8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City Collected Vol. 1: The Verdant Vigilante!
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Wed Apr 16 14:54:31 PDT 2008
EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP PROUDLY PRESENTS THE
////////////// 2006 & 2007 RACCIE WINNER FOR
//// ////// /// ////// FAVOURITE ACRA SERIES
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////// ////// ///// //
////// /// ////// \ // # 2-11
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////// /// // //:THE VERDANT VIGILANTE!
COLLECTED VOLUME ONE//
My thanks to all the readers who have deemed JOLT
CITY to be their favourite "Acra" series for two years
in a row-- both years of its existence. Here's hoping
the third doesn't disappoint.
An extra special thanks goes to Saxon Brenton,
whose comments in END OF MONTH REVIEWS let me know
what I was doing right when I was doing it right, and
wrong when I was doing it wrong. Ditto to young
Mitchell Crouch, for much the same reason.
I'd also like to thank Martin Phipps. I might not
agree with everything Martin has to say-- and I dare
say that the feeling is mutual-- but there were times
that he made very good points. Some of his comments
were instrumental in giving this story its current
shape, particularly in the first and seventh chapters,
and so I'd like to tip my hat to him here.
INTRODUCTION BY SAXON BRENTON
Let's start with a bang. After due consideration I
think I'll describe this collection of _Jolt City_
issues 2 through 11 as 'The Green Knight gets his act
Now, that may make it sound as though Martin Rock,
the Green Knight, is somehow incompetent. Well,
that's not the case. He's a highly skilled crime
fighter, and in any case when someone is framed for
murder and thrown into a supervillain prison from
which no one has been able to escape, then gets into a
number of fights which cause the authorities to assign
him to the highest level of security and still manages
to bust free, then the notion of him being incompetent
is demonstrably nonsense.
However, he's not omnicompetent. As the events of
this story arc, and the backhistory that is laid out
along the way, show, he's tried various ways of doing
what's best. Some of them have worked out better than
others. Indeed, some of them are matters of regret.
But the Green Knight is driven by the need to serve
the community and help bring justice to its members,
and so he doesn't give up. He simply moves on as he
searches for a better way to fulfill his self
appointed task. Perhaps the most important thing - and
here I return to my opening thesis that he's getting
his act together and demonstrate that I'm not using
the description in the pejorative - that the Green
Knight has found a way to do his self-appointed task
in a way that is more than mere onerous duty, but
which he finds satisfaction, even joy. In fact, this
is the culmination of a change of life for him that
he's be undergoing ever since we first met him back in
_Green Knight_ issue 1.
Along the way there are situations both serious and
funny. Fights against drug dealing cartels, and
attacks by superpowered criminals, and death traps,
and saving lives, and moments of insight into the
social dynamics of a how the superhuman community
operates, and team-ups with other four-colour heroes,
and a trip to parallel Earths ruled by snails, and
And through it all there's the Green Knight looking
for a way to do some good and make a difference. Does
he succeed? Well, that depends, doesn't it? The
mega-arc collected here ends with the triumph over one
persistently thorny problem, and that's a resolution
that should be emotionally satisfying to the reader.
However, there are always other thorny problems to
deal with. Out of little things big things grow.
Fortunately that's a truism that applies to the
forces of virtue just as much as it does to those of
1. THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN!
September. Martin has a real costume now, and a
The officer working at the front desk is glad to
see the Green Knight entering.
"Is Danielle Handler 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, if
you want to wait in her office."
"I was wondering... my brother's a bit of a fan..."
The officer produces a scrap of paper and a pen.
"What's your brother's name?"
Martin jots down: To Barry, From The Green Knight.
"Thanks," says the officer.
Martin nods. "You're welcome, Barry."
It's not until Martin has left the room that the
Danielle Handler, forty, an ever-shifting
swiftly-tilting mass of scraggly hair, perennially
brushed from a soft face: a loose curl always dangling
defiantly down to her broken nose. Brown eyes, coffee
skin, still pretty, even with a broken nose. Girl
cop. (Girl detective.) The Green Knight's partner in
his newly-declared war on druglord Samson Snapp.
"What's up? More from our friend Snapp?"
"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. 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 speedster," announces Martin
as he enters Danielle's office. "I hate speedsters."
Her phone rings. The conversation is terse and
over in a matter of seconds. "Looks like you're
wrong, hero," says Danielle. "There's a dealer
running for his life from a man with fifteen-foot
"Well, that was my second guess."
"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
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. At the push of another button, the grapple
detaches from the window frame, reeling back into the
Danielle smiles at him, and he thinks to himself, I
know it's serious, but why can't it be fun, too?
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
bounced 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, and 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 spiraling
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
"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
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 still looking for the
kid! The dealer.
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
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
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 if someone opens the
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! 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
Martin takes a breath before continuing his quip.
"I'm here to see your crooked house, make sure it's up
to crooked code."
The Crooked Man swings his arm around 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 that," says the Crooked Man.
That's when Martin passes out.
Martin wakes up and the first thing he sees is
Danielle, 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. More common for people
to say it the other way around."
"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."
The Knight's Den.
There's a soft bruise on the top of his head, but
otherwise, Martin doesn't find any other injuries of
He hears a knock above his staircase. "Martin?"
"Come on down, Roy."
Riddle opens the trap door and begins to descend
the stairs; the priest has a metal tray with him, and
he sets it down on a step so that he can close the
trap door behind him. The tray carries a plate 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,
Riddle shrugs. "That's quite a bump you've got
"Yeah, I was thinking I might add some padding to
"Does this happen a lot?" says Riddle. "Do you 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
"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.
"For that interview Wednesday."
"Can I borrow a suit? Mine's still kinda ratty."
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?"
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
"Derek's going to testify against Snapp," says
Danielle. "Seems really sincere about wanting to turn
"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 because
he's still a minor. Did he give you anything you
"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 or you."
"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."
"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
"Which explains why he murders people."
"Didn't say it was a particularly well-developed
"Even 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 to
"He'll never run out of dealers. Cut one down, two
ready to take his place."
"Still," says Martin, "what happens when he comes
"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 Mason! 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 like trees, they're a renewable
resource. White kids... black kids. Boys, girls.
Sixteen, seventeen, twelve."
"Promise me. Because I know you always keep your
promises." He snorts. "Hero."
"I promise. Mason won't testify. Now give me the
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
"What? What 'oh'? What's that look...?"
"I made a deal with Snapp."
"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
"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
"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 matter.
It's not binding."
"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
"You give me 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 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
"That's right," says Martin. He had a run-in with
the guy last summer, when he was still a nameless
vigilante. "So what turned him off of Snapp?"
"A little girl," says Danielle. "Twelve 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 would pretty adequately describe Tyson's
run-in with the mask with no name. "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
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," realizes 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 forgiving 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
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, 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 in
preparation for tomorrow's nine 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 the tie he borrowed from Roy 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 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 picks up the phone and dials
Danielle's number, lowering his voice into a deep but
"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 quite
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,"
"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?"
"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
"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, you wouldn't be such an
"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 for writing their bonds.
Martin can't just run over and pick up the antidote,
not when Pam's life is at stake.
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
It hits the Crooked Man right in his grotesque
bread-basket; the fleeting satisfaction Martin feels
will be little comfort to 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."
2. MY ENEMY, MYSELF!
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
"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."
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 it 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.
Pam's at 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.
"I'll 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:
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
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 the
reporter 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, and there's no work for you to
do, so 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.
"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 either identity."
Roy opens the door, confronting Martin with a
teeming, cheering crowd of two. Pam's one of them.
The other is Derek Mason.
Martin turns to Roy. "Is this it?"
The priest 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,"
"Yeah, but I didn't think it would be this bad,"
whispers 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,
"I am the Green Knight. 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 her leather pants are now 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 Father
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.
"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
this new Knight's Den compromised."
"So live upstairs," says Roy. "I've got a spare
room in my manse."
"You're being naïve," 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 in a church?"
"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."
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 ridiculously 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-looking. "Mr. Rock?"
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 marine 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
"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,"
"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 one bit 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 the other
chair. Pam sits in her chair and smirks a little.
"Nice and warm," she purrs.
The pleasantries, however, prove to be brief. "So,
Mr. Rock, 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. How could he be so stupid?
"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 in his other identity.
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, uh, 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 that 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,
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 or still coming up with
a plan of action.
But because he can't help himself. Regardless 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
in his head. "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 borrows a pen and a piece of
paper from the waitress.
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.
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
"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. 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?"
The thug punctuates his question with a right hook.
"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.
"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.
"Well, you still haven't answered my question."
"I just know, okay?" says Martin.
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 not enough for him? He has to go and be a
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.
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."
3. THE GREEN KNIGHT-DARKHORSE TEAM!
"God-damn sand niggers."
"Sorry, Martin. No offense. Just... I mean, what
kind of war is this, anyway?"
"War's over, Nate. We're just here to help."
"Then they need to get the Salvation Army or some
shit in here, y'know? We're snipers, man."
"We're still snipers," said Martin. He looked
through the sight on his gun, trolling the Kurdish
countryside for any sign of Saddam's forces.
"Hey, hey Martin! Look at two o'clock!"
"My two o'clock, or your two o'clock?"
"My two o'clock. Uh..."
Nine o'clock. "Okay. What am I looking at?"
"You see that woman?"
"Bet she looks good underneath all of those robes."
Martin sighed. "Keep your mind on the work, Nate."
"Hey, Martin, you ever been with a sand nigger
"No, Nate. Can't say that I have."
"Man, I wonder if their titties have pink nipples
or brown ones."
"I don't know, asshole. Why don't you ask?" He
clicked off his radio.
Nathan yelled from the adjacent rooftop. "Why'd
you turn off the radio? And why'd you call me
Martin clicked it back on. "Jesus Christ, you're
going to get us killed shouting like that."
"Why'd you turn off the radio?"
"You're breaking my concentration," said Martin.
"To do this job, we have to have complete focus.
Maybe that's why you're so shitty at it." He clicked
the radio off again.
"Rock, I understand that you turned off your radio
today while on active duty."
"Sir, yes sir! I'm sorry sir! Permission to speak
"Willis is a racist, sir!"
His commanding officer sighed. "Why is it every
time you boys have a problem with somebody, you call
it racism? Hmm? Answer me that."
"I don't know. Sir."
"This isn't the first time Willis has complained
about you. If I was a betting man, I'd say you're
still upset about his earlier and quite valid
complaints, and so you want to call it racism.
"I dunno, Martin," said Jesse, "but this thing
between you and Nathan can't keep going on like this.
Why don't you apologize, bury the hatchet."
"What for, for being black?"
"Look, we all know he's a racist. We don't like it
anymore than you do. But we still got to work with
the bastard. Why not work smoothly?"
"He's the one causing the problems."
"You're the one that insulted his shooting."
"His shooting sucks, that's why."
Martin took his place on his rooftop. Willis was
nowhere to be seen. Maybe he was removed from duty?
If only he could be so lucky. He called the base.
"He was there ten minutes ago," they confirmed.
"Probably went off for a smoke," said Martin.
"Don't worry, I can handle it."
That's when he saw Nathan Willis in his gun-sight,
inside a little house at nine o'clock, tearing a
blouse off. Martin didn't call the base. Instead, he
leapt into action, bounding off the adjacent building
before touching ground.
He ran to the little house and grabbed Willis by
the wrist. Nathan's pistol fell to the ground.
Martin punched him, propelling him away from the
She thanked him profusely. Martin told her in
Kurdish to get dressed as he kicked Nathan in the
"What're you doing?" said Nathan. "She never said
Martin snarled and tossed Nathan out of the little
house and onto the ground. He picked up Nathan's
"Give me one reason," said Martin. "One reason why
I shouldn't kill you."
"You don't got the guts," said Nathan. "How many
people have you killed in this war? Three? Four?"
"Five," said Martin. "I can easily make it six."
That's when the world came crashing down around
them, that's when gunfire and bombs lit up the streets
and brought down the buildings.
Martin came to.
"Martin! Help me! I'm trapped!"
Martin turned and saw that Nathan was pinned
underneath a large beam about a yard away from him.
Martin pulled himself out of the wreckage. "Hold on a
A new voice: the woman Nathan had tried to rape.
She's crying in Kurdish, crying for help. She, too,
is pinned underneath the rubble, some twenty yards
Martin turned and started for the woman.
"Wait!" said Nathan. "Where are you going?"
Martin dodged a beam as it came crashing down.
"It ain't safe all the way over there," said
Nathan. "I'm closer, you can save me!"
The floor gave way, and Martin leapt across the
chasm. Almost there.
"Don't you dare!" said Nathan. "Don't you dare
save that cunt before you save me, you fucking
Martin pulled the woman out of the wreckage. He
held her in his arms and began making his way to the
"I'm sorry," said Nathan. "I'm sorry I said that.
I was just angry. I'm in a lot of pain here. You
gotta get me out, man."
Martin carried the woman past Nathan.
"You'll come back for me, won't you, Martin?"
"Triage decision," said Martin. "Guess this makes
"I'll tell you one thing," says Nathan Willis, "I
can't miss from this range. And you can't do a damn
thing. Your whole body is paralyzed."
Martin smuggles a shallow breath to his lungs,
trying but failing to steady it. He doesn't want to
appear nervous. It would give Nathan the upper-hand
"Fifteen years of hate," says Nathan. "Do you have
any idea what fifteen years of hate can do to a man?
"After you left me to die, I was captured by Iraqi
forces. Tortured. And I should have died. I would
have died. But the difference was, I hated you." His
face tenses up, vibrating with anger. "Hated you so
bad. And it kept me going. Helped me escape.
"I became a soldier of fortune. Honed my craft
with the sole purpose of finding you and killing you.
No other thoughts, no other hobbies. Fifteen straight
years of hate and practice. And I got good, Martin.
"I can pick off a fly on a steeple, and I'll leave
that steeple just the way it were. I know poisons, I
know how to survive, how to plan, how to kill. Only
problem was, I couldn't find you for so long. And
that made me hate you even more. Made me even better.
"And then about a year ago, you pop up. They say
you killed Anders Cradle. Now, I knew that wasn't
true, since you don't have any guts to kill a man.
You'll leave him to rot. But you won't kill him. And
as it turns out, you were innocent.
"Didn't matter. I had my lead on you. And I've
been in Jolt City ever since, trying to find you. And
a couple weeks ago, you turn up again. Only this
time, you're gainfully employed. That made it very
easy to follow you.
"And to see what mattered to you."
"You son of a bitch!" Martin's body jerks forward,
straining against the paralysis. He hardly moves at
all. His muscles contract and he falls to the floor,
"You're a strong young buck. But it won't do you
much good. Not even will power can beat this toxin.
It'll wear off after a spell.
"And, don't worry, you will live that long. I'm
going to show you, Martin Rock." He takes a black bag
and slips it over Martin's head. "I ain't shitty at
all. I'm going to show you that I'm the best damn
sniper that ever was."
Martin feels his body being lifted into the air.
They're moving. A door opens and closes. (A sliding
Suddenly, his body is bouncing up and down: stairs.
They come to a sudden stop. Nathan takes in a deep,
sharp breath. (Waiting. For something, or someone.
A close call. But what?)
There's noise, people laughing and talking, dozens
of them. And a strange sound Martin can't quite
place: rhythmic, quick, smooth and yet metallic.
Suddenly, they're moving again. The noise gets
louder and then disappears. They must have passed
through a hallway. He must be avoiding the group of
More stairs. His legs butt up against something
hard and metal and yet yielding. The sound of cars.
It was a door. They're outside. Another sound. A
car trunk? Yes.
Martin's body falls in a clump into the trunk.
Nathan slams it shut. A moment later, the car is in
He can't get a handle on where the car is going,
whether its turning left or right or going straight.
He steadies his breath (his lungs don't feel so
tight now) and begins counting seconds. If he can
figure out how far apart wherever he was and wherever
he's going are, he might be able to trace his way back
after he gets out of this mess.
It's no use. The drug makes his brain hazy. He
loses count more than once, starting over only to
realize he has done so.
The car comes to a stop, the trunk opens, and
Martin is carried and then rolled onto the grass.
Martin lies there and waits for his body (his best
and most accurate weapon) to come back under his
command. As he waits, he tries to formulate a plan.
But there's not enough information. To try and put
something together without knowing what the score is
would be folly. He knows himself well enough to know
that he would try to stick to whatever plan he came up
with. Better not to have a plan. He has to take
things as they come. Be free to improvise.
"Mister? Are you okay?" It's a girl's voice, very
"Janie, stay away from that man!"
"I think he's hurt." The black hood is lifted from
his head. She's five years old, maybe six, pretty
little dress. He tries to open his mouth to speak,
but his jaw still won't cooperate. He can feel his
fingers twitch, though. Just a few minutes longer...
"Are you okay?" asks Janie.
Martin hears the bullet coming, soft and terrible,
a second before it rips through her skull. There is a
quick spurt of blood, pirouetting in the air. She
falls backwards with a dusty thud.
Her mother screams her name, over and over, and is
silenced by another bullet.
More screams. Panic. People rushing, their feet
digging into gravel and grass... and bullets, bullets
whizzing through the air and hitting trees and flesh
and metal. I'm in a park, Martin realizes. Bunch of
kids. He's going to kill them, going to kill a bunch
of kids and their parents.
He can't let that happen.
His joints are still locked up, his muscles still
turgid solid rock. Just a few more minutes. But he
doesn't have that long. He made himself move before,
he can do it again. He has to do it again.
He was angry when he did it, he wasn't thinking,
wasn't trying. Must have been a surge of adrenaline.
If he can get himself angry again...
But he is angry, he is keyed up. They're kids!
His body quivers with outrage, and all he manages to
do is flops onto his side.
What kind of hero are you?, Martin asks himself.
Come on, get up! Get up! People are dying! Because
of you. Their blood is on your hands, Martin. In
The park. The one park in Jolt City that Martin's
been avoiding since he was twelve years old. This is
where it happened. This is where another white man
with a gun changed Martin's life forever.
"No! Not again!" Martin throws his body up on its
feet violently. His body's still in the rapture of
the toxin, still fighting him. His muscles lock up
and shake with every step. It hurts so bad, he has to
grit his teeth. Even through gritted teeth, though,
he still manages to scream.
"Everybody get down!" he says. "It's me he wants!
Me! Leave them alone!"
The shooting stops for a moment. Martin surveys
the blood-stained grass and counts four bodies in
addition to Janie and her mother. Jesus. His eyes
dart around, looking for Nathan and his perch.
They both had the same training, both had been
taught how to pick the most strategic spot possible
for sniping. Martin spots the bastard in a
second-story house window, gun poking out of the
alcove. The house is positioned diagonally from a
clearing in the trees.
Martin runs towards the house, hoping to catch
Nathan off-guard. Unfortunately, his legs still
wobble and his muscles still spasm. He hears a shot.
Bullet's coming his way. Got to get down...
Too late. Martin grunts as the bullet grazes his
arm. If it hadn't been for his erratic shaking, it
would have went through his heart. Something to be
thankful for, he supposes, as he falls to the ground,
a quivering, shaking heap.
No. No. No... Get up, get up...
And then, another sound, like a tornado moving
through the grass. It lasts for about three seconds.
That's when Martin realizes he only heard the bullets
fire; he didn't hear any of them make any kind of
Shaking and bleeding, he rolls to his other side,
coming face to face with a sleek, pitch-black boot.
It's not a fancy boot, not a dress boot, or a style
statement. No, from its cut and design, Martin
recognizes it as belonging to a member of the spandex
He looks up, sweat heavy on his eyelids, to see the
tall, svelte, and dynamic figure before him. His mask
reveals the lower half of his face. He smiles at
Martin with his white teeth in his white face.
"It's alright, citizen," says the man as he
disintegrates the bullets he's caught by rubbing them
together at super-speed. "You're safe now! The
"He's in the house," says Martin. "White one,
third from corner." He shivers, suddenly very cold.
He feels something inside his brain, gaping and
terrible and ready to swallow him whole. Before he
succumbs to it, before he lets himself fall to sleep,
he focuses his eyes on the speedster. "And you're not
He can't remember an image. But a sound haunts
That weird sound he heard en route to the trunk.
That rhythmic metal sound he couldn't quite place.
It spins around in his head, regular and
Martin awakens in the hospital. He feels his lungs
swell up to full capacity; he feels a certain
languidness in his muscles that tell him that his
control of his body has returned.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Rock." It's Michael Reynolds,
the federal agent. "In answer to your unspoken
question? Yes, you are in deep shit."
"Did you catch him?"
"Who, the shooter? No."
"I told him where he was."
"Yes," says Reynolds, allowing his eyebrows to
squat against his squinted eyes. "Unfortunately, by
the time Darkhorse got there, there was no one inside.
We found some cigarettes. Other than that, no
traces. How did you know he was there?"
Martin bristles a bit, knowing where Reynolds is
going with this. "We both served in Iraq, sniper
unit. For what he wanted to do, that would be the
most advantageous spot."
"That's where you would go, huh? If you wanted to
shoot up a park full of kids."
Martin doesn't dignify that with a response.
"So you know who this guy is?"
"Nathan Willis," says Martin.
Reynolds starts to jot the name down.
"Military will say he's dead," says Martin. "I
left him behind in the field. Triage decision. I
could only carry so many people."
"So he's a little pissed at you?"
"I guess you could say that, yes."
"So why didn't you tell me about this yesterday? I
asked you point blank if there was anyone you were
"I wasn't hiding. I thought he was dead. Everyone
else seemed to think so."
"Everyone thought you were dead, too," says
Reynolds. "But here you are. And there he is, some
psychopath with a gun, killing children. I'm going to
ask you this once, and only once: did you know about
"Of course not," says Martin. "One minute, I'm
asleep, the next, I wake up in some room I've never
seen before, paralyzed. I had no idea he was still
alive. He blindfolds me, stuffs me in a trunk, drops
me off in the park, and starts shooting."
"Do you remember anything about the car?"
Reynolds exhales. "What about the place he kept
"There were a lot of people," says Martin. "Maybe
he was hiding in an attic or something?"
The door opens. Danielle Handler. She's
completely exhausted. "We meet again, Mr. Rock."
She's not happy about it.
"We've got a name," says Reynolds, passing his
notepad to Danielle. "Apparently, the hero here left
him for dead back in Iraq. Now he wants revenge." He
turns to Martin. "You'll want to tell us the whole
story, from the beginning."
Martin nods. "After that, can I go?"
"There are dead children," says Danielle.
"I didn't do it," says Martin. It comes out a
little colder than he wants. Perhaps a little more
"You brought this monster into my city," says
"Besides," says Reynolds, stepping in, "you're his
primary target. It wouldn't be advisable to have you
on the streets while he's still loose."
"Yes," agrees Danielle, cooling down to her
professional simmer. "The Green Knight will want to
talk to you. We're going to keep you here under
police custody until he arrives."
"You get a hold of him yet?" says Reynolds.
"Not yet," says Danielle. "But he's never let me
down before. Darkhorse has offered to help, and he's
out searching the city now."
"Goody," says Reynolds bitterly. "Maybe if we're
lucky, he can destroy more evidence. What kind of
idiot disintegrates the god-damn bullets?"
"Okay, hero," sneers Danielle as she takes a seat.
"So why don't you start at the beginning?"
He goes through the story roughly a half dozen
times. Danielle occasionally steps out to call the
Green Knight. Martin wonders if he left his pager at
Pam's, or if Nathan has it. Either way, it's a bad
situation: police are scouring Pam's now for clues.
And, blip, that's the end of his secret identity. But
what if Nathan is able to trace the pager to the cops,
what if he puts two and two together?
Either way, not good.
Danielle enters the room again. "Still no answer.
I don't understand it."
"What do we need him for anyway?" says Reynolds.
"We've got the police searching the crime scenes.
They'll turn something up. Things get too hard, we've
still got that other dipshit in tights to take him
down for us. What difference will the Green Knight
"If he's not going to show," breaks in Martin,
"then can I go?"
Danielle snaps her fingers. Two police officers
enter. "This piece of shit does not leave this room
under any circumstances. Not until the Green Knight
has talked with him." She makes her exit. Reynolds
tips his hat and follows.
Martin knows why police will have witnesses recount
events again and again, from the beginning: it helps
them to structure the events, it frees up the memory.
The surest way to solve a problem is to understand it.
So, he thinks to himself, very careful not to say
any of this aloud: here's the problem.
There's a psychopath on the loose. He's after you.
It's your fault. He has Pam. You have to stop him.
You can't leave this room until the Green Knight
shows up to talk to you. But.
You are the Green Knight. So, until you arrive to
talk to yourself, he's still free. So, that's the
situation. What are the solutions?
He could try to escape, try to overpower the
guards. But then Reynolds and Danielle would
certainly suspect him of being somehow involved with
Nathan, that he's hiding something. Likely, they'll
divert resources and make it a two-man man-hunt.
And, beyond that, it just makes life ten times more
difficult for Martin Rock once this whole thing is
over. The last thing he wants is more attention, more
legal bullshit. And he can't run away from that. The
last thing that he needs is to be a fugitive from
He could sit this one out. The police are more
than competent, and this white guy claiming to be
Darkhorse can probably handle Nathan. Hell, he can
handle him better than Martin can: Martin can't catch
bullets in mid-air or phase through matter. Martin
doesn't have any powers at all.
Assuming he does get out of this room and confront
Nathan, Nathan will undoubtedly have the advantage.
As the Green Knight, Martin's armed with a grappling
hook and some gas pellets and an electric torch:
that's it. Hardly anything that can stop a bullet.
But Martin's had the same training as Nathan.
What's more, he's better at it. It's been more than
ten years since he's fired a gun, but he knows he'd
still be the best damn shot that ever was. He could
meet Nathan, gun to gun, sniper to sniper.
But when you bring bullets into the game, there's
more of a chance that people can be hurt, that
innocents can suffer. Besides, he cannot and will not
take a human life. Not again. Not now that he's the
So, really, maybe the best thing to do would be to
sit it out. After all, he's getting older, he's only
a man. Better to let the cops take down the gun-man.
Hopefully too many of them wouldn't get shot down in
Only, and he knows this: he made this bed. He
can't, in good conscience, ask others to lie in it.
He has to stop Nathan. He has to get out of here
to do that. To get out of here, the Green Knight must
show up. Or...
Or he must reveal his secret identity.
Okay. So what are the consequences of the big
reveal? First, it gets him out of here, and it gets
Nathan off the streets. That's a plus, but that's
only the immediate picture.
The larger picture? Everyone's going to know that
Nathan Willis was going after Martin Rock. That it's
Martin Rock's fault that there are dead children. If
he reveals that Martin Rock and the Green Knight are
one and the same, people will blame the Green Knight
for what happened. The chance of him making any kind
of impact on the community is reduced to nil. So
that's out. He can't reveal it publicly unless there
are no other options. But maybe... maybe just to
If he confides in her, it doesn't damage the Green
Knight's reputation, at least not publicly.
But at the same time, it would damage their
relationship. Both the Green Knight and Martin Rock
are already skating on thin ice with her. To conflate
the two identities would only increase her anger. And
she couldn't respect, couldn't work with someone who
unleashed Nathan in her city.
Either way, he's no longer as effective as he used
to be. No longer able to make a difference. But is
that really that important? Or is it more important
to him? Is he being selfish by trying to maintain
that status quo? People have died. Pam's in danger.
All this suffering, and all because of Martin Rock.
That's ironic. The whole reason to maintain a secret
identity is to keep your loved ones from reprisal.
But when it's the civilian identity that's targeted,
it renders the whole thing kind of moot, doesn't it?
Who is Martin protecting by wearing the Green
Knight's mask? What person could possibly be in
danger if his identity was revealed, that wasn't
already in danger because they were known
acquaintances of Martin Rock? Roy.
"Hey," says Martin.
The guards blink.
"Can I make a phone call?"
The guards exchange looks, trying to figure out the
"You can listen in," offers Martin. "Put it on
speaker phone. Just want to call my priest. I was
going to meet him tonight for Wednesday mass, but it
looks like I'm going to miss it."
The guards have blank faces.
"I'm real religious," says Martin earnestly, hoping
that will seal the deal.
"Tell me the number," says one of the guards,
picking up the phone. Martin gives him the number and
"Saint Plechelm Church," Roy's voice pips up over
the speaker phone. "You sin, we absolve."
"Who is this?" barks the guard incredulously.
"Father Riddle," says Roy. "May I ask who's
"I got a Mr. Martin Rock here, wants to talk to
"Hi, Roy," says Martin.
"What's going on?"
"I'm in the hospital," says Martin. "I was shot in
"Are you okay?"
"Just grazed it a bit. That was a police officer
you were talking to."
"Yep. I was shot by a sniper, and they're keeping
me here as a witness."
"Yeah," says Martin evenly. "They're keeping me
here until the Green Knight shows up to talk with me."
"Oh," says Roy. "You'll get his autograph?"
"Sure thing, Father Riddle," says Martin. "Just
wanted to let you know I won't be able to make it
tonight. I don't know when the Green Knight's going
to show up. But I have a feeling I'm going to be here
a long time."
"Well, let me know how it all turns out, Marty,"
says Roy. "Take care."
"You too," says Martin.
Roy hangs up the phone. Martin thanks the guard,
takes a deep breath, and waits.
An hour later, Danielle enters the room. She nods
at the guards, who exit. "You're free to go," she
"Did you catch Willis?"
"No," she says testily. "The Green Knight will
only talk to you in his lair. His, uh, public liaison
is downstairs. He'll escort you."
The elevator door opens, and Martin steps out,
followed by Danielle. He can see Roy at the end of
the hall. As he gets closer, he sees that Roy is not
alone. Standing next to him is Derek Mason.
Derek shakes Martin's hand. "My name is Derek," he
introduces himself. "I'm one of the dealers the
Crooked Man was after. I just wanted to thank you for
saving my life."
"You're welcome," says Martin.
"Now remember your promise," says Roy. "No
"The Green Knight can trust me, just like I trust
the Green Knight," says Danielle. "Though more and
more, I'm wondering why I trust him in the first
Martin climbs into the passenger seat.
"So," says Roy, "what's this all about?"
"You first," says Martin. "What did you tell
"I told them I was the Green Knight's go-between,"
says Roy. "That you needed to be brought to, uh, your
"Did they ask why?"
"Yes," says Roy. "I figured it wouldn't be very
seemly for me to lie, and, to be frank, I'm a bad liar
besides. So I just said that you had your reasons,
that I couldn't disclose them, that they should trust
you. And Miss Handler obviously does."
"What was Derek Mason doing there?"
"Well, just because she trusts you, doesn't mean
she trusts me," says Roy. "She knew somehow that he
had attended your press conference on Monday. He was
able to confirm that I was there with you."
"Thanks, Roy," says Martin. "You really got me out
of a tight spot."
"You're welcome," says Roy. "I'm just glad to be
of service. Now, it's your turn. What's this all
"What is it always about?" says Martin with a deep
sigh. "The past coming back to bite me in the ass."
Roy clears his throat. "Martin. Language."
The Knight's Den.
Martin winces as he slides his injured arm into his
"You think maybe we should make it bullet-proof?"
He hands Martin a green sack of cloth. Martin
pulls it over his face and creates a Mask, a skin that
covers his whole body. The only parts left of him are
his eyes, his soul: his essence, the essential
Martin-Rockness of Martin Rock.
"No," says Martin, finally. "There's no time."
"But in the future," says Roy. "Someone's bound to
shoot at you again."
"And I'm sure someone will try and use fire as a
weapon," says Martin. "Should I line the suit with
asbestos? Someone will use a knife. Should I make
the padding extra thick, should I wear steel armour?
"This is a dangerous job, that's true. It's also a
dangerous world. But do you walk around with a Kevlar
"No," says Roy.
"Do you feel safe?"
"Sometimes," says Roy. "Sometimes I don't."
"I can't plan for every eventuality," says Martin.
"And I can't be scared. Otherwise, I'd just keep
covering myself, protecting myself, and what message
does that send to ordinary people? If a hero needs
that much protection, shouldn't they need more? I'm
not going to scare mothers and fathers."
"Not to play devil's advocate," says Roy, "but is
sending a message, being a symbol, more important than
Martin considers climbing up the side of the
building, making a dramatic entrance through
Danielle's large office window. But he doesn't dare
use his grapple, not with his arm. It only got
nicked: he still has to be careful not to let it show.
It'd be another dot for someone to draw a line to.
He is quickly escorted to Danielle's office, in
which she is already waiting, along with Reynolds.
"You just better have a good explanation for this
Rock business," says Danielle.
"Rock... it's complicated. And maybe I'll explain
it to you, someday."
"That's not the way it works," says Reynolds. "You
don't get to keep your secrets, carte blanche."
"I'm sorry," says Martin. "But you've just got to
"You keep giving me fewer reasons to," Danielle
retorts. "Where is he?"
"Rock's in a safe place," says Martin.
"You better keep ahold of him," says Danielle. "We
got some questions that don't have answers yet. We're
going to want you to turn him back over to us after
this is done."
Martin exhales deeply, hoping the pause will sound
natural and afford him some time to think. "He's
innocent," he gambles. "Completely innocent. You
have my word on that."
"Not the way it works," Reynolds says again.
Gamble failed. "You turn him back in. After the two
of you capture Willis."
"Two of us? Who? Me and Danielle?"
"You and Darkhorse," says Reynolds.
"I don't think so," says Martin. "I work alone."
"Whatever happened to your sidekick, the Acro-Bat?"
Before Reynolds can demand an answer, a blur of
motion catches Martin's eye. The sleek, black-garbed
"Great, you're here," says Darkhorse. Martin
observes a pink pimple on his pasty white face,
divided in half by the tight line of his spandex.
Reynolds clears his throat. "Darkhorse is an
employee of the Federal Government, and has been asked
to assist in the apprehension of the sniper. He'll be
tagging along on your investigation."
Martin sighs. "Fine. Let's get down to business,
then. Any leads?"
"Beyond what Martin Rock told us?" says Danielle.
"Then we have to look for more clues. We'll hit
Bierce's residence first, as it's closest. Then the
house and the park. Hopefully, we'll find something
that will lead us to him."
Before he can say anything further, Martin finds
himself weightless, the world spinning around him, a
sudden digging pain in his arm.
