Chapter Four: The Best Efforts of Good Men

Despite the best efforts of good men like Bruce Wayne and James Gordon, Gotham City has only gotten worse in the six months since the Batman arrived. The Wayne Foundation has been refunded and numerous Wayne Enterprises holdings have been converted to rehab clinics, half-way houses, homeless shelters, orphanages, and free clinics. A glimmer of hope that’s about to blink back out.

The Anti-Vigilante Task Force headed by James Gordon has done less and less to stop vigilante justice in Gotham City. Some even whisper that Gordon is working with the Batman now. On both sides of the war the corruption that once hid below the surface is out in the open.

The final nail for the AVTF came last week when industrialist Alfred Stryker was murdered. Yesterday Commissioner Loeb held a press conference explaining that the vigilante known as Batman threw the businessman into a vat of industrial acid and that members of the AVTF allowed this to happen. Loeb dissolved the Task Force, pending investigation into the unit’s cooperation with the vigilante. All officers assigned under James Gordon have been suspended until the investigation is resolved.

Last night the news began to spread. The death of Alfred Stryker was more complicated than Loeb was letting on. Stryker had hired a hitman to take out his business partners Steve Cranes and Paul Rogers. The hit was carried out on Cranes before the GCPD could intervene but the Batman saved the life of Paul Rogers. During his confrontation with Stryker the murderous industrialist slipped off a catwalk to his demise. The Batman was being framed.

Then comes the matter of escalation. Stories of a women dressed as a cat prowling around town have begun to surface. Some whisper that the Batman opened the door to this new type of costumed crime. Others say it was only a matter of time and the Batman is still trying to save the city.

Part One: Christopher Ramsay

I held the remote out and turned the television off. If I had to listen to that idiot Jack Ryder go on any more about the state of affairs in Gotham for another minute, I was likely to put my foot through the screen. Every station, and every paper, were the same. Headlines screaming about crime, gangs, brutality, murder, innocents being hurt, fires, and more. It seemed that no matter how much the philanthropists and bleeding hearts tried, Gotham was doomed. Batman (I had stopped using “The” a few months ago) was trying – any moron could see that – but it simply wasn’t enough. Now, with Gordon’s AVTF dissolved, and Gordon and his crew of good cops suspended… well, the writing was on the wall.

More than that, the doughy-faced Alfred Stryker had been killed and Batman was being blamed. Loeb was frothing at the mouth for the vigilante’s head on a pike. Even worse, people were bemoaning the fact that, unlike Metropolis, Gotham didn’t have an alien of it’s own to swoop in and fix everything. That was the last thing we needed. What we needed was someone of our own to stand with Batman against the chaos.

I heard two men pass by my room, one of them was holding up the newspaper with a splashy photo of this new cat woman on the front cover. You could have sworn she had posed for the photographer. “She could burgle my place any time,” one of them was saying. The other made a ‘meowing’ sound as they continued down the corridor. I rolled my eyes.

My doctor entered the room, a clipboard under one arm, and a “WayneTech” logo emblazoned on his white lab coat. He smiled and spoke with me about the surgery, thrilled more by it’s success than how well I was recovering. I half-listened as he used words like “no rejection”, “perfect attribution”, “nerve connections”, and “interchange”. He used a slim metal rod to poke at my arm, which I could feel as normally as before. He had me pick up small items, large items, and even practice dialling my room’s phone. His eyes barely left his handy-work, meeting mine only briefly as he left the room.

“The whole experiment was tremendously successful, Mr. Ramsay,” he said. “You should feel lucky Mr. Wayne insisted that you be the recipient.”

Alone again, I lifted my left arm. They would wrap it in a coating that would match my skin tone. Except for a seam at the shoulder, it would look normal. Right now, the advanced polymers and metals gleamed under the harsh overhead lights. It moved smoothly, with barely any mechanical sound.

“Lucky,” I remember thinking. “Probably the only one in this whole damned city who is.”

Part Two: Isabella Fuente

I’m a glutton for punishment. It’s my day off, and here I am putting in time at a clinic. Really, though, it’s almost like a vacation. These clinics aren’t triage centers — sure, you sometimes get somebody who comes in and needs attention RIGHT NOW, but mostly it’s chronic conditions. A senior with arthritis that has gone untreated for years, or some poor kid with asthma and no insurance.

