“An attempt to create a new conceptual terrain for imagining alternatives to imprisonment involves the ideological work of questioning why “criminals” have been constituted as a class and, indeed, a class of human beings undeserving of the civil and human rights accorded to others. Radical criminologists have long pointed out that the category “lawbreakers” is far greater than the category of individuals who are deemed criminals since, many point out, almost all of us have broken the law at one time or another.”Angela Y. Davis • Are Prisons Obsolete?
A Serious House on a Serious Earth
The Arkham Psychiatric Hospital was once a labyrinthine manse that would make all but the largest mansions in Silverwood Barrens look provincial by comparison. It was converted to a “State Lunatic Asylum” at the direction and expense of its heir, Amadeus Arkham as the first fires of the industrial revolution were kindled.
After Amadeus’ death, Arkham had languished as a barbaric house of catastrophically unethical experimentation until it was acquired by an pharmaceutical baron, Dr. Tanner Howinger, in whose white gloved hands it became feared as a fate more terrifying than any prison, housing more than 140 residents before arson granted reprieve to the patients and justice to Howinger in 1913.
The hulk of the former residence stood as a gated Victorian on an all-but-private island in The Narrows, on six acres of gently rolling greens. More recently, its restoration by the Pennyworth Foundation made it a state-of-the-art facility, focused on healing the mind, and administrated by one of the most respected doctors in the emerging field of psychiatric medicine, Dr. Hugo Strange.
The bronze placard affixed to a the stone tower at the public entry gate, ornamented with a scarab beetle, and the words of the place’s founder:
“Our mind is a place so vast, so confidently real, is it any wonder we are scarcely aware that anything could exist beyond its melancholy walls?”
But on a starless night in Gotham City, the Batman entered the hospital through a less conspicuous ingress.
“This can’t be Ducky DeLuca,” Black Mask smiled beneath the grim, decadent visage of his father’s coffin, and imagined that Sammy could see his teeth glinting from behind the façade. “The ‘Lucky Ducky’ I knew never would’ve tried to give my men the runaround over…how much was it Bugs?”
“Eh,” said Bugsy “Carats” Coniglietto, tracing his bejeweled finger down the ledger, and munching on the end of his unlit cigar. ”Tree large, Mask.”
Ducky DeLuca struggled against the goons who were holding him, but each of them were twice his size, and looked like they were pulled directly from a Charles Atlas funny book ad.
“Tree large?” Black Mask said, impersonating Carats’ thick accent. “Can anyone tell me the last time a made guy got tangled up with a gambling debt?” Mask stepped out from behind his desk, and took a step toward Ducky’s restrained form before pausing and looking around. “Anyone? You, sir? The man who claims he’s Ducky DeLuca, do you care to hazard a guess?”
“I’m a made guy,” DeLuca said with all the disdain he could cough up. “You’re a goddamn ghost!”
“Send in Luigi,” Black Mask called, out, and the door to his counting room creaked open. A too-small boy with perfectly-coiffed hair, a freshly-pressed charcoal suit, and a jarringly-apparent cleft lip cutting through his otherwise innocent face walked in, and the door closed behind him.
The boy sidled up next to Black Mask, who put his hand upon the child’s shoulder, before leaning down to whisper in Luigi’s ear.
“Introduce yourself to my son,” Mask ordered.
“H-heya k-k-k-k-kid,” DeLuca put on an air of friendliness, but he struggled to make eye contact with the boy. “I’m an old friend of your Nonno. We used to work together. My name is Giuseppi, but everybody calls me Ducky.”
Luigi tugged at his father’s arm, and whispered into his ear.
“It’s rude to whisper, Luigi, tell the man your name, and tell him what you told me.”
The boy crossed and uncrossed his legs, staring down at his feet, and then looked straight into Ducky’s eyes.
“My name is Po–Luigi Scionis. I told my papa that you don’t look very much like a ducky,” the boy smiled. “And that you didn’t want to look me in the eye.”
Black Mask patted the boy on the back twice, and sent him off to bed with a squeeze of his upper arm, then he walked over to his desk and opened the drawer, removing a Maxim Silencer, which he screwed on to the barrel of his piece
“You married, Mister DeLuca? Kids?” Black Mask asked as he stepped closer to Ducky.
