8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 15, The Sensational Character-Find of 2007, Part Four: The Death of Moses Mason!
milos_parker at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 3 23:22:40 PDT 2008
Martin rushes into Roy's manse, haggard and out of breath.
Dani's behind him. "We've been trying to reach you," she says.
"Why didn't you answer your phone?"
"I'm sorry, I-- I lost it," says Derek. "What's wrong? Why are
"It's your father," says Martin. "He's been murdered."
THE DEATH OF MOSES MASON!
EIGHTFOLD COMICS GROUP PROUDLY PRESENTS THE
////////////// 2006 & 2007 RACCIE WINNER FOR
//// ////// /// ////// FAVOURITE ACRA SERIES
// //// // // /// //
////// ////// ///// //
# 15 JULY 2008
////// /// ////// \ // THE SENSATIONAL
/// /// // \// CHARACTER-FIND
////// /// // // OF 2007 PART 4
BY TOM RUSSELL //
Moses Mason was not supposed to die.
It would come out later that the killer always went after families:
a mom, a dad, and at least one child. He would call them from a cell
phone, and after they hung up, he would walk up to their house and
shoot them. When he killed his first family, the Kowalskis (they had
three children), he stole a cell phone and used that to call his other
The second and third families, the Petersons and the Patels, had
one child apiece. He thought the Lynches had a kid, but it turned out
they were only babysitting; he saw the real parents pick up the kids
the day before he was going to kill them. He decided to attack the
couple anyway. He only killed the woman, Emma; he shot Robert in the
knee and let him live. He doesn't know why.
And so, you see, Moses Mason wasn't supposed to die. He was a
single father with an adult child. No, the intended victims were
Frederick and Jennifer Phillips and their two children.
He called them from Paul Kowalski's cell phone, but they did not
answer. He stood outside their house, across the street, and peered
inside; he could see them, he could even hear their phone ringing, but
still they did not answer. He called again, and inexplicably, they
refused to answer. No one had ever done this before.
He heard some sirens in the distance, and that spooked him. He had
no way of knowing that the police knew he had Kowalski's phone, and
that they had tapped it and traced it. But he became suspicious of it
none-the-less, and he dropped it to the ground.
He darted down the block, and when the sirens got closer, he slowed
down to a casual, self-absorbed stroll. The cars appeared, converging
on the Phillips household, passing him by completely.
About a half-hour later, he walked into a liquor store. He walked
around and counted four people in total: two clerks and two
customers. He shot them all in the head. One of the customers was
Moses Mason. He was not supposed to die.
After they break the news to Derek, Dani and Martin leave him with
Roy Riddle in the manse. Martin rushes into the church, into the
Knight's Den, so that he can suit up. Dani calls the station over her
car radio to let them know that they've found Derek, that he's
alright, that he's somewhere safe.
Derek doesn't cry. He is at once proud of this fact and ashamed of
it, and he doesn't like that, this feeling of cognitive dissonance in
his heart, he doesn't like that at all. He'd be fine with one or the
other, but both at once rankles.
Dani and Martin show up again, Martin dressed as the Green Knight,
and they explain that they're going after the man who did this. Derek
looks up for a moment, half-expecting Martin to ask him to come along:
a trial by fire, the night he becomes a man, bringing his father's
killer to justice. But no.
"Take care of him, Roy," says Martin.
And then they're gone, leaving Derek with Father Riddle and his
cold tea. Roy clears his throat, gently searching for the right
"Don't," says Derek. "Just don't."
Roy nods, perhaps a little thankful for the rebuff. Comfort is
seldom effective when the wound is this fresh. He stands up and puts
his hand on Derek's shoulder. "You want me to leave you alone for a
"I don't know. I guess. Yeah."
"I'm here if you need me," says Roy. "And so is the Big Guy."
It's a bad mistake on Roy's part: they're exactly the wrong words.
He doesn't realize it until Derek upends his table, sending the
teacups flying and shattering to the floor.
Derek stands over it, huffing and puffing, his skin newly flush.
Roy looks him in the eye, and Derek looks at him back, not the least
Roy just nods again, breaking the gaze, and then he excuses himself
from the room.
Wolsey greets Dani and the Green Knight at the crime scene. "Let
me introduce you to my partner, Bryant."
Detective Bryant does not offer his hand.
"We've met before," explains Martin tersely; this was the same
Bryant who tried to lock him out of a crime scene on the Trapper case.
Bryant very quickly lets Martin know that he hasn't changed in the
intervening months. "Last time, you tried to make my homicide into a
narcotics case," he says, placing more blame, perhaps, at Dani's
feet. "But the Snapp case is over now. Only jurisdiction either of
you got is over those yahoos jumping around in tights. And you ain't
about to tell me that this psychopath was wearing one of your union
suits. And so, you got no business being here, and I'd thank you
kindly if you both went and fucked yourselves."
"I just want to help," says Martin. He addresses himself to
Bryant turns and flashes a glance at Wolsey; Wolsey doesn't say a
word. Bryant locks eyes with the Green Knight.
