Fic: Lodestone

Jim Gordon has been waiting since he was thirty-two, to go outside for some air one night, and find some lunatic on his fire escape.

They had stood down in the street, when he was thirty-two, three guys in suits, looking up at him.

It was after dinner. Barbara was finishing drying the dishes Gordon had washed. He pressed moisture out of his wrinkled fingers into the other end of the tea towel.

The benchtop was patterned in dusty-red peonies, a style closer to the fashion of their parents’ time than theirs. At the corner, a section of veneer the size of a silver dollar was missing, revealing chipboard beneath. Like Gordon’s failings as a provider, this had a certain humble charm, but would become less charming over time.

At that time he and Barbara were passionately in love. A lodestone in his solar plexus swivelled to track her.

Gordon’s tie was over the back of a chair. On the chair was Jimmie, chubby legs kicking silently in the air beneath him. He was colouring in, one stroke at a time, not back and forth but always top right to bottom left then lifting the pen to return – his father’s son.

Gordon walked the few short steps down the hall and swung his legs out onto the fire escape. It had been a warm day. The air still had a cotton-wooliness to it, a buffeting fullness, afterimage of heat-shimmer. Only now, as the cooling dark settled in, was it pleasant to be out in it, to lean his shoulders against the retained heat in the pock-marked bricks.

Mark Murphy, Gordon’s partner of two years, had just been found hanged on his balcony, in the next suburb over, overlooking the street. Passers by in the morning peak had begun calling the station from the street below. He had sent his wife to stay with her mother, the week before.

So there were the guys, in the street below Jim’s apartment, looking up at Jim. But they didn’t come up, that time, and he didn’t go down. He stood and watched until it got dark, and they stood and watched.

 

He’s thirty-eight when Gotham comes to meet him on the fire escape again.

Another warm night. They have a second-hand dishwasher now, that took another chip out of the benchtop while Gordon was putting it in. Barbara smokes at the table after dinner, and that and the dishwasher steam makes the kitchen oppressive. Gordon retreats outside.

From the fire escape, the empty street below is a grey and quiet river. The other creatures of the concrete forest are contained in their dens, reduced to a light around the blinds, the odd snatch of conversation.

Gordon still likes to be out here at the end of his day, which is often perplexing and perverse. In Gotham, commonsense outcomes require sustained deviousness to achieve. Out here he is in the world, but bounded by the fire escape, thankfully free of the requirement to act.

On this day, the breezes disgorges a thing. A mass of torn black cloth, buffeted and streaming.

Or a great bucket of black paint thrown ragged through the air.

It’s a guy.

“Storm’s coming,” the guy says. He’s hanging upside down.

Gordon barely understands what they say to each other. Part of him is too aware that’s he’s bodily standing between this man and the hallway, and at the end of the hallway, the open door and the yellow light spilling out of the kitchen.

What is the guy even wearing? Black leather? Tire rubber? This never becomes apparent.

Not till later that night does Gordon’s mind even put the images together, and say, the guy was a bat. That was the bat.

 

Earlier that month, a man had attacked Gordon in his office.

He wore a balaclava, and said, “Don’t turn around.” He had a gun.

He asked, “What would it take to bring Carmine Falcone down?”

He went out the window, but when Gordon rushed to lean out, he could see nothing – at first, and then, up above, there he was. Leaping upwards, up the fire escape like he thought he could bounce. He’d thrown the gun on the floor. Gordon crouched to pick it up. It was Gordon’s stapler.

Gordon took a long time to put these things together, but he worked in Gotham, and was otherwise engaged.

 

When Falcone went down, they started to get calls about the sound of gunshot six, seven times a day.

When Barbara asked him in the evenings about his day, he would say, “Not bad, not bad.” And when she nodded, he felt, for a moment, like a kid let off school early, that eruption of relief, that flowering of possibility.

Other feelings he would have later – especially, that recognition of the death of other possibilities.

He’d interviewed Falcone’s docksmen from that night, about the man like a bat who’d attacked them. They were like kids who’d frightened themselves at a seance, trembling with sincerity.

What the Bat Man had done had changed things for Gordon. In a locker at Wayne Central station, he began to keep a box of powdered bleach, a selection of cellophane bags and a small mortar and pestle. He selected the mortar and pestle to fit in a standard leather briefcase that he could carry into the men’s room without attracting attention. Its size did mean it took him some time to grind the larger particles out of the bleach.

The rent on that locker began to add up shockingly. James Jnr needed three whole boxes of breakfast cereal a week, new sneakers, field trips. Ten years on the job and they were still eating Hamburger Helper. But Gordon didn’t bring the bleach home.

 

After Mark Murphy had come Peter Rosenbaum. When Gordon was thirty-six, at about 11pm on a Wednesday night, they had been stopped at traffic lights when four men stepped in front of the bumper of the car. Two pointed handguns at Gordon, two at Rosenbaum. The latter two opened the driver’s side door, threw Rosenbaum to his knees on the asphalt and shot him point blank in the forehead. The second of the former two gripped the inner edge of Gordon’s open passenger window, and said, “James Gordon. 53/771 Thirty-Second Street”.

“Barbara Gordon,” the man said. “James Gordon Junior.”

“Do not encounter me again,” the man said.

That night the hot wind from the open window blew through the apartment, so that Barbara woke after midnight to find Gordon still out on the fire escape, where he’d been since dinner.

She leant over the windowsill in her sleep-crushed nightgown, voice thickened with that mammalian resentment of someone untimely awoken. “Jim,” she said, “what’s going on?”

“It’s the heat,” Gordon said.

