Detectives, Detecting

December 14, 2016:

While casing Michael Kazinsky's old apartment building, John gets a surprise visit from Gotham's most notorious personality, and the unlikely pair do a little bit of joint investigation.

An apartment building in a low-rent section of Gotham.

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Gotham is a titan of a city, a sprawling leviathan of steel and stone. In the evening it releases the threadbare warmth accumulated throughout the daylight hours in shimmering veils of rising heat that give birth to zephyrs, exhalations in which stir all manner of urban detritus: discarded newspapers, a panoply of rubbish. Metropolitan ejectementa. Overhead the skies explode with spangles of glistening light, but these are not stars, they are windows, millions of glass eyes overlooking the restless seething of the beast. Pedestrians, traffic. Wailing sirens, the fog of molten exhaust in the frigid air.

John has very mixed feelings about Gotham.

In some ways, it gives him the creeps. Not the grit of the city, exactly. It's the way it always feels like a dark reflection of other, more familiar cities — like a place he should recognize, a place he knows well, but one that has been twisted out of true as if prey to an ongoing nightmare.

In other ways, he feels kinship with it for all of the same reasons: something with such promise, buried deep in drifts of fallible humanity.

He's been loitering and trying to ignore the feeling of being situated in the city's maw, leaned up against the corner of a building. Across the diagonal from his position and adjacent, separated by an intersection of roads, is an apartment building. It looks like every other apartment building around it, but he's been watching it for hours, as the accumulation of stepped-on clove butts at his feet would inform the perceptive observer.

The street is unusually quiet. No shrill laughs from drunken co-eds, no clutches of homeless passing bagged bottles around. The darkness feels clotted.

—-

"You know, part of good surveillance is not looking like surveillance," comes a grim echo from Constantine's right. The blind corner behind him leads into an alley, and the shadows around it seem deeper than they should be.

Which is ridiculous, because everyone /knows/ Batman doesn't have superpowers, and he doesn't have technology to just bend light into shadow— but when he emerges a half step from the darkness, it clings to him like a skein of oil on water, as if refusing to let the Dark Knight from its tenuous grasp on his cloak.

Invisible save for the white lenses of his cowl and the angry slash of a scowl, Batman's cloak and cowl completely conceal him from view, moving with that unearthly, inhuman balance that makes him look like he coasts on bearings, not striding the Earth like a mere mortal.

—-

John startles up off of the wall, spins around. His chest creaks from the sudden surge in his blood pressure. The outline in the alley is enormous, and it didn't twig any of his early-warning detection mechanisms, so it must be mundane. Paradoxically, this is more worrisome for John than the reverse.

He flicks a cutting gaze up and down his opposite, prising details of the man's shape from the darkness so reluctant to release him from its embrace. "Bloody /hell/," he exhales, and flicks the clove into the gutter. It sparks when it hits the ground. "You."

Well. Everybody knows about Batman, don't they? Even a dodgy Brit like Constantine. Not that he ever expected that knowledge to mean anything to him, personally.

"Wouldn't you feel a tit if you'd stopped my heart before I could figure out what interest Hell has in your lovely little village?" It's brave talk, a smart quip — that's John for you — but he's still rattled. He lifts his hands to snap the lapels of his coat, rolls his shoulders to resettle it.

—-

Batman doesn't apologize for startling Constantine. He turns the point of his chin towards the apartment complex, staring at it inscrutably, then focuses back on John.

"Someone found Kellan Fargus dead in his apartment last night," Batman tells John. As if assuming John either has the same information Batman does— or implying John knows more than he has a right to. "Today, half the occult shops in Gotham are closed. Then I hear from the proprietor of Gorgon Bookstore that John Constantine is in town."

He steps a pace closer to John, one corner of a lip curling in the suggestion of a snarl, and despite the fact the two men aren't terribly far apart in height, he manages to somehow loom the way shadows peek out when the moon hides behind the clouds.

"I don't like metahumans in my town, John Constantine," Batman gravels. "And everyone I've talked to says you bring nothing but trouble with you. So."

"-Why are you in Gotham-."

—-

John's used to games of chance with dicey opponents. His poker face is a thing of legend. Behind his steady, ever-intense regard, though, wheels are turning. He files the name 'Kellan Fargus' away for later investigation, and starts to crack a smile that widens as the sidelong accusations begin to pile up. "Mate, I /wish/ I could take credit for all of that, but—"

Then the goddamn Batman is stepping into his personal space, and his smile wanes a little. He leans his head back and away, slightly off on an angle. Size isn't everything, and John's faced down nasty things considerably bigger than Batman before, but that was on /his/ turf, on /his/ terms, or at least it took place in an arena he's got solid footing for. There may be those in the city that believe Batman to be some kind of vengeful phantom — the avatar of Gotham's vengeful soul, maybe — but John knows he's man, and somehow that's worse. He's got far less defense against a boot to the ribs than a demonic assay for his soul…such as it is.

