8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 17, The Sensational Character-Find of 2007 Part Six (Finale): Totem!

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Thu Aug 21 21:06:30 PDT 2008


//////////////  2006 & 2007 RACCIE WINNER FOR
    ////  //////  /// //////  FAVOURITE ACRA SERIES
// ////  //  //  ///   //
//////  //////  ///// //
   # 17 LATE AUGUST 2008
  ////// /// ////// \  //  THE SENSATIONAL
 ///    ///   //     \//    CHARACTER-FIND
////// ///   //      //    OF 2007 (FINALE)

   The judge rules that Ellis Banks must be evaluated to determine if
he is sane to stand trial.

State Prison.
   "Hi, Ellis.  I'm Rodney.  Do you mind if I call you Ellis?"
   Ellis shrugs.  "I know who you are."
   "Do you?"
   "Well," says Ellis, drawling the word out in a grating monotone,
"either you're the shrink from my mama's lawyer who wants me to be
crazy or you're the shrink from the D.A. who wants me to be sane."
   "I don't want you to be anything other than who you are," says
Rodney.  "I don't have any bias one way or the other.  And, in fact,
what I think doesn't matter."
   "Doesn't it?  They want the death penalty for me.  They want to
kill me, and you're saying that what you think of me has nothing to do
with that?"
   There's no edge in the boy's voice, Rodney notes.  Some mild
sarcasm, but there's no life to it.  His delivery is perfectly
deadpan, but without the secret relish that comes with being deadpan.
   "Well, Ellis, we can talk about that if you want to.  If you don't,
we don't have to.  I'm not here to make a decision.  Not right now.
All I'm here to do is to talk to you, and to give you someone to talk
to.  And that's only if you feel like talking."
   "If I don't?"
   "Then don't," says Rodney gently.  "I just want you to be
yourself.  Don't do anything you don't want to do."
   "Be myself," says Ellis.  "What does that mean, exactly, be
   "It means don't lie."
   "And if I feel like lying?  Wouldn't that be being myself?"
   "I suppose so," says Rodney.  "But that wouldn't help you very
   "And if I don't want to be helped?"
   "Then don't," says Rodney.  "This time we have together, it's how
you want to use it.  If you just want to sit and read a book or play
cards, you can do that."
   "And if I want to kill you?"
   "If I want to kill you, can I?" says Ellis.  "If that's what I want
to do with this time-- if I want to twist your fat head around on your
fat turkey neck till it snaps-- would that be okay?"
   "Um."  He glances down at the shackles around Ellis's wrists, and
the chain keeping them near the table.  It looks secure.  "I'd rather
you didn't, actually.  Um.  Why?  Did-- why, did you want to, uh, kill
   "Just a hypothetical," says Ellis.

Third County House Hospital.
   "Doctor's ready to see you now."
   Erika nods and heads into the office.  She flattens her white gown
at her rump before easing into the chair.  Doctor Chase closes his
manila folder and smiles at her underneath the brim of his moustache.
   "How are you feeling today, Erika?"
   "I don't know.  Okay, I guess.  You know, same old, same old."
   "Do you have anything that you want to talk about today?"
   "Nothing we haven't talked about before."
   "We can talk about it again," says the doctor.
   "I guess," says Erika.  "I.  I knew.  Ah.  I knew this wouldn't be
easy, you know?  I didn't come in here thinking that overnight it,
that everything would be all better.  I knew that going in.  But it
feels like I'm not going anywhere with this.  I know this is going to
take a long time, but I'm getting to feeling like I'm not making any
progress.  Like maybe I never will make any progress.  Like I'm
stuck.  Like it's hopeless."
   "This process can be and often is very slow.  And that can be very
discouraging.  Do you really feel like it's hopeless, though?"
   "I don't know.  Yes.  I do."
   "I don't agree," says the doctor.  "In fact, part of you just might
think that there's some hope after all."
   "Some days," says Erika.  "But not most of them."
   "You came here because you thought it would do some good," says the
doctor.  "Because you have hope."
   "Well, I keep telling myself that," says Erika, "but it doesn't
seem to do any good.  I tell myself, like Derek told me on his last
visit, that I can't be all bad because I want to be good."
   "The problem is that you want to be all bad," says the doctor.
"You want to be worthless.  You haven't given yourself permission to
love yourself yet."
   "Yeah, well," says Erika, "I don't see a whole lot that's lovable."

   "So, you admit the killings?"
   "Do you feel any remorse?"
   Ellis shrugs.
   "None at all?"
   "I don't think so."  He smiles: a rare occurrence.  "That makes me
a sociopath, doesn't it?  Because I don't care?"
   "You sound almost proud of it."
   "Not really.  I don't really care."
   "Is there anything you do care about?"
   "Not deeply," says Ellis.  "I guess I'd rather not be executed.
But if it happens, oh well.  I certainly don't worry about it.  I
guess I've reconciled myself to it.  Just accepted it.  Same with the
   "How so?"
   "I would think about killing things, or hurting them.  Just have a
sudden impulse to hit someone or stab them.  Just ignored it.  I
figured it wasn't particularly abnormal if I could control it.  It
wasn't like an urge or anything.  And it was fine for a long time.
   "Then I shot someone," says Ellis.  "Didn't really think about it,
or weigh it over; I just did it.  It was done.  I didn't feel
different about it.  I had killed.  I had crossed a line, and I
reconciled myself to that.  So I killed more people.
   "It wasn't particularly hard to kill the first one.  It got easier
with each one.  I just don't care.  It's just something that I do."
   "Did you get some kind of thrill out of it?"
   "I don't know," says Ellis.  "I didn't notice any appreciable
difference in my heart rate, my breathing, my body temperature.  I
wasn't aroused by it in any way.  I must have enjoyed it, I suppose,
or I wouldn't have done it.  But I can't really say what I got out of

   "Sometimes I'm afraid that I'm a monster.  That I'm not human."
   "Why do you feel that way, Erika?"
   "Because sometimes-- sometimes I just didn't care.  Sometimes, a
lot of the time, I'd feel really guilty, and I'd really hate myself,
for the things I was thinking or doing.  But then at other times I
wouldn't feel anything at all.  I knew I was supposed to feel guilty,
but I couldn't do it.  I didn't like myself but I didn't hate myself
either.  And that scares me, doctor.  Because it has to be pretty deep
inside me if I don't even care anymore."

