8FOLD/ACRA: Jolt City # 14, The Secrets of the Contessa! [VERY STRONG ACRA]

Tom Russell milos_parker at yahoo.com
Sun Jun 8 20:31:05 PDT 2008

   Erika Fumetti, the Clockwork Contessa, sits cross-legged on the
floor of her bedroom, tightly hugging a Green Knight plush doll as
tears stream down her eyes.  She is surrounded by all sorts of other
Green Knight memorabilia-- posters adorn her walls, action-figures
line her shelves.  A signed photo of our verdant vigilante sits on her
dresser, next to a vanity mirror; in its reflection one can see her
bed, with a child's bedsheet set, likewise decorated with little Green
Knights and Acro-Bats.  Sitting on her bed, taking this all in, is
Derek Mason.
   He is about to learn...


//////////////  2006 & 2007 RACCIE WINNER FOR
    ////  //////  /// //////  FAVOURITE ACRA SERIES
// ////  //  //  ///   //
//////  //////  ///// //
   # 14 JUNE 2008
  ////// /// ////// \  //  THE SENSATIONAL
 ///    ///   //     \//    CHARACTER-FIND
////// ///   //      //    OF 2007 PART 3

   The phone rings.  "I'll get it," says Robert.  He kisses his wife
and creaks off the couch.  He walks into the dining room and answers
it on the fourth ring.  "Hello?"
   The man on the other end is representing some kind of company;
which company, Robert can't be sure.  Something to do with the cable.
   "We're happy with our current service," Robert says.
   The man on the other end asks who his current service provider is.
   "I don't believe that's any of your business."
   "No need to be rude," says the man on the other end.
   "No, there is no need for you to be rude," says Robert.  "I have
better things to do with my time than talk to telemarketers."  He
hangs up the phone.
   He ambles over to his wife and his couch and his television set,
and that's when someone knocks on his door.  He makes a big deal of
pivoting, robot-like, before he drudges towards the door and opens
it.  He peers at the man-- a boy, really, not more than twenty years
old-- on the other side of the screen door.
   "Are you sure you're happy with your cable service?"  It's the man
from the phone.
   "What is this?" asks Robert.
   Before he can do anything, the other man opens the screen door--
they've never locked it before, never seen the need to-- and pushes
his way into the house.  Robert falls on the ground.
   Emma screams.  "He has a gun, he has a gun!"
   The man shoots her in the head five times.  He then points his gun
at Robert and shoots him once in the knee.
   The man leaves.

Two hours later.  The hospital.
   Robert tells his story to two detectives, Bryant and Wolsey.  "I
wish I was dead," he said.  "I wish he had killed me instead of my
   "He could have killed you both," says Bryant.  "You're lucky to be
   "That ain't lucky," says Robert, getting excitable.  "That ain't
lucky.  That ain't, that ain't..."
   Wolsey presses his hand on Robert's shoulder.  "Just calm down and
rest.  We'll be sending a sketch artist over, so you can describe the
man that did this.  You can help us find him, help us stop him so that
this doesn't happen to anybody else."
   Robert nods, but is not really comforted.
   "If you remember anything else, anything at all," says Bryant.  He
finishes his sentence with the presentation of his business card.

   "Think it's the same guy?" asks Bryant.
   "Pretty sure of it," says Wolsey.  "He enters the home, kills
everyone inside.  Doesn't torture them.  Just quick, bang-bang.
Doesn't take anything.  Enters, shoots, and leaves.  Same M.O. in all
four cases."
   "Only this time he left someone alive," says Bryant.  "Why would he
do that?  Getting sloppy?"
   " A lot of serial killers leave their victims alive.  Bundy did.
Four girls.  One in seventy-four, and then three in seventy-eight,
after his escape.  Son of Sam left seven.  Zodiac left two.  Rader
left one.  Zodiac probably left one of his on purpose, same reason our
guy did: to spread the legend, spread the fear.
   "Tomorrow, this story's going to appear in the paper, and it's
going to scare people shitless.  It's not being famous they're after.
It's making people scared.  That's power," he says, snatching the air
with his fist.  "And it's power that they want."

   Derek and Erika go to see a documentary on the Human Zeppelin at
the arthouse theater.  Neither is a particularly big fan of the
Zeppelin-- and both are mystified about the entire pop culture
phenomenon surrounding him-- but Derek figured her interest in four-
colours would be a plus.
   They sit in the back.  Derek stares at her soft white hand, and
wonders if he should try to hold it.  The lights dim as the trailers
and commercials begin to play; her hand starts to grow fuzzy and dark
around the edges.
   The lights go black, and her hand is swallowed up whole; the movie
begins and its shining flicker makes her hand glow softly in the
darkness.  He turns his eyes to the film.
   It begins by recounting the strange courtship of Max Lang and the
super-powered Julie Ann Justice; in carefully-modulated sound-bytes
Lang talks about how it felt being rescued all the time, and glosses
over how much he resented it.  The resentment was still there, though,
in his tone of voice, in his eyes, even if he was making a joke of it
   Erika leans close to Derek and whispers in his ear.  "I would never
get tired of being rescued."
   Derek doesn't know what to say to this; he just nods.
   "Thank you for rescuing me, Derek," says Erika.
   "Rescuing you?  From what?"
   She doesn't answer; there's something urgent in her eyes that says
that she doesn't want to answer.  She stares at him for a moment and
then turns her eyes back to the movie.
   Derek puts his hand over hers; she neither smiles nor grimaces.

