Ned Kelly Has Friends All over the Multiverse
By Robert McCarthy
Inspector Peter Miller thought he had me. He had the smug look of someone who knew I was retarded.
“We know Kenny Corbet did the shooting. Give him up or you go down for the whole thing.”
“I know you think I’m scared of you ’cause you’re a big bad cop and I’m in a wheelchair. But you have nothing on me and I’m asking for my lawyer.”
“Thought you had nothing to hide,” Miller said in his “last act of Law and Order” voice.
“You’ll find something. I’m already a ‘person of interest,’ ’cause someone I met once was shot with a gun owned by a guy I’ve not seen in fifteen years. I want a lawyer so you can’t frame me.”
Now Miller was rattled. “Frame you? Frame you? Have you seen Lura De Alvo’s body?”
Right on cue, he threw down photos of Lura’s post-shooting body. She was a woman who had been shot in the head...it was hard to look at. But given that the only time I’d met her she’d chased me round my own house with pictures of Ned’s brain surgery (the tip of the iceberg of Ned’s suffering, as my brother had told the story), I was just glad the first bullet put her down and the next made sure she would never get up.
“We have the e-mails between you and Corbet.”
I had been resisting thinking about Kenny as “the killer,” on the off chance that Kenny was right about San Francisco PD having on staff telepaths was true. It was not, of course, but Ken’s constant paranormal chatter had an effect.
“You’re really not scared, are you? Well you will be when some big black guy named Bubba fucks you in the ass!”
I couldn’t restrain my laughter. “You know that bus service I rode in on because police cars don’t have wheelchair lifts? Those guys? Mostly black ex-cons. They see an educated white boy in a nice house they don’t think I’ve earned. I’m always a little white fag who wouldn’t last in prison. Wouldn’t it be funny to leave me with my pants down on Turk Street? You’re a cop— somebody who even has a suntan talks that way to you, you say some shit about ‘I feared for my life’ and shoot them. You have me scared, Inspector, but you see, I’m scared all the time anyway. So you throw me in jail. You feel all smug as I get tortured. I might even break. But you’ll still just have a gun permit and some e-mails and no idea who killed Lura, ’cause it wasn’t me!”
Dizabled.com finally sent a lawyer. Yes, I’d rather be writing sci-fi, but if your day job does not have the words “disability” or “awareness” somewhere in the title, your disabled friends’ halos tend to hurt your eyes.
My lawyer was a tall Korean woman named Martha Stout,who made quick work of the idea that I could be charged with anything for knowing the victim’s husband and the man that had the bought the murder weapon twenty-seven years before. She masterfully blunted the e-mail where I mentioned a “Brazilian ogre that must be slain.” Also mentioned a spate of Brazilian UFO sightings, as well as an alternate universe where Fred Flintstone was real. Clearly it was all nonsense. It was the perfect crime, except for that screaming red flag. I wondered why Kenny had not bought a new gun too. Doubtless Kenny saw some occult/magic/Magick reason. Oh well, getting someone killed for two hundred dollars because you used to be frat brothers was a good deal.
I called John. He came and got me. It took a while, as most commuting in the Bay Area did. Leading to an awkward hour-long staring contest between suspect and detective.
In spite of what you have read in various fiction, I did not gain any insight into Miller from looking at his desk.
Johnny came in full of his usual bluster. I couldn’t tell if he was acting, or really upset.
“Ya pull me outta work to bring ya home from the cop shop?”
Ah, work! The great motif of old John’s life. Mister honest hard-laboring macho heterosexual. As opposed to me. The cripple who had actually read some books and was more than likely a fag.
Yeah—only problem with that line of thinking is, we’d both seen Ned abused by Lura. We both agreed that the law was useless and she needed killing. But, as ever in my forty-two years, it was not his Contractor, Cowboy, or any of the other Village People road show performers he loved so dearly who did the killing. No, it was my friend. A man so over-educated he spells “Magick” with a k claimed to build time machines. The only question was, would John dismiss him as a “nerd” or a “fag”?
Miller stood. “You’re the brother. You knew Ned Kelly and Lura De Alvo both...”
I heard the sharp intake of breath that meant John was really pissed. I hoped he was not going to get stupid.
