The subject of my experiment is not at all pleased. This outcome is perfectly fine with me. I've never promised anyone satisfaction. Only that I'll do the job as it's been defined.
I've just shown the man his first glimpse of how things could have been if life had taken a different path. My little presentation wasn't anything close to what he'd wanted to see.
His request had been to view what would be happening in a world where James Gordon had chosen to become an Attorney instead of accepting the promotion to Police Lieutenant. What I'd been forced to present to the fellow was a reality where he was still in this prison. Mainly because Police Commissioner Miles O'Hara had worked hand in hand with Batman to help Gotham City achieve an astounding arrest and conviction portfolio.
The white skinned fellow had simply sat there, watching the perfectly lifelike video. His jaw almost hitting the hard wood floor once he realized that rearranging the pieces of his life puzzle were going to be a few degrees harder than his twisted mind had originally thought.
I'd Still Be In Jail!
Mostly because you tried to plot a course redirection for someone else's life?
And why should that matter?
Let me explain it to you this way my friend.
You're essentially standing in the water, on one side of a very expansive pond. The farther away from yourself that you toss a rather large stone, the less likely it becomes that the ripples will make their way back to change anything about your life.
You should have told me that.
The very first night we spoke.
So I simply snapped my fingers and provided a complete video replay of my very first conversation with him.
Why do you insist on calling me “Mr. Napier”?
Isn’t that your name?
Just a moniker I’ve used from time to time.
Like when you were working with the Mob?
Especially when I was working with the Mob.
But I outgrew my need for that bunch of inept misfits more than a decade ago.
And did you outgrow Jack Napier?
I simply haven’t had the need for him to exist during the recent past.
And where did he initially come from?
Napier was the last name of some guy my Mother was living with for a couple of years. Jack was just something I stuck in front of it. Giving the other kids in the street gang a name they could put with the face.
Then ... Who are you?
Don’t you already know?
I know what I see in front of me. That doesn’t quite tell me who you are?
But that is not your name.
But it is who I am.
Or at least ... Who you have become.
Now tell me friend ... Who are you?
If you were nobody important, you couldn’t have easily sauntered into this lovely government sponsored three room maximum security condo at two in the morning.
Have you ever had that unusual sort of feeling?
Like maybe a guardian Angel might be peering over your shoulder from time to time?
On the odd occasion. Are you trying to tell me that you’re him?
Not at all.
She’s on vacation.
I’m from the Temp Agency.
As the man allowed himself to smirk ... I could see a determined look in his eyes. The sort of cold infuriated stare that let me know he was royally pissed. Which had the potential to be a very good thing. I do some of my best work when the object of my interest is pissed.
But ... Who exactly are you?
Just call me Lancaster.
But is that your true name?
Telling you my true name would be a bit like trying to provide the exact perfect pronunciation for Sithilu ... Or is it Suthulu ... Maybe it is Kuthulu.
The simple truth is that there’s not a word, in any human language, that could properly encompass my true name.
Claiming to be supernatural ... Are we?
Merely stating an obvious fact.
While Mister Napier was looking directly at me, my answer had come from exactly behind the man. Quickly turning, he now saw a second version of me.
Don’t worry. The other fellow is gone already.
And I do hate the cheap parlor tricks but they occasionally provide a marvelous opportunity for gaining the other person’s attention.
You have my complete attention. Why do you need it?
I’m here to offer you a favor.
An absolute and total favor.
And why would I want a favor?
Probably because of this lovely government sponsored three room maximum security condo you currently reside in.
The man hated that I'd just turned his own words around on him. If truth be told, he hated a lot of things. Not all of them for logical reasons.
I can walk out of this little hotel any time I wish.
A year or two ago, I might have believed you. But you’ve burned a few too many bridges in the past several months. Allies and associates have been shat on or ignored. All because you insist on doing everything you can to try and have the better of your dear friend Mr. Jones.
How do you know that I call him Mr. Jones?
The Batman, you mean?
How do you know that I write a letter to him every single day. A letter that I always address to Mr. Jones.
Do you still not believe that I’m actually supernatural?
I will admit to believing that you might be some sort of creature that is not native to this planet. Maybe not even of this dimensional plane.
Truly believing in a supernatural requires a thought process that is at least a step or two more insane than mine.
And I will happily admit to being from a different dimensional plane. We can argue about the particulars at a later time.
Now what is this favor you’re offering ... Mister Lancaster.