When you’re working in the ambulance, you almost never see people get better. At best you stabilize them, then get them to the ER and never see them again. At worse, they die right in front of you despite your best efforts. It can be draining, demoralizing, to watch so many people die while you do everything you can to stop it from happening.

You stop trying to win. You start trying to lose as little as you can.

The clinic is different. You see the same people sometimes, you see them get better if you do a good job. Not always, but sometimes. Sometimes they thank you, sometimes they complain that it took so long to get results. It doesn’t matter, I’m just glad they can still breathe to gripe.

It’s late, I’m on the tail end of a twelve hour shift and packing up to head home. I check my pockets — keys, phone, wallet, taser. I fish out a vial of clear liquid, some painkiller that I must have stuffed in my pocket when I was working. Run it back to storage. One thing’s for sure, since the Wayne money started flowing again, the clinics are decently stocked. The controlled substances closet looks like a junkie’s wet dream.

“Alright, I’m out. Have a good night.”

Greg looks up from the registration desk, smiles back at me, waves. “Be careful out there, Izzy. Watch yourself.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I chime back. He’s right, though. Leaving the clinics is dangerous. The people that come here are the sick, the poor, the desperate. All those things make them one of two things — dangerous, or easy prey.

The neighborhoods around the clinics can be nightmares. Junkies looking to rip off patients, or thugs who supply dealers with medical-grade painkillers and narcotics. That’s why I have the taser now, and why there’s no cash in my wallet.

I make it the first two blocks without any problems. Just two more to the train station, then a ten minute ride, then another three blocks to my apartment. Almost halfway there.

Then I hear it. Whimpering, begging. “Please, no.”

I stop cold in my tracks, peek down the nearest alley. Punk waving a knife at a lady. She’s holding a little white paper bag in her hands, the ones that prescriptions come in. Should have put that in her purse, kept it hidden. I recognize her, I’ve seen her at the clinic before. She’s not one of mine, though, don’t know her name.

I reach into my pocket for my phone to call the police. Dig past the wallet, dig past the keys, dig past the taser…

I creep into the alley, not sure why.

“Give me the fuckin’ bag, bitch!” He waves the knife again. A little closer now, I see there’s a wet spot in the woman’s arm, dark red. He already cut her once. My jaw clenches. Closer.

“Please, I need this medicine, it won’t do you no good! It’s for my cancer!” She scurries back against a dumpster, still clutching the bag in front of her.

He lunges toward her, makes a grab, draws the knife back, ready to strike. I jam the taser into his back and pull the trigger. He rattles around for a few seconds, then falls to the dirty ground, groaning quietly.

“Comemierda,” I mutter, staring down at the twitching form of the mugger. Spitefully, I give him a small kick in the ribs, but he doesn’t react to it. He’s out. Still breathing — I can see his chest rise and fall, little twitches in his fingers and his legs every few seconds.

Attention shifts to the victim. She’s still huddled against the dumpster, clutching that little white bag to her chest. “Ma’am, are you alright? I see you’re bleeding. Does it hurt?” I put the taser away, hold up my hands to show that I’m no threat. “I’m here to help.”

“Oh… oh thank you honey!” She beams a smile at me, chokes back a laugh of relief, pushes up to her feet and, quicker than I thought she could manage, wraps me in a hug. “You sweet, wonderful girl! People like you, they’re a mercy this city sorely needs!”

I check her arm. Nothing bad, but I clean it up and put a quick bandage on it. Halfway through the thug stirs a little, starts to mumble. I tase him again. Fucker.

The old woman and I walk to the train station together. She’s headed north, I’m headed east. She thanks me again. “That’s all people in this town need. A little bit of mercy now and then.”

Part Three: Arnold Harmon

It was the evening that Gordon got suspended; we met at the bar just to talk. I started, “Suspended huh.”

He didn’t even look up from his drink, “Yep.”

“Well aint that some shit, one of the few good cops left, that’s bull James. Any word on how this is going to shake out?”I asked before taking another drink.