"/Meta/human," he says, finally. Canny, pale eyes meet inscrutable white lenses, probing the featureless surfaces. "I've been called a lot of things, but that's a new one. Just human, if you please." A beat. "I'm not saying they're wrong, though. 'Everyone,' as you say. But this trouble was here before I got to town, I'm 'fraid."

He spends another long moment studying the masked face, as though trying to determine whether or not violence is about to be done to his person, before visibly deciding it's safe enough to pivot, opening their positions up in the direction of the building across the way. He juts his chin at it. "Until very recently Michael Kazinsky, serial killer and abject failure of a novice summoner, lived in that building. You probably saw the article. The circles and symbols in the photographs were familiar to me, even if they were absolute shite. The man was asking a Prince of Hell to time-share his body." Behind closed lips, he runs his tongue over the white crescent of his upper teeth, sucking them. "Dead now. Blew up. Messy business."

Whether this answers the non-question he was asked is probably up for some debate.

—-

"Kazinksy," Batman growls. "He wasn't supposed to make it back into Gotham. Arkham released him to his mother's custody after treatment and he was in Iowa, last I heard."

He sounds /supremely/ irritated at the lapse in his intelligence of the area's occupants, but lets John come to his conclusion. "So an amateur demonologist tried to lease himself out to a demon and died. I thought most demon summoning was just kids playing with Ouija boards and giving themselves headaches. As you're here, this sounds like it's the real thing."

He turns back to John. "You also avoided the question. Why are you /here/," he says, repeating the point again and stubbornly staring at John, his expression impossible to read behind those opaque lenses.

—-

John begins to relax, his shoulders settling out to a more level plane, once things turn into a conversation. This, he can handle. "Funny thing, that. He wasn't really an amateur demonologist, either. He was…recruited. Someone sold him some ridiculous story about his life being improved if he worked a deal with Hell, and coached him through it. Nobody with any knowledge of the occult would ever buy that story. He was just some sucker they were using. Question is, for what? The Princes of Hell don't just /pop by/ the earthly plane on a lark. They've got politics to manage down there." He slides one hand into his pocket, and with the fingertips of the other scrubs at the stubble on one angle of his jaw, squinting up at building across the way. It remains as silent and still as a headstone. "Nah. There's something else going on."

He makes a subtle face as he's called on being evasive. Mild annoyance, paired together with resignation. He isn't used to being caught out at it. "Honestly, not for this. I've been hearing some rumblings about something going on down in your South America that shouldn't be possible. Might be none of it's true — hell, it probably isn't true — but even if it isn't, there's something going on down there that people are mistaking for this impossible other thing. It needs sorting. If it's a case of mistaken identity, so much the better, but if not?" For one brief, trembling span of a moment something genuine plays across his expression — genuine and rare. He looks worried, and uncertain. Neither of those sentiments are comfortable on his face. He's usually better at playing his cards close to the chest than that. "Well. Anyway. I've got a lot of contacts here, and it's a semi-local matter. Favors to call in. Research to do."

—-

"Motive."

Batman lets that stand a beat. "You're galloping in all directions. Start with motive. Who would profit from this exchange?" he tells John, a bit rhetorically. "If it was just a matter of giving someone a book of Demon Summoning for Idiots, I'd be seeing corpses splattering every wall in Gotham after midterms every year. It takes time and effort to build a contact like that up."

"Means. Who can do it? Who has this knowledge and the ability to express it?"

"And opportunity," the detective says, his voice grim. "Of the limited number of people capable of expressing this knowledge, /and/ capable of bringing an asset along, who's even had access to him?"

—-

John's brow arches slightly. Investigatorial advice from the Batman. That would be a pretty laurel for his CV, wouldn't it? If he had one. Which he doesn't.

