8FOLD: Jolt City # 5, The Lion, The Witch, and the Unicycle!

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Wed Jan 17 21:01:32 PST 2007


   What starts here is an epic so great, so strange
and so brand-new that no mere splash page could ever
do it justice, true believer!  So just sit back and
relax as we embark on the first part of a two-part
saga sure to surprise and delight fans both old and
new of Martin Rock... the Green Knight!!!

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   # 5 JANUARY 2007
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2006.  The day before Christmas.  Jolt City.
   Not Martin Rock's Jolt City.  Not the rickety slums
and empty, gutted gods of brick.  But Roy Cradle's
Jolt City.  Clean, shiny, pretty.
   The Proctor Unicycle Company.
   "Now, we've only been working on it for these last
two weeks, but I think you'll be pleased with the
results," says Mr. Proctor as he leads the Green
Knight to the laboratory door.
   Martin nods under his mask.  "I'm sure it'll be
fine.  Thank you very much."
   "Not at all," says Proctor.  "For what would a
Green Knight be... without a steed?"
   He opens the door, revealing a large, nearly empty
room: an emptiness interrupted only by a pool of light
pouring down from the ceiling, and inside that pool, a
unicycle that stands straight up of its own accord.
   "It's being held in place by an electromagnetic
field," explains Proctor.  "There's a switch
underneath the seat that toggles the field on and off.
 With it on, it'll always be upright.  You could even
ride up the side of the building if we can figure out
a way to keep you on the bike."
   Martin hopes onto the bike.  It's eerie, the way
his weight makes no difference, the way it applies no
pressure.  He switches off the toggle, and after a
slight sliver of a wobbly second, he is able to
balance it himself.  He pedals forwards for a few
moments, than tries backwards.
   The instant that he does, the bike fires a missile
from the spokes.  The reactive force sends Martin
flying backwards and off the bike.
   Proctor rushes to the hero's side, seeming
strangely unconcerned about the fire in his
laboratory.  "If you pedal backwards, it fires a
   "I noticed," says Martin.  He gets up to his feet
and reaches into one his belt pouches.  He tosses a
handful of capsules at the belching flames.
   Upon impact, white foam bubbles out in a terrific
mass, smothering most the flames.  Proctor calls for a
clean-up team.
   "Mr. Proctor?"
   "I don't need to ride up walls, or fire missiles,
or whatever else you've got built into that
   "It has cruise control," offers Proctor.

The Knight's Den.  Martin and Roy Riddle.  Roy's armed
with today's mail.
   "We got three more resumes today, with samples. 
Guys would love the chance to write jokes for the
Green Knight."
   Martin waves dismissively.
   "They're not asking for money, Martin," says Roy. 
"They just want to be able to say, I'm the Green
Knight's joke-writer."
   "I don't want to have a joke-writer," says Martin. 
"Or a fan club, or a bunch of gadgets.  It's all
meaningless, you know?  I mean, it's all extraneous. 
They're distractions.  Crutches."
   "You want to do it all alone, you want to depend on
yourself only," says Roy.  "But you don't need to. 
Haven't you done more good working with the police
than without them?"
   "I'll give you that."
   "I'd like to think that I've helped you a little."
   "Yes, you have.  And I've very grateful."
   "You still keep me at arm's length.  Still insist
on finding your own place and paying for your own
meals.  You don't have to."
   "I'm not going to leech off of you, Roy."
   "Who's leeching?  I'm a man of God.  Helping people
is what I do.  You're just too proud to accept it
sometimes.  Like this business with Darkhorse."
   "Oh, don't get started on that again...!"
   "I think a team-up would be really good for you,
   "First, we can't just team-up without a threat to
team-up against.  And I'm pretty good at handling
things myself.  Secondly, if I was going to team-up,
it wouldn't be with him.  Finally, I'm not going to
team-up with anybody, because team-ups are stupid."
   "They're fun," says Roy.  "And it might get you
used to working with someone else.  In case, y'know,
you ever want a sidekick..."
   "Let me guess: another letter?"
   Roy plucks out fourteen.  "All they're asking for
is a try-out."
   "It doesn't work that way, sorry," says Martin.  "I
don't need a sidekick, and I don't want one.  Ever. 
Too much hassle.  Too much danger.  Too much to worry
   Suddenly: a knock on the trap door above the
Knight's Den.
   "Could someone have found it?" whispers Martin.
   "I don't think so," says Roy.  "It's fairly
inconspicuous.  It could just be someone walking over
it, or..."
   Another three knocks.
   "That's no accident," says Martin.
   "What do we do?"
   "Let me get my mask on," says Martin.  He pulls it
on over his face and fixes up his utility belt. 
"Stand back.  If it's an enemy, I don't want you
getting hurt."
   Martin creeps up the stairs, bracing his arms
against the trap door.  With a mighty yell, he pushes
it open.  The cactus falls and rolls, and the door
slams against the floor.
   The mysterious knocker stands at Martin's right.
   "Anders," says Martin.  Of course.  He had shown
Anders the new Knight's Den last January. [*-- see
GREEN KNIGHT ANNUAL # 1.]  "You had me spooked."
   Anders shrugs; it's the closest gesture he has to
an apology.
   "It's okay, Roy," says Martin.  "It's Anders."
   Riddle comes up the stairs.  Together, he and
Martin replace the trap door and cactus.  Anders
stands to the side, watching them.
   "There's no one around, is there?  No one that saw
you come in, or...?"
   "No bodyguards or anything like that," says Anders.
   "So, what brings you to town?"
   "It's the twenty-fourth."
   "Christmas Eve," says Roy.
   "Day my father died," says Anders.  "I thought you
might like to visit the grave with me."
   "Sure," says Martin.  He bends down to move the
cactus.  His back creaks.  "Just let me go down and
change.  Should have said something before we shut the
trap door again."
   Anders shrugs.

