I had waited so long to have the Boss back in my life, and now I had him – no longer the Joker – but still the Boss. Jonathan was my Boss, and I would follow him wherever he would go. He had once told me he had plans, big plans, for Gotham. And I would help him carry them out. But first we had to make it out of Arkham.
We stepped out of our cell and made it to the end of the empty corridor without event. The guard that usually kept watch at the end was gone, and the door swung open easily under our touch.
Outside it, in the Day Room, some semblance of the riot was still going on. Inmates were swarming around guards, tearing apart everything in sight, even taking the opportunity to fight each other. Tables had been smashed and couches were torn open. A few of the guards had fallen – the more unfortunate ones literally being torn apart just like another piece of furniture by some of the testier inmates.
I froze in panic when I saw the turmoil, not knowing what to do. It was completely overwhelming, attacking all my senses.
Jonathan grabbed my arm, spoke to me from beneath the Scarecrow mask with a steely blue gaze, full of authority. "Let's cut through the cafeteria. Make our way to the staff kitchen – I don't think anyone would think to go out that way. We can make a clean exit through the delivery bay where the trucks haul in the food supplies. Maybe we can even hotwire one and drive out of here. If Quinzel did her job right, the gate should be up for us. We'll head to the river and cross the bridge from the Narrows into Gotham. C'mon."
I could barely process all this information before Jonathan pulled me through the Day Room, navigating around all the ensuing chaos in a way that I never could, though he was moving kind of funny, as though he was in some pain. He led me toward the cafeteria and pulled the door open. It shut behind us with a clang, blocking the sounds of the scuffle out. The cafeteria was completely deserted.
Jonathan rested his hands on his knees, and groaned a little, trying to catch his breath.
"You okay?" I asked.
"Yeah, just sore from that trick Quinzel pulled. C'mon."
Jonathan led the way through the tables toward the staff kitchen in the back. I had never seen the cafeteria empty like that before. It was eerie.
"What did I tell you?" Jonathan's voice almost seemed to echo across the walls. "Didn't think any of those crazies would be smart enough to make their way out through here. Bastards are heading for the Main Entry, where all the guards are no doubt waiting for them…"
Suddenly a hand reached out from under one of the tables, grabbed Jonathan's ankle and pulled him to the floor. The back of his head hit the linoleum with a slap. "Not all the guards," a sickeningly familiar voice said.
Out slithered the Blond Guard, looking like he'd been through Hell. His left eye was bruised shut, and the entire left side of his face was purple and swollen and bloody. Someone had had a good time with him.
"Nobody move," he said, pulling out a gun and pointing it at me.
"Oh God," I whispered, falling to my knees. It wasn't the Blond Guard anymore. It was Harvey Dent, back from the dead. Harvey Dent, back to finish the job.
Dent tackled me, pushed my face to the floor, got one of my arms behind my back as I struggled, on the verge of tears with fear.
"It's not Dent!" Jonathan screamed. "There's nothing to be afraid of! It's not Dent!"
I felt the gun being pushed to the back of my head. "Now stay down, Schiff…" Dent said. "You too, Crane! Down on the ground, hands behind your head, NOW!" He sounded like a man on the edge. I could hear him pulling out a pair of handcuffs. "Already dealt with one lunatic today. Don't know why he didn't finish me off, but I'm not taking any more chances. If either of you makes a sudden move, I swear to you I will shoot and I aim to kill!"
I whimpered, helpless. I would never be free. Never be free of Arkham. Trapped forever behind these walls with Harvey Dent, the man I feared most, as my captor.
"Dammit, Tommy, catch!"
Jonathan threw something at me as Dent fired off a shot at him. I tried to catch it but it slipped through my fingers, clattering across the linoleum.
The canister of fear toxin!
Jonathan screamed out in pain, and I looked up. He was gasping and clutching a bloody arm.
"Spray him, Tommy!" he screeched, deranged. "SPRAY HIM LIKE A BUG!"
I grabbed the canister and flipped around just as Dent aimed the gun at my forehead.
Bzzzzt! The canister emitted a huge stream of grey smoke right in Dent's face, and he fell over backwards as he pulled the trigger, screaming.
