Previous Parts: | Prologue |
Fandom: Batman (general comics continuity)
Characters: Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Gilda Dent, Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon, Vincent Moroni
Genres: General, Drama, Angst, Romance
This story contains: Alcoholism, brief mentions of child abuse, graphic violence, swearing, character death, sexual content
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue.
A/N: It's been suggested that I do these on Tuesdays instead of Fridays, so in the interest of not losing the momentum, you get the next part extra early this week!
Mayor Hamilton Hill towers at the podium, beaming for the cameras and infusing realistic passion into his speechwriter’s words. He ticks off my credentials as a final kiss-off to my opponents, who’ve spent the last few months decrying my “severe” lack of experience.
They say “that kid ADA is only two years past his bar exam.” They insist that the only reason I’ve gotten this far was because I’m the Mayor’s golden boy: his “Apollo,” as Gotham World dubbed me. They declare that ever since this pretty-boy’s coup with the Zsasz murder trial, I’ve been molded into the figurehead for Hill’s “bold new face of Gotham City.”
But ol’ “Hammy” Hill knows how to sell an image, and if that’s the image he’s cultivating, who better to use than a young, charismatic, handsome, and painfully naïve puppet? If I didn’t know any better, I’d think they were all talking about someone else.
But no, that’s me. In less than twenty-four hours, if all goes as planned and I do as I’m told, I’ll be elected District Attorney, the youngest in Gotham’s history. Pull the string and watch me dance.
Hill reaffirms promises of cleaning up the city, as if all we need is a good scrubbing, and ta-daaaa. And of course, the press gobbles it up like baby birds under mommy’s vomit. The all-too-few who shoot the tough questions are fed half-truths, twisting everything to a fine, confusing pulp. Even I almost believe him.
That’s not to imply that Hill’s corrupt. I mean, he is, but no more than any good politician. Sure, he’s shaken hands with a mobster or two, but who in Gotham hasn’t? And sure, he’s made it damn clear that his—now our—war on crime is focused on the street gangs, the prostitutes, the pimps, the low-level pushers, the junkies, the squatters, and the occasional high-profile freak like Zsasz. Not the people who matter. But his pockets are clean, at least. If I didn’t know that for sure, Hill would be on my list. Right alongside some others at this table.
“… And partnered with the fine men of the Gotham City Police Department, headed by their esteemed Commissioner, Mr. Gillian B. Loeb, the criminal filth that infest our streets stand not a chance! For we have…”
Loeb: that stout and ruddy man whose air of gentility is about as convincing as his comb-over. Carmine “The Roman” Falcone is a regular dinner guest at his home, a mansion that five police commissioners couldn’t afford. Next to him is that bloated toad Rupert Thorne, and his prize crony, Peter Pauling.
“… that bright days are ahead for us all, thanks to the work of Councilman Thorne to revitalize our most deprived neighborhoods. His efforts will bring about a new period of prosperity and…”
Thorne shoots a smarmy glance into the auditorium, out into the lower circles of this celebratory banquet. Past the cluster of reporters who dogged me all the way over here, their questions ranging from the recent senior citizen murders, to the rumors of a “Bat-Man” terrorizing the streets, right down to what it feels like to be named the city’s Sexiest Man Alive by Gothamite magazine.
(My response: “I hope I don’t have to say this often, but I demand a recount.”)
Hill was and is just so damn proud, his investment ready to pay off like crazy. I let him hone me every step of the way, and now that we’re under the wire, my victory all but assured, I can’t help but wonder how much of the real me is left anymore. No, that’s an absurd thought. I know who I am, and if I’ve had to pretend otherwise, it’ll all be worth it. I haven’t lost anything of real value by biding my time, and soon it’ll all be over.
That’s when I realize who Thorne’s looking at out there, all gathered at one plumb banquet table in particular, nestled like a box seat in the corner to provide the men with the right balance of privacy and prominence. Oh hell. I expected to see them at Hill’s party tonight, but not here. I didn’t think they had the gall.
