by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 9

There was no competition for the position of general dogsbody in the Athletics Club, and no raised eyebrows when Sergei and Mort spent time together in the small storage room behind the grandstand; sorting, cleaning and preparing tapes, batons, hurdles, shot-put balls and other gear. On that first afternoon after checking the gear, they sat and faced each other on a couple of old mats they'd brought over from the gymnastics store.

Mort spoke first. 'Why did you wink at me?'

'I've been thinking about that. Because I felt as if I already knew you... as if we shared something. I can't explain it. I spend most of my time fending off people, not letting them get to know me because I don't trust them, and then I bloody well winked at the prettiest boy in the room. Crazy. What about you? How did you dare to ask if you could touch my hair? Don't you know how fragile young male egos are? Anyone else would have thumped you, snarled that you were a fucking queer and demanded you be dumped from the team.'

Mort shrugged. 'It's the same with me. I just knew, inside me, I could trust you. I've had three good friends and it was the same... I knew instantly I liked them. If you'd turned nasty I'd have made a joke about it, said I was just testing or something.'

'So, did you really want to touch my hair, or were you just testing the waters, so to speak?'

'Oh, I really wanted to. I want to touch all of you. I'd like to...' He stopped, blushed and looked at his feet.

'Is there a quid pro quo for me?'

'Quid pro what?'

'What do I get in exchange?'

'What would you like?'

'Well… surely I should be allowed the same liberties as you? That'll make you careful not to do anything you wouldn't like done to yourself.'

'Oh! I'd never do anything bad!' Mort was embarrassed. Then turned red, felt hot and lost for words. Heart pounding he looked into Sergei's eyes. 'Okay.'

'Okay what?'

'Whatever I do, you can do.'

With a slow smile, Sergei ran long fingers through Mort's shoulder length black hair, holding it up and letting it fall softly. 'This is too beautiful to cut. It frames your face and makes you look handsome, so if you cut it short our deal's off.'

Mort grinned his pleasure, reached out and stroked Sergei's cheek and jaw. 'It feels like sandpaper, rough and sexy. I hope I have a heavy beard like you one day, but I haven't even got any hair on my…' he stopped, suddenly realising what he was saying. Sergei would think he was rude.

'Your balls? That's good. Sleek and smooth is cool.' He reached forward and stroked Mort's cheek. 'Like a baby's bottom.'

They both laughed.

'Do I have to ask before touching you?'

'Ah... Rules. There must be rules because we're doing something that could end badly if others find out. Rule one, never to be broken, is: Never treat each other as friends in public or at school. I'm seventeen, four years older than you, so it would ring the alarm bells of every god-fearing person if they guessed we liked each other, okay?'

'Yes, it's sensible, but when are we not in public?'

'Here after practise, and… we'll find times. Now, Rule two: We both must check that the door is locked with the key left in the lock so we're not disturbed. And Rule three, we don't have to ask before touching, but only you may initiate a new type of touching, because if I do something you're not comfortable with, then we'll have a problem because you'll think you have to go along with it because I'm older.'

Mort considered this. 'Fair enough. I'm really ignorant. You're the first man I've wanted to touch like this.' With a nervous smile he lightly brushed the outside of Sergei's thighs with his fingertips.

Sergei smiled and leaned back on his elbows.

Gaining confidence, Mort shuffled closer, knelt beside his friend's chest, leaned across and lightly kissed him before sitting back to see the result.

Sergei smiled dreamily. 'So that's what it's supposed to feel like. My girlfriend wants to do it all the time, but this is the first time I've enjoyed it. Do it again?'



They lay side by side kissing and fondling. After a while, both lay flat on their backs gazing up at the ceiling, arms and thighs touching.

'It's much nicer than I expected,' Mort said.

'Mmm... I've still got a hard on.'

'Can I...?'

'You don't have to ask, remember.'

Within seconds, shorts, singlets and running shoes were in a pile and by the time they'd satisfied their curiosity, including how far each could ejaculate, it was late and they had to hurry.

At home over dinner Mort told Marshall everything. The pleasure was rekindled in the telling.

'Sounds exactly what you've been wanting,' Marshall remarked with an amused nod. 'You're lucky.'

'I am.'

'And you'll see him twice a week after athletics practice.'


'Want to invite him here?'

