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mrnumbers.jpg

THE NUMBERS GAME

 

by JD Sixsmith

 

 

Extracts from the Case Files of Dexter Knight, Midnight's Guardian:

 

4 am. At least it had stopped raining. This neighborhood, and a few others like it, made up the depraved shadow of my city... an open gutter running with a sewerage of people. It's always been like this... for as long as anybody can remember.

 

I'd been watching the shabby apartments above the disused garage for half an hour. The man called Links Numbers hadn't been difficult to track. If I'd laid a bet it would have been on him coming here. It attracts men like Mr Numbers... like flies to excrement.

 

I fired the grapple and quickly scaled the wall, onto the roof opposite his squalid little hidey-hole.

 

I crouched down low, just yards away from the lit window... adjusted night vision goggles. Inside the room, I could see the side of a hunched figure squatting on the floor, a bowl and some take-away food wrappings next to him. He was watching a TV balanced on a box.

 

I tossed the stun bomb and followed it through the window.

 

I landed several solid blows as he tried to stand, heard his teeth splinter and felt a spray of his filthy blood splash across my cheek. I kicked him in the chest, his body flew through the air and shattered a door through to another room.

 

I moved to the broken doorway, wreathed in smoke, and looked down at the pathetic, emaciated figure in a tatty black trench coat, grubby white leotard littered with a jumble of numbers and a face plastered in absurd Goth clown make-up. He was wearing cosmetic black contact lenses that covered his entire eye, the dots of white pupils adding to his creepy appearance. He looked up at me, wiping blood from his mouth with the back of his hand.

 

"Oh... it's you... don't you ever knock first?"

 

I grabbed him the collar of his coat, pulled him close. "Did you think I wouldn't find you, Numbers?" I barked at him. "Time for you to face justice."

 

But he just smiled at me.

 

"Huhugh..."

 

Then he began to laugh.

 

"hahaha...HAHAHAAARGH..."

 

I let go of his coat, his body fell to the floor, spasming in bizarre mirth.

 

"HAHAHAHAHA..."

 

"You find justice... amusing?" I snarled at the wretched figure writhing on the floorboards. "Let me assure you; you won't..."

 

"Justice? Are you still calling it that? Hahaha! Really?"

 

"Yes. Justice." I told him. "And for your terrorism, you should expect it to be harsh."

 

"I'm a terrorist? And here's me getting the idea that you were the one keen on instilling the terror?" He grinned maniacally at me and pointed at the grimy window and the neighbourhood beyond it. "Tell me Dexy, what do you see out there? Eh? What is it you see? Perhaps I can help you a bit? A twisted old woman called Rand once described the people who live in neighborhoods like this as lice. She claimed the world was divided between a small minority of "supermen", maybe just 1% of people... and "the naked, twisted, mindless figure of the human incompetent, who, like the Leninists, try to feed off the supermen." She said it was an evil to show kindness to these lice and that the only real virtue was in selfishness. I reckon you see neighborhoods like these pretty much as she did, as festering pools of criminality and immorality. But you know what I see out there, Dex?"

 

I told the scum that I was, "All ears."

 

"A lot of poor people... desperate fucking people... people who can't afford to live anywhere else but in this fucking cess-pit... but people basically wanting exactly the same as you: money, somewhere nice to live and comfort. So, sometimes they end up doing stupid things to get them, sometimes desperate things to get them. Sometimes they see that the fastest and easiest way to get more money than they could dream of is through crime... to use violence... but they still, in essence, want the same thing as everybody, they have the same goals, they're just in a situation where often they use different methods to you law-abiding folk. Yeah, some of them are scumbags who don't give a shit who they hurt as long as they get what they want... just like the Wall Street bankers who took the world's economy to the edge of a cliff, 'cos their greed just wouldn't let them stop... but I don't see you often patrolling their gated neighborhoods threatening to beat the crap out of any of them... I suppose 'cos crashing the entire world economy due to your own greed isn't illegal, is it?"

 

"All they have to do is follow the rules, then they have nothing to fear. But you..." I punched him across the room, I felt his cheekbone fracture beneath my fist, "...really do have something to fear!"

 

Mr Numbers lay on the floor and spat blood. "Follow the rules?" he said. "Follow the rules and they and their family inevitably end up rich and comfortable? Really?"