   "What is it about killing families and children that appealed to
   "I'm not really sure," says Ellis.  "I haven't given it a whole lot
of thought.  I supposed it's because of the notoriety.  Someone looks
me up on the internet and they say, well, there's a sick fuck.  He
killed children."
   "Does that appeal to you, then?  Fame?"
   "That's the way it is with most people like me-- serial killers,
mass murderers, spree killers, whatever."
   "But is that the way it is with you?"
   "I suppose it should be."

   Erika's first session with Dr. Chase after her suicide attempt.
   "I don't deserve to live," she says.  "I'm a bad person.  I'm
   "Stop it, Erika.  You have to stop saying that about yourself.
These are negative affirmations."
   "You stop it," she says.  "You shut up.  I can say I'm good, I can
say it, and I can even mean it-- I can say it a hundred times a day
and it still doesn't stop me from thinking the things I think."
   "You had a... a relapse?"
   She nods rapidly.
   "How many days?"
   "Forty," she says.  "And now I got to start over."
   "You can do it, Erika.  Today's a new day. Today's day one.  And
tomorrow will be two."
   "I used to do this before," says Erika.  "When I was outside.  I
used to count the days between my bad thoughts.  And I could go a long
time sometimes.  Weeks.  Months.  And then-- then I'd do it again, I'd
touch myself or use one of my robots.  And I'd have to start over.
   "And the more days I racked up, the harder it would be to keep it
inside.  It wasn't like I was stopping it at all.  It was like I was
bottling it up.  And, hey, you're the shrink.  You know what happens
   "I used to-- I used to make promises with God.  I'd say, you know,
if I can go this whole month and stay good the whole time, then He'd
take it away from me.  I would have proven myself.  But then He didn't
take it away, and I'd-- I guess you could say I relapsed.
   "And the thing is, I would say to myself, you know, I would think
that maybe He just wanted me to go one day more.  If I could just do
it that one more day-- that I was just one day short.  And I liked to
start at the beginning of a month, start fresh, and so if I relapsed
towards the end of a month, there'd be a few days where I just kept
thinking it without caring much."
   "Erika," says Chase after a long pause.  "God can't take it away
from you, and neither can I."
   "I know," she says.  "God, I know it."
   "Each day that you resist your impulses, that's an act of will.
That's you choosing who you are.  That's you exercising control over
it, instead of letting it control you.  Instead of letting yourself be
defined by it.  It might never go away, but you can control it, and
you can live with it."
   "But why do I have to live with it?" says Erika.  "Why me?  What
did I do to deserve this-- what did I do?  I don't want it!  I don't
want this in my head.  No one should have it in their head.  It's
always been there, I didn't do anything-- why did God put it in my
head?  Why?"  She stares at the ceiling and screams.  "I didn't do
anything to You!  I never did anything to You!"

   "When did you first start to get violent urges?  How often do they
   "I don't really keep track," says Ellis.  "But I've always been the
way I am.  As long as I can remember."  He smiles.  "I am as God made

   Proposal 2 passed yesterday by a narrow margin.

   Derek had tried to stop it; once he had learned what it was really
about, he tried contacting Paisley Parker at the Chronicle.  But she
never returned his call; she wasn't interested in him if her editor
wasn't interested in him, and her editor wasn't interested in him if
Canton wasn't.
   He went to Dani and asked her to approach the Mayor.  When she came
back, she said that the Mayor sent his thanks, but that he didn't feel
Derek would be of much help.
   Derek stares at today's headline and wishes he had pressed harder.
He doesn't like feeling used; it makes something boil up inside of
   But it's not anger.
   He doesn't get angry.

   What had happened, way back in September, is that the Mayor had his
staff do some research on Derek.  Mayor Bernie Bates always does
research first; he's a deliberate man.
   PDQ one of his aides gets ahold of J. Donald Proctor, and the story
of Derek's recent firing comes to light.  Another aide discovers that
Canton and the Chronicle are aware of this, and are willing to use it
to discredit Derek should he jump ship.  They would also put a more
negative slant on Derek's checkered past as a drug dealer.
   Bernie Bates called Dani up and told her that he'd pass on Derek's
involvement; when asked why, he was forthright.  "... And that's the
last thing I need in my corner," he said in conclusion.  "They're
already painting this as 'City Hall doesn't care if you get mugged in
your bathtub'.  And the person I get to speak up for me is a former
dealer who throws hedge-clippers at people and slices them open?  No,
thank you."

   Dani, of course, told Martin, but both of them thought it best not
to confront Derek about the incident and his lie about quitting his
job the day after.  (And, in fact, neither ever brought it up with
Derek as long as all of them lived.)
   But both of them do see a problem; both of them can see something
building in Derek, something that's more visible every day-- something
that has to be addressed before it swallows him whole.

