“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There“
“You’ll receive a severance,” Lucius Fox said from across the conference room table. “We value our workers, even those who are leaving us, and we think it’s very generous.
“One month at one-hundred-and-twenty percent salary for each year of service, Jeremy. I am, however, afraid that this specific circumstance isn’t subject to appeal.”
Jeremy thought that the man had a way of delivering devastating news like a loving – but disappointed – father (or at least how he imagined a loving father ought to act). The disappointment stung emotionally, but not in the very painful and physical way that Jeremy’s grandfather used to show it.
“I understand, Mr. Fox,” Jeremy’s usually vibrant eyes looked down at his lap and the patchy porkpie hat that sat there. “Do you think I could trouble you for a letter of recommendation?”
Lucius Fox exhaled, almost sympathetically: “I’m afraid, given the circumstances, that that doesn’t seem appropriate.”
Jeremy looked up, standing from his seat and putting on a faux smile showing off his buck teeth, and his glistening, overlarge eyes. He extended a hand to the operations director, who shook it gently, and only once, and then placed his patchy hat on his thinning, flaxen hair.
He turned to leave the conference room at Wayne Enterprises, and found the evening guard, Hank, waiting there to escort him out.
Jeremy was embarrassed. He’d tried to turn over a new leaf in Gotham, he’d made every effort to focus, keep his head down, and keep things on the up and up. He arrived just over two years ago with a reference letter and fifteen dollars.
The job at Wayne Enterprises had been a real blessing – they had been one of the only places hiring during The Depression, and their willingness to hire even convicts and pay fair wages seemed the augur of a new life.
(And at a worker cooperative, there was the added benefit that people rarely got fired).
The problem, according to Mr. Fox, was that he didn’t disclose his past.
Thus, Jeremy was given the choice: a vote consisting of all of his departmental coworkers to determine whether he should be terminated, where they would learn of and gossip about all of the rumors. Alternately, he could choose to resign in silence, with only his immediate supervisor and Baxter knowing that he was asked to leave.
Good heavens, man! Jeremy thought. Three of your line-mates are reformed cons, but you’re being asked to resign or stand before a tribunal because you, in one of your attempts at making polite conversation caused Baxter’s daughter to say you were “disquieting.”
Mr. Fox had been kind, fair, at least.
But, by all accounts, it didn’t matter what city he settled in, or what lengths he’d gone to to prevent it, his life had been this same, anxious roil: brief stints of hope and optimism followed by protracted periods of immeasurable misery.
This, Jeremy thought, is the wage of friendship when you are a misfit.
Jeremy left Wayne Enterprises for a final time without looking over his shoulder. It hadn’t been raining when he’d walked out of his apartment that morning without his rubbers, go figure.
Well this won’t do. Jeremy thought, when it rains it pours.
He ventured out into the gloom and rain of Gotham City, and sloshed to the tiny roach motel he called “home.” Tomorrow was Friday, and maybe he could convince Ms. Rose to give him some additional shifts on the sweets cart.
Jim Gordon was alone on the roof.
Gelio needed an arrest – or at least a lead – and so Lieutenant Jim Gordon had buried himself in his work.
It was eleven o’clock at night, and Jim had ascended the stairs of the Gotham Police Department to clear his mind with a cigarette.
He exhaled a deep breath in the uncommonly cool night air, pulling a smoke and a strike anywhere match out of the metal case in his jacket pocket.
Thunder rolled gently in the distance, and Jim felt a small splash hit his forehead.
“Mm,” he took a deep drag of the cigarette, feeling his stress briefly melt into clarity as more drops of rain hit him.
“The commissioner has it wrong,” a whisper, spoken almost directly behind him.
Jim spun on his heel, muscle memory reaching for his piece, which, of course he’d left on his desk.
The Batman was out past curfew.
“You! Y-you’re under arrest!” Gordon was startled, scared even, but his instincts quickly shifted to authoritative and aggressive. He could taste the adrenaline, he could hear his heart beating in his ears. The Batman’s eyes reflected the moonlight like an animal’s. The cigarette that had been clinging to Gordon’s lower lip fell to the gravel at his feet.
In a city made almost completely dark by storm clouds and Gelio’s curfew, Batman was darker.
Jim looked at Batman and knew he was an elemental force. Far larger than any man, and such a profound, preternatural nothingness that he looked like a hole in reality.