"What," he says, "is this a personal matter? That's the last thing
we need, vigilante-- some guy with a chip on his shoulder going off
"Off the biscuits?"
"Just take your hard-on and stick it in your ass, okay?" says
Bryant. "We got this under control. We don't need your help, and we
don't want it."
Wolsey pipes up in a soft high voice: "But thank you anyway."
This prompts another glare from Bryant.
It's at this moment that several men in suits approach the scene.
A bald man flashes a badge. "Michael Reynolds, FBI. Lt. Handler, Mr.
Knight," he acknowledges with a nod. "Nice to see you again. And I
take it these are Detectives Wolsey and Bryant?"
"We are," says Bryant.
"Good," says Reynolds. "We need to know what you know, now."
"Excuse me?" says Bryant.
"Ah," says Wolsey, "I got a sinking feeling they're taking over our
"No one's taking over my case," says Bryant adamantly.
Reynolds smiles. "We're taking over your case." He directs his
shining white chompers at Dani and Martin. "If you'll excuse us...?"
"Uh," says Martin, "could I talk to a second, actually?"
"Sure," says Reynolds.
Martin takes him aside. "If there's anything I can do to help...
anything at all..."
"There is something you can do, actually," says Reynolds. "You can
take your little unicycle, and you can go ride it around on some
rooftops and let us real people do real things that actually matter.
Are we done?"
"I guess so," says Martin.
Martin and Dani climb into her car. "Sorry, hero," says Dani.
"Ain't your fault," says Martin.
"They're gonna catch him," says Dani. "They're capable people."
Martin stares at her.
"Well, Wolsey's capable," says Dani. "Way I hear it, he's the top
and Bryant's the bottom. Uh, strictly professionally speaking."
"That ain't the way it looks," says Martin.
"Well, Bryant shoots his mouth off and likes to think he's in
charge. Wolsey's the one who actually does things. And now they got
the FBI on the case..."
"Yeah, that's fine," says Martin. "They'll catch the guy, I know.
I just... I want to do something about this, y'know? I want to make a
difference for that kid."
"Well, then, maybe that's for the best, then," says Dani. "Police
family get killed, you can bet your ass that cop has nothing to do
with that investigation or the collar, no matter how bad they want it,
or how bad they need it. That just goes bad places. It needs to be
"Yeah, I know," says Martin.
"He'll understand," says Dani. She takes his arm softly. "Best
thing you can do for him right now is be with him."
"Hey, Dani," says Martin suddenly. He brightens considerably.
"Uh, Lt. Handler, Official Four-Colour Liaison for Jolt City?"
"You have contact information for Darkhorse? A phone number?"
"Pop the trunk for me, and call him," says Martin. He gets out of
the car. "Tell him I'm coming over." He grabs his unicycle from the
trunk and hops on. "Oh, and tell him and his wife to put some damn
Stately Darkhorse Manor.
Brian Clipper (fully clothed) is seated in his wheelchair and
waiting for Martin on his patio when our verdant vigilante arrives.
"Probably isn't a social call?" says Brian.
"No," says Martin. "I need your help."
"What can I do for you?"
"There's a killer in Jolt City," says Martin. "Shot up a bunch of
people in a party store."
"So I heard," says Brian. "Police think it's that serial killer."
"I want to help," says Martin. "I need to help, I need to catch
this guy. I need in on the investigation and I need access to the
crime scene, and they're locking me out-- the police, the FBI. You've
got some federal contacts. Could you help me out here?"
"Sure thing," says Brian. He calls for his wife. "Honey!"
Daphne slides open the glass door.
"Could you bring me the phone, pookums?"
Daphne darts back into the house, and moments later, returns with
the telephone. Brian dials.
"Hey, Scott," he says. "It's Brian. Could you patch me through?
Thanks." He puts his hand over the phone and explains: "I'm holding."
The other side picks up. "Brian?"
"Hello, Mr. President. I have a friend that needs a little
Reynolds meets Martin in a hospital lobby; "greets" almost
certainly is not the right word.
"We may have a name and a face," says Reynolds as he directs Martin
to an elevator. "We're just going to see our eyeball guy to confirm
it." He tenses his lips. "We were told to wait for you."
Wolsey joins them and explains: "He was calling all these other
families with Kowalski's cell phone, which he dropped at the Phillips'
when he heard us coming. We got ahold of the Kowalski's landline
phone records-- we figure maybe the guy's using the same M.O. all
along-- so maybe his cell phone will show up or, God forbid, more
victims. But nothing. No phone calls before or around the time of
death, and what's more, number's unlisted anyway.
"Now we tapped the cell and got its records, but we never gave much
thought to it: it was only used after the Kowalski killing to call the
other victims. Until I got ahold of the phone, and I got to
"He called the cell before he killed them instead of the landline?"