Two seconds later, Darkhorse sets Martin down in
front of Pam's apartment. Surprisingly, he doesn't
find himself to be dizzy or disoriented, though the
arm stings. Absent-mindedly, he rubs it.
"Are you okay?" asks Darkhorse.
"Yeah," says Martin, withdrawing his arm. "Just a
"I can rub it at super-speed," offers Darkhorse,
putting his words into action before they echo into
"No, thanks," says Martin, withdrawing in agony.
"I, uh, don't like being touched."
Darkhorse reaches his vibrating hand into the door,
popping open the lock with his immaterial fist. He
vibrates through the yellow police tape. Martin
grumbles before ducking under it.
Darkhorse is zipping to and fro inside, opening
drawers, turning over cushions and replacing them in
the same instance, giving the entire scene a strange,
squiggly static quality.
"Stop," says Martin. "That is not the way you
conduct an investigation."
"Might not be the way you conduct an
investigation," says Darkhorse. "But when I can
process information at super-speed, I..."
"There's a difference between processing
information and observing. Observation takes time.
It's not just looking for answers, verifying facts.
It's taking a long, hard look at the big picture."
"We're not going to find anything," sing-songs
"Then what do you suggest we do?" says Martin as he
bends down in front of Pam's couch, the same couch he
was sleeping on just the night before. "Just whiz
around town at super-speed, vibrating in and out of
every building until you find him?"
"Well, that's certainly one way to do it," opines
Martin's hand lands upon his pager, dropped the
night before. The police hadn't discovered it. Good.
"I suppose you've tried it already?"
While Darkhorse is distracted with the question,
Martin quickly but discreetly slides the pager into
one of the pouches on his belt. He pulls out the
electric torch, looking for some trace of the nerve
gas: a pellet, perhaps.
Darkhorse, in the end, doesn't answer the question.
Instead, he responds with one of his own: "Why do I
get the feeling that you don't much care for me,
"I dunno," says Martin. "Why do you think that
might be? Darkie?" This last word has the intended
"So you don't like the nickname," says Darkhorse.
Martin stands up and heads into Pam's room.
"What?" says the speedster, following.
"Darkhorse retired last year," says Martin.
"The original Darkhorse," says his successor.
"Phil Whaley. He's a friend of mine. Still is. I
took it on with his blessing."
"He stood for something," says Martin. "What do
you stand for?"
"The same things, largely," says Darkhorse.
"Truth, justice, the American wise-crack. He wasn't
exactly a serious and somber man."
Martin starts to shrug his shoulders, but decides
against it. He doesn't want to concede the point.
And so he falls silent once again. He starts to push
past the speedster, but instead of giving way,
Darkhorse just vibrates out of synch with reality.
Martin passes through his molecules, and it's that
sensation that makes him slightly queasy. He heads
into the bathroom, armed with his electric torch.
He's quickly satisfied with the bathroom, and then
the kitchen. He heads towards the door to exit, only
to be scooped up again.
A second later, he's at the park. The park...
And Martin thinks about the white man that
destroyed him, and the white man who killed these
babies, and the white man standing next to him,
impatiently tapping his black-garbed foot. Is it
racism? He doesn't think so. It's not racist if it's
justified. A white man did rape Martin as a child. A
white man did shoot these children in the park. And
as for this so-called Darkhorse...
"Phillip Whaley stood for something," says Martin
again. "He was a black man, and he wanted people to
"Not was, is," says Darkhorse. "He's still alive,
just retired. I'm trying to honour what he stood
"But how can you?" says Martin. "You're not
"But isn't that what he stands for? A colour-blind
society? I think by choosing a white guy as his
successor, he made that point. Remember, he chose
Martin shrugs, leaning down in the grass, touching
the blood with his gloves. It's dry, like powder.
"He was someone that black men could look up to and
emulate. Replacing him with a white guy is like
saying, hey, assimilate into white society."
"Because, y'know, the poverty and drugs and
shootings in the parks are so much to be proud of."
"That's why it's important to have a strong symbol
of black manhood," says Martin. "And I think that's
what the original Darkhorse was. You? You neuter
"What's more important?" says Darkhorse. "Sending
a message or getting the job done?"
"I'm trying to do both," says Martin. But, try as
he might, he can't see any clues here. "Guess we
better go inside," says Martin, pointing to the window
from which Nathan conducted his massacre. "Nothing
here but grass."
Darkhorse sighs. "Look, Greenie-- uh, GK. I want
to find this guy. But nothing seems to be working."
"We can't give up," says Martin.
"I'm not suggesting that," says Darkhorse. "But
two out of three came up empty, again. If we don't
find anything inside, we're stuck. We have to start
thinking outside the box. Maybe... maybe I can run at
near the speed of light and catapult us back into
time. I'm still a little shaky at it, though, and so
I might overshoot by a couple hundred years."
"No thanks," says Martin. He plants his feet on
the bloodless parking lot pavement and sits down on an
oblong cement block.
"There were other witnesses," says Martin, "besides
Rock, who saw the shooting. Maybe one..."
"None of them saw the car," says Darkhorse. "At
least, none of them that survived."
"The little girl," says Martin suddenly, sitting
up. "The first one, the one that tried to help him.
Which one is hers?"
"This one," says Darkhorse. He grabs Martin by his
bad arm and yanks him ten yards across the grass.
"He said that she was standing over him," says
Martin. "So he would have lain..." He settles down
into the grass, standing in for his own paralyzed
body. It's an eerie feeling. "Willis carried him
from the car, from the trunk. What are the chances he
would have done so in a straight-line?"
"I'd say the chances are good, if he hoped not to
be seen. He would have chose the shortest path."
Darkhorse extends his left hand, reaching for Martin's
right. His bad arm, again. Martin takes a sharp
breath and lets Darkhorse pull him up.
"No footprints," says Darkhorse.
"Police would have noticed," says Martin. "But I'd
say it's safe to assume the car was parked in one of
these five spots."
"Sure," says Darkhorse. "But with no witnesses and
no video, I don't see where that gets us."
Martin turns towards the orange sliver of sundown.
"How good are your eyes?"
"Sharp enough," shrugs Darkhorse. "Have to be, at
the speeds I move."
"There haven't been any cars in that parking lot
since this morning," says Martin. "Police have made
sure of that."
"You want to follow the tire tracks?" says
"If you can," says Martin. "There's about five
minutes of sun left."
"Give me two."
Darkhorse blitzes off at super-speed, a blur of
black and energy, following first one track, and then
another, doing it so quickly that he appears and
disappears almost instantaneously.
Two and half minutes later, he comes to a
"Sorry I'm late," he says. "Had to get some
Darkhorse points outwards, and Martin sees a few
sparks twinkling in the distance. "Twelve cars," says
Darkhorse. "Some tracks looked fresher than others,
but I thought it'd be better to be safe than sorry."
Darkhorse sets Martin down in front of a flare.
"--work. Will you not do that?"
"Sorry," says Darkhorse. Martin examines the
license plate and flashes his electric torch into its
darkened windows. The back and the passenger seat are
covered with candy wrappers, fast-food burger
containers, and soda cans. It could be Nathan's, if
his personal hygiene habits extended to his car.
They head up to the house and knock on the door.
As it turns out, it belongs to the owner. The same
goes for the next car. And the next.
They get lucky with the fourth, which is parked
about six blocks away from the shooting. No one has
any idea where it came from. They head to the house
it's parked in front of.
They ask the homeowner if they can borrow a phone,
and Martin inquires after the plate number with the
Secretary of State. It's a rental. Martin calls the
As the phone rings, the owner of the house offers
him some cookies. He politely refuses just before the
girl answers the phone.
He explains who he is and rattles off the plate
"Yes, that's one of ours," says the girl. "It was
reported stolen this morning."
"Was it rented to a Nathan Willis?"
"No," she says. "Jack Corner."
"Did you meet him?"
"Yeah, he came in to report the theft."
"What'd he look like?"
"Small skinny black guy. Kinda shrimpy. Bald.
Maybe thirty, maybe forty. I'm bad with guessing
"You got an address?"
"He's out of state," says the girl. "You still
want the address?"
She gives it to him. "You know, he probably filed
a police report. Otherwise, his insurance company
can't reimburse him for the loss. Not that it'll be
necessary now that you've found the car."
"Right. Thanks a lot."
"No problem," says the girl.
He hangs up. "Thanks for the use of your phone,
citizen," says Martin grandiosely.
"And thanks for the cookies," says Darkhorse as he
stuffs his face.
Police report says the car was last seen by Corner
at the Jolt City Expo Center at six o' clock this
morning. That was about three hours before the park.
"So, some time between six and nine, Nathan Willis
stole the car," says Darkhorse.
"Corner's staying at the Cedar Oak Motel," says
Martin. Before he can give the speedster the address,
"This is where I'm staying," confides Darkhorse.
"How long are you staying?"
"Until I can find a house or a good apartment,"
says Darkhorse. "Me and the wife are looking around."
"So you're staying in Jolt City," says Martin
"Ooh," says Darkhorse. "Are we going to have a
problem again? Because if we do, I think we should
hold off until after we talk to this guy."
Martin knocks on the door.
"Who is it?"
"The Green Knight," says Martin.
The man laughs and opens the door a crack. "Holy
shit. It is the Green Knight and Darkhorse."
"That's what we said," says Darkhorse as he
vibrates through the door.
The man turns and looks at the speedster.
"Ah," says Martin. "You're Jack Corner?"
"Can we come in for a moment? It's about your
Jack steps aside and lets Martin in, closing the
door behind him.
"You told the police you saw it last at six
"Yes, that's when I arrived at the convention
center. When I came out around eleven, it was gone."
"We have reason to believe it was stolen by this
man." Martin shows him a photograph of Nathan.
"Never seen him before in my life."
"Well," says Darkhorse, "thank you for your time,
"Are you sure?" says Martin. "This was taken over
ten years ago, so he'd be a little older." Darkhorse
throws up his hands, exasperated, and speeds into the
"No. I mean..." He stops. The sound of urine
hitting the water at two hundred miles per hour is a
little disconcerting. "There's a lot of people at the
con, but the face doesn't ring a bell."
Martin nods and puts the photo away. "Thanks
Suddenly, Martin hears it: that sound, that weird
rhythmic sound, the one from his dream. Martin turns
his head to see the black blur of his erstwhile
partner slam into the wall. He lands on his back and
slowly disentangles himself from a unicycle.
"These things are harder than they look!" says
The wheel keeps on spinning, and Martin zeros in on
its sound, on the sound, the sound that carried him
from Nathan's hideout to the trunk. Dozens of single
spinning wheels. And Martin smiles, because he should
have known this sound all along: he had been quite the
unicycle enthusiast for an entire summer. That was
back when he was a gymnast, before he was an Acro-Bat.
Before the park...
"Why are you here in Jolt City, Mr. Corner?"
Jack points to the still-spinning wheel. "Unicycle
"At the Jolt City Expo Center?"
Martin gets Darkhorse's attention. "That's our
Two seconds later. The speedster's getting a bit
exhausted, getting slow with the night. Either way,
here they are: the Expo Center.
Martin can hear the wheels spinning even now. They
make him lightheaded, but its not an unpleasant
Darkhorse whizzes around the perimeter of the
building before setting Martin down at the back
entrance. "This is probably the door he used," says
Darkhorse, noting that the back parking lot gives
quicker access to the street. The quickest man on
earth reaches for the door.
"It's a fire exit," warns Martin. "You'll set off
"I'll just vibrate through and get him."
Hell no. "It's too risky. He may be armed.
There's people in there. Let's go to the front and
evacuate the building."
Darkhorse throws up his hands. Instantaneously,
they're at the front. They head inside.
From the reception area, they can see the large
open floor space, dotted with now-empty booths.
There's about twenty people, mostly men, wobbling and
whizzing across the floor on their unicycles.
The receptionist is a pudgy man in his late
thirties. "The Green Knight," he says with breathless
excitement. "And some guy in a Darkhorse costume.
What are you doing here?"
"We need to evacuate the building," says the Green
Knight. "Official business."
"That shouldn't be too hard," says the
receptionist. "We're just winding down."
The Green Knight grabs a couple unicycles. "Mind
if we borrow these?" he says.
"Go right ahead. Free of charge. My pleasure."
Martin hands one to Darkhorse. "We don't want to
tip him off, don't want it to suddenly go quiet and
then he wonders what's up."
"But I don't know how to ride one of these things,"
"That's alright," says Martin. "I suspect a couple
crashes will increase the authenticity."
Martin climbs onto the unicycle and slices smoothly
into the room. All eyes rivet to him. "Ssh," he
says, raising a finger to his mask.
At the center of the room, he turns on a dime and
balances the unicycle to a stand-still. He holds up
both hands and pushes the air towards the exit.
The unicyclists nod and move out, their wheels
humming across the floor. Martin picks up the slack
and speed, allowing his unicycle to bob and weave
around the floor, in and out amongst the booths. He
takes special precautions around the booth of an
Hawaiian-themed unicycle dealer, whose table is
adorned with tiki masks and burning torch-poles.
Darkhorse crashes once but, to his credit, is soon
riding as smoothly as Martin. "I'm a fast learner,"
he says with an irritating smirk.
Once the unicyclists and the receptionist have
left, Martin nods towards the back the hall, and to
the thin corridor that leads to the back exit. As
they wheel towards it, they notice a stairway just at
the hallway's neck.
"That's it," says Darkhorse, picking up speed. He
wheels into the corridor.
Suddenly, Nathan leaps from the staircase, shoving
his rifle into Darkhorse's face. He pulls the
There is a bright and booming blast, and then
Darkhorse's body leaps back, falling limply to the
ground. His unicycle comes out from under him,
sliding across the floor.
Martin picks up speed, zeroing in on his enemy.
Nathan lifts the rifle into the air and shoots.
The bullet flies from the chamber. Martin throws
his weight backwards, dodging the bullet. His entire
body pivots backwards like a great lever, with the
unicycle serving as a fulcrum while still in motion.
Martin's back brushes lightly against the floor,
but he does not fall, does not stop moving: he keeps
pedaling, advancing the cock-eyed unicycle towards his
foe, his arms stretched out mere inches above the
Nathan tries to refocus his aim on the floor, but
it is too late: now Martin is slipping under his legs,
now he's grabbing his ankles: now Nathan's sprawled on
the floor, his gun thrown from his reach.
As his unicycle heads towards the back exit, Martin
struggles to right himself, to throw his weight
forward and up. With a little difficulty (after all,
it has been thirty years since he's ridden one of
these things), he manages to do it, turning around
just as Nathan is starting to get back up.
He pours on the speed, racing back into the room.
He passes Nathan and reaches down, scooping up the
rifle with the smooth and violent grace of a hawk.
Martin makes another sharp one-eighty and points
the rifle at Nathan. "Where's Pam Bierce?" he Martin.
"You'll never find her," says Nathan. "You'll have
to kill me first, Mister Hero."
"Yeah, well, he's the one with the gun, Willis."
It's Darkhorse. He's getting up, brushing himself
"How...?" begins Martin. He takes his eyes off of
Nathan for a second.
That's all the time the bastard needs. He drives a
pocket knife towards the side of Martin's thigh.
He doesn't have time to dodge it; instead, he lets
it dig into his flesh a split-second before he pivots
the unicycle. The knife sticks in his leg and flies
out of Nathan's hand. Helluva way to disarm a guy.
Martin back-pedals, putting some distance between
him and his foe. He pulls out the knife and tosses it
down the hallway behind him.
"You want me to take care of him?" offers the
strangely unscathed Darkhorse.
"No," barks Martin. "Look upstairs for the girl.
"I'll be right back," says Darkhorse. He whizzes
up the stairs.
"This isn't your business," says Nathan, slowly
backing away from Martin. Martin approaches,
cautiously. "This is between me and the man that left
me to die."
"This is between you and me, Willis," says Martin.
"It is my business. When you took innocent lives, it
became my business." He points the rifle at Nathan.
"What're you going to do?" says Nathan. "Shoot me
while I'm unarmed? I wouldn't advise it. We're being
televised, live. How did you think I knew you were
here in the first place?"
"No, I won't shoot you, you son of a bitch," says
Martin. He empties the bullets and lets them fall to
the floor, never taking his eyes off of Nathan, never
losing his balance. "I'm not going to stoop down to
your level. I'm going to beat you. My way. My
terms. My rules.
"Grab that unicycle behind you," says Martin.
Nathan hesitates before he grabs Darkhorse's
"Get on it," says Martin.
Nathan climbs aboard the unicycle. Martin winces a
bit when he sees that Nathan is perfectly capable of
keeping his balance. But he is also relieved.
"No more bullets," says Martin. He throws down the
empty rifle. "No more innocent blood. Now, we're
fair and square. And that's the way I'm going to beat
"I found the girl," says Darkhorse as he comes down
the stairs. "Secret room, door hidden in a wall."
Pam is wearing his black costume. Darkhorse wears
only his mask. Only. His mask.
Martin notes this out of the corner of his eye, and
keeps his vision focused on his enemy, situated about
ten yards away.
"She needed something to wear," he explains. "Um.
What's going on here?"
"Jousting match," says Martin.
"And without weapons," says Martin. "Just fists."
He spins his wheel towards Nathan.
The sniper wheels towards the Hawaiian booth and
whips a tiki mask through the air like a discus.
Martin dodges it with ease.
"Get the girl out of here," he says. "And get some
Nathan grabs the burning torch, breaking the stick
in half and brandishing the flame towards Martin. He
wheels towards his opponent.
"Are you sure?" says Darkhorse.
"I'm sure," says Martin. He holds his ground as
Nathan charges towards him. At the last moment, he
throws his weight sideways.
Nathan rushes past him as Martin's palm hits the
floor. With a simple push off the ground, he's
upright. He begins to turn himself towards his foe.
"Arrgh!" Nathan had started back quicker than
Martin had anticipated. The torch catches the side of
his bad arm aflame. Martin quickly pats it out with
his other hand. It burns, burns his arm, burns his
fingers, burns his pride.
He turns around again.
Nathan reaches the front of the hall. He does not
make his exit. He's too pissed off.
His anger is controlling him, thinks Martin. His
hatred. Maybe his fear.
But Martin? Despite the seriousness of the stakes,
despite his anger and disgust, he is not tense and
Quite the opposite.
He's more at peace atop this unicycle than he's
been in years. He takes a deep breath and thinks of a
time before the park. Another breath, and he thinks
of a time before the war, before he split with Ray.
When this was fun.
Nathan bears the unicycle towards him.
Martin rides in to meet him.
The wheels spins and sing, and the flames lick the
Martin counts in his head. One. Two. Three!
He lifts his feet off the pedals and instead locks
them under, the bottom of the pedals rigid and tight
against the slopes of his feet.
He throws his weight backwards slightly and pulls
The unicycle leaves the ground.
Nathan gets closer and closer. Six feet away.
The unicycle ascends, climbing three feet into the
Two feet away.
Four feet into the air.
A foot away.
Martin's starting to lose altitude. He throws his
weight all the way back.
The wheel kicks into the air, jumping three more
feet and colliding with Nathan's nose.
The flames lick at Martin's back.
He starts to fall, his head threatening to hit the
floor. With a gymnast's practiced skill, he turns a
somersault in the air. The sudden movement puts out
Nathan hits the ground with a hard thud.
Martin's wheel touches the ground, and he remains
perched atop his steed.
Nathan's unicycle spins dramatically across the
length of the floor, smacking into the back wall.
Darkhorse stares at it, lividly.
"Holy shit," he says. "You popped a wheelie in his
"I told you to get Pam to safety," says Martin,
wheeling past the unconscious and bleeding sniper
towards the naked speedster. "And to get some pants
"Sorry, GK," says Darkhorse. He vibrates his white
groin out of synch with reality. "This better?" It
gives Martin the creeps. "What can I say? I just
like to go commando."
The police arrive and take Nathan Willis into
custody. Martin, still perched on his unicycle,
watches it with Darkhorse from the sidelines.
"So," says Martin, "last time I saw you, you just
got shot point-blank in the face."
"I've been waiting for you to ask me that," says
Darkhorse, smiling with glee. "As soon as he pulled
the trigger, I inhaled and exhaled ten thousand,
six-hundred-mile-per-hour breaths in half a second.
It created a cushion of air that stopped the bullet
dead. It made me a little light-headed, and I fell
unconscious for a short period of time."
Martin feels a twinge in his arm, where he has been
shot and burned. The pain in his leg doesn't twinge:
it's a constant throb.
"You really kicked ass in there," says the
"Thanks," says Martin. "You did good, yourself.
It was a pleasure working with you."
"What the hell are you talking about?" snaps
Darkhorse. "I mean, you call that working together?
You took out the villain, you called the shots.
That's not how you work together with someone. This
doesn't count as a team-up."
"And, y'know, one more thing," says Darkhorse.
"That's not how you hold a conversation with someone,
either. You can't just avoid what you don't want to
talk about or pass it off with a shrug. You don't get
out much, do you?"
Martin's about to shrug again, but thinks better of
it. Luckily, before he is forced to provide an
answer, Danielle walks up to the heroes, carrying
"Believe this is yours," she says. Before it
leaves her hand, it's already on him.
"How is she?" says Martin.
"As well as could be expected," says Danielle.
"She's been through a living hell. Just thank God she
wasn't raped by this bastard. Turns out his genitals
were destroyed back in Iraq. Crushed when he was
trapped underneath some rubble."
Martin unclenches. Thank you, God, he prays
silently. I never want anyone to go through what I
went through. Thank you for saving her.
"I better get going," says Darkhorse. "Be seeing
you, GK. We'll have to do a real team-up one of these
days." He disappears.
"Well, hero," says Danielle. "Looks like you saved
"Looks like." Martin bites his lip. "Am I out of
"I dunno," says Danielle. "Are you? There's still
this business with Martin Rock."
"He'll show up at the station tomorrow," says
"Will you deliver him there personally?"
"No. But my liaison will."
"Your liaison won't be going to be meeting me now,
is he?" smirks Danielle.
"No." He smiles, though no one else can see it.
The next morning.
"You're a piece of shit, Rock, you know that?" says
"I said I was sorry."
"Sorry doesn't cut it. Sorry doesn't bring little
girls back from the dead!"
"Okay," says Martin. He adds an artificial edge to
his voice. It makes him queasy, but it might get him
out of here intact. "Look, you said your piece, you
asked me your questions. Are we done?"
Danielle looks to Reynolds, who nods.
"Yeah," says Danielle. "Yeah, we're done. For
"How'd it go?" says Roy as he enters the Knight's
"I've had better days."
"Well, the hits just keep on coming," says Roy. He
opens a newspaper to the second page.
An unflattering black-and-white photograph of
Martin is featured prominently. Martin quickly skims
"People often have strong reactions when children
are involved," says Roy. "You made the front page as
He flips it over. A full-colour photo of the Green
Knight and his unicycle splashes across the center of
the page: GREEN KNIGHT RUNS DOWN PARK SNIPER!
"You're big again," says Roy. "I've gotten at
least two dozens calls from schools wanting to book
you as a speaker. And three unicycle companies want
to custom-design your official vehicle. People are
looking up to the Green Knight again."
"Which means I can finally do some good," says
Martin. "Something that lasts, something that
"Hmm. Loved in one identity, despised in the
other. Just my luck."
Anna nearly screams when she sees Martin walk
through the door to Bierce Bail Bonds.
"Nice to see you, too," says Martin. He starts to
take off his coat, and then decides not to bother.
Pam appears in her office doorway. "You're late
for work, Mr. Rock," she says. "And Anna tells me you
didn't even bother to show up yesterday."
"Well," says Martin. "I was a bit tied up."
"Me too," says Pam. "Literally." She smiles.
Martin's not sure if it's a good smile, or a bad one.
She motions for him to come into her office, and
disappears inside. He hangs up his coat and follows.
Anna grabs at his arm. "That woman I sold your
autograph to, she wants her money back," she says
Martin yanks his arm away from her in disgust and
heads into the office.
"You want something to drink?" says Pam.
"No thanks," says Martin.
"Sit down," she says flatly.
Martin takes a seat, glancing at Pam's attire
before she sits down on the other side of the desk:
loose baggy dress pants, a big fluffy turtleneck
sweater that swallows all but the tips of her fingers,
about a pound more make-up than usual. It seems
incongruous at first, the modesty of her dress and the
excesses of her make-up, until Martin realizes that
other than her fingertips, there's not a single inch
of Pam's real skin that's visible to the world. (And
even her fingernails are acrylics.)
"I'm sorry, Pam," says Martin. "I'm so sorry."
"What do you have to be sorry for? Ain't your
"Well, I'm sorry it happened to you."
"Doesn't mean I'm not mad at you. But I know I
shouldn't be. I was there with you, Martin. In his
hideout. Paralyzed. You couldn't see me, but I could
see you. I was paralyzed, too. Couldn't call out.
"But I could hear him talking, hear him explain how
you left him to die. How you had no idea he was still
alive, that he was out there. And you did the right
thing with that bastard in Iraq, Martin. It's
probably what I would have done, with one small
"I would have shot the bastard in the head.
Wouldn't have taken any chances. So I'm not... I
shouldn't be mad at you. The papers, they're going to
say how you brought this monster to Jolt City, how
you've been hiding from him for ten years. But I know
the truth. Up here." She taps her head with her
sweater. "And in here." She touches her heart.
"I know you're a good, decent man. Knew it the
first time you walked into this office."
"But that doesn't change the fact of what happened.
Doesn't change the fact that I was paralyzed for
hours and scared out of my mind. I couldn't move. It
was like I didn't exist. Like I was a thing. Like I
wasn't a person.
"And the simple fact of the matter is, if it wasn't
for you, I would never have went through that."
Martin nods. "Am I fired?"
A laugh tries to press its way through Pam's lips
and nostrils. It dies upon impact, nothing more than
a cloud. "Yes, Mr. Rock. Yes, I'd safely say that
"Can't say that I blame you, Pam." Martin pushes
himself up from the chair.
"Martin? Can I ask you a question?"
"Is it a personal question?"
"Yeah, it kinda is."
"I'm a private man," says Martin, choking the words
out. "But I'll try my best."
"Why are you a private man?" says Pam. "Do you
have... do you have many enemies? Like Nathan
Martin breaths deeply and exhales sharply, carbon
dioxide winding its way out of his nostrils like
desperate, quivering serpents of air. "Yeah," he
says. "I kinda do." He considers qualifying it,
adding that those enemies don't know him by name, but
there's too much to explain and what would be the
point? What difference would it make?
"You're a dangerous man to know, Martin Rock," says
Better to make a clean break of it, Martin decides.
But he can't bring himself to leave the office, not
yet. Something in his brain nags at him, like a
flicker of light dancing in reflection upon an empty
"Can I ask you one question, Ms. Bierce?"
"Why not?" says Pam.
"Why did you ask me... that one question...?"
She smiles weakly. "It's personal, Mr. Rock."
"Fair enough," says Martin. "Good luck."
"You too," says Pam softly. "You'll need it."
4. TO TANGO WITH THE TRAPPER!
2006. The day before Christmas. Jolt City.
Not Martin Rock's Jolt City. Not the rickety slums
and empty, gutted gods of brick. But Ray 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
"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
Martin waves dismissively.
"They're not asking for money, Martin," says Roy.
"They just want to be able to say, I'm the Green
"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."
"No need. I'm a man of God. Helping people is
what I do. You're just too proud to accept help
sometimes. Like 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
"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
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
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. "You scared us."
Anders shrugs; it's the closest gesture he has to
"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."
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
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.
"So, are you just here for a few days, or...?"
"Just for tonight," says Anders. "Then it's back
"You have plans for tonight, then?"
"No, not really."
"If you'd like to talk about your father..."
The limo pulls up in front of the address Martin
gave the driver. A homeless shelter.
"I heard about the park," says Anders flatly. "Made
things difficult for you."
"You could say that," says Martin. "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."
Martin shuts the door behind him and the limo
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
The clock strikes three, and his thirteen-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
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
Martin socked him in the face before that could
happen, knocking him out.
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. Dani's office.
"Any news?" says Martin, entering through the
window. He pulls up his grapple and places it back on
"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 first Green Knight was a white
"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 willing 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."
"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 and hajib. "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
"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
Martin's insides shimmer: the same queasy feeling
he got when Darkhorse had phased right through him.
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.
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
"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.
"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
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
"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
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
"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."
"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."
"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."
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."
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.
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
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.
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
Unless he drove.
But there's no cars here. No cars anywhere near
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
"Good, you're awake.
"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
"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
"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
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
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 not for polite
"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
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..."
He leaps off the little platform upon which
Costello is shackled at the ankles and outstretched
arms, throwing his weight towards one of the
mechanical rods and placing his feet on the thin metal
frame that supports them. "Try to... budge it... move
it away from us...!"
But no dice, it's not moving. With Martin off the
platform, there's eight inches between the blades and
"I'm not going to leave you," Martin promises the
sweating man. "Maybe I can jam up the knives..."
He reaches into his belt and pulls out some of his
fire-extinguishing pellets. Maybe the foam can jam up
No. It cuts right through it. Six inches.
He turns back to the platform, ducking under the
blades aimed for Costello's waist. Five more inches
and he won't have to worry about being blackmailed for
Martin looks at the steel shackles. He can't think
of anything that could cut through them. Maybe the
blades, but that would necessitate moving the blades
towards the shackles. And the blades won't budge.
Something slices, tears through his shoulder,
spinning and digging
His body shakes (too old for this) and
He falls towards the platform. It lurches back and
up, like a pendulum, taking Costello away from some of
the blades and far too close to the ones perched above
And, like a pendulum, the platform swings back,
catching Martin in the jaw. He braces himself against
the metal frame and then leaps towards the platform.
"Of course!" he says, pushing it upwards. The
blades narrowly miss Costello's groin. Martin
carefully balances himself on the bottom ridges of the
metal frame, trying to avoid the whirling blades
working their way up from below.
"This was only designed with one person in mind.
You wouldn't be able to move the platform yourself,
but I can. Let's see if these blades can cut through
The answer, in short, is no! The blades dent up
and stop whirling. One by one, and with speed that
belies the searing pain in his bleeding shoulder,
Martin takes them out, always mindful of the blades
above Costello, until only those ones remain.
"What are you going to about those?" Costello
"Luckily, those are placed higher than the rest,"
says Martin. "It will buy us a little time..."
He leaps onto the platform, pressing all his weight
down on the base. It starts to shake and quiver.
Good. He's putting enough pressure on it that he
should be able to move it just my shifting his weight.
He grabs onto Costello's legs and lets his own legs
dangle over the edge. "Keep your head down if you
want to live!"
Costello puts his chin on his chest, as the sound
of the blades gets louder and louder...
Martin kicks his legs out for all he's worth,
propelling himself forwards. The platform swings
back, and he draws his legs in. He pushes off the
metal frame and kicks again, gaining altitude and
Again and again, until his legs actually kick out
of the perimeter of the death trap.
"Almost there," says Martin as they swing back
"What are you doing?" says Costello as he sees the
blades bearing down overhead and in front of him.
"You ever swing all the way around a swing set?"
"That's impossible," says Costello.
"It is when the structure's safe and sturdy. But
this was never intended to be a swing. We're coming
back down, be careful of the blades...!"
Costello throws his head back. The blades are
inches away from his face, like a deadly limbo bar...
They kick forward again, and this time, they go
over the top, the titanium wires that connect
Costello's shackles to the structure twisting around
the top and coming clean off!
Martin and Costello rockets backwards and down.
"Okay," Martin warns. "This part's going to hurt a
Martin twists in the air, throwing his weight so
that he will land first and take the brunt of the
crash. It hurts, like it always does. After a while,
you get used to it.
Costello's fat body lands on top of Martin's, the
platform digging into the back of Martin's knees.
Martin rolls him off.
"Are you okay?"
"No," says the sweaty, red-faced man.
Oh, shit, Martin thinks. That's the tone of voice
people use when they're going to sic lawyers on you.
Well, that's gratitude for
"But I'm alive," Costello adds. "Thank you."
Martin groans as he gets back up to his feet. "I'm
going to see if I can find your phone down in the
water below," he says. "Hopefully, the police can get
a fix on the signal and come get us."
Suddenly, the sound of splintering wood comes from
behind them. Martin whirls around to see a hatchet
breaking down a door. The dusk-light pours in.
"Never mind about your phone, then," says Martin to
Costello. "I'm sure you can get a new one." He turns
to the shambles of the door. "Hello, Dani."
"Hiya, hero," says Danielle. "Looks like you've
had a busy day."
"You could say that," says Martin. "Mr. Costello
seems to be okay, but you should get him an ambulance
just to be safe. And get someone to get him out of
"Looks like you need an ambulance as well," says
Danielle after they've taken Costello away. "Your
shoulder's pretty torn up."
"Small trade-off for my life," muses Martin.
"It'll be okay."
"Don't give me a problem," says Danielle. "You're
going to a hospital."
"No, I'll lose too much time that way," says
Martin. "There are clues to look for, a psychopath to
find... oh, do you have Marita Costello in custody?
She was the one who wanted her husband dead in the
"She broke down and confessed about ten minutes
ago," says Danielle. "That's why I paged you."
"Oh," says Martin, a little crossly.
"Nothing. Did she give you anything we can use?"
"I dunno, we're still gathering up all the details.
But she named Samson Snapp."
"She's going to give us Snapp?" says Martin.
"If it checks out," says Danielle. "But let's not
get ahead of ourselves. First, you're going to a
"I said no," says Martin. "I'll be fine."
Danielle snaps her fingers and hollers out the
door. "Get me a medic!" She turns back to Martin.
"If you're not going to go to the hospital, we're
going to have them look at you and treat the wound.
"Understood," says Martin. He tries to shrug, but
The Knight's Den.
Roy Riddle enters with ramen noodles just as Martin
is removing his shirt.
"Lot of bandages," notes the priest.
"No time to eat," says Martin. "Just a quick
change to a spare costume and then it's back to see
"Uh, Martin, there's a situation that's come up..."
"What is it?"
"Um, okay. We got a letter in the mail today. For
the Green Knight. No return address. No post-mark."
"I suppose next you'll be telling me who's on the
stamp," says Martin. "Just out with it, Roy."