Third County.
   Erika doesn't need to tell Derek what she's done.  He can see it in
her eyes, he can feel it in her posture, but most of all he can tell
from the bandages around her wrists.
   "What happened?" he says.  "I thought you were getting better."
   "I don't know about 'better'," she says.  "I've been getting help.
But it's not enough."
   "It takes time," says Derek.
   "That's what Dr. Chase says."
   "But what made you do this?"
   Erika touches her bandages; the cuts still burn a little.  "It's
not the first time I've tried."
   "But it's going to be the last," says Derek.  "You can't do this.
I want you to promise me you won't do this.  You're starting to get
help now, and it's going to be a long road, but you've got to stick
with it."
   "I know that, up here," says Erika, tapping her skull.  "But it's
been a long road already."
   "You've only been here a few months," says Derek.
   "Not that," she says.  "I've been living with these-- with these
things in my head, with these thoughts.  I've been living with them
for a long time.  Not just months.
   "Years.  My whole... my whole life." She runs her palm against her
forehead, sweeping her hair up off her face.  "And that's just too
long, and I want it to stop.  And the doctor... the doctor says, you
know, that I might live with this for the rest of my life still, but
that I'll be able to control it.
   "But I don't want to.  I never asked for it to start with.  I don't
want to control it or keep it in check.  I just want it gone, Derek.
I want to make it stop.  And it's only going to stop when I'm dead."
   "You can't do this again."
   "Then I suffer," says Erika.
   "Do they have you on, um, on watch?"
   She nods.  "So you don't need to worry."
   "I don't, I don't have a solution for you."
   "I know, I know," she says wearily.  "No one ever does.  Everyone's
been very honest about how there's no easy answers, and everyone's
trying to treat me with enough respect to not reduce it to a few
homilies.  That's terrific.  Thank you all for your honesty!"
   This catches the attention of one of the guards.
   "I don't care," she says, standing up.  "I just want it out of my
   Derek stands up, tries to calm her down; the guards have already
rushed in.  "Are you alright?" asks one.  Another: "Please sit down,
Miss Fumetti."  One barks into his walkie-talkie in what he thinks is
a discreet tone of voice: "Patient is agitated."
   They take her back to her room.

Church.  Now without a job, Derek's back to helping Father Riddle.
Today's adventure: replacing hymnals.
   Half-way down the aisle, Roy trips and falls on his back, a stack
of hymnals raining down on him.
   "Amazing grace," says Derek.  He digs Roy out from the wreckage and
helps him to his feet.
   "One of my favourites," says Roy.
   "I'm sure it is."
   "It's admittedly a popular choice.  But some things get popular
because they're good.  Do you have a favourite?"
   "Baby Got Back?"
   "A favourite hymn."
   Derek looks at him quizzically.
   "You don't need to have faith to be moved by a hymn," says Roy.
"Beautiful music.  Whether you believe in what it's for, you can still
appreciate its beauty...?"
   "I guess," says Derek. "I dunno.  Amazing Grace is fine.  So hey.
Let me tell you something.  You want to know why I'm an atheist?"
   "Because you don't believe in God," says Roy.  "That's, uh,
generally the case with atheists, isn't it?"
   Derek's not in any mood for it, and Roy can tell.
   "Okay, shoot."
   "The one thing that never makes sense and never will.  You have
this God, and God is good, right?  He loves us, we're all His
children, blah, blah, blah.  I mean, that's the whole concept of God."
   "Well, there's the whole all-powerful thing, but that's pretty much
it, yes."
   "Okay.  But the world we live in..."
   "Oh," says Roy, a broad smile trickling out from the corners of his
mouth.  "It's that old chestnut.  How can a just and loving God create
an unjust world?  Why is there pain and suffering?  Why do bad things
happen to good people, and vice-versa?"  He's laughing now.
   "I don't like being laughed at."
   "I'm sorry, but I'm just a little surprised.  This is what made you
an atheist, Derek?  I was hoping it'd be something better than that.
Like, why does the platypus exist?  I'm kind of disappointed in you."
   "Well, I notice that, like so many others in the bullshit industry,
you've yet to give me an answer."
   "I'll thank you to watch your language in His house," warns Roy.
"And I'm not entirely appreciative of your attack on my character."
   "Whose house am I in?  Because the way I see it, I don't see any
compelling evidence that God exists, and given that you haven't
answered my question..."
   "I'm sorry, Derek," says Roy, "but it's a nonsense question."
   "How is it nonsense?"
   "It's a non sequitor.  The two things have nothing to do with each
other.  It's like saying because I'm allergic to dogs, I must be good
at euchre."
   "No, the two things have everything to do with one another," says
Derek.  "Because if there really is a God, doesn't it follow that God
wouldn't let bad things happen?  I mean, if God cares about us like
you say He does..."
   "Look; you care about me."  A pause.  "Well, let's assume for the
sake of argument that you do.  I tripped and fell on my back a few
minutes ago, and that's going to hurt in the morning.  So why did you
let that happen, Derek?"
   "There's nothing I could have done about it."
   "So, it's not that you don't care, or that you don't exist..."
   "But God can do something about it," says Derek.  "If He's really
   "He does what He can," assures Roy.  "But then there's free will.
It's not that God can't overcome free will.  He can.  It's that He
won't.  He refuses to.  And that's the Big Guy's... um, His respect
for us, frankly.  We're not His equals but we're not His toys either.
We're living beings, and because we're alive, we have free will, and
He lets us use it."
   "So we're left to our own devices," says Derek.  "So, whatever
happens, it's us, it's not God."
   Roy shrugs.
   "So, tell me, Father Riddle, was it my father's free will to die?"
   "No," says Roy.  "That was Ellis Banks.  His free will.  That's the
problem, you see.  It's that everyone has free will, and everyone is
able to use it how they see fit.  And that's where pain comes from.
All pain, all suffering-- it all comes from free will.  But so does
all our joy and all our love.  Because if we can't think and feel and
decided for ourselves, we can never love or be loved, not really."
   "What about the cancer that killed my momma?" says Derek.  "Was
that her free will?"
   "No.  It was the cancer's."
   "Everything has free will, Derek," says Roy.  "People, animals,
plants, viruses; there's free will and intelligence of some sort in
every cell of every living thing.  And all this free will is acting
against all this other free will, and, like I said: pain."
   "But what about... what about..."
   "Okay, I'm just... okay.  Look.  Some people are born with things.
They're addicted to crack, and that's the free will of their mother
and the dealer and, um, all the little crack molecules, fine.  So that
person doesn't have any free will.  They're stuck with that."
   "Well, they have some, but..."
   "But what if it's something psychological?" says Derek.  "I mean,
everyone's different, special, whatever you want to say, no two
snowflakes, et cetera.  And you can't say, well, it's genetics, or
well, it's the environment, because you can have two kids raised
exactly the same way in exactly the same family and one's going to
turn out to a mobster and another a priest."
   "Jimmy Cagney and Pat O'Brien," says Roy warmly.  "Sorry.
   "So, where does that come from?"
   "That's the soul," brightens Roy.  "That's... the essential
person.  Who we are.  And you're certainly welcome to disagree with me
here, but I'd like to think we get that from God."
   "So God made Hitler the way he was."
   "Oy vey," says Roy.  "Hitler.  Always with the Hitler..."
   "Or Er-- or Ellis Banks, or Nathan Willis."
   "Free will," says Roy.  "This is what I'm talking about.  Free
will.  They made a choice..."
   "But did they have a choice?  Because if you're born with
something, with a soul, with who you are-- if you're born to be that
kind of person, if you're born with evil inside you-- if there is such
a thing as evil..."
   "There is," says Roy solemnly.  "But it's not God that made evil.
That's purely a human invention.  People can be born with the, with
the potential for good or for evil, but how they use it-- well, we're
at free will again."
   "But if something's driving you-- this, uh, a compulsion.  To kill,
to rape, to whatever.  If you're born with it, how much free will do
you have, really?  Okay, you know what, just ignore that question,
because here's a better one.
   "Okay, we've all got potential.  We can choose to ignore whatever's
inside us.  Someone can live with that.  We all have our crosses to
bear, whatever.  But.
   "But that thing that's there, that potential for evil, that drive,
that compulsion, that thing we can choose to ignore-- no one asks to
have that, right?  But it causes them pain, right?  It causes them to
suffer.  Through no choice of their own.  They don't want it and they
don't deserve it.  And if that thing is put inside us at the start--
if it's our soul, if there is such a thing-- then it's God that put
that inside of us.  And what kind of God, then, would do that?"
   "Well, uh, I don't have an answer for you right now, Derek..."
   "Of course you don't.  Well, let me tell you, then, Roy.  Because I
only see two answers here.  Either there's no God.  Or He's a fucking
   "I disagree," flares Roy.  "And I think maybe that's enough for
tonight.  Why don't you just go home now?"