"That's what we're thinking," says Reynolds. "Right before the
time of death, this number pops up twice." He pulls a copy of the
phone records from a manila folder tucked under his arm; this is
followed by a mugshot. "Ellis Banks, age twenty. Busted last year
for underage drinking. Suspended sentence. Mr. Kowalski was his
lawyer then. And this," he says, pulling out a drawing, "is what the
police sketch artist did based on Mr. Lynch's description."
"I see a resemblance," says Martin.
"Well," says Reynolds, "it was a police sketch artist. I'm sure
it's considered adequate for a police sketch."
Wolsey presses on. "We couldn't lift any decent prints off the
phone. But if Mr. Lynch IDs him, then we'd have enough to pull him."
To make a long story short: "That's the man, that's the man that
killed my Emma."
Reynolds doesn't waste any time; he flips up his phone and barks
his orders: "It's him. Go time."
"What's happening?" says Martin.
"Ssh," says Reynolds, irritated, his ear pressed to his phone.
Several loud crashing noises and indistinct screams seep into the air.
Martin turns to Wolsey. "What's happening?"
"He had some guys on stand-by," says Wolsey. "I, um, assume
they're storming the house."
"Good, good," Reynolds is saying. "Take him to the station. I'll
be there in five." He snaps the phone shut and pockets it. "They got
him," he says. He cracks a creaky smile at Martin. "Thanks for your
Derek's sleeping on Roy's couch when Martin lets himself into the
manse. Dani's sleeping in a rocking chair next to the couch.
Martin wakes her gently.
"They caught him," says Martin. "Mostly Wolsey, I think. Reynolds
seemed to just take credit for it."
"That's why he and Bryant were sparking right away," says Dani
wryly. "They're a lot alike."
"They were going off the biscuits," says Martin. Whatever slight
smile was living and breathing beneath his mask dies suddenly. "It's
just some kid. Twenty years old. Confessed and everything."
"Why do you sound disappointed?" says Dani.
Derek stirs. Martin waits, ascertains that he's still asleep, and
then answers in a quiet voice. "I just wished I had done something.
It's silly, I guess. Important thing is that we got him."
"Derek really needed you here," says Dani. "And he's going to need
you for some time to come."
Martin nods. "I'll do better."
"I know you will."
Derek wakes late in the morning. His back hurts from sleeping on
Roy's cramped little loveseat. That's the first thing he thinks of:
my back hurts.
He sits up and he knows that his life has changed. He knows it in
his head, as a fact, as something objective; it doesn't seem to have
any meaning beyond that. He knows it but he can't feel it. My
father's dead, he thinks, and it feels about the same as My back
hurts. Everything's changed, so why does it all just feel the same?
He expects to cry, or to quiver, or to scream. But he doesn't. He
just sits there and stares at his knees, feeling the dull ache in his
back like the stretching of rubber bands.
He doesn't know how long he sits there before Roy enters the room;
it's not long at any rate.
"How'd you sleep?"
"How're you feeling?"
Derek's head lowers slightly and he trains his eyeballs up at Roy,
perhaps expecting the priest to apologize for asking such a stupid
question. When no apology is forthcoming, and it becomes apparent
that Roy is expecting an answer, Derek breaks off his gaze and shrugs
"You want anything to eat?"
"Uh, corn flakes or cheerios?"
Another shrug. Roy departs, and before too long, he returns with a
bowl of corn flakes. (Derek had wanted cheerios. He eats the corn
"Sorry about your dishes and your table," Derek mutters.
"It's alright," says Roy.
"No, it's not," says Derek. "There was no excuse..."
Roy puts up his hands. "It's alright," he says again. "Like we
were talking about last night, about your friend. Hate the sin.
Never the sinner."
"Yeah, well," starts Derek. He stops.
"Well," says Derek, "that's not absolute. You can't forgive
everybody, and you can't forgive everything."
"If I believed that," says Roy, "I would be a terrible priest. No
one is beyond redemption. No act is unforgivable."
"Yeah, well, I'm not a priest," says Derek, ending the
conversation. He downs a couple gulps of corn flakes and starts it
back up again: "And you really don't want to be going into with me
about this right now. You really don't."
Roy nods. "Is there anyone we need to get in touch with? Any
Derek shakes his head.
"I can call them if you like."
"There's nobody," says Derek.
"Not an aunt or..."
"Nobody," snaps Derek. "It was just me and my dad. That's it."
He inhales deeply, the slightly souring scent of the milk vaporing
into his brain. "I was all he had, and I treated him like shit right
up until the end."
"Did he love you, Derek?"
"And you loved him?"
"Did he know?"
"I think so," says Derek.
"He knew," says Roy. "And he saw you trying to turn your life
Derek just nods.
"If there is no one else," says Roy delicately, "it's going to be
up to you to make the arrangements. I'll help you, if you like."
"I'll do it myself."
"That's fine. If-- if you want to have the services here, there
won't be any kind of charge."
"Thanks," says Derek. "Um..."
"I'm sorry," says Roy. "We don't need to talk about this now. We
don't need to talk about anything if you don't want to."
"It's fine," says Derek. "Might-- it might do me some good, to
keep my mind occupied. When, uh, when should I start doing this,
getting, getting, getting things together?"