Roy hands Martin a letter. "Somebody knows,
"Somebody knows who you are."
Martin feels a twinge, and it's not just in his
shoulder. He opens the letter. It's handwritten.
"Dear Green Knight. I know that you are Martin
Rock. I will not go public with this information.
Will contact you when the time is right. I am a
"Do you recognize it?"
"No," says Martin.
"Who knows besides me and Anders?"
"Nobody," says Martin. "Nobody who's alive."
"Are they dead, or do you just think they're dead?"
"They're dead," says Martin. "Anders's parents
knew. And that was it. And Melvin Tightly never
found out who I was. I wasn't mentioned in Ree's
"And that's it?"
"That's it," says Martin.
"So what do we do?"
"What can we do?" says Martin. "Just wait for this
'friend' to make his move. Until then, I have work to
He pulls on his other costume and heads out the
"How's the shoulder, hero?" says Danielle.
"Hurts," admits Martin. "But it'll be fine."
"I know it will," says Danielle. "That's because I
had it treated, dumbass."
"I kinda like it better when you call me hero,"
says Martin. "So, what's the score?"
"Marita had met Samson Snapp some years before,
when his father was still running the drug trade,"
says Danielle. "They weren't friends, and they
weren't an item, but they knew of each other. Social
functions, so forth.
"Flash-forward and she's working on the
vibra-jacket over at JCU, married to Roger Costello.
Larry Strode steals the vibra-jacket, he's caught,
jacket's recovered. Then she gets a phone call from
"He wants to pay Strode's bail, but doesn't want
his name attached. So he tells Marita Costello that
he'll send her the money, plus a little extra, if she
pays his bail. And he figures that'll look good for
Strode, because the victim is forgiving the criminal.
But she's not biting. She wants more."
"She wants her husband dead," says Martin.
"Exactly," says Danielle. "If Snapp can give her
the money for the bail, and a little extra, and if he
can put her in touch with a hitman, she'll do it.
Snapp asks how she wants it done, and she says she
wants Roger to suffer."
"Lovely," says Martin.
"And so Snapp puts her in touch with this Trapper."
"Okay, so where does that leave us?" says Martin.
"Phone records corroborate her account," says
Danielle. "Fisk says she'll plead guilty to
conspiracy to commit murder and serve five years, in
exchange for testifying against Snapp."
"Fisk has a case, but he doesn't think it's strong
enough," says Danielle. "And none of us want to get
Snapp in a court room only to watch him waltz right
"What does he need?"
"He needs the Trapper," says Danielle. "If we can
get him to cop a plea and testify against Snapp, it'd
go a long way towards solidifying the case."
"Alright, then," says Martin. "Let's go get him."
Danielle steps over the crime scene tape before
helping Martin to do the same. "Mr. Costello's lucky
you found that secret passageway in," she says. "By
the time his wife let us know which warehouse the
Trapper was using... it would have been too late."
"Did she meet him in person? Any description?"
"None. If you'll follow me over here..."
They walk across the room, giving the death trap
and the broken glass floor besides it a wide berth.
At the other end, there is a large hole in the wall.
Several police officers stand around it, pretending to
"I see you've been redecorating," says Martin
cheerfully. "This must be the way to the room where
he kept the tape recorder...?"
Most of the police are happy to see him. One of
them does not return Martin's cheer. He's a big man
with a big face and a big mop of white hair. His
hands and neck seem to ooze out of his tight little
"Handler," he says with a nod that excludes Martin.
"This is Detective Bryant," says Danielle.
"That's right," says Bryant. "And this is a
homicide matter. We haven't found any drugs on the
premises. So, I'd thank you to be on your way..."
"Snapp's involved," says Danielle. "Which makes it
our business." She starts towards the hole in the
"Just hold on a minute," says Bryant. His men
close in, blocking the hole. "We're conducting this
investigation. We don't need his help."
"Detective Bryant," says Martin, stepping forward.
"I'm sure you're a very capable man. But I'm not sure
if you know who you're dealing with, here. From what
I've seen, this Trapper could be very dangerous."
"This ain't your business," says Bryant. "Go jump
off a roof, the both of you."
"Bryant, I'll go to the chief, and he'll just tell
you to let us in."
"Then go to the chief."
Danielle drives. Martin slouches in the passenger
seat. He would put the seat back, but the glass
between the front and back of the police car prevents
him from doing so.
"Are all detectives quite so...?"
"I was going to say ridiculous."
"Just a select few," says Danielle. "He's like
that anyway, but I think some people are kinda resent
you. I mean, if you need to exist, what does that say
"I guess," says Martin. "Never had that problem
"Or maybe you just don't remember it," says
Danielle. "You must have been young when you
He doesn't answer.
"Of course, this is a change for you, anyway."
"How do you mean?"
"Up until the past couple years, all you went after
was the four-colour crowd. Crooks with powers, or
gadgets. That really is beyond most police."
"So there was no overlap," says Martin. "And
"Now, there's overlap," says Danielle.
"You don't resent me, do you?"
"That's a stupid question," says Danielle. "I've
made more progress working with you this last year
than I had before."
"Same goes here," says Martin.
"Do I wish there wasn't a need for you? I guess.
But there is a need, hero. When someone's beyond the
law, you need to go outside of the law to get him.
Sometimes you gotta screw the rules to do what's
"It's a fine line, though," says Martin.
"Yeah, I guess. But you haven't crossed it, not
"So, how long are we going to wait before we head
Danielle looks at the clock-radio. "Bryant'll
probably be gone in another ten minutes. Joke is that
he keeps his time-card and time-clock in the car, so
he can punch out on the way home."
"Bryant's gone," whispers Danielle, peering in from
the hatcheted-down door, "but he's left two men to
guard the hole in the wall."
Martin tugs on her arm. "Get away before they spot
"Halt! Who goes there?" The officer starts
running towards the entrance.
Danielle suppresses a giggle. "Did he just say,
who goes there?"
"I think so. Stay to the side." Martin steps out
into view. "Oops," says Martin. "I thought I left my
utility belt in there. But, look, here it is around
my waist. Funny how that works out. Sorry to
"That's alright," says the officer, lowering his
pistol. "Uh, Mr. Knight, before you go. I just want
to say thank you for all you've done for Jolt City."
"Not a problem," says Martin. "Uh. You're
"Jerry!" calls the other officer, still standing
guard at the hole. "Who is it?"
"It's the Green Knight," Jerry calls back.
"Really," says Martin.
"Could I get your autograph?" The second officer
runs towards him.
"Sure," says Martin. "But it's a little dark out
here, fellas. Could I step inside for a moment...?"
Martin twitches his head towards Danielle before
entering the room. He steps to the side of the
entrance. The police close in around him.
Martin takes the paper and the pen and begins to
sign the autograph. Danielle sneaks inside.
"Can I have one, too?" says Jerry.
"Sure," says Martin.
"And one for my boy," says the second officer.
"So, uh, that was pretty cool today, saving that
guy's life," says Jerry. "How did you...?"
"Oh, that's a long story," says Martin as Danielle
slips into the hole. "But, if you really want to hear
About twenty minutes later, a loud bleeping noise
emanates from the water underneath the glass. "That's
my pager," says Martin with a shock of recognition.
"One of you have a phone I could borrow?"
"Sure, sure," says the second officer, eagerly
handing the great Green Knight his cell phone. Martin
dials Danielle's cell number.
"How do you know who it is?" says Jerry. "Some
kinda cybernetic hook-up in your helmet?"
"Nah," says Martin. "Only one person has the pager
Danielle answers. "I'm out."
"Around the back. There was a secret way out."
"You're in the car?"
"Okay. Be right there." He ends the call and
hands the phone back to the officer. "Sorry, gents.
But I have some work to do."
The officers understand and he makes his exit.
Danielle's clothes are torn and smudged with dirt.
"What happened to you?"
"I said I found a secret way out," says Danielle.
"Didn't say it was comfortable or clean."
"Is there a way we can get back in?"
"No, I don't think so," says Danielle. "Homicide
boys did a pretty good job with the evidence."
"How can you tell?"
"There wasn't much there. Except this." She holds
up a business card.
"Oh, you gotta be shitting me."
Godiva Gentleman's Club.
"Oh, look," says Danielle as she pulls the car into
the lot. "It's couples night."
A valet approaches the car. Martin tries to hide.
"That's okay," say Danielle. "I'll park it
"No can do, little lady," says the valet. "It's
Danielle flashes her badge.
"Or not," offers the valet, backing away from the
car. As Danielle speeds towards a parking spot, the
valet rushes towards the building, no doubt to alert
"So," says Martin. "How do we do this?"
"We just go in and do it," says Danielle.
"I might attract too much attention," says Martin.
"Maybe it'd be best if I stayed in the car...?"
"Since you're without a pager or a phone, I
wouldn't have any way to contact you," says Danielle.
"And you wouldn't be worried about attracting
attention if it was any other kind of business. Maybe
it's more because you think it could reflect badly on
"There is that," says Martin.
"If you think I'm going in there by myself..."
"Okay, okay," says Martin, opening his door.
"Don't push me."
They walk towards the building.
"Don't be lagging behind," says Danielle.
"I'm not lagging."
"If you say so."
"I'm just being cautious."
"Then be cautious without lagging."
They reach the door. The bouncer is bemused by
their novelty, a woman and a four-colour coming into a
strip joint. "Cover charge is ten a piece," says the
"Unless you're a couple," says the bouncer. "It's
ten for couples tonight. Couples night."
"Yeah, we noticed the sign," says Danielle. She
flashes her badge. "Official business, step aside."
He is not impressed. "Unless you got a warrant,
you got to pay the cover charge. And I should warn
you that once inside you got to buy a drink."
"I don't drink," says Martin.
"You don't need to drink it," says the bouncer.
"You just need to buy it."
A man appears besides the bouncer. Hairy, Italian,
lots of chest hair and gold chains. "What's the
"You the manager?" says Danielle.
"Yes," says the manager, his eyes fixated on
The bouncer speaks up. "Won't pay the cover
"Irving, you schmuck," says the manager to the
bouncer. "Don't you know what that is? That's the
"You told me that whoever they are, they got to pay
the cover charge."
"Yeah, but not the Green Knight," says the manager.
"I mean, use your judgment, man. Word gets out that
of all the titty bars in Jolt City, the..."
"Gentleman's clubs," corrects Irving.
"Right. Of all the gentleman's clubs, the Green
Knight comes to mine...? That's money in the bank,
Irving. Both of ya, come on in. Irving, apologize to
the nice people."
"I'm sorry," says Irving gruffly.
The manager leads Martin and Danielle in. As they
clear the corridor and enter the main floor, the
manager snaps his fingers. A couple of pretty
attendants cozy up to him.
"I want you to put the two best lap dancers in
rooms three and four. These two," he points at
Danielle and Martin, "on the house. The special."
The attendants depart.
"No thank you," says Danielle briskly.
"We're here on official business," says Martin.
"If we can just ask you a few questions..."
"I know," says the manager, squeaking the words
quietly out of the side of his mouth. "Just keeping
up appearances. I don't want to upset any of the
dancers or the patrons. Come back to my office."
He leads them across the floor. Martin tries to
stick to the shadows as much as possible.
"Wow," says Danielle, throwing a glimpse to the
stage. "I didn't know the human body was capable of
Martin steals a quick glance. "Well, you learn
something new every day..."
The office is small but full of petty luxuries: a
rich oak desk, state-of-the-art stereo, sleazy movie
posters, black leather seats and sofas.
The manager doesn't speak until he eases his way
behind the desk. "So, you're here about the Trapper,
"Yes," says Martin.
"How'd you know?" Danielle blurts out.
"What do you mean, how do I know? It's one of my
best girls that he's kidnapped."
"You better start from the beginning," says
"One of my girls, Trish, she doesn't come into
work," he explains. "I call to see what's up, don't
get an answer. Hour later, I get a call from this
freak, the Trapper. Says he's got her. No ransom or
anything. He just has her. Says he's going to kill
her. At midnight." It's eleven o'clock now.
"He calls you?" says Martin. "What about her
"I called them and they said they don't know
anything about it," says the manager. "They were very
upset, and they said they'd call the police."
"Did they?" says Danielle.
"Far as I know," says the manager. "I mean, you're
here, aren't you?"
"Right," Martin breaks in. "What time was the
"Little after eight, maybe? I got caller ID, I can
"It wasn't unlisted?" says Martin.
"No," says the manager. He gives them the number.
"And an address for the girl, last name?"
"Sure, here's her file," says the manager.
"Here's my number," says Danielle, handing him a
business card. "In case you need to contact us."
"Thank you," says the manager. Suddenly, his
expression drops. "Please, save my Trish. She's a
"I'll save her," says Martin.
"And, uh, afterwards, free lap-dances on the house,
whenever you want, for both of ya," says the manager.
Danielle just nods. "We'll keep that in mind."
"So what was that all about?" says Martin as
Danielle clicks off her phone.
"Phone number belongs to Brighton All-Night Books."
"I got that much."
"Family never called the police. Nobody at the
station knows what I'm talking about."
"That sounds fishy. It should be looked into,"
says Martin. "But we're running out of time."
"I know," says Danielle. She pushes a button. Her
trunk pops open. She gets out of the car, and Martin
Danielle pulls a unicycle out of the trunk. "Been
trying to learn how to ride it."
"How're you doing with it?"
"My ass hurts," she says. "It's not some fancy
custom job, but can you ride it?"
"Like the wind," says Martin, hopping on. "I'll
take the bookstore. You check the family and the
girl's house. Call in some back-up."
"Take my cell phone," says Danielle. "I'll use the
family's phone if I need to get in touch with you."
"Be careful," says Martin.
"You too, hero."
The girl at the desk is made of curls: tiny brown
curls for hair, big white ones for eyes, dull pink
ones for lips. She does remember a gentleman using
the phone just after eight o' clock, and was quite
startled by his declaration that he was going to kill
a young striptease artist at midnight.
"Did you call the police?"
"He said it was a joke," says the girl. "Some kind
of prank. I believed him. He didn't seem the type."
"Could you describe him?"
"Big, imposing," says the girl breathlessly. "Like
a monster carved of stone. His beard was deep and
black, and scratchy, like it was made of mesh wire.
His eyes were cruel and sharp, beady little
"I thought you said he didn't seem the type," says
"I'm sorry," says the girl. "I'm writing a novel,"
she adds, as if that explains it. "But I think the
description is apt."
"Anything else you can tell me about him?" says
Martin. He looks at the clock. Forty minutes to
twelve. "And let's keep it a little less literary
this time around."
"He had a rather eclectic taste," says the girl.
She swivels in her chair, reaching for a stack of
books. "Didn't buy anything, but this was what he was
Old Yeller. Atlas Shrugged. Wealth of Nations.
Building an Affordable House. Astounding Acrostic
"Could have just picked these at random," Martin
"No, he was very particular about those titles,"
says the girl. "Particularly the acrostic book. And
then he left."
"Old Atlas-Wealth Building," says Martin.
"That's over on the Avenue, near City Hall," says
the girl. "I don't know why... where are you
Old Atlas-Wealth Building. Been abandoned for years.
Martin dismounts Danielle's unicycle and places it
up against a wall. Something vibrates in his belt.
"It's a trap," says Danielle breathlessly. "The
"He gave her money to stay home from work. She
called her parents and told her it was part of a joke
they were playing on the manager. Trapper said he was
an old friend."
"I figured as much," says Martin. "He left me a
clue at the book store. Deliberate. He wants me
"Don't go in yet. I'm on my way."
"I'll be fine, Dani," says Martin. "This is too
dangerous for you. I'll call you back at this number
if I need any help."
"Hero... be careful..."
"Don't worry," says Martin. "There's always a way
out." He hangs up the phone. The door's open.
He heads inside.
He takes three steps forwards before he falls.
Water's cold and disorienting and dark. He hits
something at the bottom. Glass.
He kicks off, tries to swim up. There's a sound.
Loud, mechanical, final. His arms fly up against
Lights flicker on.
He's in a tank. Filled with water. Secret
basement. Can't breath.
There's the Trapper, on the other side. Plaid
shirt, hunter's cap, beard. Beady eyes, ghastly
smile. The Trapper waves and walks away. Disappears
into the dark.
Can't breath. Martin looks up at the heavy steel
lid on the glass tank. There are gears. Mechanized
God. This is just... this is just like that first
trap. Ray in a tank full of water. Steel top that
won't budge. How did he get out...?
Oh yeah. His sidekick broke the glass from the
Maybe he should have waited for Dani. But no.
Then they'd both be in the glass. They'd both drown.
No! He's not going to drown. Gotta think, gotta
pull it together and focus...
There's always a way out. Always a weakness.
Built into the trap, so that he can get out.
Martin beats against the glass. No dice.
Maybe some way to drain the water out? No, that
can't be it. Thing is airtight. There's an inch
between the water level and the steel plate, and
there's hardly any air there to breathe.
Might as well grab it though. Need air to make the
brain work. To keep it alive. To think.
He takes a shallow breath and holds it as deeply as
he can. Gotta be a way out of this. Some way to get
the steel to move.
He pushes against it, looking for a trigger. His
hands fly out into the exposed gears. No. They're
too strong. He can't budge them. Can't tear the
He reaches into his belt and grabs a knife. He
starts to saw at one of the wires. It's too thick.
By the time he cuts through it, he'll be dead.
Call Dani. Call her and hold your breath, where's
It's at the bottom of the tank. It won't turn on.
It's shorted out. Wouldn't be able to talk anyway,
not under water. Not enough air up top...
He swims back up to the top, his shoulder's killing
him, his legs are tired, but he still swims up.
Cupping water in his hands, he tosses it up into the
exposed gears and wires. A little spark of
Maybe he can short it out. But he'll need a whole
lot more water...
It'll take too much time. Out of air. Out of
breath. Body's so tired...
If he had taken Fay up on her offer, if he had
borrowed a vibra-jacket, he could vibrate right out of
this mess. If he had a sidekick, the sidekick could
break the glass. Remote control unicycle with a
Maybe I shouldn't have kept things so simple...
No. There's a way out. There has to be...
Need to get more water up there. Short out the
wires. Stop the mechanized pressure. (Unless it
remains the same.)
But it's a chance and he has to take it.
Oh, no. He's floating. Floating to the bottom...
Wake up, Martin, wake up...
Got to get the water up there. Got to displace the
water. Something... solid... if only he had a whole
bunch of ice cubes...
He reaches into his belt and pulls out his last six
fire-extinguishing foam capsules. He had hoped that
he would get ahold of a lab, get them to tease out
Ray's secret and make some more. He probably had the
chance in the past, but he didn't take the time.
Oh well. Too late now. Gotta make this count...
He tosses the capsules. They float through the
water like particles of dust, moving slowly through
the shimmering clear liquid. They touch the glass and
explode, the foam filling up the tank, sending the
It's not very solid, but it's solid enough. The
steel top erupts in a dazzling display of electricity.
Martin feels shocks running through his body. Tiny
burns all over his body. Painful and sharp but
Waking him up just enough.
He swims up to the top and finds that the steel lid
is easily moved aside. He climbs over the glass and
falls into a wet heap on the floor some fifteen feet
Of course, he lands on his bad shoulder.
Martin wakes up in the dark. He's cold and damp
(not wet), his suit tight and wrinkled against his
He hears Danielle calling his name, calling for the
Green Knight. A dart of light shines down.
An electric torch. Dani descending. A rope from
above. "You okay, hero?"
Martin sniffles. "Peachy." He shivers when he
says it, forcing the plosive out. It therefore sounds
less impressive and bad-ass than he was hoping.
She sees through it but doesn't say anything. She
reaches her hand out. Martin takes it with the hand
of his good arm (his less-bad arm?). She pulls him up
and ties the rope around his waist.
He grabs the rope and gives it a tug.
"Pull 'im up, boys," Danielle calls up.
Martin ascends in stops and starts. Below him,
Danielle moves her electric torch across the wet
"Stay put," Martin says sharply.
"Don't worry, hero," says Danielle. "I don't trust
this place. Not at night, and not after the Trapper's
been here. We'll come back in the morning."
Police officers on the platform. They have faces
and names, but Martin doesn't know them, doesn't want
to know them; their arms reach out and pull him onto
the platform, they bear him down to rest.
The rope is untied and lowered. Danielle and her
torch are hoisted up. Martin doesn't offer his
assistance, content, at least this once, to be
exhausted and rescued. To let the police take care of
To let Dani.
"Help me get him to the car," she says to one
officer. In the same breath, she appoints two to
stand guard outside.
"Under no circumstances do you go in or try to
secure the crime scene," she warns. "Not until
daylight, not until we get back."
She sends the rest home.
"So, where to, hero?"
Martin inhales, deep and slow, giving himself time
to think. By the time he's done with that, he doesn't
have an answer; he exhales with the same aim and the
"You don't want me to drop you off at home because
you don't want me to know where home is," says
Danielle. "You don't want to go to a hospital even
though your arm is all busted up to shit. Secret
He breathes loudly, and it's distinct enough to
count as a syllable, perhaps an answer.
"See above," says Danielle. "Okay, look, I'm not
going to drop you off somewhere so you can fumble your
way half-conscious back to wherever you hang your
tights. Not in the condition you're in. And I'm not
going back to the office because I've spent most of
the day going back and forth from crime scenes to
witnesses to my office."
Martin shrugs. "White Castle's open twenty-four
hours a day."
"Do not tell me you eat that stuff."
"It's cheap," offers Martin.
"Be cheaper to buy a couple pieces of bread and
shit between them. Wouldn't even know the
"What about the onions?"
"I hate onions. Look, I'm not hungry anyway."
"Neither am I, now that you've started comparing
food to excrement."
"I'm a four-colour," says Martin. "We're not
supposed to swear."
"Is that so?"
"Got to keep up appearances."
"I need some sleep, more than anything," announces
Danielle. "You can crash on the couch."
"You need help up the stairs?" Danielle asks.
Before Martin can refuse, and, indeed, before her
scratchy-soft voice can trill upwards to transform her
statement into a question, her right arm braces itself
across his back. She presses her shoulder into one
armpit, silently prodding Martin to put his left arm
on her shoulders.
Her fingers wrap themselves into his other armpit.
It tickles at first, causing him to jump. She mumbles
an apology, he mumbles that there was no need for one,
and she reapplies a firm grip; she grabs one rail, he
grabs another, and all too soon they find themselves
atop the stairs.
She breaks the psuedo-embrace and unlocks her door.
There are books piled up in the main room,
knee-high and as far as the eye can see. Danielle
navigates a narrow corridor between hardcovers and
paperbacks so that she can remove some of the books on
the couch. "I'm sorry," she says.
"I'd like to say it's not usually so messy, but
that would be lying. Let me get some pillows, and
you'll be all set."
"You should put a towel down," says Martin. "I'm
"We could hang it up to dry," offers Danielle. She
adds quickly: "I got a ski-mask, some spare pajamas."
"A towel would be fine."
"Okay." She makes her way from the couch, pausing
when she comes to a bottleneck of nonfiction.
"Dani, you okay?" He steps towards her.
"Yeah... just, I'm not tired now. Weird."
"Try to get some sleep," says Martin. "We'll both
need to be on our toes tomorrow morning. That place
is probably rigged up with all sorts of shit."
"I thought... I thought you didn't swear, hero?"
says Danielle, smirking.
"I'm not supposed to swear. Doesn't mean I don't
do it, especially when I'm tired."
Danielle opens her mouth to speak, stammering out a
rat-tat-tat of wha-wha-whats like a tommy gun with
"I'm okay," she says. "Just getting caught up on a
"Okay. Go ahead, just take your time."
"It's nothing. Just... silly banter, you know?
Same old, same old."
"Yeah, but I like your banter," says Martin. "You
bant very well."
She smiles, strangling a laugh between her teeth.
"You haven't banted in quite a long time," says
This time the laugh escapes, pushed out of her
sideways womb with a sudden thrust of her pink, pink
"Did I ever tell you, Dani, that you're beautiful
when you're banting?"
He sees the way it affects her, the way she grows
silent and sad. He puts his hand on her shoulder and
she looks up at him, at his damp green mask.
"So, uh," Martin clears his throat. "Go ahead and
"I was... I was going to say... Well, you remember
what you said before, that you weren't supposed to
swear but that didn't mean...?"
"Well, what I was going to say was, what else are
you not supposed to do? But that's, that's not really
banter, is it? I guess I thought it was funny at the
"You're tired," says Martin. "So am I. We can't
be expected to bant at full capacity when we're
tired." He pats her shoulder with his hand.
She grabs him by the wrist. Her hand is shaking.
"That's just the thing." She puts his hand over her
right breast. "I'm not tired."
She lets go of his hand. He holds it there,
feeling the weight of her breast beneath her blouse.
His mouth is suddenly dry. "Going to get your blouse
wet with my damp glove," he says.
"I don't care," says Danielle.
"I do," says Martin. "It's a nice blouse." He
withdraws his hand.
"Fuck you!" She thunders out of the room.
He follows, against his better judgment. "Dani,
are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she says. She throws a pillow at him
and then pushes past him.
She opens the linen closet and procures a towel.
"Here. I don't want to get my couch wet. It's a nice
"It's a very nice couch," says Martin.
"Dani, just stop for a minute with this. Let's
"I'm allowed to be angry!" she says. "Don't you
dare try to take that away from me."
"I'm not," says Martin. "So you're angry, okay,
you can be angry. I will help you be angry, if you
like. But I want to know what you're angry about."
She takes a deep, unsteady breath, followed by more
of the same, each one angrier than the last.
"Dani, please," says Martin. "Please, for me...?"
"What?" she demands.
"Let's talk, okay? Let's sit down on your nice
couch and let's talk things out. Come on." He
reaches his arms out, grabs her by the shoulders, and
leads her back into the living room. They come to an
entrance-way: guarded by Dickens on one end and
Thurber on another. Martin takes the lead, guiding
her by the hand.
"Okay," says Martin. "Tell me what's on your
"I can't," says Danielle.
"You can be open with me, Danielle."
"No, I can't," says Danielle. "I tried it and got
slapped in the face."
"You mean the, um...?" Martin mimes an imaginary
breast sprouting out of his chest.
Danielle doesn't respond.
"Look, Dani. I like you."
"But," says Danielle.
"No buts," says Martin. "Let me finish. You're
probably the best friend I've got."
"Just a friend."
He snaps: "Will you let me finish, woman?"
"Okay," she says, nodding her head, a little
"Didn't mean to yell at you," says Martin. "But
I... look, Dani, chances are nine out of ten that I'm
in love with you." When he says this, he knows it's
true; he knows it's true by the way his body jumps in
shock at his own words, and by the way her eyes light
up in a sudden jerk of catharsis.
"I love you too," she says. She puts her hands
around his skull, and he worries for a moment that
she's going to remove his mask. She lunges forward,
pressing her lips against the damp fabric
She withdraws, rubbing her lips. "That was silly."
"No," says Martin. "It's the problem. I can't
take off the mask. Not yet."
"Because you're not going to like what you're going
"Do I know you?" says Danielle suddenly.
"Sorta," says Martin. "I don't want you guessing."
"I won't," says Danielle. "But you're not...
you're not secretly a criminal or anything. I know
that you're not."
"No, I'm not," says Martin. "Just... once I take
off the mask, though, you'll understand."
"So you will take it off?"
"Of course." He pulls off his left glove. He puts
his cold, damp palm against her warm cheek. She
shudders, kissing his thumb.
"I do love you," he says. "But I have to get you
used to who I am, underneath the mask. Give me time."
"I love who you are, no matter who you are," says
"At the same time, I don't want to make you angry,"
says Martin. "Trust me."
"I do," says Danielle. She grabs his hand,
peppering it with rapid-fire kisses, dry and noisy.
"M... Make love to me. Please."
"We can turn out the lights, you can wear the mask,
but please. Please."
"I want to," says Martin, trembling. "But it's not
the right time."
"I told you I love you, I love the man inside,"
"That's not what I mean," says Martin. "What I
mean is, it's three-thirty in the morning. We have to
be at the Atlas-Wealth Building at dawn. We have to
navigate through a warehouse that's probably got more
booby-traps than you have books. We're both tired and
we need sleep."
"But what if we die tomorrow?"
"Well, that would suck."
"It would," says Danielle. "To have this
conversation, get this close, and then never having
"If we did fool around, we would be stiff, sore,
and tired in the morning. We'd be glancing at each
other with lovey-dovey eyes. Which would be fine any
other morning except for the morning that we're going
into a warehouse full of death-traps. We need to be
focused. Wait until after we get the Trapper, okay?"
"I'm just tired of waiting, that's all," says
"Hey, we're just getting started," says Martin.
"That's not what I mean," says Danielle. She
lowers her head. "I haven't..."
"Been a long time since you got laid?" says Martin,
smiling underneath his mask.
"You could say that."
"Join the club," says Martin. "It's been ten
"I'm a virgin," says Danielle.
"Dani, if that's the case, you really don't want to
lose it tonight. The first time sucks. A lot. If we
did it tonight and we died tomorrow morning, it would
be totally disappointing for you. Better to be
well-rested and live long enough to do it at least
twice. It gets marginally better the second time."
"Is there anything good about the first time?"
"Post-coital cuddle," says Martin. "Best part of
every single time. We can do that if you like."
He presses his body against her back, his knees
finding their place inside hers, his bare hand lying
lazily across her belly. He moves his palm up her
blouse, cupping her breast in his hand.
"Are you supposed to be groping me while we're
cuddling?" she asks.
"I'm not supposed to," he says, removing his hand.
"But that doesn't mean I won't."
He dreams about her. He's never seen her body, but
he's seen Ree's and he remembers the body of his first
lover: her texture, her curves, the soft spots and the
rough spots. He remembers Ree and he airbrushes
Danielle's skin over her, until lily-white is replaced
by deep, luxurious browns. It fluctuates between the
two, unable to maintain the illusion; Martin's mind
latches onto the naked parts of Dani that he has seen:
her face, her hands, her mouth.
He imagines her lips engulfing his cock with a
passion and a fury that he knows she could not
possibly possess. Though dreams do not follow logic,
the latter can upset the former. His dream creates a
plausible explanation to prevent this upset: an
appropriately shady past for his new lady.
"I'm sorry I lied," she says between licks. "I've
done this hundreds of times. I love to do it. You
have you secrets and I have mine. Martin."
He starts to come, and she directs his spurts
towards Ree's white bosom. He feels something twitch
inside him, and he jerks awake as his spandex fills
Danielle stirs. "What's wrong, baby...?"
"Nothing," says Martin. He looks at the clock.
Six. "Go back to sleep."
"Where are you going?"
"Nowhere. My love." He adds these last two words
to strengthen the first.
He fumbles towards her bathroom and turns on the
light. He pulls off his pants and turns on the
faucet, waiting for the water to get hot.
Martin glances at himself in the mirror, and the
mask stares back at him. Guilt twinges in him like a
As he gently but vigorously scrubs the semen out of
his pubic hair, he thinks back on his dream, and
suddenly he feels a thousand eyes on him, staring at
his partial nakedness and the seeing his every
thought. He doesn't really think of Danielle that
way, as an object of lust. It is love and, what's
more, it's somewhat chaste. Almost child-like and
goofy. Something new...
You can't control your dreams, he reminds himself.
It's not you, it's your subconscious. Something
inside you, buried deep: deep and ugly.
"I love her," he says to himself out loud. "No
more dreams like that," as if that will make the
Car ride. En route to Atlas-Wealth.
"So, how'd you sleep, pretty lady?"
"You slept like a baby," says Danielle. Which is
true and a bit surprising: Martin had always been a
light sleeper, always aware of hidden enemies. "But I
couldn't keep my mind off the Trapper. There's
something that keeps bugging me."
"This was a trap, right? He planted clues and
staged a kidnapping to lead you to Atlas-Wealth."
"Right. Which I why I suspect there'll be even
more traps awaiting us."
"But the first clue was planted at the scene of the
Martin snaps his fingers. "So what are the chances
that he would know someone was coming? And, beyond
that, how did he know...?"
"How did he know he'd be able to fake the
kidnapping? He set those wheels into motion at most a
couple of hours before we got the clue."
"So he must have planted it after the fact," says
Martin. "Which means he must have gotten back into
the crime scene. Are you absolutely sure there was no
"Did you know all the homicide cops at the crime
"No, and I bet Bryant didn't, either. I'll call
ahead and postpone going in until after I've..."
"No," says Martin. "We do that, we'll tip him
"What do you mean?"
"He's cocky," says Martin. "He's cocky and he
leaves clues and he thinks he's smarter than us. But
he's stupid. He called the strip club from the
bookstore, announced his plans to kill the woman. And
then he told the bookstore owner it was a joke."
"So he's counting on someone's apathy," says
Danielle. "Or he wants to be caught."
"No, he wants to narrowly escape," says Martin.
"He gets off on this, on the challenge, the thrills."
"What, you think he's going to do it again?
Impersonate a cop, show up at the crime scene?"
"In case he does, we can't take the chance of
tipping him off," says Martin. "We got to catch him
off guard if we're going to catch him at all."
"All right," says Danielle. "Let's see if we can't
trap a Trapper."
A dozen cops.
"Men," says the Green Knight, "this is an extremely
dangerous mission. The man we're after could be the
craftiest and most cunning criminal I've ever faced in
my entire career." It's not exactly true, but it's
not exactly a lie, either: that's why he said the
Trapper could be the craftiest.
"We don't know what awaits inside, but we know it's
extremely dangerous. I would go it alone, but I'll
need sharp eyes to watch my back. And, of course, I
can't exactly conduct a crime scene with an electric
torch and gas capsules."
Some of the men smile.
"It's important that when I say jump, you jump.
And I can't waste time trying to explain which one I'm
talking to. So I'm going to need to know all your
names, and something about you. I find that helps my
"So, if you'll step forward and introduce
A man steps forward with beady eyes and clasps
Martin's hand. Martin knows immediately that it is
"It's him!" he says, reaching for the Trapper with
his free hand.
Something stirs in his captive palm, and suddenly
Martin finds himself covered in a net. There's a
deafening roar as the Trapper takes to the skies in a
personal rocket pack.
Danielle rushes over to Martin.
