Chapter 23

“The Moral Imperative”

Right after

Backroom of the Former Frozen Food Warehouse

Alex burst through the door first. Despite his reservations to literally every single one of them, Janey, John, Harriet, an inebriated Albert, and Richie followed him in shortly. They froze in a harmony of disbelief as they stared across the room at the broken and bloody mess that Richard had made of Eliot—an Eliot who was very much alive and in need of medical attention, but curiously not from a gunshot wound.

“It wassa ‘lank,” the injured detective pushed through the pain in a clever avoidance of hard consonants that would move his jaw. “’Ee’s gone. Outh the winnow,” he trailed off and did his stalwart damndest not to pass out.

Alex ran over to his friend and turned with immediacy to Janey when he saw how badly the former detective’s face was bludgeoned. “Grab the medical kit and do what you can.”

“He needs a hospital,” she objected.

Eliot hobbled to his feet, a meek shell of the hardnosed detective that had all seen hours previous. “No ‘ospi’alls. Too risky.”

“Eliot,” Janie clamored.

He raised a hand to stall her objections, “is schust my cheekbone. Sew me up.”

Albert stepped into group in a far more aggressive demeanor than they were used to seeing from him (though, they were probably also not used to seeing him holding a half-empty bottle of whisky.) “Uh, can we go back to how Richard escaped after firing a blank?”

“Are you drunk?” Harriet yelled with exasperation as she ran to the thirteen-year-old teetering in the center of the conversation.

The young genius nodded enthusiastically through squinted eyes. “In John’s defense—” he began to explain, but Harriet already had John Quincy Adams in a headlock muttering an eclectic assortment of injuries she would inflict upon the man. “I was gonna say in John’s defense we were discussing that we’re all probably gonna die anyway, so, drink up—uh, for science!”

He threw up on the floor.

Alex put his arm under Eliot’s shoulder, much to the lawman’s dismay, and began walking him out of the room. “We are going into lockdown.”

Janey stepped forward, defiantly blocking his path. “Slow down, Alex. We held a man against his will, for days—beat him for answers he didn’t have. And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but there’s not a lot more locked down we can go here,” she trailed off.

“I know,” he backed off. “No one leaves, is that understood?”

The room maintained an uneasy silence, pins heard dropping the world over.

“I’m going after him. Anyone that isn’t thirteen or under is welcome to come with,” Harriet spoke, pulling the rounds out of her pistol to count them. “That man is too dangerous to—”

“Too dangerous?” Janey was mystified at the conversation before her. “Is anyone going to take a second to realize we’re the dangerous ones?”

John Quincy smiled, “the thought had occurred to,” he hiccupped, “me.”

“I think your say went out the window when you decided to get drunk with a child in the middle of the afternoon.”

Albert smashed the bottle of whiskey on the ground in the middle of the bickering circle. “Okay! Yes, I am drunk and I understand the follies of alcohol quite wonderfully. Now everyone shut the hell up for a moment so I may speak.” He leaned over on a nearby work sink and filled up a Styrofoam cup with water. “After I drink water though, hang on.”

“Albert, this is an adult situation, why don’t you take Richie into the other room?” Alex spoke more softly than usual.

The inebriated young man choked on laughter. “Okay, that’s it, Alex. While I appreciate that your arrogant condescension is oftentimes a source of much laughter among the group, your understanding of this situation is not as strong as my own.”

Alex shut up.

The boy continued. “The reason I am drunk is because I had a realization while sitting with John about what is happening to all of us. I switched the watch schedule because I knew that Eliot would try to kill Richard if given the right opportunity—which I provided him.”

All eyes shot to Eliot and his eyes lowered to the floor.

“But before we all start arguing about that, he was doing the right thing. Keeping two Richard’s in the same building was just about the dumbest move possible considering the risks, however remote, by keeping him locked up here.”

“Given the events in the park, can’t we safely assume he isn’t the killer?” Janey asked.

“Logically, sure. And despite the death threat against me, hence more drinking, I’m not sure it’s the most relevant question to be asking.”

She steadied him, setting both arms on the boy’s shoulders. “What is the question then?”

