Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Strawman Has A Point

April 29, 2017,
13:02 local time,
Flavian Palace,
Rome, Roman Republic

“You know,” said English Foreign Affairs Minister Jack Kent after getting comfortable in the study of Roman Emperor Erasmus, “no matter how many times I visit the Palace I am always struck in awe. The magnificence and its beauty is almost enough for me to say, ‘England and Rome, let’s bury the hatchet’, because, why would I want to destroy such a thing?”

Erasmus laughed in his chair. “Almost,” he said, “but not quite.”

“I think our countries have far too many issues which prevents us from seeking amicable terms,” said Kent. “I mustn’t hide from that reality.”

“…and yet you’ve come here,” said Erasmus, “not on an official mission but insisting I let you in as my personal guest, of which I only allowed because I believe you are a man of honour. You work in strange ways, Jack.”

“I have to use every tool available in my arsenal,” said Kent, “including appealing to your personal convictions. Surely you understand how the great game works.”
“I’ve been Emperor for hardly a week,” said Erasmus, “but the events of this past month, with Valerius initially refusing to concede the Crown…gave me a crash course.”
“Congratulations on that,” said Kent. “I figure I would at least tell you in person. You are far easier to get along with than Valerius ever was, believe me.”

Erasmus chuckled before leaning forward in his chair, adopting a serious tone.

“Yet something tells me that you’re not here simply for congratulations,” he said.

Kent readjusted himself in his seat, adopting the same serious tone. He didn’t sit forward, but he did clasp his hands in front of him.

“That is because you are about to ruin your legacy before it can even begin,” he said, his strong baritone more poignant in its tone.

Erasmus looked on, intrigued more than upset.

“The invasion of North America,” said Kent. “Don’t do it.”

Erasmus gave his head a shake and then let out an awkward chuckle.

“What invasion of North America?” said Erasmus, feigning ignorance.
“Come on,” said Kent forcefully. “Quit playing around, Your Highness. It’s the worst kept secret in the political world…the Icelandic Army has been mobilizing in Yarmouth all week, tripling in size overnight. Now I know there’s no documentation so I can’t prove any of this in a formal capacity…but anyone with half a brain would know there’s no way the Icelandic Army would get so strong in such a short amount of time without help…which would be your help.”

“So,” said Erasmus, getting agitated. “You’ve come here to figuratively arrest me…prove to your buddies that you got one over ‘those darn Romans’, am I right? Win a few points on the political sphere in England and among your buddies in Virtue too…well, let me ask you- how long will that last? A week is forever in politics, especially in a democracy like ours.”

Kent leaned forward, though his piercing eyes displayed a hint of humanity.

“I’m not here as a politician,” said Kent. “I’m here as a friend.”
“As much respect as I have for you as a person,” said Erasmus, “I’d hardly call you a friend.”
“Be that as it may,” said Kent, “you and I both have an interest in stopping Haylie Modine and her reign of terror in North America. It also hasn’t escaped me that, among the major powers of the world, we are the only two democracies. We have far more in common than you think.”
“So why are you trying to stop me?” said Erasmus. “If you’re my friend, you should support me.”
“Friends stop their friends from doing something that would ruin them,” said Kent, pointedly.
“England has spared no end trying to ruin Rome,” said Erasmus with a smirk.
“Yet I am coming here trying to save you,” said Kent.

Erasmus let out a heavy sigh.

“Let it out Jack,” said Erasmus, “you’re not here to save me…you’re here to save North America for your pals in Virtue. Or maybe for yourself…you need more of a footprint in North America.”
“I could wipe out the Icelandic Army in minutes,” said Kent, leaning back in his chair. “I have Yarmouth surrounded. In fact, my General wanted to do just that…but I overruled them. Why? Because I wanted to appeal to you first, because you decapitating Haylie would only destroy what you seek to maintain.”
“OK,” said Erasmus, “you’re holding me hostage. Say ‘yes’ to you and the Icelandic Army doesn’t get squashed like a bug. I see how this works.”
“No,” said Kent. “I told the Army to stand down no matter what you do. Besides, even you would understand that now that you know of what we can do you can actually prepare for it…you and I both know the only way we could take Yarmouth is by surprise. I don’t have that anymore. You can send your reinforcements from Boston and I don’t have an advantage anymore.”

Erasmus looked Kent straight in the eyes.

“I somehow still don’t believe you,” said Erasmus, “and, quite frankly, I’m not sure I care. I’m going to do what is right…the American Confederacy that Haylie Modine has created is nothing more than a fascist dictatorship wrapped up in liberal platitudes…you and I both know she is a danger to democracy. I have to make a statement…that the Romans care about real liberty, not something that merely sounds like it. If I don’t make a stand, people like her…people within the alt-left…they will be emboldened. Emboldened to take power and destroy everything that we hold dear. It does not matter that they fight for ‘the right things’…when they do it wrong, we all suffer.”

“No,” said Kent. “You’re wrong. The alt-left want you to destroy democracy. They want you to destroy the republic. They want you to attack them so they can rally their troops. The alt-left…they thrive on feeling cornered. They may not want to establish a dictatorship right away…but they have long argued that democracy really only serves the oligarchs and they will justify establishing their autocracy by saying they are ‘returning the power to the people’.”

Kent then leaned forward and spoke pointedly.

“Let me put it as succinctly as I can,” he said. “If you remove Haylie from power, you will be destroying the very thing you claim to protect.”

Erasmus let Kent’s words sink in, but he wasn’t swayed.

In the days after the meeting, the Romans and the Icelanders coordinated their efforts against the American Confederacy, eventually leading to Icelandic troops storming the American Presidio dramatically and arresting Modine on live television. The Icelanders had a relatively easy time establishing their rule in the rest of the Confederacy, as Modine’s ways had left her very unpopular.

Still, despite the English- and many within the Virtue Federation- secretly appreciating the removal of a figure they called “a dangerous revolutionary”, Virtue seized the opportunity to publicly denounce Iceland’s annexation of America (with the Icelanders calling their new territory “Vikingaland”), claiming they “did not respect democracy”. Virtue did little more than talk, and The Romans and Icelanders didn’t bother to engage in the war of words, deciding it was better to establish democratic values in a territory that had largely lost them within the past few years.


It was the dawn of a new era, but the problems were far from over.

Happiness Is Not A Fish You Can Catch

October 3, 2017,
18:27 local time,
Global Citizens Headquarters,
Nineveh, Assyria

“Hi Danel,” said renowned freelance investigative reporter Connie Hedburg, knocking on the door of the office of her long-time friend, lawyer and activist Danel Hanno.
“Hi,” said Hanno, taken off guard but not moving an inch from behind his computer. “Hi, uh, Connie…wow, you’re quick.”
“Traffic wasn’t that bad tonight,” said Hedburg. “The streetcar didn’t have to wait too long in between stops.”
“Oh,” said Hanno, “that’s…that’s good.”

Hanno then smiled awkwardly. Usually the sight of Hedburg, with her glistening blonde locks and her warm smile brought out Hanno’s own winning smile, a rare moment of levity from the “all-business” lawman that gave the neurotic Hedburg a soothing calmness. A calmness Hedburg found more necessary since she saw her friend less as she moved to Iceland, her Scandinavian blood preferring the crisp cool Arctic air to the sweltering Assyrian heat that Hanno preferred.

However, that smile wasn’t on display tonight, with Hanno displaying an air of apprehension and uneasiness to him that Hedburg found uncharacteristic. When she saw that Hanno was still immersed in his computer monitor, Hedburg knew something was up.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” she asked, trying to read Hanno’s body language to gather clues of her own.
“No, no,” said Hanno, again awkwardly smiling. “OK, well…maybe a little…I mean, I’m still typing up my reports…”
“Doubt you were going to finish them tonight,” said Hedburg with an uneasy smile.
“I was actually trying to aim for that,” said Hanno. “Even though I know I’ll get more tomorrow.”