   They stand before Ray Cradle's monument, tall and
elegant and a little too ornate.  Kind of gaudy,
really.  But that was Ray.
   Martin looks at Anders.  "It's okay to cry if you
want to."
   "I'd like to," says Anders.  "But I don't know
   Martin puts a hand on his shoulder.  Anders coils
up.  Martin withdraws his hand.
   The sun fades behind the headstone, and it gets
harder and harder to read the words.

Limo ride.
   "So, are you just here for a few days, or...?"
   "Just for tonight," says Anders.  "Then it's back
to Massachusetts."
   "You have plans for tonight, then?"
   "No, not really."
   "If you'd like to talk about your father..."
   "No thanks," says Anders, his voice as cold and
alien as always.

   The limo pulls up in front of the address Martin
gave the driver.  A homeless shelter in his Jolt City,
a Jolt City Anders has never so much as stepped foot
   "I heard about the park," says Anders flatly. 
"Made things difficult for you."
   "You could say that," says Martin.  He lowers his
voice so that the driver won't hear.  "Roy's offered
to put me up, but I want to have some distance between
the two things, for appearances."
   "You need a job?" says Anders.
   "I've been looking," says Martin.  "Hard to even
get an interview with my reputation."
   "You used to work for my father," says Anders.
   Martin looks at him quizzically.
   "Not with.  For.  For the company...?"
   "Oh, right," says Martin.  "I had forgotten."
   "For my company," says Anders.  "Why don't you put
in a resume?  We'll see what we can do."
   "Sure, I'll do that," says Martin.  He opens the
door.  "Take care.  Have a safe flight."
   Anders nods.
   Martin shuts the door behind him and the limo
drives off.

Seventy-seven.  Martin's first limo ride.
   "I'm glad your dad agreed to let you have this job
after school, Martin!" says Ray.
   "Hot-diggity-dog!" says Martin.  "Me too!"
   "This way," says Ray, lowering his voice, "once
we're finished with your training, we can leave on an
adventure at once!!!"
   "When will I be done training?" says Martin.  "It
feels like forever!!!"
   "We'll be done when you're ready, lad!  When you're

   Ray calls Martin into his office.  "I'm going to be
going on a case tonight!" he announces.  "Looks like
Dr. Metronome's blown into Jolt City!"
   "Am I going to get to come with you?" says Martin.
   "Not yet!" says Ray.  "I need you to stay here to
cover for me in case my wife calls!"
   "Hot-diggity-dog," says Martin, a bit less

   The night presses on, the hours creeping by. 
Martin sits dutifully behind the desk, awaiting his
mentor's return.
   The clock strikes three, and his twelve-year-old
body quakes with every chime, something frightening
shooting up his spine.  Ray left at eight.  He's been
gone for hours.
   Not like him not to report in.
   "Hmm," says Martin, touching the secret button
within the top desk drawer.  "This looks like a job
for the Acro-Bat!!!"