The Knight's Den.  The next day.
   "Martin," says Derek, "I wanted to ask you a question.  It's not,
uh, work-related."
   "That's fine," says Martin.  "What's the skinny?"
   "Well... it's about a girl.  Uh, a woman.  An older woman."
   "Okay," says Martin.  "What's the question?"
   "Um, well, there is this woman, and she's older than me, and I
kinda like her... and I think she kinda likes me..."
   Martin pretends to be trying to hide his smile.  "...Yes...?"
   "Well, I'm just wondering what you think of that," says Derek.  "I
mean, she's older than me.  A lot older."
   "Like, how much?"
   "I dunno," says Derek.  "She's like, um, maybe forty-five years
old?  Maybe fifty?  I dunno, I didn't ask her."
   "That is a bit older," says Martin.
   "I mean, I don't even know if she-- I mean, I think she does, and I
know she likes me, but I don't know for sure, and I was wondering if I
should make a move or..."
   "First of all," says Martin, "it doesn't matter what I think.  It
matters what you think.  Does the age difference bother you?"
   "Not really," says Derek.  "We got a lot in common."
   "Well then, that's all that matters," says Martin.  "That being
said, I always liked older women myself."
   "Pam's how old again?"
   Martin ignores the question.  "You got to be careful, though.
Older women tend to have more experience, and they won't be shy about
what they want.  They can get a little aggressive, if you know what I
   "Wow, I-- yeah, I didn't really need to hear that from you.  At
all.  Thanks."
   "Hey, you asked."
   "I didn't ask for..."
   "You want to stay away from ribbed condoms," says Martin.  "In my
experience, they don't really do a whole lot for her pleasure and they
sure as shit don't do any for yours."
   "Yeah, okay, I'm going home now."

   Ballistics matched the bullets in all four shootings.
   Bryant hangs up the phone.
   "Well?" says Wolsey.
   "Number he called from is a cell, just like we thought," says
Bryant.  "Belongs to Paul Kowalski."
   "The first victim," says Wolsey.
   "I told them not to cancel service," says Bryant.  "If he uses it
again, we might be able to trace it."
   "I'll get a warrant ready for a tap," says Wolsey.  "I'd say we
have exhaustion.  If you could go through the phone records for the
other two families?  We get a match, we could have our pattern."

Pam's place.
   Dani and Martin enter with several bags.
   "Nothing with Derek tonight?" says Pam.
   "No, he has a date," says Martin.
   "Really?" says Pam.  "With who?"
   "Haven't met her yet; her name's Erika.  Besides, we've got to get
ready for tomorrow."
   "Oh," says Pam.  "Is that tomorrow?"
   "Well, that's why we'd be getting ready for tomorrow."
   "We're not really going to do that, are we?  Already had one crime
scene here already."
   "Well, if you don't want to..."
   "No, no, it's fine," says Pam.
   "But we're going to watch a movie first," says Dani.  She holds up
two DVD rentals.
   "Sounds good to me," says Pam.  "What've we got here?"
   "Love Story," says Dani, "or Murphy's War.  I want to watch Love
Story.  He wants to watch Murphy's War."
   "Airplane versus submarine," says Martin.  "O'Toole versus Nazis.
Single-handed.  C'mon!"
   "It's up to you, Pam," says Dani.
   "C'mon," says Martin.
   Pam crosses her arms and thinks on it a moment.  "I gotta say, I
ain't really in a Murphy's War kinda mood."
   "Aw, Pam, don't do this to me," says Martin.  "How often do we all
get to spend an evening together?  How many times have we tried to sit
down and watch a movie and it didn't work out because some idiot's
blowing shit up downtown?  We got this night-- this rare night.  So
let's not waste it.  Let's make it count."
   "That's exactly what we're going to do, we're going to make it
count, and that's by watching Love Story instead of wasting it on some
stupid-ass action flick."
   "It's not stupid!" says Martin.  "It's a good action movie!  It's a
smart one!"
   "Yeah, well, we're watching Love Story," says Pam.  "You're going
to be making a mess of my apartment, we're damn well going to watch
Love Story."
   Martin rolls his eyes.
   "Look, buster," says Pam.  "You're getting twice the pussy, that
means you have to watch twice the chick flicks.  Them's the breaks."

Fumetti Academy.
   Erika greets Derek at the gate.  "Like I said, we haven't actually
opened yet.  It'll be nice to have some company in this gloomy old

   She shows him around.  There's not a whole lot to see: empty
classrooms, empty halls, empty auditorium.  They come to the end of a
corridor and Derek can hear the distinct sound of a computer fan
getting louder and closer.  An automaton comes into view, big and ugly
and clunky and gray but also somewhat beautiful.
   "You weren't kidding," says Derek.  "You do build robots."
   "Nothing too sophisticated," says Erika off-handedly.  "The AI's
pretty rudimentary.  But they get the job done."
   "What job is that?"
   "This one?" says Erika.  "This run runs up and down this corridor."
   The robot stops, pivots, and heads back the way it came.
   "Like I said, nothing special," says Erika.
   "Better than I could do," says Derek.  "I mean, I dabble in gizmos
and stuff, but nothing that can move on its own or anything.  I
understand the real basic stuff, but when it comes to the nitty-
gritty, I get a little lost."
   "Ah, but the nitty-gritty is the part I love.  Sometimes, I'm ready
for bed but I say, well, let me just get this one last little thing
right.  And five hours later..." She laughs.  There's something about
her laugh that Derek doesn't like; something that always seems forced.
   But he doesn't say anything; there's a lot about Erika that he does
   "Let me show you my room," she says.