“Know! I still know Ned Kelly! He’s still alive.”
Miller smirked. “His wife isn’t. Your brother knows the killer.”
“Good. Maybe he knows where I can send the medal. Now you ready to go, Dave?”
“Yeah,” I said and we left.
John smiled wordlessly as I got on the wheelchair lift.
“Your boyfriend really killed the beast?”
I ignored the loaded word “boyfriend,” just as John ignored knowing full well I was straight.
“Yeah, I think so. I mean, she’s dead. Kenny’s gun was used.”
“How do you know that?”
“Who the fuck kills with their own gun?”
I was now glad I didn’t mention the carjacking. “How’s Ned?” I asked, hoping to move the subject away from the hired killer I hired for a thousand dollars. What he might have done was, as ever, better than what I had done.
“Ned’s gonna stay with us for a while.”
“Does he know?”
“Doubt it. Nobody liked her, and she was from a country where Ned didn’t know anybody. If he has a list of suspects, we’re low on the list.”
Spending time with John, Ned, and my mother would normally be pleasant. Between my mother’s superhuman ability to manipulate my vestigial Catholic guilt and the fact that my actions had been truly evil...I was going into hell.
When we got home, Ma and Ned were drinking beer in the backyard. Ned had been crying. This man who was over seven feet tall and three hundred pounds. It was like watching a remorseful giant learn his lesson at the end of a fairy tale.
After John and Ned shared the traditional bro-hug, I said, “How you holdin’ up, big man?”
A dropped g, “big” and “man.” It was a lot of macho for one sentence, but seeing as I had more than likely had killed his wife. I needed a wolf with his pack, not a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome.
Ned considered his answer. “Well, I fell in love ’cause I was lonely, she started hitting me, which pisses you off at first. When it doesn’t stop, then you get scared. Then Lura got killed, so I’m back to lonely.”
“Better lonely and safe,” I said.
“Why’d John take you home? Did the bus not come?”
“Actually, Ma, the gun that killed Lura was owned by one of my Facebook friends. Thirty-seven years ago. Cops wanted to talk to me.”
“Is that a lead?” Ned asked excitedly. Oh God, he wanted the killer caught. His current memory was bending too far to the rose end of the spectrum.
Well, I had memories too. After Ned’s first brain surgery, while Ned and Lura were staying with us, she chased me around my own house with a laptop full of pictures of Ned’s tumors.
That was disrespect on more levels than even a lifelong wheelchair-user is used to, and I said, “Bitch, if you don’t stop I will kill you!” She was clearly used to giving rather than receiving threats. She sensed I was serious and backed off.
“Might be a clue,” I said, lying by omission. After all I didn’t know Kenny had done anything. I trusted him, though, and he charged less to kill a person than Flattop had charged in a 1943 Dick Tracy strip.
I hoped the darkening skies I noticed were just San Francisco weather.
“Why did the police have any record of this gun?” my mother asked.
It was a good question. I had Kenny’s answer and was not sure I believed, so I said, “I don’t know.”
The sky grew darker and I heard the gate open and Inspector Miller said, “Hello, anybody home?”
“Back here, Inspector,” I said. We were all going to be very civil.
“So Dave, did you tell Mr. Kelly you know his wife’s killer?”
“I told them about Kenny’s gun.”
“Oh God, Kenny the Satanist?” my mother groaned. She disliked being reminded of my very brief flirtation with all manner of magic/Magick to cure my disability/handicap. Magic was for children who saw no reason why it should not work, and university students who just knew they found a secret everybody else had missed.
“Yeah, Ma, a gun used by a Satanist over ten years before I knew him...”
“Fine, whatever lie you wanna go with,” Miller said. “The Boston FBI says he’s building a machine which could be a bomb.”
“The Boston FBI? Look, fucker, are you trying to solve Lura’s murder or break the world record in logic-leaping?”
I would have said more, but Ned started screaming, “It’s Death! Don’t let him get me!” For a blessed millisecond I was dead sure Ned’s fear was a product of his tumor. Turning my head I saw “him” (I thought I saw a penis).
The creature was twelve feet tall, with skin that was once black then orange, and feathery white wings, and on the feathers were tiny mouths.