 

"Sometimes. If you work hard enough."

 

"Sometimes eh? So somebody working for minimum wage all their life inevitably ends up rich and comfortable 'cos they followed the rules? And as long as they just take it and agree to never kick up any fuss they don't have to be scared of the system metaphorically putting a fist through their face? Or maybe you actually putting a fist through their face, eh? Hahaha! Any social mobility there once was has ground to a virtual stand-still over the past three decades or so—nowadays if you're born wealthy likely as not you'll stay wealthy. Born poor all the stats say you'll likely as not die poor. Google them stats if you don't believe me, I hear you're real good with computers. Google a guy called Thomas Piketty at the same time, he's gathered a lot of evidence... he's even written a book. You ever read about anything other than who deserves to be beaten up next?”

 

"Shut up!"

 

"Shut up? Awww... and I thought we were getting along so well. By the way, you have any idea what our revered democratic government defines as poverty in our country, Dex?”

 

I dragged Numbers up from the floor and punched him across the room. He crashed into the wall opposite. "I suppose you intend to enlighten me," I said.

 

He was sitting upright, his back partially in the broken wall, bits of plaster and rotten wooden slats crumbling around him. "The Government's definition of poverty is a family of four living on or less than $23,000 a year. Not much for a family of four, eh? 23,000 bucks. Having to buy health insurance or get a good education for the kids, pay the rent, run the car, never-ending bills, day-to-day living? Don't you reckon that a crap education cuts down the next generation's chances of climbin' out of that poverty, eh?"

 

I kicked Links Numbers through the wall. "Nobody says it's easy," I told him.

 

He laid on the filthy floor of the bathroom, looking at the ceiling. "Hahaha... ah well put, sir, I see the clear logic in your well constructed counterpoint there." He pushed himself up an elbow and looked at me from the floor. "But let's just talk around some of those government figures, see if it's any clearer: there are officially 43.6 million people in our country officially defined as living in poverty by our own government... t.b.h., I don't think those figures can include the millions here illegally, certainly not the ones hovering just above that cut off point, of course. 43.6 million in the richest country in the world, packed with more multi-billionaires than anywhere else. It seems a lot, doesn't it? 43.6 million people? Google it if you don't believe me... but what is it you think causes all that poverty? Is it just 43.6 million lazy, feckless, work-shy scumbags? Does being poor become a crime because you simply wouldn't be poor if you worked hard enough? Do they actually want to be poor? Or... just let's consider for a moment; is it the fucking system that's been put there that produces such an abyss between rich and poor?"

 

I kicked Numbers in the face, the side of his head breaking the toilet bowl. "43.6 million, eh? You really love your numbers, don't you?" Water, piss and turds spilled across the bathroom floor, sloshing around him. But Numbers carried on talking.

 

"One of the best tricks from people like you has been to transform popular public perceptions of poverty nowadays, though. It's no longer something people are born into and can no longer climb out of because there are so many immense fucking obstacles in their way, but to suggest it's the system's fault is heresy... so poverty has to be rebranded as simply the personal failure of the poor—completely their fault!"

 

"You don't care about the system, Numbers," I told him. "You don't care about them, you're just using them for your own perverse ends." Numbers sat slumped forward, looking at the floor between his legs.

 

"I don't care? Do you care then? What is it you do? Do you donate some spare cash or a bit of food to charity for all them poor folks who abide by your rules? And does it make you feel so much better? Something like a superior being dispensing his noble charity to those inferior to yourself, so you can reserve yourself a place in heaven 'cos you're so good, or something? And then for balance you beat the shit out of those who don't follow your rules? Scare the rest to keep them in line? You don't want to do anything to change the system that puts them there, because you've done very well by that system, haven't you? Just 5% of the population own 66% of everything... but the bottom 40% of the nation owns just 0.2% of this country's immense fucking wealth. "

 

"Are you just some kind of a..." I spat as I said the filthy word, "commie?"

 

"Commie? I'm just quoting fucking numbers. But you should know over the past thirty or so years the numbers have gotten even more extreme; the richest have gotten much richer and the numbers of poor continue to grow. From 1977 to 2007 the richest 10% took three-quarters of the total increase in national income, the richest 1% alone vacuumed up 60% of the increase for themselves. A real 21st century horror story, eh? Google it if that sounds too farfetched for you. Doesn't that say anything about the system to you? Nothing at all? How the fuck can anybody possibly interpret that as democratic? You see, to me you just look like another rich man protecting what he has against whatever he sees as a threat. You're just the terrifying vigilante guardian of the status quo, the Caped fucking Conservative, aren't you?"

