The crowd gathers in front of the Los Angeles City Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Newspaper and television reporters watch. It is then that they see Richard Riordan, the mayor of Los Angeles, appear, dressed in a black suit.

"In accordance to the resolution passed by the Los Angeles City Council," says the mayor, "I hereby present this award to Mr. Andrew Curtis, for his brave act."

The witnesses watch as Mayor Riordan gives a plaque to a young man in a suit. They note his short brown hair and his boyish looks.

"Thank you, your Honor," says Andrew Curtis who had received the plaque from the mayor. "I am honored to receive this."

Andrew then leaves. Reporters start asking him questions. The young man declines to answer, choosing to continue walking to the parking structure where his Lexus is parked.

Two people in the crowd that had gathered are more grateful than the mayor was. They are the parents of Nadine Durst. Not long ago, Mrs. Durst was pushing Nadine in her stroller on Hollywood Boulevard whena woman snatched Nadine from the stroller. Andrew Curtis had chased after her, and the kidnapper was cornered. The kidnapper then threw Nadine into the instersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga Boulevard, and Andrew caught Nadine despite the traffic in the busy intersection. They decided to attend the ceremony where the mayor would give Andrew the award. Now they watch as he leaves.

................

Andrew returns home to his apartment and puts his bag on his bed. He had just returned home after a busy day, first the ceremony with the mayor, and then the rest of the time listening to lectures and taking notes. He lies down on the bed.

But not for long. His roommate, Paul Stokes, calls out to him. "Andrew, you got a message," he says.

Andrew goes to the General Electric answering machine in the kitchen. He presses the play button.

"Andrew, this is Rachel," a female voice says. "I was wondering if you will be busy tonight. Give me a call, okay." Then the answering machine beeps.

Andrew looks through the rolodex on the counter; he knows that Rachel's number is printed on the card. He finds the number and picks up the telephone and dials the number.

"Hello," a female voice says.

"Is this Rachel?" asks Andrew. "this is Andrew."

"Hi there. So you got my message."

"Yeah."

"Are you busy tonight?"

"Tonight? Uh, I don't have any appointments, if that's what you mean."

"Good, could you meet me at the Red Velvet?"

"Red Velvet?"

"Yeah, it's a coffee house on Franklin Avenue in Los Feliz."

Andrew considers Rachel's offer. He looks back at the past five years, and on recent events.

He has to move on. "Okay, I'll meet you there. Do you have directions?"

.............................

Miles away, Duane Foley gets up from his chair in his private office in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and closes for the day. He goes out, meeting his two bodyguards, both of them dressed in suits.

"Okay," he says. "Let's go."

The three of them walk through the now-unoccupied main office, with its two desks and personal computers and laser printers. They leave through a glass door and go out intoi the street. There are a few vehicles parked at this hour-one is a Peterbilt tractor, and the other is a black Cadillac.

Suddenly, a shrouded figure appears before Duane and his bodyguards. His face is covered. There appear to be spikes coming out of his gray costume. And he carries a sword in his right hand.

"Who are you?" asks Duane.

"I am El Hombre Afilado," says the costumed man. "I am here to kill you."

Duane looks at his guards. "What the fuck am I paying you for? Cap this muthafucka!"

The two bodyguards pull out Beretta M93R semiautomatic pistols and point them towards the costumed man.

They never fire shots. El Hombre Afilado is quick with his sword. One of them lies down in a pool of blood, and the other is crouching down, cradling the stump of his arm which is spurting bright arterial blood from where the forearm was severed.

Duane reaches into his coat pocket to pull out his Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol. He then feels sharp pain in his legs, and he finds out he can not stand. He looks down and sees his dress pants stained with his blood; his legs were sliced open!

"I will not kill you yet," says the costumed swordsman, speaking in some sort of Latino accent. "My employer is paying me extra to kill you in front of him."

Duane sees El Hombre Afilado point the sword upward and stare forward. The sword glows.

.............................

