Author's Note: A fraying relationship, this is not; it has already snapped. Bruce, forever the logistician, formulates an idea to correct the problem, not considering what ramifications await if his ward should discover the truth behind his actions...
Here begins Descent.
No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. I know this all too well. Even so, the boy is out of control. He has once again pre-empted my intentions and charged into the situation blind. I have no choice but to make sure he emerges unscathed from this incident. I follow his impatient lead. Less than thirty-three seconds later, all twelve gunrunners are on the ground, either disabled or unconscious. The boy is down on one knee, holding his head. I check the immediate area for danger. There are no other degenerates to contend with. I breathe a sigh of relief before turning my attentions to the headstrong youth at my feet.
"Can you stand?" I ask without any audible emotion. The boy seems to feed on my rage. Any negativity I project makes him even more difficult to handle. He slowly stands up and removes his hand. There is a medium-sized gash on his forehead. It is bleeding. The boy sucks his teeth before posing his own question.
"Is it really bad?"
To tell him he deserves his injury because of reckless behaviour is the right thing to do. I should chide him for further proof of his unsuitability as my partner. I do not. I answer.
"No. Do you have your radio?"
The boy pats his utility belt before producing the transceiver I requested he bring along. He shows it to me and shrugs his shoulders. "Do you want me to alert Gordon or just dispatch the GCPD?" His tone is bitter. It is not because of having to turn over these scumbags to the authorities and allow them the praise we deserve; it is because I appear not to care about his well-being. Perhaps, on many levels, I do not. I do not like the boy's attitude or the path he is walking down. I reply after a brief silence.
"Inform Gordon of the location but get some patrol cars here as soon as possible."
My partner does not talk to me again for over ten minutes. He transmitted both his calls in the first two minutes. We have been mute, standing beside one another, for eight minutes. GCPD squad cars arrived almost four minutes ago. The police officers do not even ask us questions. It would appear the boy communicated all the major facts adequately. By the time Jim gets on scene, there are six patrol cars and all twelve gunrunners are in custody.
"The storage company this building is registered to is already in the process of being investigated. Once we trace the owner, we believe we may finally have the solid lead we're after." Gordon says with optimism resonating throughout his words. He is satisfied we are finally making progress in this investigation. I too believe this successful raid to be a step in the right direction, but say nothing to suggest it. The boy mutters something under his breath.
"Unless you require our presence for anything else, Jim, we'll be leaving."
Jim notices Robin's injury and adopts a grave expression. I do not like the boy garnering sympathy for self-inflicted wounds. Gordon will now believe I am once again acting irresponsibly and placing my partner's life in unnecessary danger. However, like me, he will not voice such sentiments. I respect him greatly for his discretion in these matters.
"No. We can wrap things up from here. Be in touch." He replies after a moment. I incline my head before turning to exit the warehouse. Robin follows by my side. We are still yet to talk to one another even after twenty minutes. We are in the car and halfway out of the city when the boy breaks the tension.
"Do we have any disinfectant left in the car?"
"There should be some in the left nearside compartment."
I hear him stifle a cry as he applies the liquid to his head with a cotton ball. My instinctive reaction is to reach over and ruffle his hair. I do not react instinctively. My hands remain on the wheel and my attention on the road. The last time I attempted to be comforting, the boy swiped my hand away and viciously shouted at me. He finishes with the materials and places them back in the compartment. Deathly quiet is restored.
"How do you feel?" I ask a few minutes later. Robin is not interested in making conversation. His response of glaring at me is enough to show he is still upset at my lack of concern. I do not try again. After another ten minutes, we are at the cave.
The boy gets out the car, walks straight past Alfred and exits the cave entirely via the staircase. He does not look at or acknowledge either of us. The old man looks despondent by the youth's behaviour; I am enraged by his lack of respect. As I move through the cave, Alfred attempts to speak to me. I shed my armour, change into civilian clothes and ignore him too. The old man's lack of surprise at my actions speaks volumes for our current situation. We are in freefall. This has to stop. I walk up the staircase.
The boy is in the shower when I enter his bedroom. I find his uniform strewn on the floor. I proceed to pick it up and fold it neatly on his unmade bed while the sound of water dies. Moments later, he emerges from his bathroom in a bathrobe. He is still dripping wet as he stares at me in what can only be contempt. I sit down on his bed.
"Please sit down."
My request is simple and polite, but I do not believe my companion can ever see it in that light. He thinks me pompous and arrogant, the same qualities I associate with him. However, he does as instructed and sits down beside me. The boy has placed a band-aid across the gash, but its size is woefully inadequate. I do not tell him this.
"You have something to say, Bruce?" He asks with a sneer. I sense the boy may almost be on the cusp of hating me entirely. What I do next is completely out of character and against all my feelings for this unruly child. I embrace him without saying a word. As I anticipated he stiffens, a physical sign of his shock at the gesture.