I was more worried that I was seeing things than that this creature was real. As a lifelong sci-fi reader, Internet user, theoretical-physics hobbyist, I was more ready for alien life than communicable brain tumors. My body is trouble enough without worrying about my brain.
My mother and John clearly did not see the creature, as they were still making the kind of cooing noises you make to calm people down.
Miller saw the creature, which was a little comforting, as it made it less likely I was seeing things. Then Miller drew his gun. Not comforting!
As often as I have been threatened with violence (every time some Paratransit driver felt like playing alpha male), I’d only really been hit by one, and I’d never even been threatened with a gun. a Taser once—but I digress. This was much scarier!
Miller shot; Ma screamed and smashed her beer bottle over his head. I now really hoped we all lived, because I really wanted to hear this concussed asshole explain how he discharging his weapon because he saw a winged giant.
The giant spoke. “I guess some of them can see me. Not very well, if they think handguns can bother me. Wonder about the Corbets?”
OK, so Ma and Johnny couldn’t hear him, even though he had a voice like thunder. John was still calling an ambulance for Ned and Miller, rather than the Air Force and whatever you call for alien invasions.
There would be no invasion. At least, not yet. He was gone. “Gone” being relative when you’re not sure how the creature that shouldn’t exist got where it was in the first place.
He’d been here a while too. “Handgun”? It knew idioms!
As soon as he was done calling I said, “Did you get a picture of Miller discharging his weapon?”
‘Discharging his weapon’ macho cop talk to keep him on my side. When he got to the picture he said, “Holy shit! Mom, there really was some kind of creature! What the fuck is that, Dave?”
“I don’t know, but I know paranormal creatures avoid eyes a hell of a lot easier than cameras. Ned, you cool?”
“Yeah.” He was rocky, but given what he had been through...
I went in the house and e-mailed Kenny, which was risky, but an alien invasion outranks a murder beef. Besides, it was six o’clock; there was a nurse coming at eight—that meant I went to bed. Alien invasion be damned. Bluntly, no home-care nurse ever thinks anything being typed by a person in a wheelchair is ever more important than their God-given right to work for one hour and be paid for four. Unless John felt like playing hero. Generally, that only happened around women with nice asses.
I opened a chat window.
Dave: “I saw an alien tonight, spoke English, mentioned ‘Corbets.’”
Ken: “Oh shit it’s not pregnant is it?”
Dave: “I’m serious.” I attached the picture.
Ken: “That’s Azrael, the Angel of Death—no mere alien.”
Oh goodie, the word “mere.” I never knew how seriously to take Kenny when he talked like Doctor Doom. “You’re the one whose name it knew. I know names are powerful in a lot of magic.”
Ken: “Magic? I’m so far beyond magic. Even beyond Magick! The machine works!”
He had worked on so many machines since I had known him. I started to type “which one?” but I felt my shirt rise over my head.
That is one of the things able-bodied folks don’t understand when they tell me how grateful I should be for the home-care nurses—but how many grown men really want to be forcibly disrobed by a male every night at eight? If you’ve never been through it, it does a number on your psychosexual makeup.
Manny Posner (might not be his real name)—he spoke varying degrees of English and looked very Hispanic for a Posner—said, “Why is there an ambulance in your driveway?”
“John has a sick friend, let me turn off my computer—and you really should announce yourself before ripping my shirt off!”
“Don’t raise your voice,” he said, pulling my pants off. “You mean John’s friend, Ned, with the brain tumor?”
OK, at this point—as usual—he’s taking off my underwear, digging his unwashed, unclipped thumbnails into my groin area, and I’m thinking how much fun it would be to turn on my three-hundred-pound wheelchair and teach him some manners. That would always run through my mind, but having had a vision that may actually have been the Angel of Death, I was more tempted than usual. No! What if he really was Azrael? If I was being punished for the murder of someone as evil as Lura, how bad would it be to kill a guy whose only sin was annoying me?
“Manny, how do you know any of that?”
That was infuriating, as he listened when he wanted to. How many times had I been left screaming on the toilet while he played online blackjack? Fuck it! If said anything, more “deafness,” more “Don’t raise your voice to me.” More reminders of who’s able and who’s disabled. As I sit remembering what happened during that day and night, I know readers might call me “ableist.” Fuck you twice! First fuck you because this is something that happened to me. You want uplifting? Go watch My Left Foot. Second fuck you because life is “ableist.”