   "Wow," says Derek.  "You really like the Green Knight."
   "Well, you knew that," says Erika.  She seems to be on the
   "I didn't mean anything by it," says Derek.  "Just, wow.  It's a
lot of stuff.  It's a nice collection."
   "I mean, I've always liked heroes, you know?  And Green Knight's
pretty much the only hero Jolt City's had for a long time.  I remember
seeing the two of them, the Knight and the Acro-Bat, when I was a
teenager.  That's when I got that autograph," she says.  She points to
a faded picture framed next to her vanity mirror.
   "There's a new one now, you know," says Erika.
   "They're obviously two different people," says Erika
authoritatively.  "That's okay.  I like this new one better.  It's
nice just knowing there's someone out there, Derek-- that I'm safe.
   "I know bad things happen all the time, but I know the Green
Knight's out there and I just feel like nothing bad can ever happen to
me again."  She sits down on her bed.  "You must think I'm pretty
weird, huh?"
   Derek sits down next to her.  "Nah," he says.  "Not weird at all."
   She nods half-heartedly.
   "Something wrong?" he says.
   "No," she says, brightening.  "You know, it's nice to be able to
talk to you, Derek.  We just-- we connect, you know?  A lot of times,
I try to talk to people, and they have no idea what I'm talking
about.  But sometimes you-- I mean, talking to you, I don't have to
explain myself so much because you get what I'm saying.  You get me.
You're a good friend, Derek.  Thank you for being my friend."
   "Feeling's mutual," says Derek.  He puts his arm around her
shoulders.  It's awkward: she doesn't cozy up to him, but she doesn't
shrug it off, either.  It's like she didn't feel him there at all.

   Before he leaves, Erika shows him her library and lends him a
couple of books on robotics.
   "Thanks," he says.  "I think I'll probably learn more if you show
me, though."
   "We can do both," says Erika.  "We'll get together again real

   Derek gets home late.  His father is angry.
   "You lied to me," says Moses.  "You said you'd be at the church
with Father Riddle.  Well, I called Father Riddle and you weren't
   "He said I wasn't there?" says Derek.
   "What, you expected him to lie for you?"
   "I was with a friend," says Derek.
   "Doing what?"
   "I was at a friend's place.  A girl."
   "So why didn't you tell me that?" says Moses.  "Why did you lie to
   "I didn't want you asking a lot of questions about her," says
Derek.  "I didn't... I don't think you'd approve of her."
   "What, she into drugs?"
   "No!"  Derek gets irritated.  "God damn it, dad, I am so tired of
going through this with you!"
   "I want to trust you," says Moses.  "But you got to be straight
with me.  You lie like this and it makes it hard to trust you."
   "I know," says Derek.
   "So what is so terrible that I wouldn't approve?"
   "There's an age difference," says Derek.  "And she's... she's
   Moses starts laughing.
   "What's so funny?"
   "Derek, like that's such a big deal?" says Moses.  "Like I'm
supposed to throw a fit or something?  Jesus, boy-- if you're in love,
you're in love, you know?"
   "I don't know, I wouldn't call it love yet," says Derek.  "We're
just getting to know each other.  I don't even know if this really
counted as a date."
   "Did you feel her tit?  If you did, then it was a date."
   God, thinks Derek: he's worse than Martin.  But he had known that
all along.
   "I will tell you to be careful," says Moses.  "Not because she's
older, but because you're so young."
   "I'm eighteen."
   "You're very much eighteen," says Moses.  "Very painfully
eighteen.  You still have a lot of growing up to do.  A lot of
maturing.  Now, you've grown up a lot in the last year.  Feels like...
feels like I got my son back.  Got my boy back.  But it'll still be a
while yet before you're a man."
   Derek nods his head, mostly humouring him.

Roy's Manse.
   Martin knocks on the door, and Roy answers.
   "You told Derek's father he wasn't here?" says Martin.
   "Well, he wasn't."
   "That's not the point," says Martin.  "The whole point of you being
his cover story was that, I dunno, that you'd cover for him."
   "And I do," says Roy.  "When he's training with you, I cover for
him.  But I'm not going to cover for him when he's not here."
   Martin rubs his hand down his face, holds it at his mouth, and
takes a deep breath.  "I know you're still cross with me.  I said some
things I shouldn't have--"
   Roy holds up his hand.
   "-- let me finish.  But don't take that out on him."
   "I'm not," says Roy.  "But I'm just not going to lie, to anybody or
for anybody.  I'm a priest.  I work in a sacred place and I'm not
going to tell lies.  If his father calls when he's down there with
you, he's in the church, so I can say he's in the church.  I do a lot
for you, Martin, but I'm not going to lie."
   "Okay," says Martin.  "That's fair enough.  Um.  Question?"
   "So, if we're out on a case, and his father calls, then what?"
   Roy exhales wheezily.  "Hmm."
   "I mean, that's when we're going to need you as a cover story, and
if that's not going to work..."
   "He's out doing good deeds," says Roy.  "Community service."  He
smiles.  "He's working with the homeless."
   "Cute," says Martin.  "Really cute."

Knight's Den.
   Derek's waiting for him.  "What's on the agenda today?"
   "Put your coat on," says Martin.  "We've got some fieldwork."
   "Fieldwork?" says Derek, his interest piqued.
   "Well, not actual fieldwork," says Martin.  "More like training
somewhere other than the Church basement."
   "What if my father calls again?"
   "Roy's going to tell him you're delivering some groceries."  They
ascend the stairs.
   "Are we?" says Derek.
   Martin hands a bag of produce to Derek as he secures the trap
door.  "We are."

