Chapter 4: In Place of a Conscience
An individual who channels the magickal forces will, after a period of years, begin developing sensitivities that outsiders might call mind-reading, psychic powers, or second sight. As an immortal, Jason Blood had channeled magicks for centuries longer than any normal wizard. His sensitivities were sharp and powerful—but that did not mean he could foresee the future of any person, place or event. He could perceive hidden links in people’s destinies. He could meet a bore on an airplane and know that the man would die in the city they were landing in. He could sense it hovering around the man like lingering perfume of the woman, not his wife, who had kissed him goodbye in the terminal. He could know that it would be a car accident, the driver arguing with her husband about a stuffed swordfish bought at a yard sale while he was out parking the car. She liked it, and she didn’t like the lawn furniture he had wanted, and they’d argue; they’d swerve, the swordfish would go flying off the roof of the car and impale the bore with the mistress in Seattle that wore too much Giorgio.
Jason could know all that but still have no idea what the future held for Harvey Dent, with or without his face healed.
Etrigan knew. Etrigan knew everything, Jason sometimes thought. But Etrigan lied, and Etrigan was an agent of chaos even when he wasn’t downright evil, and you could never tell when his advice was real, in their common best interests, and when it was, well, Etrigan.
Etrigan had become, in Jason’s own words, what he had in place of a conscience. The demon was a moral compass based on opposition. If Etrigan wanted something, it was most likely an evil to be opposed. If Etrigan didn’t like an idea, Tally Ho! (Although Jason himself rarely said ‘Tally Ho;’ it was undignified.)
And Etrigan had not liked the idea of healing Dent. He railed against it. From the first moment of empathy, the demon could see the thought forming in Jason’s mind, and he was enraged. Cursing and roaring, burning threats into Jason’s own blood that seemed to boil at the obscenity.
Every man’s will.
To choose good or ill.
So much hissing about free will. Jason argued—because that is what you have to do when an EVIL THING is WRONG, you have to stand up and SAY so—that Dent didn’t have free will. He based everything on that coin.
And Etrigan said:
Still will. Thil. Shill.
Stuff and nonsense, Jason thought acidly.
Wrong you were
And wrong you be,
You heedless cur,
Another comes to hear your case
For sniveling, whining, yawping Face.
The knight of Nox is more like me,
For Anger, Rage and Hate make he.
Trapped within a fleshy box,
Yet raging endless ‘gainst the locks.
Tell him your pity for poor Dent,
How nobly you would circumvent
The Will your God grant every soul.
That Will, the price to keep him whole.
Robin held his position on the roof of a small apartment building in Chelsea.
“This bites, Bro,” he told his partner.
“I know, kid,” Nightwing answered.
“This bites hard.”
“It’s just for one night.”
Tim glared across the dark of the rooftop with pure hatred.
“Just one night of sitting here looking like Dieter in my basic black turtleneck doing surveillance on the Ha-Hacienda while my girlfriend is running around out there in my costume!
“My costume and a Harley Quinn wig,” Tim resumed his rant when it failed to produce any response. “It’s Steph, and she’s in my costume and she’s wearing a wig cut like Harley Quinn’s hair, and she’s out there. Dude, it’s a good thing Bruce is rich, ‘cause I’m gonna need therapy after this.”
“She’s not out there yet. That’s why we’re here.”
“Oh thanks, I feel so much better now. She’s not out there yet. But as soon as Harley goes out somewhere public so she has an alibi and won’t get killed on accounta this, then Steph’s going to be out there. My Stephie, Dick, going running out of that Batmobile like a freakin’ PowerPuff girl in my costume spouting some cutesy banter like ‘I’m Robin and you’re screwed’—Not enough therapy in the world, Bro!”
“Quiet, there goes Harley. Call it in.”
“I have nothing but hatred in my heart right now.”
Nightwing turned with an Enough!-Do-it glare that was pure Bat. Tim hit the OraCom.
“Oracle. I have nothing but hatred in my heart right now,” he said into the mic.
:: Heh. So I take it HQ is moving? ::
“Nothing but hatred in my heart.”