My bath can be broken down into a few stages. “That water is too hot on my butt/groin” quickly turns to “Man that feels good on my hips, legs, feet.”
Then I look at my hips, legs, feet, the thinness, the scarring from The bone graphs. A thing called a Grice procedure. That made me stand flatter on my on my feet, but made me hammer-toed.
Hot soapy water blinds me just as my poor body image made me consider suicide (again), so it was just as well I could not see.
While blinded, the real scrubbing started. Given the state of Manny’s fingernails, it was like a wolverine with a Brillo pad tied to its back.
It’s tricky as hell being a cis male with another man washing your penis. Do you just let it feel like a man giving you the most artless, humiliating hand job in history, or think about a woman to make the whole thing less emasculating? If you chose the latter, you risk an erection, which the nurse might think they caused. I would just power through it this time. After all, the whole idea of a man needing a woman to be a whole man is what got Ned into this trouble.
He was big, he was sickly, and his best friend was my brother Johnny. Pretty sure one of the reasons Ned married anyone was to stop the fag jokes.
Oh well, no time to think about that; put my sweatpants on and do a lap around the house in the walker.
I don’t know about anyone else, but walking with a walker is really hard! Stiff legs not properly stretched get cramped. My right arm works so much better than my left, it’s super hard to steer. By the time I’ve done a full lap, the person I’m being held by becomes the person I drag.
By the time I’m in bed and Manny takes my sweatpants off (sleeping without underwear makes it much easier to use a urinal when half-asleep).
I considered asking Manny to stay, but my need to be alone overtook my fear. I had to believe if the Angel of Death wanted me dead dead is what I’d be.
Of course, just because Ken said it was the Angel of Death didn’t mean it was.
I turned on the TV, looking for any news of Lura’s murder, giants, or Kenny’s “machine.”
There was a twang like somebody playing a stringed instrument with a single long string. That happened twice more, and the creature/Angel of Death was standing on my chest.
I was scared shitless, which was the most normal thing in my brain at the time.
This may or may not have been the same being. He had two arms on the right side, whereas the creature in the picture on John’s phone had the standard human number of limbs. In one right hand he held a pair of unnaturally shiny silver scissors. The other right hand had what looked like a longsword. He had another in his left hand.
The scissors were what worried me most. In my very Cliff’s Notes reading of Cabalistic lore, I knew scissors were what Azrael used to cut the string that kept body and soul together.
The other thing I noticed he/it had no mass. Something that tall standing on your chest, you should not be breathing as well as I was. So either he really was an angel, or some kind of alien made of Neutrinos.
“I am Azrael, the Angel of Death! Please stop thinking about aliens. I am not authorized to think about them!”
“I can’t run. You gonna kill me, kill me.”
That may sound brave on paper, but I knew I was going to be killed. Which, if done quickly, was better than prison.
“I am on an illegal mission! I need your help.”
His tone kept changing, from a shout to a whisper. Which seemed about right for death.
“I had enough trouble with one murder. I’m not killing anybody else.”
“You did not murder anyone, you self-important collection of malformed bones—you sent your friend to kill a woman in a way that muddled all reality. You have to wreck Corbet’s machine. It’s too complex a machine for an angel to deal with— and by the way Corbet’s not in Boston, he’s in Livermore.”
Livermore? Well, that made the quest I suspected I’d be forced to undertake easier. After all, whatever cosmic red tape was keeping me alive would have limits. I really didn’t think a sweet nature was one of Azrael’s good points.
“Ah, here come your mother and brother. I had better introduce myself.”
“Why bother? They can’t see you anyway,” I said, instantly regretting my question.
“I am an angel, not some damnable fairy! They are concentrating now; they can see me.”
John came in with a large can of bug spray and said, “Ma, it’s the creature! Get back!”
He gave the Angel of Death a big blast of bug spray.
Sure, knowing what I knew, that seemed stupid. But if you assume a mortal-but-extraterrestrial foe, something as nasty as bug spray is a good opening gambit.
