I drifted back towards consciousness. Something stiff was poking into my back, jabbing at me. I wondered about that for a few seconds, until I remembered the night before. The quick check on the prisoners to make sure that everyone was safe. The visit to the clinic and the surgical eyepatch. Returning home to my apartment, with Tonfa-
I spun around so quickly I tangled blankets around my legs. The nightstick lay in the bed next to me. Its side-grip had been pressing against me. I tried to stand up and fell on the ground, flopping around a bit as I pushed myself to my feet. I was still dressed in yesterday’s clothes, and acutely aware of the red flush on my cheeks. “That wasn’t funny. You look like my father did when he was twenty.”
Tonfa changed his shape, lying on the bed, still dressed in his uniform, his head tilted to the side. “What do you mean, Dane? I was just making sure that you were safe. I wanted to be sure that you wouldn’t get hurt in the night.” He gave me a bright, cheerful smile. “What did you think that I was doing?”
“Don’t give me that bullshit. My dad worked eight years in Vice Enforcement Division. I’m pretty sure you know what sex is.” I leaned back against the table, and tried to control the flush on my cheeks.
“Dane. I’m not your father.” Tonfa stood up, and I couldn’t help noticing the way he stretched. “I’m your nightstick. I’m your partner. I’m here to help you however I can. To support you in everything. To protect you, and to be there for you even when no one else is. To save your life, if I possibly can. My life wouldn’t have a meaning if you weren’t a part of it. Now, what part of that sounds remotely like a romantic relationship?”
I stared at him for a few seconds, opened my mouth, and stopped. I didn’t know if he was teasing me, if he was without an actual libido, or if he was just hiding his true feelings. Hell, he had belonged to my father, it could be all of those things at once. But I believed him when he said that he was going to be there for me. I suddenly threw my arms around him, and squeezed him tight, so hard my arms hurt as I rested my forehead against his shoulder. Then I straightened up, and peered at the clock. “Shit. I should be getting to work, soon.”
I got dressed in the bathroom. Button-down shirt, officer’s jacket, slacks. All of the things I’d need. The heat had started to break, and it was Saturday morning. The past five days seemed like some kind of twisted nightmare. I’d seen a side of the world that Betty had never even hinted at. It was terrifying, and despite all that I had gained from that brief encounter, I was reminded more than ever of how weak I truly was. I’d been helpless, in the end, against the forces I’d faced. I sighed. “Come on, Tonfa.”
I took him from the chair, and gently tucked him into my belt, comforted by the familiar weight at my side. I’d come so close to losing him. At some point, he had gone from being a simple reminder of my father to something precious to me. He had been broken, and he kept holding on through an inconceivable quantity of agony, just to try to protect me. Just to keep whispering the words of encouragement in my ear that had kept me putting one foot in front of the other. That was the upside to all of this. The darkness, the fear, the helplessness, it was all made worthwhile with him by my side. I didn’t know if that was something I’d call love, but at the very least, it made me feel like I wasn’t facing this all alone. I could deal with the weirdness of the relationship another time, when things were more stable.
I stared out at the city as I walked to the subway. Still hot as hell, still stinking of August, still full of angry, pushy people. The people were a little angrier and a little pushier today, the plague of serial killers no longer menacing the citizenry. Everyone felt free to be an asshole, today. It was the New York City way. I still remained relatively free of shoves and jostles, though, by virtue of the uniform, and the calm mien of violence that hung around me like a cloak. People could be assholes all they want to anyone they want, so long as it wasn’t to me.
“The Summer of Terror appears to have come to an end, thanks to the heroic actions of the New York City Police Department. Deputy Inspector Dane Larson, the woman who helped to foil the acts of the Church of the Survivor almost one year ago-”
“- daring raid in the Hillview reservoir in Yonkers, led personally by Dane Larson. The small raid captured over a hundred heavily armed victims of the toxin, and prevented the ring-leaders from dumping more into the New York City water system-”
“-f course, the dumping never would have actually worked. The New York City water-system is second to none, and any attempt to introduce contaminants into it would have been stymied half a dozen times before it reached the taps of our citizenry. The Department of Environmental Protection isn’t found sleeping at the switch. Nonetheless, we want to thank Dane Larson for her stunning work in preventing millions of dollars of damages-
“- contaminant appears to be a form of deliriant, which has long-lasting effects on the body. If you find yourself irritable, violently inclined, or experiencing homicidal ideation, then you should consider letting your doctor know. Bedrest in a confined area for a couple of days has proved effective in breaking the drug down, through a low-vitamin-d environment-”
“-video showing the murder of a man supposedly known as ‘Doctor David Crenshaw’ has been shown conclusively to be a hoax. There are plenty of people who would have reason to want to frame Dane Larson, and every city official agrees that there is no evidence that such a man was ever in custody, or died-”
I entered my office. The commissioner was sitting on my desk, a bottle of something amber in one hand. “Hello, Dane. Hell of a week, eh?” He smiled, and poured a couple of cups. “Have something?”