:: Roger. I’ll notify the Batmobile. Follow her, we want to make sure she’s somewhere public. ::
Jason stood on his terrace overlooking the park. Even without Etrigan’s “prediction,” he sensed Batman was coming. There was a curious temporal echo on this terrace. Batman had come here before, often… Jason chuckled at the thought. It was Selina’s place before he moved in, of course… He half-closed his eyes, seeming to listen, and tuned in the echo like a radio signal… Batman came here often and always by the same path: a batarang to the building next door, which was taller, and then a swooping swing down to the northern side of the terrace by that planter… annoyance there. One of the cats. Feline annoyance. At the planter being disturbed. It was the only clear feeling Jason could perceive associated with those visits. The rest of it was a cyclone of furious conflicting emotion.
“Lord, what fools these mortals be,” Jason quoted into the night.
Etrigan was curiously reticent. Jason would have thought these charged echoes of the bat and cat would warrant a comment. But since Jason walked out on the terrace, the demon had resumed his silence from their immediate return to Gotham.
What was the harpy’s name again? Jason asked, to show he was well aware of the reason for the sudden peace.
Have a care,
For I was there
When you said it.
The Paris air,
Would sense foreswear.
All so unfair
Enough, Blood muttered, growing sicker with each line ending in a rhyme for “Claire.” The threat was unmistakable. Etrigan knew everything about Blood’s own past with women, and if Jason insisted on pressing for what Etrigan did not want to reveal, he was prepared to fight dirty.
Jason thought about going inside. Claire’s picture and perhaps a scotch. But the terrace echoes stiffened, like a breeze, furious conflicting emotion associated with this terrace, and Jason turned to the direction from where he knew Batman was coming. His chuckle creased into a wry, silent smile of both wonder and scorn as the object of his earlier musings swung unaware through the echoes to land on that same spot now, in the present, where there was no cat to object to his cape’s proximity to the planter.
“I’ve been expecting you,” Jason said simply. “I expect you’re here about—
“Two-Face,” Batman growled just as Jason said “—Dent.”
I finally knew what’s been missing on this job.
Batman, sure. There’s no substitute for that. But besides the cat and flying mouse game, something had been missing. When I slipped into the wetsuit, I knew what it was… Meow. There had been no Meow on this job. I hadn’t been sexy, I hadn’t been daring, and I hadn’t had any fun.
Up until that point, it couldn’t be helped. I’d had little time to plan this job and with two different women down there in Sub Diego due this week—two women that could literally go into labor at any minute—sexy, daring, and fun weren’t exactly priorities.
I’m a professional. A pro does THE JOB; a pro does not compromise the job to show off some skill inappropriate to the situation. Batman doesn’t stop in the middle of a patrol to sing an aria, the President doesn’t stop in the middle of the State of the Union to tap dance, and I don’t screw up a simple but important grab and drop where I’m supposed to be invisible by a) making it harder than it has to be or b) making a big Catwoman-was-here production out of it.
That said, I was positively purring to get out of that Bax-Trav delivery gal jumpsuit and into the sleek tightness of the wetsuit. I was purring even louder at the thought of this final phase, which would require nerve, cunning, and charm. I’d have to be daring, I’d have to be clever, I’d have to be persuasive—in short, I could be a cat.
“You admit you did this,” Batman graveled accusingly. “Jason, what were you thinking? If ending Two-Face was as simple as repairing Harvey Dent’s face, I would have paid for the plastic surgery myself, years ago. Two-Face won’t be—”
“There is no Two-Face, Batman. He doesn’t exist; you must know that. He’s a corner of Harvey’s mind that he’s come to treat as a separate personality, but—”
“You’re going to explain my enemies to me now.”
“Great. Quinn writes a book, now you’re hosting a lecture series. I KNOW what Two-Face is, Jason.”
“Batman, do you believe Harvey Dent was a good man prior to the scarring that made him Two-Face?”