 

After Peter Rosenbaum there was Flass. For three months Gordon had watched Flass as he pulled up every Thursday night at a laundromat in the Narrows, went inside and returned with a fat top pocket and a shopping bag with a flat square package, which he then drove to a billiards parlour on the east bank and delivered inside.

Flass was a stout and clumsy man, and in the tenth week, Gordon helpfully reached behind Flass’s seat to retrieve the plastic bag – although this was not the same plastic bag that Flass had placed there. That package Gordon now removed from behind the seat and tucked into his waistband beneath the jacket on the right side, furthest away from the driver. Later he would ask Flass to pull over by a public facility. He would discover that to flush an emptied cellophane package requires that one hold it down with one’s hand a good three inches below the surface of the water. There was no soap in the bathroom to wash with afterward.

He was increasingly convinced that everyone he knew was a liar or a thief. But on another level they were just guys, living, breathing, sweating, farting – they had wives and kids, they had a beer and watched the game, like he did.

It was probable he was going to cause Flass’s death. He poured himself carefully into certain discrete containers, reserving nothing for the interstices.

 

His captain laughed at him when he wanted to move his filing cabinet into the hall, to make space. “Other guys got it worse than you!” he said. “What you gonna do when you need a file and you’re on the phone?”

“I’ll say, ‘Please hold’,” Gordon said.

“Hey, you wanna lug it all the way out here,” the sergeant said. “Be my guest! But don’t come to me for workers’ comp!”

Some of the guys liked to pretend to bump into it as they were passing, or kick it. Gordon would laugh and shake a finger: “Don’t come to me for workers’ comp!”

Gordon would go to the john, but actually, go to the filing cabinet and flip the tabs back and forth. Then Flass would make phone calls, audible through the open door.

There was a particular set of calls made towards the end of each month that sounded like hotel room bookings.

A couple of times, later in the afternoon, Gordon pressed redial on Flass’s phone and said, “This is Detective Stan Johnson of the Gotham City Police Department, performing a periodic contact audit. What is the nature of your business with the Gotham City Police Department?”

 

A mugging in an alley, and they had to get torches to finish the walkthrough in the dark. In the circle of Gordon’s torchlight lay a shattered syringe on dirty cobblestone, and then – the tip of a black boot.

“If I drop dead, my wife will kill you,” Gordon said.

“Hey,” the Bat said, “I’ve been staying off your fire escape.” He stepped back behind a dumpster. From the dark, the deep voice said, “There’s another guy. A Russian guy.”

“A gangster,” said Gordon, not asking.

“And there’s a guy in your squad room,” the Bat said. “Petrevski.”

“Jesus,” Gordon said.

Flass’s torchlight bounced at the other end of the alley. Gordon directed his torch behind the dumpster, but found only bare brick.

 

Gordon took lunch earlier than Flass for a few days and sat down in the cafe with Petrevski. On the third day Gordon sighed and said, “You married?”

Petrevski wasn’t married.

“I tell you, man,” Gordon said. “Broads. My wife, she’s like, ‘Where you been?’ ‘When you gonna be home?’ Every freaking day. I work for the goddamn Police Department! As if I would know!

“That Flass, though,” Gordon said, “he’s got five kids, right, and you can hear his wife when she calls him, clear across the room. Clear across the room! And at the end of the month, he’s on the phone, calling up the Pink Pelican and booking a room. What I want to know is, where does the guy get the energy?”

“Huh,” Petrevski said.

 

The Pink Pelican is a bloodbath. Twelve men full of holes strewn in the spiral stairwell in a pattern like cut grass dropped from a height. First on the scene is one of the permanent residents, a bathrobed ancient who has a heart attack on the landing and loses control of her bladder. Her pee runs down the stairs after them.

Petrevski isn’t among them, and doesn’t show at work.

Finally, finally, the next afternoon Gordon’s sergeant lets him at Petrevski’s file on the quiet. He leaves the squad room and heads to the Public Records Office, and by close of business at four he’s got enough.

He calls for backup on his way to a diner in the Narrows, which they raid in the dinner peak. They take the addresses of every man, woman and child there, and find three crates packed solid with bank notes in the cold store out back, but no Petrevski.

The next day’s papers report an unexplained attack by Batman on a Russian social club nearby. Cocaine rains from the windows as the second floor burns.

The third day’s shot is a warehouse on the river. No registered business on site for fifteen years, no machinery inside, but twenty guys sitting on packing crates playing poker with far too much money – and too slow to lay hands on their weapons to be any trouble.

They’d got approval to send the whole riot squad to that one – Gotham PD had had enough Pink Pelicans for one week.

There was still no Petrevski.

 

So it is that he’s been gone three days, sleeping on the sofa in the hall outside the squad room, when he returns home to find Barbara is leaving him. He recognises the armchairs that two guys in overalls are trying to unwedge from the tight bend in the stairwell.

He cranks the creaking elevator right up to the roof, and stands up there to watch.

The late sun lights the rooftops, but has abandoned the streets to shadow. He thinks the moving van may be double-parked (distantly, a horn honks), but it’s dark down there, and far away, and he can’t be sure. He’s standing up in the canopy of the world, with concrete-crusted, tar-patched Gotham from one horizon to the other, and there may be guys standing on roofs watching their wives leave them in every direction from here, but he is the only one he knows about.

In the slanting sun, the Bat Man’s shadow precedes him a long way off – with two points on the end.

“We got Petrevski,” the Bat Man says.

“Yeah?” Gordon says.

The Bat is carrying a manila envelope – Gordon sees his shadow gesture it towards him. “Show me later,” Gordon says.

The Bat continues to hold the envelope. His costume is not built for filing.

“My wife is leaving me,” Gordon says at last.

The shadow of the Bat’s cape swirls. “Huh,” he says.

They stand shoulder to shoulder, and watch.

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