8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 2, There Was a Crooked Man!

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 11 12:56:41 PDT 2006


   An accordion-like arm stretches over a cowering
Green Knight.  The arm belongs to a weird and
distorted figure in vaguely Victorian dress.  His long
abdomen is bent into the shape of a Z, while his legs
appear to have two kneecaps apiece.  With his right
arm he props himself up with a cane; his eyes bulge
with madness.

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   # 2 SEPTEMBER 2006
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   The officer working at the front desk is glad to
see the Green Knight entering.
   "Is Danielle in her office?" Martin asks.
   "No, sir."  The officer is quick to add: "But she's
been expecting you.  I'll tell her you've arrived."
   "Thank you."
   "I was wondering... my brother's a bit of a fan..."
The officer produces a scrap of paper and a pen.
   Martin bites his lower lip under his mask and
wonders, for a moment, how to go about this.  When he
had been the sidekick to the original Green Knight,
Ray Cradle, he had signed many autographs.  Ray had
stressed the importance of distinguishing one's
handwriting from the handwriting one used as a hero
(another way to protect one's dual identity).
   Martin had spent evenings narcissistically and
unwillingly writing his codename over and over again;
Ray drilled him in it as strictly as he drilled him in
crime-fighting, detective work, and disguises.  Not
only did the two hands have a different look, but one
was just as natural to Martin as the other.
   But Martin had spent a good ten years operating
outside the public limelight, and so autographs never
came up.  He fell out of the practice, and though he's
been operating as the Green Knight for nine months
now, this is the first time he was called upon to
donate his John Hancock.  He worries now that the
handwriting will either look too much like his own, or
it will look shaky and contrived.
   It then occurs to him that the best course of
action would be to imitate Ray's handwriting; after
all, a lot of people didn't realize that Martin wasn't
the same Green Knight who had been defending Jolt City
for the last four decades.  After some thought, he
remembers the edgy, thin sans serif architecture of
Ray's letters, and the way he often interspersed
capital and lower-case letters.  He turns to the
officer.  "What's your brother's name?"

   To BaRRy, fRoM GReeN KNighT.

   "Thanks," says the officer.
   Martin nods.  "You're welcome, Barry."
   It's not until Martin has left the room that the
officer blinks.

   Once in Danielle's office, Martin takes a moment to
survey the room and go over his options.  He could
stand behind the curtain, and when she comes in the
door, he can step out into view.  He could stand at
the side of the door and give her a startle.  He could
look at the books in her shelf, or he could sit in the
chair across from her desk.
   Never let them catch you sitting, Ray had said. 
It's undignified.  Whenever you have an entrance (and
waiting for them to enter is a form of an entrance),
make the most of it, find the entrance that makes the
most dramatic, dynamic, and intended effect.
   As Martin got older, he came to resent Ray's
attention to pomp, to entrances, to drama.  When he
finally struck out on his own, as a nameless
vigilante, he abandoned many of the trappings of a
   Though, when he really thought about it, as a
vigilante he used just as much pomp as Ray: only
Martin used it as a weapon, the intended effect of
every entrance to strike fear in the hearts of his
enemies, to catch them off-guard.  If they were lucky,
in the few seconds between his entrance and their
unconsciousness, they might have had enough time to
piss themselves.
   But now that he's back in the bright colours, now
that he's a hero with a name, he catches himself
paying more attention to the pomp and, what's more, he
has to admit that he enjoys it.  He's still searching
for the most advantageous spot when Danielle walks
into the room.
   "You look lost, hero."
   Martin shrugs.  "What's up?  More from our friend
   "Not exactly," says Danielle.  "We've had a number
of Snapp's dealers delivered to us by a third party." 
Her voice is uncharacteristically flat.
   "I want to say that that makes our job easier,"
says Martin.  "But something tells me I should wait
for the other shoe to drop."
   "Five dead and counting," says Danielle.

   "Now, look at this one," says the coroner.
   "Simon Reed," says Danielle.  "Sixteen years old. 
   "Joey Jericho," says Martin.  He looks at the
gaping tear in the neck, the way the head is bent
backwards and perpendicular to his body.  "He was an
asshole, but no one deserves this.  What did he use? 
The hole's too oddly shaped for any knife I'm familiar
   "He was punched in the chin," says the coroner.
   "Hell of a left hook," offers the coroner.  "Punch
nearly took his head clean off.  And in a couple other
of these cases?  I think it did just that.  If you
could find the heads, it'd go a long way towards
identifying the bodies."

   Martin patrols Joey's territory, and is disturbed
but not surprised to see that other dealers are
already taking his place, staking their claims.  In an
alleyway, he finds a fresh splattering of blood.  This
is the place, then.
   The blood forms a rough delta shape; Joey must have
been standing near the base of the delta, facing the
direction that the blood fans outwards.  But this
doesn't make any sense.  A punch hard enough to break
Joey's neck and open up his gizzard wouldn't have left
him standing.  There's no way Joey could have landed
on his feet.
   Martin looks forwards and sees deep dark streaks in
the pavement, stretching some fifteen feet into the
alley.  Tennis shoes, leading up to the delta.
   Was Joey dragged?  Or pushed?  That wouldn't be
consistent with the neck injury, or with the coroner's
   If it is a punch, there's no way the assailant
could have kept the force and the momentum behind it
going long enough and fast enough to cover the fifteen
feet and leave those streaks.  And yet, there's no
indication that Joey ever left the ground.