“… And of course, before I blather on any further, heh-heh… I want to particularly acknowledge the leaders of Gotham’s business community, for all their philanthropic work over the…”
Yes, those two are in good company: right alongside Norman Madison of Madison Industries, Ferris Boyle of GothCorp, Roland Daggett of Daggett Pharmaceuticals, and that Sionis creep from Janus Cosmetics. And they all differ to the two men sitting at opposite ends of the same table. That’s when the truth smacks me in the face. That’s when I realize why they’re here.
“... not to mention their generous contributions to our Golden Boy’s campaign, and all their support for...”
On the left flank sits Carmine Falcone, CEO of Falcone Imports. The one on the right doesn’t even bother with a legitimate front or title. Everyone that matters knows him. That’s the man himself. That’s Vincent Moroni.
Normally, you’d never see a table shared by “the Boss” and “the Roman,” as they’re known to only a handful of people. But apparently, this night is enough to foster temporary kinship between two generations of bad blood. They’ve come together to pay their respects, and why not? I’m their investment too.
The speech in my head starts to fade as the speech in my hand starts to crumble. I can’t do this. But I can’t afford not to.
Think about Gilda. One way or another, think about Gilda…
“… And so it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you the man who will finally clean up Gotham City… your new District Attorney, Harvey Dent! Get up here, ‘Apollo!’”
Oh Christ. I fight back the wince, standing to the roar of applause and the cracks of flashbulbs. I wave and smile, shaking his hand, “Aw, c’mere, you…” and then I assume the podium. The applause dies.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Mister Mayor, I haven’t won yet!” I take a breath and assess the crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen of Gotham City, I speak to you now not as a lawyer, and certainly not as a god…”—they chuckle—“but as one of you. Now, I know you’ve all heard that line before. But I don’t say that like some huckster politician might…” … careful, keep it light… “Er, no offense, Mister Mayor.”
He gives a good-sport belly laugh, but his eyebrows knit. He wants me to it already. Just look down and read the words on the paper. A good politician never, ever speaks his mind.
I take another breath, this one more shallow than the last. I look up from the paper, and I never look down again.
“I think it’s only fair that you know something about the man you’ll be voting for tomorrow. The fact is… I’m from the East End. Born and raised.”
A few murmurs rumble through the hall. Like wax on a candle, the smile on Hill’s face melts and hardens.
“Many of you may not know that, since it wasn’t in any of the press releases. But it’s true. I don’t have to remind you of the East End’s reputation.”
I let that hang for a second, hoping I’m not hanging myself.
“So I didn’t learn about crime in some law school textbook. I learned about it on the streets. Like many of you, I witnessed it on a daily basis. And like many of you, I felt powerless to the point of resignation. For awhile, I believed that cruelty, theft, corruption, and murder was all just the way of life. ‘That’s just Gotham,’ we used to say. That’s just Gotham.”
Damn it, this is getting too grim. Is there a joke I can crack? Some way to lighten it up again? No, no, it’s too late. Too late. Just press on.
“Those who resign themselves to that powerlessness often do so by picking up a bottle, a needle, or a pipe. But if don’t want to feel powerless, then you pick up a switchblade, a knife, or a gun. And then you find others with switchblades, or knives, or guns, because there’s safety in numbers. There’s protection in becoming a part of something bigger than you are, especially when you think it’s the winning side. The truth is, I almost gave into that temptation myself.”
Loeb rolls his eyes. From the color of Thorne’s face, he looks ready to sweep in for damage control, but Hill has his hand on the Councilman’s slumped shoulder. If anyone has to end me, it’ll be the man who made me.
“But just because I understand the criminals does not mean that I condone their choices. Because crime is a choice, and the overwhelming majority of Gothamites, even in the toughest neighborhoods, are strong enough to choose otherwise. And for their strength, they must suffer at the hands of the criminals. It’s not right. And it’s not fair. Me, I was lucky. Unlike most of those good people, I was able to get out of my situation. I too found my salvation in something bigger than myself, in devoting my work to a common goal... of law and order.”