"Well," says Roy, "we'll have to wait for the police to release
the, his body. From what I understand, uh, with homicides, there has
to be an, uh..."
"An autopsy," says Derek.
Quite suddenly-- so suddenly it takes Derek himself by surprise--
he begins to shake and to sob, the cereal bowl and spoon clanging
loudly between his hands. Roy gently pulls it away and then embraces
"I hate you," sobs Derek. "I hate you."
"That's fine," says Roy. "You can hate me." He hugs him anyway.
A week passes like a dream, each present moment languid and gentle,
like years packed within each jitter of the second hand, while every
yesterday is speedily receding, unable to last, to be touched, to be
held in place; time passing too slowly here and now but too quickly
Derek spends as much of this time as he can deep in the bowels of
the church, training with Martin. Martin had told Derek that they
could wait a few days, or a few weeks, or however long he needed, but
Derek was adamant that the training continue as scheduled. "You
remind me a lot of myself," Martin had said at that time. Derek never
asked him to expound on this point.
When he isn't training, he is in his father's house. He returns
there every night, not because he wants to be there but because of a
fear that he acknowledges is not rational: a vague sense that if he's
not there so many hours out of the day, that it would cease to be
there or that it would cease to hold his father's things, or, at the
very least, that someone else would move in there. He knows that none
of these things are possible; his father left no will or other heirs.
The house is Derek's.
Of course, that's something else that's nagging him. While his
father didn't leave any other substantial debts, there was still the
matter of the mortgage, the city taxes, and the utilities. He wonders
if maybe he should sell the house. There's no way he can afford these
bills; he'd have to get a job. And getting a job substantial enough
to cover these expenses would probably get in the way of his chosen
It's funny; even though he spends hours learning the tricks of the
trade, even though he's spent more time in this week-- when Martin
wasn't otherwise engaged solving the puzzle-themed right-wing crimes
of the Crypto-Fascist (Monday) and saving the patients and staff of a
hospital from a neighboring sentient building which had fallen in love
with it (Thursday)-- than in the last two weeks combined, the whole
superhero thing seems distant, far too distant.
And then there's Erika. What to do about Erika? She hasn't called
him yet, and the entire time he's been both dreading and hoping that
she'd call. The dreading part was understandable, he thought, after
what she told him. But the hoping part, on the other hand...
He supposes that he's worried about her, worried that maybe she'd
do something stupid. If she called, he reasons, at the very least
he'd know that she was alright.
But if she called, of course, then he'd have to talk to her. He'd
have to address the nature of her revelations, and he'd have to tell
her what he thought of her and how he felt about her. And that
wouldn't be easy, first and foremost because he was still having
trouble sorting it all out.
The things she had done-- the things she thought about doing--
well, there was no question about that. He hated her for it. And it
wasn't like any other aspect of her personality might compensate for
that in any way. So it wasn't a matter of balancing it out or
anything; that wasn't the problem.
The problem was, he had a hard time reconciling what she had done
with her, period; the two things didn't seem to fit, and try as he
might he still couldn't connect the two in his brain, still couldn't
get past his initial sense of shock and outrage.
Probably the best thing to do is to just cut her off; don't talk to
her, don't think about her, let her rot for what she's done. And
that's very appealing to part of him. It's the easiest answer, the
simplest, and the least messy.
But he made a promise to her. Promise you won't hate me, she
said. And he did, and he gave her his phone number and told her to
call him, told her he'd answer, that he'd talk to her.
And it's not so much a sense of pride or honour or anything like
that; he still remembers, quite acutely, a promise that Martin made, a
promise that made Derek's life a lot harder and kept Samson Snapp at
large for several months more than he should have been: a promise
Derek still hadn't quite forgiven him for. Derek would like to keep
his promises, but he's sure as hell not going to feel obligated to do
No, it's something he can't quite place. Maybe it's the remnants
of his crush on her, maybe it's those last shattered bits of
friendship and memory still clinging to his brain. He doesn't want to
be her friend, and he certainly doesn't want to be her lover, but he
doesn't want to write her off, either.
As autumn approaches, Dani and Martin stop by the house to let
Derek know that his father's body is to be released. Derek's a little
embarrassed when he asks if he has to go pick it up.
"No, of course not," says Dani, and this only makes him feel stupid
on top of it.
Dani shifts her gaze to Martin, giving him the task of addressing
the delicate question of what Derek wants to do with his father's
remains. "Do you know, did he want to be cremated or buried?"
"I don't know," says Derek.
"Well-- and there's no, um, there's no rush here-- but think about
it, what you would like, then?"
"What I would like?" repeats Derek.
Dani intervenes. "Take your time, Derek. We know this is hard for
"What... well, how much does it cost?" says Derek.
"It'll be taken care of," says Martin.
"No," says Martin. He looks to Dani.
Derek shifts his gaze to her inquisitively.