The sound of the gunshot stunned me so badly I dropped the canister to the floor. For a few seconds I tried to figure out where I had been hit, until I realized the shot had gone off into the ceiling. The impact of the fear toxin had made Dent jerk his gun upward at the last second.
I rose unsteadily to my feet, and Dent cowered before me, shielding himself with the gun and crying like a baby. "No, no, don't hurt me…" he wailed pathetically, backing away on all fours. Finally he managed to get up and ran screaming for his life out of the cafeteria and into the Day Room. The door swung shut behind him.
I ran to Jonathan's side on the floor.
He was still wearing his mask, but I could see by his eyes he was in a lot of pain. The first gunshot had hit him in his upper arm, which was bleeding profusely. "Tear off my sleeve, would ya…" he said, and directed me in bandaging the wound. I wrapped the orange sleeve around and around his arm until the blood was held back, and tied it off. "This will have to hold till we're on the outside," he said wearily.
"We're lucky to be alive," I said. I went to retrieve the fear toxin canister and held it up. "Good thing you had this."
"It's empty now, remember? Go ahead, try it."
I pointed it away from my face and pressed the nozzle. Nothing came out.
"Only enough for one dose," Jonathan said. "But one dose was enough. Made you feel powerful, didn't it?"
I looked at him wide-eyed and nodded. He was right. I had felt powerful.
"Get used to the feeling. There's plenty more where that came from once we're outta here. The mind has power over the body. Remember that. Any fears that you have are all in your head. They can't stop you." He held his good arm out to me, and I was able to get him to his feet, holding him up with his uninjured arm around my shoulder. We were both exhausted, and for a while we just stood there staring at each other, trying to catch our breath. Suddenly, a change came over Jonathan's blue eyes.
"Hey, wait a minute," he said, concerned. "You're hurt…"
"Yeah, there's something wrong with your face. Let me see…" He raised a hand to examine the length of my nose and examined it from all angles.
"Nope, I was wrong, still crooked."
He gave me two quick pats on the cheek. "You're good. Off we go," he said and headed for the kitchen.
I laughed in spite of myself. Jonathan always knows how to make me laugh.
Even after being shot, his sense of humor had quickly returned and he sounded optimistic. He even seemed to walk with a swagger. That was the confidence he had and I lacked. That was my Boss.
The kitchen door, normally restricted by a Staff Only access keypad, fell open at Jonathan's touch and swung closed behind him. For a few moments I just stood there in awe of his resilience, and then hurried to follow.
When I walked through the door, I saw him standing in the middle of the room, frozen next to a table covered with various cooking utensils, spatulas, baking pans and a rolling pin.
Then I noticed the other figure in the room, the one with his back to us, fingering a set of long butcher's knives hanging against the back wall, blocking the exit to the delivery bay. There were scars on the back of his neck, raised slashes in groups of five resembling tally marks, deliberately made. I knew those scars well. Slowly the man turned around to view us, and the wicked joy that spread across his face was only equaled by my terror.
"Well, isn't this just delicious," Victor Zsaz said. "If it isn't my old roommate, Thomas Schiff, you annoying little fuck. You look great, by the way. Looove the nose," he said maliciously. I clutched at it unconsciously, could feel the punch that he had landed all those years ago that had bent it out of shape. "I been locked up in Solitary for the past six years because of you, always singing your stupid little songs. And who's your friend supposed to be – Mr. Potato Head?"
I had broken into a cold sweat. When we were cellmates, Zsaz had always ranted and raved about the people who'd done him wrong. But Zsaz had never seen the Scarecrow mask, I realized. I could keep Jonathan safe! All I had to do was warn him without revealing his identity to Zsaz. "D-don't say anything, Boss…" I pleaded.
"Quiet, Tommy. I'll take care of this. You stay away from him, Zsaz," Jonathan threatened. "I'm warning you."
"Wait, I know that voice…" Zsaz said, and he let out a brief, unhinged laugh. "Why, my old psychiatrist Doctor Crane! It's you, isn't it? And here I thought my fun was cut short when I heard the guard run away… You know, the two of you spoiled a very big catch for me just now. I was gonna flay that sucker and fry him like a fish. I went through all the trouble of knocking him out when I could've just taken his gun and shot him. But I wanted to have a little fun… see what tools the kitchen had to offer..." Zsaz pulled a long, thin butcher's knife from the wall, and started walking slowly toward Jonathan.