“Jason—I know the beginning of one of those logic tree arguments when I hear one. I know you have a nice little sequence of questions planned leading to a neat inescapable conclusion that you were right to do what you did. The world is a better place because you used magic to heal Harvey’s face. It’s all sophistry, Jason. No clever logic-proofs will change what is true and what isn’t. And for all that, I will tell you that, yes, Harvey Dent was once a good man.”
Jason rose and walked to the bar, poured himself a drink, then returned to his chair.
“So how do you explain Two-Face, hm? After the trauma of the scarring, he split himself in two, creating the personality of Two-Face. But where did he get the raw materials for such a vile beast inside a man who was basically a good, decent, educated, hardworking public servant?”
Jason stopped and sipped his drink. Batman waited through the pause, then when Jason didn’t seem inclined to continue, he spoke.
“Aren’t you going to tell me?”
“You know your enemies. I would prefer that you tell me.”
Batman sighed, exasperated.
“Most people assume that Two-Face is Harvey’s dark side: ‘Everybody has a dark side and Harvey just gave his a name.’ It’s not that simple. His dark side would simply be all the thoughts and impulses to do wrong that Harvey had suppressed as a law-abiding citizen. That’s not it at all. Two-Face is Harvey’s own idea of his exact opposite. Two-Face is the antithesis of all Harvey believes himself to be. Two-Face actually had a… an identity crisis, for lack of a better word, when he—when they realized that pre-acid Harvey wasn’t as perfectly good as they’d both remembered.”
Jason smiled and made a vague “tada” gesture with his hand.
“There you have it. Two-Face is not Harvey’s dark side. He was an invention, nothing more, based on the scarring, and with the scarring gone—with Harvey convinced that he’s gone—he is.”
“And what’s the price?” Batman growled.
“With magic, there’s always a price, Jason.”
Jason winced as Etrigan began roaring with laughter in his mind.
Let me tell him, let me say!
Jason, please, you had your way.
Asclepius you did entreat
That Dent’s whore Fate your magicks cheat.
Restore his face? Restore his WILL!
From THAT you claimed would good distill.
Restore his will and take his coin.
From two-faced Fate is he enjoined.
Tell him, Jason, if you dare:
Not once may Harvey Fullface err.
If e’er Dent flips that coin again
To make a choice or feed a yen,
The deal is off, his scars returned.
Will twice bestowed, won’t be twice spurned.
Harley was frantic by the time she reached the Ha-Harlienda. She’d run home in a state of mind that an objective psychiatric professional might call blind panic. She triple-locked the door, then ran to the kitchen and burst into tears at the sight of the back door’s single deadbolt. What kind of lock was that anyway! She pushed a chair in front of it, then a table. Then she took another chair and brought it to the front door. Then she went to the closet and took out the shotgun and sat with it on her lap.
This wasn’t funny. Not haha funny and not Puddin’ funny either.
Batman was crazy! He must be stark raving Looney Tunes. Harley
had heard the Iceberg crowd gassing about that photograph in the window of
some art gallery. It was a blonde in a green mask and some of them
thought it looked like a Robin mask. Big deal. Didn’t mean there was any
female Robin running around Gotham. Only the Post could come up with
dumb shit like that, right? There WAS NO BLONDE ROBIN! But now one
those nutjobs was saying they’d seen it themselves and it looked like HER?
COME ON! That was crazy talk. And then Nightwing leaves some kind of note
for her with the doorman! “Ha, ha.” What does that mean?
Ha, ha, huh? Did they think this was funny! Was this Bat’s idea
of a practical joke? Ha, ha, yeah, right, ha, ha.
Didn’t he realize what Puddin’ and Red and all the rest of them would think?
What they would do? They’d kill her, that’s what they’d do! They
were a bunch of HOMICIDAL LUNATICS!!!
As much as Jason Blood respected Batman, he could never completely
get past the fact that Etrigan liked him. Etrigan, the evil one, liked
He said Batman had a dark demon stirring his bile. The way he would
fight and fight, when there was no hope—meaning the way Batman would put his
body between Etrigan and his lunch, even though lunch was a worthless drug
dealer. He would physically fight Etrigan, if necessary, when it was
the time for the demon to retreat, even though it would be like punching
solid rock. Batman would fight on endlessly, spurred on by something
inside that Etrigan could relate to.