   They head over to Pam's; Martin walks about a block ahead of Derek,
to ensure that the two of them are not seen together.

   Martin's waiting for Derek at the door of Pam's apartment.
   "So, what's the deal?" says Derek.
   Martin opens the door.  To say that the apartment is a mess is a
bit of an understatement.  Broken glass sits on the floor, red
splatters and puddles soak into the carpeting.  A large portion of the
living room is lined with yellow police tape.
   "Crime scene," says Martin, as he closes the door behind them.
"Dani helped me set it up.  I figured this would be more fun than
hauling out some police textbook or diagrams."
   Derek plunges his finger into a red puddle.  "Is that tomato
sauce?  In Pam's carpet?  Shit, she's going to kill you."
   "She knows about it," says Martin.  "And it'll come out.
Probably.  Maybe.  But don't be touching it...!" He grabs Derek's
wrist.  "You're disturbing the scene.  Step back here, we'll slap some
gloves on you, and I'll take you through it."

   Some of the things are new, and some are things Martin's touched on
before.  How to get fingerprints (latent, patent, and plastic), how to
identify different blood splatter patterns and what they mean,  the
fact that the "tail" of a splatter points in the direction the blood
was traveling, the SIN equation used to figure out the exact angle of
   What Martin cannot teach him, and what Derek cannot figure out, is
how to get tomato stains out of the carpet.  The rest of the post-
lesson clean-up goes well, but on this perhaps most important point
they are unable to reach a satisfactory resolution.
   "Maybe we can just put something over it," suggests Derek.  "I
remember when I was a kid, I put this hot pizza box on my mom's wooden
   Martin chuckles, nodding his head.
   "You know where I'm going with this.  I mean, that table was black
and shiny, and when I take the pizza box off the table, table's turned
white faster than Michael Jackson.  But we had these placemats at the
table, right?  Circle, uh, a round table, and we've got four chairs,
four placemats, and this pizza box had been in the space between these
two placemats, like in the corner, right?  So I took my placemat, and
just kinda slid it over to that corner, and that covered the spot."
   "Did your mom find out?"
   "Well, yeah," says Derek.  "Eventually.  But she didn't know I did
   "Well, I see a couple of problems with your plan," says Martin.
"One, there aren't any placemats on the carpet we can just kinda slide
   "Well, it was more of a joke, anyway," says Derek.  "I didn't
seriously mean that we'd do that."
   "More importantly," says Martin, ignoring Derek in order to make a
very salient point, "your mother wasn't looking for any burns on her
good table.  Pam, on the other hand, the first thing she's going to
do, the minute she walks in here, is she's going to investigate every
damn inch of this carpet."

   Luckily for fans of our verdant vigilante the world over, Pam does
not kill him.  Neither does she forgive him.  "You're going to have to
do a lot of apologizing," she warns as she fluffs the pillows on her
   "Hey," smirks Martin, "love means never having to say you're
   It is approximately two seconds later that a pillow hit Martin in
the face.  Though Martin suspects it was Pam who did it, Derek finds
no forensic evidence to support his mentor's theory.

   Dani arrives with Chinese take-out, and the four of them have
dinner.  Martin tells them about how he spent his day battling
Professor Asshat.
   Derek blinks.  "Wait, wait, what?"
   "Professor Asshat," says Martin.
   "That's a terrible name," says Dani.
   "And, unfortunately, quite accurate," says Martin.  "He's a yoga
expert."  He shudders.