“No, sir. Don’t really want it, just at the moment.” I slipped around him and took my seat at the desk. “So. What now?”
“Now? There’s a medal ceremony later today. Mayor’s going to be giving you a medal of honor. Long-term? Well, that’s where things get a bit more complicated. You know?” He sighed. “I’ve been commissioner for the past seven years. And in the last year, Dane, this city’s been getting… weird.” He took a sip of his drink, frowning darkly. “The Church of the Survivor last year. These jackoffs this year. And in the cracks, crime’s getting stranger. More and more unexplained disappearances, inexplicable phenomena, assaults. Spooky shit, Dane. And you keep landing yourself in the middle of it.”
“I’m retiring next month, Dane.” The commissioner sighed. “I’ve been playing this game for too damn long. I want you to take my place. I think the city needs you at the wheel.”
“Commissioner?” I asked, voice slightly strained.
“The mayor is going to be announcing it during the medal ceremony. You’ve earned it, Dane. Now you just have to live with it.” The commissioner chuckled, a smile on his face. “I’m going to go get some coffee so I’m not obviously drunk in front of the press. I’ll see you at the ceremony in a couple of hours, Dane, alright?” He clapped me once on the shoulder, and walked out the door. I set Tonfa down on the table, and examined the bottle. I would probably want to drink again. But just for the moment, I didn’t hate being me. I didn’t hate who I was. I was, damn it all, happy.
There was a knock on the door. “Delivery,” said a woman’s voice.
“It’s open,” I said. It wasn’t unusual. People came to deliver things to me all the time. If the officers downstairs thought they were suspicious, she wouldn’t be here. I smiled at the woman. Young, probably no more than a teenager, with a really bad silver dye-job, and one of those ridiculous looking gold grills. It was an ostentatious look, but frankly, I’d seen worse. “You one of the interns for the city hall?”
I took the package, signed for it, checked it. It was perhaps half a foot on a side, stiff, without any information on it. I frowned, and opened it carefully, resting one hand on Tonfa as I did. It tore easily, and revealed a small black jewelry case, the kind that opened diagonally. I twisted it open.
Tonfa fell from my fingers, clattering to the table. Inside of the box sat a delicate sphere. About the size of a grape, perfectly round, coated in glittering gold. A starburst was etched on one side, a small circle with eight waving lines pointing out in cardinal directions from it. It sat in the box, and stared up at me. A prosthetic eye made of gold. That wasn’t the shocking part about it, though. There was a card gently inserted behind the eye.
*To my favorite god-daughter,
Bet you didn’t see this coming.
I looked up. The gold-toothed silver-haired woman sat in the seat opposite me. She was leaning back with a grin that begged me to smash out every single tooth. I wrapped my fingers around the tonfa, and she shook her head. “Violence isn’t the way to deal with me. You should’ve learned that by this point. After what you did to poor David… can you imagine it, murdering that man on a live camera? Jesus, could you imagine what would happen to you, to everyone you care about, if that got out again?”
“You were the one who made everyone forget about it.”
“Everyone who mattered.” She waved a hand. “You don’t have to do it to everyone. Just the places that it matters. People will see their memories are contradicted by what they think is cold, hard reality. They’ve been conditioned by the world to trust what they’re told over their own senses. Like when I tried to kill Nelson Mandela in prison, or when I decided to fuck with that couple with their damn children’s book.” She chuckled. “The world just shifts a little bit underneath you. You know? And so I decided to give you a gift.”
“You’re one of the Horsemen. Conquest. Jackass’ patron.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Why?” She paused, and tapped her chin. “Well, a lot of reasons. Let’s start with the most important. This makes you stronger. It puts you in a higher position. It means you become commissioner, and stay the hero of the city. You gain control and status, and live a happier life. So, someday, when you have forgotten about all of this, and you’re feeling comfortable, and things really matter, I can come to you. I can remind you that your entire world is built on the foundation of a lie. I can threaten to bring it all crashing down unless you give in to me. Or, I can make you refuse this chance. I can make you hold yourself in, live your life small, and meaningless, refusing to take advantage of any opportunities for fear of the damage that I will someday do to you. I am Conquest, after all. Everything is a chance for control.”