He listens, and his smile creeps its way back in by turns, equal parts approval and amusement. "To address the first question: Mammon." he says, with a flick of his gaze to the side, looking at the hulking darkness beside him. "Like I said, mate, Princes of Hell just don't visit our realm for a giggle. And this summoning was so sloppy, so poorly-done…if he showed up at all — and he sure as shite did last night in the Asylum — it was because he felt like it, not because that poor sod bound him to it. He's after something. The man who recruited Kazinsky, or so he said, was a German-speaking bloke, name of Gottfried, who turned up all of a sudden here at Kazinsky's apartment with an offer. May well be an alias. We couldn't get anything else out of him before His Eternally Insufferable Majesty decided his time had run out and turned him into just so much meat confetti. But as to whom this Gottfried might be working for…?" He shrugs. "Don't know yet. You'd think it would be easy to narrow down people in league with devils, wouldn't you? They're everywhere, though." Narrowing his eyes, he dips his chin, aims his gaze pointedly at the building. "And that's why I'm here. It's one of only two possible leads, and probably the better of the two." He bites the inside of his cheek, silent for a moment. "Thing like that, that kind of ritual, tends to leave something behind. A…signature. Leftover energy. All sorts of things can be drawn to it — things that don't much care about mortal surveillance. I've been watching to find out. Figured if it seems clear I can risk bringing in a friend of mine for a little look-see." He rolls his head to the side, reaffixes his gaze on The Bat. "Psychics can be fragile. If I didn't need one, I'd probably have gone in already, but I don't want to piss about and lose whatever might be in there."

Hence, the uncharacteristic degree of caution.

—-

Batman grunts and considers Constantine's words. "There's evidence in there I can also follow up on. Hair samples. Footprints in some cases. Fingerprints, even."

There's a silent beat.

"Around the back of the building. Five minutes," he tells Constantine. "Service entrance."

And with that, Batman melts back into the shadows and vanishes— save for a peculiar sound of a *snap-hiss* from the soft dark, and a clink of steel landing on the rooftops overhead.

Five minutes later, true to his word, Batman unbars the service entrance door from inside the building and walks back into the dilapidated structure, his cloak still obscuring him from easy assessment. He leads John towards the apartment in question, and jimmies the lock open with a glint of something silver that's obviously not the door key. He does it in shockingly short time, too, consider he picks the lock.

"I can smell the blood. It's going to be messy," Batman warns John— and then he opens the door to admit the supernatural investigator into the apartment proper.

—-

John turns his head to look fully at his erstwhile companion when it's made clear Batman intends to investigate for himself. he watches the figure disappear with alarming ease — nothing that big should be able to dissolve into nothing that quickly — and then looks at the building, one corner of his mouth pulling back, an expression that toes the line of skepticism. "This's all I'm missing," he mutters to himself, imagining the Dark Knight's huge boots trampling over sensitive psychometric evidence. "Bollocks."

Nevertheless, he's hardly in any position to argue, is he? He turns up the collar of his coat, and at the appointed time he's at the door in the back. He says nothing as they ascend to the apartment, his attention on everything but where they're going, actually: there isn't much in the environment that he doesn't look at, isn't much he doesn't see. The smallest things have relevance.

It isn't until he's warned that things may get a little bit gruesome inside that he makes any noise at all, and then it's a short cough meant to disguise the bark of a laugh that almost escapes him. He puts on his best grave expression. "I'll try not to swoon." As with most of his flippant remarks, it's difficult to gauge from tone alone whether or not he's serious.

The apartment is dark and bitterly cold, but the sound of the refrigerator running in the kitchen suggests that the utilities have not been cut. The door opens directly into the living room, a cramped, blandly furnished space, infinitely more orderly and…well, /normal/…than one might expect, for the domicile of a notorious serial killer. But then, Kazinsky had been normal and bland himself, hadn't he? Average in every single way, except for the bits where he liked to murder women, and attempted to summon a high prince of hell into his meatsack.

The smell of violence is everywhere, the pungent, sickly-sweet copper of dried blood, the slaughterhouse reek of offal, but there isn't any blood to be /seen/. Not in the living room, at any rate.

To the right, a short, very dark hallway leads to the doorless arch that connects with the kitchen, opposite to a pair of shabby folding closet doors. On the far side of the living room, opposite the entry, there is a door to what must be the single bedroom, while a bathroom door stands open next to it, its interior black as pitch.

Aside from the cyclic threnody of the refrigerator, all is quiet.

—-

Batman treads with a light step, but one pace into the room, he pushes his knuckles into Constantine's chest, behind him. He opens his fingers and drops a blue-lensed flashlight into Constantine's hands. "UV lamp. Picks up blood and organic fluids," he tells the mystic.

Apparently Batman doesn't need one, because he neatly avoids any telltale evidence on the floor that Constantine's new toy might illuminate. The detective doesn't touch anything, save to get careful samples from a cup near the sink and to bag a toothpick found on a counter into a small container.

He dusts for prints, too, checking not just the doorknob— carefully undisturbed despite being picked— but the refrigerator and a few other locations, using a fine, silky black powder to make the prints pop on the various locations.