   After dinner: Derek and Martin wash the plates, utensils, and
glasses.  "I've got a question," says Derek.
   "Maybe I have an answer," says Martin.  He hands Derek the last
plate, and Derek dries it with a towel.
   "Well, I was thinking about my dad," says Derek.  "And how we have
this cover story, and we talked before about how we shouldn't tell
him, uh, shouldn't tell him what's really going on because he might
get worried."
   "Well, I'm just-- I'm just thinking, maybe, after I've got all the
training down pat, and I pass my two tests that you gave me-- I'm
still working on them, y'know, I haven't forgotten-- but, maybe I
should-- I mean, could I let him know?"
   Martin rests his nose on his fist and exhales deeply.
   Derek presses on: "I mean, you told Pam and Dani, right?  I mean,
there's a certain point where you can trust people."
   Martin nods with his hands.
   "Well, I've known my dad a long time.  I think I can trust him.
And I think-- I kinda think I owe it to him.  I mean, I was just
thinking of that kid, the High Roller..."
   Martin becomes only slightly exasperated; bringing up the High
Roller has always been one of his pet peeves.
   "... and he died, and his parents probably never knew it was him,
probably never knew what happened to him."
   "Well, you ain't dead yet," says Martin.  "Let's not get ahead of
ourselves.  Chances are, you'll be the one to bury me, not the other
way around.  That's assuming I do my job right."
   Derek nods soberly.
   Dani pokes into the room: "Neither of you are dying."
   Martin nods, somewhat patronizingly, and waits until Dani recedes
from the room.  "But if anything were to happen to you, Derek, I would
tell your father.  Man to man and face to face."
   "That's just it, though," says Derek.  "I'd rather-- I'd rather he
know.  So that if something does happen to me, it ain't just out of
the blue.  I don't want him to hurt like that."
   "And if he says no?"
   "Then..." Derek slides his lower lip along its mate, searching for
the right words.  "I guess... then... I couldn't do it."  He flinches
a bit, expecting a rebuke.
   But Martin does not answer; he appears to be thoughtful.
   Derek speaks up again: "I mean, look, I want this, Martin.  Some
days I want this so bad, so bad it-- I want it so much it's like
there's nothing else, like it's all there is, all that I am."
   "But if your father said no, you'd give it up?"
   "I guess I'd have to."
   "No, no 'have to' about it.  If your father said, I dunno, if he
said 'I don't want you to do this, but you're your own man'?"
   Oddly enough, that's probably just how Derek's father would have
said it.  "I dunno," says Derek.  "But I know I don't want to cause
him more hurt than I have to, if I have to at all.  And I wouldn't-- I
wouldn't tell him about you.  Your secret is my secret to keep, not to
share.  And I don't want to jeopardize this, and I'm not trying to,
   Martin holds up his hand.  "So, what are you saying, Derek?  If you
can't tell your father, you don't want to do this?  If your father
doesn't say yes, you'll give us this thing you want more than
anything?  For your father?"
   Derek surprises himself with the speed of his reply.  "Yeah, I
guess that's what I'm saying."
   Martin looks Derek in the eyes, and hold his gaze for a long time.
He puts his hand on Derek's shoulder.  "That's spoken like a man,
Derek," says Martin.  "You've come a long way in a short time.  There
are a lot of people who wouldn't answer the same as you."
   "Yeah, well," says Derek with a shrug, "my dad was good to me.
Better than I deserved.  So I want to be good back.  So, does this
mean I get to tell him?"
   "Well," says Martin, "we'll wait until we're sure you're actually
going to do it.  Like you said before, you still got those two tests
to go.  But, while we're on the subject... we should talk about your
   "She's not my girlfriend," says Derek.  "Not yet, anyway."
   "But I bet you're working on it, huh?" says Martin.  "Well-- I was
young once.  Hard to believe it, but it's true.  And when you're
young, it feels like-- like every love is *the* love, the only love,
and that it'll last forever.
   "But.  It don't always last, Derek.  And when you're young you put
too much of yourself into it too fast.  Some people blow their bank
accounts on presents for the one-month anniversary.  And some people,
people with secret identities, they tell them everything, and a few
weeks later, there's a break-up, and it's a bad break-up..." He lets
it trail off.
   "Well, I ain't planning on telling her anytime soon," says Derek.
"Got nothing to tell her yet, for one.  But when... I mean, if me and
Erika do get together, and things do work out, how long should I wait
until I tell her?  I mean, I got to tell her sooner or later, right?"
   "Well, sometime before the wedding," says Martin.
   Derek frowns.
   "Probably before proposing.  I'm sorry I don't have a better
answer.  I'd say do it when it feels right, but the fact is, when
you're young..."
   "... it always feels right," says Derek, rolling his eyes.  "Well,
how did you tell Dani?"
   "I didn't, actually," says Martin.  "She just kind of floated
around me when she was trapped between realities, and she just kinda,
I dunno, knew.  There was a link of some kind."
   "Okay, well, what about Pam?"
   "What about me?" calls Pam from the other room.
   "Um," says Martin.  "He's just wondering when I told you my secret
   "It was after you fucked my brains out that night in my office,"
says Pam.
   Martin hides his face.  "Tact, Pam.  That's what I love about you.
   "So," says Derek, "you just kinda blurted it out."
   "Pretty much.  Not, um... well, you know how there's certain things
I do where you don't want to follow my example?  That would be one of
   "Um, I told Roy about five minutes after I met him."
   "Wow," says Derek.  "So, all things considered, it's surprising
that you have a secret identity intact in the first place."
   "I've just been very lucky," says Martin.
   "What about Ray Cradle?" says Derek.  "When did..."
   "Ssh," says Martin severely, severe enough that Derek flinches.
Martin leans in to explain, whispering: "They don't know."
   "You didn't tell them?"
   "I haven't told anybody," says Martin.  "You figured it out on your
own.  It's... it's kinda like you said.  My secret to keep, not to
   "Well," says Derek, "when did he tell his wife and his kid?"
   "He told Anders right before he died," says Martin.
   "And his wife?"
   Martin shakes his head.
   "He never told her?"
   "She knew," says Martin.  "She figured it out.  But he never told
her.  He never trusted her.  And she never forgave him for it.  So, I
guess what you've got to learn to do, Derek, is find a balance between
the two extremes.  He did it wrong his way, and I did it wrong mine.
I'm sure you'll do it right, but I'm going to have to go on record
right now and say you can't tell her for the foreseeable future."
   Derek just nods.  "Hey, you're the one that brought it up."

The next morning.  Police station.
   The computer beeps; the stolen cell phone is in use.
   Wolsey gives the orders.  "Get a squad to stand by for directions.
Start tracking on the cell phone.  Look up the address for the
receiving call."
   The line's still ringing; it clicks onto voicemail.  The call ends.

That evening.  Derek and Erika were supposed to meet at the movie
theater, but she never showed up.  Neither did she answer her
telephone.  He waits for a half-hour.