   "We're looking for a guy with fifteen-foot arms,"
announces Martin as he enters Danielle's office.
   "You're serious."
   "At least," says Martin.  "Could be longer."
   Her phone rings.  The conversation is terse and
over in a matter of seconds.  "Looks like you're
right, hero," says Danielle.  "There's a dealer
running for his life from a man with accordion limbs. 
Come on.  We'll take my car."  She starts towards the
door.  He puts his hand on her wrist to stop her.
   "It's four floors down," says Martin.  "I know a
quicker way."
   Martin knows this is a serious situation, and he
chides himself for the sudden surge of child-like glee
he feels as he pulls Danielle towards her picture
window.  He opens it and fastens his grapple securely
to the frame.  He holds the grapple gun with one hand,
and uses his free arm to hold Danielle around her
   He pushes the reel on the grapple, and leaps out of
the window.  They speedily descend, and touch the
ground.  The push of another button, and the grapple
detaches from the window frame, reeling back into the
grapple gun.
   Danielle smiles at him, and he thinks to himself, I
know it's serious, but why can't it be fun, too?

   She starts the car and speeds off.  The dial is set
to a smooth jazz station.
   "Smooth jazz?" says Martin.
   "What?" says Danielle.  "I like it."
   "Elevator music."

   Several police cars and an ambulance are waiting. 
One of the officers crooks his thumb towards an old
boxing gym.  "Kid ran in there.  Daddy Long-Legs
   Martin tries to get a handle on the situation. 
"How long has he been in there?"
   "Maybe five minutes."
   "Dealer's still alive?"
   "As far as we know," says the officer.  "We've been
trying to get in to the gym, trying bullets, trying
tear gas.  Guy just keeps throwing it back at us. 
Couple of the guys got hit with their own shots, just
bounce right off him."  He nods towards the ambulance.
 "They're stable, nothing serious.  But all we're
doing here is managing to distract the guy."
   "There a back way in?"
   "Yeah, but he's whipping us over there, too."
   Martin turns to Danielle.  "Pull the men from the
back and concentrate all your efforts at the front
entrance.  Just keep right on distracting him, but
don't be stupid about it.  I want an ambulance at the
back in five minutes.  No sirens, no noise, got it?"
   Danielle nods.  "Do your stuff, hero."

   Amid the roar of gunfire upfront, the sound of
Martin's grapple finding purchase is thankfully lost. 
He slowly reels it in, ascending upwards, until his
head is level with the row of dirty windows wedged
underneath the roof.  The first thing he sees, of
course, is the bad guy, a weird and distorted figure,
part alien tripod and part jack-in-the-box, dressed in
black tails and a top hat.  As Martin had planned, all
of the figure's attention is focused on the entrance,
and on the cops trying to breach that entrance.
   He quickly scans the layout of the gym, hoping the
kid's making it easy for him.  But no such luck.  He
leaps down from his perch and quietly slides his way
in through the back-door.
   A couple of the officers spot Martin and they stop
firing for the briefest of moments, a dead giveaway if
you're looking for it, if you're smart.  Martin
notices it because he's been trained to; what about
this guy, this monster?  Martin doesn't want to take
the chance, and so he immediately leaps to the floor,
rolling towards one of the two boxing rings and
flattening himself up against it.
   "Come out!"  Martin doesn't recognize the voice,
but he'll bet dollar-to-doughnut that it's the man
with the wonky limbs, and that he was able to pick up
on the officers' hesitation.  "Come out, come out,
whoever you are!  You can't hide from the Crooked
   The sound of gunfire has diminished.  The cops must
be confused.  Their target-- this Crooked Man-- is
ignoring them, turning his back on them.  They're
unsure of how to proceed, and so their shooting is
less regular.  Martin would know what to do in that
situation: if the enemy is ignoring you, exploit it. 
Fan out, search, find better ground, complete your
   One benefit from the confusion is that, with less
noise, Martin can concentrate on the sound of the
Crooked Man's footsteps, getting significantly louder
with each step.  From the sound of it, his stride is
impressive.  Martin closes his eyes to try and get a
fix on his opponent's position.  Coming from the left.
 Maybe ten feet away...?  Maybe twenty...?
   It's hard to place, and the distance is really
meaningless because it can be covered in a manner of a
few dainty steps.  The cops are still firing, and the
kid's still MIA, which means that engaging the Crooked
Man now is not an option.  But staying here isn't
smart, either.  Sitting behind the boxing ring is the
most obvious place to hide, it's the first place a
reasonably intelligent person is going to look.
   Quickly and quietly, Martin reaches into his belt
and produces a gas-release capsule.  He wedges it
between his thumb and prime finger and sets it on the
ground.  He twists it like a top, sending it away from
him and to his right, moving so small and so fast that
the untrained eye won't pick it up.  It strikes the
wall near a doorway (the showers?  the office?) and
explodes, a veil of gas rising into the air.
   "Eh?"  The Crooked Man's footsteps become much
louder, changing direction towards the gas.  The
gunfire has stopped altogether.  One of his thunderous
feet digs into the canvas, and Martin feels a sudden
chill when he realizes that the Crooked Man is right
above him.  A moment later, the sound begins to
   The gas will only keep him distracted for a moment.
 Mere seconds to act, and Martin still doesn't have a
plan.  But he knows that staying near the ring is not
an option.  He springs up from hiding and runs towards
the front, sneaking a peak over his right shoulder
(the Crooked Man's twisted, elongated neck is firmly
entrenched within the open doorway).  The officers
spot Martin and he makes a motion for them to fan out;
they misinterpret and begin to make their exit.
   I can't say anything, thinks Martin.  That'll alert
the Crooked Man to my presence.
   Martin steals another glance at his foe, and sees
that he is backing out of the doorway, his long
stair-step neck gently pulling out.  Martin steals to
a darkened corner, sequestering himself between the
wall and a vending machine. 
   "Alone," says the Crooked Man as he turns into the
room.  Martin can see the man's smudgy face out of the
corner of his eye.
   "Just you and me," the Crooked Man says.  "Come on
out now."
   Can he see Martin as well?
   "Come out, Derek.  Come out so I can kill you, the
way you've killed so many daughters and sons."
   The kid!  Of course, he's looking for the kid!  The
   Martin has to find him first.  Only now he must do
so without the benefit of police cover.

