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Poem: "Every Man's Business" - The Wordsmith's Forge — LiveJournal
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Every Man's Business"
This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It was inspired by the "Blaming Others" square in my 6-4-18 Mixed card for the Winteriron Bingo Adventure. It has been sponsored by [personal profile] technoshaman. This poem belongs to the Mercedes thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains some touchy and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes a reference to leakage of justice recordings, Juvenile Hall, minor injuries from the original incident, whining, sooo much whining, debate of jail vs. fines vs. community service, discussion of assault on a person with a disability, explanation of hate crime, discussion of damaging adaptive equipment, use of superpower to reveal private bodily details, a supervillain is behaving better than an ordinary citizen, planned loss of private property as restitution, ruthless rejection by a supervillain, challenging a supervillain, points of supervillain culture, negotiation of (nonviolent) dueling, cheating, a trivially twisted wrist, concrete apology, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Every Man's Business"

[Monday, August 18, 2014]

Bright and early on Monday morning,
Carlito Vivas reappeared with
a suit bag and a shoe box.

"I wish I could be a fly on
wall for this," Carlito said.

"Only if Mark Hastings is
a very bad boy," Pips said
as he took the packages.

As the door closed, Joshua
raised his eyebrows and said,
"What was that all about?"

"Justice meetings are recorded
in order to formalize the terms,"
Pips said. "In cases like this, if
people treat soups badly enough,
that recording tends to ... leak."

"I see," Joshua said evenly.

"Don't look at me, I don't make
the rules," Pips said. "That level
of hacking is above my skill, too.
I'm just explaining as a courtesy."

That reminded Joshua that Pips was,
for all his prowess, still just a minion
and that supervillain culture was
definitely a thing unto itself.

"All right," Joshua said.
"I know better than to pry.
Go and get ready."

Pips headed for
the bathroom.

Joshua put on
his police uniform.

When Pips came out,
he wore a business suit in
the Japanese style: slim black
over a white shirt with a tie
of pale powder-blue silk and
glossy black leather shoes.

He had done something to
his shaggy black-and-gold hair
to make it lie flat for once.

"Are you ready to go
make Mark Hastings pay
for his crimes?" Joshua said.

"Oh, yes," Pips purred.

The two of them headed out to
the Bear Creek Academy Juvenile Hall,
which had been set for the meeting instead of
the police department, due to Mark's age.

The low buildings were almond concrete,
surrounded by green grass and young trees.

The staff already knew Joshua, of course, so
they waved him through with a minimum of fuss.

The visitor entrance led right to the rooms used
for counseling, interviews, and family visits.
"We're in the interview-counseling room,"
Joshua said as he opened the door.

The small room held a leather couch,
a table with several office chairs,
and a whiteboard on one wall.

Mark Hastings slouched in a chair,
sullen and rumpled in his gray suit.

Beside him, the older man in blue
was obviously his lawyer. Mark was
permitted one adult companion for
the meeting, and his parents had
sensibly appointed legal counsel.

The new police chief was there too,
Arminda Marquez. She had served
as a police adjudicator in the past, and
decided to handle this case personally.

She made introductions with brisk efficiency,
then added, "I'm happy to hear that you're
feeling somewhat better today, Pips."

"Thank you, ma'am," he said crisply.

Mark said nothing, slouching
deeper into his office chair.

The lawyer nudged him sharply.

"Morning," Mark muttered,
not looking at anyone.

"I'm Etan Allsman, here
to represent Mark Hastings,"
the lawyer said. "Hopefully we
can work out an arrangement
agreeable to everyone."

"Hopefully," Joshua said,
but Pips said nothing at all.

"Let's discuss possible charges
should we fail to reach an agreement
and this case has to go to court,"
said Chief Marquez. "We can start
with battery on a peace officer."

"But I barely touched him!"
Mark squawked, sitting up.

Mr. Allsman sighed. "Normally,
this would be classed as misbehavior
rather than a crime and therefore handled in
community court as 'unwelcome roughhousing'
or 'inappropriate touch.' However, since
someone was hurt in the incident, a charge
of misdemeanor battery is on the table."