"I been waiting a long time for this, Crane. You're the reason I got holed up in this joint in the first place. And it was your toxin unleashed got me committed for good. But you know, the effects of the toxin wore off a looong time ago, and that wimpy little mask of yours ain't gonna scare me."
I scrambled to Jonathan's side. He was the Boss. I was the lackey, the henchman, the underling. That's what I had always been. Jonathan had already taken a bullet for me. If anyone was going down, it was going to be me. I would throw myself at Zsaz, give Jonathan time to escape.
"Get out of here, Boss…" I said.
"Back away, Tommy. That's an order," Jonathan snapped at me, never taking his eyes off Zsaz. He had never sounded so demanding, so cold.
"I won't," I whispered as Zsaz moved closer.
"I SAID BACK THE FUCK AWAY!" Jonathan turned towards me and pushed me aside with both hands as hard as he could. I stumbled backward and fell to the ground a few feet away. Zsaz used the opportunity to lunge. I was flat on my back and didn't see what happened. When I raised my head, Zsaz's back was to me and he was raising a bloody knife in the air to strike again.
I caught my arm around his neck before he could land the second blow. The knife clattered to the floor, and he fell back onto me as I gripped him in a choke hold, squeezing his throat with all of my strength, with strength I didn't even know that I had. Zsaz struggled against me but I was in the throes of complete and utter madness. He had tried to hurt the Boss! All I could see was a blinding redness like blood was dripping into my eyes. Jonathan's blood. I gripped tighter and tighter. Zsaz's face went red, then blue… his body struggling against me became weaker and weaker until finally… it went limp. I wasn't sure if he was dead or just unconscious, so I grabbed a wooden rolling pin off the closest table and decided to do a little cosmetic surgery. The rolling pin made a nice thwack sound, and, though it got a little messy, I thought the procedure was a complete success. Zsaz looked much better without that pesky nose in the way, smashed to pieces. In fact, most of his face was a pulpy mess. I considered it a huge improvement.
Suddenly the sound of Jonathan gasping for air broke through my madness and I came to my senses, dropped the pin, heard it clatter to the floor and roll away.
I ran to Jonathan's side. He was shaking and making loud choking noises like he couldn't get any air in through his mask. I pulled it off to help him breathe and cried out at the sight. There was an ugly gash along his throat. The heavy burlap fabric of the mask had probably dulled the impact of Zsaz's blade a bit, but nonetheless, blood poured down the back of his neck and along his chest. I grabbed a dish rag from a nearby table and pressed it to his throat, trying to stanch the flow. Jonathan looked up at me, wide-eyed, frightened. That terrified me. I had never seen him so afraid before. He couldn't speak. He merely placed one hand over mine, then with the other took something out of his pocket. It was the origami swan he had made after Dr. Hawkins had announced Quinzel's leave of absence. He held it up to me until I took it, then let his hand fall. He looked at me and mouthed one word – Fly – then squeezed his eyes shut, his entire body struggling, jerking against the pain that contorted his beautiful face.
Tears were streaming down my cheeks. I couldn't bear to see him in so much agony.
Then I remembered. There was one thing that had never failed to make Jonathan fall asleep peacefully.
I forced back my tears and began to sing.
"Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird… and if that mockingbird don't sing, Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring…"
I think Jonathan could hear me. Slowly his clenched jaw began to relax…
"And if that diamond ring turns brass, Mama's gonna buy you a looking glass… and if that looking glass gets broke, Mama's gonna buy you a billy goat…"
The furrows in his brow became smoother…
"And if that billy goat doesn't pull, Mama's gonna buy you a cart and bull…"
Jonathan's body began to stop struggling, as though all the tension and pain were leaving his body…
"And if that cart and bull turn over, Mama's gonna buy you a dog named Rover…"
I choked back a sob and pushed my way through the final verse.
"And if that dog named Rover won't bark, Mama's gonna buy you a horse and cart… and if that horse and cart fall down…" Here my voice faltered. "Fall down… Well, you'll still be the sweetest baby in town."