“Silvio, per favore, you know that I am. My kids played with you!” Sweat pooled on the man’s brow. “Don’t do this! I can make a call and have your money in thirty minutes, plus the vig.”
At that precise moment, the phone rang, and Carats picked it up, nodding and making affirmations with vocal grunts and snorts, then he hung up.
“Hey, Mask,” Carats said. “That was Maroni, calling from the Consul’s office. Askin’ bout him,” he inclined a shoulder toward Ducky. “He said he has his money, all a big misunderstandin’. Says the Consul knows you’d never pop a made guy widdout permission.”
“Ohthankgod,” Ducky let out a long, deep sigh of relief. The goons holding his arms released him without order from Black Mask, who pointed his piece at the ceiling, but hadn’t backed off.
“I told you I’m a made guy,” Ducky spat, emphasizing each word with its own fierce punctuation. “Carats, get me the fuck outta here.” Bugsy made to move, but Mask put a hand up, and leveled his pistol at a now-incensed Ducky.
“And I told you you can’t be Ducky DeLuca.”
“What’s the big ide––“
Two shots rang out, one in Ducky’s open mouth, and one in his forehead, and Black Mask calmly removed a handkerchief from the depths of his holster to wipe the gore and viscera from his “face.”
“You two, get this cleaned up. Dump him by one of the bars over near the track, find a losing slip, whatever, make it look sloppy, but plausible enough.”
“––Mask,” Carats cut in as the goons began wrapping the body in carpet canvas. “Virgin Mary, Mask, whaddya think yer doin?”
In darkness, Batman moved through the “foundation” floor of Arkham. Dr. Hugo Strange had mentioned that it sounded more hospitable than “basement,” but it was in fact the basement of the facility. The air in the hallway was too clean, and still smelled of wallpaper paste and expensive vellum.
The foundation floor was residential, reserved for patients who were unlikely to be violent, but who needed more supervision than was afforded to the patients in the upper stories of the old mansion. As part of their observation, the windows of each residence, and the wall facing the common hallway were made of a novel transparent plastic called Plexiglass, which was strong enough not to break, but which allowed light into the patients’ residences. Patients could earn a privacy curtain when they were evaluated not to be a threat to themselves, and the curtain on Jeremy Tetch’s residence was drawn.
Like every patient’s apartment on this level, the door to Tetch’s residence locked automatically from the outside, and as Batman pushed the door open, he affixed adhesive tape to the latch, ensuring that he would not be locked in with Jeremy Tetch.
Jeremy Tetch was wearing a striped, woolen nightcap and a matching, nightshirt, with his spectacles seated far down his nose. He was seated on his bed, his eyes buried in a children’s book which he read by the warm glow of his end table lamp: Mary Poppins.
“Mr. Tetch,” came the windy whisper of the Batman, and Jeremy looked up without fear, his eyes searching for the Bat’s, but finding only animalic reflections of the ambient light upon a shadow that subsumed all others.
“I have one more page in this chapter, detective. If you’ll permit me just a moment’s time,” Jeremy said. It didn’t take long for the page to turn, and a tiny smile to crawl across Jeremy’s lips. He closed the novel and sighed, placing it upon the nightstand.
“Any good?” Batman broke the silence; it wasn’t that he was particularly interested in small talk, but he knew he needed to make Tetch feel safe.
“It’s cromulent,” Jeremy said, adjusting his glasses. “Very whimsical. I understand why children are enjoying it.”
“Oh dear, no. I don’t receive those. Most of the people who knew me before all of this messy business were orphans, and –– I just hope they’re alright,” he paused, and wiped his eyes. “The library in this facility is quite well-stocked, and Doctor Strange and the staff here have been quite generous with access…at least for some of us.”
Jeremy turned his legs so that he was now facing Batman, with his feet hanging just off the floor.
“I feel inclined to offer you a seat,” Tetch motioned to the simple wooden chair positioned on the wall near the foot of the bed. “But I can’t imagine you’d accept the invitation.”
“I’ll stand, thank you.”
“Well then, I’m quite sure I know why you’re here, detective.”
Jeremy launched into a meandering and nonsense-laden stream of consciousness, beginning with his time in Roosevelt’s office and ending with his therapy in Arkham. It was almost a fairytale, almost an autobiography by an unreliable narrator. The Bat listened in silence, scribbling notes onto a tiny pad. When he finally stopped, Batman scanned the notes, and noticed there hadn’t been any mention of the orphan Pockets.