 

"YOU KNOW NOTHING!!!" I screamed in his face. "I SAW MY PARENTS KILLED IN FRONT OF MY EYES - BY A MAN WHO JUST WANTED MONEY!!!"

 

"Yeh? Tragic. But rich parents, I bet, eh? People are generally bad at understanding numbers, you know, especially us poor folk. Difference between a million and a billion... what is it exactly? Can you visualise it as, say, beans? When numbers get that big we can't really see them at all. Put it another way: to count to a million would take you about 12 days... to count to a billion would take you 38 FUCKING YEARS!”

 

"THEY WERE MY PARENTS!!! ALL I HAD LEFT WAS MY BUTLER!!!"

 

"Your butler, eh? Hahaha! Yeah... a butler... most people's enduringly sad dream to have enough money to pay for poorer people to serve them... still, sad your parents were killed though... so that makes it okay for you to go on a never-ending, psychopathic, outside the law, revenge crusade? What makes you so fucking different from somebody seeing their parents killed by a drone or indiscriminate air-strike after invading a country to oust a dictator who won't sell us his oil? No need to invade countries with dictators who do sell us their fucking oil or the dictators who don't have any oil but have some fucking nukes? What about a kid who watched his family get toasted by napalm? What about a kid who saw his family "disappeared" by police in all those brutal dictatorial South American regimes we financed and supported or destabilized if we don't like what they said for decades? How about a kid who saw their parents killed in vicious conflicts where we weren't killing religious fanatics that time but givin' em guns instead? Maybe an orphan kid from some bloody mess where we condemned the religious fanatics and cheered a military coup masking itself behind a ludicrous smokescreen of democracy instead? Or how about a hometown kid who sees a parent suffer and die because they're too fucking poor to afford medical insurance? And what about all the poor fuckers, make no mistake, it'll be the poor, who'll get fucked by climate change because they won't be able to buy themselves safety, just because the rich just have to consume so much fucking stuff to show how fucking rich they are?  Any one of them wanting revenge would be a fucking villain—a fucking terrorist—in your eyes, wouldn't they? So you need to scare them... keep them in line and get them to follow your rules.

 

"And what is it you'd do about it? Take all the wealth and redistribute it, like some kind of commie scum?"

 

"Commie again? You're really obsessed with that, ain't you? Hahaha... noooo... I haven't suggested doing anything like that, have I? Don't you ever learn anything from the evidence of the past? Just look at the evidence, stupid; the evidence we've seen says communism simply don't work. You only have to look at evidence, don't you? But does evidence stop there? Is that the only evidence you ever look at? Hahaha... I'll leave that up to up to you to decide what to do, all I'm doing is pointing out the basic fucking injustice, the ever growing chasm between the absurdly wealthy and the dirt poor and the cess pool of intractable social problems our current way of doing things builds up for us... all I'm doing is pointing at the numbers.

 

I wanted him to shut up! I needed him to shut up! "ENOUGH! SHUT UP! SHUT UP YOU LYING, TRAITOROUS, FOUL MOUTHED SCUM OF THE EARTH!" And I beat Number's face to a bloody pulp on that fetid bathroom floor until my fists dripped with his blood.

 

But there was a figure in the other room, applauding me with a slow handclap.  "clap... clap... clap..." It was Mr Numbers - another Links Numbers - standing in the doorway.

 

"Oh, well done, Mister Midnight Guardian, really nice job shutting down his freedom of speech there, but because you labelled him a communist and terrorist nobody will be too upset about what you've done, eh? They might even give you a medal... thinking about it though, maybe you should have called him a pacifist, atheist, tree-hugger, socialist, liberal, pimp, whore, junkie, drug-dealing, paedo as well? A cocktail of all the worst things a human being can possibly be, just to ensure nobody cares much about what happened to him?”

 

"Who... what the hell are you?"