“You know he’s wrong,” it breathed.
Jim Gordon didn’t think, he just stepped forward, then lowered his shoulder and threw a prizefighter’s uppercut.
His fist only hit empty air, and then his butt hit the gravel, and the great giant Nothing was upon him.
“Stop this,” it ordered.
But Jim was the one giving the orders. He scrabbled back, gathering a handful of gravel as he went, then got to his feet, tiny stones shifting below his shoes before he secured his footing.
“I said ‘you’re under arrest!’”
“How long has it been since you’ve thrown a punch, lieutenant?”
“Less than a minute, and that was the first time I’ve missed in years; COME ON!” The lieutenant raised his dukes into a pugilist’s stance.
Batman tilted his head slightly.
No more haymakers, he knows how to fight.
“Hands behind your back, bozo!”
Batman didn’t even move when the hail of a dozen bits of gravel flew toward him, but Gordon closed the distance, while the rain fogged and dotted his glasses.
A body shot to the ribs. A punch directly in the gut. Jim could feel his knuckles bruising; he didn’t even hear Batman exhale.
Three quick jabs in succession, but only one made contact, and then, without warning, all of the light left the world.
“Be reasonable, lieutenant,” the voice was a rustle in the blackness. Jim swung his arms wildly, trying to orient himself. The thick fabric of the cape enveloping him like a net.
Then he was being rained on again, and the moonlight was back. Batman was several feet away. How was he moving so fast?
“Missing something?” the Bat held Jim’s glasses in his hand; Jim hadn’t even felt them leave his face.
“They’re readers,” the lieutenant answered, in heaving breaths. He touched his nose with each fist in succession, a reminder to protect his head.
Did he just laugh? Gordon thought for a brief flash, then lowered his shoulder, charging toward the Nothing in front of him.
Batman slid to the side, and Jim almost tripped, his vision blurred and foggy.
His readers were back on his face.
“Christ!” Jim spat.
“Batman,” Batman whispered. “Now let’s talk.”
Lightning struck somewhere over the harbor, and the sound of thunder punctuated the shadow’s demand.
Gordon huffed, his shoulders rising and falling dramatically. Batman was still, silhouetted by the downpour.
He could’ve killed me a dozen different times, Gordon thought.
“Inside,” Jim said.
Gordon conceded the point, and resigned to standing in the storm.
“I know you and your partner aren’t taking Gelio’s assertions seriously.”
“Serious?” Jim chuckled. “The guy’s a damn stoic, a bluenose, through and through. He’s serious as a heart attack, but…he knows his onions. Gets things done.”
“So you believe him? You don’t have any other leads in the Peter Pan killings?”
Jim couldn’t recall ever hearing someone whisper with such enunciation. It was like the whisper was just Batman’s voice. It felt like it had tone, and emphasis, and emotion. Jim pulled another cigarette out of his case, moving to the awning above the roof door to light it.
“I believe,” he began, taking a long drag, “that you’re a vigilante. You’re guilty of trying to do our jobs. But you’re no cop.”
“If you turned yourself in, we could clear your name.”
“No,” Batman whispered, and paused. “You couldn’t.” Gordon’s face screwed into a silent question.
“The mayor and the commissioner both need an arrest. They both want it to be me. Until Peter Pan, crime was down, which means Falcone has either gone really straight, really quickly, or that he’s hemorrhaging money. I’m betting on the latter.”
“You think Falcone is Peter Pan?” Jim was incredulous, and Batman shook his head.
“No, but if this curfew continues, people will start losing their jobs, and Falcone’s organization will suddenly be able to fill some of their ‘vacancies.’”
It was a hell of a theory, Jim thought, but it couldn’t be accomplished in the short term. Gelio was tough, but he wasn’t friends with the mayor, certainly not with Falcone. Gelio was a good cop.
The realization hit Gordon like a pistol whip to the back of the head: Flass.
“Look,” Gordon exhaled a cloud of smoke, “what do I call you anyway. What’s your name?”
The Darkness made a sharp, quick exhale, indicating laughter for a second time, “Nice try.”
“Well, I’m not ready to believe that this is some kind of long-term conspiracy, but you have my attention. Anyhow, this curfew isn’t good for any of us.”
