Chapter 1: A Narrows Escape
It had all been a blur.
Although the taser had only momentarily incapacitated Jonathan Crane, the effect it had had on his psyche – a psyche already altered by fear toxin – had made him lose control for much longer. He had screamed uncontrollably as the police horse he'd commandeered ran recklessly through the streets of the toxin-filled Narrows until the beast finally stopped, winded, in a rundown section of the island that appeared to be deserted. If any citizens had failed to evacuate these shabby apartments, they weren't coming out. White fumes of fear toxin still hovered in the air, giving the atmosphere of an eerie metropolitan ghost town.
It was here that Crane came to his senses, here where he forced himself to slow his breathing to normal. The mind has power over the body, he reminded himself. The mind has power over the body. His personal mantra.
He lowered himself from the horse and patted its neck, slick with sweat, and murmured to it, trying to calm it. Inwardly he thanked Gram for the riding lessons when he was 12. He was still wearing the Scarecrow mask, as well as the full-body straitjacket, unstrapped, over his business suit.
It was clear to him now that Ra's al Ghul had never intended to hold the city to ransom. Mass destruction was his objective. The mindless fool. Crane's objective was power; and money was power. He would have to come up with a new plan to obtain it. His life as a psychiatrist and director of Arkham Asylum was over. He was Scarecrow now.
When he had first started doing business with the League of Shadows, Crane put plans in place for certain eventualities. These were, to put it bluntly, "scary" people he was dealing with. The thought made him smirk. He'd made arrangements for a hideout downtown, an apartment leased under a fake identity. But now it became clear that he'd have to get out of Gotham altogether if he wanted to survive. There was no doubt in Crane's mind that the League of Shadows was going to cover the rest of Gotham in the fear toxin that now permeated the Narrows; the execution of their plans was probably already underway. The only problem was making it out of the Narrows – the bridges had been raised. But Crane had a plan in place for a less traditional getaway, too. A speedboat he'd outfitted was waiting for him at the docks behind the Asylum, at the southwest end of the island. Using it, he could navigate the waterways and make it into the neighboring state.
But he would have to look inconspicuous when he arrived on land again. Time to ditch the threads. The mask he kept on for now; he would need it to make it out of the Narrows yet. But he took off the straitjacket, holding it one hand, looking for a good place to dump it.
Crane had always felt his sense of humor had been misjudged by people. They tended to see him as the stuffy doctor type, but really, he was the type of guy who'd tell you to lighten up before he lit you on fire. So it was with no small sense of amusement that he spotted the Gotham Goodwill clothing drop box at the end of the block. It was one of those large metal containers, taller than a phone booth and about as wide as two, where people could leave their old clothes to be donated to charity. Crane got a kick out of the thought of some volunteer worker, probably a little old lady, going through to sort the clothes and discovering the straitjacket. Probably give her the scare of her life. Crane chuckled to himself as he pulled open the metal handle and looked inside – stopped as he found himself staring face to face into another man's eyes.
The man screeched in terror, cowering instantly, using his hands to protect his face. "Don't hurt me, don't hurt me!" he screamed. "Go away!"
Crane fell back and hit the pavement in surprise, in fear, and cursed himself for feeling that emotion. It was just some punk hopped up on fear toxin. Crane had the power in this scenario. His own fear had subsided. And now he was going to make the punk pay.
He pulled the container open and tore the man out by his collar, threw him to the pavement as he screamed and screamed, terrified of Crane's mask, distorted by his own toxin-infected eyes, which could only see a monster. The man once again tried to shield his face. Slowly by the flickering of a streetlight overhead, Crane realized who he was and all thoughts of attack subsided.
"Calm down, calm down…" Crane said, to no effect. He straddled the flailing man and grabbed him by the wrists, held them down with one hand long enough to take off his mask before holding him down with both hands again. "It's me."
Slowly the man's eyes began to focus and the pupils to contract as his fear began to lessen. "Doctor Crane?"
"Yes, Thomas, it's me."
Thomas Schiff, his patient. Thomas Schiff, who not days ago had been down in the basement of Arkham, working in the assembly line of inmates who constructed the fear toxin from his formula and poured it into the city's water main, the very fear toxin that now filled the air of the Narrows.
"Try to stay calm, Thomas," Crane said. "I'm not going to hurt you. Whatever your brain is telling you is a lie, the work of the fear toxin in your system."
After a few minutes, Crane felt it was safe to let Schiff up.
"The other inmates, Doctor…" Schiff said, his eyes tearing up. "They tried to attack me. I ran as far as I could and hid here. I didn't think it'd ever be safe to come out."