Funny, Hedburg thought, Danel couldn’t always wait to get away from his reports. What’s different now?

“Well,” said Hedburg with a smile and a sigh. “I guess I’ll leave you be…just wanted to say ‘hello’.”
“No-no-no, no-no-no-no! Wait!” said Hanno, hastily jumping from his desk. “You said you wanted to get dinner…we’re going to get dinner. You’re right…I mean, it’s late, and you flew all this way for me, making time for me…I shouldn’t be here in the office…these briefs…I’ll just finish them tomorrow…yeah, tomorrow.”

Hedburg then closed the door, leaving her and Hanno alone in the office. The sound of the clang of the door’s locks made a pit in Hanno’s stomach, as Hanno instantly read Hedburg’s seriousness.

“OK, Danny,” said Hedburg. “Something’s up…usually I come here, we smile…we hug…you log out of your computer and away we go, happily going to the movies or dinner or something. Usually you can’t wait to get away from your desk and away from your reports…why Danny? Why is tonight different? Is there something I need to know?”

Hanno then sat back down on the front of his desk, clasping his hands together in front of him.

“Connie,” said Hanno, whose sigh made Hedburg anxious.
“Yes, yes,” said Hedburg, “what is it? Tell me anything. Well, except how stinky your poop was this morning…don’t need to know that.”

Hanno laughed.

“Actually,” said Hanno, “my poop was smelly this morning…but that’s not what’s up.” He then resumed his sullen demeanour.

Hanno then let out a deep sigh as Hedburg hung on to his every word.

“Connie,” he said, lowering his head momentarily. “Connie…I…I want you to understand something. No…I need you to understand something.”
“Understand what?” said Hedburg.
“First,” said Hanno, “I only want you to be happy…I don’t want you to think that I want to interfere with your happiness…you made choices…and I want you to be happy for those choices.”
“I’m glad to know that,” said Hedburg, still nonplussed.
“I just saw your PicMe post and,” said Hanno, his voice trailing off as Hedburg interjected.

“Oh!” said Hedburg, visibly and audibly angry. “The post with Robert and I…my boyfriend. I’m sorry…but you don’t have a right to be angry that I have a boyfriend.”
“I’m not upset that you have a boyfriend,” said Hanno. “Like I said…that choice is yours and yours alone. I only care if he mistreats you…because I just want you to be happy.”
“So why are you upset then?” said Hedburg, her hands on her hips. “Clarify that for me. Tell me why I shouldn’t think that you’re just mad that someone else gets to stick his dick inside me and you don’t. Tell me why I should think there’s actually more to this friendship and that I wasn’t just someone you thought you could f***. Tell me…tell me now!

Hanno began to tear as he realized the gravity of the situation. His mind was a mess and getting the right words out was going to be that much tougher.

“Connie,” said Hanno, fighting back his tears, “unrequited love is a thing…you and I…we both know that. Yeah…I did think I had a chance with you and I’m sad that I’m not going to realize that…and that’s just not a feeling that you can brush aside…it’s real…and because I care about you, and because I care about you as a friend, I’m telling you this. The last thing I want for you is to be sad…to be upset. I wish I could have told you this in a better environment under better circumstances…but, as I value your friendship, I feel that it’s pertinent for you to understand what I feel.”

“That’s why you danced around it,” said Hedburg, “until I got it out of you by closing your office door. Don’t try to change the script Danel.”
“However way we got it out,” said Hanno firmly, “I had to get it out. Our friendship would be worthless if I bottled up my feelings…and yes, I was worried about how you would react. That you would think that my admission simply means that I only saw you as someone I wanted to have sex with. I may have seen that, but I see so much more in you…so much that I value…that I treasure…that I love.”

Hanno then broke down in tears, his head collapsing into hands to hide his tears though his sobbing was still very audible.

“Connie,” he said, his voice cracking, “you mean the world to me…you’re like a sister to me…you’re as best a friend as anyone could ever ask for…please, from the bottom of my heart believe me. I want you to be happy…I only want you to be happy…and if that’s with Robert and not me…then so be it.

“Yeah, I’m disappointed that’s not how it worked out…that you chose someone else over me…but, deep down inside, I have to put aside my disappointment and be happy for you…because this isn’t about me. I can’t make this about me, because it isn’t. It never can be. It might take me a while before I realize that…but, by gosh, I care about you and I care about this friendship so I’m going to do everything I can to get over it. Because, ultimately, I care about you. All I want is your understanding and your patience, with the knowledge I will do nothing to get in the way of your happiness. One day, I’d like to meet him and tell him how happy I am that you’re happy. You’re just going to have to give me some time to get there.”

Hedburg took in a deep breath, pondering Hanno’s words.

He sure felt entitled to me, she thought, and I’m not sure I can so readily let that go…but then again, why would he lie to me? He’s been one of the greatest friends I’ve ever had…I’m sure if the situation were different I would feel the same way he does…and why would I not believe him when he says he won’t get in my way? Danel is as honest as they come…I’ve always known he meant what he says. Why should this be any different?

Hedburg walked up towards Hanno, still sobbing over his desk, and wrapped her arms around him, causing him to reciprocate. The two then got up and stood there, locked in their embrace with both of them crying over each other’s shoulders. The sad tears Hanno felt soon turned into happy ones, which moved Hedburg to those same tears of relief.

“I love you Danel,” she said.
“I love you too, Connie,” said Hanno.
“You’re the best friend anyone could ask for,” said Hedburg, the two still sobbing. “I totally understand how you feel, and I appreciate and thank you for respecting me and understanding how I feel. You truly are a gem.”
“Thank you,” said Hanno, “thank you so much.”


After several minutes locked in their embrace, one filled with tears of joy and relief, the two eventually decided to have dinner anyway. While they were out, Hedburg received a text message she’d have to follow up with in the morning- it was a story too juicy to ignore.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ryan Tolliver's Long Night

“Our history is written by the victors. So too are our morals.”- Percy Wainright, “The Southern Reality” (1969)

August 15, 2017,
23:22 local time,
Ryan Tolliver’s House,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

Ryan Tolliver let out a huge sigh.

The portly man, the grizzled but distinguished Prefect of the Watch for the Lloydminster Cohort of Watchmen, looked longingly into his bathroom mirror and contemplated the day he just had. Clad in nothing but his boxer briefs, the 50-year-old with the scraggly long hair and thick beard wore a heavy burden, and yesterday was particularly tough. Though he wrapped up a crucial case for the government, it only came at the cost of many long hours and weekends he needed to work, and all that time he didn’t get to spend with his wife, Marie, the lovely svelte redhead Marie, seven years his junior.

Maybe I should retire, Ryan thought. The couple had two kids, a son, Gregory (20) and a daughter, Camile (19), both off to university. It meant that the Tollivers now had the whole house to themselves, and Ryan promised his wife that they’d use that extra time to spend with each other.

So much for that, it seems.

As he continued to stare at his paunchy gut and his scruffy beard that seemed to get greyer by the day, his phone went off.

I wonder what this could be, the grizzled veteran thought as he answered. Given that Lloydminster is a border town with an anachro-capitalist country that calls itself “The Federation of Canada”, Tolliver never seems to stop.


August 17, 2017,
14:07 local time,
Lloydminster Cohort of Watchmen Headquarters,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

“Hi Rybear!” said Primus Pilus Bridgit Penny as she walked towards Tolliver, her direct superior. In more formal circumstances, Penny would refer to Tolliver as “Prefect”, but, due to their closeness and Tolliver’s more “personal” style, people in his command often forewent formalities.