"There was no injury to Officer Tull, so
felony battery is out," said Chief Marquez.

Pips looked at Joshua, raising his eyebrows.

Joshua sighed and took out his phone.
"I didn't even notice this until I took
a hot shower," he said, showing them
a picture of the fist-size bruise that
bloomed over his shoulder. "It's not
serious, but it is documentable."

"The Hastings will pay for
any medical care, of course,"
Mr. Allsman said at once.

"That would be $15 for
a jar of liniment," Joshua said.

"So noted," Mr. Allsman said, and
made a note on his tablet computer.

"I thought that you're supposed
to be on my side," Mark whined.

"I am on your side," Mr. Allsman said.
"However, your behavior has left us in
a very poor position. Anything that
can be settled with simple cash, we
are going to accept, with gratitude."

Joshua nodded. "Thank you,"
he said. "Chief Marquez?"

"Misdemeanor battery against
a peace officer carries a penalty of
up to 364 days in county jail, a $2,000 fine,
or both," said Chief Marquez. "In case of
medical bills, repayment may be required."

"He wasn't even at work," Mark protested.

"That doesn't matter," Chief Marquez said.
"You knew that Officer Tull is a policeman.
Because he works in the community, he
enjoys protection even when off duty."

"I'm not going to jail!" Mark said,
glaring around the table at them.

"We would rather avoid jail time,"
Mr. Allsman said more diplomatically.

"So would we," Joshua said. "I don't
believe that imprisonment would improve
Mark's behavior. However, I have seen him
wriggle out of justice more times than I can
count, and that isn't helping either. We
insist on serious consequences this time."

"We're listening," Mr. Allsman said.
"Tell us what kind of things you have
in mind, and we'll work something out."

"The root of the problem is that Mark
simply doesn't respect either the law or
its representatives. That's unacceptable,"
Joshua said. "First, he needs to take classes
in remedial civics and citizen law. Since he's
made a lot of extra work for the police, I want
him to do community service at the department.
Maybe he'll see the hard work we do for this city."

"That's reasonable," said Mr. Allsman. "We can
negotiate the exact amount of community service,
or an equivalent fine, as we move along."

Joshua shook his head. "I want at least
a minimum of actual work hours," he said.
"I don't want his parents buying off the problem
like they have done every other time. That
is exactly what put us in this situation."

"One work week is forty hours,"
said Mr. Allsman. "How about
that for a starting point?"

"That's doable," Joshua said.
"As you proposed, we can
work out the details later."

"Excellent," said Mr. Allsman.

"You're supposed to get me
out of trouble," Mark said.
"I didn't do anything wrong,
I was just horsing around."

"Did you know that Officer Tull
is a policeman?" said the lawyer.

"Well duh, everyone knows that,"
Mark said, rolling his eyes.

"Did you knock into him
and Pips?" said Mr. Allsman.

"Yeah, but I didn't hurt anything,"
Mark protested. "People fool around
all the time, and it's no big deal."

"Joshua's bruises and my migraine
say differently," Pips replied.

Mr. Allsman spread his hands.
"Where there is no question about
what happened, Mark, then I can't
get you off the hook. All I can do
here is some damage control."

"That brings us to the offenses
against Pips," said Chief Marquez.
"Misdemeanor battery would justify
up to six months in the county jail,
a maximum fine $2,000, and probation."

Pips tapped a finger on his cheek,
just under his glasses. "This
changes that," he pointed out.

"Battery causing serious bodily injury
can bring two to four years in jail and
a fine of up to $10,000," said the chief.
"Assault and battery on a disabled person
means imprisonment in the state prison for
up to five years and a fine of up to $1,000."

"He's not disabled!" Mark protested.

Pips pushed a file across the table,
but kept his hand on top of the file.

"I have some ... limitations ... which
equate to a migraine disorder," he said.
"I will submit a summary but I will not
give up my medical privacy for this."

"All the state needs to know is that
you have a disability, if it was triggered
by the assault, and how much of a bill
that issue incurred," said Chief Marquez.
"A doctor's statement and a bill suffice."