I’m offering to change a thread in your tapestry.
Your past history.
There are certain weak spots in every tapestry. A position where a particular color of thread can be pulled away and skillfully replaced by something slightly different.
Once a somewhat powerful being clearly understands which thread to pull away ... And what color to replace it with ... Certain changes can easily be made. Past decisions can be carefully amended.
And what would this favor cost me?
Just answer one simple question.
What’s the question?
Yesterday morning. Just before Batman thwarted you. You were putting the finishing touches on a plan to rob the Gotham Mercantile Exchange.
And at nine seventeen ... You stepped out of your van, walked over to three little girls and handed each of them a fifty dollar bill.
They needed the money.
They’d been on their way to the grocery store. These two older boys had stopped them and taken the money their mothers had given them.
A bit of a strange answer ... Coming from a man who excels at planning crimes.
I Don’t Like Bullies!
Like the big corporations that swindle widows out of their life savings?
So you champion society by stealing from these bullies. And yet ... You keep the money for yourself, instead of turning around and giving it to the poor.
It isn’t my job to redistribute wealth.
Merely to make the greedy and the unjust pay for their sins?
Now you're getting it!
By robbing from them? Torturing them? Killing them in the most painful and humiliating ways possible?
You are certainly a piece of work, Mr. Napier.
Please forgive me.
I simply figured that if you could call him Jones, I could refer to you as Napier.
I stood there and watched him seething. Wanting to lash out at me but firmly aware that it would do no good. The high and mighty ones are almost always like this, once you’ve pulled them down a notch or two.
Wouldn’t this be a good time to explain this favor I’ve supposedly paid for already?
Certainly My Friend. I’m here to offer you three glimpses into what could have been.
Into what could have been. Like what would have happened if you’d merely taken your lunch money back from Johnny Hudson when you were in the third grade. Instead of breaking the boy's leg.
And what will these glimpses do for me?
If you find yourself really liking the slightly altered reality in one of them ... I can arrange for that to be the life you are leading now.
You can look into your crystal ball and help me find a better existence?
Something like that.
And if I like none of them?
Then you’ve simply spent a few evenings chatting with a new friend.
I could sense he was intrigued. Intrigued is always good. I can do a delightful amount of lifestyle adjustment when the object of my attention is intrigued.
The one overriding flaw in our relationship was that Napier was always prone to place the burden of who to blame on anyone but himself.
After taking a day to think about it ... Dear Jack had given me the Commissioner Gordon Request. Could we find the point in that man's life where he was most likely to have followed a different path.
After that ... I'd presented the fellow with clean and compelling evidence, that the life of James Gordon would be radically altered, but the Joker would still be serving a very long sentence in an incredibly high security detention center.
As I'd said to you yesterday evening ... If you want the highest chance for an outcome that will actually have a positive effect on your life, you need to play the cards that are directly in front of you.
And what if I'd really like for those particular cards to be left alone?
Then the results are most likely going to be minimal. And have very little influence on the parts of this world that are closest to you.
I think you're wrong, My Friend!
In fact ... I'm quite certain I can play your game in my own way and still have a result that benefits me.
Suit yourself. I'll be back in another twenty-four hours, after you've had a bit of time to consider your next choice.
The real problem in attempting to offer assistance to someone like Napier, was that an addict steadfastly refuses to focus on what the true problem is. An alcoholic doesn't want to admit that it's the booze. A philandered doesn't want to confess that he or she is excited by the thrill of cheating.
In the case of the Joker, the man had spent years avoiding one simple truth. The madness of his life was the result of his own methods. I'd already run the statistical scenarios. The man could easily have been Mayor of Gotham City right now ... Well on his way to becoming Governor of the state.
Napier's greatest hindrance was his refusal to focus on what he himself was doing wrong. The man clearly needed to take account of his own mistakes, instead of placing the blame on others.
The former Harvey Dent and his varied successors at the District Attorney's Office.
The numerous regional Mob Bosses he'd had violent turf wars with over the past few years. It's incredibly hard to constructively build bridges when you seem to find a great deal more delight in dousing one with Petrol and then watching it burn.
Returning the third evening, to give the man his second glimpse at what could be made real, I was not overly surprised by his choice.
What would have happened if ... After my Death and Rebirth ... I'd set up operations in some other major city? Some place other than Gotham?
Does it matter which major City.
Not at all.
Any place that would fit my particular style and flair.