"I'm sorry for how I have treated you. I wish you to know that it was never my intention to hurt you like I have. And I don't want your forgiveness. All I want you to know is that, no matter what issues we may have with one another, I love you, Jason. And I always will." This tactic is my last. If an admittance of fault and a display of intimate affection will not rally the boy back to my side, all is lost. For long, slow minutes, I believe I have failed in this venture. Jason remains stiff and inflexible in my arms, saying nothing. Eventually, just as I am contemplating releasing him, the boy's body softens. His head sinks into my chest and his arms wrap around my back. I hear Jason sigh.
We stay pinned to one another for the next four minutes in reflective silence. I have achieved what I believed was impossible; I have taken a step towards repairing our frayed and violent relationship. The youth in my arms thinks he has found my acceptance as Dick's replacement. His naïve impression of our relationship as being more father-son than business-like is regrettable but necessary to restore unity. I stroke his damp hair and hear him sigh again. Poor boy. This is not his home. It never will be.
I wake up around eight in the morning and head downstairs. I find Alfred preparing eggs Benedict in the kitchen. The boy is at the breakfast bar, eating cereal. His presence is totally unexpected. For the past six months, Jason has taken to serial truancy and sleeping until midday. He looks less than pleased to be awake, but has made the effort to be sociable.
"Good morning, Master Bruce. Breakfast will be served in three minutes."
It is the most positive response I have garnered from the boy in almost a year. It would seem my actions from last night are still fixed in his mind…for now. I sit down at the table and look around for today's paper.
"Here." Jason says whilst pushing the newspaper square into my chest on his way to sitting down opposite me. I am pleased the boy is acting with restraint, but am wary of my ploy backfiring in some way. Even now, in this placid state, Jason is still only a wrong word away from being volatile.
"How is your head today?" I ask unfolding the paper.
"Hurts. Its like some guy cracked me in the head with a baseball bat." I am truly surprised now. The boy has attempted to joke with me. He and I both know his injury is due to a bat-wielding thug from last night, but he has tried to be humorous…like he used to be. When I smile to reward his effort, he smiles too. "I know it sucked, but I couldn't think of anything else." I have missed his gentler side. Now, as he displays his best qualities, it is hard for me to remember when he last let me this close. Perhaps it is as long as a year-and-a-half ago.
"You're up early. Is there any particular reason?" I inquire as Alfred places my breakfast on the table in front of me.
"I wanted…" The boy pauses when the old man presents him with a plate as well. He had not been expecting such treatment. He looks at Alfred in confusion. The old man nods to indicate he is deserving of this service and offers the youth the warmest smile he has received in months. "Thanks Al." Jason says picking up his cutlery. Alfred inclines his head and exits the room. "Like I said, I wanted to go down the drugstore and pick up some patches."
"Um, nicotine patches. You know, the kind that help you quit smoking?"
"You're going to quit smoking?"
"I'll give it a shot. I can't make any promises, okay?"
"That's okay. Anything else on your agenda?"
"I thought about gyming it for a while too. Why? Do you want my help with something?"
Do I want his help with something? Despite all my lectures and tuition, I find the boy's deductive reasoning skills obtuse. He lacks the sharp edge necessary for high-level investigation and his blunt attitude to everything does not leave room for lateral-thinking. In past cases, his use as only extended as far as extra-muscle or back-up. He has not displayed an interest in giving me anything else. When he asks whether I want his help, I consider telling him to move furniture or assist Alfred with household chores. I do not insult him though by articulating this thought. I am trying to bring him back into the fold. For that to happen, he needs to feel like he is involved, like I require his help.
"Yes. I was hoping to get your input on this gunrunning case. Maybe between us we can answer some questions."
Jason's reaction to this is to smile again. I have no doubt he feels like we are once again growing closer. It is an illusion, but I must maintain the pretence. I must confess his smile is the same as Dick's; something truly wonderful to see.
"Yeah, I'd like that." He replies with the kind of shy enthusiasm I wanted him to project. Perhaps it is still possible to get the boy back under my control. I will run with this strategy of feeding him false emotion as long as I am able. The end will justify the means and, despite the methods implemented being cruel, they are proving to nevertheless be highly effective. I will have this boy under my control once more. That fact is now inevitable.
We are in the cave later that afternoon. In the intervening hours, Jason has done precisely what he said he would do. He has obtained the nicotine patches from the drugstore and conducted a strength and power session in the gymnasium. For the first time in months, his time has been productive. I am pleased with his new-found commitment. It is very encouraging. My own time has also been conducive to later success. I have short-listed a select group of arms dealers who possess both the means and skill to orchestrate the kind of deals currently plaguing the city. Before the boy turned up to offer his input, I had already done most of the legwork required to close this investigation. Hopefully now it is simply a case of joining the dots, something Jason excels at.
"It's none of these guys, Bruce." The boy has just glanced over our suspect list and dismissed my findings. I am incredulous of his statement.
"How is that feasible? These individuals are the only ones capable of executing the deals we are seeing on the streets."
"'Cause these guys have huge egos; if they were doing these kind of sales, they'd let the underworld know it was them. The people doing the deals aren't saying a damn word; they're being discreet." Part of Jason's argument is reasonable. Yes, these people I have ear-marked are egocentric and arrogant in their market. They do like to brag of their triumphs, but who else is there to look at?