He nodded to the bartender when asked if he needed another before he turned back to me, “There are a few good men pulling for me in the DA’s office, so I might not get canned. At the very least I’m losing a stripe. And this suspension is unpaid as well.”

“Oh shit,”I exclaimed, “You got a kid on the way too, what’d the wife say about all of this?”

His response spoke volumes, “Plenty.”

I didn’t ask him to elaborate; there was a good long pause while we both contemplated our drinks. I broke the silence first, “Never thought the Bat would do that, just didn’t seem his style. I kinda thought of him as one of the good guys.”

“Me too Arnie,” he slammed his drink stood up leaving a twenty on the bar, “Me too.” Then he walked off.

I had one more drink, alone with my thoughts, before I too walked off into the rain. I was five blocks from home when it happened. He came out of nowhere shoving me into the alley, through yellowed broken teeth he croaked, “Gimmie your wallet an your watch!”
As I began to reach for my wallet I looked him dead in the eyes. You could tell he was a junkie, mugging me so he could get his next fix. I was just a step in him acquiring his next high; mug me, pay his dealer get zonked out for a while, and then it would be wash rinse and repeat. Another victim, another high, a never ending cycle. The rage began to boil, I didn’t grab my wallet, I went for my .45. He must have seen something in my eyes. He charged me, we struggled. Thunder and Lightning danced in the sky, and then he lay still, his blood washing into the drain. The storm had filled the streets with water, but emptied it of people. Nobody had seen, no one had heard. I stumbled home shaking, not from the booze, nor even the wet and cold of the rain, but from the consequences of what I had just done. I’d just killed a man.

I fumbled the keys to my apartment dropping them twice before I could get the door unlocked. I poured myself a shot of bourbon and downed it in one go. Then poured another as I picked up the phone, to dial the police, turn myself in, it was an accident. I hadn’t meant to kill him, it was self defense. I had done what I had to survive. My finger never hit a button, I slammed the phone receiver down as the rage built up and understanding dawned on me. I got it, I knew why the bat had done it. I’d covered crime in this city for the Gazette for 16 years, for the last six months I’ve been a P.I. I’ve seen how justice in this city works. That rich prick Stryker would never have seen the inside of a cell. The mobsters and those who were connected only locked up for a couple of hours. Hell even that junkie would have been locked up for a month a most before he was back on the streets. I hadn’t just done what I had to, I done the right thing, the Just thing!

I didn’t sleep that night, for the next two nights even. The world around me had ceased to exist. There was only one thing. Al Cuomo, street tough, pimp, extortionist and sometimes enforcer for the Falcones. I followed him for two days and two nights. Collecting evidence, snapping pictures, documenting what a piece of filth he was. The third day I spent developing the pictures in my office, I sealed them in a plain manila envelope. That night I found him in his usual area, 47th and Park. He was harassing one of the ladies of the night.
“Time to pay your rent Jewel,” he stated coldly as he dragged her into the alley. No one else on the street paid them any mind. That was how you survived in this part of town, keep your head down, don’t see nothin’ don’t hear nothin’ and sure as shit don’t say a damn thing. No one even glanced up as I stepped out of the alley across the street, a black bandana covering my face, my hat pulled down low and my long suit coat blowing in the breeze. My stride was long and quick, I made it into the other alley just as he was forcing her to her knees.

“Alan Cuomo,” I bellowed, “Justice will be done.” He looked at me just in time to see my .45 leveled at his face. Jewel was still kneeling, splattered in bits of his brain as I grabbed his wallet and pulled the cash out. I shoved the bills at her, “Get off the street, start fresh, go.” She didn’t move until I yelled a second time, “GO!” Jewel snatched the money and ran. Who knew if she’d actually turn a new leaf, but at least she had the opportunity now. I dropped the wallet and the envelope documenting his crimes on his chest, I placed a single penny on the ruins of his left eye, “Let’s see you swim the river ‘cause that ain’t enough to pay the ferryman you piece of shit.”

That night I slept like a baby. I don’t know where I was when I heard about the Bat being framed, didn’t even phase me. I’d passed the threshold of caring. When you cross some lines, you don’t look back.