“Then convince him to end it,” soughed Batman.
“Got any friends on the council?” Gordon quipped. “Jackson’s beef is only with funding the task force. He voted emphatically for the curfew, and he’s told people that he believes that the Superhuman Task Force should exist, even expand, he just doesn’t want to raise taxes in an election year.”
Batman stood, motionless in the storm.
“The best way to get Jo –“ Gordon cut himself off. He was more confident that Batman wasn’t going to kill him. He didn’t even think that the Bat was a killer (certainly not Peter Pan) but that didn’t mean they were friends, and it didn’t mean he should get comfortable with him. For all Jim knew, Batman was a spaceman, just like Superman. “– to get the commissioner to end the curfew is to get the mayor to want it to end. But between his dealings with Falcone, and people being afraid of you, and these bombings in Metropolis, I don’t know how anyone’s gonna convince him to want that.”
“Find the real killer,” Batman snapped back. “There’s been two more killings since the curfew started – “
“One. The newsboy in the park,” Jim interrupted.
“Two. One of them was the coroner’s boy – and your people aren’t any closer than you were before the curfew.”
Gordon had been under the awning, pacing near the door, but Batman had snared his attention with a fact that only a handful of people had known.
“Now wait just a minute!” Jim pushed back, “How the hell did you know about that?”
“Victor Fries is a good man. Better than most,” Gordon took a profound draw of the cigarette, and flicked it away. “We’re trying to keep that out of the papers. As a favor to him and Nora.”
The Batman was silent, and the rain was beginning to thin out.
“Do you have any leads?” Jim asked, after a moment.
“The victims are all boys, all prepubescent, all found in puddles of blood some distance from an unknown crime scene. Until the newsboy, they all had discoloration on and inside the mouth, and all had two living parents, working in Gotham City.”
“Most of them work for Wayne,” Gordon said, “but the discoloration, you think there’s something there?”
“I did until the newsboy.”
“‘Extra,’ his uh, his pals all called him ‘Extra.’ In any event, he had the smell too – no discoloration, but, he was cherry. It might not have been in the initial report.” The lieutenant looked at his watch. “Damn. I need to get home and some sleep.”
More thunder. Jim reached for another cigarette, moving back to the awning to light the match.
“I – probably not,” Gordon admitted, glancing down at the match, and pulling a few quick puffs. “Hey, how do I get ahold of you if I want to compare notes?”
He looked toward where the Batman had been standing, and saw nothing instead of Nothing. And then the Gotham skies were pouring rain again.
Jim Gordon was alone on the roof.
It had been raining, almost nonstop for five full days.
His shift canceled for inclement weather, Jeremy went to Ms. Rose, hat literally in hand, and asked her if she’d had any additional work for him.
Luckily for him, Ms. Rose understood his situation, and she told him that she valued his enthusiasm for his work. She could afford to hire him for a day each week to work in her greenhouse. This was a boon, and he was grateful to her for it.
Jeremy could start on Monday.
When he arrived at the plot of land, he noticed that the other workers in the greenhouse were all college-aged women. They paid Jeremy very little mind, only bidding him “good morning” absent of any enthusiasm or even as much as an introduction.
Ms. Rose spent the first twenty minutes showing Jeremy around the facility.
“…in fact mostly, Jeremy,” Ms. Rose continued, looking down her nose at the shorter, older man, “you’ll be helping Harriet with moving heavy things. In time, I’m sure she’ll have you helping her with making the attars, but we’ll see.”
“And those are for the sweets?” Jeremy asked, finding himself (very curiously) quite a bit mixed up about what all of these nonce words were useful for.
“Rose attar is for perfumery,” Ms. Rose corrected. “It’s an oil. We use rose water and other botanical distillates for sweets. Ah, here’s Harriet. Harriet, this is Jeremy. He’ll be with us on Mondays to help you with things. Treat him as you would an assistant.”
Harriet was quite petite. She looked like she belonged in junior high school. She wore a white smock, more like an apron than a lab coat, and thin, bifocal glasses with tortoise-shell frames. She had the severe tone of a librarian, but the round, oversized facial features of a youth (except for a tiny button of a nose). Her golden blonde hair was banded by a jet black satin ribbon which kept it tied in a tight bun.