Duane Foley feels the van come to a stop after a long drive. Whoever this El Hombre Afilado is, he is able to provide medical attention to the wounded.

The van doors open, and the costumed swordsman puills Duane out. Duane's hands are bound, and his legs are useless. He is tied face down on a table.

He hears footsteps. He then sees a huge man in a black three-piece suit with a matching black tie. He can see the man's companions.

"Hello, Duane Foley," says the huge man. "My name is Joseph Hayes."

Duane searches through his memory for the name. "You're that business developer!" he exclaims. "What do you want with me?"

"Your life, Foley. I require the lives of those who deal with me treacherously."

"You're my supplier?"

"Yes, and I must admit you are a skilled businessman. But you forgot the most important rule. You never cheat your vendors. And in this business, disputes are not settled by judges and juries, but by me."

Duane Foley had been in the drug business since high school. He rose up in the ranks from a street dealer in Watts to a distributor. He never knew whom his supplier was, who was it that smuggled the drugs in. A while ago, he decided to keep some more of the money for himself, figuring he can write up false sales reports.

Apparently, someone in his gang ratted him out. He curses that traitor, whomever he is.

"I know you have a young daughter, Foley," says Hayes. "She must die."

"No!" yells Foley.

"You understood the terms of our deal when you decided to do business with us. I do business with people who have families; it deters most of them from cheating me. Unfortunately, you chose to cheat me, so I shall take her life as well. Now, time for you to pay your debt in full."

"I'll give you all of my money!" ye;lls Foley. "Everything! Just don't hurt her!"

Joseph Hayes looks at El Hombre Afilado, and he takes out a saw and places it against the back of Foley's neck. He begins to saw through the flesh even as Foley screams out in pain. The blade cuts through skin, blood vessels, and muscle tissue. It then cuts through the spine and the spinal cord. And then Duane Foley stops screaming.

El Hombre Afilado then picks up Duane Foley's severed head and presents it to his client.

"Give me the briefcase," says Hayes. One of his thugs gives him a Samsonite briefcase. Hayes opens the briefcase and reveals stacks of money.

The assassin counts the money. "Very good," he says. "I take my leave now."

El Hombre Afilado gets in his van and leaves the warehouse.

"I wonder why you paid a million dollars to kill Foley," says one of Hayes's aides, a little man with blond hair. "Foley only cost you about a hundred thousand."

"I have a reputation to protect," says Hayes. "This will deter my distributors from cheating me."

"So where'd ya find this guy?" asks one of the thugs.

"He said he was a police interrogator for some Marxist country in the Carribean before the government was overthrown," says Hayes. "He fled the country in the chaos of the coup. He was convicted and sentenced to death in absentia for crimes against humanity. We should go now. First of all, we need to put what remains of Duane Foley somewhere where people will find it."

"What if the police are on to us?"

"Our own Detective Captain Manning will make sure the investigation doesn't head in our direction. We've had a working relationship with him for twenty years. And then there is a matter of Foley's daughter. She must be killed. After all, unlike her father, I always keep my promises."

....................................

Andrew Curtis opens the glass door and enters the Red Velvet Coffee House, which is located on Franklin Avenue in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. It is a small, quiet place, and there are a few people there, one of them using a Macintosh PowerBook 1400cs. "Creep" by Stone Temple Pilots plays on the radio. He sees Rachel sitting down at one of the small circular wooden tables.

"Hi there," says Andrew.

"So you made it," she says.

"Let me get some coffee." Andrew goes up to the counter where some freckle-faced boy comes to take his order. "Get me a small cup of coffee."

"For here or to go?" asks the boy.

"For here."

The boy fills a ceramic mug with black coffee and hands it to Andrew. "That will be one o seven, please."

Andrew takes out $1.07 from his wallet and hands it to the kid.

"Thank you," says the kid.

Andrew walks to the counter and pours two packets of C&H pure cane sugar into his coffee and stirs it. Then he walks back to the table where Rachel sits and sits down on the plastic chair.

"I haven't seen you in a long while," says Rachel.