I’ve been careful to spread my justice out, the papers didn’t print a word about me until the fourth one, I was on page 2, only because it had been a dirty cop. They call me The Night Judge, apparently jury, and executioner are implied. Tonight Court is in session. Jimmy Malone stands accused.

Part Four: Nate Briggs

The first half-year since the Batman showed up saw Gotham go from bad to a true hell-hole. There was a war on, but you didn’t see holes from artillery riddling buildings (usually) or tanks rolling through the streets. But there was a pretty clear line that had been drawn. “Us” and “Them.” Trouble was that it wasn’t always very clear what those sides were, or who was on ’em. Gordon and his task force only seemed to make the Batman more aggressive, if the thugs on the street were to be believed. I still drove my taxi then. I still picked up Gotham’s trash, the kind of refuse that this masked man (if he was a man) was regularly hospitalizing. A few didn’t make it out of the cab. Most though did. Lotta guys in the organized outfits were like me: they’d been in bad situations, were desperate, looking for a way out of their problems. They saw a potential solution, and they took it, not thinking about how much worse it might actually make things. They didn’t make MY situation any better, but by and large they didn’t make it any worse. They just needed to get somewhere. By then, it was usually away. I picked up plenty of guys who were just spooked. Thought that “the Bat” was watching them. Hell, they may have been right. I don’t know. This was on top of Gordon’s boys running around, trying to nab this vigilante, but still making plenty of arrests himself. Lots of folks were nervous then. Still are now.

Last night, the Batman killed a man.

I’m not sure I buy it. I mean, I’d certainly seen my share of guys that’d been tuned up by the guy. They were definitely hurt. Broken bones, cuts, bruises, the works. It was enough to earn someone a trip to the ER, for sure. And it always LOOKED awful. But no one had died as a result of being beaten by the Bat. Well. I take that back. Plenty of guys got shot over the disruption this loon was causing. Not a lot, but enough to make it crystal-fucking-clear that when there were seven or eight of you and one Bat-guy, you shouldn’t get your ass kicked. In any case, no one that the Batman beat up died because Batman had killed them himself. If they guy’s human under there, I guess he coulda snapped finally. Don’t know for sure. Either way, it just makes him scarier to the street. Especially dirty cops. A few of those guys have turned up dead too. Asphyxiation via carbon monoxide. My cab may or may not have been involved. I’m trying to be careful. Can’t rack up a big body count like that, or people will start to really suspect. The cops are on my case anyway, but the corrupt ones, I can’t stand. Cops in Gotham have a shit job anyway and are maybe a little quick to their holsters. The dirty ones though, they’ll beat the crap out of you for a look. They’re no different from the people holding my leash. Lotsa leashes. Treat us just like animals too, most of the time.

Speaking of, we got a cat problem now. Well okay. A burglar problem. Second-story stuff it seems like. It’s a woman, I’ve heard. But she’s made a big splash. Instead of beating the crap out of toughs on the streets, she’s been stealing from the bosses. Pissing them off. Shit rolls downhill, so now the pressure’s on: find her. Like yesterday. So we’re all supposed to keep an eye out for this thief-lady, but without a good description, there’s the goddamned Batman running around still, the only good cop in the city just got suspended, and I’m trying to figure out how to take out the assholes who’ve got me by the balls without getting found out in the process.

I hate this town.

Part Five: Igantious Gallow

I bring the chair down on the back of the Blue Boy’s head and shoulders. It flies to splinters as the cheap wood comes down on my target. Had he not ducked that would have been all she wrote. Now things were going to get messy. I have six inches of height on the guy and probably fifty pounds. Back before all this Bat nonsense, Franky and I were considered a matched set, but where Franky liked to punch, I preferred to strangle. I put my foot in the back of his knee, wrap an arm around his neck and yank upward.

The cop’s fingers dig into my arm as he fights for room to breath. “You really think you can get away with killing a cop?” I smile. How many times had I heard that? I increase pressure cutting off any more of his bull.