"I'm fine, Dani," he says quickly. "Get him first
before he gains too much altitude."
Danielle turns her eyes and her gun to the skies.
She pulls the trigger once and the Trapper falls ten
feet to the ground. The other officers rush towards
She brings her guns to her lips and blows.
"We make a good team, lady," says Martin.
"Hiya hero," says Danielle. "Do you want the bad
news first, or the worse news?"
"Start off with the bad."
"Doctor Costello was found dead this morning in her
cell. Camera can't identify the killers."
"How'd they get in?"
"They vibrated through the walls."
"Mass produced," says Danielle. "And word on the
street is that Snapp's recruiting more dealers, with
the promise of Vibra-Jackets to protect them from any
Green Knights or Crooked Men that might come their
"But how'd he get ahold of them? Larry Strode
returned the prototype."
"Larry Strode also had a photographic memory," says
Danielle, patting a file.
"Shit," says Martin. "Well, we may have lost
Costello, but we still have the other half of the
case. We still got the Trapper."
"And that's the worse news. The Trapper, a.k.a.
Justin Jace, is wanted for sixteen murders across four
"So we captured a serial killer," says Martin. "I
fail to see how that's worse news."
"Eight of them were in Texas."
"Oh, you got to be kidding me."
"No joke. Nature and extent of his crimes, he
won't be getting anything less than death."
"Which means a plea bargain with us is pointless."
"Fisk says he's going to try to reason with
Martin waves his hand dismissively. "Any chance we
can try Snapp on what we've got?"
"Well, what have we got, hero?"
"Phone records. Which means that nothing's
Danielle puts her hand on Martin's glove. "That's
not exactly true, is it?"
5. PANIC IN A PRETTY BOX!
Three kids in the midnight moonlight, singing in
the rain; eighteen or nineteen, singing without
lyrics, without notes: sharp vibrato twitches of
muscle and sinew, percussive heartbeats building, a
three-boy orchestra pretending to be the full-fledged
real-deal: a three-boy orchestra pretending to be men,
playing at being adults, at being crooks, at being
big-timers: three boys in kabuki masks, singing
without a sound--toss a brick and the glass hits the
"Didn't need to do that," says one, his voice
muffled by the ancient white mask peeking out of his
hooded sweatshirt. "We could've just floated in."
"Shut up," says the boy who tossed the brick.
"I'm just saying it was stupid to throw the brick."
"Aw, leave him alone, will ya? Whether he should
have done it or not, it got done. Let's just get in
there and grab the jewels and get out, huh?"
"This is the last job for you," snarls the first
boy to the second. The second slumps his shoulders,
and the first turns his rage towards the third. "I
should never have let you talk me into him."
"Dude, he's my brother."
"Um, guys? I'm right here."
"Let's just get the jewels, okay?"
They turn back towards the broken window, only to
find our verdant vigilante barring their path.
"It's the Green Knight!" says the maligned brother.
"You shouldn't have thrown that brick," offers
He curls his fingers into a poem of a fist, tight
and beautiful and merciless.
"Don't hit me!" The brick-boy throws his hands up
and drops to his knees.
"You idiot!" says the first boy. "Did you forget
we got the floaters?"
The two boys still standing quickly unzip their
hooded sweat-shirts, revealing, as Martin feared, more
Vibra-Jackets. With a turn of the dial, their
molecules begin dancing. The third boy quickly
The rain slashing right through them, they make a
run for it. The leader of this so-called Kabuki Gang
runs right through Martin, leaving him feeling
He doesn't run after them: it's a wasted effort.
And he learned over the last couple of weeks that
trying to punch them in their intangible faces made
him look futile and silly.
Of course, letting them escape didn't do his
reputation any good, either...
Martin lets himself in through Dani's apartment
"Hiya, hero," says Danielle as she enters the
darkened bedroom, dressed in plaid pajamas. She hugs
him immediately, kissing his green mask. "You're all
wet," she says. "Let me get you a towel."
She heads to the linen closest and calls back to
him from the hall: "How was your patrol?"
"Bad. More and more floaters. Vibra-Jackets.
They call them floaters now."
"So I've heard." She hands him a towel and turns
on the bedside lamp. "It felt like we were winning
there for a while, you know? Less drug dealers, more
"Hmmph," nods Martin. He begins to pat the outside
of his costume with the towel.
"Go ahead and peel it off," says Danielle,
irritated. "You've seen me change. Here." She goes
to her dresser and pulls out another pair of plaid
pajamas. "Might be a little small, but it'll keep you
warmer than your wet costume."
Martin grumbles a bit and hands her back the towel.
He begins peeling off his shirt, careful not to
disturb his mask.
He rubs his smooth chest and arms vigorously. "I
wish we knew how he was mass producing them. Fay
Tarif said Costello's prototype set the University
back at least five thousand dollars. And since none
of these vests respond to the fail-safes, it's a sheer
bet they've been tinkered with."
Danielle returns, having hung up the shirt to dry
in the bathroom. "Pants too," she says with a wry
Martin grumbles some more and removes his belt. He
flicks off the silent alarm on the buckle and hands it
to Danielle. "I ran into the Kabuki Gang tonight.
They had floaters."
"Which means it's not just Snapp's dealers," says
Danielle. "If this spreads to all the other crooks in
"We've got to get ahold of one of those jackets,"
says Martin. "Then maybe Tarif can reverse-engineer
it, find a new weakness. But to get a jacket, we need
to get somebody who's wearing a jacket."
"We'll figure it out," says Danielle. "Pants."
Third grumble's a charm. Martin pulls off his
boots and his pants, and applies the towel to his legs
"You've got a beautiful body," says Danielle. "Bet
you have a beautiful face, too."
"Dani," Martin warns. Sweat piles up along his
face, trapped by the warm foam that protects his head.
She touches the side of his mask, stroking the wet
spandex with her palm.
"Dani," says Martin again.
"I know," she says. Slowly, reluctantly, she
withdraws her hand, retreating to his hard shoulders
and chest. She finds his heart and leaves her hand
there, pressing her cheek near it.
Martin puts his arm around her, hugs her close,
feeling the itchy polyester against his body.
They stand there for a moment, perfectly still and
content and yet, awkward and restless: they want this
moment to last and last and last, but now that it's
lasting, they're not quite sure what to do with it.
Danielle breaks the tableau, sliding her hand away
from his heart. She rests it just under the chiseled
border of his pectoral, her thumb inching over the
His nipple, already pimpled from the cold, proves
an irresistible target for her stealthy digit. She
strums the sensitive tiny bud like a guitar.
A gasp escapes from Martin's lips, dying in the
sweaty foam, an aural ghost the only hint of its
existence. She keeps strumming, relentlessly
With a kiss, she pushes her face away from his
chest; her other thumb finds his other nipple.
"Dani," he says. His mouth is dry; his tongue is
heavy. "I thought I was going to try on your
"I changed your mind," says Danielle. "Does it
"Yes," says Martin with a shudder. "Very good.
She releases the second nipple from her torment,
quickly sliding her fingers down to his groin. His
cock, already half-awake because of her activity,
leaps to attention.
He stifles the moan. "Dani, this is going too
"Does it feel good?" she asks, punctuating her
question with a quick, hard jerk.
"And you love me."
"Are we even dating? I mean, you still don't know
who I am..."
"I know who you are," says Danielle. "You're the
Green Knight. You're good. You're brave. I know
what makes you laugh. And you love me, and I love
"I want to know who you are. I want to know
everything about you. But you're not ready yet. And
that's fine. I know enough for right now." She wraps
her hand around his cock, pumping it rapidly with an
"Ease up a bit on that, huh?" he says. "Be a
little more gentle."
She drops to her knees, causing her back to creak
in protest. "How about this?" she says, bringing his
head to her lips. One dry kiss is followed by
another, and another, each one working its way along
"You don't need to do that," he says tensely. "I'd
rather you didn't."
"I want to do it," she protests. She flicks at his
cock with her tiny tongue: his whole body shudders in
response. "And I think you want me to do it, too..."
She parts her lips, putting its head into her warm,
sticky mouth. The hot breath of her nostrils flares
pleasantly on his shaft. Slowly and awkwardly, more
mechanical than passionate, she tries to slide her
mouth along his cock.
She slides him out of her mouth, long enough to
protest. "I'll get better," she says. "I forgot to
use my tongue. It's supposed to feel good if I use my
"Let me try again."
Noticing that his cock is losing its fullness,
Danielle pumps it in her fist again before taking it
back into her mouth, deeper this time around. She
swirls her tongue around, not utilizing it with any
great skill, but still using it; for a first blowjob,
it's not bad at all.
Hell, it feels good. His eyes roll back as a moan
hums its way to the surface. Encouraged, she
redoubles her efforts.
But, as he looks down at her, he can still see that
it's mechanical and awkward. Something turns in
Martin, and he feels a thousand-thousand eyes on him,
watching him and what he's doing to this poor woman.
He remembers the white man in the park.
Within seconds, Martin's cock is limp and spongy;
Dani tries her best with the rubbery flesh, but soon
lets it slip out of her mouth.
"I'm sorry!" she cries, tears spraying from her
eyeballs. "I'm sorry I did it wrong!"
"It's not your fault," says Martin. "I don't like
being kissed there."
She gives him a look of disbelief.
"I don't," he says, almost sternly. "I really
"Okay," says Danielle. "I'm sorry."
He offers his hand and helps her off the floor.
"Hand me the pajamas," he says. "Cuddling's still my
Knight's Den. The next day.
"Come on in, Roy."
"Got a public appearance lined up for you tomorrow.
Private school up near the Corridor."
"Private school?" says Martin distastefully.
"Like, a religious school, or...?"
"No, a prep thing," says Roy.
"I don't want to do that," says Martin. "A public
school, maybe. I want to support that. That's where
I come from, what I want to stand for. Not some
hoity-toity prep school. Sends the wrong message."
"I'll call and cancel?" says Roy.
"No," says Martin. "You already said yes. Just
don't do it next time."
"Righty-oh," says Roy as he departs.
Martin rides his new unicycle through the crisp
January snow with surprising ease. He stops at the
huge black gate and dismounts. There's a call box at
A woman answers. "Yes...?"
"It's the Green Knight."
"We've been expecting you."
There's a buzzing noise and the gate opens. Martin
tucks the unicycle under his arm and enters the
Big, stately brick building, cold and symmetrical
and new; an empty playground, snow weighing down the
swings and slides: the gate swings shut behind him as
the door swings open before him with synchronized
As pretty as the building is, the blonde is
prettier: tall and firm in a business dress, heels
clicking down the stair-steps.
"I am the Contessa Erika Fumetti," she says,
extending a black gloved hand from a dark blue sleeve.
He takes her hand, gives it a quick and efficient
jerk of a handshake, almost doing a curtsey with his
"Let me show you around," she says, turning towards
the door. With each step, she stops for the briefest
slice of a second, her hips swaying with the
herky-jerky staccato of a broken metronome.
"Our auditorium," says Erika, pointing with a
swivel of her golden tresses. Martin peers through
the door's tiny glass window at the large, empty
"Certainly looks impressive," he says, having
nothing else to say.
"And expensive," says Erika, as if that is the most
exciting word in the world. "And over here," she
says, pointing with the slightest twitch of her
puckered red lips, "the ballroom. I feel all children
should know how to dance."
Martin peers into the grand ballroom and finds that
it, too, is empty.
"Where are the students, by the way?" he asks.
There's a pinch in his palm. He turns towards
Erika in time to see her withdraw a pin from his hand.
His legs go rubbery.
And he sleeps.
His wrists hurt. He opens his eyes.
Light pours into his eyeballs, causing them to
dilate. He's on his back. On a table.
Chained at the wrists.
And the ankles.
His grogginess is fading. His eyes are adjusting
to the light.
"Hello, my love." Erika's voice. To his left.
The business suit is gone. In its place, a black
one-piece that leaves her shoulders and thighs bare,
not to mention a generous amount of cleavage. Black
gloves up to her elbows.
And a domino mask. Pointless, when he already
knows who she is. She must be crazy...
Shit, she must be a villain. Wait, did she say...?
"Darling," she says, rubbing her black glove over
his green costume with a slight murmur of pleasure.
"I don't know you," says Martin. "So I sure as
hell aren't your darling."
"I'm Erika Fumetti," she says in soft reminder.
"The Clockwork Contessa."
He flinches at her touch. "And why's that?"
"I build robots. Automatons. Children."
She claps her hands. Identical, genderless
child-robots step into the light.
"But they're not real," says Erika. "Can't think.
I can't teach them anything. I need real children."
She's touching him again. "Your children."
Her fingers trace along the spandex until she
reaches his clunky belt.
"Lady," says Martin sharply. "I think you're going
about this the wrong way. I'm not interested in
"You'll learn to love me," she says as she removes
the belt. It falls to the ground.
He struggles against his bonds, but all the
writhing in the world doesn't do him any good. She
"I like watching you squirm, darling," she says.
"It turns me on."
Martin shudders, something heavy in his stomach
pounding at him from inside. She digs her leather
fingers into his pants, tugging them down at the
"I'm a little disappointed," she says, running the
glove along the length of his half-awake cock. "I was
hoping it'd be green. Ah well."
She climbs onto the table, kneeling between his
legs. She carefully pulls his cock free of his balls,
and then licks up the sweat that was gluing them
together. She follows the first long, deliberate lick
"Please stop," pleads Martin. "I don't like this.
I don't like being kissed there."
"Well, I like it," says Erika lustily. She
proceeds to swirl her tongue along his length, spit
trailing down his engorged muscle. "And he seems to
like it too."
"You don't even know me!" says Martin. "You have
to stop this!"
"Of course I know you," says Erika, laughing
throatily. "You're the Green Knight. You're good.
You're honest. You're a hero. I love you." She
punctuates her pronunciation with another long lick.
"And you love me, whether you like it or not."
Erika takes the base with one gloved hand, the
leather sticking to his cock; with her other hand, she
gently tickles his balls. She puts the head into her
mouth and begins to moan uncontrollably.
Pleasure ripples through Martin's body, and with
it, revulsion and nausea. Go limp, he commands
silently. This doesn't feel good. This isn't right.
This can't be happening. Not again. Not to me.
Go limp. Think of something disgusting. Vomit,
shit, death, war.
But no matter what image he conjures up, he can't
blot out the image of Erika, of her ripe red mouth
wrapped around him, of her huge white breasts hanging
between his thighs. He can't concentrate, can't blot
out the involuntary shuddering of his cock.
Oh God, what's wrong with me? This isn't good.
This can't feel good. I'm sick to my stomach. What's
wrong with my body, can I control it at all?
He feels a thousand eyes on him again, caressing
his body with their unerring gaze. He feels the cold
metal against his head.
He remembers the man in the park and even it's not
enough to make it go away, to make her stop...
"Stop!" he begs. "You got to stop, please!
Please!" He's sobbing now, his voice feminine and
"Okay, baby," says Erika, adopting the soothing
tones of a mother's voice. It makes his stomach churn
once more. "You're right, that's enough of that. I
suppose you're adequately firm to proceed."
She rises up, squatting over his thigh, as she
fidgets with the buttons at her groin.
"No! No!" he cries. "You can't do this!"
"I'd have you eat me out first," says Erika, "but
then we'd have to take off your mask. And that would
ruin it for me, baby. It really would."
"Stop! I'm begging you, please..."
She parts her pussy lips, and his body twitches in
"Shut up, baby," says Erika. "I'm afraid you're
Why won't it go limp? Why is it still hard?
What's wrong with me?
Oh God no
She slides herself onto him. It's the first time
he's felt a woman around him in nearly ten years.
But his cock won't go down.
All his muscles tense up. Something heavy in his
throat. Hard to breathe.
She's bobbing up and down, screaming with joy.
He tries to make a sound. Tries to protest or
scream for help. But he doesn't have any words.
Nothing comes out.
He opens his mouth and nothing comes out.
He opens his mouth and he thinks of the man in the
park, and so he closes his mouth, closes his mouth to
keep him out. But the man has a gun. He tells him
what to do.
Tears run down Martin's face. I'm the Green
Knight. This isn't supposed to happen. Not to a
hero. Not to the Green Knight. This isn't
This isn't supposed to happen at all.
This monster's on him, and he can taste the man in
the park, he can feel him inside him, he
He can't breathe
His body's shaking, bucking, convulsing
She's screaming for joy. She thinks he's getting
My body must be going into shock. Please.
Please let it go into shock, so I can't feel this
anymore. She feels so good around my cock and that's
Make it stop
It didn't feel good in the park. Did it?
Oh God what's wrong with me
The convulsing slows down. Air fills his lungs.
There are voices, sounds. And a face.
"Hero, are you okay? Can you hear me?"
"Let's get you out of this, okay?"
"Bitch!" says Danielle.
"Bitch, where are the keys?"
They argue. Martin's head is getting hazy. Hard
to see. His eyeballs are white like gauze. Floating
He's sitting up now. Danielle's helping him up.
Makes him nauseous. Has to swallow the vomit. Burns
Erika in handcuffs.
"Here's your belt," says Danielle.
Martin tucks in his cock (soft now) and pulls up
his pants. He takes the belt and fastens it.
"The belt," he says slowly and softly.
"Yeah," says Danielle. "Silent alarm alerted
Father Riddle. Called me a few minutes ago. Got here
as quick as I could."
"What do you mean, you're not pressing charges?"
Martin holds his head in his hands. "I can't. I'm
sorry, Dani. I can't."
"She'll go free."
"The Green Knight... he can't... people can't
"That's shit and you know it."
"No, it's not. People got to believe in him... or
it doesn't work... Everything we've worked for,
Dani... it'd be gone."
"I refuse to believe that," says Danielle. "You
really want to make a difference, hero? Press
charges. Let people know what happened. Let them
know that rape victims don't have to crumple up and
die, that they can be strong and move on."
"Let someone else send that message," says Martin.
"Let someone else tell that story. Not me."
"Men don't get raped, Dani."
"That's exactly the kind of attitude that you can
help to combat."
"You don't understand," says Martin. "You don't
understand what it's like to be a man and have this
happen to you. It's worse than shame."
"What, worse than a woman's?"
"Why, because women are supposed to get raped?"
"No, that's not what I'm saying. But men aren't
supposed to have this happen."
"No one should have this happen, ever," says
Danielle. "Look, I can get you in touch with a crisis
center, with a counselor, and then maybe you'll change
your mind about the charges..."
"No! No one can know! No one!" says Martin,
crying. "You don't understand. I can't go through
it. I can't. All their eyes, looking at me."
"But she'll go free," says Danielle. "Because
you're too cowardly to face a little bad P.R., she'll
go free to do it again."
"There has to be something else we can get her on,"
says Martin. "Operating a school without a license,
building the robot children...?"
"She has a license, and robotics isn't a crime,"
says Danielle. "Rape is. That's all we've got, and
that's what she did."
"I'm not a coward," says Martin. "But I can't. I
just can't. You don't..."
"I don't understand, so you've said," says
Danielle. "And you're right, it doesn't make sense.
If I was raped, I would want to put the bastard behind
bars, I'd want to take a stand and protect others.
That would make sense to me. The only thing I can
think of that would prevent me from coming out is if
it wasn't rape."
"What are you saying?"
"Maybe... maybe you liked it. Maybe that's why you
won't press charges."
Martin stands up, his muscles tense and quivering.
He takes several deep, quick breaths. "If you knew
me, Dani," says Martin, "you wouldn't ever say a thing
like that to me."
"Whose fault is it that I don't know you?" says
Martin doesn't answer. He fastens his grapple on
her window sill and slides down to the snow.
He stops at the Knight's Den and changes into his
He can't stay in the church, not even in its
secular basement. He doesn't want to feel God's
thousand eyes watching him and his anger.
He doesn't want to visit Roy in his manse, doesn't
want to be lectured about God's stained-glass love
when he felt so little of it this afternoon.
He doesn't want to go to the shelter where Martin
Rock spends most of his nights. He hasn't been there
for a while-- he should, to keep up appearances,
protect his identity-- but he doesn't want to be
surrounded by the crime and the sweat of other men.
He wants to be alone and he wants to be angry, and
so he walks the empty streets this dark January night.
He has a crumpled five dollar bill to his name (a
luxury) and so he stops to get a burger. He picks an
out-of-the-way booth in an out-of-the-way place,
hoping that fewer customers means fewer people that
will recognize his face.
"Thought that was you."
He knows the voice before he looks up at the face.
Pam Bierce, tall and curvy in tight blue jeans.
"Gorgeous as ever," he says.
"Well, thank you, Mr. Rock," says Pam. "Mind if I
sit with you?"
"So, how've you been?"
"Been better," says Martin. "But I guess I've been
worse, too. Just... just had a really bad day,
"Want to talk about it?"
"No, not really."
"Private person," says Pam. "I didn't forget."
"Yeah," says Martin listlessly. "So, how's
"It's pretty good, actually," says Pam. "We
figured we'd be taking a dive with... all that
happened last year. But actually, we're up. I think
what happened was, you got us a lot of good publicity
after that business with the Crooked Man. Once Willis
came into the picture, the publicity wasn't so good
but we still had name recognition. I mean, really, a
business like bail bonds isn't exactly a big public
relations business in the first place."
"Yeah, well, I... I've said it before, but I just
want to say again, I am sorry about getting you
dragged into that whole mess. I didn't even know the
guy was still alive..."
"Martin," says Pam with a wave of her hand, "water
under the bridge. It was traumatic, but in the end, I
came out okay and I don't blame you for it. I just...
needed to distance myself from you, y'know?
Especially right then, right after it all happened."
"It's understandable. But you're here now and..."
"Exactly," says Pam. "So there's no hard feelings,
okay? I just didn't feel like cozying up to you right
then, y'know?" She smiles and laughs (spontaneous,
light) and pats his hand affectionately before
starting to inch her way out of the booth.
"What about now?" he blurts with an embarrassingly
"What do you mean?" says Pam, turning back towards
"Were you just being cordial, just `no hard
feelings'... or..." He trails off.
"Or...?" She leaves her luscious mouth open in an
expression of confusion.
"Were you, ah, cozying up?"
Her mouth makes a quick stop at "surprise" before
arriving at a smile of such delicious wickedness that
it makes Martin swallow, hard.
"Why, Mr. Rock," says Pam, "you nasty old man. Did
you want to cozy up with pretty little me?"
They head over to her office. First, because it's
closer than her apartment. Secondly, she says in the
quiet sort of voice people use when they want to gloss
over something, she feels safer there.
She locks the door and leads him past the lobby
into her private office. She turns on the desk lamp.
Martin stares at her face in the lamp's faint
yellowing warmth, and she stares back at his. Long
awkward seconds pass.
Then Martin kisses her, he lunges forward, his
hands around her head, his mouth hungry against hers,
exhaling hot and fast against her nose. He
relinquishes the kiss, and she steps back a bit,
breathing heavily, gasping for air.
"Kiss me again," she demands, and he does. He
feels her lipstick smear against his mouth. He hates
lipstick, hates eye shadow and rouge and make-up of
all stripes, hates the fakery of it. But the presence
of the cheap-and-slutty fire-truck red smearing on his
skin makes his cock skip a beat, and so he kisses her
He gropes her ass and pushes her against the desk,
and now her hands are all over his head and in his
hair. She grabs ahold of a clump of it and yanks
back, hard, holding his head at eye level.
"Put your hands on my tits," she says.
"I'm not one to argue with a lady."
He feels her cottoned breasts, heaving and soft
beneath the fabric. She pulls his head down, plants
her lips against his lips, never letting go of his
hair. Her tongue dances in his mouth, a brief and
energetic little two-step, before she pulls his head
away again with another violent yank and another
breathless command: "Tear my blouse."
His hands shaking, he grabs her top in his fists.
"Tear it!" she says. "Rip it in half!"
He knots the fabric in his fists and rips it off in
one efficient jerk, his well-trained muscles freeing
her gorgeous brown tits (her nipples thick and huge
"Suck `em, baby," she demands, shoving his face
into her bosom. He loses himself in her soft flesh,
practically slobbering over her natural bounty.
His head is pounding from the heavy breathing, and
his cock is straining hard against his pants. He
fidgets with the zipper and the button.
"Let me do that," says Pam, releasing his hair for
the first time. She slinks down to her knees and
pulls out his rock-hard cock.
"Ooh," she coos. "Is all that for me? Is this
big, beautiful cock all for me?"
"Y-yeah," shudders Martin.
"I dunno," says Pam. "Do you think it will fit in
my tiny hot little mouth?" With that, she descends,
snapping it up in her beak, running her tongue along
its length while sliding it past her glistening lips,
back and forth, back and forth, the rhythm building
Martin puts his hands around her head, guiding his
cock deeper and deeper into her wet mouth. He jabs it
too far back and she starts to cough and choke. He
pulls it out immediately, the thousand eyes crawling
over him once again.
"I'm sorry," he says. "God, I'm so sorry, Pam, I
didn't mean to..."
"Shut up," she snaps. "Shut up and fuck my slutty
little mouth with your big, hard cock!"
With a savage growl, he grabs her head and shoves
his cock into her mouth, bucking his hips with
reckless abandon. The thousand eyes are gone. Faster
and faster, harder and harder, he shoves it deeper and
deeper down her throat, her hair balled up in his
fists like the fabric of her torn blouse.
He slows down, less for the sensation than for the
sight of her red lips and sexy eyes, sliding passively
along his long, hard cock. The sight itself makes him
twitch, and he lets it slide out of her mouth so that
he won't come just yet.
"Bend over the desk," he says, his voice a dry,
lusty husk. "Pull down your pants."
"Alright!" says Pam, wiggling her hot ass out of
her jeans. "You gonna fuck me, baby?"
"Yeah, baby," says Martin.
Pam bends over, spreading her long gams and her
glistening pussy-lips. Martin looks at her for a few
long seconds, and he feels his erection pulsing in his
hand, strong and steady and unyielding, unhesitating.
"Fuck me fast and hard, baby," says Pam. "Fuck me
like a slut."
He slides it into her pussy, and his whole body
shudders. "Been so long," he says. The last time he
made love to a woman was ten years ago. The
afternoon's events are forgotten and erased; they
don't count. In fact, it feels like the park doesn't
count anymore, either, but thinking about it makes him
He loses himself into the moment, grabbing onto her
hips, fucking her fast and hard, as she requested,
fucking away the man in the park and the gangs with
the Vibra-Jackets and the woman at the school, fucking
away the insecurity and the frustration and the guilt:
fucking her because he wants to fuck her, because he
needs to, fucking her with passion and lust and anger
until his cock just can't take it anymore.
He pulls out and holds his twitching cock: "I'm
gonna come, I'm gonna come, I'm coming."
It sprays out in quick, steady bursts, arcing
through the air and dribbling down his hand. His
head's still pounding (he had forgotten how much it
takes out of him to do this standing up) and he feels
himself start to fall over.
Pam rights him and leads him to the bathroom
adjacent her office. She sits him on the toilet,
takes out a rag, and starts running the water. "We'll
get you cleaned up," she says, as if an explanation
was necessary. "Did you like that?"
"Yeah," he says. "I did. I wasn't too rough, was
"Nah," she says. "Maybe next time, though, we can
do it a little slower, a little nicer?"
He chooses to ignore the implications of `next
time'. "I didn't mean-- I just, it seemed like you
were into it..."
"I was," she says with a shrug. She feels the
water, ascertains that it's hot enough, and puts the
washcloth under it. She takes ahold of his cock and
starts to gently rub it clean. "I mean, it looked
like you needed a fuck, and hey, I needed a fuck, so
we fucked. But next time, let's try making love,
He just kinda nods.
Pam knows this doesn't bode well. "Is there going
to be a next time?"
Having finished cleaning off his cock and balls,
she moves onto his hand, locking eyes with him.
"I dunno, Pam," says Martin. "Let's... let's just
kinda play it by ear, y'know?"
"We'll see what happens?"
"Why does it feel like a brush-off?"
"It's not," says Martin. "But we don't know each
other very well, so you can't expect me to move in or
"You're still homeless, aren't you?"
"There's the shelter," says Martin. "And I have
"You're a very private person," says Pam.
"I am," says Martin, quietly.
"But you can trust me, Martin," says Pam. "I'm not
going to judge you. I accept you for who you are. I
like Martin Rock. I wouldn't have had sex with him
"What do you like about me?" says Martin, almost as
if it's a challenge. "What do you know about me?"
"I know you're good," says Pam, sitting down on his
"What, because I saved your life?"
"No," says Pam. "Though I guess that's part of it.
But it's more than that. There's something in you,
something good, and something else, something
restless. Dynamic. Attractive, sure. But not
dangerous. I feel... I feel safe around you, Martin.
When you came back into my office the day after Willis
was arrested, I didn't feel threatened. When I saw
you today in the restaurant, when I told you to rip my
blouse: I was completely unafraid. It was like...
like some secret part of me, and I could just be me,
completely. And I felt like you could just be you.
"You had that restlessness in you, this anger and
this violence, but you are in control of it, and you
recognize it, and you're... you're just good, okay?
That's what I know. That's what I like about you.
"Maybe you're scared a little," says Pam. "You're
scared of the restlessness. Of the anger. Of
whatever you did or whatever was done to you. But
when you tore my blouse, when you bent me over that
desk and fucked me, you were fearless."
"A lot of people," says Martin after a long time,
and then he stops for a moment, thinking. "Let me...
let me phrase this right, okay? So that it makes
"Just be honest, just let it out," say Pam.
"A lot of people, lately, they've seen only one
side of me, an image, and they're in love with that,"
Pam cocks her head.
"Well, a lot of people hate you."
"Yeah, but this is different."
"This was before?"
"No, it's just... I can't explain it," says Martin.
"But let's say that there are people who hate me and
people who love me and the people who love me don't
know that there's people who hate me."
"What, they live under a rock?"
"No," says Martin, his temper flaring. "It's
just... what I'm saying is, you like me. You like
Martin Rock. And you understand me. For who I am.
Not for some pretty public image. But for who I am.
And so I can be honest with you."
"You have a funny way of showing it," says Pam.
"I'm the Green Knight." He blurts it out, and as
soon as he does, he wants to shove the words back into
Pam's lips part slowly. "Really?"
"You kissed me right here," says Martin, pointing
to his forehead.
"You're the Green Knight," says Pam.
"Yeah," says Martin. "Don't... don't tell anyone."
"I'm not stupid," says Pam. "So. You said you had
a bad day today. Was it a bad Martin day or a bad
Green Knight day?"
And they talk. As they get dressed, they talk. As
they walk to her apartment, her jacket zipped up to
compensate for the now worthless blouse, they talk:
Martin tells her about the man in the park, and
about Ree and his time in Iraq. Pam talks about her
father and Martin talks about Ray, though not by name,
and they hold each other as they cry.
And then they kiss, and they make love, a little
slower, a little sweeter: they love their pain and
their anger away and she falls asleep.
Martin lies down and stares at the ceiling, and he
thinks about Dani, and he looks at Pam: ripe young
Pam, who isn't even his type. Dani was his type, or
Ree. Older women, women his age. What is he doing
And he wonders what will happen tomorrow, and the
next day, and the day after that.
6. CRISIS ON ANOTHER EARTH!
The death of January brings hope: Roy Riddle finds
a Vibra-Jacket in the white-white snow, sitting on the
steps of his church like an offering to God, but
gift-wrapped with a note for the Green Knight. It
opens tersely and closes boldly: "Green Knight. A
No body in between, just head and feet without the
benefit of neck or ankles.
Martin looks the vest over in the Knight's Den.
"If this is legit, it could save the whole city."
"Any reason to think it's not?" asks Riddle.
"Well, we won't know for sure until Fay Tarif looks
it over. But it could be a trap."
"But the note says it's from a friend."
Martin stares at him in disbelief. "I bet if
someone put an eighty-foot horse outside, you'd haul
it right in, wouldn't you?"
"No. Doors aren't that tall."
"If this is a real Vibra-Jacket, there's one of two
ways it got here. One is that Snapp planted it, which
means it's a trap."
"Or he's repented, and he wants to be caught so he
Martin stares at him again.
Riddle adjusts his collar. "Or it's a trap."
"The second option is that someone out there is
willing to cross Snapp, his entire organization, and
the dozens of dozens of floaters who can walk through
walls and stick their hands into his heart. Of the
two, a trap is far more likely."
"Say, this friend," says Roy, brandishing the note,
"you think it's the same one as before? The letter we
got that had your identity in it?"
"That's what I'm worried about," says Martin as he
pulls on his mask. "Because if it is-- and if Snapp
is behind this after all-- then he must know who I
Jolt City University.
Fay gladly accepts the vest from the Green Knight
and Officer Danielle Handler.
"Give me an hour and I'll know whether or not it's
legit," she promises. "As for what Snapp's done to it
to disable the fail-safes... and coming up with a new
"Well, there's no way to know how long it'll take,
is there?" says Martin.
"No, there isn't," twinkles Fay. "But I'll keep
Dani and Martin walk across the campus.
"So, hero," says Dani, "haven't seen you in a few
"Whenever you've paged me, I've shown up," says
Martin. "Like always."
"Yeah," says Dani. "Only I thought things weren't
like always anymore."
"Yeah." Martin feels something move in his belly,
heavy and hard. "I've just... been in an awkward
"You mad at me?"
"Nah. Why would I be mad at you, kiddo?"
"No, I... I forgot all about it," Martin lies.
"I'm sorry for what I said."
"Hey, it's water under the bridge," he says. They
come to the parking lot. Martin starts to unchain his
unicycle. Dani fishes the keys out for her patrol
"Can I give you a ride anywhere?"
He hops on his unicycle and leaves her.
But she doesn't leave him. Her face and voice
follow him as he winds his way down the city streets.
Nags at him.
Getting too old for this Betty-and-Veronica shit...
Martin gets a page from Dani.
"Fay Tarif called. It's definitely a real vest.
And she thinks she has an idea as to what's going on
with the fail-safes. She needs some more time to run
some tests. To be sure."
The next day, JCU.
"You remember how the Vibra-Jacket operates?" says
"It vibrates the person wearing it out of synch
with reality," says Martin. "Same principal as
speedsters like Darkhorse."
"Or like Dr. Metronome?" says Dani.