"It's safe." For now, Crane thought, but there was the matter of making it to the docks without being attacked by homicidal maniacs. He had been considering stuffing Schiff back into the donation box just for a laugh (wouldn't that give the volunteer lady the biggest fright of all?) but suddenly he had a better idea. After all, in a fight, two were better than one.
"Come on, Thomas, we're getting out of here."
"Out of where?"
"Out of the Narrows. Out of Gotham. Someplace where no one will get you."
"No one will get me?"
"Mm-hmm," Crane said.
Schiff considered it for a moment, looking utterly terrified as his mind ran through his other possibilities. "Okay."
"One moment," Crane said. He leaned over to where his straitjacket had fallen to the ground, dusted it off, and placed it in the collection bin. Before he closed handle, he pulled out a few items of clothes, a t-shirt and a pair of jeans, and tossed them to Schiff. "You better change," Crane said, eyeing the orange Arkham jumpsuit Schiff was wearing, "or we might look a wee bit suspicious."
When Schiff had finished, Crane walked over the police horse and patted the saddle. "Come on," he said. "This is my ride."
Schiff eyed the creature wearily. "Um… I've never ridden a horse before."
Crane sighed and gave Schiff a hand up, then hoisted himself up in front, and pulled his mask back on. "Just hold on," Crane said as he ushered the horse forward, heading south toward Arkham. "I just need to pick something up from the office first."
Arkham was as empty as Crane had suspected it would be. All of the inmates had flooded the streets of the Narrows, the staff had fled, and the police had left Arkham to search for the escapees. All, of course, had been struck by the fear toxin, wherever they were.
The League of Shadows had blown a nice big hole in the asylum wall for the inmates to escape from; and mere hours after they had left Arkham as fugitives, Crane and Schiff returned through that very same hole, though Crane had not yet revealed for what purpose. The horse they had abandoned outside. They wouldn't need it anymore.
Navigating through the Narrows had been relatively easy. Though occasionally they had had to ride their way through the fear-driven hordes, invariably the crowds fled from their path, terrified of the horse and riders who appeared monstrous to their eyes. And of the few ex-inmates they encountered who were crazy enough to stand their ground and attack, Crane guided the horse to lash out with its hooves or simply barrel through them. Schiff merely held on for dear life, nearly as frightened as the people who ran away in terror.
But now he looked on, curious, as Crane led the way through Arkham, taking the elevator to his office floor.
They stopped in front of Crane's office door, and Crane turned the handle fruitlessly, pushing against the door with his shoulder. Locked. His staff key had been confiscated, of course, after Batman had gassed him and left him to the police.
Crane started shoving himself violently against the door, all the while turning the handle furiously. He was yelling "Come on! Come on! This is an emergency!" when all of a sudden he heard the sound of glass shattering behind him.
Schiff was standing at the end of the hall, broken glass littering the floor at his feet. He had kicked in the glass case displaying the fire ax. A placard above it read, "In case of emergency, break glass."
Schiff handed the ax over to a bewildered Crane. "What?" Schiff said. "It was an emergency."
"Nothing, that was just… clever thinking. Good job, Thomas," Crane said. "Now stand back."
It took a couple of swings to break enough of the door away to stick his hand through and turn the lock from the inside. Then Crane handed the ax back to Schiff. "Hang on to this," he said. "It may come in handy."
Crane led Schiff inside and went straight to his desk. He opened the bottom drawer, which had already been searched uselessly by the police, but then Crane revealed the hidden compartment and pulled out something that made Schiff gasp.
It was a glove-like apparatus with four large syringe needles attached to the fingertips. Each syringe was filled to the brim with what looked like vicious yellow acid. Crane pulled the apparatus onto his right hand and flexed his fingers a few times until he looked satisfied. The sight of the needles made Schiff feel nauseous.
"You see, Thomas," Crane said, "the fear gas I developed at the request of the League of Shadows, but this…" Here he flexed his fingers again. "This is for my benefit alone. It's fear toxin in liquid form. The League doesn't know about it. It wouldn't suit their purposes. Where would the practicality be in manually injecting an entire population? However, for our purposes…" Crane smiled beneath his mask. "Well, think about it, Thomas. What use would a gas mask be against this?"
It was starting to dawn on Schiff. He began to giggle nervously.
"Exactly," Crane said. He paused, and then took something else out of the hidden compartment in the drawer, a small canister, and pocketed it.
"What's that?" Schiff asked.
"Just a little reserve of fear gas."
"Fear gas?" Schiff was confused. "But the entire Narrows is covered in it. What do you need more for?"
"I just got an idea. Come on. We're leaving."
