Knight's End

By Jasen Taylor

The streets were crowded on the day the boy’s life changed. He had no idea the shape his future would take in just a few short minutes as he came bounding out the door of the theater, his parents calling after him. He stood waving an imaginary sword as his father walked up to him.

“Slow down there, Zorro.”

“I told you we shouldn’t have let him eat so much candy,” Martha Wayne said to her husband.

“I want to be like Zorro when I grow up, Dad.”

“I thought you wanted to be a doctor like me. Wouldn’t you rather save lives instead of hiding from the law all the time?”

“I’d rather take out the bad guys before they hurt people, then doctors wouldn’t have to work so hard.”

“He wants to put you out of work, Thomas.” Martha laughed at her husband’s befuddled face.

Thomas Wayne broke out in a grin. He loved to excite the boy’s playful mind.

“Well, if you want to be like Zorro, you’d better learn how to fight. Come on, El Bruceo, show me what you’ve got.” He took out his own invisible sword and challenged his son. Soon, they were involved in a mock battle, clashing sound effects coming from their mouths.

“I hate to break it to you swashbucklers but if we don’t get home soon, Alfred will wonder where we are.”

“Mom’s right, kiddo. We’ll call it a draw for now.” He sheathed his sword and patted Bruce on the shoulder. They began walking toward their car, the perfect model of a loving family. Suddenly, a figure stepped out of the shadowy mouth of a nearby alley. His face was hidden from the light but the gun in his hand was not invisible, nor were his intentions playful.

“Give me your money.”

Martha gasped, holding her hand to her chest. Thomas stood protectively in front of his son, who craned his head around his father’s waist to see.

“I don’t have much on me. Just take what I’ve got.”

The mugger spat on the ground at Thomas’s feet. “Don’t lie to me. A rich bastard like you ought to know better than to con a conman.” Thomas handed the bills to the man with the shaking gun, who snatched them from him rudely.

“Sixty bucks? I thought you said you didn’t have much? Now let’s get the jewelry off, sister. A necklace like that ought to keep me eatin’ for weeks.”

Thomas pushed his wife behind him. Bruce admired his father for trying to protect what was his.

“Please, I’ve given you plenty. Why don’t you just take it and go?”

“You shouldn’t have lied to me.” Just then a thunderclap sounded. Bruce looked up at the sky just as the rain began to fall. A red rain. It spotted his shirt as his father fell over backwards. Bruce watched him fall. His head was leaking into the street. Bruce could not process the information as fast as it was coming in. He wondered why his father didn’t just get up and clean himself off. He looked over at his mother. Her mouth was opened in a scream but no sound was coming out. Everything was moving in slow motion as the gunman reached out for her necklace, tugging on it roughly. The pearls snapped apart, falling like white tears to clink on the concrete below.

A second thunderclap sounded and his mother fell to the ground as if she was pushed, a red rose opening up over the tear in her dress.

Bruce stood silently, in shock, staring up at the man who had changed his life as his parents lay behind him, the life flowing out of them. Stepping forward, the gunman revealed his face to the light. The first thing Bruce saw was the grin which stretched ear to ear. As the face came full into the light, he saw his own face. Rather, his adult face which was still years away from the shocked boy who still had not computed this loss of innocence.

The insane eyes bugged out at him and he became lost in them. The gunman reached out a hand as if to lead him back down the alleyway. The boy broke the spell and held his hands over his ears, shouting...


Bruce sat up in bed as if a branding iron had been pressed against his back. He sat there for a moment, gasping in huge lungfuls of air. The sweat that covered him made his flesh break out in goose pimples. Glancing over, he saw Vicki lying next to him, writhing fitfully as though she were trapped in her own nightmare. Turning towards her, he caressed her cheek until her eyes fluttered open. She took in his disheveled appearance and started to sit up.

“Is something wrong?”

“Nothing. Everything’s all right. Go back to sleep. You looked like you were having a bad dream.”

“I was. Thanks. Somehow you always know how to make the dark things go away.”

Bruce watched her retreat into a dream state before getting out of bed and making his way downstairs.

Alfred found him standing in front of the large picture window that looked out over Gotham from the top of the hill that Wayne Manor sat upon. He offered one of the cups of coffee he was holding.

“The dream again, Master Bruce?”