"Who do you believe we should be squeezing?" Jason grins at me. He actually has a lead for me to follow. There is no other explanation for his glee. I wait for his reply.
"He's just a straw boss for Frank Halsee."
"No, Frank Halsee is his fall guy."
"Granting that's true, their outfit doesn't deal in illegal arms trading, only prostitution and racketeering."
"Nah, those are a front, a side-business to cover the big deals going on in the back."
"Where's your evidence for these claims?"
"Look at the papers, Bruce."
What Jason is claiming, that Frank Halsee, one of North Gotham's most prolific gangland figureheads is nothing but a patsy, appears ludicrous…at first. Digging up archives from the Gotham Times reveals some interesting facts. Halsee only appeared in Gotham six years ago, prior to his meteoric rise to power, his only prison time was for petty theft and fraud. Danny Pedro has been in the city for almost fifteen years, having come from Mexico where he was arrested, but never convicted for a slew of prostitution and racketeering charges. Because these charges were filed in Mexico, they are not present on the GCPD database. Halsee's unsuitable background and Pedro's hidden talents, make Jason's theory that Pedro is the real boss increasingly credible. Where this scumbag fits into gunrunning is less clear.
A report on a seizure of illegal firearms in Gotham Docks some five years ago clears matters somewhat. The weapons cache was discovered in shipping crates belonging to a transport company, Warbeck Industries. It is a dummy corporation with its registered CEO as a man named Alonso Marquez. Marquez is one of Pedro's many aliases, again from crimes committed outside of the United States. Because GCPD could not trace Marquez, they convicted another petty thief, Hector Rango, a distant cousin of Danny Pedro, of the crime. Faced with this plethora of fresh intelligence, I recall the name of the storage company being none other than Warbeck Storage Ltd. It is not unreasonable to assume that this business will also be revealed as a dummy corporation. Jason's theory holds significant water. His input…has proved invaluable.
"How did you discover this?" I ask him once Pedro's movements place him near the storage facility last night. The boy shrugs his shoulders.
"I've been looking into it. You taught me to be a detective. I've been detecting. Pretty good, right?"
"Outstanding is a more apt word to describe your efforts." I pat him on the shoulder without any hesitancy, "Nice work, partner."
Instead of reacting violently to my unauthorised contact, the boy simply nods. "Thanks, Boss, do what I can."
My appraisal of the youth's abilities and motivations has been both too harsh and narrow. He has skills and knows how to use them effectively. We may yet find our feet as a team. Despite my renewed hope in our partnership and in spite of Jason's invaluable input into this investigation, my instincts tell me something is amiss. Even if he had researched all this information vigorously and with considerable scrutiny, I would still not expect him to possess such intimate knowledge. What are his sources if not the materials we have just utilized? I keep my doubts to myself…for the moment.
"Pedro's recently been incarcerated for six months on illegal possession of several firearms. If he is the real boss in this operation, the prison term presents the perfect cover to hide behind." I say as we begin to trawl through databases and archived files in the GCPD central computer.
"Yeah, but according to Gordon's Arson taskforce, Frank Halsee's home was the target of a rival outfit less than a week ago. Halsee himself has also disappeared from public view." The boy responds. I consider.
"In such an event, who is in control of Halsee's associates?"
"Says here in the GCPD Major Crimes Unit that a guy named Vicenza Daytona is the 3 I/C for Halsee and Pedro in the event of their absence."
We concentrate our efforts on pulling Daytona's records. His real name is Mario Luciano, a mid-level enforcer from the Sicilian Mafia. Back home he was charged with almost every offence possible, ranging from petty theft to rape to murder, but was almost always let free. The few instances he was indicted were for minor sanctions relating to fraud and perjury. He came to the United States in 1999 under his current moniker, Vicenza Daytona, to monitor Mafia interests. His sudden decision to align himself with Halsee and his outfit in 2002 was met with several assassination attempts by his former bosses. He was hospitalized twice for gunshot wounds in a three-month timeframe in early 2003 and has not suffered a further attempt since. His illicit activities in Gotham have been confined to the one area we are investigating, arms trafficking. Although it outwardly seems Halsee is trying to distance himself from Daytona, his outfits revenue stream is not sourced exclusively from prostitution and racketeering ventures. A sizeable 23% of their illegal profits are coming from an unknown source. Taking into account the amount of firearms being transported through the city and their street value, it is logical to suggest this financial black spot is through gunrunning.
"You think Daytona's taking his orders from Pedro?"
"It seems likely. In the seven weeks since Pedro was sent to Blackgate, Daytona has visited him nine times. Halsee has not visited once."
"My intel's good then, huh?"
"It is proving irrefutable at present, yes."
The boy is still over-confident to the point of liability in a street scenario. He must learn some humility or face a potentially fatal lesson in the field should this behaviour continue. I do not voice such harshly-worded sentiments. For now we are working well as a team. After a short while, I secure a viable address for Daytona and commit it to memory. Jason is aware of this and is already eager to get underway. Fortunately for him and perhaps myself, it is almost dark over the city. We prepare for our rendezvous a short while later.