The song was over.
Jonathan was dead.
I didn't know what to do.
There was no Boss left to tell me what to do.
For a long time, I just clutched his body to me and cried, my tears falling onto his face, down his cheeks until he looked like he was crying, too.
I laid down next to him and closed my eyes. I was scared, so scared. I wanted to die, too. It is one thing to be terrified when a gun is pointed at your head – it is another thing to be completely and utterly alone, in despair. The latter is much more frightening.
But who knew how long before Arkham would be invaded by police, before we straggler inmates would be rounded up like cattle and stuck in our pens again?
If I was ever going to be free, now was my only chance. I would have to mourn Jonathan later. I must escape. But how? How could I even move?
The mind has power over the body, Jonathan had said. Any fears that you have are all in your head. They can't stop you.
I forced myself to sit up, to take action. Vaguely I remembered Jonathan's instructions, as though from years ago: Exit through the delivery bay. Find a truck. Head for the river.
But could I leave Jonathan there, leave his body to rot in Arkham forever?
No. His freedom would not be denied him. He would get it one way or another.
Frantically I looked around the kitchen until I found it, in the corner, a hand cart dolly with a long flat bed, used to push heavy supplies from the delivery bay into the kitchen. I carefully placed the origami swan in one of my pockets so as not to crush it, and stuffed Jonathan's mask in the other. Then I took the dolly, placed Jonathan's body on it, and covered his face and chest with a long kitchen towel. I pushed him through the huge double doors of the delivery bay, and we were outside, though within the confines of Arkham's gate. It was dark still, and there was a row of trucks parked against the building. In the very last one I found the keys in the ignition and nearly cried with relief. I didn't know how to hotwire a truck like Jonathan had planned to do. I placed his body carefully in the back, climbed into the driver's seat, and held my breath. Turned the keys in the ignition. It sprang to life. Slowly I let all the air in my lungs out. I was nearly free.
The guard who worked the gate was gone. Either paid off or killed or who knows what. The gate was open just like Jonathan had predicted it would be. I passed through it and felt part of a huge weight fall off my back, but I wasn't soaring yet.
I stood on top of the empty bridge leading into Gotham. The river was loud as it rushed past beneath my feet. I had taken a cinderblock from an alley and used a hose that had been hanging against the side of a building to tie it to Jonathan's body. I felt like a common thug doing it, but I couldn't stand the thought of Jonathan's body washing up on shore someday, being discovered by cops and taken to a morgue where he'd be locked up again.
I had lifted Jonathan's body up onto the wide railing of the bridge underneath a street lamp. I looked into his face one last time, kissed his head once, and pushed him over the side. For a second he looked like he was flying. Then he hit the water and disappeared into the darkness.
For a long time I just stood there listening to the sound of the river rushing past. Then absentmindedly I stuck my hands in my pockets and found the only mementos of Jonathan I had – the origami swan and the mask. The mask I left where it was. The swan I pulled out and unfolded. Written in blue crayon on its white body was a host of notes: Directions to the storehouses of fear toxin, the location of his emergency funds, contact information for his spies, and even the recipe for the fear toxin spray.
At the very bottom was the only personal note written, one that made me choke, and also there was a picture.
The note read, "Remember, Tommy, you're the Boss now."
Beside it was a doodle of a little bluebird flying away with a smile on its beak. There was a blue word balloon issuing from its mouth, with yellow text inside, the only part of the entire message that was written in yellow crayon. I had trouble deciphering the text – the light yellow was really hard to make out against the white background of the paper.
Finally I realized what the bluebird said.
"P.S. C Y yellow is useless?"
I chuckled through my tears. I got it now.
Jonathan always knows how to make me laugh.
When Dr. Quinzel's leave of absence had been announced, Jonathan had realized that something was up. Something big at Arkham was about to go down, and he knew that he might not survive it. He had cared enough for me to make sure that I would be okay without him.
Jonathan had given me so many gifts. He had given me laughter. He had given me freedom.
Most of all, he had believed in me.
'Why do we fall?' I thought, looking down into the river and wiping my tears.
Then I took out the mask and pulled on my new face.
How do we fly?