"Those are in the file," Pips said,
lifting his hand from the folder.

"May I read the furnished papers?"
Mr. Allsman asked politely.

"Go ahead," Pips said.

The lawyer went through
the pages carefully, making
notes as he read them.

"One migraine episode that
required prescription medication,
one hospital visit with assorted tests,
three days' impairment --" Mr. Allsman said,
then looked at Pips. "Yet here you are."

"I'm clear-headed, but I can't drive yet,"
Pips said, tilting his head toward Joshua.
"My boss had to drive me here today."

"I see," Mr. Allsman said. "So the attack
exacerbated a prior disability, but did not
cause new harm of a permanent nature."
He sighed. "That's still out of range for
a trivial injury. There are aggravations
attached to triggering a flare-up of
any variable health condition."

"It pushes the penalties toward
the high end," Chief Marquez said.
"Pips, what are your feelings about
appropriate restitution for this?"

"Mark has no idea what he did,"
said Pips. "He thinks that he just
pushed me around a bit and we're
all overreacting to youthful mischief."

"Well you are," Mark snapped.

Pips ignored him. "I want at least
part of the fine sent to an organization
that cares for migraine sufferers. I want
Mark to learn what specifically he did
wrong in regard to that -- he can take
one of the classes for family members."

"I didn't even know you had headaches,"
Mark said. "How could I know that?"

"It doesn't matter," said Chief Marquez.
"You're old enough to go around town
on your own, which means old enough
to know better than to hit people.
That makes you responsible."

"I want community service too,
like Joshua said. Mark should have
to pay back to the group of people
he lashed out against," Pips added.
"I don't want him actually working for
migraine victims -- they shouldn't have
to put up with him -- but they deserve
to get the benefit of his labor."

"I'm sure we can find something
suitable for that," Mr. Allsman said.
"Will the same minimum suffice?"

"Not by half," Pips said. "I want
at least three weeks. That's about
what my headache would have lasted
if I didn't have the treatments for it."

"If it's balanced against the fine,
perhaps," Mr. Allsman said.

"A matter for negotiation,"
Pips said, flicking a hand.
"I care more about getting
through his thick skull than
I do about the money."

Chief Marquez cleared
her throat. "Polite words,
please, gentlemen. This is
a house of law, not a playground."

"My apologies, Chief Marquez,"
Pips said at once. "I meant, I
want Mark to understand
the gravity of his offense."

"That's better," she said.
"Moving along, we have
the hate crime, with penalties
of up to three years in prison,
a fine up to $10,000, and probation."

"What hate crime?" Pips said.

"My report included what Mark
shouted at you," Joshua said.
"A slur aimed at your glasses
proved that he targeted you
because of your disability,
even though he didn't know
the exact nature of it."

Joshua called up the file
on his phone and tilted it
so that Pips could read.

Suck it, four-eyes.

"That's not a hate crime,
it's just teasing," Mark said.
"Everybody does that."

"I'm afraid that it qualifies,"
Mr. Allsman said. "Disability
is a protected category."

"That brings up the issue of
vandalism, since Mark broke
the glasses that Pips wore,"
said Chief Marquez. "It has
some aggravated charges for
adaptive equipment, and more so
if that equipment is prescription
or otherwise customized."

"Oh, it is," Pips said. "That's
why I had to visit the hospital,
it has to be calibrated to me, and
if I have an episode it can change
the readings enough to matter."

"He couldn't function normally
without his glasses," Joshua said.
"He has some of the best blind skills
I've ever seen, but that's not the same
as being able to read text or drive a car."

"Understood," said Chief Marquez.
"Vandalism of adaptive equipment adds
a fine equal to 25% of the equipment's cost
when new. For custom equipment, that
goes up to 50% of the cost to replace.
How much did your glasses cost?"

"They're not on the open market,"
Pips said softly. "I asked the maker
and he told me to put down $10,000."

"That's bullshit," Mark shouted.
"Even designer sunglasses like
Gucci only go up to five hundred!"

"I do have a pair of Gucci sunglasses
for special occasions," Pips replied.
"However, my everyday glasses aren't
designers. They're super-gizmos made
especially for me and my unique needs."

