Batman


Catman

Gotham's Most Wanted

Green Arrow

Justice League of America
  Hey, this is a sequel to a story I wrote a few years ago. If you'd like more back story on the events taking place in this story, you might want to check it out.

Gotham's Most Wanted

"Matters of Life and Death"
by Clay Arceneaux



"Okay, I need you to initial here… print your name and badge number before signing here… initial here and here… sign at the x, sign at the x…"

"Relax, son," I try to calm the nervous orderly, who is handing me a clipboard full of official papers. "I've filled these out a time or two."

And I have, way more often than I ever cared to. Authorization forms for an immediate victim autopsy. A small volume of red tape so that we can officially cut through more red tape. While I understand the necessity of butt-covering bureaucracy, some nights I lie awake, more haunted by the criminals I may have inadvertently set free than I am by the ones I've never caught. Some unchecked box buried deep in this sea of legalese and a monster goes free.

"Right, sorry about that, Commissioner Gordon," I can hear the kid shifting nervously in front of me. (Who am I fooling? This "kid" is in his late 20's) "We're… uh… we're supposed to be going paperless by this time next year. You know, just sign with one of those electronic pen things like you do a Stuff-Mart. Pretty cool. Maybe even a fingerprint scanner, so I've heard."

A talker. I so don't need this right now. The little office we're standing in has a florescent light above me that's flickering just enough to make reading this difficult. Hanging out in hospital basements, waiting for the Medical Examiner to come down the hall and tell us how our victim died. Glamorous life of a big city cop.

"Well… I guess all in all, you're pretty happy to be signing one of these for this guy, huh?"

"Excuse me?" I peer at the young man over the rim of my glasses, trying and failing to maintain my pleasant, detached police persona.

"You know, the autopsy of the Scarecrow! Wouldn't believe how much money the news guys are offering for pics of the body. But you guys gotta be happy with not having to deal with him again."

For the life of me, all I can do is stand and stare at the kid, too stunned to form a complete sentence. Fortunately, I don't have to.

"Happy? Happy?!?!" A bull of a man slowly and deliberately advances on this poor hospital worker. "This freak either died tryin' to escape, which means he got outta his supposedly escape-proof cell, in the most secure wing of the lock-up we're tryin' to keep the worst of Gotham's worst from runnin' loose, in which case we gotta big problem. Or Ichabod in there was murdered inside the same super secure zone an' somebody staged the scene, so that's a bigger problem! So please explain to me what we got to be happy about!"

For all his faults, Harvey Bullock doesn't have a problem expressing himself.

"Just make sure this gets to where it needs to go," I place one hand on my Inspector's shoulder, and give the completed paperwork back to kid before he soils himself. To his credit, the poor fellow skitters down the hallway without another word.

"Guy was right about one thing, Commish, we got press swarmin' all over this place from the big networks to the Adams High Gazette," Harvey turned to face me. "We're gonna have to tell 'em somethin' or we're gonna be accused of a cover up."

"And what do we tell them? You think a simple confirmation that the infamous Scarecrow was found dead inside Arkham is going to satisfy them?"

"Better than nothin'," Bullock gives me a devilish grin. "I could go speak to 'em if you want."

I can't help but laugh, the first genuine laugh I've had since I got the call this morning about finding Crane's body. That was nearly 14 hours ago. It's been a long day, and it's not getting any shorter. Days like this, I want my pipe back so badly it makes my mouth water. Even a cigarette would do.

"And get another chewing-out from the Mayor?" My fingers rub a spot behind my ear, which helps relive the tension from clenching my jaw. The glamorous life of a big city police commissioner. "You're not getting out of that last promotion that easily, Inspector."

I get a one finger salute for that one. Bullock is volatile, coarse, and occasionally plays too loose with regulations, but he's also a hard working dedicated officer who's perfected a Columbo-esque knack for people underestimating how smart he is. And he's also one of my best friends.

"So," Bullock breaks the silence that a settled in. "Whadda you think they're gonna find in there?"

"Do you think he fell while trying to climb up to a second story sky light and escape?" I reply with a sidelong glance.

"Pffftt. Not a chance. I've seen middle school plays staged better than that."

"I agree. Maybe we should have taken it more seriously when Crane told us he thought the Joker was breaking into Arkham to threaten him," I sigh hard as memories of past cases resume flooding my mind. My experience with the Joker is long, unpleasant, and unfortunately, deeply personal. It's going to take some work to keep certain images tamped down and focus on related incidents.

"So you think the Clown whacked Ichabod? I dunno. Seemed pretty darn pedestrian a death to be Ol' Smiley."

"Jonathan. The man's name is Jonathan Crane, not Ichabod. But you're right: none of the Joker's usual calling cards were present, and he always 'signs' his work. On the other hand, nobody uses Arkham like a bigger revolving door than Joker so we can't rule him out either."