Yes, Etrigan liked Batman, and that was not something Jason found it easy
to dismiss. And now Batman and Etrigan agreed—the vigilante and the
demon were in full agreement that Jason’s intervention was a blunder.
“Magic is a cheat,” Batman declared. “You can’t cheat Two-Face,
I’ve tried. Replaced the coin with a rigged one. When he figured
it out, he went on a crime spree. There had been seven coin flips that
weren’t fair, so he did what he wanted the next seven times without
flipping. He is obsessed with Fate, obsessed with using chance
to make decisions. And you’re telling me he can never do it again or
the spell is broken and he reverts to the way he was?”
“Yes. An unforeseen catch. A bit of metaphysic sleight of
hand, courtesy of Etrigan. Free Will. Because I argued that
Dent had no free will and healing him would restore it, he must make good on
“Does he know?”
“No. I didn’t realize at the time what the conditions would be.”
“But you knew there would be a price.”
“A counterbalance, of course. But Asclepius, the god of
healing, isn’t really in the ironic twist business. It’s usually a
simple supplication to channel his energies in order to restore whatever is
corrupted, the tissues damaged by a wound or illness, into the state they
are supposed to be in. It was Etrigan that—”
“It wasn’t Etrigan, Jason. Etrigan couldn’t have done
anything unless you opened the door, letting magical forces in that
can’t be controlled to—”
“It was Etrigan. The healing spell is to restore what was
corrupted into the state it should be in. Etrigan is the one who
brought Harvey Dent’s Will into that equation. He maneuvered me
into arguing… the tissue on half his face was damaged and is now
restored because… Oh hell.” This last was sighed in defeat.
“You’re right, Bruce. I… botched it. Road to hell and all that.
I felt… compassion for the man.”
“That’s not a bad thing, Jason.”
“Unless you have a millennia old chaos demon clamouring in your head.”
“What’s he saying now?”
“’Wit, an ’t be thy will, put me into good fooling! Those wits, that
think they have
thee, do very oft prove fools’”
“Yes, I know. Shakespeare wrote entirely too much about fools.
All of it in verse. I’ve been hearing it nonstop.”
“Someone has to tell him, Jason.”
“By someone, you mean me.”
“Yes. He won’t be inclined to believe me.”
“Not your place anyway. This is my responsibility. I’ll talk
to Fortune’s Fool.”
“That was Romeo.”
“Romeo, Lear, and, I believe, Timon of Athens all used the phrase.
But it applies best to Dent, don’t you think?”
“Selina calls him Fate’s bitch,” Batman noted.
Jason paused and then grimaced.
“We really must prevent Selina and Etrigan from ever meeting face to
The only way to get a large shipment that included heavy, bulky equipment down to Sub Diego was to use the FEMA station set up for the purpose. The station, unlike the Bax-Trav warehouse, was manned 24/7. The difference was that these guys weren’t security guards. They were professionals with a job to do, yes, but they went into this work out of compassion. They could be reasoned with. You can’t exactly talk a museum guard into letting you waltz off with a Degas. But I wasn’t here to take their employer’s property. I was here to help the same people they were here to help. They just needed a reason to cooperate. Didn’t even have to be a good reason, just a CYA reason.
I had Jean Paul fax them the top two inches of some official-looking letterhead. Then it stopped and he faxed it again. And again. When I showed up, they were trying to figure out if the problem was their fax machine or the sender’s. Pete, the older one, was ready to assume the incomplete fax was the authorization for my delivery to Sub Diego. It wasn’t entirely the way I look in a wetsuit, either.
“About time, that’s all I can say,” he spat, “It’s about time. Those poor people. Ought to be a special hell for politicians.”
Pete’s partner, Harold, was more of a tightass. He scrutinized those bits of letterhead on the fax for a phone number. “If we could just get some kind of confirmation,” he kept muttering.
I focused my efforts on Pete. I asked if he knew anyone down there. He did, a buddy from High School. I invented a cousin. We bonded. And then we both looked at Harold.