Joshua nodded. "The morning after
the attack, a courier dropped off
the replacement glasses," he said.
"We didn't go to a store for them,
or even a regular optometrist."

"Yeah, not even migraine glasses
do enough for me," Pips said. "Before
I got the specialty lenses, it was ... worse."

"I am sorry that we couldn't salvage
much of those," Chief Marquez said.
"You can reclaim whatever's left of
your old glasses after we have
reached a final agreement."

"If you could refrain from
examining the remains,
that would help," Pips said.
"The glasses are mine, but
the intellectual property is not."

"No worries," Chief Marquez said with
a wave of her hand. "We only need
the glasses to demonstrate the damage,
not try to retro-engineer them."

"Thank you," Pips said. "We
appreciate your discretion."

Mark snorted. "I still say
it's bullshit. They're just
glasses, no way that they
cost that much. Maybe he's
lying about even needing them!"

"You are not helping our case,
Mark, please stop," said Mr. Allsman.

Pips simply touched the temple of
his glasses and said, "You have a lot
of healed fractures for someone your age,
in different stages of recovery. Are those
all sport injuries, or are you having trouble
at home? The digital fractures in particular --"

"You shut up!" Mark yelled. "That's none
of your business. You can't just tell
everyone about my body like that."
He turned to his lawyer for help."
"Make him shut up about it."

"So you see," Pips said as he
lowered his hand, "my glasses
are not just for my comfort,
but also for your privacy."

"He used his powers on me,"
Mark said. "He can't just do that."

"He also can't turn his brain off
without help from adaptive equipment,"
Joshua pointed out. "Which you broke.
Besides, his ability is noninvasive and
not harmful." Then he turned to Pips.
"A warning would've been nice, though."

"I apologize if the demonstration
was too ... forward," Pips said.
"It seemed like the one Mark
would know for sure was true."

"That's not good enough,"
Mark said, tugging at his lawyer.
"He should be punished. There
are laws against using powers
on people, I heard it in school."

"You do realize that a supervillain
is behaving better than you?"
Mr. Allsman drawled.

"What supervillain?" Mark said,
looking around the room.

It wasn't common knowledge,
more of an open secret.

Pips just smirked and
drummed his fingers,
clicking the nails slowly
against the tabletop.

Mark's mouth fell open.

Chief Marquez sighed.
"That raises the issue of
provoking a supervillain --"

"Waived," Pips said. "Mark
obviously didn't know about that,
so it could not have motivated
his attack. I didn't blast the town
for his unwise behavior. We're here,
settling this like civilized people.
I don't see grounds for that charge."

Mr. Allsman heaved a sigh of relief.
"Thank you for your forbearance."

"I think we've reached the end of
the obvious charges," Joshua said.
"No doubt we could add more --"

"Resisting arrest," said Chief Marquez.

Joshua waffled a hand in the air.
"Maybe so, maybe no," he said.
"Mark knew about my job, but I didn't
actually yell 'Stop! Police!' while I
chased him. When the officers
showed up at his house, then
Mark came along quietly."

"Merely running in public
is not a crime, and Mark
didn't bump into anyone else,"
said Mr. Allsman. "It doesn't
count as resisting arrest unless
the accused knows that an officer
actually means to arrest him.
We'll fight you on that one."

Chief Marquez considered that,
then said, "We can let it go."

"Where does that leave us?"
Joshua asked the chief.

"At the misdemeanor end,
penalties start with up to
6 months jail, up to $2,000
in fines, and probation," she said.

"That's ... not impossible," Mark said.
"We could maybe work it out."

"But most of the aggravated charges
and some other factors push these
toward felonies, for which the high end
would be up to 12 years in jail and up to
$76,000 in fines," Chief Marquez added.

Mark squeaked on the inhale.

"Also, a juvenile record is
customarily sealed after
reaching adulthood, but
both Joshua and I must insist
that Mark's record remain visible
unless actually cleared," Pips said.

"That's not fair," Mark protested. "Those
are just -- just youthful indiscretions."