 

He looked surprised and innocent. "Me? Mr Links Numbers? Oh... not much more than an idea I suppose, but you know what? I reckon as long as this goes on the way it's going, no matter how many times you manage to kill me off, just like you just have done, I'll always make some kind of come back sooner or later... just to put a nagging question... just to point at something that really isn't... right." He grinned, a horrifying, knowing grin. "You wanna shut me up again, don't you? Right now? Go on... you know you want to..."

 

***

jdsix240.jpg

JD Sixsmith is an International man of mystery& member of the League of Very Ordinary Gentlemen. . . . He is a sometime writer, sometime limited (color-dyslexic) illustrator, long-time reader of comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, retro-horror . . . you know, the usual stuff. Throw in people like Wells, Orwell, Michael Moorcock, George Martin, Iain Banks, David Mitchell. . . . Oh and he has a cat called Norman ('cos it sounds ridiculous to call a cat “Norman”). “The Numbers Game,” featuring Mr Numbers and Dexter Knight, is his first story in the August e-publication, Yellow Mama.

numberswatch095glass560.jpg

The Numbers Game

 

DON'T LOOK NOW... YOU'RE BEING WATCHED... BY NUMBERS

 

by JD Sixsmith

 

 

 

My Dearest Viewer,

 

Sorry... nah, I'm not sorry at all for scribbling on the other side of your screen, this mirror writing shizz is tougher than I expected, though.

 

Merry Christmas, btw. Has Santa Claus visited yet? Think about it: some guy you never see comes into your house but he knows whether you've been naughty or not and knows exactly what you want? Cos' what Santa does is watch you all the time (even when you think you're not being watched) ... and if you're on the "nice" list, he'll give you lots of stuff you want... but if you're on the "naughty" list, well then you'll be excluded from Christmas *gasp!*

 

Ah, but savvy kids soon figure out that Santa's just a story, basically another little piece in the cabinet of social control parents use to get their children to behave in the way they want them to behave, all wrapped up in a heart-warming story somebody made up. Maybe kids nowadays need something a bit more real than Santa for the 21st century... hang on a minute... don't we have that already... instead of "Santa" think of "them".

 

They know what you're looking for.

 

They know what you want.

 

They know what you're thinking.

 

Privacy is dead.

 

You are actually being watched right now, not by Santa, but by numbers.

 

Slipping and sliding, little step by little step, oh-so subtly you, yes YOU, have been complicit it giving away the rights and privileges your ancestors fought and quite often died for. Brief spasms of outrage over Wikiseeps or Snowbum's revelations, or Headbuk's "emotional contagion" experiment when they manipulated the newsfeeds of hundreds of thousands of users to induce specific emotional states... but after a few minutes the vast majority of you just go back to accepting that the bulk of your social, financial and quite often sexual interactions take place over the internet and that someone, somewhere, whether it's the state, press, snoopers, hackers or corporation, is watching what you're doing.

 

Think about it: you know you're being manipulated, surveyed, rendered and the intelligence behind it is artificial as well as human. You know that everything you do on the web is driven by complex mathematical formulae that are as invisible as they are arcane—a bunch of numbers—a labyrinth of endless algorithms, dissecting your choices in order to evaluate exactly what you're thinking.  While some might fight Pyrrhic battles by unplugging themselves and "going dark", that in itself is an indicator of suspicious activity—that you have something to hide.

 

What was it some slap-head Brit politician said not long ago? Oh yeah: "If you have nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear!" Shit, didn't the KGB or the Stasi or the Gestapo (maybe all of them?) used to say exactly the same fucking thing? And who knows what the world will be like in 20 or 30 years? Who knows what our governments will be like, given different world circumstances? Will the governments and authorities always have your best interests at heart? All we know is that the apparatus for total surveillance of every citizen is already here, whatever those circumstances might be.

 

How the fuck did you get here? Didn't your grandpappies join up to fight a war to rid the world of fascism... or was it just to replace it with a more PR-savvy sort? Only a few decades ago we were pointing at the old Soviet bloc's all pervasive surveillance of its citizens and, finger poised over the button, declared that we would sooner burn the Earth to a nuclear cinder than live like that. Is the only difference that the Soviet system didn't allow their oppressed citizenry to buy lots of shit? Is that all it is? Those old Fascist and Soviet fuckers must be laughing their nuts off.