"No," says Fay. "Dr. Costello looked into the
metronome belt in the early stages of development.
The way that works is, your body is made up of
molecules and the molecules of atoms."
"I know that," snips Dani.
"And there's spaces between the atoms-- tiny, tiny
spaces. The metronome belt vibrates the atoms in your
body so that it can slide between those spaces."
"And how is the Vibra-Jacket different?"
"Well, the metronome belt is actually pulling the
body of its wearer apart. If there is a malfunction,
one risks scattering yourself to the winds. Dr.
Costello-- and the army-- felt that was too big a
"Two objects-- two atoms-- cannot occupy the same
"That's basic physics," says Dani.
"But an infinite number of atoms occupy the same
space all the time," says Fay. "Parallel worlds.
They exist in the same exact space-- just on different
frequencies. What the Vibra-Jacket does is 'tune' its
wearer slightly out of synch with our reality and in
with another. Much less danger."
"Yeah," says Martin. "Now you only have to worry
about ending up in another reality."
"That's still a living soldier," says Fay.
"Can't something from the other side get them?"
"That was really a non-issue," says Fay. "There's
not enough of the wearer in existence in that other
"They'd be like a ghost," says Dani.
"Exactly. And the government saw another tactical
advantage. If you want to get from point A to point
B, instead of battling through enemy territory, you
slip into another reality-- a peaceful one-- at point
A, travel to point B, and slip back."
Martin scratches his chin through his mask. "Could
we get to the point, though?"
"We developed fail-safes," says Fay. "Ways to snap
someone back should they go rogue. But, as you know,
they've proven fruitless. Suffice to say, the vest
has been tampered with.
"Namely, instead of tuning slightly in synch with a
neighboring reality, it's now tuning slightly in synch
Dani snaps her fingers. "You mean they're more in
tune with another world than ours! That's why our
fail-safes can't affect them-- just like something
couldn't affect them from the other world before."
Martin raises his finger to make a point. "When I
tried on the Vibra-Jacket, I was completely aware of
my surroundings here, on this earth-- I had no
consciousness of another reality. If the doctored
jacket puts them in another reality, how would they be
aware of this one, and able to interact?"
"I'm not really sure," says Fay. She opens a
drawer and pulls out a fail-safe gun. "Why don't we
find ourselves a floater and ask them?"
"This will work?"
"It should," says Fay. "Instead of destabilizing
the effect of the Jacket like its predecessor, this
modification actually over-rides the tuning mechanism,
tuning them into the frequency of our reality."
"Just... point and shoot?"
"Point and shoot," says Fay. "I'll have specs
ready for mass production for the whole police force
Martin brings in a dozen floaters over the course
of an hour. But as much as Dani's officers push, they
can't find anyone willing to implicate Snapp. They're
So Martin grabs some more, and the cops lean
harder. Still nothing. Doesn't matter. He keeps
He runs himself ragged, as if he's making up for
all the time when he was powerless to stop them-- as
if to say, not here, not in my town, not anymore.
Two days in, Cradle Industries begins to
manufacture the fail-safe weapons; by nightfall, the
police have joined Martin in his one-man war. He
doesn't slow down. Keeps pushing, pushing harder.
"Slow down, baby," says Pam during a brief and
atypical respite (body has to eat). "You've got to
"I can't. We're so close. Almost got him. After
all this time. He's right within our grasp. Just
gotta keep going, just gotta find the right person..."
But nobody flips. The futility begins to sink in.
Sure, they're making arrests, making some headway, but
there's no way to tell how much: the number of
floaters is seemingly infinite. They still don't know
how and where the vests are being manufactured and,
more pressingly, they still have no way to tie it to
Foster, the District Attorney, holds a crisis
meeting in his office. Dani and Martin attend, along
with the chief of police, Darkhorse, and ADA Fisk.
"These boys you've been bringing in, they're more
scared of Snapp than prison," says Foster. "If we're
going to have any leverage at all, we need something
that scares the ever-loving shit out of 'em.
Accordingly, I've authorized Jack to tack on a SV
charge for all floaters."
Martin's voice takes on an uncharacteristically
high pitch. "You want to try them as supervillains?
"Most of them are around twenty," offers the chief
"And they'll be over fifty by the time they get
out," says Martin. "If they live that long.
Conditions in those prisons are brutal."
Foster shrugs. "You've got no problem sending your
costumed adversaries there."
"That's different," says Martin. "They're actual
"So are these kids," says the chief. "They're
using advanced technology, giving them powers beyond
that of ordinary men, to commit crimes. That's the
definition of a supervillain under the laws of the
"So now we've got something they'll be scared of,"
says Foster. "They'd gladly sell out Snapp if it
means they just get a short stint in a regular
Martin and Dani make their way down the hall.
Fisk and Darkhorse try to catch up to them; naturally,
the latter arrives first.
"Hey man," says Darkhorse, shaking Martin's gloved
hand in a blur of black and green. "Been a while."
"Y'know, it'd be cool if we could have a proper
"Well, maybe sometime." He nods to Fisk, who is
waiting to speak.
"Why not next week?" says Darkhorse.
"It's not really the kind of thing you can plan..."
"Well, yeah, but, like: we could go on patrol
together...? Next Wednesday, maybe?"
"I don't really do that," says Martin. Then,
smiling under his mask, he adds: "Not in the market
for a sidekick."
The speedster's exposed white muzzle twitches in
discomfort for approximately a hundredth of a
millisecond, but if Martin notices it, he doesn't say
anything, instead turning his attention to the ADA.
"I just want you to know that I disagree strongly
with the DA," says Fisk earnestly. "Furthermore, I
have no intention of actually trying any of them on an
SV charge. I'm figuring the threat alone will give us
a few witnesses before it becomes known that the wolf
has no teeth."
And it works: they get four bites right off the
bat, and one of them knows where all the vests are
Now, Martin's seen some weird things in his time,
but for the most part he's been able to deal with it,
amending his perception of the world to include
talking apes and invulnerable librarians and even
giant lovesick robots. It's only when there's an
extraordinary bit of weirdness going on (time travel,
alien invasions, the occasional war across space and
time for the fate of the universe itself) that he has
trouble accepting it.
So he is understandably less confident and
cool-headed when he finds out why they have been
unable to locate Snapp's Vibra-Jacket manufacturing
operation in Jolt City-- namely, that it does not
exist in this Jolt City or, for that matter, on this
earth, but rather in the Jolt City of a reality that
vibrates at a different frequency than our own
(meaning, much to Martin's chagrin, that he will
require Darkhorse's assistance in breaking safely
through the dimensional barrier), an earth dominated
not by homo sapiens, but rather helix pomatia: snails.
"It's the snails that are manufacturing the
floaters," says Foster. "They've been enslaved by
Snapp's men. He's overthrown the legitimate
government of the Snail-Earth. Extra-dimensional
warfare is a capital crime. If we can tie him to it,
he'll be in jail the rest of his natural life."
"We'll tie him to it," says Martin. He nods to
Darkhorse. The speedster grabs his arm and begins to
Martin expects to feel ill, but is pleasantly
surprised to find nothing of the sort. Soon, they're
whole again, and standing on what Martin presumes is
the Snail-Earth. This is confirmed by the squeaky,
nasal voices he hears at his feet.
"Viva la resistance!"
Martin looks down to see a small squadron of snails
with snail-sized machine guns mounted on their backs.
"Are they speaking French?" asks Darkhorse.
Martin's reply is lost under the sudden and
terrifying sound of gunfire. Bullets fly through the
air, tearing through flesh and smacking into bone. It
hurts, but since each bullet is slightly larger than a
grain of sand, Martin isn't particularly frightened.
It failed!, says one of the snails-- probably the
commander-- in French. Break out the tentacle
With uncanny speed, the snails lob grenades the
size of a fingernail at the two heroes. They have the
same effect as a Fourth of July party snapper.
Martin puts his hands on his waist. You know, he
says in slow but flowing French, you're really
starting to piss me off.
He speaks French!, says one of the snails.
"You speak French?" says Darkhorse.
"And several other languages," says Martin. All
part of his extensive sidekick training. At the time,
he rolled his eyes, but now he's happy Ray crammed it
all into his brain.
We come in peace, he says: we're friends. Enemies
of Samson Snapp and his men.
The snails converse among themselves, and Martin
distinctly hears the argument bandied about that none
of the other giants wore such outlandish clothing, and
so perhaps they can be trusted. Another favours
Martin's apparel because it resembles the colour of
Finally, the snails turn back to the two heroes.
Martin translates for Darkhorse: "They're going to
take us with them. They're going on a raid-- going to
try to free some of their brethren from the
"We're in," says Darkhorse.
Martin translates for the snails.
They nod grimly and begin the long and arduous
process of turning around.
Within ten minutes, they had progressed three
yards. A record, boasts one of the snails: we should
be there within a week. Take them completely by
As the snails begin to set up camp for the night,
Martin relays the projected arrival date to his fellow
"A week?" says Darkhorse. "You can't be serious."
"I admit that I thought it'd be best to play it by
their rules and just sorta help them out," says
Martin. (What he doesn't admit was how much he
enjoyed seeing the speedster bristle and squirm moving
at what was literally a snail's pace.) "Let it to be
their victory. But this is ridiculous."
"I could try to use concentrated bursts of speed to
vibrate their molecules in such a way that their
metabolism is artificially altered, allowing them to
produce locomotive mucus at a rate of approximately
ninety-five gallons an hour, greatly increasing their
rate of motion."
Martin blinks. "Are you insane? Do you have any
idea what you're talking about?"
"I majored in biology," Darkhorse harrumphs. "And
I've had my speed powers for a while. I think I have
some idea of how they work and what they're capable
"Your metabolism's fast?"
"You need to eat a lot of food, drink a lot of
"More than most people, yes."
"If snails produce ninety-five gallons of mucus an
hour," says Martin sharply, "how much water would they
need to ingest?"
"Oh. Hrmm. Didn't think of that."
"And how much water can fit in their tiny, tiny
bodies at one time?"
"Yeah, you have a point there."
"They'd dehydrate in a matter of minutes..."
"Okay, okay! But we can't wait a week!"
"Then I guess we'll have to do this ourselves,"
The general is suspicious: If you are, in fact,
working for Snapp, then we'd be completely at your
mercy. You could report our position and they'd be
upon us within minutes.
Martin concedes the point but counters that if they
were working for Snapp, they wouldn't need directions
to the Vibra-Jacket manufacturing facility.
The general nods, his round jaw set in grim
determination. Then, in chilling, faltering English:
"I warn you. You betray us, retribution will be swift
and most terrible."
Martin nods. The general pulls out his map.
Martin balances it on one fingertip. With his free
hand, he fishes out his magnifying glass from a pouch
in his belt.
The factory is gargantuan for this reality,
standing ten feet tall and stretching across a hundred
square feet. Martin surveys the scene from behind his
"Two guards at the front," says Martin. "What
we'll do, is..."
Before he can finish his sentence, Darkhorse has
returned with the unconscious bodies of the two
"We can slip on their uniforms and sneak in,"
suggests the speedster.
"With our masks?" says Martin.
"Hmm. Didn't think of that."
"Let's just sneak down. Quietly. Slowly."
"I hate that word."
Martin peers into the window. "A few men, heavily
armed. I'll cause a distraction. You evac the
snails-- but be careful, okay? They're just little
"And what? You'll take out Snapp's men? That's
what we did last time with the park shooter. This
time, you do the crowd control and I'll take care of
"I'm not fast enough to evacuate all the snails,"
"Well, I'm fast enough to do both."
"What? Wait, hold on..."
Darkhorse streaks in and, five seconds later, he
stands before Martin with two piles: one of safe (if
slightly confused) snails and one of unconscious
thugs. "Getting slow in my old age," he smirks.
"I'd say." It's not Martin who says it. Suddenly
a figure pulls out of Darkhorse's body, clothed in a
vibra-jacket and armed with a machine gun.
The butt of the gun collides with the speedster's
skull. He falls hard.
Martin realizes that if he moves fast enough, his
adversary won't have time to use his gun. He leaps
towards him-- and then through his vibrating atoms.
Martin lands in the dusty earth.
The loud ripple of gunfire announces its deadly
bullets. Martin rolls towards the attacker, narrowly
missing the arc of the bullets.
He grabs at the attacker's leg, but again finds
himself grasping air. The man darts off.
Martin reaches into his belt for the fail-safe gun.
More gunfire: Martin does a surprisingly elegant
and necessarily quick back flip, sequestering himself
safely behind a four-foot tall mansion.
Unfortunately, he drops the fail-safe in the middle of
Martin tries to reach for it, but the gunfire
proves a deterrent. He hears a sound like breaking
bone. The gunfire stops.
He pops his head out. The man rabbits as fast as
he can. Martin comes out from behind the rock. It
was not bone he heard breaking. It was the fail-safe.
He catches his breath, wondering how he's going to
capture an armed man without a way to neutralize the
It is at precisely that moment that his opponent
evaporates in a pint-sized mushroom cloud.
All our other weapons failed, explains the general:
We were reluctant to use the atomic bomb. But we had
no other choice against such giants.
"We are extremely grateful," trills the President
in her heavily-accented English. "We build life-size
statues in your honour."
"That's not really necessary," says Martin.
"But it is appreciated," says Darkhorse. "Need any
"No. This we do ourselves, though it takes a
hundred thousand generations. Your names will live
forever-- Green Knight and Dipshit."
Darkhorse stares at Martin. "Not cool, man. Not
Most of Snapp's men turn on him. There are
ledgers, fingerprints, and even surveillance tape, all
tying back to Snapp. Danielle makes the collar.
"Samson Snapp, you are under arrest for the
unlawful invasion and conquest of an entire planet."
Martin meets Dani in her office. "How'd it feel?"
"Felt good," she says. "Felt right. I've waited a
long time to do that. Wish you had been there."
"No, that wouldn't be right," says Martin.
"So it's over."
"So what about us?" says Dani. "You were given
permission to help me take down the city's biggest
drug-lord and now, at long last, we've done it. That
seems to end the Green Knight-Handler team. At least
"I heard along the grapevine you might get
promoted," says Martin. "Four-colour liaison for Jolt
"Yeah, maybe. But if I don't?"
"Probably some other position then," says Martin.
"You deserve it."
"But where does that leave us, then?" says Dani.
"Come on. Stop stalling."
He gets very quiet. "I don't know. Things are
"Why can't you trust me?" says Dani. "What can be
so terrible that you can't tell me who you are?"
"It's... it's more complicated than that..."
"Is there someone else?"
That's not the question he was hoping she'd ask.
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Maybe? How is it maybe? Either you're married,
or you're not, or you're seeing somebody, or you're
"Are we even seeing each other?"
"Well, there you go. We're maybe together."
"So, how many maybes do you have?" says Dani.
"Just be honest with me."
"Give me time," says Martin.
"Give me trust," she counters.
He nods, slowly. "I have to go pick up a new
fail-safe gun," he says. "Get back out there, grab
some more bad guys." He shrugs. "It's what I do."
And he does it over the course of the next two
weeks: stopping robberies, bringing in more floaters,
and occasionally battling the odd costumed nutter. He
spends most of his nights on patrol, sleeping a few
hours here-and-there in the Knight's Den.
He stops by to see Pam now and again, sometimes for
food, sometimes for sex, mostly for company. He
doesn't have a key or anything; if he did, it would
mean that he lives there, that he and Pam are an item,
a sure thing-- which means that he and Dani aren't.
Changing in the shadowed night of an alleyway, he
notices that his costume is ripped along the side.
"Shit. I hate sewing."
Pam's cooking when she buzzes him in. "Salmon,
rice, broccoli with cheese," she lists with a quick
peck on his cheek.
"I'm not a big fan of broccoli," says Martin.
"Good," says Pam with a nonchalant twist of her
spatula. "More for me then. You staying tonight, or
are you going to your secret hideout?"
"Probably the hideout," says Martin (emphasis on
the first word). "I, uh, got a rip in my costume."
"Don't look at me. I hate sewing."
"Yeah, me too."
"I'd like to see your hideout sometime. Probably
underground, right? Secret passages and high-tech
"It's not much," says Martin. "Small bed and a
chair, some supplies. Ugly little room. Have my own
"I'd still like to see it," says Pam.
"Well, maybe some other time. Not right now."
She doesn't press the issue. "Grab a couple
plates. Just about done."
Shortly after the meal, his bleeper goes off.
"It's Dani Handler."
"The cop," says Pam.
"Right. She's using the emergency code. Gotta be
Dani meets him in front of the police station; one
wing of it is completely destroyed. Smoke hangs thick
in the air.
"Evidence room," Dani explains. "Everything is
gone. Ledgers, video tape. Anything tying Snapp to
anything just blew up in our faces. Literally."
"We still have the witnesses."
Dani nods and looks him over. "Your costume's
"Yeah. I didn't have time to fix it yet."
"I can sew it for you tonight," she offers. "Here
"More bad news," says the ADA. "All the witnesses
are dead or unaccounted for."
"All of them?" says Martin. "But they were under
"In undisclosed locations," says Fisk. "Which
means we have a rat."
"No witnesses, no evidence. Where does that leave
"No case," says Fisk.
"Snapp's not going to go free," says Martin. "Not
if I can help it. Call up Darkhorse. We're going
back to Snail-Earth."
They land in front of the statues, which are
complete up to the ankles. "At least they got my name
right," say Darkhorse, in reference to the plaque
bearing his name.
"Yeah, sorry about that. C'mon. Let's go find the
But the President has changed. "You dealt with my
grandmother," says the current President of
Snail-Earth in perfect, polished English. "She passed
well over a week ago. She always spoke highly of
"I'm sorry about your loss," says Martin. "We're
looking for witnesses so that we can punish Snapp for
what he did to you and your people."
"We'll try to round up whoever's left," says the
President, at once hopeful and dismal. "When's the
"No way to tell. Could be months away. Or a year
"Months? But by then dozens of generations will
have passed. Anyone who was around back then would be
"How old was your grandmother," says Martin
delicately, "when she passed?"
"Two months," says the President proudly. "A
Martin and Dani in her office.
"All that work, for nothing. We're back to square
one, hero. No leads."
"There has to be something we've overlooked," says
Martin. "Some road we haven't tried yet. We can't
just let him go free!"
"There's nothing we can do," says Dani. "Thanks to
"We find the rat and lean on him, we could still
"Internal Affairs is coming up empty," says Dani.
"No one's talking."
"But if we catch them in the act, they'll have to
talk. If we can arrest someone with a vibra-jacket,
get them to testify against Snapp-- he'll send someone
to kill them, we catch the killer and they'll tell us
who told them where the witness was..."
"That's a dangerous plan," says Dani. "A lot of
"No, just one," says Martin. "If we can just find
the right bait. Someone who can take care of
themselves. A plant."
"Only if we were going after Snapp," says Martin
with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "But if we
say it's an internal affairs thing, that we're just
trying to catch the rat, and he just happens to tie
back to Snapp-- well, happy accident."
"We could ask Darkhorse," suggests Dani. "He'd be
safe from any floaters."
"No. Darkhorse doesn't know how to stick to a
plan. We need someone meticulous. We could always
ask Fay Tarif to whip up something to protect our
"I have an undercover guy," says Dani. "And he's
planted in Snapp's organization, so he knows enough to
appear credible. Not enough to get Snapp in jail, but
enough to make Snapp thinks he does. But he's too
young. He's just a kid. Even if we could guarantee
his safety ninety-nine percent, I still wouldn't like
"I'd go myself, but there's the whole secret
identity thing," says Martin. "Though there is
someone I could ask... someone who just might work..."
"Let me go find him," says Martin. "If he says no,
there's no reason to upset you."
A couple hours later, he makes the call. "He'll
meet you at the Quick and Easy down the street in ten
He hangs up and gets changed.
Quick and Easy.
"Nice to see you too, Officer Handler," says
Martin. "Sit down and try being less obvious."
"Sorry. It's just a bit of a shock."
"I'm a concerned citizen."
"People died because of you."
"All the more reason for me to be concerned."
Martin brings an onion ring to his lips. "I screwed
up, now I want to make up for it. Is it that hard to
"Okay. So how does this thing work?"
"Give me a number where you can be reached."
He gives her Pam's number.
"This your home phone?"
"Not exactly. Still kinda homeless. It's a
friend's number. But it's where I stay, mostly."
"Oh, this is gonna be lovely."
"Are you out of your mind, hero?"
The Green Knight crosses his arms across his
verdant chest. "He understands the risks and he wants
to help. Give him a chance. Get to know him."
"Can he be trusted?"
"I trust him."
"That'll do, then," says Dani. She sighs. "At
least he'll be a convincing scumbag."
Pam covers the phone with her palm. "Martin? It's
Danielle Handler. Does she know...?"
"No. It's something else. I'll explain in a sec."
He reaches for the phone. Pam hands it over.
"Mr. Rock? This is Danielle Handler. Can you meet
"Sure. Time and place?"
"JCU. The Kistler Building. Lab Four." Fay
Tarif's lab. "Eight a.m. sharp."
"Okay. See you there. Bye."
Martin explains the plan to Pam.
"Isn't that dangerous?"
"Pam, c'mon. I'm the Green Knight. I can handle
"I'm going to introduce you to Fatima Tarif," says
Danielle as she leads Martin towards Fay's office.
"She's got something which should protect you from
Snapp's men when they come to kill you."
"I'm all for that," says Martin.
"Afterwards, you're going to meet one of my
contacts within Snapp's organization. He'll tell you
all you need to know so that you can pass convincingly
as a stoolie."
"And when will all this be going down?" says
Martin. "When do you get to slap the cuffs on me?"
"When I feel you're ready," says Dani. "When I
feel I can trust you one hundred percent."
"You can trust me, Danielle," says Martin, careful
not to use the Green Knight's pet name for her.
She snorts. "I'll be the judge of that."
Fay looks Martin over like she's going to eat him.
Dani makes the introductions and Fay gets down to
"The fail-safe gun snaps floaters back to our
dimensional frequency. What I've done is I've found a
way to make its signal automatic-- it's always
broadcasting, always snapping the floaters back,
within a limited space-- a radius of about ten feet.
And it now takes the form of this small chip."
She holds it up for Dani and Martin.
"Looks too small to carry," says Martin.
"That's because you're not carrying it," says Fay.
"There's no way you'd be allowed to carry a
fail-safe gun with you once you're under arrest," says
Dani. "The chip has to be undetectable."
"So, what, I'm going to carry it in my mouth?"
"Under your skin," says Fay. "The only way we'll
be sure that it'll be missed in a cavity search.
We'll embed there surgically-- just a small cut-- just
like those electronic id-tags for pets."
"Is it going to be radioactive?"
"Probably not," says Fay.
"We'll get it removed as soon as the investigation
is over," assures Dani.
"I don't know," says Martin. "I don't like this at
"You said you wanted to help," says Dani. "And you
said you didn't want to die doing it."
"Okay," says Martin. "So when do we do this?"
"Now would be fine," says Fay. She smiles
lasciviously. "Now strip."
"Just the shirt," says Fay. "Spoil-sport."
It only takes about thirty-five minutes to imbed
the chip in the back of Martin's neck. "Relatively
painless," says Fay.
Martin pulls his shirt back on.
"My guy's ready for you," says Dani. "He'll meet
you at the park in a few minutes. Get going."
Martin's voice trembles a bit. "Which one?"
"You know the one," says Dani. "Call me
afterwards." She gives him a scrap of paper. "That's
the Green Knight's secure line to my office. It's
very important that you don't give it out to anyone."
"I won't," says Martin. "Ciao."
Martin notes that Dani is trusting him, if only
just a little. This feeling of slight elation is
mitigated, however, by his current destination.
He's able to spot the undercover guy soon enough.
"We meet again, Mr. Rock," says Derek. "I want to
thank you again for stopping the Crooked Man. You
saved my life."
Martin doesn't know how to respond to this, and so
he just nods.
Derek gets to work, telling Martin things he
already knows. Martin, for his part, pretends
"Well," says Derek, "that's about all I can tell
you. I want to wish you luck."
"Thanks," says Martin. "Uh, Mr. Mason?"
Derek smiles. "Derek."
"I was just wondering, did Handler choose the park,
or did you?"
"Ah. One more question?"
Derek exhales, nodding as he does so, a slow, sad
little jerk of his head. "This place changed my life.
It made me sure that I wanted to do this. Wanted to
make a difference. These children are dead. It
reminds me of why I want to help take Snapp down. I
like this place, even though it makes me sad."
"But Snapp had nothing to do with this," says
"Neither did you," says Derek. "You're a good man,
Mr. Rock. I know that. So do some others.
Including, apparently, the Green Knight. Not bad
company, that. As for this... it's hard to explain...
I guess what it comes down to is, if I had been in the
park that day, and I had gotten shot, what would
people say about me?
"I was a drug dealer. A bad son. Didn't make a
positive impact on anybody. I don't know how much
time I have on this earth, Mr. Rock. But I want it to
count. These lives were taken away before they had a
chance. So I got to live and work extra hard. Does
that make any sense?"
"Yeah," says Martin. He puts his hand on Derek's
The Green Knight meets Dani in her office.
"Just got off the phone with Fisk," says Danielle.
"He'll be expecting Martin the day after tomorrow.
I'll arrange to have an officer pick him up for
possession of a Vibra-Jacket. If you or I do it, it'd
be too high-profile. Might set off some alarms."
"So, what do you think?"
"I dunno. I still don't like him. But we don't
have much of a choice, do we?"
"Martin's not such a bad guy," says Martin. "When
you get to know him."
"Well, I'd rather not to get to know him," says
Dani. "He's a dangerous man to know."
"So am I," says Martin.
"You're different," says Dani. "You're trying to
do something with your life. Trying to make a
"And he's not?"
She doesn't answer.
He moves towards the window, and drops into the
He spends the night with Pam, but does not make
love to her. He's made up his mind: after they've
taken care of Snapp, he'll reveal his secret identity
to Dani. And then if she'll have him, he'll be hers.
Quick and painless. He can't let things keep going
the way they're going: it'll get too messy.
Dani hands Martin Rock the jacket. "Tomorrow
morning, eight thirty, wearing this jacket, come
running down DeWitt. You'll run right into a police
officer, and he'll take you in. Then what do you do?"
"I tell the police I can give them Snapp," says
Martin. "I meet with Fisk, to keep up appearances, in
case anyone else is watching. He'll set me up
somewhere secret, and we wait for guys to kill me.
Once they haven't killed me, you'll lean on them and
trace it up to the rat and hopefully to Snapp."
"And you're sure about this?"
"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"
"How about Pam? Does she know?"
"What do you know about Pam?"
"I do my job," says Dani. "I looked up the number
you gave me. Did some digging. And I know you and
Pam Bierce are an item. Did you tell her about the
"Can you trust her?"
"Yes," says Martin, and the answer comes quite
naturally. "Yes, I can."
"And she's okay with your picture being splashed
across the front page? Even if you're cleared
afterwards-- there's going to be some stink."
"There's some stink anyway," says Martin. "People
expect the worse of me. Which is why I'd be a good
"That much is true," says Dani. "Get a good
night's sleep, and don't screw it up tomorrow."
Martin lies in bed next to Pam. It's true what he
said. He does trust her, more than he does Dani. And
what's more, that trust came more readily. He has no
secrets from her.
Except, of course, for Dani.
The arrest goes off without a hitch. Once the
interrogation begins, Martin plays his role well: the
weasel everyone else expects him to be, desperate to
save his own neck, cocky to the point where it's not
just a fault but an irritant.
"I can give you Snapp," he says. "But what can you
"That's for the district attorney's office to
decide," says the interrogating officer.
Fisk keeps Martin waiting for half an hour for,
Martin supposes, verisimilitude. When he enters, he's
all suit and no smile.
"Make me an offer," says Martin, "and I'll tell you
what you want to know."
"Are you sure you don't want an attorney present?"
"Nope," says Martin.
"You are then waiving your right to an attorney?"
"Seems to be the case," says Martin. "Now come on
and stop stalling. Throw some numbers at me."
"Life," says Fisk.
"Life?" scoffs Martin. "I'm giving you Samson
Snapp on a platter and you want to give me life in
"You're not giving me Snapp," says Fisk. "You're
not a part of his organization. You have absolutely
no information on him."
"Well, let me tell you what I know," says Martin,
clumsily launching into a few factoids.
"You're lying," interrupts Fisk. "Just trying to
save your own skin."
"Hold on a second," says Martin. "Fun is fun, but
maybe there's some kind of misunderstanding. You're
right, I'm not really one of Snapp's men. I'm
undercover. This is a sting operation. You knew
"I know nothing," says Fisk.
And then it dawns on him. "...You! You're the
"I'm not going to dignify your accusation with a
response," says Fisk.
"Handler knows," says Martin. "And she'll take you
"Danielle Handler's not in any position to do
anything," says Fisk as he heads for the door.
"Danielle Handler is dead. Fay Tarif, too. Wonder if
you know anything about that..."
7. THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN!
The end of February. Jolt City. Martin Rock's bail
It doesn't go well. Fisk is charging him as a
supervillain and asks that bail be denied. Martin's
lawyer argues that he isn't a flight risk. Fisk
mentions a pending murder investigation, and subtly
hints at Martin's previous murder charge. Martin's
lawyer points out that the deceased wasn't dead.
In the end, the judge agrees with Fisk and remands
Martin to custody at Earbox.
Two guards grab him by the arms and escort him out
of the courthouse, to a waiting armoured car. Three
more guards sit in the back with him, their guns at
Wow, thinks Martin: I'm in some deep shit.
He looks at the three men and their guns, all of
them as alert and erect as ever, never wavering, never
blinking. He is handcuffed and chained to the cold,
hard bench upon which he sits. He raises his hands up
to his face, pretends to scratch his nose: in reality
he's checking the chain for tension.
It is unyielding. It'd take some serious filing.
He's not sure if a gunshot would break the chain, or
if it would ricochet. He doesn't want to risk
injuring or killing one of the guards.
He could knock the three guards out-- before they
had a chance to fire off a shot. He's fairly certain
he can do it with a few well-timed kicks. But then
he'd have, what-- a minute? forty seconds? -- before
the two guards in the front came round the back.
Forty seconds to break the chains and make a run for
He could try to knock out the two guards when they
came running-- he could try to be ready for them. But
what if they didn't come bounding into the car? What
if they just opened the door and opened fire? Dying
is not a viable option.
Earbox Super-Security Prison, thirty miles outside
of Jolt City: a state-of-the-art facility designed
specifically to house convicts (and persons awaiting
trial) determined to be super-criminals. One of a
dozen supervillain prisons across the United States,
its escape-proof designs were derived, ironically,
from the calculations of the hypnotic genocidal
computer virus, the Gorgon.
It's a study in cold, functional symmetry. There's
not a single architectural flourish, not even
something threatening or foreboding. The outside
walls are a mild gray-- not drab, but sterile:
mechanical. They don't appear to be made out of brick
or wood or even plates of steel. There are no seams,
no mortar, just one complete slick shiny whole.
Inside is more of the same.
They direct him to walk into a room. The door
closes behind him, and suddenly there's a wave of
light. When it clears, he is cold and naked. He
feels something crawling over his skin, and now,
something crawling inside him. Nanites. Checking for
weapons. The safest way to do a full body search when
the inmate can lift a bus with his pinkie or grow ten
feet in the blink of an eye.
But Martin's just a man, a man without any powers,
and this invasion makes him feel small and vulnerable.
After one of the longest minutes of his life, he
feels the nanites withdraw.
There's a beeping noise (the all-clear) and another
flash of light. It dissipates, and Martin finds
himself in a plain orange jumpsuit.
Good. They didn't find Dr. Fay's chip.
The door opens, and he's led by gunpoint down a
The prison has no cells or bars; each inmate has
their own alcove, buffeted by an invisible force
field. As Martin passes by them on his way to his
cell, he recognizes many, even without their costumes.
The Headman: able to detach his head from his body,
walking on tendons emanating from his neck.
Blues-Beard: the jazz musician who strangles his
victims in his living facial hair. Glassman: every
inch of him razor-sharp. Beefeater: an immortal
British soldier who's decided the Revolutionary War
isn't over yet. Rondo: can force someone to relive
the same horrific moment in time over and over again,
until he's driven you insane.
The Trojan: a mute autistic man trapped in an
indestructible teddy bear, driven by insane rage and
incredible strength, speaking only the language of
violence. The Gourmand: monstrously fat, his only
sustenance comes from the memories of others, leaving
his victims amnesiac and lobotomized. Micro-Dave: can
cook a man dead in twenty seconds, just because he
can. Cancer-Man: his living airborne virus can
overwhelm a body in six seconds flat, fill you up like
a balloon and kill you from the inside out, but he'll
prolong it for hours, weeks, months or years in order
to study the effects of suffering.
Doki-Doki: kills. No one knows why.
And just a few cells down the hall, Martin Rock: .
Martin's one of the few black persons being
interred in Earbox. While it's true that the nation's
prison population is predominately black, the
statistics are inverted for supercriminals, who are
mostly, and historically, white.
Martin figures it's because black criminals have
better things to do with their time than run around in
spandex hiding elaborate clues to their upcoming
crimes. White people. Feh.
At fourteen hundred hours the next day, Martin is
escorted to the cafeteria. There are only a couple
dozen inmates present, only one of which looks
terribly dangerous-- and that's only because the
brawny, bald-headed figure is someone Martin doesn't
recognize. (If you know what someone can do, than you
can figure out how to deal with it.) He grabs his
tray and looks around the room for the most
inconspicuous seat. That's when the brawny guy sidles
up next to him.
"Hello," he intones, a big deep British tuba of a
Martin nods deftly by way of greeting.
"You're new here. What's your name?"
"No, your rogue name."
"Don't have one." He starts to move away.
Martin tries to think of an answer. He takes a
split-second too long.
"Ah. That'd be why they put you in our lunch
"I thought this turn-out was a little light," says
"Well, some of the guys, like the Gourmand and the
Trojan, they have what'd you'd call special dietary
needs. The real psychopaths, the level twelve guys,
like the Crooked Man, don't get to leave their cells
at all. Other than that, they've got nine lunch
periods. They sort us-- I guess by power level or how
much of a threat we are, or something. If you ask me,
it's a bit lopsided. But it seems to work."