"No," says Dani, and Derek can tell from the look on her face that
Martin's designated her as the bearer of bad news. "Mrs. Banks--
Ellis Banks's mother-- she's taking care of all the funeral costs for
all the families."
"I don't want her money."
"Hmm," says Martin with a curious little nod. "Well, it's there."
"She feels bad about what her son did," says Dani. "She wants to
"I'll bury my father, thank you."
"Okay," says Dani.
"I mean, I don't know if he's going to be cremated, or if he's
going to be buried, but I'll do it. Myself. Out of my pocket. I
don't want no charity."
"Well," says Dani delicately, "whatever you decide, let me know. I
have a cousin in Hamlin, she's a mortician. She can... fix him up...
if that's... if that's what you want."
"Thank you," says Derek. "I'll keep you updated."
Martin turns to Dani. "Give me a couple minutes with him?"
Dani nods and departs. Martin turns to Derek, almost as if asking
for permission to speak. Derek doesn't give it. Martin hesitates,
then presses on.
"Can you afford it?"
"Such a thing as payment plans, aren't there?"
"Yes," says Martin. "You know, you've had a lot of responsibility
heaped on your shoulders all of a sudden. And you haven't tried to
"And that's part of being a man," says Martin. "And part of that
is pride, too. And those two things-- being proud and being a man--
they're the same thing and at the same time they're not. Do you know
what I mean?"
"I think so."
"The thing about pride, though, is that you can have too much of
it. And that'll stop you from doing things. It'll stop you from
admitting your limitations. It'll stop you from asking for help,
because you're too proud to take it. I know, because that was my
story for the longest time. Still is, every once in a while. Pride
can get in the way of you being a man, and that's when they're not
always the same thing. Too much pride goes bad places."
"So, what are you saying? Take the money?"
"No," says Martin. "No, not exactly. That's your choice, and I
ain't taking it away from you. Tell you the truth, if I was in your
shoes, I don't know if I wouldn't do the same. But I ain't in your
shoes. And I think you have it a lot harder than I did when I was
coming up. Now, mind, it wasn't exactly ever easy. But when I was
where you were, the guy standing where I am had a lot more money.
There wouldn't even be a question of where the money came from; he was
it. But now, I'm the one that's standing right here. And last I
checked, I was homeless and unemployed. And I never had to deal with
what you have to deal with."
"So what are you saying?"
"I don't know," says Martin. "Just, I guess-- just that I'm sorry
you've got this in front of you. And that you're not alone. That
you've got people who care about you and want to help you. And that
it's okay to let people help you."
"Yeah, well," says Derek. "I know all that. But last time I
checked, Ellis Banks and his momma weren't any people of mine."
"Well, Ellis Banks's momma is probably going to be calling you
tonight or tomorrow to make her offer and give her apologies and
condolences. And you can say no, and you can say yes-- you can say
whatever you want to at that point. That answer's up to you, and you
don't lose anything no matter what the answer is. But, on the other
hand, there's a matter of tone. Whatever your answer, you can be
civil about it, or you can be-- well, you could be less civil and a
little more proud. And there you got something to lose, Derek. There
you can choose between being proud and being a man, and in that case,
they ain't the same thing."
"What," says Derek, "you expect me to thank her for it? For what
her son did?"
"Well," says Martin, "you're going to do what you're going to do,
and I guess we should just leave it at that."
Mrs. Banks does call the next night. And, for most of the
conversation, Derek is civil: not necessarily polite, but not
impolite, either. He refuses her money, and he does it gently.
Then she says that she's sorry for the loss of his father, and he
says something-- "okay" or "fine" or some other kind of verbal
equivalent of a noncommittal nod. Then she says that, in a way, she
feels like she's lost her son. At that point, things get rapidly less
civil, and Derek says a number of things he shouldn't have. The
conversation ends rather abruptly, and no sooner has he hung up the
phone then it rings anew: it's Erika.
"Hi," says Derek. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," says Erika. "I read about your father in the paper. I
didn't know if I should call or not. Didn't think you'd want to hear
from me after that night, and after what happened to your father."
"I gave you my number," says Derek. "And I said you could call
me." He thinks that came out a little sharper than he intended, and
then he wonders if maybe it was warranted, if maybe she deserved it.
"Yes, I know," says Erika. "And I knew you meant it, but part of
me doubted. Part of me thought, like, maybe you were just saying
that, to let me off easy, or to get away from me. Like maybe you were
scared of me, and, hey, I wouldn't blame you."
He can't quite say, even to himself, that everything she suspected
was untrue. "But you're okay?"
"I'm lonely," says Erika. "I miss you. I guess I'm as put-
together as I was before, which is not much, of course, but there you
go. Did you miss me?"
"I worried about you," says Derek.
"I worried about you, too," says Erika. "Do you want to talk about
Now that he thinks about it, this is probably the first time since
he met her that Erika's expressed an interest in something beyond
herself. Part of him wants to take her up on her offer, and part of
him wants to demure; then there's something else in him entirely, and
that's what comes to the fore: "Are you asking because you're actually
trying to be my friend, or because that's what you think you're
supposed to do?"