These words I direct at that table in the back, offering a bit to every man there. They listen with stony frowns. All save for Moroni. He smiles. Because he gets it. It’s a game. It’s all a game.
“To some, that’s an antiquated notion, even naïve. Every day, for years on end, we’ve seen the law mocked, spit upon, perverted, corrupted, or just plain ignored. How can anyone believe in something so flawed, something so often exploited? I’ll tell you how: because of that goal. That common goal of fairness.”
Take a beat.
Take a beat.
I glance at Hill, who’s seems to be thawing. He nods once. I nod back, then continue.
“The law can’t erase crime, or undo catastrophes, or bring back the dead. But there is a small part of our lives where we actually do have power, and the law can make that little part more just. We devise rules for our dealings with one another that fairly weigh the rights and needs of everyone. I believe in the law because it reflects the best vision of ourselves.”
I realize that I’m no longer directing these words to the wealthy who bought tickets to be at this luncheon, nor the select table of men off in the corner, nor my colleagues flanked on either side. I’m not even addressing the press anymore. Just their cameras. I pray that my true audience, the people I must reach, are watching right now.
“Maybe you don’t. Or maybe you did, but lost your faith long ago. Or maybe you do, but still feel too scared, too helpless, to do anything about it. The criminals of Gotham want you to stay that way, because they think this city is theirs. But it’s not. This city no more belongs to them than a body belongs to a tumor. This city belongs to you, the people of Gotham.”
I risk taking a pause, and am repaid with applause. Scattered, but enthusiastic. It’s enough to fuel the rest of my way.
“The truth is, you people are stronger than you know. Because crime is easy. Crime is the coward’s way out. But to carve out a life of honesty, of hard work, of integrity… that is true courage. And what the criminals don’t want you to realize is that you are the majority. They live in fear of the day when you’ve finally had enough. Because I have. Ladies and gentlemen, I have had my fill.”
More applause, bigger than the last. Keep it going.
“That is why, as your District Attorney, I will do everything in my power to bring justice to these criminals. My record speaks for itself, so you can be certain my indictments will stick.”
“But there’s only so much that one person--even an elected official--can accomplish. One person alone is no match for the criminals. But if you all stand as one, if you pool your collective strength and courage together, then they’ll be no match for you!”
“You don’t have to join the police force, or run for public office, or put even on a costume. All you have to do is look the criminals in the face and say, ‘No more! You hear me? No! More!’”
I fight every urge to direct those words to Falcone and Moroni. The former listens with cool intent, while the latter’s grin has only blossomed. He’s loving every second.
“They’ll try to convince you that you don’t have the guts. They’d have you believe that you’re as cowardly and self-serving as they are. But you know better. Because in the face of everything, you’ve chosen to rise above crime. You’ve chosen to be brave. And that’s why I’m proud to serve you, Gotham. Because I believe in you. I believe in Gotham City!”
That did it. The applause is matched in intensity only by the camera flashes, deafening and blinding all at once. Hill glows like an arclight, his relief coupled with the pride of a teacher toward his proudest pupil.
I can leave it all right here, and I’ll be the toast of the press and society alike. Even Thorne and Loeb seem pleased as punch, having the rabble so thoroughly roused and distracted. And the men at the table offer their own warmly controlled applause, confident that it’s going to be business as usual from now on. The “Boss” himself gives me a salute, congratulating a player who’s done so well in a rigged game.
As Hill stands to relieve me from the podium, I lean into the microphone one last time.
“You have my word, Gotham: as of tomorrow, I will dedicate my career to trying and convicting the criminals who’ve plagued this city for too long. The real criminals.”
As the applause roars anew, I extend my arm into a firm bolt all the way out to my fingertip. Before Hill or anyone else can stop me, I aim into the crowd, finding my target. And all of a sudden, I’m the only one smiling.
“Starting with you, Moroni.”
To be continued...