Fumetti Academy.
   He pushes the buzzer, but she doesn't answer and the gate does not
swing open.  He takes several paces back and rushes forward towards
the ten-foot brick wall; he shimmies up in three seconds flat,
grabbing hold of its cement spire before gravity does its work: Martin
would be proud.
   He pauses for a moment, catches his breath, and hoists himself
upwards, twisting himself around and landing, feet first, on the other
side of the fence.  He heads to the front door.  It's locked.
   "Erika!" he calls, pounding on it.  He calls her name again; no
answer.  He reaches into his pocket and grabs the little lock-popping
gadget that Cradle Industries had created for him while he was
standing in for Martin as the Green Knight.  He pops the lock and
heads in.
   It's dark, save for a faint light heading towards him.  It's one of
Erika's robots; the sound gives it away before it fuzzes into view.
"Erika?" Derek calls.
   He starts to pick up the pace, running down the hall.  The robot
stops moving suddenly, and several high whirls fill the air.
   Derek stops for a moment and stares at it.  That's when the robot
begins to glow; a few seconds later, a beam of red light rips through
the air and shrieks across Derek's side.
   The pain is intense and hot; a few thin wisps of smoke emanate from
his burnt flesh.  There's a tear in his shirt where the laser (it must
have been a laser) hit him.
   "Erika!" he cries.
   But now the robot is starting up again, it's starting to whirl and
   He throws himself to the ground just as the laser passes overhead.
As soon as it's gone, he scrambles to his feet and rushes towards the
   It begins to glow anew, faster this time.  Derek leaps over the
robot just before it fires into the empty air.  He hands behind it and
turns around just in time to see the laser destroy his cell phone; it
must have fell out when he was rolling on the ground.
   The robot's starting to slowly turn around.  Derek crouches down
and, using his knees for leverage, pushes with all his weight against
the robot's back.  It lands on its face, obliviously continuing its
   It glows, and it unleashes another laser; the laser hits the floor
and, sandwiched between it and the robot, feeds back into the later.
Derek has just enough time to leap behind the hallway corner as the
robot is consumed in a tiny explosion.
   He touches his wound-- still hot to the touch-- and he sees a light
down the hall.  Her bedroom.
   He strains his ears, searching for any sounds of a robot; there are
none.  The only sound he can hear, ever so faint, is some sobbing.
   "Erika!" he cries again.  "I'm coming!"
   She's curled up on her bed, scantily clad in black leather.
   "Erika?" says Derek.
   She turns towards him; a black domino mask surrounds her eyes.  She
doesn't say anything; she just stares at him with her mouth slightly
   "I, um, I destroyed one of your robots," says Derek.  "It was
shooting at me with a laser."
   "Did I-- did it...?"
   "Yeah, it got me," says Derek.  He shows her the wound.
   "Oh God," she says, over and over again: "Oh God, oh God."
   "Calm down, don't worry about it," says Derek.  "I didn't know you
had armed them."
   "Just at night," says Erika.  "I'm so sorry.  I'm so stupid..."
   "It's fine," says Derek.  "Uh, maybe-- maybe you forgot... but we
were going to go see a movie tonight.  Um.  And why... why are you
dressed like that?  I mean, it's fine, it's cool, I just... um...
please, say something."
   "I didn't forget," says Erika.  She seems kinda spaced out.
   "You didn't want to go?" says Derek.  "You could have called me.  I
called you, and you didn't answer... did... did I do something wrong?
I thought you liked me.  I thought we were friends."
   "I do like you," says Erika.
   "What... what's going on?" says Derek.
   "I just... I just don't like myself very much," says Erika.  "I
like you, Derek.  I like you a lot.  I have... I think I have feelings
for you," she says, and she says this like she's not sure what the
words really mean, like she's an actress learning a part phonetically.
   "Erika," says Derek.  "I like you too..."
   "I'm so old," says Erika.  "I'm so old."
   "No, you're not," says Derek.  He sits down on the bed.  "Erika, I
think I'm falling in love with you."
   "Don't say that," says Erika.  "Please don't say that."
   "But it's true," says Derek.
   "I know," says Erika.  "I could tell.  I've known all along.  But I
don't... you don't really love me.  You can't.  I'm-- I'm no good,
Derek.  I'm a bad person."
   "No, that's not true," says Derek.  "I know that's not true."
   "You're so good," says Erika.  She starts to cry again.  "You're so
damn good.  I want you to love me.  I want you to.  But you can't,
because it would be a lie.  You think I'm good but I'm not."
   Derek can feel himself starting to get impatient.  He tries to
fight it.  "What makes you think that you're bad?  Just tell me."
   "That's the thing," says Erika.  "That's why I couldn't come to the
movie tonight.  Because I can't tell you.  If I tell you, you-- you
won't have anything to do with me.  You won't love me, and you won't
be my friend anymore.  But if I don't tell you-- I have to tell you,
you see, but I can't, and it's killing me, Derek, it's killing me it's
killing me it's killing me and I wish I was dead!" She slaps her face,
hard and flat; again and again she brings her palm to her cheek.
Derek grabs her hand to stop her; she raises the other hand.
   "Stop it, stop it," he says.  He grabs her other hand, holding both
by the wrist.  She struggles and screams.  He doesn't let go.
   "You can't hit yourself," says Derek.  "And you can't hate
yourself.  You're a good person.  Nothing you could have done can be
that bad."
   "It's bad," says Erika.  "It's bad.  It's real bad."
   "Just tell me," says Derek.  "Stop talking around it and just tell
me.  I'm your friend.  I'm not going to stop being your friend.  I'm
not going to abandon you or stop caring about you.  That's what being
a friend is about."
   "You, you promise?"
   "Yes," sighs Derek.  "I promise.  I won't stop liking you, and I
won't get mad at you.  I'm here for you, Erika.  Whatever it is, you
can tell me."
   "I'll tell you," says Erika, trembling.  "But if it changes the way
you feel, I won't blame you."
   "Just tell me," says Derek.
   "I like the Green Knight," she begins.
   "Really?" says Derek.  "I didn't notice."
   It's a joke, of course, but if she realizes this she doesn't betray
it.  "I guess you could say I was kind of obsessed.  I... I thought
that I loved him.  I guess that's common with lonely people, I don't
know, but with me it was pretty bad.
   "I always liked heroes, even when I was a little girl, but I've
always liked the Green Knight best.  He doesn't have any powers.  He's
just like any of us.  He... he makes himself powerful.  And he does
the right thing, and if he can do it, anyone can do it.  I can do it.