   The Green Knight decides he'll have to have a stern
talk with the police department about non-verbal

   He doesn't know anything about this kid, about his
intelligence, his habits, his thought processes. 
"When you don't have a template," Ray had said, "use
your own.  Just because he's a criminal doesn't mean
he's dumb."
   So, Martin thinks, where would I hide?  The Crooked
Man obviously has an advantage out in the open; that's
one reason to head indoors.  At the same time, Martin
wouldn't seek out a tiny room like an office or a
locker room, because then there's no way out.  He'd be
trapped, like those people in slasher movies who run
   No, the best thing to do would be to leave open as
many avenues of escape as possible.  Martin would find
a hiding spot in the main room, because either way
he'd have access to one of these two doors.  Now,
assuming the kid hasn't ran already...
   The Crooked Man snakes his limbs into the cold
metal bleachers.  Well, if the kid's there, we'll know
soon enough...
   Assuming the kid hasn't left already... he wouldn't
be hiding behind the ring.  First off, that's a stupid
move, he'd be too easy to spot.  Secondly, Martin
would have seen him.  It's impossible for him to be
behind one of the punching bags: where would his feet
   The Crooked Man snarls as he frees his limbs from
the bleachers.  Which means that that's out, too.
   Martin's eyes run along the walls, looking for any
other places to hide.  He sees a large cabinet in the
corner next to the locker room, and apparently the
Crooked Man spots it at the same time, his wobbling
limbs grabbing for the handle.  The kid's not in
there, of course: only some jump ropes and spare
gloves.  Besides, one wouldn't hide there for the same
reason one wouldn't seek out the locker room or
office; there's nowhere to run.
   Unless... unless the kid was planning on not being
found.  On the hiding place not being obvious.  Like
hiding behind a vending machine, Martin thinks.
   Even as the Crooked Man continues to wander through
the room, Martin keeps his eye on the cabinet in the
far corner.  He does not blink, but concentrates
until, as if he willed it into existence, he can see a
quivering shoelace emerge from behind the cabinet.
   Smart little son of a bitch, Martin muses.  He's
behind the cabinet.  The Crooked Man didn't even think
of looking there!  (And, almost as if in prayer to his
dead mentor, Martin silently thanks Ray.)  Now, the
question is, how to get him out of here?
   If he can get the Crooked Man into that locker room
on the other side of the gym, that should buy the kid
enough time to make a run for it.  But he'll have to
let the kid in on the plan before he implements it. 
He has to get to the kid without alerting the Crooked
Man to his presence or his message.  He'll need a
   He reaches into his belt and retrieves his electric
torch.  His arm moves like a sideways catapult,
throwing the torch towards a punching bag near the
back door.  The torch bounces off of the brown
leathery uvula and rolls along the floor.  Wasting
nary an instant, the Crooked Man is there,
investigating the slightly-swinging bag.
   As soon as he's out of the Crooked Man's line of
sight, Martin dives from his shadows and behind the
boxing ring once more, now facing the front door.  He
quickly crawls to the shorter perpendicular side
adjacent to the locker room.  Martin's eyes dart to
the cabinet and they make eye contact with the boy
flattened between it and the wall.
   Martin points to himself and then to the locker
room; he crooks his thumb towards their gangly
opponent.  He points to the boy and to the back door,
and mimes a sort of box he hopes the boy will take for
an ambulance.  He hears the Crooked Man start to
pivot, and he knows his time is up.
   Martin makes a run for it, dashing into the locker
room.  If he's lucky, all the Crooked Man saw was the
movement, the blur, the shape of a human being without
recognizable features or colour.  Martin steps into an
alcove of lockers and, using a bench as a harsh
unyielding trampoline, lands atop a bank of lockers
with a quiet but audible thud.
   Sure enough, the Crooked Man rushes in blindly, his
arms waggling.  "You can't hide from me, Derek," he
says as he passes under Martin's watchful gaze.
   Good, thinks Martin.  So he thinks he's chased the
dealer into a dead end.  Which gives me the
   "I'm from building and safety," says Martin as he
leaps down from his perch, talons ready.  The Crooked
Man's arms turn before his head does, flowing like
kite tails through the windless room.  Martin is
careful to dodge his opponent's fist, grabbing ahold
of the weirdly-jointed right arm with both his legs
and arms.
   Martin takes a breath before continuing his quip. 
"I'm here to see your crooked house, make sure it's up
to code."
   The Crooked Man swings his arm behind him like a
great spinning yo-yo; Martin hangs on for all he's
worth, until the motion once again positions him above
his foe.  As he descends, he considers saying
something about overlooking irregularities in exchange
for a crooked sixpence.  He decides against it; this
is why Ray hired people to write one-liners for them. 
So that they didn't have to think about it.  So that
it was subconscious, like the movement of an arm.
   Martin punches the Crooked Man in the face before
he touches the ground; at that point, he doesn't
actually come to rest but actually bounces right back
into the fray, wrapping his legs around his opponent's
torso as he pummels his face.  With each punch, the
Crooked Man's face becomes larger and more distorted,
evolving from a slightly-askew rectangle into an
oblong zig-zag.  One huge bulging eye even develops an
extremely geometrical bend in the center, like the
point at which an omelet may be folded.
   "Your blows only make me stronger!" says the
Crooked Man.  He grabs Martin in his jagged ribbons
arms, tossing him over his head and out of the locker
room.  Martin sails like a missile, crashing into the
boxing ring's four-foot beachhead first.
   He rolls over onto his stomach before deciding that
that was precisely the wrong thing to do: he groans as
the crooked leg digs deep into his belly.
   "My quarrel's not with you," says the Crooked Man
as he closes his fist around Martin's throat.  He
lifts Martin into the air.  The weakened hero attempts
a few feeble kicks, but each time his foot makes
contact with the arm, it distorts further and grows in
size, a new joint at each point of impact.
   "I only wish to rid the world of murderers," says
the Crooked Man.
   "What about yourself?" Martin squeaks out.
   The Crooked Man coils his arm like a spring, and
then releases it, sending Martin into a wall.  The
cement floor fast approaching, Martin throws his arms
in front of him.  They do little to cushion the blow.
   "I'm working on it," says the Crooked Man.
   That's when Martin passes out.