   It's not the first time he's ever worn the costume,
but it feels like the first time.  The cold air is
fresh and alive, making his skin tingle underneath the
   He jumps from rooftop to rooftop with surprising
ease.  Each landing quickens the pace of his
breathing, makes his heart beat double-time in a
strange mix of fright and pride.
   He's doing it.  He's ready.  This is what he was
born to do.

   It's been thirty years since that first night out,
and the memories of the details have dimmed over time.
 Martin doesn't remember how he found Ray, what clues
he followed, or even if it took him one hour or two. 
But it doesn't matter.  As he lies on his cot,
surrounded by the drunk and destitute, staring into
the darkness with a slow, spreading pool of a smile on
his lips, he doesn't even try to remember the journey.
   With a child's enthusiasm, he skips right to the
climax.  To Metronome's hideout.  To Ray, and the
death trap.
   The Green Knight was submerged in a tank of water,
sealed at the top.
   "There's no way to get out," said the villain,
perched atop his giant metronome, the needle clucking
back and forth.  (Martin's glad that the new Dr.
Metronome has dropped the actual metronome motif.)   "
There's no trick to the top.  The complex machinery of
the lid-- ingenious, really, and of my own design, of
course-- will not yield to any pressure, but instead
meet your force with its own.
   "I'm sure a man of your talents might find a
solution to this impossible trap," said Dr. Metronome,
 "but I wouldn't hold my breath!!!"  He broke out into
a fit of laughter.
   Martin sprung into action, breaking off one of the
smaller, but still ginormous, metronome needles.  He
struck the glass, breaking it from the outside with
three hard stabs.  The water came cascading out and,
with it, Ray.
   "No, no!" said Metronome.  "It can't be!"  He
quickly fumbled for his belt buckle so that he could
become intangible.
   Martin socked him in the face first, knocking him

   Dawn.  A tired Ray and an enthusiastic Martin
changed into their civvies in Ray's office.
   "Well, that wraps up that case," said Ray.
   "And I helped you out," said Martin.  "Guess this
shows you I'm ready, huh?"
   "Yes," said Ray.  "But of course I would have
gotten out myself anyway."
   "How?" said Martin.  "There was no way out!"
   "There's always a way out," said Ray, doing up his
tie.  "There's always a flaw, built into the machine
just in case the villain falls into it himself."
   "But what if doesn't build a flaw into it?" said
   "Then he's an idiot."
   "In which case there'll be a flaw, because he's an
   "But what if there isn't a flaw?" said Martin.
   "There's always a flaw," said Ray, with an air of

   It hurt then.  Still hurts now.

