," he adds, "bidding's up to two hundred
Strode's left by the time he gets to Amory's. One
of the waitresses waits on him regularly. Her name is
Cheryl and she has frizzy red hair. She talks to
Martin on her break, at the bar. She points out into
the nonsmoking area, at Strode's regular table.
"Always gets the same thing, a beer and a
"Turkey breast with tilsiter cheese," she says.
"He was real nervous this time, ate it real quick.
Felt kinda sorry for him, he always seemed kinda in
control before, always took his time and talked with
me. Real quiet this time, not much to say."
Martin nods; all this fits the profile he had made.
"He talked with you?"
The bartender grunts disapprovingly.
"When I talk with him, he tips better. Lousy tip
this time. Guess he didn't feel like talking."
"What would he talk about? Just stuff?"
"Yeah," says Cheryl, "just stuff."
"He didn't happen to mention where he was going
"No, but he didn't have to. Today's Wednesday,
every other Wednesday he goes to the barber's, gets
"Do you know where?"
"No, but it can't be far. I see him walking
sometimes, so it's within walking distance."
"Thanks," says Martin.
"Hey," says Cheryl, "any chance I can get your
"I don't do autographs," says Martin. "Sorry."
"Whaddaya mean?" says the barkeep. "I just bid
three-hundred fifty on it on the E-Bay. Don't tell me
it's a fake...!"
Martin grumbles and accepts a pen and paper from
Martin finds a franchise hair-place a couple blocks
down from Amory's. He consults the file again,
studying the picture, and then gazes inside. Yep:
there he is, Larry Strode. Martin opens the door.
As he's about to go in, two elderly women are
coming out. They recognize him immediately: you're
that guy, aren't you, the one in the paper, you look
just like him, it's you, isn't it, Martin Rock, the
one who stopped the Crooked Man!
Martin nods and tries to push his way past them.
They are unyielding. "Could we trouble you for an
Martin sighs and hurriedly scribbles off a couple
autographs. Sated, the women move to the side and
Martin pushes his way in.
"Where'd he go?" he demands. "The white guy with
"Just left," says the hair-stylist. "He went out
the back," he adds, pointing to the back exit. Martin
runs to it, mindful of the clumps of shucked follicles
that sleep on the grimy tile.
Gone. He must have heard the old women, must have
realized Martin was after him. After all, the crux of
the newspaper story was that he got a job with Bierce
Bail Bonds by besting the Crooked Man.
He jogs around the adjacent blocks, hoping to catch
a glimpse, but it's too late. He heads back to the
barber's and asks if anyone knew where Strode usually
went after his hair-cut.
"How should I know?" says the barber. "I just cut
his hair! Say...! Aren't you Martin Rock?"
He calls Pam and lets her know the bad news.
She's jovial. "Maybe we can have the police find
those two women, charge them with being blue-haired
"I'm sorry, Pam," says Martin. "This is so
Martin stops by the apartment building again. It's
unlikely that Strode will come back now, but you never
know. He gives the landlord Pam's card. "Call this
number if you see him come back. Don't talk to him at
The landlord nods. "I sold it for four
twenty-five. You want half of it?"
"No thanks," says Martin.
"I was expecting to make more," says the landlord.
"But some lady put your bounty-hunting certificate up
there and it's eating up all the bids. Already up to
nine-fifty! Figure it's better to cash in now."
"Yeah," says Martin.
About a block away from his new home, it begins to
rain and Martin realizes that he left the umbrella at
the office. As he opens the door, he opens his mouth
to announce as such; before any sound can issue forth,
a fist drives it way into his jaw.
Another man grabs Martin by the shirt and hurls him
inside. He collides with the staircase at the same
time the door slams shut. Martin opens his eyes:
there are three men in the living room, two in front
of him and one standing next to poor shivering Ida.
More than that, he recognizes the men: they're
muscle for Samson Snapp, the druglord. Snapp couldn't
have figured out his secret identity... could he...?
"Ida, are you okay?" Martin asks.
"Well, I've been better."
Martin nods and turns towards the muscle. "Look,
just let her go. This has got nothing to do with her.
Whatever it is."
"We're friends of Larry Strode," says the muscle.
"He's under our protection, understand?"
What would Snapp want with a nobody like Strode?
"I said understand?" The thug punctuates his
question with a right hook. Martin takes the punch;
he's fought these men before as the Green Knight. He
can't chance that they'd remember his fighting style.