“Why were you so insistent to Miss Dawes that Pockets would be able to help prove your innocence?”
“I don’t believe I ever said that,” Jeremy corrected. “Though I could see why it would have been confounding. I merely wanted to know whether he was safe. He was not altogether well, you see.”
“What do you mean?”
“Has he been found? Is he safe?”
“He’s been taken in by a man claiming to be his father. What do you mean by ‘not altogether well?’”
“His father? I don’t know how that could be –– he doesn’t know his parents, you know –– but I suppose it’s for the best,” Jeremy removed his night cap and started rotating it nervously in his hands. Beads of sweat formed on the top of his balding head.
“Mr. Tetch, you were saying? Not well?”
“Pockets was a resourceful child, you see. He was strong of spirit if not constitution, and – I’m not certain I should say more.”
“It’s alright, Mr. Tetch, I won’t let any harm come to him, but he may be in danger now.”
“Well, I – he can take care of himself, you see, but he was…” Jeremy trailed off again, then inhaled, and dabbed at his gathering moisture in his eyes. “Children can be cruel, detective.”
“He was bullied because of his scar,” the Batman tried to fill in the blanks.
“Just so. Someone showed him a way to fight back, but he was so young, I don’t think…”
“Who? And what did they show him?”
“Now, I have to insist that I can’t say any more. I could never betray someone with such empathy for me…”
Soft footsteps padded from the other end of the corridor.
“That will be one of the nurses. Lights should’ve been out ages ago, you know,” Jeremy shut off the lamp, and put his hat back on his head. “I’m truly sorry that I couldn’t be more helpful, but there’s no reason for someone else to suffer, when she has such a bright future helping people, is there?”
“That’s enough, detective, I’ll request that you take your leave. Now.”
A moment later, the door to Jeremy’s residence creaked open, and the orderly looked around the dark room, grunting to himself in puzzlement. He left, letting the door latch, and continued his patrol.
The orderly didn’t notice the silent shadow that slipped through the door behind him.
Batman emerged from Arkham with new questions, and paused, bracing himself. The air smelled like ozone, there were clouds gathering in the air, and he could hear the low rumble of distant thunder. He kickstarted the bike, and, with the headlamp off, made his way off of Arkham Island and through the backroads of the narrows, until finally crossing the bridge to Silverwood Barrens, and racing down the dirt access road toward the cave.
A sound played at the edges of Batman’s senses; it was drowned out by the roar of the motorcycle engine and his cape whipping behind him, and when he was more certain of it, it was too late. At the entrance of the cave, in a blur of red and blue, the man of steel alighted, his feet coming to rest soundlessly in front of the Bat.
Batman braked, hard, and killed the engine to prevent further unwanted attention. He dismounted and took up a defensive stance.
Superman’s eyes were a deep red, like he’d been crying. He grinded his teeth, breathing out through his mouth in a cloud of condensation that was not appropriate for the temperature or season.
Batman said nothing, he had a blade made from the Kryptonian element in a lead-lined pouch in his belt, but it would reveal his identity to use it, especially this close to the manor.
“That man murdered,” a choke caught in Superman’s voice, “children.”
Batman only shook his head.
“You had a lot more to say to that monster in there,” a beat. “Wait. You’re not him.”
One edge of Batman’s mouth curled into a smirk. Not enough lead in the lining of this new armor.
“I won’t be leaving this time without answers,” Superman said. “Why were you interrogating a guilty child murderer?”
“Not guilty. Insane. Hatter took a fall,” the Bat hissed. “Protecting someone.”
“Who is he protecting?”
“Why are you here?”
“I was hoping to speak with a friend. Who is he protecting?”
“Orphan. Need to investigate.”
“Take me to the orphan.”
“Child sleeping. You’re breaking the law.”
“That hasn’t stopped you, Batman,” the alien punctuated Batman with incredulity. “Gotham is a lawless city, and it needs more protection than you’re able to provide.”
Batman lowered his fists, and brought himself to his full height.
“This is my city. Not lawless, afraid. Help people if you want, but don’t get in my way,” said Batman. He turned back toward the motorcycle.
“No chance,” said Superman, flying to and lifting the bike before Batman could take another step toward it, and tossing it casually into the trees. “What’s in there?”