Aught-seven.  New Year's Day.  Detective Danielle
Handler's office, Jolt City P.D.
   "Any news?" says Martin, entering through the
window.  He pulls up his grapple and places it back on
his belt.
   "Hello to you too, hero," says Danielle with a
   "Sorry," says Martin.  "Had a hard time climbing
up.  Back problems."
   "You're not as young as you used to be," admits
   "Thanks," says Martin flatly.
   "No offense," says Danielle.  "But you've been
patrolling Jolt City since I was six or seven years
old.  You've got to be up around sixty.  Damn good
shape for sixty."
   Martin sits down.  "I sense a question in there?"
   Danielle shrugs and takes a sip from her coffee:
stalling for time, time to think.  "Well, you do look
a lot younger than sixty.  I can see it in your eyes. 
If I were to guess, I'd say you were around my age."
   "I don't know about that, Miss Handler," says
Martin, slouching a bit in the chair.  "I don't think
I look anywhere close to twenty-nine."
   Danielle smacks her lips.  "If I was twenty-nine, I
would have been on the force since I was eight years
old.  And if you're forty, or forty-five?, you would
have started when you were... ten..."  Another sip. 
"So that's what happened to the Acro-Bat.  Traded up. 
I always figured the Green Knight was a white guy."
   Martin feels itchy all over.  "Dani, I don't know
what you're trying to do.  Are you trying to figure
out who I am underneath the mask?  Because it would
really hurt me if you did."
   "What, if I found it out?"
   "That you would try," says Martin testily.  "If I
feel you need to know... then I'll tell you.  Right
now?  You don't need to know."
   "I'm not... I'm not trying to figure it out," says
Danielle.  "It doesn't matter who you are under the
mask.  I just want to figure out who you are, uh,
   "Curious," says Danielle, somewhat flippantly.  She
sits behind her desk.  "Let's just forget it, okay?"
   "Okay," says Martin.  "So."
   "So," sighs Danielle.
   "Snapp's been quiet lately," says Martin.  "Word on
the street is, things are falling apart."
   "That's the word," agrees Danielle.  "Less people
on drugs, and a lot less people will to sell them. 
Lot more people riding unicycles."
   "The two things aren't related," says Martin. 
"Life isn't as simple as all that."
   "I think you sell yourself short," says Danielle. 
"So, to business.  Have you tried following up on
Larry Strode?  When Snapp's men jumped Martin Rock,
they told him Strode was under their protection." [*--
see JOLT CITY # 3.]
   "It doesn't sound right," admits Martin.  "What's a
small-timer like Strode got to do with Snapp?"
   "Nothing, near as we can tell," says Danielle.  "It
might be the opening we've been waiting for."

   Larry Strode was facing a theft charge when Pam
Bierce had written his bail, some gadget under
development over at JCU.  Martin figures that'd be as
good a place as any to look around for a connection.

   "Professor Costello's not in today," explains the
short woman in the labcoat.  "I'm Fay Tarif, her
assistant.  I can probably answer any questions you
have about the vibra-jacket, Mr., uh, Knight."
   "Okay," shrugs Martin.  "To start with, what is a
   "It vibrates one's molecules out of synch with
reality," explains Fay, handing him a clunky orange
vest. "Here, better to show you."
   Martin slips it on and begins to fasten it.  Fay
stops him.
   "Now, I'm going to set the dial so that you're only
slightly out of synch.  You'll be able to pass through
matter through an act of will, but you won't
automatically fall through the floor or anything." 
She turns the dial.  She nods at Martin, who fastens
the jacket.
   Martin's insides shimmer: the same queasy feeling
he got when Darkhorse had phased right through him.
[*-- JOLT CITY # 4.]  He swipes his hand through the
nearby table.
   "It's hard to describe," says Martin.  "It's not
like it isn't there at all.  It is.  I can feel the
hardness of it, the texture.  But passing through my
fingers.  Like blood, like warmth.  Like food in the
   "Don't think," says Fay.  "Don't concentrate at
all."  She reaches out her hand, a gorgeous deep
brown, and presses it against his chest.  It stops
there.  He can feel it, a solid sensation at the
tingle tips of his molecules.
   "See?  That's why you don't fall through the floor.
 Now, if you think about it, if you let me through..."
   Her hand presses into his chest, into his heart,
but it feels more like he's pressing into her.  He can
feel her pulse, and with each beat it runs through his
entire body, echoing soundlessly.
   Though his heart is pulsing at its own rate, his
body is pulsing at hers.  At her command.
   She withdraws her hand and rubs it.  "It's warm,"
she says softly.
   "How long does it last?" asks Martin.
   "I only set it for a few minutes," says Fay.  "It
should wear off any time now."
   "What if someone's in the middle of something. 
Phased into something, I mean?"
   "Well, two things can't occupy the same space,"
says Fay.  "Don't worry, I kept my eye on the clock." 
She points to the tiny clock on the vest.  Martin
touches it and finds it to be solid.  His body returns
to normal, and the first thing that hits him is the
feeling of sweat all over his skin and in his blood.
   "So you have to think something past you...?" says
Martin as he takes off the vest.  "It can't do it
automatically, to protect you...?"
   "It can," says Fay.  "But the more you turn the
dial, the better your chances of falling through the
floor.  Or worse."
   "It could vibrate you right into another
dimension," says Fay.  "That's why we're still several
years from practical military use."
   Martin nods and hands the vest back.
   "If you'd like a prototype...?"
   "No thank you," says Martin.  "I'd rather keep both
feet on the ground, permanently."
   "Suit yourself."  She's still rubbing her hand when
he leaves.