   "And I liked the way that felt.  I wanted to be good like that, and
I wanted to be successful.  I got this school and I make my robots,
but a lot of that was luck.  I mean, the school.  I inherited a lot of
   "But I'm not good, you see.  I'm bad.  I'm a bad person.  I'm an
evil person."
   "Let me finish!" she says, and this is the first time he's ever
heard anything approaching violence in her voice.  "I was lonely.
I've always been lonely.  And... curious.  I made... I made some
robots to, to pleasure me.  Sexually.
   "Maybe that doesn't sound so bad.  A little weird, maybe, a little
perverted, but, I guess that's not too bad.  I'd pretend-- I was still
lonely, you know?  I'd pretend they were the Green Knight.  I'd.
   "I'd have little conversations, little stories in my head.  Where
I'd meet the Green Knight, and we'd fall in love, and because he loved
me, and because he was good, then I'd be good.  He'd make me good.
Like, by osmosis, I guess.  I don't know.  I'm so stupid!
   "I... I'm getting older, you know.  I always wanted to have kids.
I like children.  Most of them are real good.  It depends on how you
raise them.  Some people do a good job raising them, and they turn out
good.  And some people don't do a good job, and they turn out bad."
   "Erika," says Derek gently.  "I don't see what... I mean, I
   "I want you to know why I did it," she says.
   "Why you did what?" says Derek.
   "Why I raped the Green Knight."
   "You, what?"
   "I told you," says Erika.  "I told you you'd hate me.  I... I know
I look pretty good, even for my age.  If I just wanted to have kids, I
could do it, you know?  A lot of men don't mind a blonde with big
   "But if the man was bad, the kids would be bad because that's two
bad parents.  And if it was just me alone raising them, then they'd
still be bad.  And."  She hesitates.  "I wouldn't... I wouldn't trust
myself around them.  Sometimes... I have, I made these robots, Derek,
to be like kids, I made them look like kids a little.  And I, I
touched them.  I... sometimes I have, um, sexual fantasies.  About
children.  And.  That's why there's no students.  Because I don't
trust myself by myself.
   "And.  I...  I want to have children, but I don't want to do that
to them.  I don't want to-- no one deserves to have that.  Nobody.
Nobody.  It's bad, it's so bad, and it just, it fucks them up, it
fucks them up forever.  And I don't want to do that.
   "But if someone good loved me, like the Green Knight or, or, or
you, maybe, well, you wouldn't let me do that, would you, Derek?"
   "No," says Derek.  "I wouldn't."
   "And I wouldn't want to do it," she says earnestly.  "That's the
important thing.  I wouldn't have these thoughts anymore, banging
around inside my head, banging all the time, like I don't even
matter.  And.  I'd be good, you know?  If I had someone good, I could
be good, I could be so good.  But I don't have someone good, and so no
one good will have me.  And not now.  Not after..."
   She stops, catches her breath.  "I sent word to that priest, the
one that was handling his public relations, about my school, that I
wanted the Green Knight to speak.  And he came, and I... I drugged
him, and I tied him up.
   "And when he woke up, I... I fucked him.  I came, and it was real
nice.  I liked it.  He... he was going into shock.  But I didn't
care.  It was so weird.  I figured I'd care, because I had loved him
so badly.  But I liked it.
  "I... I was doing something.  I was strong.  Stronger than him.  I
wasn't good, but I hurt him, and that felt nice.  Then that woman,
that cop woman, she found me somehow, and she pulled me off of him.
She arrested me.
  "I got to the station, and then after a little while they let me
go.  I guess he decided not to press charges.  Lucky me.
   "I figured, maybe, maybe he liked it, maybe he did love me, and
he'd come and give me a second chance, or maybe he'd rape me back.  I
think I would have liked that.  But he didn't.  And I knew he
   "I knew... I knew I had done it to him, that I had fucked him up,
forever.  And I felt bad, and I realized, that I was bad.  Maybe
everybody has bad things in them, but I let mine out.
   "I'm a bad person.  I... I taped it, I had a camera in the room
where I raped him.  And I watch it sometimes.  I watch it while I
masturbate, and it makes me come real hard.  And afterwards, after I'm
done, sometimes I hate myself a lot, Derek.  Sometimes I hate myself a
lot and I want to die, and I deserve to die, and sometimes I even try
to kill myself.
   "Most of the time, though, I don't feel anything at all.  And
that's what scares me.  That's how I know that I'm evil.
   "And... and I like you, Derek.  I want to be good.  I want to be
good like you.  I think maybe you could make me good.  But I also
think, you know, if someone can make someone good, maybe someone can
make someone bad, and I don't want to make you bad."
   She looks to Derek, and waits for him to say something.  For his
part, he has no words.  He just stares back.  She starts to fidget; he
can tell she has something else she wants to say.
   "And sometimes when I think about you, I think it's pretty close to
how I felt about the Green, about the Green Knight.  I..." She holds
out her hand; there's a tiny plastic gadget with a small needlepoint.
"This is what I used to drug him.
   "This whole time I've been talking, I've been wanting to stab you
with it.  So I could tie you up.  And then when you woke up, I could
rape you.  Sometimes I want to rape you so bad."
   At this moment, having no appropriate expression to make, she
   "You probably shouldn't come to see me anymore," she says.  "I
don't think I can trust myself around you.  And I don't want to hurt
   Derek reaches into Erika's palm and delicately plucks out the
miniature syringe.  "I... I said I was your friend, and that...
   "But this is a little much, right?" says Erika.
   "It is, a bit," admits Derek.  "But you... I dunno, okay?  I
just... I just don't know."
   "I never told anyone before," says Erika.  "I know that I shouldn't
have told you.  I shouldn't..."
   "Let's... just calm down, okay?" says Derek.  "Look, I'm... I'm
going to go, now."
   "Okay," says Erika.
   "What... what I want you to do," says Derek, "is I want you to calm
down.  I want you... I want you to make me a promise, okay?"
   "It depends on the promise," says Erika.
   "Don't hurt yourself," says Derek.  "I can't stay here right now
with you, but I don't... I don't want you to do anything that's...
well, you know what I mean."
   He jots down his home number on a scrap of paper.  "Your machine
killed my cell phone.  Here's my... here's another number.  You can
call me if you're... if you're feeling like you're going to do
something stupid.  And we'll... we'll settle on somewhere to meet,
somewhere that's," he takes a deep breath and forces it out,
"somewhere public.  Okay?"
   Erika just nods.  "I've never going to see you again, am I?"
   He just shrugs.