“How’s everything going?” said Penny, still trying to catch Tolliver’s attention. The perky, ivory-skinned blonde continued walking towards Tolliver, who appeared fixated by his computer. Penny then became intrigued, wondering what Tolliver was doing so she walked behind his desk and his chair and readjusted her glasses to get a better look.

“The 9 of Hearts is available for you to move the 8 of spades to,” said Penny, trying to help Tolliver out at Solitaire. Tolliver’s eyes perked up when he saw the move was available to him, which allowed him to finish the game quickly.

“Good eye,” said Tolliver, impressed with Penny’s observational skills.
“It’s funny,” she said, “because you’re usually the better one at observing things.”
“Even the best need help,” said Tolliver with a smile, though his voice still sounded fatigued.
“Something’s on your mind, isn’t it?” said Penny, picking up on Tolliver’s fatigue.

Tolliver shifted in his chair and sighed.

“Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne are at it again,” said Tolliver. “Wayne’s critical of Stark and his Sentries- again- and Stark is again accusing Wayne of being ‘obsessed with a failing law enforcement model’.”
“Studies do show that conventional police forces only work when the public buys into it,” said Penny, “if the police are ineffective, you have to rely on vigilantes…and with so many countries so poor that they can’t afford a real police force, it’s much easier to hire a superhero.”
“Easier,” said Tolliver, “but it’s not better.”

Penny laughed, which caused Tolliver to briefly crack a smile. Her energy was infectious, and the often jaded Tolliver appreciated it.

“I guess this means you’re finally ready to admit you side with Bruce Wayne,” she said.
“Never,” said Tolliver definitively. “Bruce is too disconnected…I’ll never let him forget how he revived law enforcement agencies and advised them on their methods only for Milner to ding him for essentially creating the superheroes he sought to replace. Bruce may have noble intentions, but it was only a matter of time before the public got impatient with the ‘logical’ system and started asking for decisive heroes, and, unfortunately, it was too easy for the gloryhounds in our police to fall for that.”

Penny smiled, though she struggled with where Tolliver was going with his message.

“You make a fair point,” she said, “but, how do you avoid the police to succumbing to its ‘superhero instincts’?”
“My solution is to work with the people,” said Tolliver, “and tailor my answer to them and their needs.”
“Easier said than done,” said Penny with a restrained smile.

“Maybe so,” said Tolliver, “but I know that, after what happened to Ms. Pierson, things are only going to get worse before they get better.”

August 18, 2017,
22:09 local time,
Lloydminster Cohort of Watchmen Headquarters,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

Tolliver barged through the doors and stormed into the office bullpen. He then stopped in the centre and gave everyone a look, which stopped his team of beat officers- known simply as “watchmen” or “watchwomen”- in their tracks.

“All right,” he said, still seething, his charges looking on with trepidation. “What’s going on? This better be good, because you interrupted Movie Night.”
“We’re sorry to interrupt ‘Sexy Time’,” said Watchwoman Angela Newsome, not hiding her consternation.
“At least you have a wife you can go home to,” said Watchman Bradley Peters, recently divorced.

“Sir,” said Primus Pilus of the Lloydminster Watch Bridgit Penny, Tolliver’s second in command whose sight calmed Tolliver down. “There’s a woman here from Leduc…says she’s got something of extreme importance that she needs to tell you.”

Tolliver chuckled and shook his head. Doesn’t everyone have something of ‘extreme importance’ to tell me? he thought.

“Yeah,” said Centurion of the Watch (A.K.A. “detective”) Norman Parker, who was with Penny. “I tried to get through to her but she just kept babbling. Bridgit couldn’t either…she insisted she talk with you.”
“Fine,” said Tolliver curtly, “I guess…but, if she’s from Leduc, why didn’t she go to their Cohort of Watchmen? Why bother us?”
“I asked her the same thing,” said Parker. “She wouldn’t answer.”

Tolliver took in a deep breath and let out a heavy sigh. These guys, he thought, not a day goes by without me having to hold their hands.

He then stepped into the interview room and met the woman, Antonia Redlawn, who leapt from her seat and wrapped her arms around Tolliver’s shoulders after he identified himself, with Tolliver begrudgingly and half-heartedly accepting the embrace.

“Mrs. Redlawn,” said Tolliver after the two sat down again. “You’re from Leduc…can I ask why you didn’t go to the Watchmen there?”
“I met this woman,” said Redlawn, who had to let out a sigh before continuing. “Said she was on her way to Lloydminster…she said she was going there to kill this boy…she wouldn’t tell me who it was, but she was certain he was a rapist and that he had to be brought to justice…anyway, I know only you have the authority to provide him with protective custody so I came here to ask you to provide it to him.”

Tolliver palmed his face and shook his head.

“Mrs. Redlawn,” said Tolliver, “I appreciate your concern, but unless you’ve got the name of this gentleman there’s really nothing I can do. I can’t provide protective custody for every man in this city…we don’t have the resources.”
“Can you at least write a press release or send out a warning to the area’s men to watch out for this woman?” said Redlawn.
“What does the woman look like?” said Tolliver.
“She…um,” said Redlawn, stammering as she tried to recollect her memories. “She had red hair…um, really white skin…petite…very young…a beautiful young woman, barely a teenager, I think.”

Tolliver sighed and shook his head again.

“So you want me to send out a warning to all the guys in Lloydminster to watch out for a pretty woman,” said Tolliver. “Well, I think they already have to watch out pretty girls…they messed me up from time to time as well.”

Tolliver smiled, which he thought would relieve the tension but Redlawn was not pleased.

“Seriously, Mrs. Redlawn,” said Tolliver, “you’re not giving me much to work with.”

Redlawn then lowered her head into her hands and began to cry. Tolliver could only shake his head and look skyward. Not one of these people, he thought, letting out a huge sigh.

“I’m sorry,” said Redlawn, sobbing uncontrollably.
“It’s okay,” said Tolliver remorsefully. “take your time…I understand this means a lot to you.” Tolliver struggled to understand why- she sounded like someone who blew things way out of proportion- but he had to maintain some semblance of professionalism.
“No, no,” said Redlawn, “I understand- I’m just a ‘crazy’…that’s what you Watchmen see me as.”
“No, no, no,” said Tolliver, waving his hands in protest. “I don’t think you’re crazy at all. I just don’t have a lot of information that I can act on. A lot of people come to us with threats and concerns…but, many times, they’re just rumours and innuendo…in our experience, 99% of the time, it’s not useful information and we find there wasn’t much to be concerned about anyway. Don’t get me wrong- I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. It’s certainly something the force will look into and keep in mind.”
“…but you’re not going to act on it,” said Redlawn, “just like the Leduc Watchmen wouldn’t do anything for my son.”

Tolliver was taken aback.

“Excuse me?” he said, his interest suddenly piqued.

“My son, Anthony,” Redlawn said. “He was found dead two weeks ago…nobody knows who did it…the criminal…she must have scrubbed the area clean or something…I just know, five days after he died, I received a voicemail that said he was ‘avenged for rape’…I had no idea what this woman was talking about…Anthony couldn’t hurt anyone…it’s just not his style.”

“A voicemail,” said Tolliver.
“I know,” said Redlawn. “It’s not a lot.”
“We’re going to need this voicemail,” said Tolliver.
“That’s the thing,” said Redlawn. “I don’t have it.”
“OK,” said Tolliver, whose patience had run out. “I think we’re done here.”

Redlawn protested as Tolliver got up, shocked that he made that decision.

“…b-bu-but!” she howled, “can’t you guys call the phone company and get them to retrieve it?”