Derek goes to his father's house, but it doesn't feel like a home.
   Of course, he doesn't know what a home really feels like; he's
never been particularly attached to one set of rooms or another.  But
he knows what a home isn't, he knows that vague feeling that he
doesn't belong somewhere or that he's not wanted.
   And he gets that feeling in these rooms, his father's rooms; every
room but his own feels like it belongs to his father.  It's not like
there's ghosts or some shit here-- but it don't feel empty, either.
   Did it used to be like that?, he wonders.  He knows that even when
his father was alive, he didn't spend a whole lot of his time at
home.  Especially true in the bad days, but nothing really changed
even after he started turning things around.  Did he ever feel welcome
   He knows that when he started training with Martin, he felt welcome
in the Knight's Den.  He felt comfortable, felt like he belonged.  And
if that's what a home is, then it was a home, maybe his first.
   But even that doesn't feel the same anymore.  It's not so much that
he looks forward to the training, or even that he dreads it, but that
he just goes through it.  Like an obligation.  Like school.  And
something twitches inside him all the time, he gets restless.
   And it's not just Martin, though more and more something about the
man just gets on his nerves: they don't fit so well anymore, like
they're always talking about two different things, never understanding
what the other is trying to say.
   It's not just Martin, because he's let himself into the Knight's
Den some afternoons and just sat there, alone.  And he just doesn't
feel like he belongs there.  Like he's intruding into somebody else's
   He felt good at work, or at least that's how he remembers it; at
the very least, it gave him a reason not to be at the church or in his
father's house.  But that's gone now, too, and Derek doesn't
understand it; why the hell did he throw those hedge clippers?  It's
just Cooper Dilge, for God's sakes-- he wasn't worth it, wasn't worth
it at all.
   He doesn't understand what made him do that, and he doesn't like
thinking about it, and so he doesn't.
   All he's got left now is this little room, this little bedroom on
the second floor of his father's house.  His father's dead now, but it
doesn't even feel like it belongs to Derek; he feels the weight of it
well enough, but the only part of it that's his is this little room.
   And even that feels less like a safe place and more like a trap.
It's not his house now, even if he is the landlord; Dani, Pam, and
Martin have all staked their claim, Pam in his father's room and Dani
in his mother's, with Martin shuttling between the two of them one
night after the next.  The three of them gathered around his father's
table right this instant, Pam calling him down for dinner, acting like
a family.
   But it's not his family.  His family's dead.  He's only a guest in
this house, and he can feel it in his stomach.  He can feel the rooms
pushing on him, just like he can feel these people pushing on him,
squeezing him into his tiny room, paralyzing him, squeezing the air
out of his lungs.
   Pam calls him for the third time and Derek finally comes down for
   "And hello to you, sunshine," snarks Pam as Derek enters their
dining room.
   "What's wrong, Derek?" asks Dani.
   "That face better not be because of my cooking," warns Pam.
   "What face?"
   "The face you made."
   "I didn't make any face."
   "Okay, then," says Pam, making a big show of backing off.  "Then
you didn't make any face."
   "Well, I didn't."
   Martin intercedes.  "Tastes good, Pam."
   "Damn right it tastes good," says Pam.   She turns to Derek.  "So
why aren't you eating it?"
   "I'm eating."
   "Taking your sweet time about it."
   "I'm savoring it," says Derek.
   "Okay," says Pam, elongating the first syllable incredulously.
   "What?" says Derek.
   "What 'what'?  I didn't saying anything.  I just said okay.  You're
savoring it.  I think it's worth being savored, and I thank you for
   Martin again: "Let's just calm down."
   "I am calm," says Pam.
   "So am I," says Derek.
   Dani mothers her way in.  "Is everything alright, Derek?"
   Derek's fork clangs to the plate.  "Everything's fine."
   "Okay," retreats Dani.  "Just calm down."
   "What do you mean, calm down?  All I said was that I'm fine, and
you're telling me to calm down."
   "It just seems like something's bugging you, that's all."
   "Let's just drop it," says Martin quickly.
   "Only thing bugging me," says Derek, "is people telling me
something's bugging me when there's nothing bugging me."
   "Alright," says Dani.  "My mistake.  I'm sorry.  I just-- you know,
we all care about you, we're concerned about you..."
   "There's nothing for you to be concerned about," says Derek,
standing up from the table.  "There's nothing going on with me, so
don't be making something out of nothing, or else there will be
something."  He leaves their dining room, barrels through their
kitchen, and exits their house out their side door.
   Martin follows after him.  "Hey."
   "Do not ask me if I'm okay," warns Derek.  "Because if you do that,
I won't be okay.  Otherwise-- like I keep saying-- I'm fine, alright?"
   "Alright," says Martin.  "Hey, they do the same thing to me, too.
Always want to talk about things where there's nothing to talk about.
Women just don't know how to leave well enough alone, you know?  Now
mind, that's not their fault.  That's just how they carry it.
Analyzing everything."
   "Hmm," nods Derek.  "Say.  Tell Pam dinner was nice."
   "I dare say she already knows that," says Martin.  "She don't need
our help on that score by a long mile."
   "Tell her just the same."
   "I will.  Uh.  Derek.  Now, if there was something going on..."
   Derek exhales, loud and sharp, like a bull.
   "I ain't saying that there is, but if there was-- you know, I'm
here for you to talk to.  Anything going on inside that you have
trouble sorting out, well-- maybe I can help you sort it."
   "Nah, I'm good."
   "Well, I know.  I'm just saying, is all."  He clears his throat.
"Nice night tonight."
   "Little chilly."
   "Oh, that's good, though," says Martin.  "For going on patrol, I
mean.  Air's a little warmer on the rooftops, and you keep moving
around, your circulation takes care of the rest.  Those hot muggy
summer days we been having, those are terrible.  You get all sticky-
sweaty-- by the time you're done, you've got to peel the union off
you.  These autumn nights, though-- just before the winter?  They're
just right.  Do you... do you want to give it a go?"
   "What, go on patrol?"
   "Yeah," says Martin.  "I could get the old one you were wearing...
if you want to?"
   "Why?" says Derek.  "You think it'll make me feel better?"
   Martin stumbles, linking a few incoherent halves of words together
before launching into a chorus of no's: "No, no, no, no.  I just-- you
know, I just wanted to-- I was just offering, I was just saying, is
   "Yeah, well, I'm getting tired of you just saying, is all," says
Derek.  "I'd rather you say something when you have something to say."
   "I thought this is something you'd want to do," says Martin.
   "When I earn it," says Derek.  "I don't want it just given to me
out of pity."
   "There ain't no pity here," says Martin.  "I just--"
   "Am I ready?"
   "Did I pass my tests yet?"
   "... no."
   "So what's the deal?"
   Martin's honest; it's a mistake.  "I'm just trying to help you
   "But I don't need any help," says Derek.  "That's the thing!  I'm
perfectly fine until everyone gets on my case about how I'm not fine.
I ain't sad, I ain't angry, I ain't nothing-- so just let me be and
stop trying to fix me, because there ain't nothing broken!"
   He slams his fists into his pockets and stalks off into the night.