"No fights," says the tuba. "So however they
figure it, they set up a good mix of people."
"Well, like you know, I'm new here," says Martin.
"I'm awaiting trial. Falsely accused."
The tuba nods indulgently. "Uh-huh."
"I don't want to make any waves while I'm here,"
says Martin. "Is there anything I should be aware
"Yeah, as a matter of fact. New guy sits over
there." He points to an empty table.
"Thanks," says Martin. He extends his hand.
The convict shakes it. "I'm Joe Lutcher."
The name rings a bell, but it isn't until he's been
seated for a couple of minutes that he places a mask
to a face. Joe Lutcher, the Angry Young Man:
psychokinetically harnesses ambient negative emotions.
The more he devours, the stronger he becomes.
Martin whirls around towards where Joe had been
standing; but his view is blocked by a very angry
"I'm sorry," says Martin, not wanting to fight an
invulnerable immortal on an empty stomach. "Is this
Beefeater responds by tossing Martin on his ass.
His tray soon follows, the food splaying o'er the
"No," says a tiny, shrill voice. "It's mine. Ya
gonna make somethin' of it, buddy?"
Standing before him, in an impeccable pinstripe
suit, is a six-inch tall man in his fifties. Martin
recognizes him immediately as Pocket Vito, a Mafioso
he had put away last summer, in the guise of the Green
"It was my mistake," says Martin, still on the
floor. "It won't happen again."
"You bet your ass it won't," says Vito.
"Beefeater, I want to look this yutz in the eye."
Beefeater leans down, allowing Vito to climb on his
palm. He steps towards Martin.
"Not so fast," says Vito. "And hold it steady.
You want to give me motion sickness?"
Soon, Vito is face-to-face with Martin. "What's
"Nah, your other name."
"Don't got one."
"Then I'll give you one," says Vito. "How about
Monsieur Pussy-Nose? You like that one?"
"Not my first choice," says Martin.
"It's the only choice you got," says Vito. "What I
say is law around these parts. I'm the man that runs
this prison. The warden? He's scared of me. But...
come on, say it with me now. But... I'm only... what?
C'mon, Monsieur Pussy-Nose..."
"You're a little short," says Martin.
"Yeah, but I'm a lot smart," says Vito. "You don't
get to stay alive as long as I have and be as small as
I am without getting at least a little smart. So, if
you want to stay alive, Monsieur Pussy-Nose, get a
Martin thinks Vito spits on his nose, but he can't
"I'll be watching you," says Vito. Beefeater turns
and places his boss on the table; he then produces a
miniature table, plate, and napkin.
Martin scrambles to his feet and now catches sight
of the Angry Young Man, just as a couple of guards
lead him out of the room.
"Oh-oh," says another one of the criminals.
(Gallery: art historian turned art 'collector'. Uses
magic paint to bring things to life. One of
Darkhorse's.) "They must have figured out that he set
"Does he do this often?"
"When he thinks he can get away with it," says
Gallery. "He'll get punished. Solitary for a week or
"That's not so bad."
"It'll drive him nuts. He's a gregarious sort-- he
just doesn't like people to be happy, that's all."
At about nine-thirty, Martin lies in the dark on
his bunk and says, almost indiscernibly, "Wow. I'm in
And now that he had arrived, the question remained
as to what he was going to do.
Clear his name, for one. (This is one case he
wouldn't trust to blind justice.) Stay alive, for
another. Take down Fisk. Take down Snapp. Get back
to what counts. To protecting his city. Making a
But those words sound a bit hollow now, a little
empty and hopeless. How much good has he done? What
lasting difference has he made? There will always be
more villains to put away, more people to rescue, more
people to let down. Like Dani. Dani and Fay...
And as if on cue, he sees Dani's face in the dark,
troubled and afraid, as real and soft as a ripe plum
and as immaterial as the thump of a heart-- heard and
felt but abstract, almost invisible. Her face fades
Pam visits him the next day. She says she's met
with the lawyer already, and that he'll be coming
tomorrow to discuss the case.
"Thanks," says Martin, a little dazed: the trial
had, until this time, remained an abstract concept,
something known but not acknowledged, like the hum of
atoms. "Did you tell him anything?"
"He didn't seem to believe that Fisk was crooked,"
says Pam. "I think he might be trying to plead
insanity. He might say that you're paranoid, and that
your time in Iraq made it impossible to distinguish
right from wrong."
"That was fifteen years ago," says Martin.
"Didn't stop Nathan Willis."
Martin nods, tight-faced. "I need to know what
happened to Dani and Fay. Details. Evidence.
Estimated time of death. Anything."
"The police are keeping it under wraps," says Pam.
"Probably so they can frame me."
"But I'll see what I can do." She smiles. "You'll
be surprised at what a man's liable to tell a girl
with pretty knockers."
"I know," says Martin. "You didn't tell the
"No," says Pam, almost offended. She lets it
slide, though, easing her voice into a soft warm pat
of butter. "Your secret's safe with me, Martin. It
will always be safe with me. No matter what."
He considers apologizing but doesn't want to dwell
on it. "Thank you. For the lawyer. And for coming.
I want you to be careful, though. If Fisk suspects
you know anything, you could be in danger."
"I'll take care of myself, Martin. You just worry
about yourself right now. They're not exactly social
butterflies in there."
A week later. Martin's allowed recreational time
for good behaviour. Talking with Gallery the day
before over lunch, he decides to spend it at the
There's an old card catalogue; computers are not
allowed because of several electricity- and
machine-based prisoners. (Naturally and yet
ironically, the Last Librarian is the only inmate not
given access, since books are the source of his
Martin selects an old Talbot Porter novel (Poor
Little Dead Girl) with a smirk-- one of Ray's
favourite authors. Martin doesn't think that Ray
particularly liked the books all that much-- like
Martin, Ray was more of a non-fiction guy-- but rather
he liked Porter because he was sixty-feet tall,
banging out a crime or western novel every two weeks
on a custom-built giant typewriter in between
super-exploits as Rhodes, the Colossal Man.
He cracks open the first page en route to Gallery's
Jolt City's a hard town. But that's alright, baby:
I'm a hard man.
He closes the book, bemusedly, and takes a seat
across from Gallery. The super-criminal looks at
Martin's copy of Poor Little Dead Girl with a polite
but poorly-disguised sneer, peering over the top of
the fifteen-hundred page second volume (The Small Fast
Difference of the Bottling) of the eight volume roman
a clef (The Framework of the Flies) penned by Porter's
archnemesis in both the literary (as Gerard
Lamiegnere) and literal senses (as the Black Gardenia)
of the word. Martin taps the cover, almost
defensively. "May I?"
Gallery hands him the Lamiegnere; Martin hands him
the Porter and, carefully using his thumb to keep
Gallery's place, cracks open the first page:
Like a certain insect whom, after spending ten years
in infancy under the ground, burrowing blindly into
the black earth, feasting innocently on roots and saps
until such a time that metamorphosis occurs, upon
reaching adulthood flies and hunts and mates, only to
die within a scant few weeks, Mme. Amelia's childhood
was so dark and mundane that, when she too blossomed
into an adult form, she flew and hunted and loved--
especially loved-- with such energy and devotion that
she seemed determined to fold the rest of her life
into an insect's passionate few weeks, as if her time
on this earth was an exquisite and ornately-decorated
handkerchief to be stolen and squirreled away into the
breast pocket of a lover after a particularly furtive
and significant rendezvous.
"I'll just stick with the Porter," says Martin,
looking a little pale as he hands back the Lamiegnere.
"I'm a nonfiction reader, myself." It's not
Gallery, but rather a short and sweaty man with
wagon-red father-christmas-cheeks. Martin rolls his
eyes: introducing oneself by way of cryptic witticism
before anyone has seen you is a rhetorical crime both
sides of the four-colour spectrum-- heroes and
villains-- have been guilty of many, many times.
(Even the cosmic star-beings do it.)
"Martin, this is Whistler," says Gallery.
"Whistler, this is Martin."
Another of Darkhorse's villains: able to perfectly
reproduce any sound. Often works with Gallery and a
third man. If only Martin could remember the name...
"They got Jerry," says Whistler.
"The Chemist," says Gallery to Martin.
"Right," says Martin. "He's the one with the
Periodic Table of Evil?"
"That's the one," says Whistler. "They just
captured him the day before yesterday."
"Darkhorse?" says Gallery.
"Not this time," says Whistler. "Green Knight."
Martin nearly chokes on his tongue. Whistler
doesn't pay him any mind.
"That potzer?" says Gallery, disheartened. "He
doesn't even have any powers. Did you get to talk
"No, not yet," says Whistler. "But he just got in.
He, uh..." He glances sideways at Martin.
"He's cool," says Gallery.
Whistler clears his throat. "He's in the
infirmary. When the Knight found him, he was off his
rocker. Raving about..."
"I don't know what. Just raving."
"I got to see him," says Gallery. "Martin? Could
you do me a favour?"
It takes him a moment to register the question.
"Could you punch me in the face?"
"Um, I'd really rather not. Why?"
"So I can get into the infirmary and see the
"Why don't you have Whistler do it?"
"They know that Whistler's my friend," says
Gallery. "If he did it, they'd know something's up."
"Is something up?" says Martin. "Are you planning
"No. I just want to see Jerry."
"Yeah, I don't know," says Martin. "I mean, I'll
get in trouble, won't I?"
"Maybe a little," says Gallery. "We can make it
out so that you were right to do it, though. Maybe I
was threatening you or something. It could be
"Wouldn't that get you in trouble?"
Gallery clutches the hardcover in his hands like
it's his best friend. "I'd really like to see him, is
"Pam's supposed to visit me this afternoon," says
Martin. "She's coming all the way up from the city.
Why don't you wait until after that, then I'll punch
you in the face. If you can wait that long...?"
"Sure. You're a real pal, you know that?"
"When you punch me in the face, you'll have to
break the skin. But... uh, I haven't seen Jerry in a
while. And I want to make sure he'll still, y'know,
recognize me. So don't mess it up too bad, okay?
Leave me looking kinda the same. Unless you could do
it just over the eye, maybe like a long cut, like a
straight line, like a scar? That'd be cool."
"I don't really have knuckles that'll cut you in a
straight line," says Martin. "But let's talk about it
"Maybe by that time, you'll figure out a way to get
in to see him without getting punched in the face."
Pam smiles when she sees Martin, but he can tell
"I have to ask you a question before I tell you
anything," says Pam. "But I'm not sure how to phrase
it. And I feel kinda shitty just asking."
"I am who I say I am."
"I believe you," says Pam. "But something like
this guy pops up, you gotta check, you know? Okay.
So: Handler and Tarif. Here's the skinny.
"Apparently the Vibra-Jackets leave a trace when in
use that can be detected with the right doodads. Last
time anyone say Danielle Handler alive, she was
heading into her apartment. No one saw her come out.
Police found traces that match her blood type. (Still
waiting on the DNA test.) Amount of the trace
material is consistent with the witnesses Snapp had
murdered the night the evidence room blew up, which
strongly suggests-- but does not prove-- death. Same
case with Tarif, only it was at her lab at JCU.
"Difference between these two and the murders is
that with the murdered witnesses, there was a body.
The victims were vibrated to death, and then vibrated
back to our universe; in these two cases, though,
there's no body at all.
"No evidence tying you to the crimes. Hell, no
evidence that there was a crime. He'll have to drop
"Unless he can fabricate some evidence," says
"Why go through the trouble? He can put you away
for thirty years on possessing the Vibra-Jacket,
thanks to the SV charge. He'll probably save the
murder raps for some other sap."
"This just makes my head spin," says Martin.
"Especially with there being someone out there..."
"You want me to dig around, try to make contact?"
"No. Don't you dare."
"I can take care of--"
"No," says Martin. "You don't understand, Pam.
Whether someone's a hero or a villain-- there's a
code. Some follow the code more than others, but
there's one rule that's almost never, ever broken.
You don't pretend to be another mask.
"So whoever's out there is extremely dangerous.
Don't seek him out."
"Mr. Rock," says Pam. "I never knew you cared."
She touches the glass. He hesitates and returns the
gesture, cold flat polished sand a bad substitute for
soft yielding flesh.
Martin takes his lunch, as he has since the second
day on, with Gallery; Whistler, having a different
threat level, has a different lunch hour. Gallery
wonders if the Chemist will be classed with Whistler
"When was the last time you saw him?" asks Martin.
"December, when Whistler and I got nabbed by
Darkhorse. Jerry got away. Did you, uh, did you hear
about the Twelve Crimes of Christmas?"
"Which one? There've been so many." Martin stops
himself from rattling off a list, instead searching
for those that, conceivably, someone outside the
four-colour circle might have heard of. "Off the top
of my head, there were the twelve crimes that the DGA
pulled off in L.A. in '89, then there was the time
Tall Poppy did it, and they charged him with 364
"Okay, okay," says Gallery, a bit irritated. "So
everyone's done it. But we did it-- Whistler,
Chemist, and I-- last year. In Jolt City."
"I never heard about that. Why did you come to
"Because Darkhorse did," says Gallery. "Or this
Darkhorse, anyway. To be blunt, we kinda liked the
old one better. But now that he's gone, and there's
this one, this one's in Jolt City and so we came to
Jolt City. Themed crimes are always fun, Christmas
was coming up in a month or so, and so Jerry suggested
we do Twelve Crimes of Christmas."
"How far did you get?"
"Two. Sort of. We only pulled off the first one.
The partridge. And so rather than try to find a bird,
we kidnapped Danny Bonaduce."
"He was in Jolt City?"
"We tricked him into coming, and then we nabbed
him. We told him we were filmmakers and that we had a
role for him."
"So, he just came..."
"Well, we wrote a script and sent it to his agent."
"All that for the first crime?"
"You got to prepare," says Gallery, taken back.
"We had most of the crimes planned out. We were kind
of stuck on the ten lords a-leaping. And Jerry and I,
we weren't as keen as Paul was on the nine ladies
dancing or the eight maids a-milking."
"So what happened with the second one?"
"Two turtledoves. We were going to steal them from
a magic show-- because otherwise, who's going to miss
a couple of doves? So we set up a magic show-- rented
a theater, hired a magician, go through all the
trouble of promoting it-- and we leap on the stage to
steal the doves, and Darkhorse shows up. We don't
even get to commit the crime. So they got us on
"And the kidnapping," says Martin.
"No, Bonaduce wouldn't press any charges. I don't
know why. It's just the way he was."
"Hmmph. And that was the last time you saw the
"Right. Darkhorse shows up, and the first thing he
does is he knocks out Paul-- Whistler. So I use my
magic paint to draw up a deck of living playing cards,
real Alice-in-Wonderland stuff, and while he's
disarming the fifty-two cards--"
"You drew fifty-two cards?"
Gallery seems a little perturbed about being
interrupted. "No, I just drew a rectangle and a
squiggle on the back, and that was a deck and it came
to life itself. That's the way it works. Anyway,
while Darkhorse is dealing with that, we try to make
our escape. But I'm trying to carry Paul-- who's
unconscious, remember-- and that slows me down. Jerry
got away okay, but before I could get to the door,
Darkhorse is done with the cards and so, well, here we
"So you could draw anything, anything at all, and
it becomes what you drew?" says Martin.
"Yep," beams Gallery.
"Why didn't you just draw a trap door, or a force
field? Then Darkhorse wouldn't be able to stop you."
"Yeah, well, I didn't think of that. Nice idea,
"Sometimes the simple answer is best."
"Well, maybe I'll try it next time."
"You haven't gone to trial yet."
"No. I'm going to plead guilty to the attempted
theft, in exchange for them dropping the SV charge.
I'd still have a couple years here, but it sure beats
"You think they'll do that?"
"It's likely," says Gallery. "It wasn't a major
crime, no one got hurt, and all the ticket sales from
the magic show went to charity. Um. So, Martin."
"Lunch is getting to be almost over. Could you hit
"I dunno," says Martin. "I mean, we've been
sitting here talking for the entire time. People must
know that we get along. Wouldn't it raise eyebrows if
all-of-the-sudden I socked you in the face?"
"Yeah, but I really want to see Jerry. I got to
see him. Please. For me."
"Why don't you just say you have a stomach ache or
something? Just pretend to be sick."
Gallery turns white as a sheet. "I can't do that,
Martin! That's lying."
Lunch, the next day. Gallery and Martin are eating
when Joe Lutcher-- the Angry Young Man-- walks up to
"Just got out of solitary," he says.
"I'm sorry about that," says Martin.
"Why are you apologizing to him?" demands Gallery.
"He's the one that did it."
"He's right about that," says Joe.
"I'm just sorry you got put in solitary, that's
all," says Martin with a casual shrug.
"Thanks," says Joe. "We cool then?"
"No reason not to be," says Martin.
Joe pats Martin on the shoulder and starts towards
his regular table.
Gallery calls after him. "Hey, asshole!"
"What're you doing?" says Martin. "Be cool, man."
"Yeah, I'm talking to you, asshole," says Gallery.
"You think you're something special, don't you?
You're not. You're a scrap of excrement!"
Joe stops. "A scrap of excrement?"
Someone calls out: "I think he means a piece of
"I know what excrement means," says Joe, annoyed.
"I just never been called that before."
Martin stands up. "He's just having a bad couple
of days. Doesn't know what he's talking about."
"He knows what he's talking about," says Joe.
"Someone doesn't come out and call someone a scrap of
excrement in casual conversation and not know what
he's talking about. It's a deliberate act."
"Yeah," says Gallery, "and I meant every syllable."
"Just ignore him, please," says Martin. "Be a
bigger man than he is."
"I know I'm bigger," says Joe. "I'm twice his
size. He's just shooting his mouth off, just talking
trash. And I don't mind that. I've been called a
piece of shit hundreds of times in my life, and I
don't think much of it. But that's not what you
called me, Gallery.
"You called me a scrap of excrement, and that's a
whole 'nother matter. I can forgive a man who's
willing to insult a man on the level. But when you
put on airs-- when you whip out your highfalutin
extra-credit gold-star vocabulary words and you talk
down to someone-- that, you pusillanimous dollop of
odiferous shit-- that I will not brook."
He starts towards him.
Martin holds firm. "Stop," says Martin. "You'll
rip him in half. That's not even a fair fight."
"He's starting it," says Joe.
"And I'll finish it," says Martin.
"That a threat, or a promise?"
"You touch him," says Martin, "and I'll finish it."
"You're not much bigger than he is. And you don't
have any powers. I could probably rip you in half,
nice-and-easy. What makes you think differently?"
"I'm Martin Rock."
"You don't even have a code name."
"I don't need one," says Martin. "I'm the one that
beat the Crooked Man."
There's a murmur of recognition, and Martin thinks
he sees Joe flinch ever-so-slightly. For his part,
Martin remains hard and smooth as polished stone.
"Luck," says Joe.
"You want to try me?" says Martin.
"Not today," says Joe. He shoots a glance at
Gallery. "Not for Gallery, anyway. He ain't worth
He starts to turn away; Martin clandestinely
exhales. Two seconds later, there's something moving
over him-- Gallery, flying off the table towards the
Angry Young Man.
Joe turns, leading with his outstretched arm. He
swats Gallery away.
Gallery cracks the tile as he splays out on the
floor. Joe stalks towards him like a bull.
"Stop," says Martin.
"He's the one with the death wish," says Joe.
"Yeah, well, I'm morally opposed to assistant
suicide," quips Martin. "He came at you, you hit him,
he got what he had coming. He can't hurt you, you've
proven your point-- let's call it a day, huh?"
"Okay," says Joe. He throws up his hands and spits
on Gallery's twitching form.
"H-hey Joe...?" says Gallery, the words quivering
into the air like the last hesitant smoke-streams of a
dying campfire. "You're a piece of shit."
"Gallery, shut up!" says Martin.
But it's too late. Joe is already upon him,
stomping his big foot into Gallery's side.
Martin rushes to the rescue.
Joe turns and rushes back. Within seconds, he's
Martin's fingers hook into Joe's muscles and he
lifts him into the air like a ballerina, pivoting in
mid-Judo throw, sending him flying, back-first,
There's a sickening crack as the Angry Young Man
collides with the invulnerable, immovable immortal.
Bones break and he slumps to the floor.
One of the inmates-- Stopwatch, high-school track
coach turned super-crook (no powers, watch-and-time
gimmicks)-- enthusiastically announces that the battle
lasted all of nine point five seconds.
In just over twice that time, the guards are in the
room. They quickly put Martin in cuffs.
They bring in two stretchers-- one for the Angry
Young Man, the other for Gallery-- both on their way
to the infirmary. Gallery smiles through bloodied
They'll both be fine in due time, Gallery before
Joe. Martin's punished with solitary for a week; it
would be more, but it's a first offense and everyone
said he tried to stop the fight in the first place.
At supper, the guards pull out a small black box
and click it in front of the cell, emitting a
high-frequency sound that only the computer can
detect. The force field disappears. They slide his
meal in at gunpoint before restoring the field.
Martin eats, and he laughs inwardly. A week in
solitary? This is nothing, he thinks, nothing! In
between his stints as sidekick and hero, during that
long ten-year one-man war-on-crime, Martin would go
for months (months!) without speaking to anyone. And
then when he did, it was to intimidate, or to extract
information. He doesn't need warmth. Doesn't need
But the next day, around the time of his recreation
period, he finds himself missing Gallery. And Roy.
And Pam. And Ray. Even Anders. Fay. Dani. (Ree.)
And as he sets his lunch tray at the edge of his
bunk, he's overwhelmed at how much he's changed in the
span of a year. How much he needs people. How much
he hates being alone.
Pam comes to visit him a few days later, but she's
sent away; no visitors, not until after his stint is
over. In his loneliness that night he closes his eyes
and pretends that she's with him; in his neediness, he
summons up her eyes and her mouth and her breasts, her
beautiful dark round breasts, and suddenly it's not
Pam anymore but Dani, he opens his eyes and it's Dani
(soft coffee skin), her body twinkling in the dark and
made of stars, climbing onto him and guiding him
inside. With slow, sad thrusts he breaks her cosmic
hymen, and the stars bleed over his fist.
And she kisses him, and then she's gone.
And he's alone.
His solitary ends.
First thing they do is take him out to the exercise
yard. There's not as much separation between power
levels here, the way there is at lunchtime; there's
enough wide open space, guards, and machines to ensure
relative peace. The walls are six stories tall--
overkill for regular inmates but appropriate for
Between these walls and the building proper, energy
crackles over their heads, too blue and erratic to be
The other inmates see Martin, but they don't
acknowledge him with more than a slight nod: an act of
respect or a gesture of warning, depending on who's
doing the nodding. Even powerhouses like 133tmotif
and Glassman, or Lord Leviathan, whom has held entire
galaxies ransom and has no reason to fear Martin Rock,
all huddle uncharacteristically in the corner.
But now Beefeater is marching (neatly, briskly, in
a formation of one) towards him, his palm open not in
a gesture of friendship but because Pocket Vito sits
upon it like a five-fingered sedan.
"Hiya, Marty," says Vito, grinning so big that
Martin can see it. "I'm going for my walk. What say
you go with me?"
Beefeater snarls. "It was not a request."
"Then I guess I'll go."
"Smart boy," says Vito. "Beefy, hand me over to
Beefeater looks shocked. "But Vito-- I always take
you for your walk."
"So today you get to rest your lily-white
fingertips. Hand me over."
Beefeater does as he is told. Vito weighs about
the same as a small bird in Martin's hand. "Be
careful with him," Beefeater demands. He turns to his
boss. "You want me to follow behind?"
"I, I like taking you for your walk, sir."
"Just stay here in case somebody wants to throw an
idiot at you."
Beefeater bristles, but obeys. "Yes, sir."
Once they're out of earshot, Martin observes: "A
"But necessary," says Vito. "He was getting too
big for his britches. You took him down a much-needed
notch last week."
"I didn't mean anything by it. I needed to take
the guy out, that was the fastest way I could see to
"You think fast on your feet, kid. You pay
attention to your surroundings. You're resourceful."
Vito pauses, lets this sink in. "I like that. That's
how you survive."
Martin lets the compliment hang in the air for a
moment, then snatches it up with a mumbled and
"I like you, Marty. How about from now on, you sit
at my table?"
Martin knows he has to tread carefully. "Is there
more to it than that?"
"You'll become one of my boys. Take me for walks,
cut up my food..."
"I thought Beefeater did all that for you."
"You both will. And when you're outside-- when
your sentence is over--"
"Haven't gone to trial yet."
"You will," says Vito. "And you'll lose. Never
see a guy beat a SV charge yet. But keep your act
together, it's a minor offense, I'll pull some
strings-- you might get parole after eight or nine
years. Then you can run some errands for me, on the
"Yeah, 'ah'. Don't be a smartass."
"And if I say no? It wouldn't be in my best
"Something like that."
"I'll never understand that," says Martin. "What
do you gain from pressing people into service? Except
"I'm a man that gets what he wants from people,"
says Vito. "If I let people make up their own minds,
next thing you know people will think I'll be
reasonable. I'm not. I'm stone, baby. Immovable.
So you're going to be one of my boys, or else."
Martin laughs. "I could just squash you in my
palm. Right now. Easy."
"But you won't, and you know why?"
"Because I'm morally opposed to murder?"
"Pull the other one and it bleeds. You kill me,
and Beefeater will kill you. Nice and slow. Y'see,
Martin, that's my superpower: fear. So. Are you in,
or are you dead?"
Martin tries to think of an answer, but is saved by
the bizarre sight of Lord Leviathan, Glassman, and
133tmotif flying straight up towards the blue energy
"Holy shit," says Vito. "They're trying to escape.
That thing's gonna fry 'em!" He seems almost pleased
at the prospect.
"They're flying right through it," says Martin.
"They've got a force bubble."
"Won't be any good," says Vito. "The energy bolts
can think and adapt to any resistance. Won't take no
for an answer."
"They're almost through," says Martin. "133tmotif
must have encrypted his force-field."
It's at that moment that the force-field is
compromised. Electricity rips through 133tmotif's
body. He is cooked in mid-air, in a matter of
seconds. Ashes scatter below.
At the same time, Glassman falls six stories
straight down and shatters.
Leviathan passes through the blue energy field
unscathed, rising into the air.
A gunshot rings out. Bullet through the head. He
falls through the energy field and hits the ground a
Three dead in ten seconds.
The guard stands at the top of the building and
holds his shotgun up for all to see.
"No one escapes from Earbox," he bellows. "No
"He's right," says Vito as Martin passes the
pint-sized mobster back to Beefeater. "No one ever
escapes from a supervillain prison. Only chance is in
transit-- on the way to trial or on bail. And let's
face it-- resourceful as you might be, you don't have
a chance against the kind of firepower they'll have on
"This is your life from now on, Martin Rock. Get
used to it. And make sure you're on the right side."
"I'll get back to you," says Martin.
He starts to walk off, still a little queasy from
the smell of rotting, burning flesh, when one of the
guards calls him aside. "Rock, you have a visitor!"
It's not Pam.
Martin regards the green costumed figure coolly
before pronouncing sentence. "You're shorter than I
The mask-- the old Ray mask, doesn't betray a
single inch of a human face-- stares back at him.
"Meeting heroes is often disappointing." Young voice,
trying much too hard to disguise it: a common mistake
for first-timers. (On the other hand, Martin can't
place the voice, so he's doing something right.)
"So, to what do I owe the pleasure?" says Martin.
"First of all, I want you to know that Pam and Roy
are safe. I'm keeping an eye on them for you. From
"Stay away from them," says Martin.
"Look, man, I'm doing you a favour, keeping up
"You know," he answers slowly. "You know what I
know. About you. About me. You know what I'm
"Maybe I do," says Martin, scratching the left side
of his neck with his right hand.
"So let's not do this, Mr. Rock, this dancing
around things. Time's too short. Let's talk, okay?"
"Well, I don't have anything to say to you," says
Martin. "So I assume that you have something to say
"Fay Tarif is still alive," says the Knight. "She
had a vest. Vibrated herself to safety just as
Snapp's men tried to scatter her atoms. She's hiding
out, helping me."
"Helping you what?"
"There's something big going down. Something
bigger than Snapp, though I think he's a part of it.
We're talking global. Maybe universal. I'm not sure
yet. There's so many pieces, it's hard to put them
"But I could put them together," says Martin. "Is
that why you're here? Get me to be your own personal
"For someone who wants to be part of the community,
you're not very giving."
"I don't feel like part of the community right
now," says Martin. "Being framed does that to a man.
I don't suppose Fay's going to come forward and vouch
"As long as Fisk thinks she's dead and as long as
he thinks you're rotting here, then you're safe," says
the Knight. "Otherwise, both you and Fay are in
"So, what, then? I stay here indefinitely?"
"No. We're going to bust you out. Saturday." He
shrugs. "Haven't quite figured out how yet."
"It'll be messy," says Martin. "A lot of escaped
supervillains. That's not good. Not good at all.
"So you'd rather stay here, then?"
"Any better suggestions?"
"I'll bust myself out," says Martin.
"Haven't quite figured that out yet. You can
arrange a getaway car?"
"Sure," says the Green Knight. "There's...
something else I have to tell you. I already told you
that Fay's alive."
"Danielle might be, too."
"At least that's what Fay thinks. We're not sure.
With the witnesses they killed, the bodies snapped
back to our reality at death. But Handler's never
did. She-- Fay thinks it might have something to do
with you. That she's trapped between worlds, and that
the implant in your neck-- the grounding device--
might be calling her to you. Her essence. Like a
"Like she's made of stars," says Martin. "Dani's
"That's another reason why we have to get you out
of here. She can't survive in that state for long.
You need to get to her apartment-- Fay thinks you
might be able to call her back. That's... that's if
she's right, of course. She told me not to get your
"How much does she know?"
"Your secret is safe with me, Martin," says the
Green Knight. "But she said she could tell by the way
you looked at Danielle that you carried a torch for
"Maybe I do," says Martin. "Saturday. Midnight.
You'll get some transport, make preparations?"
"You can count on it."
"So, who are you, anyway? Why are you doing all
Martin can see a smile crease its way under the
mask. "I'm a friend," he says portentously. "See you
That night, blanketed by the dark sweat of his
cell, Martin closes his eyes until he feels her next
to him, glittering and translucent. He opens them and
Dani starts to dim a little.
"So," she whispers softly, haltingly: "you're my
"I think so. It's so strange..."
"So you were here, a few nights ago. It wasn't
just my dream."
"It hurt a little, that first time," she says. "I
knew it would. But maybe it would have hurt more if I
was all there."
"I don't know," says Martin. His arms jitter like
wooden planks loose in the wind as he reaches in to
embrace her. She starts to scatter, like dust.
Martin lets out a sharp cry of no! and, sobbing,
grabs at the scattering balls of Dani-light, jamming
them back together, trying to hold them in place.
It doesn't work; she scatters again, moving through
him and around him and starting to fade.
"So," she says. "Martin Rock is the man I love."
"I see why you didn't want to tell me."
"I wanted to. Please. Don't go..."
"It's hard to hold myself together," says Dani, and
then there's none of her left at all.
But she's still alive. Martin knows she's still
alive. Somewhere. Somehow.
But for how long?
He dreams of Anders-as-the-Green-Knight, and upon
awakening realizes that it makes a stunning kind of
sense: he knows Martin's secrets, he's the son of the
first, he has the money and the technology. And while
he was never buddy-buddy with Martin, at the same
time, he's been making attempts to right the
situation, the most recent of which being that
job-offer that Martin, out of equal parts pride and
skepticism, never followed up on.
But Anders-- sickly, cold, intellectual Anders--
doesn't have what it takes to jump on rooftops. And,
furthermore, he's never had any interest in it:
doubly-so after his ordeal in the clutches of Melvin
Tightly, the Green Night.
He dismisses it and goes back to sleep.
He wakes with a start. The Beefeater is in his
cell, walking towards him.
Martin doesn't have time to wonder how this
happened; he's immediately on the receiving end of an
invulnerable fist. He blocks it with his arm. It
hurts, but it could be worse: could be his face.
Beefeater's driving his other first down, and
that's Martin's cue to roll off his cot. The hard
metal bed breaks under the immortal's fist.
Martin scurries to his feet just in time to be
slapped and sent flying against the side of the cell.
He turns his body in mid-air-- an impressive feat for
his age and current level of practice-- so that his
feet hit the wall first. With a nice solid kick he
propels himself off the wall and towards the ceiling.
He sails down, shifting his weight so he can land
on the other side of Beefeater. But before he can
even get overhead of his opponent, he slams into
something harder than the wall, bouncing towards the
back of his cell. He falls straight down on his back.
Beefeater brings his two massive fists down towards
Martin. Martin scoots out. The unstoppable knuckles
grind into Martin's ankle like it's sand-- soft and
There are tears in the Beefeater's eyes, and he's
muttering-- you made me do it, I didn't want to, you
made me, I was so happy before you-- but Martin
doesn't allow that to distract him. He withdraws his
ankle and, wincing, wedges himself in the back corner
farthest from the Beefeater.
It won't do any good, but it puts enough distance
between them for a long enough period of time-- about
four seconds. Which is four seconds more that
Martin's alive, and four seconds more to figure out
what the hell is going on.
And just like that, with two and a half seconds
left, it dawns on him: the Beefeater isn't in his
cell. The force-field is still functional. Beefeater
is an immovable object (or, in this case, an
irresistible force); the force-field's moving around
him, twisting, refusing to break. Martin can't see
it, but he can feel its shape, its contours.
And now he has a plan. First, in case the plan
fails, he hollers for help, help, Beefeater's in my
This enrages Beefeater all-the-more, and he rushes
at Martin. Martin steps to the side, leading
Beefeater to throw a left cross, pivoting in
mid-punch. Martin lands with his back against the
force-field, finding himself wedged in a space between
Beefeater and the field.
He scurries up and out, landing behind him.
Beefeater pivots again, flailing wildly.
With a speed and agility that belies his age,
Martin leaps over the Beefeater again, landing in the
wedged-spot he occupied before. Beefeater twists
around again, the force-field contorting and tying
And he begins punching.
Blows connect with Martin's stomach and face and
arms. He tries to block them, but he's trapped. He
has no choice but to take the punishment.