She's honest. "A little bit of both, I think."
"I don't know where that came from," he says. "I'm sorry. But no
"Are you staying with anybody?"
"Nah," says Derek. "He was it."
"Did he have any friends?" she asks.
Before he answers, he hears a knock at his window. He turns. It's
Martin. Derek waves him in.
"What'd you say?"
"I said, did he have any friends?"
Erika continues: "Were there many people at the funeral?"
"No," says Derek. "Police just released the body. Funeral's not
"Would... uh... never mind."
"Would you like me to be there?"
Martin sits down.
"I dunno. I mean, do you really want to be there or are you...?"
"I want to be there," says Erika. "I want to be your friend.
You're being good to me, and I don't deserve it. I know I don't
deserve it. But you do deserve it, so I want to be good to you."
"Okay," says Derek. He's kind of surprised that he's said this;
it's not that he had not intended to say it or even that he had
intended not to. It's more like he had wanted to say both at once,
like Schroedinger's cat was sitting on his tongue, and the shock is
less at what he said but more at an end to the second-long stalemate.
Erika asks him the time and the place, and he gives it to her,
He tells her he has company, and that he'll see her on Wednesday,
and that she can call anytime between now and then if she needs to.
He hangs up and looks to Martin.
"That your lady friend?" says Martin.
"Something like that," says Derek. "Things just... haven't quite
"She's coming, though?"
Derek just nods.
"I'll finally get to meet her. That's great."
"Well, maybe, um..."
"I was just thinking, uh, about your secret identity. How we don't
want too many dots connecting the two of us. I mean, I... I'd like
for you to be there... I really would... but... I don't... I mean,
that's real public, you know? I..."
"You're right," says Martin.
"I mean, I want you to be there, but, you know?"
Martin nods. "By rights, I probably shouldn't be coming over here,
with Dani or without," he says. "But I wanted to give you this."
It's only now that Derek sees the brown paper package that Martin
holds on his lap.
"Are those my father's things?" Derek intuits.
"Yeah," says Martin. "His clothes and his wallet."
"Thanks," says Derek.
Erika's not sure what to wear; the last funeral she had attended
was her mother's, and that was when she was a child. She heard from
her sister five or six years ago that her father had died, but Erika
did not go the funeral, which did not surprise anyone. Shortly after,
his money had been split between Erika and Giulietta; since then,
Erika's used that fortune to build her school and her robots. She
hasn't heard from any of her family since then. She wonders if
Giulietta might not be dead, and this thought bothers her all the way
to the funeral. Once she gets to the church, though, she drives it
away: she should be thinking about Derek, shouldn't she?, isn't that
what a friend is supposed to do?
In the end, she decided to wear black-- black's the standard, she
knows that much; she tried to find the black dress out of all her
black dresses that's the least slinkiest. The last thing she wants to
do is call attention to herself.
The church is sparsely populated; she can count two people besides
Derek and the priest, all four of them crammed at the front: two black
women that she assumes, from this distance, must be distant
relatives. Erika hangs back in a corner near the entrance; she
figures that she can blend in with the mourners that have not arrived
yet. She'll not hide, of course-- she'll make sure Derek knows she's
there-- she's just not comfortable being scrutinized by everybody.
She's not here for them; just for Derek.
But as time passes and it becomes increasingly apparent that this
is it, Erika becomes more and more uncomfortable, and feels more and
more ridiculous. That's when the priest waddles halfway up the aisle
and blurts out, "Plenty of seating up front, you two!"
Two? That's when Erika notices a man standing in the corner
opposite hers. He's an older man, at least sixty, with a bushy salt-
and-pepper moustache. His eyes, though-- his eyes are young and
fierce, and they're fixed on Erika in such a way that she gets this
feeling that they've been fixed on her a long time: long and angry and
suspicious. Erika becomes conscious of the fact that, besides the
priest, she's the only white person here.
The two of them start down the aisle, Erika taking the lead, trying
to put some distance between herself and the old man. She's relieved
when she gets to the front, to Derek; he greets her more warmly than
she had anticipated.
"Thank you for coming," he says, and then he clasps her hands,
pivoting her towards the other two women. "Erika, this is Dani
Handler and Pam Bierce. They're friends of mine. Dani, Pam-- this is
Dani stares at Erika, her mouth slightly agape and her eyes glaring
like the old man's. There's something about Dani that seems familiar
to Erika, but she can't quite place the name or the face.
"Fumetti?" says the priest.
"It's Italian," says Erika.
The priest nods somewhat dimly. Then: "You run the Fumetti
"Why, yes," says Erika, a bit flustered. "Of course, we haven't
quite opened yet..."
Derek touches her arm. "This is Father Riddle. Also a friend of
"Roy Riddle," says Erika, pulling his name out of her brain.
"Yes," says Riddle.
And now she realizes who he is, and where she is, and where she
remembers Dani Handler from, and she suddenly becomes very
frightened. She turns to Derek, pulls him close, and whispers
frantically: "Maybe I shouldn't be here. I don't belong here."