“Thank you, Ms. Rose,” Harriet, an Englishwoman from the sound of it, only made brief eye contact with Jeremy, granting him a curt nod and a short instruction. “There is a crate outside that needs to come inside. There should be a hand truck in the shed if you need it, which is also where you’ll find the crowbar.”
Jeremy smiled like a fool, tipping his patchy porkpie hat to the pair, and shuffling off, looking down at his feet as he went.
If he was the oldest person working for Ms. Rose, Jeremy thought Harriet must be the youngest.
He attempted to lift the crate, but it proved too cumbersome, and possibly too heavy for him to heft, so Jeremy wandered to the shed, where all manner of tools and botanical – Ms. Rose had corrected him when he’d said “gardening” – equipment was stored. He procured the hand truck and the pry bar, and hoisted the wooden crate, stamped in some sweeping, foreign tongue with absolutely unrecognizable glyphs, into the enormous greenhouse.
The “mud room” of the greenhouse seemed as good a place as any to open the crate, which Jeremy unloaded and then set to opening with the crowbar.
“This won’t do, Jeremy,” came the accented voice of Harriet.
“Begging your pardon, miss–”
“– Just Harriet is fine, no ‘ms.’ required,” she pursed her lips. “Now if this package was too heavy to lift into the distillery, why would we want to unpack it somewhere else. Let’s not be thick.”
“I’m sorry P– Harriet, let me just put this back on the…” he grunted, shoving the crate back on to the dolly. “There we go!”
Harriet looked so much like a child that Jeremy found himself having to make extra effort to stifle the fanciful candy vendor that he became in the park. It felt so much like who he truly was, but it had no place in a professional setting. He followed Harriet into the distillery, and once again began prying open the crate.
Harriet’s bright blue eyes lit up as she folded her hands together (with, what seemed to Jeremy, like constrained exuberance).
“This equipement had to be custom-made-to-order in Persia,” she explained, moving some of the packing material situated around whatever this was inside. To Jeremy, it looked so much like the other distillation equipment, but he found it endearing to see more quirks of Harriet’s personality; Harriet had the enthusiasm for botanical work that he had for making children happy. The trait which Ms. Rose indicated was so important to the “culture” of her operation.
“This is for neroli.”
Jeremy didn’t know what neroli was, but didn’t want to ask and be thought dull.
“And the symbols on the crate are the Persian language?”
“Yes. In farsi. I studied botanical chemistry in Persia for a year!”
“How fascinating,” Jeremy commented, carefully stacking components on the metal workbench.
Stop by the library and learn what you can about Persia, Jeremy thought. If you’re going to keep a job, you’ll need to have conversational minutiae that allows you to relate to your coworkers.
“Jeremy!” called the voice of Ms. Rose, and so he smiled and bowed slightly to Harriet (who only returned a darting glance), and tottered off to see what was the matter.
“Would you have use for a shift on the cart at lunchtime?” Ms. Rose asked, in the not-unkind-but-also-not-nice timbre that was so typical for her. “There’s a school excursion to the park, and I’m afraid I don’t have anyone else on such short notice.”
Jeremy’s smile broadened
“Yes, of course Ms. Rose. Will everything be okay here?”
An observant passerby would’ve seen Ms. Rose taking great lengths to politely stifle a laugh.
“I’m sure we’ll manage,” she replied. “Do you drive?”
“I am licensed, but I’m afraid I don’t have a car of my own.”
“Not a problem, Jeremy.” She handed him a pair of keys: one for the small work truck out front, the other to open the warehouse where the sweet carts were stored. Then, she instructed him on how to transport the popsicles (the other sweets were stored with the carts) to the warehouse where he would carefully unload the dry ice from the cooler-box of the truck and place it into the cooler-box of the cart.
“And then bring it all back here after?” Jeremy asked.
“You can leave the truck at the warehouse after lunchtime, or take it home and bring it here tomorrow morning. Hold on to the keys, as you may need them for odd jobs in the future.”
“Surely the children’s trip will be completed before the end of the workday?”
“Jeremy, I promised you a full day’s pay, and you’ll have it, no need to worry. After the children have gone, just return the cart to the warehouse, deposit the money in the safe there, and take the rest of the shift off.”
Jeremy blinked twice, smiled, and then got into the truck, and headed off to serve the children in Gotham.