“Bats,” said the Dark Knight, in a sardonic whisper.
“I can look for myself if you don’t want to tell me the truth,” Superman hovered just above the ground, drifting toward the conspicuously boarded entrance to the abandoned mine that was Batman’s base of operations. He pushed on the planks of wood, which opened easily like a door on a spring hinge, and turned back to the detective. His eyes were sad, but somehow hopeful.
Well, there’s nothing for it now.
“Clark,” the warm, charismatic voice of Bruce Wayne spilled from Batman’s cold, inhuman lips. He sighed. “Follow me.”
Clark Kent retrieved the motorcycle, and followed Bruce Wayne into the dark.
Once they were deep within the tunnel, Batman threw a switch, and heavy duty floodlights bathed the facility in dim gold. It was every bit an underground fortress, and Superman spun himself around trying to take it all in.
“Please, Clark, have a seat,” Batman said, motioning to a chair near a technological console that included different colored lights, a radio, and some kind of two-way communications apparatus. Batman picked up a telephone receiver, and after a short pause, he spoke into it. “He’s here, Alfred, why don’t you come on down, and bring an extra coffee cup.”
The Batman unfastened his cape and cowl, hanging them on a dummy that stood next to an array of several other costumed mannequins, and looked through his own eyes at the demigod who called himself Superman.
The Man of Steel’s eyes were still red, but the hard set line of his jaw had loosened into something softer – not exactly gentle, but not as intimidating, either.
“Bruce,” Superman – no, Clark, said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Clark,” said Bruce, turning on the hotplate under the cezve, the Turkish, copper coffeepot that he and Alfred used here in the cave. He walked over to the chair by the console, and sat down. “We launched a months-long, deep cover investigation to confirm your identity to find a way to kill you if you went rogue. It wouldn’t have been safe. It’s still not safe, but there didn’t seem to be an alternative. I got comfortable tonight, and that was a mistake.”
“But – the scar. What happened ––“ Clark trailed off, then punctuated the thought with “oh. Oh Bruce, I’m so sorry.” The alien began sobbing into his hands, and the Batman wondered at how to console an immortal superhuman, and why this was getting to him in such a profound way.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save him, Bruce. Dick was a good person,” Bruce stood and put a hand on Clark’s shoulder, crouching beside him.
“Believe me Clark, I know exactly how you feel.”
“I hurt him. He only knew me as someone who hurt people. And now he’s gone.”
“He’s forgiven you,” Bruce said, and he was thankful that the service elevator had rumbled to life, and soon after, Alfred joined them in the Bat Cave.
“Mister Clark,” Alfred said, setting down the coffee cup. “My boy, what’s the matter?”
Clark looked up at the man who had been his mother’s farmhand, and sadness and recognition flushed into his face in equal measure, and he began to weep even more deeply.
“She’s gone Alfred. My mother was killed!”
Bruce took a step back, and Alfred took a step forward.
“I’d thought that I’d done enough when he came to the farm,” said Clark. “He sent letters to his sister, and I watched him and I watched her to make sure Ma was okay, and then he killed her, because I wasn’t paranoid enough!”
Alfred took the much larger man into an embrace, trying to squeeze him, and finding no yield.
“Who?” Bruce asked after several silent moments passed. “Who killed her?”
Clark gently broke Alfred’s embrace, and wiped the tears from his eyes. His jaw set itself into the resolved line that it had been at the entrance of the cave, and Bruce realized that his eyes weren’t red from crying, they were glowing with faint red light.
“A hitman,” he answered. “Hired to work the farm as a farmhand. Hired to find out whether Superman and Clark Kent were the same person. He was working with at least two other interlopers in Smallville, but I haven’t found them yet. They stole the ship.”
Bruce took time to process this. Clark had let his guard down, which, Bruce knew, was not altogether uncommon. But even for an immortal, this felt to Bruce like it was beyond careless. Not that it was time to chastise Superman. He was twice orphaned now, and Bruce knew that hurt all too well.
“Floyd Lawton,” Clark continued. “He used to work bank jobs out of Gotham, years ago, just after the war. Then something happened and he graduated to bigger contracts.”
“The Yīnyǐng ran him out of town,” provided Alfred. Bruce broke his wrist and four of his fingers when he wouldn’t relent. That was seven, eight years ago. We knew he’d gone underground, but I didn’t expect to hear that name again.”