   Derek leaves Erika's and heads over to the church.  He finds Roy in
his manse.
   "Thought you and Martin did your thing already," says Roy.
"Thought you had a date tonight."
   "Yeah, I did," says Derek.  "I... I need to talk to you.  I need
some advice.  On a... I guess you could call it a moral issue."
   "Well, that is my area of expertise," says Roy.  "Though I wonder
why you're asking me.  To be honest, I don't think you really give my
opinions much credence."
   "Well, I can't ask Martin," says Derek bluntly.  "I'm... look, this
is just really, really fucked up and I-- sorry for swearing-- and I
just need some help, okay?"
   "Okay," says Roy.  "Come on in, I'll make you some tea, and we'll
talk."  Derek steps inside and takes off his shoes.  Roy closes the
door behind him.
   "Sorry again about the swearing," says Derek.
   "It's okay," says Roy.  "Just don't do it when you're inside the
church itself, okay?  Big Guy doesn't like it."
   "Yeah, well..." Derek doesn't complete the thought.
   He sits down at the table and Roy gets the tea kettle started.
"So," says the priest, "what's the problem?"
   "I, uh, it's hard to talk about," says Derek.  "I don't... I don't
want to get into the specifics.  But I, I have this friend.  And, I
really have this friend, I want you to know that.  It's not me.  God
damn, it's not me."
   "Well, watch it with the G.D.'s," admonishes Roy sensitively.
   "Well, this friend, sh-- he, he, well, he's done some bad things.
I mean, really bad things.  The worst things.  Unforgivable things.
I... and I don't know what to do.  They, they got away with it.  No
one's... no one's pressing charges.  But she might do something
worse.  And.  I just... I mean, I... I'm so confused, Roy.  I'm so
confused.  I thought she was good.  And I liked her, I liked her a lot
and she's some kind of monster..."
   "Ssh," says Roy softly.  "There's no such thing as a monster.  No
such thing as a bad person or a good person.  We're all made in His
image, and we all have His light inside us."
   This isn't what Derek wanted, but it was what he was expecting.
Roy realizes this and presses on.
   "You've heard of Clarence Darrow?"
   "Yeah, the lawyer guy," says Derek.  "I know what you're going to
say.  Hate the sin, never the sinner."
   "That's right," says Roy.  "We're all sinners.  None of us are
perfect.  There's no good or bad as far as people go, like some kind
of static state we can inhabit and switch back and forth from.  There
are good deeds, and there are sins, and we all sin, and most of us do
good deeds."
   "But these are bad," says Derek.
   "It doesn't matter," says Roy.  "We all sin.  But nothing is
unforgivable in the eyes of God.  He loves us all, Derek-- even those
of us that don't love Him back.  He still loves you, and He still
loves your friend.  He doesn't like what she, he has done.  But no one
is beyond redemption.
   "The thing is, it's up to your friend to seek it for himself.  He
has to ask God for forgiveness, and he has to mean it.  And more than
that, he has to stop sinning.  Does he want to stop?"
   "I don't know," says Derek.  "Maybe he does, and maybe he doesn't,
maybe a little bit of both?"
   "You can encourage him," says Roy.  "Push him in the right
direction.  But in the end, it's something he has to do for himself."
   "I just... I don't know if I should still even be his friend."
   "I can't answer that for you," says Roy.  "I..."
   At that moment, the door is thrown open.  It's Martin, haggard and
out of breath.  "Roy!  Have you seen-- Derek!  Oh, Derek!"  Martin
cranks his neck behind him.  "He's in here!"
   Dani rushes in 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
you crying?"
   "It's your father," says Martin quietly.  "He's been murdered."


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