"What's the Bat think?"

"Haven't spoken to him yet. Saw him walk through the scene once that we all watched and caught him in the shadows out of the corner of my eye several times while we were there. I expect he'll step out of some shadow around the office later and we'll compare notes."

Bullock barely growled "freak" in response, when a scream echoes down the hall. My instincts kick in, senses on high, gun in hand. We charge through the twisting corridors of the hospital basement, heading for the sound. A second scream, shorter than the first, and a different voice. Then gunfire, short burst, a yell of pain. We can see the doors of the main medical examination room. We left two officers on guard duty here, nowhere in sight. We try to push the double doors to the morgue open but something's blocking them. I can hear what sounds like a man crying on the other side.

Bullock takes a step back and hits the morgue door with everything he's got. As the door begins to move we see that it was the limp body of one of my officers that blocked our entry. I enter gun first, checking left to right and back again. Second officer, Esposito, is to my right, sitting against the doorframe, a man crouching in hysterics against the far wall of drawers, fourth man also unmoving on the floor near the table we'd left Jonathan Crane's body on for examination. Crane is nowhere to be seen. And there is blood spray dripping from everything.

I check Ryan, the officer blocking the door, for signs of life. He is breathing, unconscious, and it looks like a blow to the head. A dented medical instrument tray nearby looks like it was the weapon of choice.

"How's Espo?" I call over to Bullock.

"Fadin' in and out. He says they heard screamin' in here and came in to see what's what. Crane attacked Ryan when they came through the door, took his weapon, and shot Espo in both legs before Javier got his bearings." Bulloch sighed, "He's bleeding pretty bad, and Jim, his gun is missing too."

I can hear Bullock growling into his radio, ordering the hospital to lock down while getting a medical team down here quickly. I check the other unmoving body in the room. He is alive, and the blood spatter all over him is not his blood, so it really looks like the kid fainted.

But it keeps playing over and over in my mind: Jonathan Crane was dead. I double checked him myself. And now apparently he's not. I hate this job sometimes.

I can turn my attention to fourth witness. He is an assistant coroner, like his unconscious colleague. He's babbling about standing up, the crimson mask, the wild eyes. No help here. No sign of the Medical Examiner himself. Fortunately, if it is Crane, he's bleeding badly and it is easy to track his path. He's heading for the office room just behind the exam room.

"Bullock," I hiss, motioning to the blood trail and the room it leads to. He rises to follow and cover me. Some bureaucrat is having a fit right now: me, at my age and importance as a city official, and I'm taking point in a room to room search for one the city's most dangerous men. That thought brings me some small pleasure as we make our way forward.

When we reach the office it's easy to tell what he touched with bloody hands: spare medical scrubs and rolls of gauze bandages. Over on the desk, the evidence envelopes containing the personal effects that we removed from his "body" have been torn open. It looks like he fished out his shoes and his glasses. Pretty mundane so far, Crane doesn't want to race through the hallways half blind naked and bleeding.

The blood trail lightens as we follow it into another corridor. He must have at least slowed the bleeding. I'm wracking my brain, trying to remember what else besides the morgue is down on this floor… labs… some of the labs that check for trace evidence and all manner of other crime-solving experiments. All stocked with chemicals. We can hear the clinking of bottles from an open door at the far end of the hall. The blood trail leads right to it.

Bullock utters something I'd rather not repeat.

We can here voices as we approach, Crane's, and the other sounds like our Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Quincy. Great, Crane's got two guns, all his favorite toys, and a potential hostage. This night keeps on improving.

I can hear Quincy's gravely voice pleading with him to stop, to let them run some tests at least, see what happened. Or at least let him stitch Crane's head wound.

"Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. It truly has been a pleasure seeing you here tonight," Crane replies, "but if I stay they'll just throw me in another cage so I can wait for that green haired freak to try again."

That's my cue…

"You're half right, Professor," I shout as I enter the room, weapon trained on the heavily bandaged man I assume is Crane. "We are going to put you back in your cage."

"Maybe after we bust Clown Boy too, you can be neighbors," Bullock adds over my shoulder.

That's when he turns to me, and I get me first good look at a dead man. His stolen scrubs and lab coat are soaked in his own blood. Wide gauze strips wind around and around his head like a drunken Claude Raines. Bits of Crane's blood-soaked hair peek through bandages, and his glasses perched on his nose serve to magnify the appearance of his cruel eyes. And all of this is punctuated by head wound I can see still bleeding through the bandages. A cut that seem to run at least the length of his forehead. He couldn't have looked more like a living nightmare if he were wrapped in his usual burlap.