"I've been busy," replies Andrew, sipping his coffee.

"You mean with school and work?"

"Yeah. I decided tot ake this night off."

"So what's your major?"

"Criminal justice."

"That's interesting. So you're studying to be a police officer?"

"Well, I wanted to go into criminal law. I think I'm going to enter that field."

Rachel sips some of her coffee. "So, tell me about your family."

"My family?" asks Andrew. "I don't have a family."

"You don't have a family?"

"I was left at the Our Lady of Charity Orphanage when I was just a baby," he says. "I spent my entire childhood there."

"How was it?"

"Well, I had plenty of company. I made a couple of friends. I saw a lot of people come and go, as some of them got adopted and others came. I guess I was lucky; many of them ran away from abuse or neglect and sought refuge there."

"Oh," says Rachel, upon hearing about what some children go through. "Do you do anything besides school and work?"

"I guess this doesn't really count, but I do some volun teer work. I make sure to put in at least once a week at that orphanage I grew up in."

"Really? Do you still see some of the staff from when you lived there?"

"Father Dominic. He was a resident advisor in my building before he became headmaster back in '87. He's a great guy."

"I sometimes do volunteer work. Last Thanksgiving I went to volunteer at a homeless shelter to serve lunch."

"So, do you have a family?"

"I have my mom and dad and brother," says Rachel. "I lived in Bel Air before I got my own place."

"Bel Air? Where all those rich people live?"

"Yeah, my dad's a businessman. He actually directs a couple of charities in addition to his business."

"That's cool."

"I got into volunteer work through him, you know. He used to take us to homeless shelters and orphanages?"

"Has he been to the Our Lady of Charity? It's a few miles west of here on Franklin."

"I don't know."

"Listen, I'm glad I decided to meet you here. I have been pretty busy."

"Me too. There are other guys out there."

"What do you mean?"

"Not long ago, I was engaged, but then we broke up."

"Any reason why you broke up?" asks Andrew, taking another sip of freshly-brewed coffee.

"I really don't want to get into that now," says Rachel.

"I understand."

"What about...?" Rachel begins to ask, but then decides not to ask Andrew about his past love life. "What sports do you like?"

"Basketball," replies Andrew. "I love basketball. I once dreamed of being in the NBA. Then my right knee was shattered during a high school basketball game. Everything worked out for the best though, I guess."

"I think this criminal law thing is good for you," says Rachel."I know it doesn't pay as well as being a basketball player, but it's good."

"I know," says Andrew.

...........................................

Andrew Curtis finally comes home after his date with Rachel and a night out fighting crime as the vigilante super hero the Crusader. He goes into his bedroom and puts away the gym bag containing his black Crusader costume.

He falls into a quick sleep and then is cast into dreamtime, where his hopes and memories collide.

He finds himself in a narrow room with a cement floor. There are rectnagular boxes lined up.

This is a locker room.

This is the locker room in the Grand Olympic Auditorium.

"Stop him! Stop him!" a male voice yells.

He sees an obese security guard chasing a thinner man. The man being pursued has blond hair on his head combed into a pompadour, and a green Starter jacket, running in his direction.

Andrew gets into the diurect path of the fleeing man.

And he passes through him like a ghost.

He turns and then sees himself, dressed as the Crusader.

"Stop him!" Andrew yells at himself. "He's going to kill her! You can't let him get away!" He reaches out to touch himself, but finds that his other self is just a ghost.

He sees the security guard come back and turn to his other self. "Why didn't you do anything?" he asks. "You could have...could have stopped him. You...could have tripped him....Or slowed him down."

"And you could have paid a visit to Jenny Craig," he hears himself snap back arrogantly. "My job is to go out to that ring and fight and please my fans. Your job is security. It's not my fault that you're out of shape and can't do your job. I don't need to be told off by people who don't want to admit that it's their fault when they fuck up."

"It's not too late!" yells Andrew. "Stop him! Stop him before he kills her!"

And then the scene disappears, and once more hopes and memories swirl around.