Albert looked longingly at the floor, “I really shouldn’t have smashed the whisky. You’re all going to want it in a moment.” He made sure everyone was paying crystalline attention. “Okay, it’s obvious that the most important question is why did we all return? Narcissism would have us believe that we all came back for some higher purpose.”

Janey squeezed on his shoulders in a joking fashion, “I might call it empathy.”

“Sure, call it empathy. The crux of the issue is we are scientifically impossible to exist. If multiple versions cross paths, the results are catastrophic, in theory anyway.”

Harriet piped back up, “Right, so I should hunt him down.” Again, she turned for the door.

“That’s an option, but given the stakes the most logical move is to shoot both Janey and Richie right here and now, given we know there’s multiple version of both.”

The room fell silent.

“Don’t shoot me. You’re my friend.” Richie mumbled, his feelings obviously hurt.

“I don’t intend to, Richie. You’re my Batman, forever and ever,” Albert smiled back at the younger boy.

“This is most preposterous conversation I’ve ever seen,” Alex finally spoke up, sounding rightly irritated.

“I agree. Even with the power of minds in this room, we simply don’t have the capacity to consider the correct moral imperative. Killer on the loose not withstanding, as I’m sure we can all agree that at some point we should find out who that is and kill them.” Albert leaned on Janey; she tugged on the back of his hair to let him know she was there. “I’m going to put this in a different way, in this lifetime it was my first experience with an impossible moral imperative, but I apologize in advance for the obtuse nature of the story.”

John smiled, “You’re just about the most interesting drunk I’ve ever seen.”

Albert ignored the strange compliment and continued, “So, when I was younger, probably around eight or nine in this lifetime, my parents took me to a Southern Baptist Sunday School where the pastor of the congregation was teaching. I think his intent was to be comforting to us, but he was teaching about why bad things happen and that, sometimes children die.” He gave Richie a reassuring nod that he was not talking about his friend. “In his teachings he was explaining that if a baby dies, it automatically goes to heaven because it never had a chance to sin.”

Harriet holstered her gun and turned back to Albert, now giving him her full attention.

“My first reaction, even as a younger boy, was to ask him what the age limit was before a sin counted. He danced around the issue for a few moments before I flat out asked him, in full view of numerous parents and children, if he truly believed what he was saying.”

“What did ‘e say?” Eliot whispered through his closed jaw.

“He doubled down in front of everyone that what he was saying was the truth, that God’s love was so vast that an innocent child would be welcomed into the arms of the Lord.” Albert let out a sigh, “So I stood up and told him to go murder every baby in every hospital he could.”

The room filled with audible gasps.

Albert chuckled, “Yeah, the reaction in the Sunday School room sounded kinda like that too. A human being simply does not have the cognitive depth to pretend to understand issues of universal magnitude. Inarguably, any duplicate people should be taken out of the equation—and yet everyone in this room knows we can’t.”

“I need to sit down,” Alex said. “So, what do you think we should do, kid?”

He turned to Harriet and smiled, “Go with your gut.”

Eliot stood up off Alex’s shoulder and hobbled across the room to where Harriet was standing. “I’m going with her.”

“Do you think he’s the one trying to kill us?”

The detective stared coolly back into Alexander’s eyes. “I don’ think we ‘ave any evidence to sugges’ that any lawn’er, no?”

“So what happens when you catch up with him?”

Eliot paused for a moment. “If ih’s down to Rishie or him—I dunno.”

Albert smiled. “The smartest possible answer right now is ‘I don’t know’.”

Alex crossed the room to where Janey was propping Albert up near the sink and dropped to one knee. He gave him a big hug around the shoulders. “I know you’ve been through a lot—sometimes I forget that you’re the smartest person in the room and not just a kid.”

“Sometimes I forget that too. He killed my parents, Alex. When I lay down at night, I see their faces,” he sniffled. “I said all the stuff that needed to be said but the only thing I care about is finding the person who killed all those people at my party and putting them down.” He pulled out of the embrace and looked Alex square in the eyes. “He killed everyone I loved in this lifetime.”

Alex looked around the room. Harriet was checking ammo with Eliot on a nearby shelf. Richie was sitting next to John and having a thumb war. Janey was forcing a smile just above the two of them.

He turned back to Albert, a boy of remarkable intellect.

“We’ll get him. I promise you that.”