“If it’s legit, they’ll resend the fax,” he insisted. Then he looked at Pete—and then at me, and then at Pete again. “Meantime, I guess it would be okay if you got the stuff loaded.”
Jason found Harvey Dent exactly where Batman said he would be, in a downtown theatre called The Flick with huge stone comedy-tragedy masks hung on its façade like gargoyles.
This is going to be harder than I thought, he considered.
‘An ordinary fool that has no more brain
Than a stone’—What a sorry refrain,
Now that Face is alone.
Jason tuned out the rest and entered the theatre. He found Dent in the lobby, atop a stepladder, dismantling some kind of laser.
“Why Mr. Blood,” Harvey called happily, like the codename was the best joke he’d heard in weeks. “What an unexpected surprise.”
“I told you, Harvey, you can call me Jason.”
Harvey winked theatrically.
“Jason it is. I’m just removing some pesky old ‘perimeter defenses’ that I won’t be needing any more. This really is a fine old building, isn’t it; wasted as a criminal hideout. I wonder if I should develop it myself or sell it. What do you think?”
Jason thought Dent’s obvious joy in his new circumstances was the lowest blow yet. This was going to be like kicking a puppy in the stomach and then telling it there was no Santa Claus.
“Harvey, I—I have some news. Some very bad news. You might want to prepare yourself—for some very bad news.”
Harvey climbed down from the ladder and looked Blood in the eye.
“There’s a catch,” he said coldly.
“Yes. How did you—”
Harvey gave a wry, bitter laugh. “Free lunch.”
Etrigan began laughing hysterically. The former district attorney continued, oblivious to the demon’s presence…
“I was offered a bribe once from a guy like you. From the Odessa mob. None too subtle. Heh. No such thing as a free lunch. So here it comes, right, the shakedown, and maybe a threat or two. I don’t think you know who you’re dealing with, Jason. Harvey Dent is nobody’s fool. And nobody double-crosses Two-Face.”
“Two-Face is gone, Harvey. He’ll stay gone, as long as—”
“As long as what, as long as I toe the line and do what you say, right?”
“No, nothing like that. This isn’t what you think, Harvey. It’s not a betrayal or a shakedown or a threat. It is merely a, a condition—”
“NO! Because it was a condition I was not aware of when I did this thing for you. I was—in error. I did not foresee a consequence of calling on the magicks in the precise way I did in your particular case. The fact is, Harvey, that you can remain this way for as long as you choose, with your face fully healed, totally free of Two-Face and his influence. You must simply… abide… by a, a bargain of sorts with the universe.”
“A bargain I never agreed to,” Harvey said, arching a brow. “I was a lawyer, Jason, I understand contracts. I understand small print. I know that I can’t be held to a bargain that I was never a party to.”
“You received the benefits of the healing spell, Harvey, your face is whole again. You are bound to the conditions…”
The eyes danced wildly. Harvey Dent’s brilliant legal mind, at last unfettered by Two-Face, attacked the problem as it was set before him. He attacked it from every conceivable angle, looking for the loophole, the ambiguity, the… missed comma, something, there must be something. After a half-hour’s probing, he admitted defeat.
“So we’re stuck with it,” he said finally. Jason noted the ‘we’ and tensed. Harvey continued, “Yes, we’re stuck. You made a bad deal, Jase. Don’t blame yourself, it happens. Get ‘em next time, right? In the meantime, well, I’ll just have to live with it, won’t I. So what is this condition anyway?”
“You can never use your coin again to make a decision.”
“Is that all? Why would I! With no more Two-Face, why would I need to—Haha! Oh Jason, Jesus, you really had me going there! THAT’s all it’s going to take to keep from turning back to half a pumpkin! Come on! I am going to buy you lunch! There’s this great Vietnamese place down the street.”
Pete helped me load the incubators onto this sea-winch they had to lower big shipments down to Sub Diego. The rest of the stuff was compact enough to ride with me in one of the submersibles. They used these to shuttle Press, VIPs and relief workers back and forth. Even Pete wasn’t going to let me take one out for a joy ride without some kind of authorization—but now that the gear was loaded, I was past needing their full cooperation.