“Or, crazy thought, I could decide that I’m going to live my life without fear, do everything good that I can, and accept that someday things might turn to shit, like every other human being in the world. And, on the day that happens, I could jam my tonfa so far up your ass you look like a Balinese shadow puppet.”
Tonfa chuckled from the table, and I smiled, bolstered by the little support. Conquest laughed along with, which made me a little less happy. “That’s true. And frankly, I’m just as pleased with that response. Arrogance is better than submission. More satisfying, among other things. So, the second possibility. You know the saying, no good deed goes unpunished? I like to encourage the opposite. Push my thumbs down on the scales of karma, invert them. You murdered a man, and it made your life so much better.”
“Yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again, though, even knowing that.”
Conquest nodded. Then her face become solemn. “So we have the last reason.” She breathed in, and out. “Love is a part of humans. You are weak things, with an immense instinct for pair-bonding. You love animals. You love tools.” She waved a hand towards Tonfa. “You even come to love ideas. There are those among you who would die for a principle like they would die for a pregnant mate. And you give us those same instincts. David had mastered my power in a way nobody else ever had, but I loved him too much to take his life and that power. You did that for me. You killed the man I loved.” She smiled. “This all is just my way of saying thank-you. You freed me from that binding. Enjoy the eye. David wouldn’t want you to hide what you really are.”
“And what’s that?” I asked, aware of how choked my voice sounded, suddenly.
Then she was gone.
I stared down at the eye.
“I don’t feel anything from it. No power. Nothing special. Just… an eye.” Tonfa said, and then coughed. “An incredibly gaudy, noticeable eye.”
I slowly rolled the eye around in one hand, staring into it. It was beautiful. I thought of Jackass, and what he was planning by sending it to me. Probably to make me obsess over what he had been planning. I lifted the eyepatch, and popped the eye into the socket. It was very heavy, and nothing else.
“Love’s a fucked-up thing, huh?” asked Tonfa.
“Sometimes,” I agreed.
I walked into the break room. Hector and Marco were sitting at a table, going through reports. Marco looked up, and his jaw dropped. Hector did the same, and burst out laughing. “Jesus Christ, boss. Wasn’t that a Bond villain?”
I sighed, and rolled my eyes. The feeling of the heavy gold in one eye socket was strange, alien, like a new tooth. I blinked, and it was smooth. It held in better than I would’ve expected. “A gift. From a secret admirer. Any news about John?”
“Yeah,” said Hector, smiling. “Decided to move. He’s going up to New England.” I nodded. “So. We doing the Neighborhood Watch thing?”
“No,” I said. “We did that because we had to. We did it because we didn’t have any other better option. I think we do, now. We’re not heroes, we’re not something special, but I’ve seen what we can accomplish. And it matters.” I smiled. “Betty can’t be everywhere at once. We can keep things quiet here. Now, I’m going to go get ready for the medal ceremony.”
On the way there, I pondered my life. The loose ends. I still didn’t know what had happened to Ariel, Jack, Jill, and Death. Jack Black was somewhere loose in the world. Jack Knife was still unsure who she was, and at best, I had been a neutral influence on her life. There had been so much that I couldn’t do. Jackal was still a plague-carrier, and whatever unknown entity had given him power remained outside of my sphere of knowledge. I’d learned just how deep down the well I was, and just how small the slice of sky I could see. I still didn’t know who had killed my father, and I would never have revenge for him. I hadn’t gotten a single grain of closure.
Sitting in the medal ceremony, I shifted uncomfortably. The dress uniform was elaborate. A golden badge. White dress shirt. Black peaked cap. The golden badge on my hat. Laurels and crowns, surrounded by oak leaves. I took a deep breath through my nose, in the hot air. Tonfa rested on my hip. “You know, Dane, if you get made Police Commissioner, you’re going to technically be a civilian. Not a police officer. You’re probably not going to be allowed to run around in the middle of the city fighting serial killers and shit like that anymore.”
“Are you kidding?” I murmured under my breath, looking out over the stage, sitting among the great and the not-as-evil-as-they-could-be. People occasionally looked at me, saw the golden eye, and broke eye contact immediately. “You’ve seen what my life is, we’ll probably start seeing assassination attempts on me.” I frowned, staring into the crowd as the speech continued. There was a rather large man sitting in a trenchcoat near the back of the audience. I wondered for a moment if it might be John. I certainly hoped he would be here. It would be some way to repair our relationship.