The docks at the southernmost edge of the Narrows were completely deserted. There were six loading platforms where cargo ships delivered supplies to the Asylum. The moon glittered dangerously in the black waters of Gotham River as Crane led Schiff to the very last dock where his boat was tied up. Wind was blowing heavily, and in his mind, Schiff felt that he could hear the screams of people from all over the Narrows being carried on it.
"There it is," Crane pointed to the last dock in the distance, some 20 yards away. Schiff could make out the outlines of a boat in the moonlight.
"Going somewhere, Doctor Crane?" A figure emerged out of the shadows up ahead, blocking their path.
Crane and Schiff stopped in their tracks. A sudden realization came over Schiff.
"I recognize him, Doctor Crane," Schiff said. "Th-that's one of the guards from Arkham."
"No, Thomas, you're wrong. Raoul here is an agent of the League of Shadows. He's been working undercover in Gotham for the past three years. Isn't that right, Raoul?"
"Correct, Doctor Crane, and the League has so kindly provided me with this," he said, tapping the gas mask strapped across his face. "So your little Scarecrow act doesn't frighten me one bit. Did you really think the League would be blind to the possibility of your escape? We know all about your little boat."
"I've got no problems with you, Raoul. Step aside."
"That's where you're wrong, Crane. See, the League has a big problem with a Gothamite missing his day of reckoning. You have been judged, Crane, and you are condemned to die with your brethren. And if you will not do it willingly, I am here to help you. Whatever weapon you hold in your hand, Crane, it is useless."
"Thomas," Crane said out of the side of his mouth, "if you have any questions for Raoul, now would be a good time to ax them."
Schiff looked at Crane, wide-eyed. "Oh, right…" he said, and charged toward Raoul with the fire ax raised high over his head.
He swung the ax down toward the man's skull, but Raoul blocked the handle with his arm and flung it aside, where it slid uselessly across the ground yards away.
Raoul grabbed Schiff's neck with both his hands, choking him as Schiff sputtered and struggled.
But suddenly, something stinging, burning blasted in his face, and Raoul fell back, letting go of Schiff and clutching at his eyes, momentarily blinded. Crane had run up and sprayed Raoul directly in the eyes with the fear gas. But Raoul laughed through the pain, even as he struggled to get up.
"Have you forgotten, Crane?" He tapped his gas mask. "While I wear this, your toxin has no effect on me. All you have managed to do is irritate my eyes a bit."
"Maybe…" Crane said. But as Raoul wiped his stinging, bloodshot eyes, chuckling at the futileness of Crane's actions, Crane jammed the needles on his gloved hand into Raoul's neck. "Or maybe it was just a distraction so I could do this."
Raoul fell back on the ground; his laughter had turned to screams of terror.
Crane clicked on the device inside his mask that altered his voice, made it deep, distorted, inhuman. "Aww, what's the matter?" the Scarecrow boomed demonically. "Scared?"
Raoul screamed and screamed until suddenly his screams disintegrated into a horrible liquid gurgling.
Schiff had retrieved the ax and lodged it into the cowering man's throat.
"Hmm, Thomas…" Crane said, considering the carnage thoughtfully. He had turned off the voice modulator, and now he pulled off his mask and smirked at Schiff. "That may have been overkill."
Schiff returned the smirk and gestured to the boat up ahead. "After you, Doctor Crane…"
The boat was well-stocked with supplies. Crane had taken his glove off so he could steer. He left it in the back on the seat next to Schiff, and began steering out of the dock and heading toward open river. Soon he turned on the radio and tuned it to the local public broadcast. The newscaster was reporting breaking news.
Crane and Schiff listened in awe as the newscaster described the scene in Gotham. The public monorail outside Wayne Tower had been destroyed but a citywide crisis was averted. The pandemic of broken water mains and spreading fear toxin that had covered the entire Narrows and had begun to spread toward the center of the city had been stopped, reportedly by the mysterious vigilante known as the Batman. Plans were in action to begin salvaging the Narrows; an antidote to the fear toxin was already being manufactured and distributed by Wayne Enterprises. "Ladies and gentlemen," the newscaster said. "Breathe the clean air easy. Gotham has been saved."
"Hmm," Crane said, and he turned off the radio.
"What is it?" asked Schiff.
"New plan," Crane replied, and he spun the wheel around, turned back toward Gotham, heading toward the harbor on the other side of the city. "I've got a hideout downtown. There may be opportunities yet in Gotham for us."
"You know what this thing reminds me of…" Schiff said. He was absentmindedly playing with the fear toxin glove that Crane had left in the back seat. "Drugs. I mean, not the kind they gave us at Arkham. The fun stuff…"
Crane smiled to himself as the boat cut through the rushing black water, leaving the Narrows far behind him in the distance. Ideas were forming in his head.
Scarecrow would be back in business after all.