The Rock and the Redeemer by Mark Joseph Kevlock
The Rock and the Redeemer by Mark Joseph Kevlock
Redeemer smiled beneficently. That was all he ever did. The son of a bitch. He was sitting in my office wearing that goddamn robe of his that I’d seen him sporting on the front page of all the papers. A super-hero who saved people’s souls. What the hell was that supposed to mean?
The mayor of Capitol City swore by him, although of course Redeemer would ally himself with no political camp or philosophy. It seems he saved the life of the mayor’s son — brought him back from the brink of some suicidal drug habit. And it wasn’t just the affluent upon which he worked his supposed miracles. He spent most of his time just roaming the streets of the city, gathering to him — albeit for a brief time only — what lost souls he could find, sewing them up with his magic power, churning out A-1 citizens in their stead.
I spent most of my time searching the streets as well. But I wasn’t looking to heal anyone. I had bullets looking to fill holes in dead men who didn’t know it yet. I had a lifetime of vengeance before me, unlimited corpses to count, until I achieved some magic number that would allow me to rest, to shut my eyes without seeing my family slaughtered, a kite without an owner, floating lonely in the sky, a picnic basket with gray matter sandwiches, blades of grass spray-painted crimson, a love with vacant eyes, no final words, three lifeless things that used to be my universe, a park with a sea of horrified faces, a bullet in my crotch and another in my elbow — in my goddamned elbow — no memory of gunmen, no license number for the van, no help with the I.D.s, no fellow citizens who gave a damn.
I was a super-hero, too. Sort of. My real name was Rockford Chase. But all my life people just called me Rock.
That was good enough at the funeral, where they spoke in whispers about my brave front, my steely demeanor. It was good enough in the Marines, where they spoke in whispers too, with reverence, remarking upon how it was I never pulled the trigger on a SOB who didn’t deserve it.
After my family went in the ground a lot more SOBs deserved it than before.
“I’m here to save you, Rockford,” the Redeemer said, pulling me out of the mile-deep chasm of memory that held my fists always in a clenched position. It was better when they were clenched around a gun.
“There’s nothing to save me from,” I said.
Redeemer sat perfectly still in my client chair. He always sat perfectly still, even when he was in motion, at peace with himself, fulfilled in a way that would’ve put the gun in my mouth if I gave it more than a split second’s thought.
Most clients when they came in glanced out the window, down upon Union Street, waited for the wind to catch the skirts of anything remotely female, or watched the bullet trains make a mockery of the sound barrier, the anti-grav tankers in the distance traveling down route 83.
Redeemer watched me.
“I won’t ask who sent you,” I said. “Because that answer is always ‘a higher power.'”
His smile showed nothing but warmth.
“You may think I need to stop killing people,” I said, “but you’re dead wrong. If anything I need to kill more. As long as some innocent kid, some pretty young bride….”
Of course there was no finishing that sentence. Crying in front of this bastard was the worst mistake. I could see the tears welling in my eyes, see them becoming a kind of glue to keep his ass plastered to that chair for all eternity. Because that’s how long he’d need in order to save my soul.
“The newspapers don’t call you a hero,” he said, “but they do speak as if you were performing a crucial service for this city.”
“They say the same about you.”
“So the question then is: can we both exist at once? Can this city I am trying to redeem tolerate the unapologetic vigilantism that you so gleefully employ?”
I sat forward and fixed him with a hard stare.
“Are you challenging me?” I said. “‘This town isn’t big enough for both of us’?”
“Not at all,” he said. “I am merely remarking that in order to truly end the violent actions of Man as a species, men like you must be set free from their hate.”
“Good goddamn luck.”
“I know who killed your family.”
The words reverberated between cramped walls. Time stopped. There was no need to ask if he meant it. Of course he did. He meant every damn thing he said.
I could pull in no air to speak. Silence didn’t offend him, as it did most people. He had no enemies to speak of, and so no fears. The bastard.
“I have a power that most people know nothing of,” he said.
He was pressing the advantage, as holy men did, delivering what you might call a soul-punch when I was already down.
“I can bring back the dead,” he said.
Then quickly added:
“I don’t mean to say resurrect your family — souls so long departed are beyond my purview. But I can bring back those who are recently departed.”
I still had no air, and no coherent thoughts to form.
“I intend to lead you to your family’s killers so that you can exact your revenge upon them.”
Now I saw a little of the outrageousness he was suggesting.
“Once you have committed these vicious — what you believe to be soul-cleansing — murders, you will repent of all your violent actions. You will fear the heel of your boot upon the smallest ant. You will never again display anger, shaping your aggressive tendencies into creativity instead, constructing solid foundations upon which you will build lasting and loving relationships the likes of which you dreamed never again possible for yourself.”
“And then you’ll bring these murderers back to life,” I said. “Absolving me of my guilt over killing them. Allowing me to move forward from that point on.”
He didn’t mind my mocking tone. He didn’t mind anything at all. Plus he knew that I was only half-insincere.
My legs weren’t going to work for a good five minutes, but I said it just the same:
They weren’t drug dealers, weren’t in any gang. It wasn’t a thrill-killing or a serial nut-job. It was a man and a woman in love. They hadn’t pulled the triggers, but they were the cause.
I watched them through the telephoto lens making love in the afternoon out on the patio. My fists were clenched.