   Martin wakes up and Danielle is surrounded by
white.  "I'm in a hospital."
   Danielle nods.  "I've been with you the whole time.
 Your mask is still on.  They tried to do some tests,
but they couldn't get a clear result with the mask."
   "I'll be fine," says Martin.  "The kid?"
   She leans forwards, lowering her voice.  "Derek
Mason.  We have him in custody, somewhere safe."
   Martin nods.  "And the Crooked Man?"
   "Gone," says Danielle.  "Any leads?"
   "He's got a grudge against dealers."
   Danielle smirks, a tiny pink paste of a tongue-tip
squeezed between her lips.  "Truly, you are the
world's greatest detective."
   "He's lost someone," says Martin.  "A child. 
Probably a daughter."
   "How do you know?"
   "Because he talked about daughters and sons.  Odd
to put one before the other."
   Another cynical smirk.  "Why is it odd, hero?"
   He smirks right back at here.  And even though she
can't see it through the mask, she knows that it's
there.  "Because we live in a phallocentric
patriarchal society."
   "I'll have my people start looking through the
archives," she says.  "I'll bleep you if we find
anything.  Do you need a ride somewhere?"
   "I can manage," says Martin.  "Though, if you have
some aspirin for my headache..."
   She snaps her fingers and a nurse appears.  "How
many do you need?"
   "Oh, three or four thousand."