Clearly he'd heard the phrase
often enough to parrot it.

"It is fair, because you have
a long history of slipping out of
charges so that people can't
easily see how much trouble you
have gotten into over the years,"
Joshua said. "So Pips and I want
that warning to be clearly visible now."

"Clearance conditions?" Mr. Allsman said.
"I won't consider open records for a minor
without an explicit process, in writing,
for demonstrating when he has
outgrown those behavior issues."

"Community service and classes,"
Joshua said. "He has to pass those."

"You might consider getting him
a therapist," Pips added. "I wouldn't
require it, but perhaps as extra credit?"

"That's an excellent idea," said Mr. Allsman.

"I don't need a shrink!" Mark said.
"There's nothing wrong with me."

"Then you can spend the time on
personal improvement and call it
an easy out," Mr. Allsman said.
"As long as they're willing to accept
cash instead of insisting on jail time,
we can settle most of this mess
by selling the country property."

"Property?" Pips said,
leaning forward and
steepling his hands.

"Yes, a hunting cabin
just outside of Mercedes,"
the lawyer replied. "It's small,
but it's nice and private."

"I would be keenly interested
in acquiring that property, more
than cash restitution," Pips said.
"Send me the details, please."

"But that's supposed to be mine
someday," Mark whined.

"Then all the more fitting that you
should lose it for your crimes,"
Pips said implacably.

"The property consists of
a small cabin and two acres
of land including a creek, nestled
between BLM land and a cattle ranch,"
said Mr. Allsman. "It's worth more
than the total amount of the fines."

"No problem," Pips said, waving
a hand. "I can buy out the remainder,
or if not, I know another organization
that would be delighted to pitch in.
In fact, they might want the ranch
and let me take the cabin myself."

"At fair market value, of course,"
Mr. Allsman said evenly.

"To be determined by
an independent assessor,
with comparisons against
several recent sale prices of
similar properties," Pips agreed.

Joshua wondered what Pips
wanted the property for --
and who he had in mind as
a co-investor if the price went
beyond his personal budget.

Well, he could ask about
that part later, in private.

"We do need to consider
the overall scope of the matter,"
Mr. Allsman pointed out. "While
the outcomes were unfortunate,
the action itself was minor -- blown
out of proportion by complications.
The total consequences could
easily outweigh the offense."

"We don't want to wreck his life --
that would be excessive force --
we want to get it back on course,"
Joshua said. "Or do you want
to wind up reading that Mark took
a joyride one night and wrapped
it around a telephone pole?"

"Please stop narrating
my nightmares out loud,"
Mr. Allsman muttered.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean
to do that," Joshua said. "I
share some of your concerns."

"The felonies are an issue,"
Mr. Allsman said. "I was
asked to avoid that level
of charge if at all possible."

"Nope, no way," Joshua said,
shaking his head. "We're willing
to settle this out of court, but
the weight of the offenses
goes beyond misbehavior
or misdemeanor this time."

"They won't count against him
as badly if we reach an agreement
here, as if the case goes to court,"
Chief Marquez said. "That is
a key advantage of negotiation."

"But I got a right to my day
in court," Mark protested.

"You do. I would defend you to
the best of my ability, but you would
lose. Your parents would never agree
to take that risk," Mr. Allsman said.
"The point of this meeting is not
to achieve impossible goals of
getting you off scot-free, but
to get the best deal possible."

"Officer Tull and Pips have been
more than reasonable in declining
to push for prison," said Chief Marquez.
"It's a good deal, and you should take it."

"Yes, I'll show this to Mark's parents, but
I'm sure they'll approve," said Mr. Allsman.
"We have a strong framework already, and
we can work out more details as needed.
If we can break the delinquent pattern --"

"What, you all act like I'm gonna turn into
a supervillain or something," Mark said.

"No, you won't," Pips said coldly.
"We do not want you."

The boy flinched.

"What do you mean
by that?" Mr. Allsman said.

"I meant exactly what I said,"
Pips replied. "Mark Hastings is
foolish, short-sighted, and careless.
His victim selection is execrable.
He can't even keep from making
a bad situation worse. Where I come
from, that nonsense gets people killed."