   "I think Snapp would be interested in a suit like
that," says Danielle.  "Protect him from bullets.  And
handcuffs.  He could slip right through the wall and
   "But he always plays it safe," says Martin.  "If
the suit could kill him or transport him to some other
world, would he risk that?"
   "He would if he's desperate," says Danielle.  "If
things are crumbling."
   "Could be slipping," says Martin.  "Do you think
Strode stole the vest for Snapp?"
   "It's possible," says Danielle.  "I'll see if we
can get ahold of Strode's phone records before the
   "But he got caught," says Martin.  "The vest was
returned.  So why would Snapp be protecting Strode?"
   "Maybe it's not so much that he's protecting them,
but that he's protecting himself," says Danielle.  "If
Strode threatened to squawk..."
   "Snapp would just kill him, wouldn't he?  Why
protect him at all?"
   "Pam Bierce wrote his bail," says Danielle.  "I
wonder who paid her to do it?"
   "It wouldn't be Snapp himself," says Martin.
   Danielle cracks open the file.  "Well, this is
interesting.  It was Marita Costello."
   "Professor Costello," says Martin.  "The woman
behind the vibra-jacket.  Got an address?"
   "I will in a minute," says Danielle.  She pulls up
the address, which is actually outside Jolt City.
   "Can I borrow a police car?" says Martin.  "They're
not quite done with the unicycle yet."
   "I'll drive," offers Danielle.  "I'd like to tag
along on this one, if you don't mind...?"
   "Not at all," says Martin.  He opens her window and
fastens his grapple.  He reaches his arm out towards
her, and soon she's inside it, her body pressed
against his, his arm wrapped around her waist.  His
arm locks into place along the small of her back.
   Martin checks the line and, satisfied that it is
secure, he leaps out the window.
   They slowly glide down through the sprinkling
January snow.  It's just a light flurry, nothing
permanent, nothing that's going to accumulate during
this unusually warm winter.  But it's enough to nip at
Martin through his tights, enough to make the thick
hairs of his legs tingle and shiver.
   They land.  Danielle shivers at the cold.  Martin
presses her close to him, ostensibly to give her some
warmth.  She looks up at him.
   "Hiya, hero."
   "I'll go get the car..."
   "Sure."  He lets her go.  She walks off towards the
parking lot, and as he watches her recede, he thinks
of Fay Tarif rubbing her hand, complaining of its
sudden warmth.

   Costello's house is a big one, and it has a door to
match: a great imposing wooden giant with a fierce
bronze lion double-daring you to grab the ring from
between its teeth and knock.  Martin's not afraid of
the lion.
   He steps back from the door, taking his place
besides Danielle.  He starts to fall back (too close
to the porch's edge).  Before he can right himself,
Danielle's got his arm, she's pulling him up.  Part of
him (the pride of him, the Ray in him) wants to tell
her that he would have done it himself.  That part is
suppressed in the quick gasp of a thank-you.
   The door opens.  Marita's a stunning woman, red
hair and red freckles and red lipstick springing out
from a meaty, fleshy body.  Her yellow dress strains
to contain that body, to keep the round hips and
breasts from escaping.
   "How'd you find out?" she says (her voice is a
squeaky-smoky little girl's voice).  "You're here
about my husband?"
   "You're married to Larry Strode?" says Danielle.
   "What?  No," says Marita.
   "You paid Strode's bail after he was caught
stealing your prototype," says Martin.  "We're just
wondering why, and if you have any connection to
Samson Snapp."
   She's at once horrified and livid, tears blasting
down her round cheeks.  "My husband's life is at
stake, and you're asking me about Larry Strode and
Samson Snapp!"
   "Okay, calm down," says Danielle.  "Why don't we
sit down and talk about this.  You can tell us what's
going on with your husband, and then we'll talk about
Strode later, okay?"
   She nods, her head shaking in the wind.  "Okay."