Tolliver let out a sigh, his frustration painted all over his face. It was times like these that made him hate all those cop shows which made everything look so easy, because in his practice, nothing ever was.

“Listen, Mrs. Redlawn,” said Tolliver. “Getting the phone company to retrieve a voicemail is an expensive process. It’s also time consuming and it requires a lot of back and forth…sometimes even a court order. It’s not easy…look, we appreciate your concern and we’re going to do everything we can to look into it. For now, please, go home and get some sleep. I think we’ve all had a very long day.”

Redlawn stood up, stunned to silence, but decided against protesting. She left the station without incident, allowing the Prefect to address his staff.

“Listen guys,” he said. “I appreciate your concerns and I always stress there’s nothing too small to bring to my attention…but I just dealt with someone that any of you could have dealt with…she had nothing tangible, nothing we can work with…just some lazy, fanciful imaginations and some words some lunatic said to her…I mean, guys, seriously…I can’t be doing all of your work for you…if you can’t get anything out of someone then just leave it…or write me an E-Mail or something and I’ll deal with it in the morning…don’t call me at night to deal with nothing. C’mon, guys…you’re all trained investigators…I know we’re ‘just Lloydminster’ but I hired many of you, and I know what you guys can all bring to the table…please, start using those skills I know you have. Thanks.”

The watchmen all nodded in agreement, appreciating what Tolliver said to them. Tolliver then bid them adieu, calling Marie to let her know he was back on his way home, though Movie Night would have to wait- she’d already gone to bed.

August 21, 2017,
00:44 local time,
Fraser Mall,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

Jerry Damigo was glad his shift was over. A manager at the The Wave, a restaurant known for its staff that wore beach attire, Damigo saw a quiet Sunday night turn into a madhouse when a bachelor party unexpected rolled in ten minutes before the kitchen was supposed to close. Although a good time was had by all and his skeleton staff worked extra hard, it was still quite the stressor on the slender, blonde 29-year-old.

After closing the restaurant doors for the night, Damigo pulled out a cigarette and began smoking. It had been the first time he’d stopped all day for seven hours, and he needed a break before he began his long trek home.

Sitting on the curb he noticed a woman sitting by herself, so he invited himself to sit next to her.

“Hey,” he said, smiling to the woman.
“Hey,” said the woman, flashing an uneasy smile.

Damigo found that he was taken by her. Looking a lot like a teenager despite being close to Damigo’s age, she had red hair that Damigo thought contrasted nicely against her ivory skin, tied with a yellow headband. She too was slender though quite voluptuous, breasts that were almost in full view due to the halter top that she decided to wear. Damigo then lastly noticed her legs, full, shapely legs with strong thighs that were on full display because of her miniskirt and accentuated by her boots.

“Aren’t you cold?” said Damigo.
“A little,” said the woman. “I thought it’d be warmer.”

Damigo smiled, taking it as his cue to put his arm around the woman and snuggling with her, which she seemed to appreciate.

“I hope this makes you warmer,” said Damigo, as the woman got comfortable in his arms.
“It does, actually,” said the woman.
“You’d think in the middle of summer that we’d have warmer temperatures,” said Damigo.
“Summer’s kind of weird up here,” said the woman.
“Up here?” said Damigo. “Not from around here?”
“I’m from Calgary,” said the woman.
“It’s Oilers country up here, though,” said Damigo, referring to the Edmonton Oilers hockey team who were the Calgary Flames’ biggest rivals.
“I’m not too fazed,” said the woman with a smile, “the Flames will win another Stanley Cup before the Oilers do anyway.”
“Fighting words,” said Damigo with mocking indignation. “Fighting words…I know the Oilers haven’t won since the ‘90s…but we’re going to get there.”
“Calgary’s the defending champs,” said the woman. “Good luck with that.”

The woman then got up and started to walk, causing Damigo to give chase.

“Hey,” he said, “where are you going?”

The woman turned around and smiled sheepishly.

“I just figure it’s time to go home,” said the woman. “It’s getting late.”
“You’re…you’re,” said Damigo, stammering. “You’re just going to walk? Let me drive you.”
“No, it’s okay,” said the woman with another sheepish smile. She then began to walk away.

“Hey,” said Damigo, grabbing the woman by the arm. “Don’t be silly. There’s marauders out there…vagabonds…all sorts of bad people. Let me drive you.”
“Why?” said the woman, not flinching despite the fact Damigo’s grip was strong. “So you can rape me like you did with Jessica Lawlor?”

Damigo let go and looked intently at the woman, his mouth open agape.

“How?” said Damigo, stunned, “how do you know about Jessica Lawlor?”
“Because,” said the woman, who pulled out a small, fake rose and stuck it in her hair. “I’m The Flowerer…I’m here to deal with people like you.”

Damigo looked on, now more bewildered than stunned.

“Flowerer?” said Damigo. “What kind of a name is that?”

“It’s pretty simple actually,” said The Flowerer. “You deflowered Jessica…doing so against her will. You met her in this parking lot…she too, was a Flames fan. You cuddled with her after you were finished work, just like you did tonight…and then when she walked away, you grabbed her by the arm and coerced her to get into your car, where you raped her for hours and hours on end. Then, when you were done with her, you drove her across the border and just left her there…thereby ensuring that she’d never get justice. Sure, she found her way back…but, by that point, there was nothing the police could do…and you knew all of that.”

Damigo let out a laugh that soon descended into an uncontrollable belly laugh.

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” said Damigo, mockingly clapping his hands. “Wonderful story…beautifully written. You know, I’m sure Hollywood would turn that into a real blockbuster…I mean, it’s so fanciful…really…” Damigo had to stop to let out a few more laughs. “Seriously, do you really think I’m capable of any of that? To say nothing about the fact that I didn’t do that, because I don’t even know who Jessica Lawless is.”

“Lawlor,” said The Flowerer curtly. “I’m not surprised you don’t know who she is…because you never asked for her name. It was in the police reports.”

“OK,” said Damigo, clasping his hands together and starting to back away. “It was…wonderful to meet you…I hope you get home safe…and, um…whatever it is that you’re on…I hope you get help for it, because you are really off the rails. I mean, seriously.”

Damigo then started to walk away, casually strolling to his car while shaking his head. He stopped paying attention to his surroundings, which proved costly. Without warning, as he was walking away, The Flowerer came up behind up and stabbed him in the back with a knife she had stashed along with her other equipment inside her boot. After he fell to the ground, The Flowerer readjusted her gloves and took her knife and slashed Damigo’s neck, severing his common carotid artery and ensuring his death within an hour due to exsanguination. She tip-toed around his body, doing her best not to get his blood on her boots or her clothes.

As she left the parking lot, she walked down the street towards a gas station. A woman filling up her car noticed her walking and decided to say hello.

“Hey,” said Marie Tolliver as The Flowerer walked by. When The Flowerer acknowledged her with a restrained smile, Marie grew concerned. “Are you okay?”
“I,” said The Flowerer, “I…I just had an argument with my boyfriend…he…he…”
“It’s okay,” said Marie. “You can tell me anything.” The Flowerer put down her head and sighed. “Do you need privacy? We can talk inside my car.”

The Flowerer seemed to appreciate that, deciding to step inside Marie’s car after she was done pumping her gas. The two then drove to a parking spot right next to the store where they continued their conversation.