   There's a soft bruise on the top of his head, but
otherwise, Martin doesn't find any other injuries of
note.  He looks at his flimsy mask, and wonders if it
couldn't use some padding.  He remembers when he used
Ray's old suit, the night before he passed away; it
was so thick with padding that he could hardly feel
the world around him.  Typical of Martin, he went from
one extreme to the next.  He has to get better at
finding a middle ground. [*-- see GREEN KNIGHT # 6.]
   He hears a knock above his staircase.  "Martin?"
   "Come on down, Roy."
   Roy Riddle opens the trap door and begins to
descend the stairs; the pastor has a metal tray with
him, and he sets down on a step so that he can close
the trap door behind him.  The tray carries a plate
full of linguine, drenched in what looks to be an
extremely rich alfredo sauce.
   "Damn it, Roy."
   "You're welcome," says Riddle as he sets the tray
at the foot of Martin's bed.
   "I'm sorry," says Martin.  "Thank you.  Thank you
for dinner, and for letting me stay under your church,
thank you."
   Riddle shrugs.  "That's quite a bump you've got
   "Yeah, I was thinking I might add some padding to
the mask."
   "Does this happen a lot?" says Riddle.  "Do you
four-colours get beat up a lot?"
   "You've been with me for nine months now," says
Martin.  "What do you think?"
   "I think you get beat up a lot," says Riddle.  "I'm
just wondering if it's normal."
   "It is in Jolt City," says Martin, between slurps
of linguine.  It's a bit bitey, a bit undercooked and
sticky.  It reminds Martin of Ree: she was a terrible
cook, too.  "For a guy like me, who doesn't have any
powers?  I'll probably get beat up now and again. 
Especially when I'm up against a guy with powers. 
It's like fighting a tank."
   "But you still win," says Riddle.
   "If you can call it winning," says Martin.  "I
mean, I'm good at what I do.  And I know that.  But I
still can't help but envy those four-colours who don't
feel any pain.  The invulnerable ones."
   "Don't," says Riddle.
   "I know.  Don't envy."
   "Eh, envy all you want," says Riddle.  "It's like
committing adultery in your heart.  Kinda hard not to.
 But don't envy those who feel no pain.  Pain is what
connects us to God."
   "You're sounding awfully Buddhist there, Roy," says
   "Oh, no, it's very Judeo-Christian.  For every sin,
there had to be a payment, a blood sacrafice.  Animals
were blessed and slaughtered for this very purpose,
and it was the spilling of blood that absolved sins.
   "Christ was the ultimate blood sacrafice, the
blessed lamb that was slaughtered for all sins, for
all men.  But that doesn't absolve us completely.  To
be redeemed, one must suffer.  Guilt and remorse are
the most common means of suffering."
   "So, you're saying getting beat up redeems you."
   "I'm saying that physical pain is an offering to
God," says Riddle. "It's a blood sacrafice.  It's a
way of paying for your sins."
   Martin finishes eating his supper, but it's clear
from the expression on his face that something's
amiss.  Riddle picks up on this, and asks him what's
   "When I moved in here, Roy, I said I would pay my
own way.  That I would buy my own food and give you
money for rent and..."
   "And I told you your money isn't good here," says
   "I'm serious, Roy," says Martin.  "I'm just... I'm
getting tired of free-loading."
   "Well, don't you have an interview coming up?"
   "Day after tomorrow," says Martin.  "But I don't
know why I bother.  Twenty interviews since January
and all I've got to show for it is a collection of
autographed rejection letters."
   "So don't bother," says Roy.  "Really, Martin. 
It's fine with me, and it's fine with the Big Guy."
   "Well, it's not fine with me!" says Martin.  "And
you, you stop enabling me, damn it!  I've got to be
able to stand on my own two feet.  I've got to be able
to pay you room and board, I've got to pay my way.  No
more free meals, got it?  This is the last one."  He
hands Roy the plate.
   Roy shrugs and starts to head up the stairs.
   "Uh, Roy...?"
   "... yes?"
   "For that interview Wednesday."
   "Can I borrow your suit?"
   Roy smiles.  "Sure thing, Martin."

   "Lots of fathers with dead daughters," says
Danielle by way of greeting.  She hands Martin a large
file.  "Got my patrolmen looking into it already. 
Nothing substantial, though.  Unless we can narrow it
   "I'm trying," says Martin.  "Where's the kid?"
   "This way."

   Derek is spontaneously articulate, able to give
thoughtful answers without thinking.  It's a trait
that Martin usually finds irritating, but there's
something about the kid's frankness that appeals to
   "He knew exactly where I was, where I had been, and
where I was going," Derek says of the Crooked Man. 
"He knows how a dealer moves, and how a dealer
thinks."  There's a flicker of regret across his face.
   "You know," he says, "I know this is a rotten
business.  And I've been meaning to get out of it for
a long time.  But the money was easy, and that makes
it easy to drown out your jiminy-cricket."
   "But after your run-in with the Crooked Man...?"
   "Right.  And that's what I'm ashamed of.  That it
took a threat against my life to shock me out of my
apathy.  I'm ashamed that I don't have it in me to
change myself."

   "Derek's going to testify against Snapp," says
Danielle.  "Seems really sincere about wanting to turn
things around."
   "What's he getting in exchange?"
   "He volunteered," says Danielle.  "No plea bargain,
no deals.  Says he deserves whatever jail time he
gets.  But I suspect they'll go easy on him.  Did he
give you anything you could use?"
   "Not really," says Martin.  "Just that the Crooked
Man knows the routine, knows the dealers, how they
operate, the territories.  Hmm."
   "I was just thinking, there's only two ways someone
could know so much about Snapp's business.  One is to
be me."
   "The other?"
   "He worked for Snapp."

   Three hours spent in fruitless search: leads
followed, dealers questioned, files consulted:
nothing!  Martin throws his hands up in frustration
and decides it's best to go to the source.
   Though Snapp's security has been ostensibly beefed
up, Martin circumvents it with no great difficulty. 
He finds the druglord soaking in his tub, with what
looks to be a yellow rubber ducky.
   "Whaddaya want?" Snapp barks.
   "I want to save lives," says Martin.  "The Crooked
Man has been slaughtering your dealers."
   Snapp coughs.
   "Your alleged dealers."
   "That's better," Snapp nods.  "And even if I was
involved in this drug-running, what then could I do to
stop this Crooked Man?"
   "Tell me who he is, for starters."
   "You think it's an inside job, huh?"
   "Ex-employee with a grudge," offers Martin.  "Or a
   "So he murders people."
   "Didn't say it was a particularly well-developed
   "If I knew what you were talking about, why would I
help you?" says Snapp.
   "Not to save human lives, obviously."
   "That would require one of those, eh, what is it? 
A conscience.  And I don't got one of those,
well-developed or otherwise."
   "Sooner or later, he'll run out of dealers."
   "He'll never run out of dealers.  Cut one down, two
ready to take his place."
   "Still," says Martin, "what happens when he comes
after you?"
   "If and when that happens, I'll give you a call. 
Maybe even his name.  Until then, get out of my
   "Though on second thought," says Snapp, "maybe I
won't call you.  Maybe I'll just rat to save myself,
maybe I'll give him an address.  Maybe direct him to
room 12B, access code 355LM."
   That's where they're keeping Derek!  Snapp must
have spies in the police department.  Martin's body
goes stiff.  "What is it that you want, Snapp?"
   "Derek Mason doesn't testify, then I'll give you a
   "He's already agreed to..."
   "Persuade him to disagree.  Unless you want more
bodies.  And they'll always be more bodies, dealers,
like I said, they're a renewable resource.  White
kids... black kids.  Boys, girls.  Sixteen, seventeen,
   "Promise me.  Because I know you always keep your
promises."  He snorts.  "Hero."
   "I promise.  Mason won't testify.  Now give me the
damn name."
   "Alex Tyson."