Chills raced down Joshua's back,
following the devastating words,
but Pips wasn't done yet.

"I don't want him put in
prison, because I don't want
more experienced criminals
teaching him how to become
a real thug," Pips went on.

His glare was palpable even
through the peacock lenses.

"You stay away from the black,
Mark Hastings. You do not
qualify," Pips finished.

Rejected by a supervillain --
oh, that had to sting.

Joshua watched Mark.

The boy looked crushed,
but also angry, and that
was a recipe for trouble.

"Yes, well, we all agree
that we don't want Mark
to keep getting in trouble
like this," Mr. Allsman said.

"I'm sorry that you got
tangled up in local issues,"
said Chief Marquez. "As
Joshua indicated, Mark has
been troublesome for a while,
and we hope this discussion will
straighten him out. I appreciate
your willingness to work with us."

"I'm content to try resolving this
incident the white-hat way. Once."
Pips spread his hands, then added,
"Of course, if he tries it again ..."

"What, you think that you could
take me in a real fight?" Mark said.
"In your dreams, pipsqueak."

The corners of Pips' mouth
curled up, slowly drawing
his pink lips into a bow.

"You think so?" he said.

Joshua began to get a bad feeling
about this angle of approach.

"Well, duh!" Mark said.
"I could knock you flat
with one punch."

Pips snorted.
"You couldn't put
a touch on me."

This was in fact true.

Joshua had done a bit of
sparring with Pips, when they
could find time, which wasn't
often. He wished for more.

Pips could run rings around him,
and Joshua was both fit and trained.

"Now let's not get carried away,"
Joshua said, patting the air.

"He challenged me," Pips said.

With a sinking sensation, Joshua
realized that was true, and it meant
more in supervillain culture than
it meant in the mainstream.

Mr. Allsman could give Mark
permission to participate, but
if that went badly, Mark's parents
could turn around and sue everyone.

Joshua didn't trust Mark to behave himself,
but he did trust Pips to keep a lid on it.

Besides, if they wanted to clean up
the mess that Mercedes had become,
they had to respect supervillain culture --
had to teach people to respect it, in fact.

"We are here to prevent fighting, and
not to encourage it," said Chief Marquez.

"And yet Mark does not seem dissuaded
in the least," Pips said. "That's a problem.
What's to stop him from coming after me
in the future? Clearly, none of you; and
he's not afraid of me, or he wouldn't
still be pressing the issue like this."

Mr. Allsman looked uncomfortable.
"You can't just threaten to assault
my client like that," he said.

"Who said anything about
assault?" Pips purred. "I just
want to demonstrate that Mark is
entirely wrong about his ability
to touch me when I'm alert."

"Just a touch?" Joshua said,
pouncing on a possible way
to defray the growing tension.

"Indeed," said Pips, looking
at Mark. "You have played
touch football, haven't you?"

"When I was in grade school,"
Mark said, rolling his eyes.

"We'd need a way to make
the touch visible," Joshua said,
wanting to avoid an argument over
whether it had 'really' connected.

"Colored chalk powder, or
any gel ink, whatever you have,"
Pips said. "I'm wearing a white shirt."

"That doesn't count as damage
if it doesn't wash out, since this
was your idea," Joshua said.

"Of course," Pips said airily.
"How long do you think you'll
need to catch me, Mark?"

"Less than a minute,"
Mark said, jutting his chin.

"Then I'll give you five," Pips said.

"One round, one touch, and
no foul play," Joshua said.
"If Mark lands a touch, he wins;
if he can't, then Pips wins.

"This is a terrible idea,"
Mr. Allsman muttered.

"Oh, probably, but I think
leaving him with the idea
that he has a chance is
even worse," Pips said.

The lawyer rubbed a hand
over his face. "Good point."

"Let me see if I can find
any kind of paperwork for
this --" Chief Marquez said.

"By all means, borrow mine,"
Pips said, handing her his phone.

As Chief Marquez read the screen,
her eyebrows went up, and up.

"May I?" Joshua asked, and
she tipped it toward him.