   "My husband's a financer," says Marita, sniffling
over a half-empty cup of coffee.  She didn't offer any
to her guests, and they thought it prudent not to ask.
 "JCU doesn't pay enough to put us up in a place like
this.  So he took care of the bills.  He always did,
even at the start.
   "Anyway.  One day, he starts getting blackmailed."
   "What for?"
   "Cheating on me," shrugs Marita.  "I knew about the
cheating, and I tolerated it.  Most of the time.  He
paid the bills and I was pretty.  Not really much love
to speak of.  But the blackmailer was going to go
public with it.  And he felt that it was going to hurt
his career, his image.
   "He kept paying more and more to the blackmailer. 
But once it starts...
   "Roger got fed up," she says, finishing the last
drop of coffee.  "So he tried to track down the
blackmailer himself.  Out of the public's eye.  Not
involving the police."
   "So what happened?" says Danielle.
   "He didn't come back," sobs Marita.  "I got a call
about an hour ago.  They said they would call again in
a couple of days, tell me where to find the body."
   "Then there's no time to lose," says Danielle. 
"I'll call homicide..."
   "Where was your husband going?" asks Martin.  "How
was he going about tracking down the blackmailer?"
   "He went to one of the drop-off locations.  He hid
and he was going to wait for him to show up..."
   "Yes, but where?"
   "Um, a restaurant.  Chinese place over on Fifth
between Headley and Crescent."
   "Do you have a picture of your husband?"
   "Of course," says Marita, offended at the question.
 She pulls out a wallet-size photo and hands it to
   "There's a homicide detective on the way," says
Danielle.  "They'll be asking you many of the same
   "I'm going to go ahead to this Chinese place," says
Martin.  "I'll be taking the car.  Dani, you stay here
with Professor Costello and wait for homicide."
   "Good luck."

   "And you're sure you've never seen this man?  Not
today, not ever?"
   "No, I would remember a face like that," says the
owner authoritatively.  "But please, feel free to ask
my staff and look around.  It would be an honour to
help the great Green Knight."

   The face doesn't ring any bells, and looking at the
picture, Martin agrees that it would be memorable: an
ugly, snarled up little face, like a bulldog with a
nasty temper.  (And that's when he's smiling.)
   He looks for clues, but he's not finding anything. 
Nothing out of place, out of the ordinary.  More and
more, he gets the sinking feeling that there's no
clues to be found.  Maybe there was no blackmailing at
   His pager bleeps at him.  It's Dani.
   He calls her back on the owner's phone. 
   "We got her phone records," says Danielle.  "That
call she got came from a payphone east of the docks."
   "Shit.  Thanks, Dani.  Any word on Strode?"
   "No, net yet.  She's still pretty shaken.  Take
care of yourself, hero."
   "You too."