—-

John grunts at the knuckle-poking, but he takes the flashlight with one hand and nods, thumbing it on. The other hand rubs at his offended sternum for the 2.2 seconds during which he sweeps the soft beam of the UV light across the floor. There is blood, but it's in patches — not enough to pick out a place where somebody would've bled out. For someone acquainted with blood-splatter analysis, they're very obviously drippings, having fallen from some object held a distance above the floor.

He stops rubbing his sternum /and/ moving the beam of light when he aims it upward. The hinge of his jaw goes lax. "Jesus."

Most of the blood in the room wasn't on the floor. It was on the walls and ceiling. Massive continents of glowing trace evidence cover those surfaces like a grim Rorschach pattern, murderous constellations. It looks as though a maelstrom of gore took place, a tornado of broken bodies, but the stains are altogether invisible — or they would be, if Batman hadn't provided a means with which to see them.

John sticks close to the doorway for the time being. He knows enough about forensics to know that it's best he let Batman retrieve what he's able to first, before he begins to get into the…/messier/…methods of his own investigation.

There are prints all over the place. It will be tough to tell more about them without further analysis, but there's certainly no shortage.

"Let me know when you've got what you want," he says, eyeballing a plate of moldy food and an abandoned teacup on the coffee table. "What I'm going to do might get in the way."

—-

Batman removes a drone from his belt and holds it out in one outstretched palm. There's a click-*whirr* and the drone flits aloft, moving to the center of the room. A dozen glossy lenses point in every direction— with a rapid *clickclickclick* it takes dozens of snapshots, and then pans in a slow 360 loop. There's a flash of light, a dazzling but short laser show, and then the drone flies back to Batman, who stows it under his cloak.

"Two things," Batman remarks. "The blood spatter is consistent with the force of a small explosive being detonated inside someone's chest," he tells John. "Blood is literally everywhere, and I'd put the epicenter of the blast about five feet off the floor, in the middle of the room."

"Second," Batman says, producing a small, normal flashlight, and waving it around the ceiling. "There's lots of blood spatter trace, but no blood. That means someone or something painstakingly removed almost all of the blood from the crime scene, leaving only trace forensic data behind."

—-

In spite of his tendency to stick to traditional, even low-tech means of dealing with the occult, John's not a luddite — it's just not often that he has any use for technology, let alone technology of the cutting-edge sort. He watches the little drone with open interest until it disappears again.

He displays a more acute interest in his companion's analysis of the scene, his squint pensive. "If I were a betting man," he says, with a sudden and entirely unexplained smile, "I'd put my money on 'something.'"

He edges slowly into the room, then, and does a cursory check of the rest of the apartment, stabbing the darkness of the bedroom and bathroom with the flashlight he's been given. He says nothing and doesn't linger in his search, so presumably he sees nothing out of the ordinary.

Standing in the bedroom doorway and facing into the living room again, he extends a hand to snap the lights on. They flicker uncertainly for a protracted moment, long enough for him to angle his eyes upward. "Yeah," he says, as the illumination stabilizes. "Something."

When he does finally choose to reanimate, it's with purpose, and he's quick and deft, even businesslike. He circles the coffee table, head cocked like a bird's. After swift evaluation he pushes the moldy plate of food aside, turning his attention fully to the half-drunk cup of coffee.

Dropping into a limber squat, he roots around in his pocket with one hand, looking for something. "Let's see what was happening in here the last time Kazinsky was home, eh?" Still trying to find whatever-it-is, he slants a curious look at the Bat. "You know about him, obviously. How's that? Did he escape after sentencing? They didn't let a serial killer out willingly, did they? Or was the serial killing a /new/ hobby?"

—-

"Gotham has… interesting laws with those adjudicated mentally defective," Batman says, one corner of his mouth tugging into a disapproving scowl. "If you've been declared criminally insane, you can't be convicted of a crime committed while unstable. And once your treatment is complete, you're considered a free citizen again."

"Kazinsky was a 'model prisoner', by all accounts. No trouble ,no violence, responded well to treatment. The board voted to release him into probation and his mother took him to Iowa. He must have returned to Gotham, which raises troubling questions about where his mother is."

Batman watches with mute interest as Constantine literally pulls something out of his pocket and makes light of whipping up an answer to some of their more perplexingly unsolved questions, his cowl draping completely over him and concealing the Dark Knight from view.

—-

He didn't ask to make small talk. He listens attentively, even as his hands are busying themselves doing something else.

