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See How They Run

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The man behind the curtain peered out through a slit. Lodz was still rocking, hugging himself, in a chair near the door. Overwhelmed by the restoration of his eyesight.

If the fool had guessed why I restored it, he'd be running as fast as his legs could carry him.

Management had no power to heal. That was an attribute of his adversaries. He'd only been able to restore Lodz's sight because it was he who'd taken it away.

I didn't make a blind man sighted tonight. I stopped keeping a sighted man unnaturally blind.

The distinction was seemingly lost on Lodz. He was grateful for his master's magnanimous "gift."

I can count on him to stay here. But can I also count on young Hawkins to do what I want? His father would have run away. In the old days, that was what Scudder did best.

Ben Hawkins isn't Scudder.

Management sat back and reviewed his plan. It had always called for Ben to kill Lodz.

The ultimate revenge on Scudder, far better than killing him: corrupting his precious son. And revenge on Lodz as well, making him pay for his incompetence back in Russia. He's been a useful servant since then, but I'll mold the boy into a better one.

He'd had two reasons for not telling Ben hours ago that Lodz had murdered Ruthie.

First, he hadn't had time alone with Lodz to touch his eyes and restore his sight. Ben's discovery that Lodz had - apparently - deceived him about his blindness would be a major factor in driving the youth to kill him.

Second, Ben hadn't been under enough stress, for a long enough time, to assure that an unproven charge of murder would push him over the edge.

By now he was probably a wreck. If Management read him correctly, he would have agonized over his dilemma, decided to kill some scumbag who wouldn't be missed - and found he couldn't do it. Then, feeling the way he did about Ruthie, he would have tried to sacrifice himself.

But good old Scudder will have put an end to that nonsense.

.

.

Management knew Ruthie was still dead. Using the ability he and Scudder had developed in middle age, he'd magically transported himself into her trailer several times to check on her. He would have been invisible to anyone he encountered, unless he chose to be visible.

He never did.

Now he was starting to worry about Ben. He had no way of spying on him; he could transport to locations he was able to visualize, but only Scudder could home in on Scudder's son.

Management could, of course, visit and appear to his own children at any time.

He never did.

.

.

His main concern was that after Ben concluded he couldn't save Ruthie, he might flee and not return.

Maybe he's more like his father than I think.

Even after all these years, when I picture Scudder, I still see him running away...

I embraced my destiny. He tried to reject his.

We're about the same age. I assured the continuation of my line by fathering children as soon as I could. Scudder wanted to be the last of his line, refused to carry it on. He eventually had an "accident." But now, thanks to his reluctance, my son is a strong, mature man while his is a confused teenager.

I went to war to kill. Scudder went to be killed.

But he changed his mind when he realized an "Allied" soldier was stalking him. His survival instinct kicked in. When I first spotted him he was without a helmet - he'd probably thrown it away. By the time I caught up with him he was wearing one. Must have taken it from a corpse in the trench.

The trench.

Management hated thinking about that trench.

But he did think about it, every day and every night of his life.

Scudder running away...

My own worst act of weakness. I still don't understand what I did.

Scudder running away...

What I hate most isn't what happened to me, but the memory of going against everything I'd been taught and then being played for a fool.

Scudder running away...

It was Scudder the bear had attacked first. The bear Lodz had let escape from his carnival.

The Russian soldier who now called himself Management was hunting Scudder. Their countries were allies. But the two men were enemies in a war that was older than Russia, older than civilization itself.

The bear lunged at Scudder. Scudder's gun misfired.

The hunter could have left. The bear saw only Scudder. It probably would have killed him, or maimed him beyond his capacity for self-healing. If it hadn't finished him off he would have been easy pickings later, when the beast was gone.

Instead, the Russian acted on some crazy, primitive instinct to help a fellow human. He shot and wounded the bear. It forgot Scudder and turned on him.

All the so-called "Creature of Light" had to do was grab another gun - there were dozens in the trench - and return the favor his adversary had done him. With both men shooting at the bear, it would have been killed before it could do either of them any serious harm.

Scudder ran away.

He didn't even come back later, after both the Russian's legs and one of his arms had been torn off, to try to heal him.

.

.

Which of us was the weakling that day, Scudder? You knew who I was. Were you a coward? Or were you more ruthless than I?

What would have happened - how might the destiny of the world have been changed - if the two of us had cooperated?

A strange thought, Management reflected. It had never occurred to him before.

He forgot it when he heard the trailer door open. Ben Hawkins hadn't run! He was walking straight into the trap.

Management settled back in his wheelchair and smiled.

.

.

(The End)