   Martin rushes back to Danielle's office with the
   "If you had stuck around," says Danielle, "we came
across his file and flagged it a half-hour after you
rushed off."
   "What?  What 'oh'?  What's that look...?"
   "I made a deal with Snapp."
   "You what?"
   "For the name," says Martin.  "He gave me the name.
 I made a trade."
   "I have a feeling I'm about to kick you in the
   Martin shrugs, sheepishly.  "I promised him Derek
wouldn't testify."
   "Derek is going to give us Snapp on a platter, and
you want to toss that away?"
   "Snapp's giving us the Crooked Man."
   "We don't need Snapp!  Or you, for that matter. 
We found the name ourselves!"
   "I didn't know that," says Martin.  "Look.  I made
the best decision I could with the information I had."
   "It wasn't your decision to make," says Danielle. 
"Where do you get off using Derek as a bargaining
chip?  You're not a police officer, you're not a
lawyer, and you're not Derek Mason.  You're a
volunteer.  Okay?"
   "Okay, I got it.  I'm sorry."
   She sighs.  "It's not that bad.  Since it wasn't
even your decision to make, it doesn't really
   "No," says Martin.  "I gave my word, Danielle."
   "Oh, don't even..."
   "I gave my word!"
   "Don't even go there, hero!  You gave your word to
slime like Snapp, it doesn't count!"
   There was a time where Martin would see the logic
behind Danielle's argument.  In fact, there was a time
that he had the same argument with Ray.  Part of him,
then, wants to concede the point.  But there's
something else in him, something new and ancient and
stubborn.  "I gave my word.  It counts.  It always
counts.  And I promise you, we will put Samson Snapp
behind bars."
   "You give your word, hero?"
   "I give my word.  Now.  Show me what we've got on
   Danielle crosses her arms against her chest.  "This
isn't over yet.  You're still in the doghouse."  She
reaches behind her, plucking Tyson's file from the
mess on her desk with smooth and effortless
   "Alex Tyson, aka The Chemist.  He was in Snapp's
employ until early last year.  You could say that he
was Snapp's R & D department: manufacturing new drugs,
improving old ones."
   "That's right," says Martin.  He had a run-in with
the guy before he had become the Green Knight, when he
was fighting crime as a nameless, street-level
vigilante.  At that time, he was as wanted by the
police as Snapp was.
   Making an arrest as the mask with no name, or
risking dropping a suspect off at the police station,
had been out of the question.  Besides, that wasn't
his aim.  He was waging a war, and he used the methods
of war: fear, intimidation, violence.
   At the time, he wholly convinced of the rightness
of his actions.  But in the nine months since he had
taken on the mantle of the Green Knight, he and
Danielle had made more progress, working within the
confines of the law, than he had alone in ten years
working outside it.  He looks at Tyson's file, and he
feels ashamed; at the same time, Tyson's not working
for Snapp anymore, is he?  With an uneasy sense of
pride, he asks what turned Tyson off from the
chemistry business.
   "A little girl," says Danielle.  "Ten years old. 
Not his daughter, not anyone he knew.  But she had
gotten hooked, and she was dead all the same.  They
just get younger and younger."
   "If we know all this," says Martin, "why is he out
there killing people and not rotting in jail?"
   "The same reason Snapp's out there," says Danielle.
 "No evidence.  Someone completely totaled his lab,
destroyed all traces.  Someone with a grudge."
   And that was Martin, too.  "So.  What've we
   "A last address," says Danielle.  "And before you
even ask: I'm going with you, doghouse."
   "Doghouse?  I liked it better when you called me
   "Then earn it."

   The rickety little house has been deserted for some
time, if the smell of mildew is any indication. 
Within a few minutes, Danielle finds a lab.
   "Thought he was done with chemistry," says Martin. 
"The stuff in these test-tubes couldn't have been
sitting here over a year."
   Danielle corks the tubes and slides them into an
evidence baggie.

   It's nearly midnight.  Roy Riddle comes down to
Martin's room to drop off the suit for tomorrow's
interview.  "Would you like a cup of tea before
turning in?" says Roy.  He leans in close, whispering
furtively: "I've got rye crisps!"  As if rye crisps
were the ultimate indulgence, a venal sin.
   "Alright," nods Martin.
   The two of them begin to head up the stairs when
Martin's pager goes off.  He consults it wearily. 
"It's Danielle.  Something must have come up in the
Crooked Man case.  A rain check?"
   "Sure," says Roy.  "But I can't promise there'll be
any rye crisps left."
   Martin rolls his eyes and begins to get changed.