“Yes, Alfred. Worse this time. The gunman was wearing my own face. It was as though I pulled the trigger myself.”

“Rubbish. You had no blame in your parent’s deaths. There was nothing you could have done.”

“I was wearing a Joker-like grin.”

“Dreams have a way of blurring the lines between thought and reality, Master Bruce. With all that’s gone on lately, I’m sure your synapses must be overflowing with ideas and emotions. Your dream just shook them up and rolled them out.”

“You’re right, Alfred. I shouldn’t be concerned with dreams anyway. I’ve got too much reality to think about.”

They stood for several minutes in front of the window drinking the coffee. There were no awkward silences between these two. They had become too attached for that. The bond between them went deeper than mere friendship. They were confidants, mentors to each other. They each trusted the other completely.

“You’re going to see him today, aren’t you?”

“I have to. He may know the Joker better than any of us, even me.”

“Be careful around him, sir. He uses words like weapons. If he gets inside your head, you may have more than just dreams to worry about.”

“Duly noted. Watch after Vicki while I’m gone, will you?”

“Of course. I can use her help in the garden. Some of the flowers seem to be dying.”

Bruce looked out over the city he had chosen to protect. “Tell me about it.”

Batman approached Lecter’s cell. He didn’t worry about a stealthy entrance. He was almost convinced Lecter could hear the dust falling through the air. There was a chair set out for him across from the glass. Batman denied it, preferring to stand. He saw Lecter, standing in the middle of the cell with his arms clasped behind his back. He was smiling.

“Good morning.”

“You’re up early.”

“I don’t require much sleep, though I will admit this bed is much preferable to the cot I’m used to.”

Suddenly, he glanced upwards as though searching for something.

“Either a herd of rogue elephants is approaching or Dr. Chilton has discovered your presence.”

A few seconds later, Chilton did turn the corner and walk toward Batman with a brisk pace. Two guards followed him along with Commissioner Gordon, who looked amused. Chilton turned to Gordon and wagged his head toward Batman.

“Is this him?”

“Do you see anyone else dressed like a bat, Dr.?” Gordon rolled his eyes.

Chilton pointed a finger at Batman. “Listen, I don’t care whose authorization you have, no one speaks to Hannibal unless I am present. Do you understand?”

Batman turned on Chilton, his cape billowing out impressively. It had the desired effect. Chilton stepped back a couple of steps. Batman advanced on him until Chilton’s back was to the wall.

When he spoke, Batman’s voice was little more than a whisper. “You’re annoying me. I don’t like to be annoyed.”

“Y... you’re overstepping your bounds. I have a right to...” Chilton’s stammer broke off as Batman brought a hand up to rest it palm down on the wall next to Chilton’s face.

“You want rights? Talk to him.” Batman nodded toward Gordon. “You want to keep the ability to walk? Apologize to me.”

“Apologize?” Sweat was beginning to form on Chilton’s brow. “But I have every right to...”

“Now.” Batman grabbed the collar of Chilton’s sports jacket and squeezed it in his hand, pulling Chilton nose to nose with a scowl.

Chilton swallowed hard. “All right, all right. I’m sorry.”

Batman released him, turning away. Chilton walked away, trying to salvage his composure.

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer. You too, Commissioner. You’re letting the inmates run the asylum!”

“What else is new around here?” Gordon led the two guards out. “Stay in touch,” he told Batman.

When they had gone, Lecter congratulated Batman on a fine performance.

“I’m not here for your amusement, Lecter.”

“That’s one point of view. Shall we begin, then?”

“Tell me what you know about the Joker.”

Hannibal made a clucking noise and shook his head. “No, I’m afraid that won’t do. Do you begin a novel by skipping to the middle?”

“What do you mean?”

“What word confused you, or am I talking too fast?”

“If I want riddles, Lecter, I can go around the corner to E. Nigma’s cell. I came to you because I want answers.”

“Quite right, and you shall have them. First, answer my question.”

“I start a novel at the beginning.”

“As you should. Let us begin at the beginning as well. Shall we, Mister Wayne?”

The name hit Batman as though Hannibal had reached out of the cell and slapped him.

“What are you talking...”

“Please, don’t insult my intelligence with your nervous denials. I might take it personally.”

Batman knew there was only one way to play this if he wanted to get anywhere with Lecter. He could hold nothing back. The risk of Lecter shutting down was too great and could prove costly.