   He's going to say I'm angry, Derek thinks.  But he ain't.
   Sure, he has a lot to be angry about.  He knows that.  Murdered
father, Erika, that house, those people.  If he believed in God, he'd
say that the Big Guy done gone out of His way to give Derek things to
be angry about.
   But this thing inside of him, whatever it is, it ain't anger.
Because he's felt it in him before, before he had anything to get
angry about.  He's pushed people away before, and he's made his share
of dumbass decisions.
   This is something inside him, deep inside, something restless,
something that swells him up like water: he's bloated with it, it runs
through his veins like blood.
   But it ain't anger.
   It ain't.

The house.
   "I'll look for him while I'm on my patrol," says Martin.  "Prolly
just needs to walk a while, blow off some steam."
   "You know where he was today?" says Pam.  "He went to see that
bitch in Third County."
   Dani's eyes go wide.
   "I came home to get some lunch, and I hear him on the phone with
them," says Pam.  "Tried to kill herself or some shit.  Then he ran
out to go see her."
   "I thought you talked to him," says Dani.
   "I did," says Martin.
   "Then why's he still visiting her?"
   "I don't know.  It's his business."
   "You didn't talk to him, did you?"
   "I did."
   "No, but you didn't talk to him about what you have to talk to him
about.  You need to tell him what happened so that he understands."
   "I don't need to tell him shit," says Martin.  "And I don't feel
like going around in circles with you tonight."
   "Then I'll tell him."
   "Like hell you will!"
   "Don't you dare raise your voice at her," says Pam.
   "You keep out of it," says Martin.  "Both of you.  It's my life,
what happened, happened to me, and I'm dealing with it the way I'm
dealing with it, alright?  Ain't no one's business but my own."
   "But you don't deal with it, sweetie," says Dani earnestly.
"That's just the thing.  You've never really dealt with it, and you
just carry it around inside you."
   "Oh, shut the fuck up!"  He pushes past them and heads out the
   "I pushed him too hard," says Dani.  "It's my fault."
   "Don't you ever say that," says Pam.  "That's the kind of shit my
mom would say after my dad was done beating her."
   "Your dad was abusive?"
   "Oh, fuck yeah.  Beat my mom, my sister too.  And every time, they
said they were sorry for it.  Blamed themselves, tried to please him
more the more hell they got, and the more they tried to please him,
the more hell he gave them.  'It was my fault, I pushed him too much,
I shouldn't have asked.'
   "That's the kind of shit a broken woman says.  You might be squishy
as butter, but you ain't broken, and I ain't gonna let you break,
whatever our differences may be."
   "Well, Martin's not like that."
   "God no," says Pam.  "Martin's got his issues, and while I ain't
gonna say he's got them exactly under control, he ain't ever hurt us
and he ain't ever gonna.  He's a good man.  I trust him."
   Dani nods.  "Did he hit you?  Your dad, I mean."
   "Oh, before his time was done, he did all manner of fucked-up shit
to try and break me like he did my mom and Cheryl.  But I was
stubborn."  Her eyes shine.  "Boy, was I a stubborn bitch.  Still am,
I guess."
   "It's just-- I'm just a little surprised, I guess, a little
shocked.  Whenever you do talk about your dad, always seems like you
kinda miss him."
   "Oh, I surely do," says Pam.  "It's complicated.  He wasn't half as
mean when he didn't have the drink in him.  Part of me misses him, and
that part of me hates the bastard that took him away from me.  And
part of me hates my dad, and so I hate the bastard that killed him
before I could."