With a snap of my fingers, I quickly began showing the man more than a dozen possible alternatives. In each instance, my new found friend was less than amused.
In Seattle, his proclivity for outlandish crimes quickly drew the attention of someone known as the Green Arrow.
In Central City, the Flash had managed to bring the Joker's activities to a virtual standstill.
New York was the most comical of all. A completely altered reality where the man found himself facing giant Spider Webs ... A Woman who could turn invisible and create Force Fields ... Her Mad Scientist Husband ... And a walking Tin Can who could shoot Force Beams from the palms of his hands.
In London, Tokyo, Madrid and every other major population center ... There was always at least one individual who was ready to rise to the occasion and be that city's champion. The Yin and Yang of it all being that the presence of a higher class of villain always seemed to bring forth a stronger heroic presence.
Nino. My Boy!
I've got it figured out!
That was his beaming assertion on my fourth and final visit. Napier appeared quite certain he'd found the key to setting his life in proper order.
I found myself hoping the man's final choice would actually demonstrate at least a small understanding of what had been happening in the life of Jack Napier. That there had been several occasions, in his teenage and young adult years, when he'd found himself at a fork in the road and had mistakenly chosen to follow the wrong path. Turning to criminal endeavors had been an easy way of striking back at the bullies of this world. Yet these decisions had lead him in a direction that had gradually caused Napier to become just another variation of the very thing he was railing against.
And what would "It" be?
First of all ... It was stupid of me to think that simply being in another city would make everything better.
Number two ... James Gordon is like any other cog in the machine. Pull one out and it's very easy for another one to be dropped into it's place.
My truest happiness comes from those moments when I can look into the eyes of the Batman and clearly see that I have bested the World's Greatest Detective. But to consistently do that, I need to completely throw the man off his stride.
And how would you hope to do that?
By taking away his greatest source of pride!
Yes! Pride! The sort of pride that a Tiger displays when he sees the accomplishments of his Cub.
I want you to show me a world where the Batman never had the opportunity to sire the Robin.
And that is how you wish to spend your final glimpse?
That is most certainly how I wish to spend my final glimpse.
Before making the effort of snapping my fingers, I allowed myself a moment to stand there and ponder the convoluted madman who could only be described as the Joker. Any hope I might have had that Jack Napier could be brought forth and allowed to thrive ... That hope was now totally gone.
As the reality of this other possible world gradually unfolded before him ... The Joker found himself quickly facing a sense of despair which greatly dwarfed mine. There sat his alternate self ... In a three room lockup facility, only slightly different than the one existing in this reality.
This alternate Joker looked on in silence as he watched the door of his suite close and lock. On the other side of the observation glass, five individuals congratulated each other on a job well done.
Police Chief Miles O'Hara.
Police Commissioner James Gordon.
Deputy District Attorney Miranda Stone.
And slightly to the side of the Caped Crusader, stood his trusted partner in crime fighting. An intriguing young woman ... Referred to by the other four as "Psycho Tique".
Tique was an attractive and very capable young vixen who looked quite stunning with her blonde cheerleader ponytail and highly infectious grin. In her general manner ... She appeared somewhat detached from the goings on around her. Yet certain moves and glances betrayed an intense interest in the matters being discussed.
A slight turn of the head when a particular comment was made or question was asked.
An odd statement or question here or there. Something which perfectly touched on the nature of potential threats Gotham City might be facing from other well known criminals or unseen conspirators.
As they interacted with this young lady ... O'Hara, Gordon and Stone occasionally commented on her uncanny ability to size up the personality of a criminal and advise Batman on the best possible strategy for countering any potential threat.
All things considered ... She was a perfect partner for the Dark Knight of Gotham City.
As he sat on a chair in front of me ... My incarnation of the Joker carefully observed the silly yet insightful nature of the girl. And there was venom dripping from the tongue of Jack Napier, as he spoke the name he'd always known her by.
Damn You Harley Quinn!
Copyright 2014 by Travis Clemmons.
All character illustrations were graciously provided by Drew Garza.
Nino Lancaster is a character created by Harlan Ellison and portrayed by Anthony Franciosa in the 1989 Twilight Zone episode "Crazy As A Soup Sandwich".
The Joker, Batman, James Gordon, Miles O'Hara and Harley Quinn are characters appearing in DC Comics and other various forms of media adapted from them.
This story is not intended to infringe upon the copyrights of either franchise.