"You're fine," he says.
"You don't understand," says Erika. "They know who I am. They
know what I did."
"She's the one that arrested me. And he's..."
"You're safe here," says Derek, and suddenly he feels a whole lot
less ambivalent about her. He says it again, loud enough so it could
be overheard by the others but not so loud where it was obvious he was
talking to them: "You're my friend. You're safe here."
Pam reaches towards her. "Come on, let's sit down."
"Yeah," says Derek, craning his neck towards his father's casket.
"I guess this is it, so we'll get this started."
The women sit down, Pam sandwiched between Erika and Dani. Derek
moves to sit down and then realizes he's neglected the old man.
He offers his hand. "Did you know my father?"
"No; but if you can measure a tree by its fruit, I'd say he was a
That's when Derek recognizes him behind the make-up, the moustache,
the wig, and the different body language. "Thanks, Martin," he says
softly, and then he and his mentor sit down.
Father Riddle wiggles up to the pulpit, and the service begins. He
does a shortened version of his schtick, as per Derek's requests to
make it "not boring" and "not so God-y". Soon-- too soon, in fact--
Derek finds himself taking Father Riddle's place, saying a few words
about his father and what he meant to him.
This question has consumed his time, in one form or another, since
the night he learned of his father's passing. Who was Moses Mason?
And who does that make me?
He walked through his father's house and looked through his
things. He guessed he was looking for clues. He even tried using
what Martin had taught him-- how to scan a person's room to find out
things about them: the way they make the bed, the things they put on
their night-table, the way things are arranged-- the very peculiar
feng shui of each person. But that didn't really tell him anything.
Looking through his CDs and his books didn't help, either; he
already knew what kind of music his father liked, what kind of food.
He knew about his sense of humour, he knew how much he missed Derek's
He knew a few things about his father's childhood, and his younger
days. Knew he had been a boxer until he screwed up his hand. Knew he
didn't put much stock in all the electronics Derek had fiddled around
him. Knew that he loved his son anyway.
This question without answers took on a new urgency and a new form
when the police released the body. This meant that a date for the
funeral would be fixed, and that meant that he'd have to come up with
the eulogy; no one else was going to speak for his father, so it'd
have to be him.
In his father's wallet, there was a little scrap of paper, a little
poem, Derek guessed. It went, "barefoot yardwork, magnolia leaves,
wet and cold, purple and white". Derek looked it over several times--
maybe his father was there, inside the syllables.
Or maybe he just copied it down (they didn't have a magnolia tree
after all), maybe the words don't mean anything, but maybe if he
studied the squiggles of ink, if he analyzed the tiny handwriting the
way Martin had taught him, maybe then----
He struggled to put something down on paper, to organize his
thoughts, to have thoughts in the first place; he wanted to same
something real, something that counts. He didn't want to use the same
clichés over again, the same things that people say at funerals, the
things that are said so often they have no meaning. He didn't want to
use borrowed words and the borrowed feelings that go with them. He
wanted to be articulate and smart, and he wanted his father, sleeping
behind him in the casket, he wanted his father to be proud of him.
But corpses don't give ovations, standing or otherwise.
And now, here he is, here and now, and he doesn't have anything
written down. He gave up last night, resigned himself to winging it.
But maybe that was a good thing, he had told himself: maybe the right
words would come to me, maybe they'd be more true.
But the right words don't come. He just rambles and mumbles,
jumping from meaningless you-had-to-be-there anecdotes to the same
exact platitudes he was trying to avoid. Everyone tells him
afterwards that it was a good eulogy, that it was very moving. But
Derek doesn't feel that way.
He steps down, and Roy Riddle leads them all in a prayer and a
couple of hymns; Derek doesn't mind. The service closes, and all
those present are immediately deputized as pallbearers. Derek looks
at his father for the last time before they close him up; then they
carry him out of the church and into the hearse.
He looks back at the church. Dani's on her cell phone. She looks
to Martin and mouths something. Martin nods and walks up to Derek.
"There's a situation," he says in a whisper.
"That's fine," says Derek. "Go and do your thing."
"We need to talk later," says Martin, and he flits his eyes towards
Erika. "Don't trust her, don't go anywhere with her alone. I'll...
I'll explain later." Before Derek can say anything, Martin starts
back towards the church, announcing loudly that he forgot his hat.
Dani hesitates and then follows.
Erika approaches Derek. "I think I better go home," she says. "I
don't feel comfortable here."
"Okay," says Derek with a nod. "Thank you for coming."
She starts off.
"Wait!" he says.
"I need to talk to you first."
"I know you do," says Erika. "That's part of why I want to leave.
Maybe... maybe I'll never call you again, and you'll never call me,
maybe we'll never see each other after today, but things will still be
kinda fuzzy between us. Might not ever see you, but you won't have
cut me off-- things will still be fuzzy, you know? And, I guess we
got to face it-- I mean, thanks for standing up for me in there, but I
ain't no good, Derek. You got to realize that. The only thing you
can do is cut me off. For your own safety. But best we leave it
"No," says Derek. He grabs her by the wrist. "Now, I've been
thinking about you, and about this situation, for a long time. And, I
gotta say, I ain't no closer to an answer than I was the night you
told me everything.