   Ah, the docks.
   There are few places in Jolt City that Martin can
count on to be consistently seedy, and the docks is
one of them.  Big old empty windowless warehouses
(except for when they're not empty) are ideal for
storing contraband.  The rickety piers are ideal for a
tense transaction or confrontation, so long as it's
conducted in whispers; if someone raises their voice,
the bright blue cold river provides the reprisal. 
(And it, too, is ideal for storage.)
   It would takes hours to search these warehouses. 
Martin doesn't have hours.  He checks the pay phone
first to see if there's any clues: any fresh shoe
prints, any strange smudges, anything that could cut
the possibilities down from dozens to a handful. 
   He shakes the water from his boots (a puddle at the
base of the pay phone) and climbs back into the car,
driving the half-mile to the warehouses.
   And so, he begins his desperate, hopeless search.
   He runs from warehouse to warehouse.  He opens
those doors that he can open, picks the locks on the
ones he can't.  As time continues to slip away, he
does away with even that nicety, and just starts
kicking in every door he comes across.
   Nothing.  Nothing!
   What if the blackmailer isn't here?  What if he
drove to the pay phone?  What if this is another wild
goose chase?
   He could be anywhere.  And Martin's wasting his
time here.
   The police arrive.  They fan out in teams,
searching the warehouses.  And though the work has
been divvied up, though they'll cover a lot more
ground a lot faster this way, it doesn't bring Martin
any relief.  Each dead end just compounds the feeling
of futility.
   And Martin thinks about brain dead seniors and dead
little girls, about all the people he's failed and let
down; and part of him says, well it happens, doesn't
it?, people die, you can't save everyone: but Ray
Cradle never lost someone on his watch, did he?
   He has to think.  The blood's in his head, filling
it up like water in a pan, boiling behind his
eyeballs.  He's getting woozy.  He has to think.  He
feels himself falling and he compromises, he lets
himself sit on the pavement, his head between his
   Gotta think.  Calm down and think.  Open your eyes
and your ears.
   Puzzles want you to solve them, they'll tell you
what's wrong, if only you're listening.  Look for the
thing that's out of place.  The thing that's out of
the ordinary.  Clear your mind and
   No, there's no time!  Damn it!  Think!  Just give
me the answer, God
   Come on, help me do this
   Leg hurts from kicking in doors, head's still
pounding, my socks are wet, soaked through the boots
   my socks are wet
   There was a puddle at the base of the pay phone. 
Pay phone's a half-mile away from any of the
warehouses.  If he was wet (the blackmailer)
   If he was wet, wouldn't there be a trail?  And
wouldn't it have dripped away before he made it to the
pay phone?
   Unless he drove.
   But there's no cars here.  No cars anywhere near
the water.
   And if he was the one that was wet...
   Then where did the water come from?
   Martin stands up (his head's still pounding).
   "Hey, GK, buddy," says one of the officers, "you
   "I got to get back to the phone.  Now."
   "Thurman will take you, won't you, Thurman?"
   Martin hops into the passenger seat.  "Burn
   Two minutes later, the car comes to a halt.  Martin
leaps out and looks at the puddle.  It does have a
trail after all.
   Dripping towards the water...
   He takes a deep breath and dives in.
   It's so cold.  The shock of deep blue death
surrounding him causes his nerve endings to jump
underneath his skin.  The convulsions force the air
out of his lungs and propel him down, ten feet deep
where the river meets the concrete.
   The cold water scalds his eyes, but it doesn't
matter.  Because now he sees it.  A hole in the
cement.  Too clean and smooth to be anything but new.
   He swims inside.
   It's dark, and he wonders how far the tunnel goes,
and how long he can strive against its man-made
current until he drowns.  They're not pleasant
thoughts, but they seldom are.
   When he was younger, he used to wonder about dying.
 (He still does, now and then.)  More specifically,
about who he's dying for.
   Some heroes sacrafice their lives to save whole
cities or universes, some die at the hands of an
archnemesis, some fall to the ravages of time and old
age (is there any archnemesis more persistent and
ruthless than those?).  He never hears of a hero dying
on an 'ordinary' case, on a minor adventure.
   He often wondered if he would be the first.  He
stopped wondering when he walked away from Ray's
world, stepped into his own.  There, every case
mattered.  Everything he did was important.
   The thoughts come back to him now, even as he
begins to see a faint glimmer of light, getting bigger
and brighter, closer and closer and closer; as his
muscles begin to quake and his brain cells begin to
die off, as his insides ache for air, he is able to
banish that thought.
   Everything I do is important, because every human
life is important.  Every life is worth saving.  No
such thing as an 'ordinary' case.  As a minor
   If I die, then I die.  But it won't be today...
   Martin can stand up now.  The water's only to his
waist.  It feels good.  He wants to take a moment, a
moment to acknowledge it, to give thanks.  But there's
no time.  He presses on.
   He hears a voice.  Continues down the tunnel,