Mort thought this over. 'He's a senior. If anyone finds out, we're dead. And I like doing sexy things with him, but we've not much in common. He's more into sports stuff than me, and he likes parties and dancing. I don't because I feel as though I don't exist if there are more than two or three people in a room. He's popular, I'm not. It's the first time for both of us and I reckon he's going to lose interest in me pretty soon.'

'Does that worry you?'

Mort laughed. 'Of course not! I feel so different now I know I'm not an ugly oddball that no one would ever want to touch. I've already seen a boy in my class who's a bit like me.'

'You mean gay?'

'No! I hate that word. Leo did too. He said if you tell people you're gay they'll assume you're a scatty queen or prancing fairy who wears women's clothes at home. I'm…' Mort thought for a bit then smiled. 'I think these are Leo's actual words; I'm a sexual animal, like most other living creatures, and, like about ten percent of males I prefer to be sexy with my own sex.'

'Yes, that sounds like Leo. I do miss him.'

'Me too,' Mort said sadly, and sniffed. 'I miss Fystie even more. Even though he wasn't queer we understood each other in ways Sergei and I never would. We'd bore each other to death if we spent much time together.'

Mort easily retained his place in the middle of the class academically, and soon changed his opinion of most of his teachers and fellow students, including many of the girls, deciding they weren't such a bad bunch after all. The athletics team did reasonably well in the Saturday meets, coming third in the inter-secondary schools competition. During the season Mort won seven hundred-metre races, and six two-hundred-metre events, so he was satisfied. When the holidays arrived he shook hands with Sergei and said it had been fun.

The classmate he'd told Marshall about was the same age as Mort. Quiet and tall with dead straight light brown hair, an incipient moustache he had to shave every third day, runner's legs, wary hazel eyes and an extraordinary ability to be overlooked. When teams were picked for playground games, no one thought of Zoltan, who was not interested anyway. When teachers chose students for jobs, Zoltan was always left reading quietly in the back corner. Mort, however, had noticed the way Zoltan looked at him and began sitting beside him in class.

Before long they'd share a complicit wink and slip a hand into the other's nearest pocket, keeping a record of who was first to get a hard on. Zoltan was the first to remove the lining of his pocket, making for a much more sensitive experience. They discovered a surprising number of similarities of taste — Science fiction, concern for nature, walking, the bombastic music of Tchaikovsky and Handel, greasy fish and chips, mucking around in the water.

In the new term they both took up Cross-country running as a way of avoiding thuggish team sports like rugby and league. The teacher, Mr. Caprine, a lean, long-legged, unsmiling but not unfriendly man in his late thirties who taught physics, would hand each runner a map and compass, discuss possible hazards, check they had water bottles and whistles, running shoes and shorts, then squeeze ten boys into his Land Rover and drive to a nearby forestry reserve or national park.

They were supposed to remain in pairs, although they seldom did, being rabid individualists, and no times were recorded because Mr. Caprine reckoned competition destroyed the intrinsic pleasure to be gained from an activity. The routes were always circular; starting and finishing in the same place, and the students took off at two-minute intervals wearing the regulation brief nylon shorts for freedom of leg movement, and light, strong jogging shoes. As the routes were usually under the shade of trees, the boys copied their teacher and ran shirtless so as not to overheat.

Mr. Caprine aroused neither positive nor negative emotions in his charges. Out of sight, out of mind would describe their attitude to him, and that suited him perfectly. He liked teaching, but craved privacy. Other staff members thought him standoffish and left him alone, which was a relief. He only ever felt truly alive when running fast and free through nature, over rocks, along beaches, across barren tracts of land, along faint forest tracks.

About a quarter of an hour after the last runner took off, he would lock his vehicle and follow to make sure no one was in trouble.

The runners had an hour to get back to the van. How they filled in those sixty minutes was up to them — the teacher hoped they'd take some time to sit and contemplate nature, but mostly they simply ran flat out, then relaxed near the Land Rover until everyone else returned.

Mort and Zoltan always ran together as fast as they could to give them time to find a hidden spot and jerk each other off.

Marshall agreed to a sleepover. Zoltan enjoyed the meal and was impressed with the apartment, but wouldn't like having no real garden. He and Marshall got on well, and he was jealous of Mort's private bathroom. On one of the weekend camping trips he shared a pup tent with Mort. Marshall was pleased to have a tent on his own for a change.