   When he arrives at the police station, Danielle is
waiting for him.  It looks like she's been called from
home as well.  "This way," she says, leading him into
a corridor.  "The boys from the lab have finished
analyzing the samples we gave them."
   "I don't know," she says.  "I thought it better to
wait for you."
   There's something about this that touches Martin
deeply.  "I just want to say again, that I'm sorry."
   "That's alright," she says, perhaps because she is
too tired to be angry.  "You'll just pay for it the
rest of your life," she adds with a smirk.

   "Okay," says the head lab guy, "I haven't seen the
compound before, but I think it's highly-addictive. 
Very painful withdrawal symptoms."
   "So, it's a drug?"
   "Well, anything you take into your body that's not
food or water is a drug," says the lab guy.  "But if
you're asking does it get you high?  As far as I can
tell, it's neither upper or downer.  None of the
chemicals that stimulate the pleasure centers of the
brain are present.  In fact, I'd have to say it was
intended to hurt."
   "To hurt?" says Danielle.  "Why would someone want
a drug that hurts?"
   "It has some other effect, a lot of chemicals that
I don't understand what they're there for.  I've tried
testing it on a few mice, but nothing's happened yet. 
So it must either not work on mice, or have some kind
of delayed reaction: again, not consistent with the
goals of street pharmacology.  I dunno, maybe the guy
just threw a bunch of stuff together, and there's a
lot of fluff."
   "Could it be the source of his powers?" says
   "That's certainly possible."  He looks over his
notes.  "But why would someone as knowledgeable as
Tyson design it to hurt?"
   "It's penance," says Martin.  "He's making himself
pay for his past crimes."
   "If I could get a blood sample..."
   "I doubt it," says Danielle.  "If bullets bounce
off the guy, needles aren't going to make a dent. 
Look, these chemicals you don't understand, could you
reverse-engineer them, come up with an antidote?"
   "Lady, I can do anything for you," says the lab
   "Don't be getting cheeky," she says, but she
rewards him with a smile.

   "You look awfully tired," says Martin.  "You want
me to drive you home?"
   "I can drive my own car, thanks," says Danielle. 
She hops inside and starts it up.  She rolls down the
window and gives him a kind smile.  "Good night,
   She drives off into the murky night.

   Martin spends a couple hours on patrol, leaping
from roof-top to roof-top and looking for heads to
bust, robberies to thwart, or even kittens stuck in
trees.  It is a quiet night; even the dealers are at
home in their beds, too scared of the Crooked Man to
ply their trade.  And so, in a way, the Crooked Man is
doing some kind of good in the end, despite his evil
methods.  Martin wonders if he wasn't right after all,
when he was working solo and outside of the law.
   But no, the Crooked Man's brand of fear only works
when there is a Crooked Man around.  And, after Martin
takes him down, the dealers will come out of hiding. 
The cancer is still there, it's only in remission.  He
has to strike at the root, he has to take down Snapp
and do it right and do it legal.
   But what then?  Won't someone else take the top
   Martin shakes it from his head.  An uneasy question
for another time.  He has to stay focused in the
present, in physical reality, in the weight of his
arms and the aches of his legs.  Something's going to
happen, and soon.  Tonight, maybe...?
   "Just let me do one thing," says Martin, "let me
help one person, let me stop one crime.  Than I'll
call it a night.  Just let me do something right."
   But it's a quiet night, and slowly, he changes his
tune.  "Okay, I'll stay out until I see a cat or a
dog.  If I can help someone between now and then,
fine.  But if nothing's happening, I'll only stay
until I see a cat or a dog."
   He sees one within seconds of his pledge, and
readily dismisses it: that one didn't count.  Just one
more.  That should give enough time for something to
happen, for me to do something...
   With the second one, he can't tell if it is a cat
or a dog, there's something obscure about its
features.  After the third, he calls it a night.
   He pulls the costume off and sets it in a pile on
the floor.  Mindful of the suit resting at the foot of
his bed, he climbs in, setting his alarm for
tomorrow's eight o' clock interview.  That's when he
notices a rye crisp on his night-table.  If he had the
energy, he'd smile.