What an unexpectedly wonderful day, Jeremy thought, pushing the cart toward the outskirts of Adams Park.
He was joined by a companion, the orphan Pockets, who walked alongside him and enjoyed the promised complimentary cherry popsicle and a small sack of hard candies as well.
Keep it light, keep it light, Jeremy thought. He thought of Extra, and the terrible fear that the waifs must be experiencing under the mayor’s curfew.
“My dear Prince Pockets, it’s been an absolute pleasure to serve you today,” Jeremy removed his hat and bowed low with a flourish.
Pockets looked directly into Jeremy’s eyes, and Jeremy smiled back, thinking it terribly sad that the child’s facial scar prevented so many others from noticing the boy.
“Um, Mr. Jeremy,” Pockets began, nervously, but without stammering. “Some of the street boys said that Peter Pan is a Dracula,” here, the boy’s breath stuttered as if he’d been crying. “Is it true?”
“Oh my pretty prince,” Jeremy fell completely into his True self, “I cannot say for sure whether the culprit is a Dracula, or a Bandersnatch, or a Toffish Blump, or the fearsome Jabberwock!” Jeremy was being theatrical, and animated, and the little urchin Pockets giggled in delight at the whimsical words he’d obviously never heard before.
“Jabberwock!” Pockets asked, shrieking with laughter.
“We mustn’t mock the Jabberwock,” the rhyme was playful and deliberate. “My sweet Prince: the Jabberwock is a ferocitous, burbling man-eater that stalks the inside of your mirror, and which can only be slaid with a vorpal blade.”
“Is the Jabberwock real?” Pockets still giggled, but sounded like he was trying to put on a more serious air.
“Real? I swear, ’tis real as your reflection.”
Pockets’ eyes grew wider, and he no longer giggled.
“I don’t have a mirror,” Pockets said with a sigh.
“Tut-tut, you still have a reflection, your most regal highness. As sure as you see me in front of you now, the Jabberwock can see you from your reflection in a puddle, or in a pair of spectacles! Such is the danger of Looking Glass Land.”
“How will I know if I see a Jabberwock? What if the Jabberwock gets me?”
“I’m afraid there’s no way to truly know when you’ve seen a Jabberwock, your refusious grace. Most have only seen its jaws which bite and its claws that catch! But you can be certain my glisserable prince, that the Jabberwock has! Seen! YOU!”
The boy’s eyes glistened, and he projected worry into the space around him.
Oh no, Jeremy. Too far! You’ve scared the child!
“We mustn’t be upset Prince Pockets, we mustn’t be upset. I’m sorry my boy. It was just a game of words. Not meant to stir a fright!”
Pockets wiped his eyes, and looked up at Jeremy, who was pressing his hat tightly and hopefully to his chest.
“I wasn’t scared,” Pockets sniffled. “I only get scared at night, when I’m alone.”
Jeremy knew the pain of having to live among such a busy place as Gotham having no one with whom to share. No family to speak of! Cast out by those who couldn’t accept you for who you really were.
“Pockets, I have to return my sweets cart, but then I’ll be going to the library. Why don’t you join me, and I’ll buy you supper afterwards, and see if I can sponsor a bed for you tonight at a boy’s home. Would you like that?”
Pockets nodded, and the two began the walk toward the warehouse.
Pockets can help, he’s only frightened, but not of you. All the children in Gotham are frightened, but poor Pockets is too small to defend himself and too ghastly to be allowed to join a gang, Jeremy thought. He observed Pockets from his stack of books on topics about Persian Oriental culture.
The boy with the scarred lip was scanning a collection of picture books., and Jeremy’s face went blank as he daydreamed of adventures with the orphan.
In fact, he’ll be your squire! The thought brought a smile to the man’s face.
Jeremy closed the encyclopedia he’d been reading, pushing the references to the side, and preparing to check out the other guides to this mysterious land in the Middle East when something on an open page caught his eye.
“Really?” He muttered aloud. “How delightfully barbarious!” He grinned.
Jeremy continued to absorb the information on the page, finishing the section.
But this was barely five years ago, he thought. I do wonder how long ago Harriet was there.
Jeremy wielded the perfect trifle with which to impress his supervisor, and he was sure it would delight her: Human slavery had only been abolished in Persia in 1929.
He slammed the book shut, and collected Pockets with a toothsome smile.