On the fifth cross-country run, the two lads found a pleasant private spot as usual in which to relax. Mort was lying with his eyes closed on his back groaning softly while Zoltan performed an expert fellatio. He opened his eyes and Mr. Caprine was standing directly behind Zoltan with an odd expression on his face. He put a finger to his lips, winked, then with a smile, vanished. It was the first time Mort had seen him smile. The knowledge that he'd been watched by someone who found it amusing made him feel sexier and the orgasm was better than usual. He decided not to tell Zoltan because he'd imagine all sorts of problems.

Back at the meeting place and the following days in class, both teacher and pupil acted as if nothing unusual had occurred — which, Marshall assured him, was the case. Clearly, Mr. Caprine was a fine man.

'My mother's not like Marshall,' Zoltan warned after having invited Mort for a return sleepover.

'Not surprising, seeing she's a woman. What's your father like?

'Me, I suppose. Haven't seen him for three years. He and Mum split when she told him he was a messy, irrational and useless heathen. I went to live with him for a year but his new wife got up my nose — or I got up hers. So I was sent back to Mum who made it plain she preferred life without me.'

'Did she tell you that?'

'Yes. At the airport while we were waiting to collect my luggage. She hoped I hadn't picked up my father's slack habits, and if I didn't want to be put up for auction I'd go to church with her and do as I was told.'

'She speaks her mind.'

'Yes, and often makes people very upset. So you're prepared. Try not to be upset if she says something that makes you feel rotten. Think of it as a variation on Tourette's syndrome — where a person suddenly swears and uses filthy words.'

'I'll try to be understanding. Meanwhile, you're at her mercy?'

'Yeah. I can do whatever I want, as long as it's what she wants.'

'Poor you.'

'Sounds worse than it is. Usually she's not interested enough to care. Then suddenly she'll decide to be a parent and I have to toe the line. She's been okay for a while; I hope it lasts. She owns a health food store in the city. Has half a dozen employees who've been with her for years, so she can't be a total nutter, it's just that I'd like you to come for a sleepover, but I don't want you to be shocked if she says something horrible.'

'About what?'

'You never know what will set her off. A while ago it was cleanliness and she'd inspect me after every bath.'

'So that's why you smell so nice.'

'Do I?'

'Mmm...can't wait to smell your sexy armpits.'

'Fuck, the bell's just gone and now I've got a boner! Can't hide it in these shorts.'

On Saturday morning Zoltan and Mort had the run of the house while his mother was at the shop. It was a low, ranch-style place with a shallow front garden jammed full of native shrubs that concealed the house from the road. The rear garden was the same only larger — a quarter acre of trees and shrubs crisscrossed by meandering sandy paths. A patio beside the house held a small, free-form saltwater pool in which the boys swam and splashed until it was time to make lunch in an ultra modern kitchen. Zoltan proved to be a competent cook.

At one o'clock a dark blue Subaru sports car drew into the carport. Mrs. Etroit looked pleasantly normal. Medium height, slender build, wavy auburn hair cut shorter than Mort's but longer than her son's. Symmetrical face with no makeup, eyebrows not plucked, small gold studs in earlobes, slender hands with long fingers, short finger nails. No rings.

'Smells good,' she said passing bags of groceries to the boys. 'You must be Mortaumal,' she announced with no attempt at warmth. 'The boy Zoltan's in love with.'

'Mum!!!' He turned anguished eyes to Mort. 'She's joking.'

'No she isn't,' his mother stated brusquely, marching into the house.

Mort frowned. 'Are you?'

'No! Yes! I don't know. I like you a lot and I guess I talk about you all the time, but hell, I don't even know what love is. If what I feel for my parents is love, then I certainly don't love you. Does it matter?'

'It's just that that when people say they love you, they expect you to think like they do and like what they like and so on. They think they can tell you how to live and what to do. At least that's how my grandmother was before she went crazy. She said it was because she loved me.'

'I'm not like that, Mort! I like you because you're different from me. I sit and smoulder but you let loose with your verbal flamethrower when you feel like it. It's okay, I don't expect you to love me, I'm not totally stupid.'

'Lets settle for that awful American expression... fuck friends.'

'You mean fuck buddies?'

'Yeah, that's it.'

'Except we haven't fucked.'


Laughter concealed nervous excitement and images the f word triggered, as well as a sense of foreboding.