“And of course, this crisis has brought out the best in our people,” continued the mayor, the speech stretching out agonizingly as I closed my eyes. Life was changing once again. Another strange change. I was being told that I would get a lot of new power, but ultimately, that power was still constrained. I’d been blessed by something that was beyond a god, but still, that power had felt like a lie. I wasn’t really anything special.
“And so we thank holy SHIT what the hell is that!”
My eyes snapped open. The jacketed figure in the back had stood up, and was still standing up, looming taller, and taller, nearly nine feet tall. He beat his chest. “I am the last Jack! Jackanape! This city is mine, now!”
Gunfire filled the air as officers drew their weapons, pelting the huge man with bullets. He laughed and charged forward, pushing his way through the chairs, between the broadcasting television cameras. He was hairy, apelike, rotund and muscular all at once. I drew Tonfa from my belt as he charged at the mayor, gunshots flickering off of his skin as though they were little more than ball bearings. People scattered in a panic as wooden chairs splintered under his massive feet and yellowing toe-nails.
I leapt off the stage, and landed in front of him. He stood over me, close to twice my height by now, bellowing laughter as he reached down for my head. I rapped the back of his knuckles with the baton, and he roared with pain, throwing his head back. I brought the baton down on his knee, hard, sending him stumbling down into a kneeling posture in front of me. He fell forward, arms out wide, trying to bear hug me. I leapt over him, legs pumping hard to push me past him. I cleared his head. The baton did not. Instead, it caught on his throat.
My body weight pulled him along with my movement, forcing him backwards, as I landed. I pushed my hips against his back, forcing the tonfa harder into his throat. He was tough. He could take approximately eighteen minutes of strangulation like this before serious brain damage would occur. I didn’t know what the hell he was, but I knew that this wouldn’t kill him. It would just knock him out. I hauled forward with all of my strength, as the huge man sputtered and reached blindly back for me, unable to get his arms far enough back to do much. He let out a wheezing noise, and collapsed. On top of me.
With a couple minutes of dedicated work, the eight-hundred pound man was rolled off of me, letting me breathe freely again. I slowly pushed myself to my feet as the cameras crowded around.
“Miss Larson, how did you do that-”
“Deputy Inspector Larson, where did you learn to fight like that-”
“Dane, what the hell is with the eye-”
“Miss Larson, what the hell was that guy?”
I looked down at the man, breathing heavily, sweat running down my forehead, my hair in disarray. “Fuck it, guys,” I said, waving a hand. “You can figure it out.” I hauled myself up onto the stage, and took the ribbon out of the mayor’s hand, giving him a quick nod. He swallowed mutely as I stepped back off the stage.
I took out my phone as I walked along, the medal of honor planted in my front pocket, where it would be safe until I took the time to sew the damn thing on. I dialed Horace for the third time. Still no answer. I sighed. Hopefully he was alright. More likely he was having a hell of a time of things, too. The world was getting weirder.
I paused for a moment, and considered my options. Then I dialed John. The phone rang nearly six times before he picked up. “Dane.”
We were quiet for a few seconds. I coughed. “Are we okay, John?”
“Boss… I don’t know how to say this. If it’s some emergency, if there’s some life-threatening insanity, I don’t want any part of it. I’m out of it.”
“No, John! Jesus, no. There’s nothing like that. I just…”
“But.” He paused for a moment. “If you ever want to come up and visit me… Get out of that goddamn city for a little while, let the policework rest, have some time off… I’d love it if you came to visit me. You can spend a weekend here or something. We can go fishing, I can show you the farm, we can shoot the shit a bit. Whatever you like.”
“That sounds… damn nice, John.”
“Just don’t bring your work with you. Alright?” He chuckled.
“I’ll do my best. Talk to you another time, John.” I closed the phone, and stood on the street corner. The sun hung overhead, almost directly, and the light was intense. I looked around at my city, and took a deep breath, enjoying the rank odor, the stench of too many people around.
Humans get very attached to the idea of closure. If you can just solve the problems, everything will be right forever. But each day brings new problems. And opportunities. The two aren’t all that different, once you take a close look at them. I gently lifted Tonfa into the air. “Hey. My dad could always cook a real mean potatoes au gratin. Did you ever learn that from him?”
“Of course I did. He used to use me for half the tasks in the kitchen. You’ll need some potatoes, though. And gratin. And we should pick up some Au, just to be on the safe side.”
I smiled. It was weird, being this connected to a piece of wood twelve inches long with a face that looked like my father, but there were weirder relationships that I’d seen in the world. Maybe everything would be okay.
And even if it wasn’t, fuck it. I could handle it.
Pardon my french.