“Insect poison? If you had killed the woman in such a prosaic manner I would not be here.”
Ma pulled out a small plastic bottle and dumped water on Azrael. Oh my God, how long had my mother been carrying holy water?
Unfazed by the fact the holy water had no effect, she spoke: “The power of Christ compels you!”
“Dear lady, I am neither a demon nor a Catholic! As for ‘Christ’” (I punctuate it that way because his voice was doing the angelic version of finger quotes) “I met your Christ twice, and if Corbet has his way, I fear I may meet him many more times. You people just worry about the Corbets and Livermore!”
With that, he was gone—or at least unseen. As I sit here (spoiler) I am still alive, though not unchanged. This is not going to be one of those stories that ends with no idea where the narrator is.
My mother turned to Johnny and said “Did you kill Lura?”
Johnny blushed. “Mom, is that your question after what you just saw? Anyway, it was Dave’s plan!”
My brother Johnny was, as ever, a man of great character, until such time as his character was tested.
“I don’t know a more practical question right now. angels and demons, they do what they do, but humans have free will.”
I honestly could not believe we were about to have a ten-zillionth talk about “Original Sin.” I could not imagine anything more useless. Although I guess you could work “Fruit” into why I loved Ned so much. “Lura had free will too. She beat the shit out of Ned and I’d kill her with less thought than turning off a light switch.”
“I set a plan in motion. I made it so I’d never know if it worked. And I really don’t know why the Host of Heaven descended on us.”
“I wanted to use Jack Highland—not some fucking wizard!” John said.
I laughed. “Jackie Highland? The guy who starts bar fights with guys he outweighs by twenty pounds, if and only if he’s got ten friends to hold him back? Figures you guys would be friends.”
“Stop, both of you!” Ma said, getting mad now. “What in the world do you think gives you the right to kill people?”
“Jelly beans, Ma...”
“He’s making a Doctor Who reference, Mom,” John said, clearly impressed with how well he knew me.
“No, John, you’re wrong and you know better. I mean jelly beans! When I was five, and nobody gave me sugar because they thought it was bad for me, Ned gave me lime jelly beans. This bitch thinks she can lay hands on my friend and I’m not gonna do something? Jail, prison, or the motherfucking Ninth Circle of Hell would not change my mind!”
I was crying like a baby by that time. Mostly for Ned—but in no small part because, if Kenny lied and was really in Livermore instead of Boston, I would surely go to prison. I would do it but not bravely.
The three of us hugged, and I knew my mother would not send us to prison. Which, of course, did not mean I would not end up there anyway. I thought about everything Azrael had said, and tried to think of something to do.
John knocked on the door.
“Come in,” I said.
“Hey, I figure we can see Corbet tomorrow.”
“How? We don’t know where in Livermore he is.”
“He’s not living in Livermore,” John said. “Whatever machine is scaring the Angel of Death is probably at Lawrence Livermore Lab. If he’s not really in Boston, I bet he’s right where he always was.”
That was reasoning that I wanted to believe in. You don’t want to deal with a wheelchair and an airplane men’s room. And the idea of trying to break into Lawrence Livermore Lab felt more Keystone Cops than Danny Ocean.
“But if that’s true, who is the Boston FBI watching?” I asked.
“Maybe the wrong guy. Maybe Miller is full of shit. I mean, the Boston FBI calls SFPD—why, exactly? I gotta believe the Angel of Death gathers better intel than the Feds.”
I laughed. Our late father had been a parole officer and later a private investigator. That history meant FBI hate was a major food group at the McCoy house.
“Take the day off. Tomorrow we gotta be outta here early.”
I didn’t like the tone of command in John’s voice, but, having chosen to deal with Lura violently, I had made myself subordinate to someone who was actually good at violence. By which, of course, I mean his legs worked.
I slept badly, and, at about four thirty, John yanked me out of bed by my good arm and plopped me into my manual wheelchair.
If you’ve never used any kind of wheelchair, an electric wheelchair is well over two hundred pounds, and you work the controls very carefully to avoid running into people. In contrast, a manual chair is a very light object, being pushed by someone who almost surely doesn’t know how fast they are pushing. It’s driving a tank versus being tied to a pinball.