After lunch, Mrs. Etroit took them to an old people's home run by her church, where she was welcomed by a servile Matron who led them along urine-scented corridors to the recreation room. Mrs. Etroit gazed around the depressing space as if inspecting her troops, nodding vaguely at anyone who evinced the slightest interest. A covey of crones in soiled bibs were draped over mismatching, wooden armed, vinyl-upholstered armchairs. Others were in wheelchairs. They gazed in bewilderment at each other and the visitors, as if wondering where they were, while two nursing aides wiped dribble from their chins, plumped cushions behind them, and made no attempt to rouse those who were either asleep or preferred to sit and dream, wisely allowing their decay to continue without hindrance.

After a short wander around the room, heels clacking unpleasantly on the wooden floor, Zoltan's mother arrived at an upright piano, wiped the seat with her handkerchief, sat, opened the lid, took a pile of sheet music from her capacious handbag, selected several pieces and placed them in order on the holder.

With a sudden pouncing movement she played five crashing chords, causing everyone to jump. Those who had been nodding off gazed around in fear; seriously disoriented.

Playing confidently, though with little subtlety while Zoltan turned pages, his mother hammered out a series of rousing hymns urging the soldiers of Christ to get a move on, beseeching Jesus to save their souls, and instructing them to lift up their hearts in praise of a vision of Jerusalem. About a dozen quavering voices were fortified by the two nursing assistants whose ability to hold a tune didn't match their apparent enthusiasm.

Mort crept from the room, unable to bear such inane attempts to instil gaiety in people whose interests had obviously moved beyond such emotions. His heart filled with pity and he wondered how his grandmother was doing — if she was still alive. His grandfather had made the right choice — get out while he could do it himself and retain his self respect. To force people to end their lives like this was possibly the most degrading thing you could do to them.

In a small courtyard he found two ancient men in wheelchairs, one with no legs, the other with one arm and a neck brace.

Mort greeted them pleasantly and introduced himself.

'You're missing the singing,' One arm said with a wry smile.

'Unfortunately, we're not; the caterwauling is audible from here,' Legless snarled. 'And the way that tart hammers the keys is enough to destroy anyone's pleasure in music.'

'If she wasn't one of the owners of the place she'd never be let in.'

'Surely,' Mort said, astonished at their honesty, 'she's trying her best?'

'She's always nagging at us to go to her bloody church, telling us we're ungodly heathens who will go to hell and fry for eternity. She gives me nightmares sometimes. Stupid, I know, but she's so positive she's right. And she shouts. The other day she grabbed me by the ear and shook my head; it hurt for hours afterwards.'

''Didn't you complain?'

'She runs this place. Matron's scared of her.'

'Mind you, I'd go and watch if she did a striptease,' One arm said in an effort to lighten the mood.

'I'd sooner watch her hang herself.'

'If you don't like it here, can't you…?' Mort left the question hanging.

'Would you like it? But what's the alternative? Our children say they haven't enough room in their houses, and their kids think we're a waste of space. We can't live alone, we're not allowed access to any drug that would put us out of our misery, and we're stuck here because we didn't read the fine print and bought a strata title to our rooms that we can't bloody sell, so we can't afford to pay for anywhere else.'

'Why didn't you jump off a bridge, or tie a rock round your foot and leap into the sea while you still could?'

'Bloody good question,' Legless said appreciatively. 'You're a smart fellow! I often ask myself the same thing. The trouble is that as you age things only slowly get worse so you keep putting up with the changes without realising you're running out of time and options. It seems silly to jump ship too soon, but by the time you're ready it's too late and you can't climb onto the railings, or make your way out to deep water, or buy a gun to do it neatly.' He sniffed and looked searchingly at Mort as if seeking confirmation of something. 'Actually… I did try... and would have died when my legs were sliced off by the train,' he continued softly. 'But the bastards revived me despite an Advance Health Directive I'd signed with my doctor. So instead of jumping ship, I'm stuck here labelled as a mentally unstable depressive, which makes further attempts to do things impossible. I'm a fucking prisoner! When I got pneumonia they gave me penicillin! When I stopped eating they shoved a tube up my nose and into my stomach. That was more painful than my legs! I've been begging them to let me die for years.' He fell silent.

Mort felt as if his heart had been wrenched out of his chest.

'It's as if those bloody politicians want to torture people. They'll happily send planes and soldiers overseas to bomb, shoot and murder innocents, but won't let people like me decide for themselves when they've had enough.' One arm shook his head. 'It's enough to make you spit. I'm legally allowed to kill myself, but the only means I'm allowed are messy, dangerous and uncertain. So I'll need help to do the dirty deed. But if anyone helps me, they'll be done for murder.'