“What’s your name?” said Marie softly as she and The Flowerer held hands. “I’m Marie.”
“Marie,” said The Flowerer, “that’s a lovely name.”
“Thank you,” said Marie with a smile. “My mother loved that name…said it was her favourite name for a woman. She had three boys before me, so when I came up, she insisted I be named ‘Marie’, so…here I am.”
“I guess your father had different ideas,” said The Flowerer.
“He liked names like ‘Claire’ or ‘Carly’,” said Marie. “His father was named ‘Carl’…so I think that’s why he liked that kind of name.”
“He was stubborn like that,” said Marie. “Just like my husband…he’s the Prefect of the Watch…he let himself get dragged out of bed again by his teammates because he just can’t say ‘no!’ to them and we had a fight about it…so I went out for a drive.”
“He’s a dedicated man,” said The Flowerer.
“Very dedicated,” said Marie. “Dedicated to a fault.”
“Unfortunately for you,” said The Flowerer, “it means you get shunted to the side.”

Marie let out a laugh.

“You know,” she said, “the other night, it got so frustrating…he had the day off so we had a ‘Movie Night’…but then his watchmen called him into work to deal with some rambling woman whom they could have easily dealt with. He took so long at the station that I just went back to bed…but when he rolled back into bed, he woke me up, so I pulled down his underwear and just sucked his c**k right there…he loved it, and I loved it too…biggest burst I’ve felt from him in a while.”

The Flowerer began to look at Marie in horror, stunned to silence at what she heard.

“Um,” she said, starting to get angry. “You just admitted to raping your husband. Do you not realize what you said?”

Marie chuckled, being taken aback.

“No, no, no!” she said, trying to soothe the situation. “I didn’t rape him…he likes it when I do that…he always has. I mean, he’s fondled my breasts and fingered my vagina before while I was asleep…I mean, we never go too far…if the other wants one of us to stop, we do. We respect each other…just sometimes…we have urges. It’s human nature.”

The Flowerer didn’t miss a beat, lunging at Marie and clutching her throat, pressing at it with extreme force. Marie tried to fight back with punches to The Flowerer’s body, but The Flowerer’s strength was too much for her. The Flowerer connected with some hard blows of her own to Marie’s face, allowing her to choke Marie again. She applied so much force that blood vessels were torn and Marie had blood oozing out of her mouth, but The Flowerer didn’t care- she considered Marie a rapist and she was going to choke the life out of Marie. Within seconds, Marie was unconscious, so The Flowerer let her down onto the seat.

At that point, she took no chances, putting on her gloves and picking up her knife and slashing Marie across her neck, cutting her carotid artery. The Flowerer then carefully exited the car to ensure she got no blood on herself before making a mad dash from the gas station.

August 21, 2017,
00:44 local time,
Fraser Mall,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

Jerry Damigo was glad his shift was over. A manager at the The Wave, a restaurant known for its staff that wore beach attire, Damigo saw a quiet Sunday night turn into a madhouse when a bachelor party unexpected rolled in ten minutes before the kitchen was supposed to close. Although a good time was had by all and his skeleton staff worked extra hard, it was still quite the stressor on the slender, blonde 29-year-old.

After closing the restaurant doors for the night, Damigo pulled out a cigarette and began smoking. It had been the first time he’d stopped all day for seven hours, and he needed a break before he began his long trek home.

Sitting on the curb he noticed a woman sitting by herself, so he invited himself to sit next to her.

“Hey,” he said, smiling to the woman.
“Hey,” said the woman, flashing an uneasy smile.

Damigo found that he was taken by her. Looking a lot like a teenager despite being close to Damigo’s age, she had red hair that Damigo thought contrasted nicely against her ivory skin, tied with a yellow headband. She too was slender though quite voluptuous, breasts that were almost in full view due to the halter top that she decided to wear. Damigo then lastly noticed her legs, full, shapely legs with strong thighs that were on full display because of her miniskirt and accentuated by her boots.

“Aren’t you cold?” said Damigo.
“A little,” said the woman. “I thought it’d be warmer.”

Damigo smiled, taking it as his cue to put his arm around the woman and snuggling with her, which she seemed to appreciate.

“I hope this makes you warmer,” said Damigo, as the woman got comfortable in his arms.
“It does, actually,” said the woman.
“You’d think in the middle of summer that we’d have warmer temperatures,” said Damigo.
“Summer’s kind of weird up here,” said the woman.
“Up here?” said Damigo. “Not from around here?”
“I’m from Calgary,” said the woman.
“It’s Oilers country up here, though,” said Damigo, referring to the Edmonton Oilers hockey team who were the Calgary Flames’ biggest rivals.
“I’m not too fazed,” said the woman with a smile, “the Flames will win another Stanley Cup before the Oilers do anyway.”
“Fighting words,” said Damigo with mocking indignation. “Fighting words…I know the Oilers haven’t won since the ‘90s…but we’re going to get there.”
“Calgary’s the defending champs,” said the woman. “Good luck with that.”

The woman then got up and started to walk, causing Damigo to give chase.

“Hey,” he said, “where are you going?”

The woman turned around and smiled sheepishly.

“I just figure it’s time to go home,” said the woman. “It’s getting late.”
“You’re…you’re,” said Damigo, stammering. “You’re just going to walk? Let me drive you.”
“No, it’s okay,” said the woman with another sheepish smile. She then began to walk away.

“Hey,” said Damigo, grabbing the woman by the arm. “Don’t be silly. There’s marauders out there…vagabonds…all sorts of bad people. Let me drive you.”
“Why?” said the woman, not flinching despite the fact Damigo’s grip was strong. “So you can rape me like you did with Jessica Lawlor?”

Damigo let go and looked intently at the woman, his mouth open agape.

“How?” said Damigo, stunned, “how do you know about Jessica Lawlor?”
“Because,” said the woman, who pulled out a small, fake rose and stuck it in her hair. “I’m The Flowerer…I’m here to deal with people like you.”

Damigo looked on, now more bewildered than stunned.

“Flowerer?” said Damigo. “What kind of a name is that?”

“It’s pretty simple actually,” said The Flowerer. “You deflowered Jessica…doing so against her will. You met her in this parking lot…she too, was a Flames fan. You cuddled with her after you were finished work, just like you did tonight…and then when she walked away, you grabbed her by the arm and coerced her to get into your car, where you raped her for hours and hours on end. Then, when you were done with her, you drove her across the border and just left her there…thereby ensuring that she’d never get justice. Sure, she found her way back…but, by that point, there was nothing the police could do…and you knew all of that.”

Damigo let out a laugh that soon descended into an uncontrollable belly laugh.

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” said Damigo, mockingly clapping his hands. “Wonderful story…beautifully written. You know, I’m sure Hollywood would turn that into a real blockbuster…I mean, it’s so fanciful…really…” Damigo had to stop to let out a few more laughs. “Seriously, do you really think I’m capable of any of that? To say nothing about the fact that I didn’t do that, because I don’t even know who Jessica Lawless is.”

“Lawlor,” said The Flowerer curtly. “I’m not surprised you don’t know who she is…because you never asked for her name. It was in the police reports.”

“OK,” said Damigo, clasping his hands together and starting to back away. “It was…wonderful to meet you…I hope you get home safe…and, um…whatever it is that you’re on…I hope you get help for it, because you are really off the rails. I mean, seriously.”

Damigo then started to walk away, casually strolling to his car while shaking his head. He stopped paying attention to his surroundings, which proved costly. Without warning, as he was walking away, The Flowerer came up behind up and stabbed him in the back with a knife she had stashed along with her other equipment inside her boot. After he fell to the ground, The Flowerer readjusted her gloves and took her knife and slashed Damigo’s neck, severing his common carotid artery and ensuring his death within an hour due to exsanguination. She tip-toed around his body, doing her best not to get his blood on her boots or her clothes.

As she left the parking lot, she walked down the street towards a gas station. A woman filling up her car noticed her walking and decided to say hello.