Getting into a car is not easy either. My legs always spasm and my lower body tries its hardest to kick my upper body out of the car. John’s a pro, so it doesn’t hurt as badly as it might.
We drove down Nineteenth Avenue. It was something I do every day at least twice. But when shadows outnumber bodies, and noise is not awake yet, it’s not my loud friend yet. Fog is cold and damp like a frog's skin and waiting for me to make mistakes.
“So John, did I feel metal scrape my hip as we got in the car?”
“I have Dad’s gun.”
I felt sick. “Dad’s gun is older than you! I hope you cleaned and oiled it—and be warned, Kenny likes guns. He will be armed. You have to promise, no macho shit! Don’t start a gunfight just because you can.”
John said nothing.
We got to the building and buzzed Kenny’s apartment.
“Who wakes the dragon?” Kenny’s voice was like speed-metal singer.
“It’s Dave and John!”
“Who is Lord of the Old Ones?”
Truthfully, I was surprised he had chosen a password from Lovecraft, rather than our beloved Doctor Strange comics. But I guess every Satanist in the US suing each other over copyright of the word “Satan” meant Kenny was more afraid of Disney than demons.
John and I found Apartment 666. I was torn between fear that the number really would give Kenny superpowers, and my distaste for his lack of understatement.
I knocked on the door, saying, “Kenneth Kevin Corbet, let us in!”
Guys who spell “magic” with a k can’t resist their true names. Some half-understood ancient Egyptian bullshit.
I heard four locks being unbolted, and there was Kenny in his Avengers pajamas pointing a .44 right at my head. Suddenly all those bus drivers’ threats of leaving me bare-assed on Turk Street seemed laughable. A little black rage stabbing away at my—admitted and enjoyed—white privilege. It’s easy to turn into a joke. A gun in your face is never a joke.
“You ain’t gonna shoot me. You didn’t shoot me when I pissed on your shoes.”
“Well, you’re you all right. Supernatural creatures aren’t obsessed with urine. How’d you find me? Why’d you look? Is he armed?”
“The Angel of Death thinks you’re in Livermore. The FBI thinks you’re in Boston, and my brother figured out you were here. I have questions. Why’d you kill Lura with a known gun?”
He put the safety back on his gun and said, “My machine proves Hugh Everett’s Many Worlds Theory.”
“Oh God, that stupid fucking ‘alive or dead cat’ thing?” John whined.
Kenny smiled. “Yep, shrunk myself down so far I entered another quantum set. Met a version of myself, bought a gun from him, knocked him out, took him back to our Boston.”
“So, to review—you found a universe with the same Kenny Corbet, the same Boston and the same currency, but you never thought the gun might be the same?”
Then Azrael was there. Teleporters don’t really makes as much noise as they do in comics or TV. The cosmos is rarely so polite as to give warning.
“Corbet. You must destroy the machine! If you or your doppelganger die, whose soul goes where? Which of you owns said soul? That’s just two Kenny Corbets. Can you imagine that times infinity? I can’t even let you die! There’s no rulebook for a Multiverse.”
“Kill me or go fuck yourself,” Kenny said. You had to admire his guts.
“I’d do it but I’m limited to earthling with singular souls. There are two you now,Corbet.
I did what anybody who went to handicapped school does when somebody says “I can’t do it”
“I can do it for you” I said.
“What? Azrael asked.
“You fix Ned Kelly. Give him forty years and I’ll be your quantum Angel of Death
Azrael pulled off one of his wing/mouths and said, “Eat this.”
It was a bit like raw hot dog. I felt great pain in my back as the wings grew out and I stood. Standing seemed like such a big thing.
I guess five have gone by as humans figure time. I really don’t know. Main-Earth is not my jurisdiction—I had the other nine universes (that we know about so far). God doesn’t find universes. Man does. God worries about his universe.
Space was diffrent. It was easier to go to Boston and find Corbet-b than it had been to get to work. With one snip there was a single Kenny Crobet.
That was the last I saw of my native earth for a very long time. Nine other earths, infinite other planets, wherever I am sent but not home.
I came back once. I buried my mother. My Mary McCoy, not the nine I took. I hope you know that part...or you would not have this book. Ah well, graves do get robbed.