"I understand," says Martin.
"You lay off of him," says the thug. "You stop
looking for him, and the pretty little slut who signs
your checks better stop looking for him, if she knows
what's good for her."
"Okay," says Martin. "Message received. Now leave
the old lady alone."
The thug nods towards his accomplice. The trio
kick Martin a few times in the stomach; he knows how
to protect himself, how to take the damage, but he
also knows how to sell it, how to make it look like
he's been badly hurt. They figure he's had enough and
make their exit.
"I'm going to call the police now."
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." He catches his breath.
"You can come back and pick up your things in the
morning," she says. "I'll return your money then,
Martin nods. "Keep the money, Ida. You need it
more than I do."
She nods and begins to dial the phone. "Had no
idea housing a celebrity could be so bothersome."
Martin makes a mistake when answering the officer's
questions: he refers to the men as Snapp's. They call
Danielle Handler as soon as the name is mentioned, and
she asks that they bring the "reclusive Mr. Rock" in
for some further questioning.
On the ride over, Martin remembers with a chill his
phone conversation with Danielle, the call he made
from Pam's office. It was then that Pam may have
heard Martin's Green Knight voice; she was out of the
room. When she entered, he shifted back in a hurry to
his normal voice: which means that Danielle heard it.
What if she remembered his voice? Pam might still be
in the dark, but Danielle's no dummy: she was born
with the ability to put two and two together.
By the time they reach police headquarters,
Martin's decided not to alter his voice: he really
only has the two voices to call on. Better to alter
his body posture and rhythm of speech, to make them
different than the Green Knight's, so that it's harder
for Danielle's brain to associate this voice with the
When he's brought into the interrogation room, he
slouches, fidgets with his fingers, and keeps his head
down: a far cry from the proud and dignified figure
Danielle's worked so closely alongside. It's only
mid-way through the interrogation that he realizes the
body language he has chosen is the body language of
the guilty, of those that have something to hide.
Danielle's a keen observer, and picks up on these
cues: her questions become increasingly hard-nosed,
her attitude more confrontational and suspicious.
"So, you ever work for Snapp?"
"I told you already, no."
"Ten years you live on the streets, doing odd-jobs
for money. One of those odd-jobs couldn't have been a
drug-run, could it?"
"I never did anything illegal!" says Martin. Which
is mostly the truth; during those ten years, his
costumed identity was as wanted by the police as the
crooks he was putting out of business.
"Well, you still haven't answered my question."
"I just know, okay?" says Martin. He knows it's
the wrong answer, but he's having a hard time coming
up with a convincing one.
Danielle exhales, regarding him coolly. "Fine,"
she says. "But I'll be keeping an eye on you." She
nods to someone behind the plexiglas and the door is
"Everyone's keeping an eye on me," says Martin,
sourly. "I just want to be left alone."
"In that case," says Danielle, "why don't you leave
the hero stuff to the professionals, huh?"
Martin can't resist. "What, like the Green
"I said the professionals," says Danielle.
Ouch. Guess that means she's still mad about Derek
A pleasant surprise: Pam is waiting for him in the
lobby of the police station.
"Heard about those guys," she says. She touches
his jaw: a small bruise is forming from the first
"Rest of me's alright," says Martin. "A little
sore, but no scratches."
"Getting slow in your old age," says Pam.
That hurts more than it should. And not for the
first time today, Martin is reminded that he's
forty-five years old.
Pam sees the hurt, and she feels sorry for having
"This is why I didn't want to hire you," says Pam.
"You could get killed. This is not a safe
And these words hurt too, because not only are they
true of bail-bonds, but also of crime-fighting.
Martin wonders why he chose a profession that was
as dangerous as his life. The likes of the Crooked
Man and the Paradise Snake not enough for him? He has
to go and be a bounty-hunter, too?
So much of his life, so many of his decisions, they
seem so random, so stupid. His whole approach to a
secret identity is laughable and slipshod. Why hasn't
he worked at it more, why hasn't he put more thought
into it? He's not a dumb guy. He should know what
he's doing at this point in the game.
Maybe these decisions are made at a subconscious
level: maybe he want to fail, he wants his identity
revealed, so that his story has an ending. Maybe
that's why he's putting himself in danger, even though
at forty-five he's taking more pain than he's giving.