 

However, it's not all your fault, there's a helluva lot of folks desperately trying to do their best to convince you that all this surveillance is an absolute necessity—not just to sell you the latest stuff they know you want to buy—but to keep you and your loved ones safe. Maybe the stooge propagandists who're doing it don't even realise what they're actually doing—constantly adding to that incessant barrage of news, urban myth and fantasy, so much that some people can't disentangle it from mundane reality—continually telling you, right there in your living room every night that there's always something for you to be terrified of: legions of psychopaths, serial killers, terrorists and rapists waiting around every corner—poised to pounce on you or someone you love—a creepy dread that permeates any given moment... and the only way to catch them is to monitor everything on the net?

 

But... those legions of evil people—"the others"—might all be using houses as well (they do that you know: live in houses, apartments etc.)... so wouldn't it make sense to have every room of every home in the entire country equipped with a camera that will record everything everybody does... just so they can catch them? Hey, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear! But how the hell did they ever catch anybody before the WWW in the 1990s? (But avoid criticising the stooge propagandist world view in any way, btw, cos' they'll take it personally and they'll come after you claiming you're one of the ones that need to be destroyed for the safety of their "loved ones" as well!)

 

I read that ages ago there was a guy called Jeremy Bentham, his padded out, dressed up skeleton and embalmed head were preserved and stored in a cabinet called the "auto-icon"—if you ever fancy somewhere to visit you can still see him on display in the south cloisters of University College London. Anyway, Jezzer B thought up a prison system called the Panoptican, where all inmates would be continually watched. The constant watching aimed to modify the inmates' behavior into "following the rules" but eventually the actual surveillance wasn't even necessary, just like the social behavior modifier idea behind the story of Santa Claus, just the thought they were being watched planted in their heads was enough to secure compliance.

 

Did that actually rob them of free will? Is that what freedom is? It's reckoned a high proportion of the Panoptican-style guinea pigs went nuts though... but, after all these years, maybe he's actually eventually managed it: welcome to Jeremy's WWW.PanopticaGlobalPrisonSystem, eh?

 

But, when all's said and done, what's the point of fucking privacy anyway? Why the hell do you need that shit at all... unless you really do have something to hide? Maybe the KGB, Gestapo and the Stasi and the slap-head Brit politico were right? Then again, just possibly, a  point of it is so there's something inside you that can't be reached by anybody else, something that is yours and only yours... maybe without something like that we're not really free?

After the Nazis subjected specific groups of their own citizens (as well as a lot of foreigners) to such vile abuses in the mid-20th century, some people felt a bit guilty because there wasn't actually anything in any international law to protect anybody if a state decided to "legally" do that kind of thing to its own citizens. So, the United Nations General Assembly thought it might be a good idea to have some kind of international law to protect individual citizens against being abused by their own governments. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the Assembly on 10 December 1948 (sort of a Christmas present to people of the world, eh?).

Article 12 of UDHR, states: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

Well, nobody seems to pay much attention to that shit anymore, do they?

"The Law", I heard, "is meant to be my servant, not my master, much less my torturer or murderer."

 

Maybe you could write to Santa asking for some privacy next Christmas?

 

Be seeing you,

Mr Links Numbers.




                                     

number1217.jpg
Art by JD Sixsmith © 2016

The Numbers Game.

 

The 1217 Horror Show.

 

JD Sixsmith

 

 

I make no apologies for it, I get hung up on numbers, but I guess you can figure that from the name; Mr Numbers.

 

Must've been in 2005, Number 1,217... that was a number I really got caught on.

 

By way of explanation, it was because I know this one guy, by day his profession is criminal lawyer but, by night, somewhat weirdly you might think, he's also a super powered masked crime fighter, who can't hear, or can't taste... or something... I forget what exactly. Darkdevil Law is his name, Darkdevil - some guy without any fear.

 

I knew Darkdevil Law's secret identity because in 1985, I found an old Commander Amigo 1000 personal computer along with some unwiped floppy disks in a bag. Darkdevil had been writing stuff, recording his exploits as a masked avenger of the night—hey, here's a tip for all you budding Thought Cops out there: if you want to see what a guy's been thinking about, look on his computer—anyways, this was one of the first things I read:

 

"1st January 1985: I knew I'd find him there. I could smell him [so it can't've been his sense of smell that he'd lost, I noted] "So you want to make a fight of it?" I asked. "Or come quietly? I don't mind either way. Murderer."