moving through the light.  He can start to make out
the words.
   "Good, you're awake."  The voice is from Canada. 
Probably Quebec (slight french twinge).
   "Never kill a man in his sleep, my father told me. 
Because then his ghost will travel the earth, trying
to solve the mystery.  A wise man, my father...
   "Every man should understand his death.  Should
bear witness to it.  It is the last thing he'll ever
know, and so he should know it completely."
   The voice is getting louder.  The spiel sounds
rehearsed, but rushed.  He's highly focused, perhaps
obsessive.  He lacks the sociopath's detachment.
   "That is the only reason why you are still alive. 
So pay attention."
   Problems with authority?  Likes to be in charge. 
Probably passive in most instances.  Aggressive in
situations he can control.  Like sex.  And murder.
   "You will note that you are suspended by your
wrists and legs.  You should have very limited control
of your torso."
   Muffled noise (a gag).  The killer's voice is
getting louder.
   "You'll find yourself quite-- uh-- surrounded by
blades.  Specifically, there are twelve mechanical
arms around your body-- all eight directions at a
slight slant around your waist, with two near your
head and two at your feet for good measure."
   A death trap.
   "There are twelve tiny blades on each arm."
   Water level's decreasing.  He must be getting
closer.  He picks up the pace, sloshing through the
   "In exactly thirty seconds they will start
   Faster.  Faster.
   "The arms will move towards you.  Spinning. 
Whirring.  Cuh.  Cutting.  A hundred forty-four
blades.  Now that's.  That's gross."
   A laugh, loud and boisterous.  The voice spikes and
distorts.  It's a recording.  Which means the killer
isn't here.
   But the victim... the victim...
   Martin reaches the end of the tunnel.  (Water's
just a little puddle at his feet.)  Light pours in
from above.  He looks up.
   A glass ceiling twenty feet high.  Clear,
transparent, and terrible.
   There's that ugly, sweaty man, twenty feet above,
the man Martin was ready to die for.  Tied at the
wrist and ankles.  Surrounded by arms and blades.
   The voice crackles.  "And finally, you should know
why you're here.  Why me?, you'd whine.  Can't have
   "A man should know why he dies.  That's what my
father said.  Simple answer is, your wife wanted you
dead.  Ah, young love, eh?"
   More distortion.  Three piercing beeps, and the
sound goes dead.
   The blades start to whirl.
   Martin fires his grapple into the glass ceiling. 
It takes purchase.  Good!  He pulls on the trigger,
and the line reels him upwards.
   He tucks his legs in.  The momentum builds.  He
nears the ceiling and kicks off the wall, adding
enough momentum to carry him shattering through the
ceiling.  The grapple out of his hand and into the
water.  No matter.
   More important things.
   The man is moaning.  The blades bear towards him
with slow, constant momentum.
   Martin rushes towards the apparatus.  There has to
be same way in.
   But those wires around his wrists and ankles.  They
have to be made out of titanium.  No way he can cut
him loose.
   He has to find some way to stop the blades. 
(Hopefully without getting himself killed.)
   He feels around his belt.  Electric torch, gas
capsule, fire-foam capsule, pager.  Nothing.
   If he had a unicycle, a unicycle with a missile
   But he doesn't.  There has to be some way to turn
it off.  Some kind of controls...?
   Maybe it's on a timer.  But no.  It started when
the voice stopped.  The voice started when the man
awoke.  How did it know?
   Noise?  The muffled mumbling?
   Noise could have set off the blades.  The three
   Martin pulls out his pager again.  It could work...
   He leaps up onto the apparatus, careful of the
whirling blades.  "Do you have a cell phone?"
   Though it's muffled, Martin can tell from the man's
expression that what he's saying is somewhere along
the lines of, What?
   "Quick!" says Martin.  "Your life depends on it!"
   The man nods fervently, rotating his right hip
towards Martin.  Martin takes a deep breath and jumps
into the apparatus, grabbing the cell phone from the
man's pocket.  He slips out the bottom and quickly
dials his pager.
   He holds it up: it vibrates in his hand.
   "Sorry," says Martin.  "Forgot to switch it."  He
switches it and dials again; it bleeps three times.
   And the blades stop twelve inches from the
once-doomed man.
   Holding the pager and cell phone in his right hand,
Martin hoists himself up with his left, carefully
leaping onto the tiny platform over which the man is
suspended.  Martin removes the gag.
   "You saved my life, buddy.  I can't believe that
witch paid that guy to kill me...!"
   The pager goes off in Martin's hand.  He jumps,
dropping both the pager and the phone.  They clang to
the floor and slide across the remnants the glass
before dropping into the watery abyss.  Upon the
pager's last bleep, the blades whirl back to life.
   Eleven inches away from the man.  Four away from
   "Don't worry," he says.  "There's always a flaw. 
Always a way out... I think..."
   Three inches...



"To Tango With the Trapper!"

Dr. Metronome (c) Tom Russell & Jamie Rosen.  All
others (c) Tom Russell.


.         __________
         /          \
        |    TOM     |
         \ RUSSELL  /
          \___   __/
              | /
         /  ..\    *
         \____/  * | *
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