“Yeah, I do. I’ve killed cops, lawyers, judges, and petty thieves, all for my Family.” I double the pressure I’m putting on his neck. “But you ain’t a cop. You’re a bat-man.” A white bat has been crudely spay painted over where his flak vest would have normally read G.C.P.D. “Which explains why you thought you could sneak into my office and what, just take out a head of the Family.” I lift him until only the tips of his boots touch the floor. “Gotta say, you ain’t your boss. He was professional. Gave me this.” I tap the patch of black leather over where my left eye used to be. “You’re just cannon fodder.” His feet are kicking now. “My boys have an order. Shoot all bat-men on sight. Anywhere. Anytime. The Family as a whole might not be fighting back, but I am. I was born here. Were it not for my Family I would have died a butchers son, stuck in a little shop in Red Hook.” His feet have stopped twitching. I carry him out of the office so we are standing on the gantry overlooking one of my warehouses. “Now I’m a real business man and I’m not letting a bunch of freaks take that from me.” I smile looking at all the crates marked Wayne Pharmaceuticals. “Little Brucie Wayne thought he’d come back and help all the less fortunate. He’s just making my job easier. Used to be you had hit hospital or an ambulance to get the good stuff. Now we just crack Wayne Clinic open and take what we need.”

I drop him to his hands and knees. He gasps for air. I grab him by the back of the head before he can go for his gun. His throat meets the railing and he gags. “You should have stayed in your little precinct house Blue Boy. The moment you put on that vest and stepped out, you we’re in my world. And here we kill freaks like you. Doesn’t matter if your a cop. Doesn’t matter if your freak with skin condition running guns out of the sewers. Doesn’t matter if your a little man with a big hat who thinks he can control people’s minds. Doesn’t matter if you are a member the elite with bird fetish.” I know I’m babbling but who was he gonna tell?

“What about woman in anatomically correct rubber suites?” A sensual female voice purrs out of the darkness to my left. I spin drawing my gun. A black whip snaps out of the dark and pulls my iron from my hand. “Now now, no need for that. I’m just here to talk.”

The cop has slumped onto the metal grating. I put my boot on the back of his neck. “Lady, I spent fifteen in Blackgate. If you think the fact that you have little whip and my gun is going to stop me from coming at you, you have another thing coming.”

“I’m not here to fight.” My piece slides out of the darkness coming to rest against my boot. “And I’m not frightened by your gun.” I slowly bend down and pick it up. The weight is right. It is still loaded. “I’m here to make you an offer.”

I put two in the back of the bat-man’s skull. “I’m listening.”

Part Six: Marcus Toure

A lot of changes at the paper. The editor fired about a dozen reporters. The City Desk just got a huge bump in budget. I went from making just enough to pay rent and food to getting a decent apartment in a better part of the city. Not much better, just better.

Was at the Cat scene when I met a jr. detective. Asked her a couple of questions, she gave me straight answers. Part of Gordon’s team.

“What’s up with the Cat?” I asked.

She said, “We’re not sure. One guy down in vice thinks its a hooker dressing up in bondage gear and a mask. They’re checking it out.”

“Bondage gear and a mask?” I ask.

She laughs. “Yeah. Talking to him is like talking to a Bigfoot hunter, ya know?”

I laugh with her. “Guys back in the office must be saying the same thing about me.”

“I read your stuff,” she said. “You play it straight.”

“My editor’s had some kind of moral re-birth,” I tell her. “The Bat shows up and sells more papers than the Kardashians, so…” I let that go.

“How’s your hand?” she asks.

“Hurts when it’s cold,” I say.

“So, all the time?” she says, smiling.

“Pretty much.”

I asked if I could give her name in the story. She says, “No. ‘An officer on Gordon’s squad’ is fine,” she says.

“Thanks,” I tell her. Then, because I’m a schmuck, I ask her if she’d like to get coffee when she’s off her shift.

And she says yes.

Credits

Chapters written by Rob Justice
Arnold Harmon written by Artemis Knight
Christopher Ramsay written by Robert Wakefield
Igantious Gallow written by Steven A Skidmore
Isabella Fuente written by Michael Curry
Marcus Toure written by John Wick
Nate Briggs written by Zachary Alan Gourley

Posted in A City Without Hope.

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