But Beefeater's trapped too. The field twisted
around him, he has no fresh oxygen. Within about
twenty seconds, he gasps for breath and falls limp.
His tremendous willpower no longer a factor, the
force-field snaps back to shape, flinging the
unconscious Beefeater out into the corridor. He lands
against the force-field of the shield opposite, which
rubber-bands for a moment before pathetically spitting
him to the floor.
Martin, for his part, bleeding freely from the many
bruises on his face, slumps to the floor.
He awakens in the infirmary. In the bed next to
him, he's pleasantly surprised to find Gallery.
"Been awhile," mumbles Martin. His jaw hurts when
"Boy," says Gallery. "Will you look at me? Not a
scratch, right? I'm good as new and you're-- well,
you've been better."
Martin stretches his tense, aching muscles. "I've
been a lot worse, too." And he has: broken bones,
bruises, sprains, aches, pains, migraines and mild
stiffness all being symptoms of his chosen vocation.
"They said you'd be okay. Back in your cell
tomorrow, or the day after. Do you know what happened
to you?" Gallery doesn't ask the question because he
doesn't know the answer; at least half the question is
leading-rhetorical in nature (the other half being
concern for Martin and a general gauge of his
"Beefeater happened," says Martin. "Though I'm
kinda hazy as to why. I knew he was sore, but I
thought Vito kept him in line."
"He killed Vito," says Gallery. "Suffocated him.
In his pocket. Real slow."
Martin's shocked. "He seemed so... loyal."
"Well, Vito didn't return his-- uh, loyalty. Vito
never felt the same way Adrian-- Beefeater-- did. And
when Vito set his sights on you as his new muscle,
Beefeater just went nuts. He was too cocky. He
should have realized that no one was scared of him,
that everyone was scared of Beefeater."
"How'd he get out of his cell?"
"He was never in it," says Gallery. "He just
stepped backwards into his cell when no one was
looking, and the force-field bent around him. Guards
see him standing in the middle of his cell, the
computer says the field's in place, still picking up
the sonic signal, and so they just figured that a
different guard put him in and flicked it on. He
stood there in one place, struggling against the
field, for hours. Come midnight, he stepped out and
stalked over to your cell. You know the rest."
"Where is he now?"
"Back in his cell," says Gallery. "On the right
side of the force-field now. They have machines in
the corner of the room that will suck the air out if
he tries to tamper with them or the field. No matter
how tough he is, he still has to breathe."
"That much I know. So, how've you been? How was
"Didn't get to see him," says Gallery wistfully.
"I was out cold when they took me in here. I guess he
was still ranting and raving, but as soon as they set
me near him, he started to ooze out my magic paint,
subconsciously. Obviously they didn't want me using
"They moved Jerry to his cell. Still oozing out
the paint, but no one but me can use it, so it can't
do any harm. We won't get the same lunch hour. Too
much of a risk. And I hear they're going to boost you
up a threat level, too. So you'll have a different
"I'll be eating alone."
"Hey, I'll still see you at the library," says
"But I won't get to see Jerry at all," says
Gallery. "I like your company and all, but it's Jerry
I want to see. And. And I'm just going to be here,
for years, and he'll be there, for years, and I won't
get to see him.
"And he has to be scared, Martin. I don't know
what's going on in his head, but it can't be good. He
needs someone. Needs me. And I need him. And I
can't. Now I can't.
"It's not fair, y'know? It's just not fair."
"Yeah," says Martin-- slowly, awkwardly. It's a
poor salve for tears. He tries it again anyway,
hoping it'll have incantatory power. "Yeah."
No luck. "Hey," he says. "This place sucks, huh?"
"It does," says Gallery.
"So I was figuring," says Martin, "maybe the four
of us-- me, you, Whistler, Jerry-- maybe we should
"That'd be nice," says Gallery. The laugh goes a
long way towards drying up his eyes.
"So let's do it," says Martin.
"Yeah. I got somewhere to be on Saturday. Why
"It's impossible, for one. Dangerous, for another.
You did hear about Glassman and the others?"
"I was there."
"And that doesn't-- that doesn't deter you?"
"We'll do better," offers Martin with a shrug.
"I'm working on it," says Martin. "But I think I
almost got it."
The next afternoon, the library. Gallery and Whistler
listen to Martin skeptically, but with interest.
"Now, Gallery-- you can do anything you want with
that paint. You could paint a line, a line that means
nothing to me, but if you think that's a laser, than
it's a laser. You're the most powerful of all with
that paint, because the only restraint your power has
is what you can think up.
"So you could paint a force-bubble to float us past
the blue field."
"It would eat through it," says Whistler. "It
always finds a way, finds a weakness. It evolves,
"But it's not stronger than the human imagination,"
says Martin. "If you say that this stroke of paint
can't ever be compromised by the blue field, that
means it will never be compromised."
"You really think I could do that?" says Gallery.
"Sure. You can get it to do whatever you want it
to do. Hell, you could paint a circle and call it
world peace, and it'd probably be world peace. You
can express anything-- even an abstract, an idea. It
doesn't have to be tangible.
"All you need is the paint. And for that, you need
"And we can't get near him," says Whistler.
"Well, that's where you come in," says Martin.
"You can duplicate any sound, right?"
"Even a dog whistle, even a sound that the human
ear can't pick up, that you've only heard
"I've done it before."
"And the cells, their force-fields, they're
activated and deactivated by... well, you see where
I'm going with this, don't you?"
"Sure, sure," says Whistler, suddenly a bit more
excited. "I can't believe I didn't think of it
before. I emit the sound the computer's expecting,
and that pops open my cell. I spring the Chemist..."
"You open the cell; the Chemist secretes the paint;
Gallery gets us out of here. Simple and clean.
"Well, what do you do?" says Whistler.
"He thought up the plan," says Gallery, a bit
agitated. "My eyes are open, Martin-- I'm seeing
possibilities I never considered."
"So," says Whistler, "when do we do this, then?"
"Saturday," says Martin. "Midnight. And let's not
get smart and experiment before then, Whistler-- we
don't want to tip them off. Gotta catch them with
their pants down."
"Why wait so long, though?"
"Because that's when I arranged to have transport
ready. And, hey, four days isn't that long."
"I just figured you'd want to get out as soon as
possible. With your skin intact."
"Last I heard, they had Beefeater taken care of,"
says Martin. "I'm in no danger."
"Not from Beefeater," says Whistler. "But he has
friends. So does Joe Lutcher. Powerful friends who
don't like you. Any number of 'em would be more than
happy to stuff you in a body-bag, Rock."
"Don't worry about me," says Martin. "I can take
care of myself."
On Wednesday, Martin does some laps around the
exercise yard. As the other inmates file in at the
end of the recreation period, he lingers and dawdles.
He's the last one in the shower; he waits until he's
alone before undressing completely.
He showers quickly and efficiently, hoping to get
dressed and start back towards his cell before anyone
tries to cause any trouble. A familiar and sickening
chorus of caws dashes these hopes.
Raven Man-- a hive-mind being taking the general
shape of a man, comprised of several dozen ravens,
their wings flapping furiously.
And with him, his long-time partner-in-crime, Mr.
Matryoshka-- containing within himself four
duplicates, each smaller than and nesting within its
predecessor. Both of them naked, both of them
Martin stands, facing front, water and soap
dripping off his body, his fists clenched.
"All alone?" says Mr. Matryoshka. "No Beefeater to
throw us against, no refrigerators to trap us in, no
force-fields to suffocate us. Nothing. You don't
stand a chance, Citizen Rock."
"Never more," says Raven Man.
Martin does not flinch. He does not try to cover
his nakedness or his vulnerability. He does not step
backwards, even as they continue to advance.
"Aren't you going to run, little man?"
He doesn't answer.
Mr. Matryoshka laughs. "You trying to scare us?"
They step closer. He holds his ground. The water
has long since turned cold.
But he refuses to shiver. He does not twitch.
He simply holds himself still, and stares at them,
cold and long and hard.
He studies them, notices that they're moving a
Mr. Matryoshka laughs again, but it's less hearty.
Raven Man doesn't join in this time.
They move a little slower, and a little slower
still. They don't return his steely gaze, instead
glancing around, looking for some secret lurking
defender. Finding none, and thus emboldened, they
start to move towards him, faster.
Martin moves his left foot forwards.
Both villains stop cold. They exchange the
briefest of looks before quickly back-pedaling.
Martin's alone again. He turns off the water,
dries himself off, and gets dressed.
As he's being escorted back to his cell after
lunch, he becomes conscious of the seldom-heard but
unmistakable sound of the guard hitting the floor. He
turns around to find the cause.
The Crooked Man.
"Martin Rock," he snarls, as if to promise him that
he's here to do him harm. He follows this up by
propelling a distorted fist forward.
Martin jumps out of the way as quickly as he can.
"No refrigerators," says the Crooked Man. "No
desks to hide behind." He swipes his hand from one
side of the narrow corridor to another; Martin falls
onto his belly in order to dodge it.
The Crooked Man brings both fists down hard.
Martin has already rolled away from him.
Now the Crooked Man is running towards him.
And Martin knows that he's right; there's nothing
nearby he can use as either offense or defense. The
guard's gun is useless; the bullets will just bounce
off him, make him stronger. He needs to take him out,
and he needs to do it fast.
The Crooked Man is almost upon him. Martin runs
towards him and leaps into the air, using his jagged
arms as stair steps, clearing the Crooked Man's head
and landing on the other side of him.
The Crooked Man pivots, his arms turning before he
does. Martin dashes and slides under the Crooked
Man's legs. His enemy reaches his arms under the
bridge created by those rickety legs.
Martin leaps to one side; the Crooked Man's arms
follow, still wrapped underneath his legs. Know your
opponent. Use him. Use him against himself.
Martin bounces off the wall and leaps to the other
side; the arms follow.
He lands behind the Crooked Man again, and before
the fiend can turn around, he leaps and kicks him in
the back with both feet. A blow that would break a
normal man's back, but in this case simply causes (1)
further distortion, and (2), loss of balance.
The Crooked Man splays out, his arms tangled all
around him, landing on his belly. Martin leaps on top
of him. Before his opponent can untangle himself and
get back up on his feet, Martin grabs him by his
jagged greasy black hair.
He slams his face into the floor. It makes a hard
and sickening thud as his face warps on impact.
Martin slams it again, and again. Each thud followed
by another like a staccato symphony for percussion and
Blood squirts from the Crooked Man's nose, and his
breathing gets shallow. Martin feels the struggling
limbs go limp. He releases the misshapen head; it
falls with a final thud. He feels for a pulse, making
sure his enemy is still alive.
Satisfied, he turns his attention to the
unconscious guard. He, too, is still alive. He has a
pulse but is not breathing. Martin begins CPR
With a few rescue breaths, the guard comes to.
Martin helps him up to a sitting position and then
reaches for the guard's fallen gun.
"Here," he says, handing it back to him. "Point it
at me and call for back-up before the Crooked Man
That evening, ten armed guards come to Martin's
"You're being moved," says one of them tersely.
"You've been reclassified," says the guard. "Level
"I didn't know there was a level thirteen," says
"You're it," says the guard. "The most dangerous
man in Earbox." He spits out of the side of his mouth
to show he isn't impressed. "Hands on your head."
They turn off the force-field and lead him out. He
passes by Doki-Doki's cell, and glares at him.
Doki-Doki steps back in fear.
His new cell is surprisingly like his last; the
only difference being that there's no other prisoners
on this floor, and that the security measures are the
strictest in all of Earbox.
He's told that from now on, he will receive his
meals in the cell. He won't be given access to the
library, the gym, or the exercise yard. "Showers"
will be administered in his cell, and they will
consist of dirt, grime, and sweat-extracting nanites.
He will receive no visitors at any time, for the
safety of those visitors. On the bright side, he's
told, his case goes before the grand jury in four
He tries to protest, and demands to know "how the
Crooked Man got out of his cell anyway"; but the
superintendent won't be back until Monday, and you can
take it up with him at that time.
This, he decides, puts a bit of a damper on
tomorrow's escape attempt.
He wonders if this means, then, that Gallery and
the others will still try to escape without him. If
so, what then? How does he get out of here?
He can't come up with any answers at this stage in
the game. One look at the lasers and gadgets lining
this lonely corridor, and his head starts to spin.
But, surprisingly, it doesn't bother him all that
much. He trusts Gallery, not because Gallery has
exactly earned that trust, but because Martin finds he
has no other option but to trust him.
Maybe he'll come through; Martin hopes so. Maybe
he won't. Either way, there was nothing Martin could
do at this juncture. And for once, this realization--
the kind of thing that would drive him mad for hours
on end and deprive him of sleep-- for once it makes
him drowsy and calm.
It feels good. To trust. To depend on other
people. "I'm not alone anymore," he says.
His voice echoes around his cell, and the long,
empty corridor, until it fades in the bitter dark.
"Dani. Is this a dream?"
"I dunno. Everything feels like a dream. You're
coming to get me, right?"
"I think so."
"Do you love me, Martin?"
The question hangs in the air. Some time passes,
and Martin realizes that he's alone. He wonders if he
awoke from a dream, or if it was real; he wonders if a
moment has passed or an hour; he wonders if he
answered the question or not, and if he did, he
wonders what his answer was.
Soon, he is asleep.
Saturday passes and a strange peace washes over
him, stranger and calmer than that that seized him
last night. And then, midnight comes.
And with it, the sounds of struggle, getting
louder, working their way down the dark corridor.
Until he can see them: Gallery, Whistler, and the
Chemist. The latter is shaking in Gallery's arms,
magic paint streaming from his skin.
"Gotta stop 'em," he says, shuddering. "So big and
so big, so big, gonna get us, gotta stop 'em, gotta
stop 'em dead or else we'll be dead. I don't wanna
die," he says, this especially directed to Gallery.
"You won't," says Gallery. "Come on, Paul. Before
they catch up with us."
"We'd be gone already," says Whistler, locking eyes
with Martin. "If we didn't have to spring Earbox's
most dangerous man." He purses his lips and blows.
No sound comes out-- at least no sound that Martin can
discern. But the computer hears it and the
force-field blitzes off.
Gallery quickly paints a force-bubble around them.
"This will hold," he says.
"Let's hope so," says Whistler bitterly.
"It will hold, because I say it will," says
Gallery. "This isn't just some bubble, but one that
can never be cracked by the blue lightning. It can
break through the walls, and it's bullet-proof, and it
can fly. So let's fly."
The bubble rises into the air, quicker than Martin
was expecting. The steel ceiling crumbles around
them, crashing down into his cell.
They're airborne, and the night is clear and clean
and oh-so-black. Gunfire ricochets off the bubble.
Chemist freaks out. Gallery clutches him tight.
"It'll be okay, Jerry. Almost there..."
"They're probably calling in some heroes," says
Whistler. "We should have moved faster. Chemist was
lagging on us. You practically had to drag him up to
"I wasn't going to leave him," says Gallery. The
bubble's passing through the blue lightning now.
"Either of them. They're both my friends."
"I wasn't saying that," says Whistler. "I'm just
saying, this is too close for my blood."
The bubble clears the lightning, and the wall.
"That must be the car," says Martin, pointing to an
old station wagon.
Gallery brings the bubble down. Martin stares at
"What?" says Whistler.
"I know how the Crooked Man got out of his cell,"
says Martin. "And you know how he got in the
infirmary. Don't cross me. Ever. Again.
The bubble touches ground about twenty feet from
the car and disappears.
"I'm scared," says Chemist.
"It'll be okay," says Gallery.
Two seconds later, both of them are unconscious and
on the ground. Martin perceives a shadow moving in
Whistler hits the ground, and then something hits
Martin in the chin.
He flies backwards some fifteen or twenty yards,
landing in the wet grass. He looks up at the
black-garbed figure that clears the distance between
them in what is literally the blink of an eye.
"You better throw in the towel," he warns.
"Because now there's a Darkhorse in the running."
8. MYSTERY OF THE TWO GREEN KNIGHTS!
Darkhorse follows up his first punch with another,
sending Martin flying through the air again. He
lands, several yards and a split-second later, in the
His entire face hurts, not to mention the rest of
him. He's not sure how many more of Darkhorse's
punches he can take. As Darkhorse instantaneously
closes the small gap between them, lifting him into
the air with one deft hand and socking him with its
sleek black twin, the answer pops into his head: at
least one more.
Martin hits the ground again, the breath expelled
from his body with a forcible thwomp. The station
wagon-- presumably the get-away car the other Green
Knight has arranged for him-- gets farther away with
each punch. Not that the car would have any chance
against the speedster anyway.
But neither does Martin. Darkhorse should be able
to knock him out with a single punch, the same as he
did with the others. Without having the question
asked of him, Darkhorse answers it as he hoists Martin
up again, drawing back his fist:
"The other guys got off easy. They never killed
anyone." His eyes glint menacingly in the moonlight.
"And Danielle Handler was a friend of mine."
He sends his fist forward. Martin flies through
the air, but this time, at least, he's prepared:
throwing his head further back, he manages to roll the
blow into a midair somersault. He lands on his feet,
the lace-less prison shoes digging into the wet mud, a
few paltry feet from the speedster.
This defiance seems only to increase Darkhorse's
anger. He rushes towards Martin.
Martin drops to the ground, hugging the mud.
Darkhorse immediately sets his molecules vibrating,
and immediately they snap back to reality. He trips
over Martin, flailing in the mud at super speed.
It'll be a few seconds before he can right himself.
A precious few seconds that Martin's going to use.
He springs to his feet and breaks into a sprint.
Darkhorse is already back on his feet. There's no way
he's going to outrun a speedster.
Sure enough, he feels a fist dig into his back.
It's like a piston, striking hard and fast. Even as
his back curls in on itself in excruciating spasms,
Martin is propelled forward. He falls on his face,
right next to the car, on the passenger side.
The door opens. "Climb in." It's Fay.
Martin nods and climbs into the passenger seat,
closing the door.
Darkhorse will be upon them in a matter of seconds.
His molecules shudder as he pours on the speed,
intent, no doubt, on vibrating safely into the car and
out again, with Martin in tow. Martin smiles as those
shimmering molecules, unbeknownst to the speedster
himself, snap back to finite muscle and sinew.
"Brace yourself," says Martin.
Darkhorse collides with the side of the car. The
glass shatters, the metal creaks, and the car itself
flips over from the impact.
Martin falls to the ceiling as the glass pours in
his face. Should have had my seatbelt on, he muses
grimly as the car continues to roll.
In the confusion and tussle and the searing sharp
pain, he sees the figure of Darkhorse flying through
the sky before falling back to earth.
The car comes to a stop, landing upright.
"Are you okay?" Martin asks.
"A little scratched up," says Fay. "But a damn
slight better than you, I think."
Martin pulls a hunk of glass out of his cheek.
With his fingertip, he touches the wound, while his
tongue swishes about inside; he ends up licking his
finger. "I'll be fine," says Martin. "Which is more
than I can say for the car."
Fay turns the ignition and shifts the car into
drive. "Who says we don't have a car?"
"But it rolled three or four times," says Martin.
"That it did."
He stares at her. "You built it?"
"Damn skippy, I built it."
"I could kiss you, doc."
"Maybe later," says Fay. "Blood's kind of a
"Fine," says Martin. "Drive over towards the
She does so. Gallery, Whistler, and Chemist are
up, though still groggy.
"Get in," says Martin.
"What happened to you?"
"I got hungry," says Martin, "started chewing on
the window. Now get in."
They do so.
"Who's the frail?" says Whistler.
"Frail?" mouths Fay in disbelief.
"Dr. Fay Tarif," says Martin. "The woman I
murdered. Doctor, could you swing over that-a-way?"
"Rendezvous is this-a-way."
"I need to check on Darkhorse," says Martin. "I
want to make sure I didn't kill him."
"What'd you do?" says Gallery, a little awed.
"I sat in the car," says Martin. "Then he ran into
"Always said he was an idiot," snorts Whistler.
"The first one was way smarter," adds Gallery.
Soon, they pull up to the spot where Darkhorse's
body has fallen.
"Hurry, Martin," says Fay. "The guards are piling
out now. They'll be here soon."
"Good," says Martin, as he removes his fingers from
the unconscious speedster's pulse. Strong vital
signs, a lot of bleeding though, lot of broken bones.
"That means they'll be able to get him to a hospital."
He climbs back into the passenger seat, his entire
body aching (his back worse than the rest of it), and
he shuts the door.
Fay drives on.
"So, who are we meeting?" says Gallery.
"Green Knight," says Martin, and the name is sour
in his mouth. "Don't worry. He won't touch you. I
give you my word."
Convinced of his solitude, Derek Mason pulls off
the Green Knight mask again, wadding it up in his fist
like a rag and mopping the reams of sweat off his
face. He lifts the high-tech goggles onto his
forehead and dabs at his eyes. He doesn't know if
he's nervous or not; he always sweats when he wears
the mask. (Maybe he's always nervous when in
He sets the goggles back into place and pulls the
green featureless face back on, the thick foam hiding
the shape of the goggles, the goggles hiding the shape
of his face. He sits atop a suped-up unicycle, hidden
by the conspiratory trees.
Finally, the soft ghostly glow of Fay's headlights
float into the thicket like bubbles and dust. The car
comes to a stop and its occupants begin to climb out.
"Why are they with you?" says Derek, nodding
towards the three villains. (He recognizes the
Chemist, even without a costume.)
"They're the ones that helped me escape," says
Martin. "They're harmless."
Derek dismounts and jogs over towards Martin,
pulling the older man aside. "Geez, you look like
"You should see the other guy," says Martin.
"So," Derek says quietly, "what are we going to do
"Let 'em go."
"Let them go? But they're escaped supervillains."
"So am I," says Martin with a grin. "I made a deal
with them. They didn't sell me short, I won't do the
same to them."
Derek broils inside. "You don't have a right to be
making deals with the enemy. That's not the way it
"You're going to tell me about what I have a right
to do?" says Martin incredulously. His voice becomes
low and fierce. "You've got no right to that mask."
Derek flinches inside, but the faceless mask
betrays nothing. "Okay," he says after a while. "So
we let them go. But I only have three unicycles."
"What about the car?" Martin glances back at Fay,
who stands against a tree some yards away.
"The plan was to leave it here," says Derek. "Cops
will be looking for the car, while we're going to Jolt
City on the bikes."
Martin turns towards the three villains, who have
opted to hang back near the car. The Chemist has
begun to freak out again. Gallery holds him as his
body continues to spill out the magic paint.
Whistler stands taciturn and quite alert. "We
"We're cool," says Martin. "This is where we part
ways, though. You're welcome to the car if you want
it, but I'd be very careful if I were you. Maybe
Gallery can whip something up. Either way, I suggest
you lay low and live clean. The Green Knight here
won't come looking for you... unless you go back to
being crooked. Then he'll hunt you down. Are we
The villains readily agree and pile into the car.
They pull off, the headlights gradually disappearing.
Martin turns towards Fay and Derek.
With his night-vision goggles, Derek can see the
determination etched into Martin's bloodied-and-bruise
"How do we get Dani back?"
"Get on one of the bikes," says Fay. "I'll explain
The unicycles hum electronically as they are
jet-propelled at sixty miles per hour. Fay's voice
screeches into Martin's ear through his helmet
"We're going to Dani's apartment. You've said that
you've had visions of her, right?"
"Yeah. Like she was drawn to me."
"She is. She exists between multiple plains of
existence. Somehow, you're serving as a kind of
beacon, or a magnet-- drawing her to our reality. If
I were a gambler, I'd say it's the implant in your
neck. If there's anyway to call her back for good,
"So why her apartment?"
"It's the scene of the crime," says Fay. "Where
they tried to kill her. Some essence of her still
remains there. It's that trace of her that Fisk was
going to use as evidence in the first place. It's the
part of her that's the strongest on this earth-- and
so I figure it'd be our best chance of pulling the
rest of her back."
"What if you're wrong?"
Fay goes silent for a moment. "Then I'm sorry--
truly and deeply sorry."
Martin nods grimly.
They park the unicycles behind Dani's building;
Derek shows Martin how to lock the unicycle
magnetically into place, how to set its anti-theft
mechanism, and the password they need to unlock it for
their use. "This the Proctor company?" Martin says
under his breath.
"Hmm-mm," says Derek.
Fay clears her throat.
"I had Dr. Tarif add some bells and whistles, of
"Of course." He turns to Fay. From the look on
her face, she's expecting a compliment. She doesn't
get one. "Neck's starting to throb," he complains.
"Is it supposed to do that?"
"I really don't know."
"Once we get Dani back, I'd like it removed, as
soon as you can," says Martin. He then adds: "I don't
like having some gadget imbedded under my skin." He
turns and stares at Derek. "I like my life
uncomplicated. Not big on all," he swipes his arm
towards the unicycles while punching the access code
to Dani's apartment with his free hand, "on all this."
The door refuses to open. Martin punches it in
"They might have changed it," says Derek. "Here,
Martin moves aside. Derek reaches into his utility
belt and produces a device vaguely resembling a
drafting compass. He inserts a pointed end into the
keycard slot. He presses a button, and a whirring
sound emanates from the box, followed by six chimes.
Derek removes the device and opens the door.
"How's that work?" says Fay, her interest piqued.
"Probes its memory for the sequence that's been
repeated the most. Assuming more people know the code
than not, it punches in that sequence automatically."
"Proctor make that for you, too?" says Martin as
they start up the stairs.
"No," says Derek. "Cradle Industries." He tries
to invest these words with enough import, to try and
see if Martin takes the bait, if he'll confirm what he
knows and (perhaps) admire his skill in figuring it
out. He realizes almost instantly that he might be
laying it on a bit thick, that it might come across as
menacing when he didn't mean it to do so.
Either way, Martin betrays nothing. He doesn't
need a mask to hide his thoughts; he has a perfectly
chiseled poker face, made more obtuse by the purpling
bruises gathered like daisies upon his eyes and
cheeks. "You're making a lot of friends," he says.
Derek doesn't know what to say to that. He should
be silent, but is compelled to throw a useless "Yeah"
into the mix.
Martin stops suddenly, and motions for Derek and
Fay to do the same. He pivots his body silently so
that he can face them. He brings a finger to his lips
and, convinced of their silence, begins to mouth the
words: back down slowly...
That's when Derek sees the gorilla with the fish
bowl on his head, appearing behind Martin. Derek
points to get his attention. Martin turns around too
The simian's fish bowl connects with Martin's
already battered face, sending him flying down the
stairs. Derek leaps towards Fay, pressing her between
himself and the wall as Martin bounces painfully past
them. He gets a heady whiff of her musky sweat, far
more salacious than any perfume.
The gorilla's coming down the stairs. Derek can
see now that his helmet is filled with water.
"Go," he says to Fay.
She runs down the stairs. Derek stands his ground.
The gorilla screams, but there is no sound.
Rather, just an outburst of bubbles filling his
The gorilla's bearing down on him now.
"Look out!" says Derek. He pushes forward with all
his might, intending to use his opponent's own weight
and momentum against him. A well-executed judo throw
should send the simian flying.
Unfortunately, this judo throw is not
well-executed. The gorilla crushes Derek with his
weight, and now they both fall down the stairs,
rolling painfully down like a furry green snowball.
They hit the floor, the gorilla (thankfully) taking
the brunt of the blow. Derek, his head pounding,
scrambles to get to his feet.
Too late. The gorilla grabs him, pulls him down,
has ahold of him, has control of him; he's being
lifted into the air. He wriggles and kicks but to no
He's flying now, being thrown towards Martin and
Fay. Fay darts out of the way. Martin stands poised
and Derek catches him in the bread-basket.
The Green Knight falls to the floor. "You should
"And let you break your back against the wall? You
can thank me later."
Martin takes a deep breath and leaps towards the
gorilla, feet first, aimed for the gorilla's leathery
belly. Derek wonders what the old man is doing; the
gorilla's already getting ready to intercept.
That's when Martin bears his weight downwards and
back, sliding under the gorilla's legs head first. As
soon as his arms are clear to move, Martin twists
around and grabs the tufts of the gorilla's back fur
and pulls himself up, quickly righting himself.
Martin grabs ahold of something behind the fish
bowl, climbing up onto the gorilla's back, and the
gorilla swats at him. Martin wriggles with agility
that belies his age, missing each massive swipe of the
paw, each swipe getting progressively slower and more
sluggish than its predecessor.
The gorilla whirls around madly, and Derek (still
on the floor, still winded) can see an air tank.
The ape sinks to its knees, then falls forward.
Martin continues to apply pressure for a tense moment.
Then he releases the small tube running from the tank
to the fish bowl.
Martin checks for a pulse, then he starts to fiddle
with the settings on the tank.
Derek gets up on his feet. He hopes Fay will ask
Martin what he's doing, but she seems to understand it
just fine. With a casualness that he hopes doesn't
reveal his ignorance, he asks: "What's going on?"
"I can't cut off his water supply completely," says
Martin. "So I'm turning it down to a trickle. Enough
oxygen will get to his gills to keep him alive, but
not so much where he can be much of a threat."
"What about the water in the helmet?" says Derek.
"That's a common mistake," says Fay. "Fish extract
diatomic oxygen that's been dissolved in the water;
the oxygen atom present in the water molecule is not
suitable for respiration."
"You see, the water molecule has a very strong
covalent bond and..."
"Okay, okay," says Derek wearily.
"Let's go," says Martin, heading back up the
"So, he's a fish?"
"Not exactly," says Martin. "He's from..."
He stops again, half-way up.
Derek sees two more gorillas with fish bowls
standing on the next floor. They are armed with
something resembling harpoons, and they are dressed in
"...Apelantis," says Martin.
The Apelantians ready their harpoons. Martin
slowly starts to back down the stairs. He doesn't
need to tell Derek and Fay to do the same.
The Apelantians aim. Their muscles tense.
A door creaks behind them. Four gun shots ring
out, blood ripping through the Vibra-Jackets. The
Apelantians fall forward, quite dead.
Dani puts her gun in its holster. "Hiya, hero."
"Dani!" Martin rushes up the stairs and trips over
his feet, falling forwards. His chin collides with a
stair step and his teeth squeeze his tongue painfully.
He doesn't move. Dani and Derek both rush towards
him, the former stepping over the furry cadavers.
"He's out cold," says Derek. "He still has a
pulse, and he's breathing."
He looks up at Dani. She's smiling at him. "You
should try to disguise your voice," she says, softly.
"Come on. Let's get him inside."
"Okay," says Derek, putting his hero-voice back
into place, even if there's no point in doing so.
Martin comes to on Dani's couch; she's holding an
ice pack to his bruised face and swabbing the inside
of his mouth, cleaning out the blood.
"You should go to a hospital."
"You've said that before," says Martin. "Did I
ever listen to you?"
"Got a reason not to go this time, though," says
Martin. "I'm wanted for your murder. And Fay's."
"How much do you remember?"
"Very little," says Dani. "I remember you were in
"Do you remember anything about your attackers?"
"No," says Dani. "All of the sudden, they were
there, they grabbed ahold of me, started shaking me.
And then I was-- in-between everything."
Fay starts theorizing. "Your connection to Martin,
or he to you, and the implant in his neck, or
something, I dunno: it drew you near him. And once he
got closer to you, to the building..."
"I came to and I heard the commotion," says Dani.
"So, he-- uh, the Green Knight-- said you said this
"Looks like them, anyway," says Martin. "They live
under the ocean, what they call the Aquatic Ape
Empire. They try to invade the surface world every
few years or so, claim it's their birthright, but they
usually don't get much farther than the coast. Never
this far inland."
"That's probably why they had the Vibra-Jackets,"
says Derek. "They put them on in Apelantis or
whatever, and they vibrate into a friendly reality,
they march on through, and they vibrate into our
"That would be the connection to Snapp," says
Martin. "The big thing you said was going down."
"But why start their invasion in Jolt City, if that
is what they're doing?" says Fay. "Makes no sense to
invade the middle of a country. Makes even less sense
to invade a city that's-- I mean, I love it to death,
but it's not exactly New York or Washington. Not
particularly strategic. I mean, what do we have
that's so valuable?"
"And why so many in this apartment building?" adds
Martin. He takes the ice pack from Dani and applies
the pressure himself. "Dani, fill up your tub with
water. Cold water. And I'll need a list of everyone
you know that lives in this building. As many as you
can remember. And a hammer. Can you do that?"
"Fay, hop onto Dani's computer and do a quick
google on Apelantis. I want to make sure they breathe
exactly like any other fish."
"Green Knight, you're coming with me. I can't lift
a four-hundred pound gorilla by myself."
The first Apelantian is semi-conscious. Martin
props himself under one shoulder (his back creaking
unappreciatively), while Derek takes the other.
Slowly, they begin the arduous task of lifting
uncooperative and uncomprehending mass of fur up the
stairs, over his dead cohorts, and into the apartment.
"A-okay," says Fay.
"Dani! Is that tub full yet?"
"To the brim! I've got that list for you, too."
"Hang on to it for a second. But give me the
They drag their prisoner to Dani's bathroom and,
with some difficulty, squeeze him through the narrow
"I suggest you hold your breath," Martin says to
the hapless ape. Martin disconnects the oxygen tank.
The Apelantian cries out in fear. "Prop him up for
Derek does his best to hold onto the ape. Martin
brings the hammer crashing into the helmet. Glass
shatters all around, water comes streaming out. He
hits it a couple more times, the ape more terrified
with each impact, until the helmet is no more.
"Okay, let's let him go," says Martin.
"With pleasure," says Derek.
The Apelantian falls back into the tub, water
splashing up onto Dani's tile. He floats there for a
moment, getting adjusted to a more robust supply of
"You leave this tub, you're dead, you know that,"
The Apelantian stares uncomprehendingly.
"Can you speak English?"
The Apelantian does not answer.
"We could try sign language," suggests Derek.
"Most apes know sign language."
"That's ridiculous," says Martin. "Why would an
Apelantian need sign language?"
Fay pokes her head in. "Sounds travels poorly
under water. If they have any language, it'll be
"Well, it wouldn't be our sign language."
"You never know," says Derek. "They might have
learned some ASL preparing for their invasion."
Martin nods and signs, What is the Apelantian
The soldier eyes him curiously before raising his
paws above the surface of the water. Martin inches
Then the Apelantian signs back.