 

He smiled at me in a really strange way. "Go ahead," he said. "You're itchin' to beat the shit outta me, aint ya? Come on then big man, git ya vengeance kick an tek ya bow f'the cameras. Y'know ya want to."

 

His face twisted hideously with undiluted rage. He made a clumsy lunge which I easily avoided. Still, I was required to defend myself. "I gave you an option," I told him. "More than you gave to your victims."

 

"Options?" he spat. "I ain't never had no options."

 

"We always have options," I said truthfully. "You just chose the wrong ones."

 

He wouldn't stop. He was like a crazed animal. I beat him quite badly. It was peculiar... looking back on it, it was almost as if he wanted me to hurt him. But compared to the murders he committed it was a mild form of vengeance. He killed without thinking of his victims' families, how it would impact on their lives... yet I didn't kill him, I captured him, brought him to Law, knowing nothing more of his life other than Bobby Lee Dirtbag would be executed for his crimes.

 

S'funny, as I was reading it I got a sense of déjà-vu, like I'd seen it all before, Lord knows how many times... then I thought how similar it was to Dex Knight's crusade, or Uberman's, or Major A, or the Insectoid-Man, or Ivor-Bigsword or Mix'n'match... they were all doing pretty much the same stuff. I read some more of Darkdevil's adventures—crime committed—criminal sometimes beats up hero—hero makes comeback & beats criminal up—criminal put on trial—criminal locked up forever or killed (but often they escaped, just to make the fear of them ever-present unless they were dead... and even then it wasn't certain)—add to that god knows how many movies and TV series playing in loops on god knows how many channels—mostly the same story over and over, was almost as if they were all drilling into my head that what they were doing over and over again was the right and only moral thing, the only way of looking at it. All the stories together were like one long, never-ending justification for... punishment, I suppose.

 

***

 

It was some twenty years later when I saw that the guy Darkdevil had captured and brought to justice all those years ago was still on Death Row. I suppose, unlike Darkdevil, I was a bit curious, so I decided to have a look and crunch the numbers. Bobby Lee was his name... but 1,217... it's that numbers thing, he's still 1,217 to me... this was what I found behind the Number:

 

You probably know capital punishment was restarted in the USA in 1976 and if there was ever a man destined to be added to the list of executed people, then Bobby Lee might've well have walked around with a big fucking neon sign on his head... but to describe Bobby's life as troubled would be just a tiny bit of an understatement.

 

Bobby Lee once described his childhood self as, "a nasty little bastard", or something along those lines, as a man, he was an utter shit of a person... I just wondered what made him like that or whether it was just his choice, I suppose.

 

Bobby was one of nine in a chaotic family that was relentlessly on the move around Salt Lake, at least before it inevitably split up. Bobby's father was an alcoholic, often without work and frequently used to beat the crap out of his kids... yeh, yeh, it's always like that, I hear in the chorus... but in this case, it really was like that... and maybe because it's so often like that it should be something of a clue?

 

Bobby first got noticed by the police when he was about two, found wandering on his own in nothing but a shit-filled diaper. When he was four Bobby contracted meningitis, which some doctors speculated may have damaged his brain and contributed to his violent, uncontrolled outbursts. His siblings were of as little help as his parents, one of his elder brothers, or maybe it was a sister, molesting him. By the age of six he'd learned to get highs from sniffing glue and petrol, by the time he was ten he'd progressed to marijuana and his criminal career was well underway.

 

For a while Bobby and his brother were taken into "care" by the authorities and fostered by a paedo... I'm guessin' that didn't help Bobby's anger issues much. And then Bobby's mother remarried... to a professional burglar. Bobby looked up to his new step-father as a real role-model, helping as a lookout at some robberies, independently shoplifting to prove his worth, you know the sort of thing. Meanwhile his drug habits escalated from methamphetamine to cocaine to heroin.

 

Bobby had been in and out of juvenile prison and other "correctional" facilities that did precious little "correction"," containment" would've been a far more honest word. By some accounts he was a bright and fairly handsome kid, but utterly rebellious against any form of authority. Whenever he was in custody he was usually violent and habitually tried to escape.