“Hey,” said Marie Tolliver as The Flowerer walked by. When The Flowerer acknowledged her with a restrained smile, Marie grew concerned. “Are you okay?”
“I,” said The Flowerer, “I…I just had an argument with my boyfriend…he…he…”
“It’s okay,” said Marie. “You can tell me anything.” The Flowerer put down her head and sighed. “Do you need privacy? We can talk inside my car.”

The Flowerer seemed to appreciate that, deciding to step inside Marie’s car after she was done pumping her gas. The two then drove to a parking spot right next to the store where they continued their conversation.

“What’s your name?” said Marie softly as she and The Flowerer held hands. “I’m Marie.”
“Marie,” said The Flowerer, “that’s a lovely name.”
“Thank you,” said Marie with a smile. “My mother loved that name…said it was her favourite name for a woman. She had three boys before me, so when I came up, she insisted I be named ‘Marie’, so…here I am.”
“I guess your father had different ideas,” said The Flowerer.
“He liked names like ‘Claire’ or ‘Carly’,” said Marie. “His father was named ‘Carl’…so I think that’s why he liked that kind of name.”
“He was stubborn like that,” said Marie. “Just like my husband…he’s the Prefect of the Watch…he let himself get dragged out of bed again by his teammates because he just can’t say ‘no!’ to them and we had a fight about it…so I went out for a drive.”
“He’s a dedicated man,” said The Flowerer.
“Very dedicated,” said Marie. “Dedicated to a fault.”
“Unfortunately for you,” said The Flowerer, “it means you get shunted to the side.”

Marie let out a laugh.

“You know,” she said, “the other night, it got so frustrating…he had the day off so we had a ‘Movie Night’…but then his watchmen called him into work to deal with some rambling woman whom they could have easily dealt with. He took so long at the station that I just went back to bed…but when he rolled back into bed, he woke me up, so I pulled down his underwear and just sucked his c**k right there…he loved it, and I loved it too…biggest burst I’ve felt from him in a while.”

The Flowerer began to look at Marie in horror, stunned to silence at what she heard.

“Um,” she said, starting to get angry. “You just admitted to raping your husband. Do you not realize what you said?”

Marie chuckled, being taken aback.

“No, no, no!” she said, trying to soothe the situation. “I didn’t rape him…he likes it when I do that…he always has. I mean, he’s fondled my breasts and fingered my vagina before while I was asleep…I mean, we never go too far…if the other wants one of us to stop, we do. We respect each other…just sometimes…we have urges. It’s human nature.”

The Flowerer didn’t miss a beat, lunging at Marie and clutching her throat, pressing at it with extreme force. Marie tried to fight back with punches to The Flowerer’s body, but The Flowerer’s strength was too much for her. The Flowerer connected with some hard blows of her own to Marie’s face, allowing her to choke Marie again. She applied so much force that blood vessels were torn and Marie had blood oozing out of her mouth, but The Flowerer didn’t care- she considered Marie a rapist and she was going to choke the life out of Marie. Within seconds, Marie was unconscious, so The Flowerer let her down onto the seat.

At that point, she took no chances, putting on her gloves and picking up her knife and slashing Marie across her neck, cutting her carotid artery. The Flowerer then carefully exited the car to ensure she got no blood on herself before making a mad dash from the gas station.

August 21, 2017,
03:42 local time,
Ryan Tolliver’s House,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

Tolliver grumbled as he was roused from bed, fuming as the unending din of his doorbell refused to relent. He then grabbed his bath robe and his baseball bat and headed for the door, his rage increasing the more he heard that insufferable ring.

Stupid little punks, he thought to himself, I’ll show them for messing with a cop. It’s a school night anyway.

After he opened the door, his mood went from rage to utter shock. It was Lloydminster Primus Pilus of the Watch Bridgit Penny, his longtime colleague and friend.

“Bridgit,” he said, observing that she was with four others in strange outfits, three of them seemingly no older than teenagers.
“Hi Ryan,” she said, her voice sombre and her mood downtrodden. Tolliver began to believe that something serious had happened, since Penny had never referred to him as “Ryan” before.

“So, uh,” said Tolliver, concern and worry overcoming him. “What happened?” He began to wonder if something had happened to Marie, who still hadn’t come home yet, but he overruled himself from asking.
“I’m, um,” said Penny, finding it hard to talk. “I’m here…I’m here with the Superhero Supervisory Committee.”

She began introducing her guests- a woman in a suit who was known as “The Blue Magic Woman”, or simply “Blue”, alongside her underlings, all just 20 years old. They were one woman, The Eagle and two men, The Booby and The Cockatiel, twins whose only difference was that The Cockatiel had a full beard that was so long he styled it. All three were dressed simply, in jeans and a tank top.

“Oh,” said Tolliver. “You guys are superheroes…but you’re not wearing fancy costumes.”
“We don’t wear them when we’re actually out in the field,” said Blue, “or doing anything other than ceremonial duties. Some of us do have specialized suits, but those are usually used when the situation calls for it.”
“I see,” said Tolliver. “I’m sorry, you must get that a lot.”
“It’s okay,” said Blue. “We’re used to it.”

“Sick house, dude,” said The Booby, who turned his attention to a garden gnome that was right beside him.
“Say, does this little fella light up?” said The Cockatiel. He then reached for it before The Eagle stopped them.
“Guys,” said The Eagle, “we’re not here to test out his garden displays.” The Eagle then turned to Tolliver. “Sorry about that…they’re more curious than cats some days.”
“…and about as controllable,” said Tolliver with a smile, prompting laughter from all those gathered.

“What, uh, brings you guys around here?” said Tolliver, beginning to get anxious.
“There’s been a string of murders tonight,” said Blue, “tied to a rogue superhero that we’ve been following.”
“Well, it is night,” said Tolliver, “that’s when murders happen.” Tolliver began to get impatient, making it harder for him to not ask about his wife.

Penny then whispered into Blue’s ear, causing her to step aside for Penny.

Penny then grabbed Tolliver’s hands and started to massage them. She then lowered her head and began to cry herself, which caused the normally stoic Tolliver to tear up as well.

“You know, Rybear,” she said, looking up briefly before bowing her head again. “I love you…I always have…and…you know…”
“It’s okay, Bridgit,” said Tolliver, fighting his own emotions. “Mama Bear, you can tell me anything…you know that.”
“I just,” said Penny, struggling to get the words out. “I mean, I know, but this…it’s…oh, by Jove…I know I’ve done it a million times with many other families and I never did cry but…I never had to do it with my family, and you’re my family.”
“Well, thank you Bridgit,” said Tolliver, tears beginning to flow. “You’re always a big part of my family too.”

She began to cry again, and this time both couldn’t help but let out their emotions. After a few minutes of unrestrained emotion, Penny composed herself enough to continue talking.

“One of the murders,” said Penny, still struggling to maintain her composure. “One of the murders…”
“One of the murders,” said Tolliver, trying to get her to spit out what she wanted to say.
“I’m…I’m so sorry,” said Penny, “but…one of the murders…was your wife, Marie.”

Tolliver collapsed into Penny’s arms, as both cried on each other’s shoulders for several minutes. Tolliver was inconsolable, his worst nightmare laid bare before his eyes and there was nothing he could do. He always promised Marie that he would keep her out of trouble, that no one would ever hurt her, but, what good were those words now? He failed, he thought to himself, that thought growing louder and louder in his head because the one thing he sought to protect the most he had failed to do so. At some point, he’d remind himself that there was nothing he could do, but that point very much was not now.