"Why should I tell you?" translates Martin. He
retorts: "You can't leave this tub. We'll return you
safely to your people once we've stopped them.
"You can never stop the great the glorious Aquatic
Ape Empire! (He obviously doesn't know us very well.)
"Would you rather be part of the defeated Aquatic
Ape Empire, or dead? Because I can start draining the
tub. Dot, dot, dot."
Derek queries: "Dot, dot, dot?"
"It's hard to trail off with sign language," says
Martin. "He says I have a good point. (Okay, so now
we're in business.)
"Tell me the Apelantian master plan.
"We use the jackets (he must mean the
Vibra-Jackets) to go to another world. We marched
here and came back to this world. (Ah! Just as we
thought. So that's how they got this far inland.)
"But why Jolt City?
"That's where the jackets are.
"Don't you have the jackets?
"No. Snapp only gives us a few at a time.
"Where are the jackets now?
"If we knew, we wouldn't need Snapp, would we?
(Has a point there.)
"Chicago. New York. Washington. We sneak our
soldiers in, and when we're all in place, we attack.
Hold everyone hostage, and the President will have to
sign the country over to us. Then the rest of the
world will surrender, because there will be no point
"Well, I give you points for finally getting inland
here, but it's not like the rest of the world is going
to just sit idly by or give up just because you caught
us with our pants down-- assuming you do. I mean, you
do realize that this is the most asinine invasion plan
I've ever heard?"
The Apelantian signs something.
"What'd he say?" says Derek.
"Then why'd you agree to it?
"(Ah.) You think I had a choice? All my friends
went to the Laurentian to avoid the draft. I should
have listened to them."
Martin and Fay relay their findings to Dani, while
Derek hunts up some seafood for their captive.
"Did he say as to why they were in this building?"
"He was standing watch for the other two, who were
on one of the higher floors. They had the
information, not him."
"I've got that list," reminds Dani. "Apartment
numbers next to the names."
"Excellent," says Martin, scanning the list
Suddenly, there's a yelp from the bathroom. Derek
enters the living room, his costume covered in tuna.
Martin sets the list aside and heads into the
bathroom. He signs to the angry Apelantian, who signs
back in a furious blur.
"What's he saying?" says Derek.
"He's upset that you're feeding him dead fish,"
says Martin. "I, uh, I guess he wants a live one."
"Don't look at me," says Dani. "I'm just lucky my
goldfish is still alive. I'm not giving him up now."
"What I don't get though," Martin says, "is where
Snapp's getting all the Vibra-Jackets to supply them
with. Didn't we get most of them when we were
rounding up his men? Or when we shut down the
Snail-Earth manufacturing plant, for that matter.
They would have all blown up when the evidence locker
"Fisk is on his side," says Dani.
"Yes," says Martin blankly.
"If this plan had been in motion for some time..."
"Right," says Martin. "Fisk would have moved the
jackets somewhere safe before he blew it up."
"We just got to find out where," says Dani. "I
guess Fisk is as good a place to start as any."
"Agreed," says Martin. "Before we rush off,
though, let's see that list again..."
"I've got it," calls Fay from Dani's computer.
"I'm googling the names, see if anything suspicious
This piques Derek's interest, and so he stands over
Fay's shoulder to watch.
"Martin," says Dani, in a low, low whisper.
"I know who he is."
"No," says Martin. "Let me figure it out for
"Okay." She seems mildly disappointed. "So, this
is the part where I ask you, what about us?"
Martin doesn't respond immediately.
"And that's the part where you say, wait until
after all this Apelantis business is settled. And
once it's settled, you'll go back to her. To Pam."
"It's alright. She's young and pretty..."
"You're pretty, too."
"But I ain't young, not no more."
"Neither am I," says Martin, and he feels it, in
his back, in his arm, in his face. "Truth is, I don't
know, Dani. I really don't know how I feel about you,
or her... or how you feel about me. About Martin
"You're the same," says Dani.
"No, I'm not," confides Martin in a low, laconic
whisper. "I think I'm more Martin than I am the...
the other thing. Martin's what kept me alive in
Earbox. The man you're in love with-- I'm not sure if
he's real at all."
"He is," says Dani. "Because you did those things
Fay eurekas loudly and suddenly, and Derek takes
off running out the door.
"What's going on?" says Martin.
"Doctor Milton Ryerson," says Fay over the sound of
Derek's footsteps. "Leading American authority on
Derek comes running back down. He catches his
breath at the door, sucking air through the foam of
his mask. "Yeah, he's pretty dead there."
Martin nods. "Fisk, then. Let's see if Dani still
has her car."
To make a long story short: she does. Martin and
Derek manage to fit two of the unicycles in the trunk,
instructing Dani quickly on their use. "If we tell
you to run," Martin says to both women, "then the both
of you run."
Dani looks at him askance. "You don't expect us to
actually do that, do you?"
"Yeah," says Fay: "If we left you two to get things
done, we'll all be wearing fish bowls by dawn."
"I already lost you once, Dani," says Martin. "I
won't let it happen again."
Around two o'clock, they pull up to Fisk's house.
It's not a mansion, nothing too upscale-- but it's
suitably posh for the Assistant District Attorney of
The quartet piles out of the automobile, assembling
on the porch. Martin nudges Derek. "You knock on the
"Why me?" says Derek. The other three stare at
him, and almost immediately it dawns on him: "Oh."
He knocks on the door. Mrs. Fisk answers. She's
surprisingly alert for this time of night, her thin
frame draped in a twiggy black dress.
"Jack!" she calls, squeezing at least three
syllables out of the name. "It's for you. The Green
Knight's at the door!"
Fisk quickly strides down the narrow hallway.
"You're a lot shorter than I figured," says Mrs.
Fisk cheekily before stepping aside.
Fisk looks nervous enough, but that nervousness is
doubled when he sees Martin. "What are you doing
"You might want to ask them the same question,"
says Martin. Dani and Fay step into the light.
"Oh," says Fisk with a long, hard swallow. "Oh.
Uh. Won't you come in? I'm entertaining some guests.
They'd love to meet you..."
"Um," says Derek. "Okay. But I'm keeping my eye
"Fair enough," says Fisk. He turns and breaks off
into a sprint, disappearing at the first turn. Our
fearless foursome immediately give chase, racing down
the hall and turning into an extremely elegant dining
A table, obnoxiously large for the relatively
cramped room, stretches before them like a horizon,
some twenty yards away. And on the other side of that
table, seated but not eating, are six Apelantians clad
Fisk stops running once he gets to the hairier side
of the room, instead opting to turn and smirk as the
Apelantians rise with military discipline, vibrating
their atoms as they begin to pass through the table,
knuckle-dragging their way towards our heroes.
Martin rushes in.
"What are you doing?" cries Dani.
But Martin knows exactly what he's doing; within
seconds he's close enough for the implant in his neck
to do its work. The Apelantian atoms stop shimmering,
snapping back to cold hard reality, fusing muscle and
fur and sinew with polished, shiny imitation oak.
They're not trapped in the table; they've become
part of the table, and they realize this with a strong
sense of unease. Fisk realizes it at about the same
time, and his grin turns to nausea.
"Show's over, Fisk," says Dani, training her gun on
the ADA from across the room. "Nowhere to run."
Fisk smirks again. "You forgot about my wife."
They turn as one, with a sense of dread, to find
Mrs. Fisk with a shotgun pointed at Dani's skull.
"Put it down," says Martin.
"She puts hers down first," says Mrs. Fisk. "Tell
her to stop pointing that gun at my husband."
"Don't do it, Dani," says Martin. "Look, lady:
she's a cop. She's not going to shoot your husband.
You can trust her on that."
"You're going to try to arrest him. I can't let
you do that. He didn't do anything wrong. Isn't that
right, baby? You did nothing wrong."
"That's right," says Fisk, perking up. "That's
right. Go ahead and put the gun down, baby. I'm in
no danger. You're not going to arrest me, are you,
Mrs. Fisk lowers the gun.
Dani keeps hers trained on Fisk. "Tell her to put
the gun on the floor, and step away from it."
"I don't need him to tell me," says his wife. She
sets the gun down and walks towards her husband. He
places his hand at the small of her back, and she
smiles. "You're not going to arrest him, are you?"
"Well," says Dani, "that's generally what we do
"Traitor? Really?" says Fisk. "Because the way I
see it, my wife and I were sitting here at home, and
these six... monkey-things, or whatever you'd call
them... they invaded our house and threatened us
bodily. When you came to the door, in my agitated
state, I naturally panicked and ran. As you can see,
I've since recovered. Now please lower your gun, and
maybe Shelby will fix you up something to drink."
Dani doesn't budge.
"What about me?" says Martin. "What about sending
me to Earbox for murders that didn't happen?"
"Well," says Fisk, "you were never charged with
their murders, and the SV charge hasn't yet gone to
trial. You were just being held on remand, so I
didn't 'send' you anywhere. Obviously, as the victims
are-- thankfully-- still very much alive, we'll
dismiss the case. I would say that the SV charge
still holds, though if Lt. Handler corroborates your
story-- that you were part of some kind of sting
operation... well, I suppose we'd have to drop that
"You know it was a sting operation," says Handler.
"I called you, told you about it."
"I don't recall such a conversation," says Fisk.
"And I think should you check your files, your
day-planner, and all relevant phone records, you'll
see that I'm right."
"You mean, I'll see that there's no evidence," says
"It comes to the same thing, doesn't it?"
"And if we were to talk to them?" says Derek,
angling his shoulders towards the tabled Apelantians.
"I'm sure that they'll tell you all about that
dastardly Samson Snapp," says Fisk, "who told them
that this would a friendly place to house them,
something Snapp likely did to get some kind of revenge
on me. I seem to recall, Lt. Handler, that both you
and your green friend there were very hot to get your
hands on Mr. Snapp. A pity if he'd slip through the
cracks while you stand here pointing a gun at me."
Dani lowers her gun.
Mrs. Fisk smiles: "Something to drink, then?"
Fay carefully and semi-permanently deactivates the
Vibra-Jackets without incident. Dani calls the
police, confirms that she is alive, and asks for two
squads: one to round up the Apelantians at Fisk's, and
another to meet her at Snapp's. Martin gets lost
trying to find the bathroom, and, some eight minutes
having passed in all in such a fashion, the quartet
piles into the Danimobile.
"So," says Derek, "how much do you want to bet
they're calling Snapp right now to warn him?"
"It's unlikely," says Martin. "I cut the phone
"What about a cell phone?"
Fay pipes up. "Just before we left, as I was
turning off the last Vibra-Jacket, I set it to emit a
signal that fries all cell phone batteries in a
Dani tries to turn on her phone. "Gee. Thanks."
Stately Snapp Manor.
Dani turns off the headlights and parks the car
about half a block down. Derek fishes some binoculars
out of his utility belt.
"Two guards at the front gate," he says, "armed,
naturally. I don't see any signs of our back-up-- or
of our swimming simian friends."
Dani uses the rear view mirror to peer into the
back seat. Though she turns her head towards the
'Green Knight', she directs her words to Martin. "We
should wait for the back-up...?"
Martin nods with his eyelids.
Derek, who had also been using the rear view mirror
to look at Martin, follows his subtle cue: "We
probably should have left Dr. Tarif somewhere safe."
Dani smirks. "Not to mention Mr. Rock."
"After what I've seen?" says Fay. "I think Mr.
Rock can more than take care of himself. You weren't
there when he beat Darkhorse."
"Really?" says Dani.
Martin nods, hiding a smile.
"Maybe when this is all over, you should give this
line of work a try," says Fay. "How about it,
Greenie? You looking for a sidekick?"
"I don't know," says Derek. "Guess I'll have to
think about it."
"That's okay," says Martin. The less dots
connecting him to the Green Knight in Fay's mind, the
better. "I'm happy being Martin Rock."
"Nothing wrong with that," says Dani.
Martin stares forward into the rear view mirror and
locks eyes with Dani. "Thanks."
A blur of flashing lights fills the mirror at the
same time the screeching sound of sirens assaults
"There's our back-up," says Dani as a steady stream
of police cars roars down the block.
"And there's our apes!" exclaims Derek. He points
to roughly a dozen shapes in the dark, rushing out
from the gates of Snapp Manor. The shapes come to a
stop as the police cars approach.
Then, there is the terrible and deafening light of
The first car falls victim immediately, and it
swerves uncontrollably towards its query. The apes
pull back and the car crashes into the gate.
They leap over the car (apparently they don't have
Vibra-Jackets). The police cars come to a stop
several feet away; doors open; officers drop behind
the open doors and begin firing.
Two of the apes fall immediately. The others,
perhaps a bit wiser, leap back behind the immobile
The gunfire stops for the briefest of seconds, then
it hesitantly resumes, one side firing at the other,
then the other firing back, then silence. Two tense
minutes pass in this round-robin fashion, without
"What do we do?" says Fay in a panic. "We can't
just waltz in through the gate now, not with a
"You're not going anywhere," says Martin. He
reaches forward and puts his hand on Derek's shoulder.
"Neither are you. Stay here and keep her company.
You stay too, Dani."
"No!" says Dani. "This is my case!"
"I already lost you once," says Martin. "It's too
dangerous. I have to go in alone."
Derek turns around so he can face Martin. It feels
so strange to Martin, being confronted with a flat,
featureless green face; that's probably why he hated
Ray's mask so much. It had no warmth.
"You're not doing this alone," says Derek.
"I can take care of myself," says Martin. "I can
sneak in. If I have anyone else with me, it'll slow
me down. It'll be a liability."
"You try to get in during the middle of this
stand-off, and you're going to get your head blown
off," says Derek. "I know another way in. And what's
more, I know my way around Snapp's house. Do you?"
"I've been there once or twice," says Martin
"I've slept in that house," says Derek. "I've
eaten breakfast at that man's table. I know every
room, every hallway, every nook and cranny. If you
want to get in, and you want to get out, alive and
with Snapp-- then you need me."
"Alright," says Martin. "Dani, you'll stay here
with Fay. Me and the Green Knight will..."
Dani whirls around to face him. "Will what? Go do
all the scary work while the women sit in the car? No
thank you! This is my case, Mr. Rock-- and I'm going
to make the arrest, not some penny-ante vigilante and
an escaped convict!"
Martin grabs her roughly by the wrist and pulls
himself close to her. "Dani, you listen to me. You
need to keep her safe."
"You do it!"
"I can't," says Martin. "Because if one of those
nuts makes his way over here with a gun, you need to
shoot him before he shoots you. And I can't do that.
I can't take a life. Never again." He looks
pointedly to Derek. "Neither can the Green Knight.
"You, on the other hand, Dani... you have that
luxury. You're the only one who can do this... and so
that makes you the most important person in this car."
He lets go of her wrist. She looks at him for a
long time, and the look is only broken by the distant
sound of gunfire. Dani turns back to face front.
"You be careful, hero." Then she adds quietly:
"Both of you."
"So, where is this other way in?" says Martin as
Derek leads him along the huge stone wall around
Snapp's mansion. "I've done surveillance on this
place dozens of times. If there was a secret
entrance, I'd know about it."
"Only if it was in use," says Derek. As if to
prove his point, he stops and pushes in on part of the
stone wall. He steps back as the ground opens up to
reveal a particularly moist looking tunnel.
"Snapp only showed a few people. Said it should
only be used in case of emergency-- and he was very
clear as to what did, and didn't, constitute an
emergency. I think it's been used a grand total of
once before, and that one time, it was not an
emergency..." Derek lets the ellipses hang there
Then he leaps in, landing knee-deep in mud. He
reaches into his utility belt, procures his electric
torch, and turns it on. The tunnel stretches on for
several hundred yards.
He turns around, expecting to look up; instead, he
finds Martin standing behind him, in the mud.
"You didn't make any noise when you landed," says
Martin only smiles. "Lead on."
Derek shines the torch forward, slogging noisily
through the mud. "No. Seriously. How'd you do
"I've got a more important question. Where does
this tunnel lead to, exactly?"
"Yeah, the tile opens and you step right into the
tub. What? You think he wants people traipsing mud
in his foyer? Bathroom's secluded and it gives
someone a place to clean themselves up."
"It's also close quarters," says Martin. "If
someone gets in who's not supposed to, they step right
into the tub and there's nowhere to duck or dodge."
"That... that's true."
"You seem shaken."
"Yeah, maybe. I dunno." Derek senses some
disapproval in Martin's silence, and so he changes his
answer: "Not really."
"I have another question for you."
"Well," says Martin. "As long as it's not about
the mud again."
"No. What I'm wondering is, what you said in the
car. About killing. Is that true? I mean, is that
the rule? Absolutes? No exceptions?"
"What I said was that I won't take a life."
"Yeah," says Martin, and there's something about
his answer, about the way he manages to pack years
into a single syllable, that's a little frightening.
"And I said the Green Knight can't take a life. And I
hope I don't have to remind you that you're not the
"Hold on," says Derek. He stops walking, holding
his torch in one hand and reaching with the other into
his utility belt. He pulls out the scrambler and
activates it. A moment passes, and a soft hum fills
"What is it?" says Martin, and he's surprised to
hear his voice bouncing all around him.
"Dampening field," says Derek. "Extends just a few
feet around us. Bounces sound waves back, so that
they just echo inside the bubble and they never get
out. Lets us talk in private, in case there are any
"And you got this where?"
"Sprocketeer gave it to me after our team-up. But
you were saying...?"
"You're not the Green Knight. But as long as
you're pretending-- or keeping up appearances for me,
or whatever-- which won't be one second longer than it
has to be-- well, you've got to act like the Green
Knight. And the Green Knight doesn't kill." He waits
for the echo effect to die down before adding: "Heroes
"Okay, but what I'm asking is, what, like never?
Or is it sometimes okay? I mean, what if there's some
circumstance where it could be justified?"
"I don't know-- I mean, is it ever justified?"
"Well, what do you think?"
"I don't know, I already said that I don't know,"
says Derek. "That's why--"
"No," says Martin. "I'm asking what you,
personally, think. I'm not asking what's right and
wrong, I'm asking what you think is right and wrong."
"Well, no, I was actually asking you."
"You already know my answer. I refuse to take a
"Okay, I get that," says Derek. "But that's not
what I'm asking. Look-- okay, how about this: Is
there ever a reason why you would take a human life?"
"No. I won't do it." The emphasis is set squarely
upon the "I".
"Is there ever a reason why anyone should take a
"I can only answer for myself," says Martin, the
solemnity and thoughtfulness of his answer somewhat
muted by its echo. "Each man has to answer for
himself. But I'll tell you this much.
"I served my country. I went to war. I took
lives. I came back. Declared a war of my own. Took
a few more. I'm not saying that what I did was right
or wrong. It seemed right at the time, it seems wrong
now, but you could say that about a lot of things.
Matter of perspective, I suppose.
"But there's one constant, and that's the fact that
they're dead, and that I'm the one that did it to
them. And you live with that for the rest of your
life. Guess what matters is if you can do that, if
you can live with it.
"But that's a matter of perspective, too. When I
did it, it seemed like something I could live with.
But now... well, not so much."
His words bounce and dance and sing and fade and
die, replaced by the loud reverberations of legs
slogging through mud.
Gradually, the level of the mud sinks; the ground
beneath their feet slopes upwards, and at last the
electric torch illuminates the end of the tunnel.
Derek turns off the scrambler. "On three?"
"No," says Martin. "Just do it now."
Derek pushes against the wall. Bright fluorescent
light floods their retinas. After a moment, their
eyes begin to adjust: the bathroom is empty. They
step into the tub and Derek places his electric torch
into his utility belt.
Suddenly, there is the swell of gunfire coming from
elsewhere in the mansion, followed by the immortal
words: "You'll never take me alive!"
The bathroom door swings open and Samson Snapp
rushes in. The haggard druglord stops and stares at
the two men standing in his bathtub and blocking his
exit. He quickly points his gun at Derek and pulls
Derek slams against the bathtub as the bullet rips
through Martin's shoulder. Martin falls quickly,
landing on Derek.
Snapp takes advantage of this, leaping towards the
With desperate speed, Martin kicks his foot
upwards, catching Snapp in the groin. Snapp doubles
over with pain. Martin kicks him twice more in quick
Martin scrambles to get to his feet. But Snapp
gets up first. He points his gun at Martin's head.
Dani points her gun at Snapp's head. "Drop it."
Snapp drops his gun. "I got no death wish."
Martin kicks Snapp in the groin again. "Killing's
wrong," he explains. "But sometimes kicking a guy in
the balls is justified."
Dani grabs Snapp and yanks him out of the tub,
slamming him to the floor. She slaps the cuffs on
him. "Samson Snapp, you are under arrest for
Snapp's living room. Other officers lead Snapp away,
along with the surviving Apelantians. Many of the
policemen express admiration for Dani and credit her
with their lives.
"So," says Martin. "What happened?"
"I told Dr. Fay to drive somewhere safe," says
Dani. "She left, and I got my ass where it belonged--
with my fellow police officers."
"They pushed, we pushed back harder," she says with
a shrug. "It was a firefight out there. We got
inside, it was a firefight in here. Snapp ran for
it-- the rest you know. Oh, and by the way, Mr.
"You're going to a hospital. No excuses."
Martin nods and motions for the 'Green Knight' to
come closer. Derek, sensing that the conversation
will be a bit sensitive, turns on the scrambler.
Martin whispers: "You know how I said you'd be
doing this for not one second longer than you need
"Let me guess: effective immediately?"
"That's right," says Martin. "But you and I have
to talk. Meet me on, let's see, uh, make it
Wednesday. Two o'clock. At the park."
"You know which one. Derek."
Dani accompanies Martin to the hospital. The
doctors fish the bullet out of the wound and bandage
him up, both his arm and his face. A mild sedative is
administered against his protestations. Shortly
thereafter, Dani enters the room and sits down next to
"We'll let Pam know in the morning," she says.
"Don't want to wake her up. Besides, you'll need some
Martin nods. He stares at Dani, studies her face
in a way that's more disconcerting than romantic.
Then, very simply, exhaustion and painkillers draining
the emotion from his words, he says: "I'm very glad
you're alive, Dani."
"Yeah, well..." She exhales wistfully. "Yeah. Me
"Thank you for saving my life," says Martin.
"Thanks for saving mine," says Dani. "Martin...
Look. Maybe Martin Rock's done some shitty things.
Maybe you killed a few people in Iraq. But that
"No, it doesn't. Because you don't do it anymore.
Because you refuse to do that. Because a person isn't
everything he's done. He's who he is this minute."
"You don't believe that," says Martin.
"No. You're justifying. And that's not like you.
A man commits a crime, forgiveness is one thing,
repentance, sure-- but, but, it's-- but the thing is
still done. And just because someone feels bad about
it, or just because they won't do it again, doesn't
undo it. And it doesn't mean they should get off
"If you were going after a guy who had done
something terrible, and when you finally catch up to
him, he's a completely different guy, he's ashamed of
what he's done, he won't do it again, he's turned over
a new leaf-- what, you're going to let this guy go,
you're not going to arrest him?"
"Of course I'd arrest him," says Dani. "The law is
"And you have a duty to uphold it," says Martin.
"Working with a vigilante aside, you're not going to
stop doing your job, or set someone else in a special
category where they're beyond reproach for what they
did. And I wouldn't ask you to do that."
"Martin," says Dani tenderly. "I'm sure you did a
few things you shouldn't have when you were homeless.
But I know you'd never hurt anybody."
"Dani, I've killed people."
"Last I heard, joining the Marines wasn't a crime."
"No, Dani," says Martin. "You don't understand."
"Make me understand."
"I can't. Because either you'll arrest me, or
you'll compromise yourself for me. And I'm not going
to ask you to do that. I think I've known all along
that I can't ask you to do that-- that I love you too
much to turn you into someone you're not."
"You do love me, then," says Dani. "No probablies
"I do love you, Dani."
"If you love me, then trust me."
"I'm sorry, but I can't."
"Please! You can trust me."
"I know," says Martin. "And that's what I'm afraid
of. Because if I tell you this thing, I can trust you
to keep it a secret, even though it eats you up
inside, twists you around, puts you in this gray zone.
And it wouldn't be fair to you. If you love someone,
you don't do that to them."
"If you love someone, you let them love you back!"
says Dani. "You trust them! You let them make their
own decisions! Jesus, Martin! You're not Samson
Snapp. Whatever it is, it can't be that bad...!
"Please, Martin. Tell me."
Martin stares at her for a long time, stares at her
pleading eyes and her broken nose and her
"I'm an adult," says Dani. "I'm a big girl and I
don't need my heroes to be perfect. Just honest."
"I was the Mask With No Name."
Dani's lower lip falls, slowly peeling away from
its twin like a slice of an orange. Her mouth hangs
half open, and it seems to Martin like it is less from
shock and more from a sense of betrayal.
He begins to speak, faltering: "I think...
"I think that's what I was scared to tell you, more
than who I really am. Martin Rock's not a likeable
guy, but he's not that bad. But the Mask With No
"Yeah," says Dani.
"That doesn't count as a confession, by the way,"
says Martin, with a quick nod towards the drugs
streaming into his arm via the IV drip.
"So," says Martin. "You still love me, and always
Dani takes a moment to answer. "Yes. I think I
do. Have you told Pam this?"
"I take it that she took it in stride?"
"Yeah, you could say that. I suppose she had it
easier, though. She fell for Martin Rock-- knew
more-or-less who he was, and accepted that at the
outset. It was really all uphill from there.
"You, on the other hand. You fell for your hero.
Saw me in the best possible light. And now you get to
find out all sorts of unsavory things about me. I
think you have it a bit harder than Pam does."
"Well, it doesn't matter anyway," says Dani.
"There's still no real proof that the Mask With No
Name exists. Even if this counted as a confession,
there's at least a dozen others just as implausible.
They even stopped looking for him after the last mu--
the last death." She lowers her eyelids thoughtfully.
"A rapist in an alleyway. Whoever did it saved some
poor girl. Terrified the shit out of her. She runs a
crisis center now."
A feeling washes over Martin, and with it that
girl's face, still clear after all these years, etched
in a white light that crumbles as his eyelids slowly
Pam visits him come the morning. They talk very
little: they exchange the usual choruses of
how-are-you and I-missed-you and I-love-you.
Conversation turns to topics that are just as boring
and yet more exciting at the same time: when will he
be getting out of the hospital, when will he be
formerly absolved of all charges, and what he'd like
for dinner (shall we go out tonight, or do you want a
They don't talk about anything of real importance.
No dramatic revelations or turbulence. But with Pam,
these things aren't really necessary, either.
They talk very little.
Monday. Knight's Den.
Martin pulls on his mask for the first time in
about a month. It feels good; it feels right.
And yet, there's a degree of ambivalence. Like
something's not right. Something doesn't fit. And
that's not the fact that he's wearing a variation of
Ray's featureless mask so as to disguise the bruises
on his face.
His body hurts. Of course, it always hurt before;
in this profession, there are always fresh injuries to
replace old ones. But this time the pain is
different. It exists in his entire body, in his
fingertips, in his knees, in his back. The parts are
there, but they feel slightly out of place and in
Roy Riddle hops down to the Knight's Den bearing a
large cake. "Happy birthday, Martin!"
Martin pulls off the mask and, with a single gush
of breath, blows out all forty-six candles.
The Green Knight is announced. Fisk warmly asks
him to be shown in.
When Martin enters, the ADA looks him over
scrupulously. "You've gotten taller again."
"I swear," says Martin with a laugh in his belly,
"if I see one more shrink-ray..."
Fisk smiles as one does at someone else's private
joke. "Samson Snapp's being turned over to the Feds
for prosecution. The last Apelantians are being
"I hear Snapp might try to cop a plea," says
Martin. "That he'll be pointing a finger at you in
order to avoid the death penalty."
"I'd like to see him try," says Fisk. "Not one
shred of evidence against me."
"It does feel good to finally get Snapp," says
Martin. "It sure took a long while."
"Yep," says Fisk. He turns towards his window.
Martin talks to the back of his head. "But we did
it. Every time he seemed within our grasp, he slipped
away. Not one shred of evidence against him. But we
kept at it. It took months. Over a year.
"But I did get him in the end, Fisk. Remember
Fisk turns around to find himself quite alone.
Tuesday. A different hospital. One hero visits
Darkhorse smiles weakly. "Nice to see you too, GK.
Want to sign my cast?"
"Sure. Does it matter which one?"
"Nah. They'll all be there for a while. Amazing
that Martin Rock was innocent all this time."
"He got lucky, though."
"If it wasn't for that chip in his neck, there's no
way he would have beat me."
Martin smiles under his mask. "We'll see."
"What's that mean?"
"Nothing. You heard about Fisk?"
"Yeah. He resigned this morning. Weird, huh?"
"I guess so."
"What do you mean, you guess so? Feds said there
was nothing to substantiate Snapp's claims. It looks
like he was in the clear. And he resigned. You ask
me, that's weird."
Martin shrugs and puts the cap back on his
"What'd you write?" says Darkhorse. "I can't see
"Guess you'll have to wait and see. How long until
A woman's voice: "Six months, at least."
Martin turns. She's a very shapely woman in a
domino mask with a one-piece costume that ends in a
"He does everything else fast," she says. "But he
heals just as slow as everybody else."
"I don't think we've met," says Martin.
"That's my wife," says Darkhorse.
"What's your codename?" asks Martin. "Are you
"What? No," she says, shaking her head. "I'm not
a four-colour. I just wear this in order to protect
his secret identity. Otherwise, people see me come
in, they'll put two and two together."
"Oh," says Martin. "Makes sense."
Jolt City University.
Martin visits Dr. Tarif in order to have the chip
removed from his neck. Afterwords, he rubs the tiny
"Poor baby," says Fay. "You want me to kiss it and
make it all better?"
One look in her eyes and he knows that she would,
too, at that.
He has no desire to be part of a love
Wednesday. The park.
Derek arrives a few minutes after Martin.
"Walk with me," says Martin, pointing away from the
park with a toss of his head.
"I figured we wouldn't be staying," says Derek. "I
know you don't this park."
"You know, it doesn't really bother me that much
"Well then, that's a good thing."
"It's nice, about Danielle," says Derek. Dani had
been promoted to Jolt City's Four-Colour Liaison this
Martin simply nods again.
Fifteen minutes later, they arrive at Roy's church.
There's a wake taking place in the church basement,
rendering the Knight's Den below it somewhat
inaccessible. They head into the manse instead,
helping themselves to Roy's rye crisps.
"So," says Derek, trying again to puncture the
awkward silence. "Um. How'd you know it was me?"
Martin chews his rye crisp thoughtfully, swallows,
and washes it down with some grungy tap water. "You
"Um..." Derek laughs, embarrassed. "Well, Danielle
told you that she knew who I was. I picked it up with
my enhanced earphones. I also picked up you telling
her not to tell you. But. That means that you knew
that it was someone that she knew."
"Um... I knew about Snapp. Um. I knew a lot about
Snapp, actually. So I had to be someone with a strong
connection to Snapp and to Danielle. And you knew I
was one of her spies in his organization. Plus, my,
"You're about a foot and a half shorter than I am."
"Well, I haven't stopped growing. But, yeah, my
size and body shape. Um, is that it?"
"You tell me."
God, he's frustrating. "Yeah, I guess that's it."
"What have you learned?"
"I need to be more careful what I reveal about
myself? And I need to disguise my voice more
Martin only nods, and there's something deflating
about the gesture. Things are quiet for a moment, and
then Martin speaks again: "So, now we know how I knew
who you were. What I'd like to know is how you knew
who I was."
Derek smirks. "You tell me."
Martin smiles, but disguises it with a cold, hard,
"Er, or not. Okay... it took me a little while to
piece it together. When you had your press
conference, I saw you with Roy Riddle. And I saw the
two of you again at the hospital, just after Nathan
Willis and that business in the park. And Roy Riddle
said he was fetching you on behalf of the Green
Knight, but seeing the two of you standing next to
each other, it just struck me as curious.
"And then I got ahold of your job application..."
Martin raises his eyebrows.
"... uh, for Bierce Bail Bonds. And you listed Roy
Riddle as a reference. But that was before he 'met'
you at the hospital. And, uh, the other reference was
Anders Cradle. So...
"I dug up all I could on the Melvin Tightly case,
and I snuck around Cradle Manor as they were
rebuilding it. Managed to find the original Knight's
Den. So: Ray Cradle was the Green Knight, you were
the Acro-Bat; he died, you became the Green Knight.
"I wasn't really sure until I sent you that
"From a friend. And that was supposed to
accomplish what exactly?"
"I wasn't sure," admits Derek. "I thought that
after I sent it, that it would set something in
motion. Maybe you'd trace the letter to me, or
something, and it would confirm it. But it didn't.
But once I sent it-- I just knew it was correct. I
"But I meant what I said. I wasn't going to reveal
it to anybody, or use it to hurt you in any way. And
I did help you. I got you a Vibra-Jacket."
"So, how'd you get back into Snapp's good graces?"
"I told him I never left," says Derek. "Actually,
it was kind of easy. I had always been one of his
favourites. He understood I was scared, scared for my
life, and he didn't think I would really turn on him.
He just... he just wanted to have something over you."
Derek grows silent for a moment. Martin doesn't
offer comfort. Only another question.
"Derek, what is it that you want?"
"That I want? What, out of life? Um..."
"What do you want from me, Derek? Why help me at
all, why try and find out my identity?"
"I just want to make a difference," says Derek.
"Like I told you before you went to jail, in the
"Hmm-mm. Is that all?"
"I dunno," says Derek. "I... I don't want to say
the wrong thing and botch things up."
Martin waves his hands dismissively. "Just be
honest, kid. I think I know what you want. But I
want to hear you say it."
"I want to learn," says Derek. "I want to drop
into the mud without making a sound. I want to know
what an Apelantian is, and how to jump from one
rooftop to another. I want to know how to stop the
spandex from riding up on my crotch. I want to do
what you do, and I want to be damn good at it."
Martin smiles, selects one final rye crisp, and
takes a hearty bite. "Well, that's quite a
coincidence, Derek Mason. Because I think it's about
time I had myself a sidekick."
(C) COPYRIGHT 2008 TOM RUSSELL.
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