“All right. How did you know?”

Lecter grinned. “Where to begin? If you’re going to have a secret identity, make sure it is in fact secret. Your alter ego makes so many televised charity guest appearances that I recognized you the moment you introduced yourself to me last night. Your mask does nothing to hide the lines around your jaw and neckline. All of which reads like a fingerprint to me. You have an effective control of your voice but you have a faint accent. At times you swallow your b’s. Probably from spending a lot of time in the Orient, where I suspect you mastered your fighting styles. Even the position of your teeth gives you away. Straight and narrow they may be, but your left incisor is shorter than the other. Capped, I’m sure, from a previous fight that went badly. Shall I go on?”

“No. The point is made.”

“No need to feel glum. I have no intention of revealing anything and none of the things I’ve mentioned would be recognizable to any but the most observant of beings, a lonely club of one. The entire roster stands before you.”

Batman decided he would take the chair offered him after all. He sat down heavily.

“I would compliment your analysis but I’m sure you would find such a statement a repetition of fact. So, like you, I won’t waste words. Where do we go from here?”

“Where it all began. When your parents were senselessly murdered before your eyes, you didn’t try to run. That’s what the papers reported. Is that true?”

“It is.”

“I’ve always found that a little curious. Was it just shock or was it something more?”

“Is there a point to this?”

“Come on, Batman. You have to play the game before you can win the prize. What was the reason you didn’t run?”

“I was stunned. My whole life changed in just under a minute. Nothing since then has been the same.”

“That’s true,” said Hannibal. “But it was more than that, wasn’t it? What was the process in your mind at the time? What was the hamster’s name who was spinning your wheels?”

Batman considered this train of thought. Alfred’s warning came back to him, about letting Lecter into his head. Taking a gamble, Batman plunged ahead.


Lecter smiled his wicked smile. He began to pace the cell.

“Right. You wanted revenge. You wanted to teach the world a lesson for taking from you what was rightfully yours. That’s how it all started, isn’t it?”

“Maybe. That didn’t last long. A friend of my father’s raised me and helped me to cope with my loss. I was able to vent my frustration in other ways. I chose to fight the evil back rather than create more. I threw myself into my work, my training.”

“At what cost?”

“How is this getting us any closer to the Joker?” Batman could not believe how much he was saying to this madman. He had to get control of the situation again.

“You have no idea how close you are to finding him. Before you can catch the man, you must understand the mind which empowers him. Do you think the Joker is insane?”

“Really, Dr. Lecter. Such a question is hardly worthy of a man of your intelligence.”

“Wrong. Entire essays could be written on the subject, though I doubt they would be correct. The modern definition of insanity is actions without motives. Do you think the Joker’s actions have motives?”

“No. These murders are random, the victims have no connection to each other. Four have been female, two male. Different ages, backgrounds, religions, even races.”

“You’re beginning to disappoint me, Batman. I had thought you were a fellow student of the human condition. Perhaps I was wrong.”

Damn, I’m losing him.

“Are you saying he has a motive for these killings?”

“Of course. The same one he’s always had, to get back at you.”

Axis Chemicals. The robbery gone bad because of the introduction of a chaotic element in an otherwise foolproof plan. Jack Napier had gone with Charlie Sol’s gang because he thought he finally found a place to belong. He had styled a new outfit for the occasion. He called it the Red Hood. The helmet was a little loose but that made it easier to breathe. They were heading through the plant when a shadow dropped down from the sky. Charlie fired first. The bullets hit the wall where the man had been. There was the sound of something flying through the air and Charlie’s gun fell from his hand and rattled down the railings to hit the bottom three floors below.

“I know what he blames me for, Lecter.”

“I’m sure you do. I’m afraid though, that time may have diluted your perception of the man. He not only blames you for his creation, he probably thanks you for it as well.”

Batman raised his head, lost in the memories of that day.

One of Charlie’s backup men raised his machine gun and started spraying bullets at the winged demon swinging on a tethered line in an arc toward them. Batman jerked hard on the line and amazingly flipped three times in the air to come crashing down amongst the robbers. He backhanded the man with the machine gun, sending him sprawling unconscious on the catwalk they were standing on. He heard Charlie coming up behind him with a knife in his hand. He dropped to one knee as the knife swooshed harmlessly overhead. He pulled his elbow back hard, feeling it sink with a crunch into Charlie’s groin. The air whooshed out of the man as he doubled over, nearly paralyzed with pain. Then, Batman turned to the last of the would-be assailants.