   Martin straightens Roy's tie as he approaches the
desk, and he gives his name crisply to the bosomy
receptionist.  "She can see you right now," says the
blonde, throwing her hair towards the door behind her.
 Martin heads in, making eye contact with the
twenty-five year old woman within.
   "Hi," he says, admiring her long silken black hair
and delicious chocolate complexion.  "I'm Martin R..."
He's interrupted by the shrill alarum of his beeper. 
It's Danielle.  "Ah, I know this doesn't look good as
a first impression, but I got to take this call.  My
girlfriend.  Had a doctor's appointment."
   "Feel free to use my phone," says the woman.  "I'll
just go and freshen up," she adds, wiggling her hips
as she sashays into an adjacent bathroom.
   "Wow," says Martin under his breath.  "That's a
whole lot of woman."
   She peaks her head back in.  "I thought you had a
   Martin blushes.  He didn't think she had heard him.
 He picks up the phone and dials Danielle's number,
lowering his voice into a deep but quiet bellow.
   "Yes," says Martin, a little icily.
   "We've got the antidote."
   "The guy works fast.  It's a spray, so you don't
have to worry about shoving it down his throat.  Just
a couple of quick spritzes and his body won't be so
ductile.  Also, a strong sedative, so it'll knock him
out for you.  At least, that's the theory."
   "Okay, well, I'm going to..."
   The door opens and the woman reenters.  She walks
over to a huge refrigerator in the corner of her
office and procures two bottled waters.  She hands one
to Martin and sits at her desk across from him.
   Martin shifts his voice back to its normal
register.  "Uh, listen, sweetie, I've got to let you
   "I'm glad everything checked out okay with the
   The woman nods slightly.
   "Well, I've got to get to doing this interview,"
says Martin.  "If I get it, maybe I'll take you out to
lunch.  I'll meet you in about an hour, at your
   Danielle's catching on.  "Okay, sounds good," she
   "Um," says Martin, his throat quivering a bit.  "I
love you, sweetheart."
   "I love you too," says Danielle.  "Doghouse."
   Martin hangs up the phone and looks at his
prospective employer for approval.  "We were worried,"
he says.
   "Well, I'm glad it came to nothing after all," says
the woman.  "Pamela Bierce, Bierce Bail Bonds."
   "Martin Rock," he says, extending his hand. 
"Hopefully soon to be of the same.  I'm sorry if
things got off onto the wrong foot.  I am very, very
serious about wanting this position."
   "What about it attracts you?"
   "The law," says Martin.  "The whole process of it."
   "Do you have any experience in law enforcement?"
asks Pamela.
   "Oh," says Martin.  He opens his little brown
accordion folder and produces his meager resume.  "Um,
no, not really," he says.  "I served in the first Iraq
war, but that's not exactly the same thing."
   "You've got a good eleven years here where you held
no job at all," says Pamela.  "Any reason why?"
   Martin nods.  This had been the problem with every
other interview, this unexplained block of time. 
"Well, I worked for Cradle Industries since I was a
kid," says Martin.  "And I didn't really have anybody
then, and so I basically hoarded my money.  Now, it's
running a little thin... and I've got somebody to take
care of..."
   "I understand, Mr. Rock," says Pamela.  "But, to be
perfectly frank, I'm not sure if this is the job you
want to have, just re-entering the work force.  You
seem nice enough, but this is a very dangerous job. 
The men you'd be after are men who don't want to be
found.  And, in good conscience, a man of your age,
who has no experience and has someone waiting at
home... I just can't give you this job.  You
   "Yeah," says Martin.
   "Now, don't be coming back here with a lawyer
calling age discrimination," says Pamela.  "It's just
that if you were younger, I could train you."
   "It's alright," says Martin.  He takes a swig of
the bottle.  "Thanks for the water."  He pushes
himself up and out of the chair.
   That's when the fifteen-foot arm comes crashing
through the front door.  And with it comes the Crooked
   Martin turns towards Pamela; she's reaching into
her desk for a gun.  He leaps over the desk and grabs
her roughly by the arms.  "Bullets won't work," he
says.  "Get in the bathroom."  He shoves her inside
and shuts the door.
   He squirrels himself under her desk, and takes a
deep breath.  His costume is at home, the spray is at
police headquarters.  He hears the Crooked Man
talking, saying something about the scum going free,
and that it's Pam's fault.  Martin can't just run over
and pick up the antidote, not when Pam's life is at
   The Crooked Man has entered the room.  "Where are
you?" he snarls.
   Martin affords himself a silent chuckle before he
says, "Here!"  He pushes up on the desk and springs up
his legs, sending the heavy piece of furniture into
the air.
   It hits the Crooked Man right in his grotesque
bread-basket; the fleeting satisfaction Martin feels
will be little comfort with tomorrow's back-pain. 
That's if he lives until tomorrow.
   The Crooked Man flexes his belly like a pelvis,
sending the desk rocketing back towards Martin.  He
leaps away, but the desk nicks him on the ankle.  He
sprawls flat on his face and, adding insult to injury,
the wounded ankle collides with Pamela's refrigerator.
   Those jack-in-the-box arms are coming at him now,
threatening to crush him.  Martin twists his body on
the ground, moving like a serpent, narrowly avoiding
his opponent's blows.  With his arms in the air,
flailing wildly and dangerously about, the Crooked Man
had the advantage; now that those arms are touching
the ground, the advantage is Martin's.  He grabs the
elongated wrists and tugs, hard.
   The Crooked Man comes flying towards him.  Martin
situates his foot between the refrigerator and its
door, swinging it open with a powerful kick.  He lets
go of the Crooked Man's arms as the murderer rockets
into the refrigerator, his weight destroying the
shelves and displacing the food within.
   Martin leaps to his feet, wincing at the pressure
he's putting on his bad foot.  He grabs the spill-over
confetti limbs and quickly shovels it back into the
fridge.  The Crooked Man, all twisted together inside
the refrigerator, tries to fight it.  Martin slams the
door shut in time.
   He turns towards the bathroom door, only to see
that Pamela has been watching for some time.
   "Bring that desk over here," he barks, aware only
afterwards that he's using his Green Knight voice.
   With surprising speed and strength, Pamela pushes
the largest remaining chunk of her desk towards the
airless refrigerator.  Martin props it in front of the
door.  "Thanks," he says, consciously employing his
Martin voice.  "Better check on your receptionist and
call the police.  Tell them to hurry.  We don't want
him to die in there."
   Pamela nods.  "You start Monday."



Tom Russell
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