 

Bobby's emotional life was equally as shambolic. By the time he was nineteen he'd fathered two kids with a girlfriend who would stick with him for seven years, but he barely had time to witness the birth of his second son before being slammed up in state prison for the first time. He escaped, committed more crimes while on the run before being recaptured and slammed up again.

 

By then just about the only crime Bobby had not been convicted of was murder... but he remedied that in 1984 when he was charged with killing a barman. During his trial he attempted to escape—as he always habitually did, but this time during the escape shot dead a lawyer and so in 1985 was given a death sentence for the two murders he'd committed.

 

He appealed but, as usual, the processes were absurdly long and eventually Bobby just got tired of it, he knew he had an explosive temper, once saying that he feared the tortuous process he was going through would eventually put him in the situation of attempting to kill somebody else.

 

But, it seems to me that among the many unsettling qualities of a lingering stay on Death Row is that sometimes the person who is executed can be a very different person from the one who committed the crime, sometimes decades earlier.

 

Bobby may have genuinely changed during the quarter century he spent behind bars waiting to die; he said his ambition was to start an organic farm project for troubled kids to have a second chance. He must have always known it was his pipe dream.

 

So, anyway, they shot Bobby Lee dead.

 

Executed by firing squad... does that sound like something from the past? From a time when we were less "civilized"?

 

Well, there are the "civilized", clinically clean death chambers I've seen (not by choice, you understand), like the one in Texas; the sparkling table (apart from the broad leather straps to hold the condemned down) looked pretty much like an operating table, there were a bunch of spotless clear plastic catheters and plastic tubes, which I kind of expected, but there was also some friggin' ridiculous antiseptic swabs to wipe the condemned arms—HA!—as if stopping an infection was actually a fucking issue! The ceiling was painted powder blue, probably because some psychologist guy had said that it was a soothing color and would lower any urge to struggle... all those doctoral skills which over the centuries have been poured into preserving life had, in this room, been twisted to do the exact opposite. The drip tubes carried some shit thing called Pavulon, a muscle relaxant and potassium chloride, to stop the heart, and then sodium thiopental, a poison that would kill them. I hear it's unclear exactly what they carry now. It was a grotesque lampoon of modern medicine that went to absurd lengths for a show of... civilisation... it was really as if the architects of it all were really desperate for people to believe that; "We kill nice and civilized here."

 

But, when all's said and done, it's pretty obvious Bobby Lee had a fucking crummy life... we can see that because it's our ability to empathise that allows us to, it's the thing that separates most people from psychopaths, who really can't empathise with other people much, if at all... it's our empathy that allows us to see just how crummy Bobby Lee’s life was. Does it mean that if you can't empathise then you're a psychopath? Not necessary a psychopath who'll kill somebody... but maybe somebody who just doesn't give a shit about anybody else? Maybe it's a superpower: there's gotta be "a man without empathy" out there somewhere?

 

So, assuming you're not a psychopath ('cos this won't mean jack shit to you if you are) our supposed empathy might also lead us to be disturbed by the 25 years Bobby endured in solitary confinement up until his death. Only the week before his execution was his daughter granted two "contact visits". It was Bobby's first contact with any family for over two decades. They were not allowed to hug but could hold hands through the bars in the death row visiting room. Maybe it's worth considering that "cruel and unusual punishment" is not just limited to method of execution, eh?

 

But that's his punishment for killing those two guys! Bobby had no empathy for them! No... maybe he didn't, maybe he didn't even think about the consequences of what he was doing. Maybe he wasn't even capable of thinking about it at the time? Maybe it's actually possible to suspend empathy for some individuals, such as murderers like Bobby, but not for others? Can we turn it on and off? Does it make empathy more genuine if you can; is empathy something you can throw like a switch?

 

Bobby's last dinner was lobster tail, steak and ice cream pie, after that he fasted for a couple of days, bizarrely because he considered himself a Mormon Christian. Apparently, he spent his final day watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

 

Does it matter how Bobby and other murderers are killed though? Well... it seems the state officials that killed Bobby thought so because they outlawed the firing squad in 2004, maybe because they thought some folks might think it made them look a bit barbaric and backward rather than the "nice, civilised guys" who use lethal injection...  but Bobby had picked his method of execution before that date, so he got his wish. It seemed to me it wasn't some macho "Let's do it!" aping of gun glamour mind you, basically he just wanted to avoid being one of the growing number of botched lethal injections.