“I’ve never known the Joker to be particularly appreciative of anything I’ve done.”

“That’s because you’ve never known him the way I did. I saw the man before he was cursed to wear his sin. He told me he was going to move to Gotham to become a comedian. He wanted to make people laugh. He felt out of place in life. He had a wife, Jeannie, with a baby on the way. His insecurity would never let him stand in front of a crowd, a point which I tried to tell him. His timing was terrible and his punch lines were contrived, none of which he wanted to hear. I guess my idea of positive reinforcement didn’t coincide with his. At length he stopped coming to our sessions. I kept up on his career out of morbid curiosity. Of course it fell as flat as his jokes. He saw the Charlie Sol gang as a way of making quick cash to feed another mouth and took it. The beast was still slumbering in him though, waiting to awaken. The Joker you saw on the outside was always visible to me every time I looked through Jack Napier’s eyes. It was just waiting for someone to push it over the edge. I believe you performed that task admirably.” Hannibal said this last part with a twinkle in his eye.

The Red Hood pulled the gun out of his pocket and turned to fire but the sight of the man in the blue cloak and cowl purposely advancing on him down the catwalk sent a shiver of fear down his arm and he dropped the gun and ran. He ran in a blind panic, turning to see how far away the man was. He felt the railing of the catwalk dig into his back as he instinctively jerked back when he saw Batman closing on him. The hood was fogging his eyes, his breathing became uneven as he turned into the railing and fell over the side. A line of high-tensile wire dug into his legs, wrapping tight around them, stopping his fall. He was dangling over a huge vat of chemicals, bubbling green in a violent circle as the machinery mixed up its potent solution. He looked up and saw Batman pulling him up with the wire. He struggled violently, causing Batman to lose his balance and pitch over the railing, which groaned now with the strain. Batman desperately clung to the railing with one free hand while the Red Hood dangled below. Batman felt his shoulder pop with the force of holding up the line. “Stop struggling! I’m losing you!” The Hood began moving quicker, flailing now with his arms. It was too much for Batman’s limbs to bear. He dropped the line and managed, painfully, to clamber onto the catwalk. He heard the tortured screams of the Hood as he thrashed around in the chemicals for a long minute before the liquid finally settled.

“I knew he had a wife.”

“Did you know she had died shortly before that break-in took place? I wonder if even he knew but no matter, he had chosen his path by that time anyway.”

“Yes, it was a freak accident.”

“I don’t believe in accidents. He was destined to wear his suit, just as you were destined to wear yours.”

“Now we’ve covered the past and the present. How about telling me the future, Lecter? Where will he strike next?”

Lecter sighed. “Shall I draw you a map and hold your hand while we walk there?”

“I mean it, Lecter! We’re out of time!”

“You haven’t heard what I’ve been telling you. Time never runs out. It just carries on in a different way. Were you out of time when the man who murdered your parents held a gun to your face? Was Jack Napier out of time when you dropped him from a third-story catwalk into a vat of waiting chemicals below? You’ll never be out of time because you’ll never let yourself be out of time. You’re stuck in time. The past, to be precise. Your parents’ legacy is a lifetime of obsessive behavior aimed at keeping things firmly in check. You don’t want anybody to have to lose what you lost, but you also are firmly ensconced in the desire to not lose what you still have. Your actions have motives, Batman, and so...,”at this he walked over to the wall and grabbed the painting of the green circle, bubbling in silence, “ his.” Lecter flipped the painting over and showed Batman what was on the other side. It brought Batman to his feet in a second.

It was the face of Vicki Vale.

Batman kicked the chair over in his haste to stand up. He walked over to Lecter.

“Damn you, Lecter. If she gets hurt because of the time you spent dragging me down Memory Lane, I will hold it against you and then you will never feel safe in your world again.”

Hannibal watched as Batman sped off. “You’re welcome,” he said to the empty hallway. He turned and walked back to the bed. He pulled out the item he had placed there earlier and tied it tightly to his wrist. He sat and waited. He knew it wouldn’t be long now.

Continue To Chapter Five

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