He wakes up some mornings with a bad back, and that's
not just from a life-time of roof-top jumping. It's
age, and he feels it in the strain of his muscles.
When Ray was forty-five and the Green Knight,
Martin was twenty-five and his kid sidekick. Every
day, he saw that Ray was getting slower and slower
(and more paranoid): he was too old for the job. He
should have retired, should have passed it down to
Martin. It was Martin's right, after all: he has
played sidekick for thirteen years. It was his time
But it didn't come. Ray didn't pass the mantle
down until the night before he died, during the
decline of last year. Martin stepped into the role
twenty years too late. Is that why he's holding on to
it now, because it's his, because he deserves it? Is
he trying to live out a lost opportunity?
And, subconsciously, is he trying to sabotage it?
Is part of him letting him know that it's time he hung
it up? What is he accomplishing, anyway?
He wants to be a symbol, he wants to inspire: and
the best way he can come up to do that is some phony
PR thing, a question-and-answer session that only two
And they had Derek Mason, they had Snapp, they had
Snapp!: and Martin let him get away, Martin
practically insisted on letting him get away, and for
what? To maintain the integrity of some washed-up kid
sidekick who doesn't know when to quit?
What kind of man am I?, Martin wonders, and it
takes him a moment to realize he's said it out loud.
Pam, however, provides a ready answer. "I think
you're a good one. And no matter what? You saved my
life, you're my hero."
"What do you mean, no matter what?" he says.
"Well, whether you keep working for me or not."
"I'm not saying I'm firing you. Not yet, anyway.
We'll keep you in the office until this whole thing
blows over, then we'll see how you do. Until then,
let's keep you out of trouble."
"So, hero," says Pam, grabbing his arm. "You got a
place to stay tonight?"
"I got some friends," says Martin. He really
doesn't want to come back to Roy's doorstep so soon,
and some of his reluctance must come through in his
"Why don't you stay at my place?" she asks. "Hero."
"You got a couch I can sleep on?"
Behind her sealed lips, her tongue moves from one
side of her mouth to the other, heavy and pensive.
"Yeah," says Pam. She's not used to being rebuffed.
But Martin hardly knows her and, besides, he's never
been attracted to younger women.
Pam suddenly gives him a hug, pressing against him.
Her flesh underneath her blouse yields to the
pressure of his hard muscles. Martin realizes, with a
smirk he cannot hide, that she's not wearing a
(Well, maybe never is too strong a word.) Still,
he behaves himself and tries not to stare down her
blouse when she leans over to tuck him in on her
"I'm leaving my bedroom door open," says Pam. "If
you need anything, feel free to wake me up. I'm a
light sleeper anyway."
Martin simply nods, thanks her, and gets settled,
turning over on his side and staring at the blank
television set. He seems Pam's reflection as it
recedes towards her bedroom doorway: a rectangle of
light disrupted only by her soft and bountiful curves.
She stays within view of the door-frame, and her
flickering shadow-self is burned into the television
set, into Martin's eyes. She begins to undress.
First, she pulls off her pants, letting them slide
down her legs like water. Underneath, she wears not
form-fitting panties, but boxer shorts that are
capable of asserting their reality even in silhouette.
They too come off. She starts to pull up her blouse,
and Martin, his mouth dry and breathless, closes his
eyes, hard and tight.
"Good night," she says. "Remember, anything at
Martin sucks saliva from the corners of his mouth,
bringing it to his dry and heavy tongue. "Good night,
Martin dreams, though when he wakes, he cannot
remember what it was about.
When he does wake, he finds that his muscles are
sore and taut; before he opens his eyes, he tries to
shift around and become more comfortable. But nothing
He becomes aware of his own shallow breathing, and
it dawns on him that he must somehow be paralyzed.
His eyes flicker open, and even that takes some
He wishes he had kept them closed.
He's not in Pam's living room anymore. He doesn't
know where he is, or where Pam might be.
All he can see is the rifle pointing at his face,
and the grizzled man doing the pointing.
"Hello, Martin," he drawls. "Been awhile. If your
picture hadn't been in the paper, I don't suppose I'd
ever have found you.
"Yeah... it's been a long time, Martin. A long
time since you left me to die in the desert."
TO BE CONTINUED.
(C) 2006 TOM RUSSELL.
| TOM |
\ RUSSELL /
/ ..\ *
\____/ * | *
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