 

Perhaps there was actually something a bit more honest about Bobby's execution though, more honest than the "civilized" injection... a bit like beheading, stoning or burning at the stake, there is at least a primitive brutality to a firing squad; up close, a few feet away, the crack of rifles, a convulsing body and the smell of the blood, oh yes, the blood, actually confronts us with the reality of what we are doing when we kill another human being, instead of it all being done at a distance or hidden away from sight in a vein.

 

In the end I don't think the method of execution is the issue, maybe the real issue is whether a "civilized" society wants to lower itself to the level of a very small, aberrant minority of its population, whether a society wants to officially lower itself to the level of... killers, I suppose... and then mirror what they do... in a very "civilized" way, of course.

 

So, possibly what the death penalty as well is, give out the message to some that the deliberate premeditated of killing other people is actually "okay" sometimes, particularly when it's against someone you feel has "wronged" you... the vengeful punishment is justified if they feel the level of wrong done against them is enough to warrant it? But then again, different people will always have different levels of what they feel "warrants it", eh?

 

Vengeance and retribution may be the currency of the poetic Law of comic books, TV and Hollywood, but that's just fantasy, ain't it? In the real life, the countries that retain the death penalty, are enlightened sophisticated and civilized beacons of democracy like... Iran, Iraq, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen... and the United States of America, but hey, wouldn't any country that aspires to the moral leadership of the world be proud to be numbered in that little club of progressive, enlightened and civilized countries?

 

It can't be just a religious thing though, after all, why does all that New Testament forgiveness and redemption always seem to play a very secondary fiddle to Old Testament fire and brimstone psychotic revenge and some of those enlightened and civilised countries listed above aren't subject to a dominant religious philosophy... maybe there's a connection here though: maybe it's man's seemingly limitless capacity to inflict harm on others when they believe themselves morally righteous in doing so?

 

Or maybe it's just the habit of categorising groups of people as "all the same" that always loads prejudgement and stops us looking at people as individuals? Who knows? Oh if only all those folks with such very clear ideas of who deserves to live could be given a gun and free rein to kill anybody they judged didn't deserve to live then the world would be a perfect place. Thing is, more often than not, if the absurdity or sheer stupidity of that is pointed out or questioned the only response the defenders of it ever have is what they think is threat, abuse or personal insult... in truth, that's all they ever had... apart from whenever they get their hands on lots of guns.

 

But, when all that's said and done about that guy Bobby Lee, he had options, perhaps he habitually chose the wrong ones, maybe he just never learned to express himself in any other way than explosive anger at any given situation... but in a country that uncompromisingly demands self reliance from its people, is it ever worth considering that some people simply cannot rely on themselves, and sometimes, especially when they're kids, they can't rely on any of the people around them either. When a country extols the virtue of self reliance to the extent that it offers no safety net at all for these people, is it really so surprising that some of them end up like Bobby, the 1,217th person executed since the restoration of the death penalty? Maybe it should actually be expected?

 

We often hear of post-traumatic stress from people being involved in war-zones and the destructive effects that can have on mental health, but imagine for a moment, if you can, being forced to live the life of the horror show that was Number 1,217's, from the moment you were born... as a child struggling to form an understanding of what to expect and how to behave in that world...  am I thinking that given the same circumstances as Bobby, the same would happen to anybody? Probably not... but forced to live a life like Number 1,217, are you entirely certain how you might have done?

 

 

***

 

In what you've just read the superhero character, Darkdevil Law, was a fantasy... Bobby Lee, on the other hand...

 

JD Sixsmith is an International man of mystery& member of the League of Very Ordinary Gentlemen. . . . He is a sometime writer, sometime limited (color-dyslexic) illustrator, long-time reader of comic books, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, retro-horror . . . you know, the usual stuff. Throw in people like Wells, Orwell, Michael Moorcock, George Martin, Iain Banks, David Mitchell. . . . Oh and he has a cat called Norman ('cos it sounds ridiculous to call a cat “Norman”). “The Numbers Game,” featuring Mr. Numbers and Dexter Knight, was his first story in Issue # 45 (August 2014) of Yellow Mama. “Don’t Look Now . . . You’re Being Watched . . . by Numbers” was his second “Numbers Game” story, published in Issue # 47 (December 2014) of Yellow Mama.

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