All this was too much for Penny, so close a friend to Tolliver that she was family to him, and him to her. Tolliver was like her big brother, and Marie her twin sister, someone whom Penny often went out with and vented to about various things…guys, life, work stress, sometimes even Tolliver himself. Even though she couldn’t imagine the pain Tolliver was going through, for Penny, the death of Marie left a very big hole in her heart, one that she will very much miss.

Through it all, through the torrent of emotions, Tolliver began to think- as those who hear about a devastating loss are wont to do- that perhaps there was a mistake, that maybe it wasn’t Marie who was killed and that it really was someone else.

My Marie could still come home, he thought. Yeah…my Marie could still come…wait a minute, stupid- why would Bridgit lie to you? Especially about Marie…face it buddy…

“You mean to tell me,” said Tolliver, his voice cracking as he struggled to deal with his sadness. “You mean to tell me that Marie…my Marie…isn’t coming home?”

“Yes,” said Penny, herself unable to overcome her emotions. “I’m so sorry…I wish I didn’t have to tell you the news…but I had too…you’re my friend and I wouldn’t want you to learn it from anyone else.”

“Should we come back another time?” said Blue.
“No, no, no!” said Tolliver, ushering all into his house. They had a seat in his living room where they continued the conversation.

It took Tolliver time to get ready. He couldn’t help it- everything he looked at, everything he touched and smelled…it all reminded him of Marie. He quickly began thinking he had to sell the house and everything in it, but he quickly overruled himself.

“Are you ready?” said Blue as Penny smiled.
“I’m not sure I ever will be,” said Tolliver with a heavy sigh, “but Marie wouldn’t want me to back down…not now.”

Tolliver then sighed again.

“It’s funny,” he thought, allowing himself a small amount of levity, “I’ve done these interviews a thousand times on the other end…I used to always think, ‘guys, get a grip’…now I really know how hard it is for these guys.”
“Homicide is where all the glory is,” said Blue, “but we all know how tough it really is. There’s no glamour in telling someone their loved one isn’t coming back, and no amount of closure changes that.”
“You’re telling me,” said Tolliver with a wry smile.

“I want to understand,” said Tolliver, “who’s this ‘superhero’ you’re chasing?”
“Her name is The Flowerer,” said Blue. “Her stated goal is to avenge those who have been raped, since she believes the justice system does a poor job bringing rapists to justice. She’s one of many that we’ve been tracking over the past year or so.”
“You mean there’s more?” said Tolliver.
“Ever since North America started embracing superheroes,” said the Eagle, “we’ve been seeing an uptick in vigilantism, since it’s inspiring others to take matters into their own hands. We’ve also been seeing several superheroes themselves abuse their position and go off on their own idealistic quest.”
“We also know that, behind it all is Bullseye and The Virus,” said Blue. “They’ve been really effective at painting the superheroes as elements of the establishment, so you’re seeing a very vibrant countermovement taking place.”

“OK, OK, OK,” said Tolliver, trying to wrap his head around all this information. “Are you saying that Bullseye had a hand in killing my wife?”
“We’re still trying to figure all this stuff out,” said the Eagle. “Investigation is still very preliminary.”

“OK,” said Tolliver, growing impatient. “I want to get to the point. Why would The Flowerer kill my wife? You said she targeted rapists.”
“That’s what we want to understand,” said The Booby. “Cock and I found her killed like The Flowerer’s other victims, and she was choked, indicating that it was indeed ‘personal’ for The Flowerer.”
“Come on now,” said The Cockatiel, “how many times do I have to say ‘Cockatiel’ not ‘Cock’!”
“That’s not the point,” said The Eagle, shaking her head. “You should be more sensitive and not describe how Ryan’s wife was killed.”
“Eh,” said Tolliver, “I can handle that. I just want to understand- this ‘Flowerer’ thought Marie was a rapist?”

Tolliver got up and went into his liquor cabinet. Without missing a beat, a bottle of wine he had stored in there for over a decade he took out and started to chug from the bottle, despite the protests of the group. After finishing half the bottle, he stopped to voice his own protest.

“Come on now guys,” he said. “I’ve just been through some tough s***…and hearing my wife is a rapist is way over the line. I’d ask you to leave if this wasn’t so important.”

“Ryan,” said Penny, trying to restore order, “we’re not saying Marie was a rapist. Just that The Flowerer thought she was. You and I both know that what people perceive to be rape and the reality are completely different…she’s obviously operating on a very broad definition of what sexual assault is. How many times have we had guys who said, ‘well, she didn’t say no’ and think it’s a suitable defence? How many wives have come to us saying their husbands assaulted them in their sleep?”

Wait…sleep sex, thought Tolliver.

“You know, there was a time a few days ago,” said Tolliver, “I had to be dragged out of the house on my day off…Movie Night…you remember, Bridgit…and when I came back home, she was asleep, so I went into bed next to her…and then she started sucking me off. I mean, I loved it…but, that’s technically a rape. This Flowerer must have heard that story.”

Tolliver then reached for the bottle before a torrent of protests stopped him.

“Please, Rybear,” said Penny, moving to sit next to Tolliver where she began to rub his back. “Don’t blame yourself…I know you’ve said it a hundred times to others, but please…take it to heart. You didn’t kill her…The Flowerer did.”

Tolliver sat up and took a deep breath. Bridgit is right, thought Tolliver, it’s instinct to blame myself, but what could I have done?

Another thought came to Tolliver.

“You know,” he said. “That Movie Night…a woman came in to the station…her name was…Antonia…Antonia Redman, I think.”
“Antonia Redlawn,” said Penny, correcting Tolliver.
“Right,” he said. “Anyway, she came into the station insisting that she speak to me…she wouldn’t speak with Penny or any of my other Watchmen…she said something about how this crazy woman killed her son because she believed he was a rapist. She wanted me to put out a warning in Lloydminster for her because that’s where this crazy woman was going next. I obviously didn’t do it because the description was too generic and I didn’t have anything actionable- like physical evidence of a threat- but…knowing what happened tonight…maybe she was on to something.”
“Where was this woman?” asked Blue.
“Leduc,” said Tolliver, “near Edmonton.”

Blue and Bridgit agreed to meet Redlawn, which pleased Tolliver. He then got up to get changed in order to join them but he received bad news.

“Rybear,” said Penny solemnly, “I put you on leave.”
“What do you mean you put me on leave?” Tolliver said, flabbergasted.
“You’re too connected to the case,” said Blue. “Your own biases could compromise the investigation. Besides, the Milner Report went at length admonishing law enforcement agents who sought revenge, since many times they were blinded by their rage and settled on someone just to settle their own score and wound up killing ‘the wrong person’, so to speak. So we can’t let you in on this investigation.”

Tolliver’s eyes widened, shaking his head with disgust.

“Do you think some stupid report is going to stop me?” he said. “This is my wife! I’m not going to let her killer get away with it!”
“I know,” said Blue, unflappable. “The rules are not favourable to you, I understand…but they are there for a reason.”

Penny then took Blue aside, whispering to her. Tolliver couldn’t hear what they were saying, but Penny told Blue that Tolliver could still interview subjects and be in public areas of the police stations- he just could not access labs or interrogation rooms. Penny also told Blue that Tolliver would wreck himself even more stuck all alone doing nothing but thinking of his wife, so he could at least come along to talk to Antonia, especially since the two connected before.

“All right, you can come,” said Blue to a very relieved Tolliver, who left to change his clothes.

August 21, 2017,
08:09 local time,
Antonia Redlawn’s House,
Leduc, Roman Columbia

“Antonia Redlawn,” commanded Tolliver as Redlawn opened the door. “I’m Ryan Tolliver, I’m Prefect of the Lloydminster Watch.”
“Yes,” said Redlawn, who stepped outside and folded her arms. “I know who you are.”
“That’s wonderful!” said Tolliver, whose mood brightened instantly, his euphoria causing him to forget his companions Penny and Blue.
“…and I don’t care why you’re here,” said Redlawn, who tried to leave but was stopped by the howls of Tolliver’s protests.