"But the one thing I'm not going to do is cut you off. Because
you're not bad, Erika. People ain't all good or all bad or even in-
between. You talk about the Green Knight, and how he's good, but he's
just a man. He's made mistakes. And me, I've made them too.
"Before I met you, I wasn't any good either. I was a drug dealer.
I killed people. I didn't put a gun to their head, but I put a needle
in their arm and I slowly watched them die, and so it comes to the
same thing. I knew these people, and some of them I loved, and I
"The thing is, I turned my life around, Erika. And it wasn't
"Yeah, but it wasn't this hard, either," says Erika. "You're a
good person. You did some bad things, but you're still good. The bad
is inside me, Derek. It's in my head. It's there and I know it's
there, and I hate it, but I can't just cast it off because its got its
claws stuck in my brain. It's a, a compulsion, you know? An
"Well, people have kicked those, too," says Derek. "And you can
kick this. You can turn your life around. Sure, it won't be easy,
but it can be done, and most of all, you want to do it. You must want
to or you wouldn't have told me in the first place.
"And maybe this is it, Erika. I changed before I met you, and then
I met you, and maybe this is why I met you-- maybe I'm supposed to
help you change. The thing is...
"The thing is, I don't know how to help you. I mean, you're
right, this won't be easy, this is a big problem you've got, and it's
a whole lot bigger than me. Maybe-- and so maybe you need someone,
uh, like a professional, like a shrink or something. Someone who
knows what they're doing."
"So you are cutting me off."
"No," says Derek. "No, I'm not. I still want to help you, and I
ain't giving up on you-- I just don't know how much help that I alone
am going to be. But if you go to see a doctor, and if you're serious
about getting some help, then I'll still be there. I'll call you, and
I'll see you from time to time.
"I'm not pawning you off to someone else. I'm just-- I mean, I got
a pretty good idea of what I can do and what I can't do, and right
here, for you, I can support you, and stand up for you, and give you
advice and try to be your friend. But what I can't do is get rid of
that thing that's inside of you. What I can't do is give you the kind
of advice that's going to help you control it. What I can't do is
give you any kind of peace.
"And maybe a doctor can help you find that, and maybe he can't--
but you gotta try, and you gotta hope. And you know why?"
"Because I believe in you, Erika."
"I'll think about it," she says.
"Okay. Let me know."
"Um, so what if it works?"
It takes Derek a moment to register the question. "Ah, well, then
you'll... you'll be better, you..."
"I mean, us," says Erika. "If I stopped having those thoughts, if
I got better... could-- could we, uh. Could you ever love me?"
"I don't know," says Derek. "If... if you want me to be honest
with you? I don't think so. But you never know. I mean, I don't
even know you that well. And I'm not talking about all, all this,
what I mean is that I haven't known you for very long, and I kinda
rushed into things emotionally here. Puppy love, I guess. And, uh,
thinking with my dick, basically.
"But-- but anyway, that's not important. Because, because you got
to want this for itself. You got to want it for you. You want to get
better because you want to get better, not because you want some award
for it. And if that's what you want, is to get better-- then please,
Erika. Let's get you some help."
"Well," says Erika. "Like I said. I'll think about it."
And then she walks away. Derek turns back to the church.
"Are you ready?" says Roy.
"Yeah," says Derek.
"We're just waiting on Lt. Handler," says the priest.
Soon enough, Dani emerges from the church. She and Pam share her
car; Derek rides with Father Riddle. As the hearse pulls out,
beginning this puny three car procession, Derek cranes his neck back
towards the church, catching a fleeting glimpse of a green-clad figure
departing on a unicycle.
Dani and Pam, en route.
"That woman," says Pam. "Is that who I think it is?"
"Who do you think it is?" says Dani.
"She's the one that did it to him the second time."
"The second time?" says Dani.
"She's the one that..." Pam, usually blunt, searches for a
euphemism. "... assaulted him."
"Yes," says Dani, her hands tightening their grip on the steering
wheel with a noisy leather squeak. "But what did you mean, the second
"Martin didn't tell you?"
"Was, was there a first time?"
Pam nods soberly. "Yeah. When he was a kid. Twelve or thirteen.
Some white guy in the park. Put a gun to his head and..." Her fingers
tense in agitation and disgust. "He must have told you. Maybe before
you got your atoms scattered. Maybe you just forgot when you were all
"No," says Dani. "He never told me." And, more acutely than
usual, she feels like she was Martin's second choice.
"The question is," says Pam, "what's Derek doing with her?"
There's not much to say about the burial: Roy says another prayer
over the casket; they lower it in and throw some dirt on it. Derek
doesn't really think of it as his father anymore. Just a box with
some dirt on top.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2008 TOM RUSSELL.
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