   A couple of hours in to his patrol, Martin's bleeper goes off.
It's Dani.  He calls her back on a payphone.
   "He's back," she says.  "He just walked in and went upstairs,
didn't say a word to us."
   "Thanks for letting me know," he says.
   She doesn't say anything; the silence is strained, like she's
expecting something.
   "Well, I gotta go."
   "Take care."
   "I try."

   Martin slips in through the side door and peels off his union.
Dani and Pam are seated at the table, seemingly exactly how he left
them.  They're drinking coffee.  He smiles at them.
   They don't smile back.
   He changes into his civvies.  "He still upstairs?"
   Pam nods.
   He kisses each of them on the cheek-- Dani first, then Pam-- and
heads up to Derek's room.  The door's open just a crack.  He knocks on
   "Come in, Martin," says Derek.
   Martin opens the door just enough to squeeze in and lets it drift
shut behind him.  "How'd you know it was me?"
   "You grabbed the knob before you knocked," says Derek.  "Dani just
knocks, then she pokes her head in."
   "And Pam?"
   "Pam don't bother with knocking," says Derek.
   Martin knows that's true, and he smiles.  He lets the smile linger
before it fades.  "Everything cool?"
   Derek shrugs.  "Sure." He clears his throat.  "I was thinking about
that test, the first one.  I think I got the answer."
   "Do you think you got it, or do you got it?" asks Martin.  "Because
you only get one shot.  If you get it wrong, everything we've done--
it's gone."
   "Then I guess the lot of you will be homeless," smirks Derek.
   "All the more reason to be cautious," says Martin, withering.  "You
got to be sure."
   "I'm sure," says Derek.  "So, let's go through the particulars
again.  I'm in a bank or someplace, doesn't matter where.  There's two
crooks and two hostages-- a mother and a daughter.  Crook number one
is over here, crook number two is over there.  They each got a hostage
at gunpoint.  I've got time to save one.  I run over here and save
this one, by the time I try to run over to the other one, they're
dead.  That is the situation, right?"
   "I didn't leave anything out?"
   "Nope.  That's it.  Are you sure you're ready to answer...?"
   "I run over to save the mother..."
   "Let me finish.  So I run over there, I punch the guy, I take his
gun, and I shoot the other guy in the head."
   "That's not funny."
   "I'm serious," says Derek.  "I save the mother first because the
little girl's going to be shorter.  There's going to be less of a
chance of me hitting her by mistake if I am for the guy's head.  Plus,
there's more of a chance he'd hesitate before trying to shoot her-- I
mean, it's a kid, right?  So that buys me the time to act.  Not enough
time to run after him, but enough time to take him down from where the
other guy was standing.  What?"
   "I won't... I won't accept that as your answer.  That's not your
official answer."
   "You mean it's the wrong one."
   "Well, it sure ain't right," says Martin.  "That's the first rule.
The most important rule!  The first thing I ever taught you.  Four
colours don't kill."
   "It's the only way I can save both."
   "You can't save both.  That's the whole point of the exercise."
   "But I found a way, didn't I?" bristles Derek.  "You're just mad
because I found a way."
   "That's not a way.  That's not an option.  Ever."
   "Look: I can choose to take the life of someone who's about to kill
a kid, or I can kill the kid by doing nothing.  You're trying to tell
me that the life of that crook is worth more than the life of that
   "That's not your choice to make."
   "That's the choice you're asking me to make.  That's what the
question's about: which one do I save, the mother or her kid, which is
more important?  And, you know what, neither one is more important.
There's no way I can choose one over the other.  But if it's a choice
between one of them, and the guy wanting to kill them?  I'll do
whatever it takes to save one of them."
   "If you kill, you can't be a hero, Derek."
   "Seemed to work out okay for you."
   Martin knew this was coming; he walked into it.  "I made mistakes.
I never said I was perfect."
   "No, but I have to be, right?  I need to learn from your mistakes,
can't make any of my own?"
   "You can, you have, and you will," says Martin.  "But you can't
ever take a human life.  Ever."
   "Not even in self-defense?"
   "You find another way."
   "Not even if it saves another life?"
   "You can't put one life over another.  You find another way."
   "Oh no," snarls Derek, "but there is no other way.  No way to save
both, right?  And, you know what-- I can put one life over another.  I
absolutely can.  You couldn't, and that was your mistake, and I can
learn from that, right?  So I'm learning."
   "Stop it, Derek," says Martin.  "That's the one thing you can never
   "Like all the times you and Ray fought the Psychopomp," says
Derek.  "He'd kill people, and you'd fight him, and they'd put him
away in a nuthouse, and he'd get out, and he'd go out and kill some
more.  Again and again.  And you let him do it.  You can't tell me
that his one life is more important than all those others?  You could
have stopped him.  But it was more important that you feel shiny and
good about yourself."
   "I felt the same way for a long time," says Martin.  "And that's
why, when I went on my own, I did what I did.  I made the same
arguments you made, followed the same logic.  But that's a dead-end.
I learned that.  And it's really not something you want to learn for
yourself.  At any rate, you got to get your head straight, because I'm
not going to work with a murderer."
   "Isn't that what you're asking me to do, though?" says Derek.
   "You want to drop this now," flares Martin.  "Because if you keep
this up, we can't work together.  What's more, if you go out and kill,
I will find you, and I will take you in, and you will pay for your
   "Like you paid for yours?" says Derek.  "Hypocrite.  Must be nice
being Martin Rock.  None of your actions have consequences.  You get
love and support and you get a free pass to screw up and you don't
need to work a job, pay bills, raise a family.  You get to do whatever
you want, and you don't have to put yourself on hold for anybody
else.  My dad was ten times the man you are.  You might be forty-
seven, but I'm more of a man than you."
   "Maybe you're right," says Martin.  "But then, you got to ask
   "No.  Stop.  You're not going to turn this around into another life
lesson or some crap about growing up.  Because you lost the right to
do that a long time ago.  Just leave me be.  I don't want to have to
walk out of my own house again.  Just leave me be."
   Martin withdraws.