Pete apologized again for Harold, who continued poring over the partial faxes, looking for somebody to call for confirmation. I sent Pete out to the van to look for my cel phone. I was sure I had a number in the address book, I said. As soon as he was gone, I went to talk to Harold.
“Pete says you’re not usually this pissy,” I told him sweetly. And his cheeks started to pink. “He says you just didn’t want to help us with the heavy lifting.” The pink started to redden. “Bad back? My brother’s got one from weight lifting.”
He reacted as expected. Painted as a discourteous wimp by his treacherous partner Pete, and then offered a manly out by the bouncy gal in the wet suit, Harold latched onto the excuse that made him neither pissy nor wimpy. He had a bad back. He stretched and turned and showed me where it pulled if he lifted too much weight. When he sat back down:
“Hey, where’s my faxes?”
“Now, Harold,” I explained, slipping the neatly folded paper into place and zipping up my suit, “You’re a smart guy. You know what’s going on here. I’m taking the sub. And without that fax, there is no evidence to support your story. It would be so much better for you and Petey to pretend this never happened. I’ll have them refill the gas and air tanks down below, so no one will even know it’s been used… except you, of course. It’ll be our secret. Tell Petey I’ll be back in two hours.”
I winked, blew a kiss, and, just for fun, got myself back to the
submersible by way of a simple backwards somersault. A minute later, I
was on my way down to Sub Diego.
“I want you to punch me in the mouth,” Jason said directly.
Harvey set down his menu and looked curiously across the table at his guest.
“Try the steamed shrimp, they’re our—my favorite.”
“I really think you should punch me in the mouth instead of buying me lunch, Harvey.”
“Tom hap nuoc dua, ‘steamed in coconut milk,’ how can you turn that down?”
“I would feel more secure that you understood how difficult this will be if you’d only—”
“Jason, please. You’re like this junior associate we had at the DA’s one year, Mick Darcy, he accidentally stapled an internal memo into some documents sent to Defense Council. I had to go in next day knowing they were going to get half my evidence tossed out.”
“What did you do?” Jason asked.
“Offered a plea. Simple assault, dropped the gun charge. Less than the scum deserved, but what can you do? Know what happened to Mick Darcy?”
“You bought him lunch?”
“I set him to researching repeat offenders after an assault-plea. He thought he was fired. He was so charged up to get a ‘working penance’ instead, he wound up creating this whole spreadsheet, statistical analysis of career paths after plea bargains for various offences… Made Law Review… Darcy—even had my job for a while—after.”
Harvey’s face darkened.
“The Bao Tu Jambon is also very good.”
Had to happen. There just had to be a snag sooner or later, and 190 feet below sea level, the snag wasn’t going to be dangerously sexy crimefighter in a cape.
I was headed for the Hotel del Coronado, formerly a luxurious waterfront
hotel, now the entrance to Sub Diego. I was trying to work out just
how that final chat with Harold had shifted on me. It was meant to be
checkmate, grabbing the fax, leaving the pair of them without any option but
to shut up and play along. But somehow, once I started talking, I
wound up reassuring Harold that he wouldn’t be culpable if he cooperated.
That wasn’t a challenge. It wasn’t a dare. It was—hell, I don’t
know what it was! But it wasn’t me. It wasn’t feline. It’s not
like I was afraid of returning to a FEMA warehouse full of cops, after all.
Risks go with the territory, it’s why these jobs pay so well—and it’s half
the fun. What could they possibly throw at me that I couldn’t handle?
So why did I pat Harold’s head instead of tweaking his nose?
Maybe these FEMA guys weren’t quite as puffed up as cops or crimefighters, but still, obnoxious authority figures, when you got ‘em on the mat… it was checkmate and I just… Anyway, I was trying to work it out the whole way down. I was just nearing the Hotel del Coronado, just sighted the cupola, when I saw another submersible rising from behind it—the markings of a TV Network on its nose.
Shit. How do I hide a two ton submersible in the middle of the damn ocean?
To be continued...