The form was comprehensive,
even-handed, and yet written
in very straight-forward terms.

It even had a section listing
frameworks of conflict resolution,
in which Mercedes legal system
had the priority listing above
Triton Teen Mediation Team.

Passing the phone to Mr. Allsman,
Joshua said, "I don't think we're
going to get anything less worse
than this. Mark won't quit, so unless
you want to revisit the jail option --"

Mr. Allsman and Mark both clamored
that this was much preferable to prison.

Well, maybe getting soundly trounced
would knock some sense into Mark.

After everyone had signed the form,
Pips sent one copy to the office printer
and another copy ... somewhere else.

Then Chief Marquez led them to the gym,
which was empty at this time of day.

A big white room had padded walls
and floor mats marked in squares,
with heavy bags lining one corner.

"You guys take the corner square,"
said Chief Marquez. "The rest of us
will stand in the one behind it." She
rummaged in a cabinet and brought out
a bag. "Okay, I found some blue chalk."

Joshua watched as Mark chalked his hands.

Pips merely took off his suitcoat and
held it out. He didn't say anything,
but a twitch of his lips implied it.

Here, hold my coat.

Joshua smothered a laugh
as he folded it over his arm.

Chief Marquez tapped at
a touchscreen on the wall.

"All right, gentlemen, I have
given you five minutes," she said.
"If anyone steps out of bounds, then
a buzzer will sound, and he loses."

"Thank you," Pips said with a bow.

"Take your corners," she said,
waiting for them. "Begin."

Mark charged at Pips,
who simply wasn't there.

Every time Mark swiped at him,
Pips melted out of reach.

"Stand still," Mark snapped.

"I will not let you win,"
Pips said. "If you want
to beat me, you will
have to work at it."

Joshua watched him
drift around the square
like so much smoke.

Mark swung and missed,
swung and missed again.

He hadn't stepped out of bounds,
though, which was a bit impressive
given the size of the square and
how fast they were moving.

Pips just flowed around him
as if he were standing still.

"Daaaamn," said Chief Marquez.

"Oh, you should see Pips when
he really gets going," said Joshua.

Chief Marquez raised her eyebrows.
"It gets better than this?" she said.
"Now that I would love to see."

"You can sit in on our sparring match
some time, and watch him wipe
the floor with me," Joshua said.

The end bell dinged, and Pips
straightened up to look at it.

Mark charged from behind him.

Pips wafted out of the way, and
Mark made a mistake that threw him
off balance, and crashed to the mat.

"You cheated," Mark whined.

"You never touched me,
nor I you," Pips said. "We're
even still inside bounds."

Indeed, there was not a speck
of blue chalk on Pips' shirt.

"You broke my arm,
you fucker!" Mark said.

Mr. Allsman started forward,
but Joshua blocked him. "Wait
and see," Joshua murmured.

Pips touched the edge of his glasses.
"I don't see any sign of a break or a tear,
and only a slight increase in temperature,"
he said. "At most, you might have twisted
your wrist a bit. Wrap it, ice it, elevate it,
and don't overuse it for the next few days.
And for pity's sake, stop whining."

"Do you have the medical training
to back that up?" Mr. Allsman said.

"Quite," Pips said with a thin smile.
"But feel free to waste an hour in a clinic
to hear the same thing from a nurse there."

"Oh, let me have a look," said Chief Marquez.
"I've got the first aid training for sparring."

She poked at Mark's right arm, and
despite his fussing, she declared,
"Pips is right. There's no sign of
significant injury, not even a bruise.
Sit tight while I get a sport wrap
and a cold pack from the cabinet."

"And some ibuprofen, since Mark
is so ... sensitive," Pips suggested.

Joshua knew that Mark wasn't
that sensitive -- his coaches would
never stand for it -- he was just
trying to get Pips in trouble.

Still, they might as well be
thorough, even if Mark's parents
did decide to take him to a doctor later.

"Since this doesn't seem to have made
much impression on Mark either, I'm going
to suggest that his parents consider sending
him out of town for school," Mr. Allsman said
to Joshua. "Maybe that will avoid a repetition."

