From behind the wheel of his SUV, The Punisher saw the group of five men getting out of a beat up van and entering a convenience store wearing ski masks. He caught a glimpse at a couple of shotguns and a Tec-22. A piece of shit sub-gun bought cheap on the street.
He parked his SUV in a nearby alley.
He needed to act quickly.
Twin Colt .45 automatic pistols. A Ka-Bar knife.
He got out of his SUV and went for the door. No gunshots. Still. He couldn't take the chance that they wouldn't go nuts and shoot everyone in sight. Just for being in the way. Like his own family, a lifetime ago in Central Park. Dead. For being in the way of a mob hit. His wife and two kids.
He entered the convenience store, Colt 45s in his hands. One of the thugs turned towards him, swinging a sawed off shotgun.
A head shot took half the robber's skull off, spraying blood and brain matter on racks and the counter.
Quick mental picture: RIGHT: One was emptying the cash from behind the counter, IN FRONT OF THE COUNTER one had a revolver on the clerk's-or owner's-head (middle aged black man, strange calm eyes), LEFT: the other two were stealing beer cases.
Take them down.
He fired both Colts at the one holding the owner/clerk at gun point. One slug shattered the criminal's wrist and the other went into his Adam's apple and out the back of his neck, severing the spinal cord. He dropped like a boneless puppet.
The owner/clerk ducked before the one emptying the cash could react. Too late. Two head shots put him down.
The remaining dropped their beer cases and went for guns in their belts.
A Colt aimed at each. Two heart shots for each of them.
And it was over in 14 seconds. With five dead.
"Sir! Sir!" Castle called out to the owner/clerk.
"I am all right. Thank you. "Said the man. He had a foreign accent. African. Couldn't be more precise. Again strange, sad ,calm eyes. "I hear sirens. Leave before they get you."
Castle nodded and left.
THE FOLLOWING MORNING, Castle went back to check on the store. In case the punks were part of a gang and that the gang wanted revenge. The same man was there. Sweeping. Castle wore a disguise: flannel shirt and Yankees cap with shades.
The man looked at him.
"I knew you would come back, Mr. Castle." He said.
Castle was off guard for a split second, during which the man said.
"Come. I live upstairs. I will serve you some tea."
The man's home was small, humble, but well kept. There were picture frames everywhere. Happy times. Times with his family.
"Remove you ridiculous disguise. Make yourself at home. Sit, please."
The man brought Castle some tea.
"Thanks." Castle said.
"You're welcome. My name is Victor N'Gamakanga. Call me Victor."
Castle sipped his tea.
The man looked at him and smiled.
"You must be puzzled, eh?" Victor said.
"Yeah. I am. Usually-"
"You inspire fear or hatred. Sometimes gratitude, but nobody who would have you over for tea, yes?"
"Something like that."
"I've heard of you. And...what you do. Believe it or not, as soon as I heard of how you came to be, I said to myself: 'I wish I could have a talk with this man'. Here you are. This may seem surreal to you, but this is something I felt I needed to do."
Frank remained quiet. And listened.
"I am from Rwanda, Frank. I emigrated over here after the genocide with claimed 1 000 000 of my countrymen. Like you, I have seen war. Like you, I am the last survivor of my family. Like you, I have lost all I love to random madness. I heard of you, of your war. I looked in your eyes when you killed those men last night. I felt not fear, disgust, but sadness. The look I saw in your eyes, I've seen in the eyes of my countrymen back then. You were a loving father and husband, once. And now, you've become The Punisher."
"Let me finish. I've seen true insanity, Frank. Brother killing brother, husabnd killing wife and children. Violence, vengeance...it swept away hundreds of thousands of people...for what?"
"What I do, I do for people like you. So you can live in peace. I avenged my family. My war is about more than just revenge. No one should go through what I went through."
"And you? Will you ever know peace?"
"I gave that up a long time ago."
"And you think you are making a difference?"
"I do what I can."
"You came back, because of the possibility of retalliation for last night, right?"
"They come back, you kill them. Then it stars all over again, it never ends. Like your war. You saved my life, Frank, but do you believe you solved anything? In the long run?"
"I live in the short term. I'll deal with the long term later on."
"How do you say it...The Big Picture. Don't you see, Frank. You kill the weeds, but don't remove the roots. The problem will keep growing back."
"I'm a soldier, Victor. I know that if I remove killers, those killers will no longer kill. If I remove enough killers, I will save enough lives."
"Frank...all I am saying that perhaps you should look at the REASONS why there are killers."
"Yeah, maybe. Look, Victor, I had this type of discussion before with others. I am what I am. I do what I do. I can't change that."
"Can't or won't? That kind of reasoning took my country beyond the edge of madness, Frank. If we don't somehow break the cycle, we will keep repeating the same mistakes. There will be more wars. More genocides. More death."
Victor brought Castle a picture.
"I have two children born here. Fatou and Paul." Victor said. "This is my wife, Emerita. I started over, here. I too didn't think it possible. But it is. The only cure for hate, is love. The only cure for greed, is giving, the only cure for despair is hope. The only cure for death, is life."
Castle took the frame. Victor looked happy with his second family. His second chance. Did Castle throw away that second chance when he became the Punisher, or did he merely answer a more powerful calling?
"Victor, I am damned, beyond hope, beyond redemption. It's my choice. Maybe it's even my nature to kill. It's all I know. But, listening to you, I know I'm doing the right thing. For me. People like you are the reason I do this. Teachers, thinkers, healers...the people that strive to make a world a better place and that deserve to be able to do so without fear of being robbed or killed. You do your thing. I'll do mine. Maybe, one day...Guys like me won't be needed."
"Be careful, Frank. That sounded dangerously like hope."
Castle almost smiled. Victor stood and extended his hand. Castle shook it.
"Take care, my friend." Victor said.
Castle nodded and left.
Somewhere, more Victors needed help. And more scum needed to be Punished.