   This is bad, he thinks.  This is broken.  How did it get this way?
How did he let it happen?  And, more importantly, how is he going to
make it right?
   "You need to talk it out with him," says Dani.  "Maybe all of us
need to.  Let's just all sit down like adults, and let's get it out
there, and let's work it out together."
   Martin rolls his eyes.  "I've been trying to talk to him.  I don't
think I'm the only one.  But he's not listening."
   "But are you?"
   "Yes; he doesn't want to talk it out.  Talking it out just seems to
escalate things, to make it worse."
   Pam agrees.  "Way I see it, if this ain't come to a head already,
it's going to be soon.  Frankly, I don't think there is any way to
salvage things with him."
   "What do you suggest then?" says Martin.
   "Cut him off," says Pam.  "You can always find another sidekick."
   "What's going to happen to him, then?"
   "Who cares?" says Pam.  "I mean, sure, I like the kid-- but he's
digging his own hole here.  He loses his house, he loses this
opportunity-- and it's damn nice of you to give it to him in the first
place-- that's his own fault.  Actions have consequences, and he's got
to learn that sometime.  Maybe he has to learn it the hard way."
   "I can't accept that," says Martin.  "I won't give up on him.  I
   "Sometimes, you don't have a choice," says Pam.  "And, in the end,
it's really not up to you, is it?  It's up to him."

The Church.  Morning.
   Martin's headed for the Knight's Den when he crosses paths with
Father Riddle.  "Hey," says Roy.  "Long time no see."  And it's true;
ever since Martin, Dani, and Pam started cohabitating, Martin's pretty
much avoided the closest thing he has to a guy friend.
   "Yeah," says Martin finally.  "Just been busy, you know."
   "Well, you got less of a reason to drop by now that you've got
somewhere else to sleep," says Roy.  "And you can do a lot of training
with Derek there.  How is he, by the way?"
   "Oh, he's fine," says Martin.
   "Well, it's just that I don't think he's fine at all," says Roy.
"It's not just that he's going through a tough time because of his
father's passing.  It's something else."
   "Like what?"
   "He's a very angry young man.  And, true, he has a reason to be
angry.  But it keeps building in him."  He hesitates.
   "He does have a bit of a problem," says Martin.  "And it has been
getting worse.  I really don't know what to do, though.  I try talking
to him, and it just seems to egg him on.  I try leaving him alone, and
he just gets distant and ornery."
   "Well, this is what makes it tough," says Roy.  "In the end, he's
the only one that can do anything about it.  He needs to close up the
wound and stop picking at the scab.  He needs to let time and love do
its work.
   "This is natural, you know.  It's natural for him to be angry.
He's angry at Ellis Banks for taking his father away from him, and
he's angry at God-- whether he believes in Him or not-- for doing the
same.  He's angry at all of us, and he's angry at himself.
   "And it wasn't so long ago that it all happened.  But I've seen
anger and hatred swallow people up whole, and sometimes they come
through okay in the end, and sometimes they don't." He lowers his
head.  "I've not only seen it, I've been there."  He smiles awkwardly,
not because he's happy but because he is exposed.  "I wasn't always a
   "Anyway.  I don't want that for Derek.  I don't think any of us
   "Like you said," says Martin, "he needs to make that decision for
himself.  None of us can make it for him, and I don't really know how
to help him.  We can't just keep accepting it from him, letting him
get away with sh-- stuff, hurting people, heaping abuse on everybody.
But I can't cut him off, either.  Tough love would be no kind of love
in this situation."
   "Plus, he'd probably throw you out of his house," mentions Roy.
   "There is that."
   "You're right that you can't accept the way he's acting," says
Roy.  "But you can forgive it.  You can always forgive."
   "Give him some space the next couple of days.  And try to lead by
example.  I'm not saying you need to mind all your P's and Q's--
though, really, you should be doing that anyway-- but, just be careful
of your own temper.  Make sure you're not picking at your own scabs
and letting them fester."
   "I don't think he really wants to emulate me," scoffs Martin.
   "He will if you're worth emulating," says Roy.