'I understand... I really do,' Mort said with such heartfelt emotion the two men looked at him strangely.

'You know about this then?'

Mort nodded. Unable to speak.

At that moment Matron arrived. 'Ah there you are, Mortaumal. Mrs. Etroit was worried you'd got lost. I hope George and John haven't been telling you tall stories.'

'No. It's been very interesting.' He turned and with great seriousness shook each man's hand. 'Thank you for talking so honestly with me. I would like to visit you again one day, if that's okay?'

'Very okay. A sensible young man like you is always welcome.'

The matron was becoming twitchy. 'Hurry along now, Mortaumal.'

As they traversed the corridors she observed that the Home was very fortunate to have the patronage of Mrs. Etroit — such a lovely lady. So kind and thoughtful. So understanding. Such an upstanding Christian woman.

Mortaumal thought the lady protested her appreciation rather too emphatically.

Afternoon tea was underway and the boys handed round biscuits and mugs of weak coffee or tea – it was impossible to tell the difference. Both departed the establishment depressed, whereas Mrs. Etroit's batteries seemed to have been recharged by the experience and she droned on about the trip to a farm she was planning for the old folk, and the Christmas treats she organised every year.

The meal that evening would have been delicious had Mort not been badgered by questions he preferred not to answer.

'We will be going to church tomorrow, I'm reading the bible passage. Are you a regular churchgoer, Mortaumal?'

'No, I've other things to do on Sundays.'

'Do you believe in God?'

'Which one?'

'Don't be facetious! The one true God. The Christian God.'

'Grandpa told me humans have worshipped over twenty thousand different gods. I don't see how I could be expected to know you meant the Christian one. There are loads of gods who've been worshipped for longer.'

'Now you're being cheeky and deliberately offensive to God and me. You do realise that if you refuse to believe in him you will spend eternity in hell after you die?'

'Mrs. Etroit,' Mort said, his face a picture of incredulity, 'Do you honestly believe there's an omniscient, omnipotent, invisible man who created the universe and makes sure everything goes according to his plan, and that he cares if I believe in him or not?'


'But how do you know that?'

'I believe it because I have faith.'

'But you don't know. Sometimes when you think about it, don't you wonder if it's true?'

'I don't need to think about it — I just know.'

'But it doesn't make sense to believe something when there's no proof.'

'There is proof; it's in the bible.'

'Isn't that just stories written by men to explain things they didn't understand?'

'They were guided by God.'

'How do you know?'

'They said they were.'

'And you believe them?' Mort shook his head in despair.

'That atheist lawyer, Marshall Trimm has a great deal to answer for, filling your head with all this nonsense!' she stated angrily. 'It's criminal that a ward of the state should be entrusted to a single man like that. A boy needs a mother.'

'I assure you I do not need a mother! I'd like to have had a father, but I haven't missed out on much because I've been brought up by three of the nicest and bestest men in the world. I can't imagine anyone nicer than Marshall! No father could be better.'

'Marshall Trimm has taught you to be godless and therefore without morals.'

'Marshall and I never talk about religion. It was Grandad who told me about gods and religions. He said that the original religious stories of every religion are more or less the same, and they make sense, because they're about reality.'

'What do you mean?'

'Well, for example... some Bedouins in what Christians call the holy land, say Nature is god and thought is prayer. And that explains everything. The natural world created us through evolution over millions of years, and when we die at least a part of us lives forever, because we rot and become part of the natural world from which we evolved and which has supported us during our life. It's an endless cycle. And when we think about life, nature, our place in it, and how we should live if we want the natural world to continue to take care of us, then that is the same as praying. The big things in nature like trees and rivers used to be worshipped because nature is our sole means of surviving. When Nature dies, we will die, so we have to revere Nature.'

Mrs. Etroit's eyes opened wide in horror. 'That is animism!' she snarled. 'You're a pagan heathen! Christians know the real truth about everything, they understand that it all began with God, and will end with him.'

'As long as we accept that Nature is God.'

'That is blasphemy! God is peace and love and perfection.'

'No,' Mort insisted nervously. He could see she was upset but hoped to calm her by telling her the truth. 'There is no peace because men who want power frighten ignorant people by telling them they know what god wants and if they don't believe he is the one true god they will suffer terribly forever. So they fight with people who believe in a different god, and in the process they're destroying our real creator — Nature.'