“A few days ago you dismissed me like I was nothing,” said Redlawn, “me and my son. You didn’t care about my story…about the pain I had experienced. You thought I was nothing but a kook. Why should I think that anything has changed? Because you’re here?”

“Yeah,” said Tolliver, struggling to maintain his composure as his mood plunged. “I came to visit you, ma’am…that’s got to mean something…right? Right? RIGHT?!”
“Unless you’ve come to apologize-” said Redlawn.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Tolliver, stammering. “I apologize. Profusely. In every way that’s possible…and then some that you don’t. In fact, I’m so sorry that I couldn’t be more sorry than a…by Jove, my analogies aren’t working…I haven’t slept a wink all night.”

“Mrs. Redlawn,” said Blue, interjecting with the hope professionalism could save the encounter. “I’m Blue…I’m the Supervisor of the Superhero Supervisory Committee. We have reason to believe your son’s death is connected with another murder connected to a rogue superhero that I’m trying to apprehend.”
“A rogue superhero, eh?” said Redlawn dismissively. “Honey, they’re all rogue. I don’t care what that kook Stark says, they’re too powerful for their own goodand the Romans are fools for thinking using them won’t blow up in their faces.”

Redlawn shook her head and again began closing the door. Blue and Penny tried in vain to explain she understood her concern- hence the investigation- but it did little to sway Redlawn. Tolliver’s howl did.

“Antonia,” he said, tears beginning to flow down his face. “They killed my wife.”

Redlawn again opened the door. Tolliver looked on, his mood brightening with his hope coming back. His smile widened as he watched Redlawn again come into full view, approaching the investigators.

Finally, he thought, the moment he was waiting for would comeAntonia finally agreed to help. It wouldn’t bring back his wife, but at least she could form a path back to her murderer.

By this point Tolliver’s smile was wider than it had ever been on his dreadful night. He watched with baited breath for Redlawn to say the magic words and let he, Penny and Blue into the house.

“So you only came in here because your wife was killed,” said Redlawn, her dismissiveness souring Tolliver immediately. “So you’re selfish, basically. You know what, maybe when you start caring about my son, I might consider helping you outand that’s a pretty big ‘might’.”

Redlawn then slammed the door shut as Tolliver collapsed in tears to the ground, consigned to defeat. He then quickly got up and walked briskly away from the scene and then away from the car. Penny got concerned for Tolliver so she ran after him, needing a block to catch up.

“Ryan,” she said, calling out to him as she approached. “Ryan? Ryan?!” She then got in front of him and stopped him in his tracks, placing her hands on his shoulders.

“Ryan!” she said, as the two embraced. “Ryan…don’t give up. Please don’t give up…I know this is a setback-”
“She’s all I had in finding my wife’s killer,” said Tolliver, still bawling. “Now I’m faced with a future of going home and lying around doing nothing except thinking, ‘By Jove, things would be so much better if she were here!’ What kind of a future is that? What purpose does that serve?”
“Ryan,” she said, “you have kids…don’t they need their father?”
“They haven’t spoken to me in over a year,” said Tolliver brusquely, “and when they do, it’s only to ask for money. I treated them too poorly…I was hard on them…and now they resent me…they’d be glad I was gone.”
“Come on now,” said Penny, “don’t say that! They’re good, wonderfully raised kids…one day they’ll appreciate everything you’ve done for them…trust me…they love you. They love you in ways you probably don’t understand. They’ll surprise you…you just have to trust me!”

Tolliver cried some more before regaining the composure to respond.

“I want to believe you,” said Tolliver. “I also want to believe that this is all a bad dream and I’ll wake up and Marie is right beside me…but I know that’s not going to happen. Even if my kids come back, they’ll still have a father who’s a husk of his former self, one who wants so desperately to find his wife’s killer but knows ‘the rules’ won’t let him. I’ll spend days…weeks, months, maybe even years in my house just itching to help…but I can’t. I know you guys are great investigators…but the pain and isolation of not being able to help will kill me. It’ll be my own prison.”

Penny was struck by Tolliver’s words, but she was determined.

“No!” she said. “No! Just because you can’t go into an interrogation room doesn’t mean you can’t help. You can stay with me, at my house. You can help me out with the investigation…and Blue and I won’t stop until we find The Flowerer, just like we know you won’t. We will do everything we can to bring you justice…I promise. You will not be alone in this.”

Tolliver thought about what Penny said before giving her a hearty squeeze. If he wasn’t at his house the pain wouldn’t come back to him so easily, and he needed to hear Penny’s support.

“Thank you,” he said. “Let’s do that…let’s find this son of a gun.”
“Daughter,” said Penny with a smile.
“I know,” said Tolliver with a wry laugh, “but the saying doesn’t work that well that way.”

Penny and Tolliver both laughed before they walked back to Blue in order to head home.

August 21, 2017,
09:19 local time,
Corner Gas Brand Gas Station,
Lloydminster, Roman Columbia

“So if I fart into the nozzle,” said The Cockatiel to his brother and SSC teammate The Booby, “will it blow up the entire gas station?”
“Nah,” said The Booby, who then picked up the gas nozzle, “you gotta put some on the ground, then stick a lit match up your butt. Then you’ll blow up the gas station.”
“…but then I’d also blow up myself,” said The Cockatiel.
“No,” said The Booby. “It’d all depend on the angle…pick the right one and you’ll be able to run away.”

“Guys!” hollered SSC teammate The Eagle, who acted as The Cockatiel and The Booby’s de facto supervisor. “Now’s not the time to play with fire!

“Oh come on,” said The Cockatiel. “Did you really think we were going to do that?”

The Eagle just cupped her face and shook her head, refusing to answer as she had so many times.

“Where are we on the crime scene?” said The Eagle. “Blue’s going to come back in two hours…we’re going to need something to tell her.”

“Well,” said The Booby, opening the door of Marie’s car. “Marie’s wounds on her neck are consistent with what we found on Jerry Damigo…same knife blade…except that she was also strangled to death. Which I find to be odd.”
“This was more personal for her,” said The Cockatiel, “and unexpected. No time to go into her usual spiel…it’s probably why she slashed Marie with the same knife blade…because The Flowerer didn’t have time to realize she needed to switch blades.”
“Okay,” said The Eagle, getting frustrated. “We knew that the same knife was used on Jerry as it was on Marie…that’s how we connected the crimes…but we gotta find something that will help us find The Flowerer.”
“I think we’re going to be a long way before that happens,” said The Booby.

The Cockatiel noticed something well away from the car.

“What is it Cock?” said The Booby, who giggled as The Cockatiel gave him a death glare.
“Yeah, what it is it, Cockatiel,” said The Eagle, who gave The Booby her own death glare, which made The Booby flash an uneasy smile. “Did you find the knife?”
“No,” said The Cockatiel, picking up the item after readjusting his rubber gloves. “It’s a card.”
“A card?” said The Booby, as both he and The Eagle were intrigued.
“Yeah,” said The Cockatiel. “It’s got a phone number and concentric circles, one red, the other blue.”

The Eagle then picked up the card and tried to dial the phone number.

“Figures,” said The Eagle, putting away her phone, frustrated. “The number’s disconnected…must be a burner.”
“What do the circles mean?” said The Cockatiel with urgency.
“It’s Bullseye,” said The Eagle. “This is bigger than we though.”

“So I held my head up high/Hiding hate that burns inside/Which only fuels their selfish pride”- Creed, “My Own Prison” (1997)