“Where is he now?” Bruce asked, urgency swirling into his tone.
“That’s why I needed to find you. He knows who I am. Who I really am,” Clark spat. “He could expose me, or he could hurt Lois, or Jimmy, or Perry, or the two of you. I had to do something. So I put him in a prison cell that I built.”
Bruce and Al stared at Clark, who once again wiped the tears from his eyes.
“In the Alaskan wilderness. Underground. No one will ever find him if I don’t tell them where he is.”
Silence from the residents of the cave.
“I haven’t decided what to do with him yet, but if my secret is out, and my ship is gone, I have to assume that technology and that information has fallen into the worst possible hands. I don’t know what to do, but I wanted there to be a backup plan, if something were to happen to me,” Clark explained.
“Someone is trying to kill me. For all I know, I suppose it could be the two of you, but that seems less likely than my highest-ranking suspects. If that someone succeeds, Floyd Lawton will be dangerous, and deadly, but he should stand trial. The two of you happen to be uniquely resourced to retrieve him, and, though I know it’s asking a lot, I hope I could trust the two of you to do it.”
Clark handed an envelope to Alfred, who opened it, and handed the note within to Bruce.
66°33’23.1″N 145°10’45.3″W near Ft. Yukon, Alaska
“There’s a hole, a cavern, really, at these coordinates. There are five granite boulders surrounding the entrance, in the shape of a pentagon,” Clark traced the shield on his chest. “The entrance is covered with dead leaves and fallen timber. You wouldn’t fall through if you accidentally walked across it, but you might not spot it if you didn’t know what to look for. It’s well hidden, and the hole is easily two or three hundred feet deep. A smooth bored, straight drop. It’s inescapable without outside assistance.
“But I need you to promise me that you won’t go looking for him unless the worst happens. I don’t think that I’m going to kill him, but I can’t be sure. But I believe that I’ll do what I can to keep him alive, at least for now. He has food, some toiletries, a place to relieve himself, and water. And I’ll replenish his supplies once each week.”
Bruce spoke first, “Clark, I can tell you that I won’t try to free him, but I can’t promise you that I’ll stick to that promise. I have…complex feelings about prisons, and yours sounds especially cruel. I would feel better about you cutting out his tongue and removing his hands than you keeping him like a – like a zoo animal in a private exhibit. The man is evil, and what happened to your mother is incomprehensible, but evil isn’t irredeemable.”
“Alfred,” Clark looked to the older man, “do you feel the same way?”
Al cleared his throat.
“I share Mister Bruce’s thoughts on prison, and I agree that your prison sounds quite inhumane. But, in the immediate term, even if we’re only restricted by logistics, I think we can forego searching for Mr. Lawton. For now.”
“That will have to suffice,” Clark said.
“I’m more concerned about you, Clark,” Bruce cut in. “I know you’re hurting, but you’re at your most vulnerable right now. You’re exposed. Who are your ‘highest ranking suspects?’”
Superman straightened, and the stoic resolve was cracking into anger.
“Willie Calhoun is in prison, but if he burned through his fortune to set up these plots and schemes, he’s who I believe is the most likely to be behind this. Several orders of magnitude below him, is a much less likely suspect, but someone with the resources, and the intellect to put these plots into motion –– I just can’t figure out his motivation.”
“Who?” Alfred insisted.
Arnold Flass was getting tired of this assignment. Wayne and Pennyworth had come and gone a half a dozen times each, on a pretty regular schedule, every day. If they left in the latest part of the evening, it was always to head to some fancy gala or to drop off or pick up some dame.
Nothing out of the ordinary for more than a week, except the motorcycles. Almost every night, around midnight, Flass would hear the distant sound of a motorbike. Only for about a minute. It would get closer and closer and then farther and farther away.
It didn’t seem particularly relevant to his assignment, but he marked it down as an afterthought in the notebook where he kept his notes.
He was supposed to be off tonight, but Johnny had offered him Wednesday and Thursday off if he worked tonight.
Arnold figured he’d see ‘Face at one of the events where he was supposed to be working contract security this weekend. Suppose if he could get some time with the mayor, he could explain to him that Gelio might be goin’ a little off his rocker.
Maybe after a chat, Mayor Karlo could give Johnny a few days off, to clear his head.