   Martin sits on his bed in the Knight's Den, reloading his utility
belt with the last of Ray's old gas pellets.  He's been meaning to
drop one off with Dr. Fay for a few weeks now, but never really got
around to it.
   He carefully rolls one of the gas pellets between his thumb and his
index finger, staring at it, searching for an answer: WWRD, what would
Ray do?
   Ray would tell Derek to get over it, to shape up.  Ray would ignore
it and throw himself into the work.  Or, if push came to shove, Ray
would probably just cut him off like he did so many other people he
didn't have any use for.
   But Derek's not Martin; Derek wouldn't be intimidated by the old
man in the green costume.  It would just push him farther away.
   More importantly: Martin's not Ray.  Ray might have taught him all
the ways to punch a guy in the face, and all the ways to dodge or take
a bullet, and a damn fine classical education to boot--
   But Ray never taught him how to be kind.  Ray never taught him how
to love and to be loved, how to depend on others, and trust them.
Martin's had to learn that all on his lonesome, and it took the better
part of forty-seven years.
   Anders suddenly pops into his head.  Anders, Ray's real son, poor
fucked-up Anders.  Sometimes Martin hates him, hates his money and his
privilege, but right now he pities him.  Anders wasn't the way he was
when he popped out of his mother.  He got that way.  Ray made him that
way.  Made him cold and bitter and lonely.
   Ray wasn't much of a father to either of them.  He certainly wasn't
worth emulating, and Martin told himself that twelve years ago when
they broke off, and he tells himself that now.  But the fact is, he's
emulated him.
   The way he throws himself into the work.  The way he pushes people
away.  The way he feels entitled to do so.  The way he ignores real
and honest responsibilities-- responsibilities that Derek's facing up
to despite the odds.
   Maybe Derek's right; maybe Derek is more of a man than Martin is.
So maybe it's time that Martin stopped picking at his scabs and acted
like a man.

Third County.
   Erika has a private visitor in Dr. Chase's office.  It's not Derek.
   "Hello, Erika," says the Green Knight.
   She sits down.  Martin nods to the attendants and Dr. Chase; they
close the door behind them.
   "I..." stumbles Erika.  "I... um..."
   "What you did to me, was wrong.  And you know that.  You're trying
to get help.  And that's good.  And I hope it works out for you.  I
really do."  He leans forward and takes a breath.
   "I'm sorry," says Erika.  "Please, believe me, I'm..."
   "I forgive you."
   "But I don't..."
   "I forgive you," says Martin.  "And you're in my prayers.  Stay in
treatment.  Move on with your life.  And don't ever hurt anyone
   He stands up and he leaves.

Two days later, Derek comes to visit her.
   "The Green Knight came to see me," she says.
   "What?  Are you sure?"
   "Yes," says Erika.  "I remember his eyes..."
   "What, what happened?"
   "He forgave me," she beams.  It is perhaps the first time Derek's
ever seen her genuinely happy.  "I thought... I thought that what I
did, I could never be forgiven.  But... but he forgave me, and he told
me to move on.  I feel like maybe I got a second chance, like maybe I
can beat this thing."

The Church.
   Derek and Father Riddle.
   "Roy, I want to ask you something, about a friend of mine.  That
friend that I mentioned last summer, the night my father died."
   "The one who had done something bad."
   "Something really bad," says Derek.  "Well, he-- the person he did
it to, they told them it was okay, they forgave them, told them to
move on.  And I-- what I don't get is that, this other person, they do
not like my friend at all."
   "So why did they forgive them?" says Roy.  "Maybe they felt sorry
for them.  Maybe they felt some sympathy.  Maybe somebody forgave them
for something and they just felt like they needed to pass it forward.
Or maybe... maybe they didn't do it for your friend at all.  Maybe
they did it for themselves.  Maybe it was time that they moved on."

State Prison.
   The guards leads Ellis Banks in and cuff him to the table across
from Derek.
   "I shot your daddy, didn't I?" says Ellis.  "You here to spit in my
   "I'm here to forgive you," snarls Derek.
   "I don't want it."
   "I don't care," says Derek. "I'm giving it to you."
   "I'm glad I killed your daddy."
   "I forgive you."
   "I reject it."
   "It doesn't matter.  It's not yours to reject.  It's mine to give.
I forgive you."
   "Fuck you."
   "And fuck you, too," says Derek.  "I forgive you.  I ain't doing it
for you, I'm doing it for me.  I want you out of my heart.  I'm not
going to waste any more hate on you.  I got too much love to give, and
people that I want to give it to, so I forgive you."  He raises his
hand so the men in the window can see him.  "I'm done."

Bus ride.
   Derek half expects everything to come flooding out of him.  But
that's not what happens.  Ellis Banks in still there, and he still
hates him, hates him deep.
   But something's changed, too; something that's almost
imperceptible.  He knows that he's been angry, and he knows that he
hasn't been in control.  And it'll be a long time before he's back to
anything approaching normal, if he ever is.
   But he'll deal with it.  Day at a time, moment-by-moment, he's
going to be better than he was the day before.

Third County, three weeks later.
   Erika's off suicide watch.  They might even give her shoelaces
again in a month or two.  And she hasn't had one of her bad thoughts
for fifteen days.  Tomorrow will be sixteen.  It'll be a long time
before she's ready to leave the hospital, but it feels less and less
impossible every day.
   Day at a time, moment-by-moment, she's going to get better.

   Martin, Pam, and Derek have dinner.  Dani's upstairs sick with the
flu.  Martin brings her up a plate.  He skips his patrol this night.
   He stays with her.  Mops her forehead.  Gives her kisses.  Brings
her water.  Reads to her.
   He had an interview this morning.  And he thinks that this time he
just might get the job.
   He's not perfect.  He never will be.  But he's getting better.
   Day at a time.

Christmas morning.  The grave.  Ray's been dead for two years on the
   Last year, Martin stood here with Anders and measured himself
against the boy's father.  Now, he stands here with Derek, and, to be
frank, he doesn't care what Ray would think.
   "Martin," says Derek.
   "I think I should say this now.  I've been thinking about... about
the test.  Where I can't save both of them.
   "And... I can't do it.  It's not that I can't decide.  It's... it's
that I refuse to.  There has to be a way to save both." His eyes burn
holes in the clouds.  "There has to be a way.  There's always a way...
if you can find it."
   Martin puts his hand on Derek's shoulder and squeezes him in a
sideways hug.  "And we'll find it, together, if we can.
Congratulations, partner.  You've passed your first test.  Now you
just got to work on the second one.  And no, you ain't calling
yourself Captain Traction."
   "I'll work on it," says Derek.  "And I got a few ideas.  I just...
I dunno.  I ain't in such a hurry for it anymore."
   Martin gives him another squeeze, and they head home.


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