"Commissioner, how nice of you to be here to oversee my attempted butchery," Scarecrow snarls. He plucks a handful of sealed test tubes in his hand and points his gun at Dr. Quincy. "I've already experienced you concern and added protection when I brought my concerns to your attention. You'll understand if I decline your present offer. So as much as I hate using such pedestrian methods, move out of the doorway and lower your weapons or I will shoot poor Quincy here."

"Not Happenin'!" Bullock yells.

With a quick step Crane closes in on his captive and places the gun against his temple. "I loathe repeating myself."

I look at the corridor, to the left and right. The hall turns to the left just past the lab door, and that way leads to the freight elevator and a stairwell. And then I get a feeling in my gut, a familiar one.

"Okay, Crane," I say through gritted teeth. "See we're backing off, guns are going down. Right, Inspector?"

I honestly couldn't say what Bullock replies, but he angrily follows my lead, backing up the way we came, clearing the way to the exits.

Now I want to say right here that at this moment, the hallway leading out is empty. I could see it, Crane could see it. But I knew what I felt. It's almost like when you feel a storm coming. This one would be here any second now.

"I appreciate that you're being reasonable about this," Crane takes his eyes off the empty corridor to us. "For my part, I promise t make a conscious effort to minimize collateral damage when I do get my revenge on the Joker for putting me here."

3- 2- 1…

"The Joker is MY concern, Crane," A deep, strong voice growls from down the hall. "Yours is to lie back down, let these people treat you, and cooperate with the police on sealing whatever hole you used to get out of your cell."

The Batman, right on time. My friend slowly advances on Crane like a living shadow. Crane moves his gun from Quincy's head and tries to get a shot off at the Caped Crusader. Some small Bat-a-blade or whatever he calls them flies from the shadowy cape, perfectly striking the Scarecrow's hand which causes Crane to drop the gun without firing. Seen it hundreds of times, still as cool as ever.

"You!" Scarecrow snarls. "Had a feeling you'd be here." He raises the test tubes he's clutching to his chest. "I once made a passable version of my fear toxin in a few seconds with the contents of a janitor's cart. Imagine what a I can do with a few minutes in a forensics laboratory?"

Batman isn't able to finish ordering Scarecrow to stop when two of his four test tubes hit the floor, erupting in a greenish blue gas cloud. I fumble for the handkerchief in my breast pocket to use as a crude gas mask. I was several feet away when they hit. I don't think he got me.

Poor Quincy is screaming his head off, no idea what he's seeing. One of the last things I make out is Scarecrow pushing Quincy in Batman's direction before the hall nearly fills with the sweet smelling smoke. Bullock coughs a little. I hear a scuffle in front of me, can't make out what's going on. I keep gun pointed in the direction I last saw Crane.

That's when I hear it the first time. A chuckle, low and full of menace. Can't get a read on what direction. Behind me I think. I hear it again, in front of me this time. I swallow hard and try to clear my suddenly racing thoughts. I know that laugh. But he's not here. We're not even positive he's in the city.

I realize I may have inhaled more of this crap than I thought. Not my first go-round with fear toxin. I try to stay calm, concentrate, and remember where I am and who's actually with me. Just stay calm.

"Dad?"

It's Barbara's voice. From behind me. Why would she be at the hospital? Stay focused, old man.

"Dad are you down here? The hall's filling with smoke. I was finishing up a PT session when I noticed the extra cops. The officer upstairs said you were down here waiting on an autopsy."

Oh no, it really may be her. But she's been finished with Physical Therapy for months now, hasn't she? Not sure. Can't take a chance.

"Barbara! Get out now!" I cry as loud as I can. "Scarecrow is loose down here! Get back upstairs!"

I can see her shadow in the smoke. She's backing away. Good. Then I hear that chuckle again. Barbara's chair comes to a sudden stop like she's hit something. Or someone. Oh dear God, no.

"Oopsie! Someone forgot to check her mirror before backing up."

That voice. High and mocking, with tinge of darkness. Joker. He really is here. And Heaven help me, he has my daughter again. I can see them so clearly somehow: Barbara turning in her chair trying to free it from his grip. And that smile looking down on her. The terror on her face is mirrored in my soul.

"P.T., huh, Babs?" Yellow teeth are unveiled by retreating red and white. "Let's see how that's going shall we?"

I start to yell at him to stop, but it's too late. He flips Barbara's chair over, sending her flying. In horrific slow motion, I watch her tumble from the floor. But while still hanging there in mid air, almost in a standing position, bullets rip into her back and exit from her torso. She screams as she falls, and hits the floor with a sickening thud. She's not moving. Her eyes stare lifelessly at me. I want to scream, but no noise will come out.

"Doesn't look like it's going too well." Mock sadness rolls into another damned chuckle.

I see red. The world disappears and all that there is his sneering face. I raise my gun and start emptying the clip.


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