Daddy’s little girl. She was rich; her father was rich. He didn’t approve of the fiancé who wasn’t rich. The fiancé was a grunt. Could’ve been a coal miner or a truck driver, given the weathered worn look of him.
They made love for hours.
“Do you want the father too,” Redeemer said, “or just the men directly responsible?”
“I want them all,” I said.
“Even these two?”
The ring was still new on her finger when she went into the ground. Mine was on a chain around my neck. A cross to bear.
“No,” I said.
And he knew he had a part of me already.
They were supposed to be picnicking in the park that day. We were in their exact spot. Why the gunmen had fired on a couple with kids I’d have to ask them. Or not. How could they talk with their mouths full of bullets?
First would be the father — who had, apparently, ordered his own daughter killed.
His midtown townhouse was a fortress. To get inside I’d have to kill a lot of security guards who were only doing their jobs. I could’ve waited for him to come out. But I wasn’t that patient.
I was in a hotel room a thousand yards away with a sniper rifle trained on the back of his neck. Redeemer was right there at my elbow.
“Why didn’t you get married right away?” Redeemer said. “Your children were five and six years old by the time you wed.”
Even if a part of me wanted to know how he had led me here, where he’d gotten this information, I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of asking.
“Was it that you didn’t feel worthy of her?” he said. “She was of a wealthy family.”
“It wasn’t their wealth,” I said automatically, too late to pull back.
The laser-sight moved with the old man across his study; through it I could pick out every detail. He was reading James Joyce’s “The Dead.”
“It was their kindness,” Redeemer said. “She was part of a family who gave their all toward the betterment of Mankind — their time, their resources, their bottomless affections.”
My fist was about to clench the trigger.
“And you were a man of anger. A hard man. You hated deeply and expected that no one could ever get through that defense.”
The words on the page were those where Gretta was breaking Gabriel’s heart — speaking of her love for a boy taken from this life long ago…
“Perhaps her death merely gave you cause to perfect the hatred that you have been, your whole life, longing to express.”
…a love that would never die.
“I can still kill him later,” I said.
Redeemer didn’t need to reply. My head was doing the replying for him. Of course I could kill him later. I could kill anyone anytime I wanted. Was that the one pathetic shred of power I was clinging to in this world that felt so out of my hands?
We had moved on to the gunmen themselves: two professionals, brothers, who worked as a team. Whether their deaths would silence my own internal screams was irrelevant. I had to kill them because I had to kill. That was my reputation, my method of operation. I punished wrongdoers. I wore the image of a scythe stitched across the front of my killing shirt.
“I’ll say it all for you,” I said, as Redeemer and I sat in a coffee shop — he in his robe; me with my arsenal — absorbing the stares of all those around us.
“‘This won’t bring them back’…. ‘Is this how they’d want you to behave?’… ‘You’ve got to let go of the past’.”
Again he proved invulnerable to my sarcasm.
He was so calm, so still. My fist clenched the coffee mug and didn’t notice the scalding.
“Who the hell are you, exactly,” I said, exasperated with his very existence, “to think that you can save this whole damn city single-handedly?”
If there was any victory in him, that didn’t show either.
The brothers passed by then, on the other side of the street, at just the time he said. They had a little girl between them. She was laughing and holding one of their hands to either side of her. We followed them to the park.
From somewhere the props emerged — a kite, a picnic basket.
Redeemer must’ve thought for sure that I was weakening, but blasting the brothers’ heads right off their shoulders would certainly disabuse him of that misinterpretation.
I went in low, behind the shrubbery. It was a semi-secluded little glen, a good hundred feet from the walking path up the hill. The little girl was running; the kite was flying.
What kind of a hard bastard could fail a test like this?
I had two lifetimes of unused laughter coming up out of those tiny twin coffins to urge me onward.
My heart was clenched inside my chest.
The kite caught the wind, as if for a moment it was free.
“Not in front of their little sister,” I said.
But I knew I was saying: not at all.
I lay there for hours behind the shrubs. I cried my anguish into the soil, never even bothering to lift my nose from the dirt. At some point Redeemer came, kneeling, with a hand upon my back.
“I have no power to return life to the dead,” he said.
The shock slipped through me, but only my outer layer. Inside I was grieving too deeply, mostly for myself — the death on that day of the man I might have been.
“I also have no information regarding the whereabouts or identities of your family’s killers.”
Again the shock, deeper this time, scalding realizations.
My voice was a croaking whisper of snot and soil upon my lips:
“They were all nobodies. Unrelated to my tragedy. If I had harmed even a single one in any way….”
There was nowhere to go with it. What would I have become — a murderer? Was I, after so long, anything else?
“This city will heal all its tenants,” Redeemer said. “As will this Earth. You were born without trust, Rockland Chase. See where your fear has led you.”
I wanted the energy to throttle him, to say that he had tricked me, nearly forced me to kill innocent—
It was a lie.
No one could force me to kill. Or stop me from killing.
I was a damn disgrace. And all of the people who championed my brand of justice were nothing but an angry mob separated by distance and circumstance — still as bloodthirsty, as dangerous.
Redeemer lifted my face from the dirt. He cradled me in his arms. His robes became a blanket for my shoulders. The guns were so heavy now; I let them fall away. Redeemer was trying to take my hands in his own. I unclenched my fists to receive him.
Copyright Mark Joseph Kevlock 2019