"After Mark completes his community service
and other requirements -- he'll be supervised
then. Afterwards, another school might be
in everyone's best interests," Joshua said.

As soon as Chief Marquez finished with
Mark and handed him off to Mr. Allsman,
Pips came to her and said, "I apologize for
the mishap. It was my mistake -- I should've
made sure that Mark knew how to fall properly.
I assumed he would from sports, and that was
wrong. I will make restitution if you wish."

"Let's take this back to the interview room,
before the gym gives people any more ideas
for physical shenanigans," said Mr. Allsman,
steering Mark firmly toward the door.

Joshua followed behind Chief Marquez,
and handed Pips his suitcoat back.

The tiny man hadn't even broken a sweat.

The chalk had been an interesting addition,
though. Joshua wondered if he could talk
Pips into trying that when they sparred.

Surely it would be easier than trying to get
an egg, a flag, or anything else off him.

Joshua also wondered whether
Mark's behavior was bad enough
for the gym recording to leak out.

Back in the interview room, Pips
produced a followup form to record
the challenge results. "Do you want
to fill out an incident report for this from
the prison paperwork?" he asked them.

"There are no visible injuries --"
Chief Marquez began.

"Fill it out for his parents' sake,
just note the lack of visible signs,"
Mr. Allsman proposed.

"Super-visible too,"
Pips pointed out, tapping
below the edge of his glasses.
"A medical scan will say the same."

Chief Marquez sighed. "Now
there's a useful gift," she said
as she filled out the paperwork.

"I find it worth the drawbacks,"
Pips said seriously. "It took me
a while to get used to, but now
I wouldn't trade it for the world."

"Were you serious about restitution?"
Chief Marquez asked him then.

"Yes, ma'am," Pips said firmly.
"Throw out some ideas, and
we'll negotiate if necessary."

"In that case, I'll take an hour
of your time teaching my officers
some of your sparring skills,"
said Chief Marquez.

"Some of what you saw,
I'm not allowed to teach,"
Pips warned her. "Barring that,
however, I'm happy to help. It is
in everyone's best interest for
the police to be well trained
in conflict-avoidance skills."

"Honestly, Pips, I'd be happy
if you and Officer Tull simply gave
a demonstration," said Chief Marquez.
"Whatever you decide to teach us
would be most welcome."

"I don't mind joining in,"
Joshua said before Pips
could protest about 'dragging'
him into it. "He has shown me
a few basic moves already, and
they're not hard to learn, but you
do have to think differently."

Be smoke. Be water. Be wind,
Pips advised him from memory.

"I look forward to it," the chief said
as they compared their calendars
and agreed on a suitable time.

"What about me?" Mark said.
"Don't I get an apology?"

Pips turned slowly to face him.
"I apologize for forgetting to check
that you knew how to fall safely," he said.
"I'm older and better trained than you, so
that made it my responsibility. I will take
more care with my future partners."

Mark started to reply, but Pips
held up a hand to stop him.

"Don't bother lying -- I can
see when you do," Pips said.
"I apologized because that was
the right thing to do, not because
I expected you to respond."

Mr. Allsman nudged Mark,
who said, "I hear you."

Well, at least he had
learned some people skills.

Then they finished the paperwork
for the preliminary agreement.

"I'm sure we can finalize details
soon," Pips said as they shook on it.

"Thank you for taking the time
to work through this with us,
instead of insisting on a trial,"
Mr. Allsman said. "Especially you,
Pips, I know you're humoring us
and this isn't your usual approach."

"It’s every man’s business to see
justice done," Pips said evenly.
"That's why I came to Mercedes."

"We appreciate it," Mr. Allsman said,
and pulled Mark away before he
could say anything else rude.

"Well, that was exhausting,
but I think it was productive,"
Chief Marquez said then.

"Yeah, I agree," Pips said.
"I am so done with this."

"I almost feel sorry for
that boy's lawyer," Joshua said.

"He took their money,"
Pips said heartlessly.
"I have no sympathy."

That was a supervillain for you.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so the character, setting, and content notes appear separately.

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