'You're an animist!' Mrs. Etroit hissed with enough venom to fell an ox. 'Never have I heard such egregious nonsense!'

'Is it bad to be an animist?' Mort responded with a worried smile.

'Yes. You will go to hell!'

'But Marshall says…'

'Marshall, Marshall... You're obsessed with that man.' Mrs. Etroit suddenly stopped, her lips drawn back in an unpleasant sneer. 'Mr. Trimm is good to you, is he? How good I wonder?'

Mort was unpleasantly reminded of the horrible Mrs. Pettie who had made insinuations about his grandfather. 'He's like the best possible father and brother, and I don't like the way you said that.'

'And I don't like your tone, young man. I am showing concern for your welfare. You should be grateful that someone cares about a boy left to the mercy of foster parents. Before Trimm you were living with that male prostitute who murdered his son then suicided, weren't you? I'm not surprised you're such an arrogant little heathen, completely unsuitable as a friend for my son who has been raised decently.'

Mort stood, heart pounding in his temples. His head was bursting. He could scarcely breathe. Suddenly his self control broke, not as a shout but as a low growl that caused the hair on Zoltan's arms to stand up.

'You are an evil woman, Mrs. Etroit. Even the men at the home we went to this afternoon told me they despise you. You preach love, humility and caring, but you're full of self-pride, hatred, and bigotry. You lack compassion and are one of the rudest women I've ever met. Leo was the kindest, nicest man in the world, and he loved Fystie more than his own life. And I loved Fystie too. And I know that he begged Leo to stop the pain he was in and Leo sacrificed his own life for Fystie. And anyone who thinks like you do is rotten, foul, sick and perverted. I'm not surprised your husband left you and... and I pity Zoltan!'

He ran from the room, slammed the door behind him, threw himself onto his bike and rode as fast as he could back to the sanity of Marshall's flat.

At school on Monday Zoltan was incoherent with shame. Mort, who had forgotten he'd turned fourteen that morning, told him not to be silly; it wasn't his fault his mother was such a galah.

But her poison had done its work, and their relationship lost its joyous innocence.

At five-thirty the following Sunday evening, Zoltan appeared at Marshall's apartment accompanied by a man to whom he bore a striking resemblance. They were both somewhat agitated, so were invited in.

'I'm Zoltan's father,' the man said quietly. 'He has something to say to Mort.'

'Mort, I'm so sorry about everything. Mum had me watched by one of the teachers and I was so frightened of her that's why I sort of ignored you at school. But she was right, the first thing she said to you. I do. But it's too late now because I'm going to Perth with Dad because…' overtaken by the shakes, Zoltan stopped mid sentence.

Mr. Etroit was watching the exchange with a frown, as if hoping it wasn't what it looked like.

Mort gave him a glance of contempt, resisted the urge to hug his lover, shook his hand manfully and, with his back to the father, pursed his lips in a secret kiss and soft smile. 'I understand, Zoltan, and there's no need to apologise, honestly. I still think you're a great guy. I'm glad you're going to live with your father, but it's a shame it's so far away. What about your mother?'

'That's the second reason we're here,' Mr. Etroit said with a frown, still staring watchfully at his son and his strange too-clever friend. 'It'll be in the papers tomorrow, but Zoltan wanted to tell you first. My ex-wife was murdered yesterday at the old people's home where she liked to play queen. George, an old bloke with no legs, lashed out with a sharpened spoon and sliced through her jugular, then wheeled himself away without telling anyone, so she was dead by the time they found her.'

'I know George!' Mort said excitedly. 'I spoke to him that day we went there. He is really nice, but he hated your wife because she was always trying to make him go to church and telling him he was an evil old heathen and would go to hell. What will happen to him?'

'He'll be declared criminally insane and locked away. When questioned he said he wanted the death penalty because he was a murderer; but of course we're a humane society and don't do the Old Testament eye for an eye any more.'

'Oh, the poor man,' Mort said with feeling. 'That's one of the things he was so angry about, he wasn't allowed to die. Every time he should have died like when his legs were cut off and when he got pneumonia, he was taken to hospital and brought back to life. He's been begging to die for years. Poor, poor man. I must visit him and tell him I admire him.'

The others were staring in disbelief.

'What about Zoltan's mother, Mort? Have you no pity for her?'

'Of course not. She was a horrible woman. It's so unfair that she should die while George is condemned to live.'

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