They're retrieving what looks like a tiny glass jar, which contains…sand. Sort of sand. Mostly sand. He adds some of it to the cup of coffee, slides the jar back into his pocket, and eases around onto one knee, the better to look down into the mug. "It's a wonder you can send anybody to lockup around here, then," he observes drily, which says rather a lot about his opinion of Gotham's class of criminals: in his personal estimation, they're barmy.

It is, it must be said, slightly awkward to perform any kind of spell when the Dark Knight is drilling you with blank, white goggle eyes. Not because science and skepticism have much effect on John's success — they don't; magic doesn't work that way — but because it makes him feel like a bit of a /prat/. So he closes his eyes. It's not necessary, but it lets him focus on what he's doing, rather than on the beefcake gargoyle looming nearby.

Tough to say what language he's speaking. It's gutteral and inflects bizarrely. In fact, it's a language spoken backwards, a trick he picked up from a young lady he knows. The spell works well enough spoken the right way 'round, but backwards has yet to fail him. He prefers to play the odds.

The contents of the cup bubble, begin to stir. As the sand — or /whatever/ — corrupts the consistency of the sludgy coffee, separating it into granular elements, a tide of particulate matter begins to rise from the mouth of the mug, swirling like the world's most aggressive motes of dust. By the time they've gained enough momentum to expand outward, John's stopped chanting and slid back away from the table to watch.

The particles travel along invisible lines, flowing over shapes otherwise invisible to the eye. Gradually those shapes begin to fill: Kazinsky, features blurry but identifiable, sitting on his sofa. A bowl, also made up of these grains of sand, materializes. The sand rasps against itself with increasing frequency, producing sounds that modulate into voices, albeit voices that sound as though they've been post-processed to the point of artificiality.

"—all ready to go," Kazinsky is saying.

"Good," answers another voice, disembodied. Heavy German accent, cold and clipped. Whatever is contained within the bowl in front of Kazinsky swirls in time with the syllables. "We will have no further contact after this. If you succeed, we will both get what we want. If you fail, well. I'll have no further use of you."

"Yeah, man. I get it. I'm heading out now."

Whatever connection exists between Kazinsky and his spectral contact fades, the movement in the bowl slowing to a stop. Kazinsky himself stands, the motes rushing upward and forward, swarming toward the door, vapor trails curling off of his phantom form as he goes. He opens a ghostly door where the apartment door is, and departs.

Constantine looks…disappointed. "That's worth fuck-all," he says. "But I didn't bring my usual kit, I wasn't expecting to—"

He's brought up short. The motes do not appear to be finished. A shimmering well of them ripple in the wall next to the sofa, a massive portal. John pushes to his feet and takes several steps back, just in time for the portal to admit a second figure made up of those luminous specks. It's a figure familiar to both of them, though John would have no way of knowing that.

"Giovanni bloody Zatara," he says, with naked bafflement.

The display finally recedes back into nothingness, the soft, hair-raising hum of active magic dwindling until it's gone.

—-

Batman does what he does best— he bears mute witness to the crime, the endless and patient observer of all things. Constantine would not spot the surprised lift of eyebrows as the magic is performed directly in front of him. Batman's reputation is enough that there's no doubt he's been exposed to mysticism and the like, but such blunt magic in front of him is so much less commonplace that even the Bat cannot treat it as a disposable occurance.

He observes. He listens. He pays attention with every bit of his not-inconsiderable focus. And then, it's gone, and he focuses back on Constantine.

"How long prior to the incident was Zatara here?" Batman presses Constantine. "Minutes? Hours? Days?"

—-

John is still staring at the place where Zatara's ghost stood moments beforehand, his expression conflicted. It remains knit-browed as he glances at Batman. "Can't say for sure. This was the last time Kazinsky was here in the apartment. If he left straight for the tannery where the rituals were done, then it'd be the same day that went down. No telling if he made other stops along the way, though. …Christ."

He shakes his head once, dismisses whatever personal thoughts are whirling around Giovanni's presence. "Still doesn't explain why the ceiling looks like a bloody abattoir. I think he probably did a dry run of the ritual here. There's magic left over, and not the good kind. It's messing with the electrical." He sucks a breath in, releases it as a sigh. "Keep an ear to the ground, eh? He may have pulled something through, but if so it isn't here anymore, and that could mean anything."

—-

Batman's not paying attention to Constantine. He's walking around, touching the walls, looking at things. He goes into the back bedroom, emerges, then steps out into the hallway, then walks back and opens the window to let a breath of comparatively fresh air in.

"You're onto something with the electrical," Batman remarks, after a beat. "There's electromagnetic radiation in the background. It's faint, but it's a distinct carrier in the low EM band." He touches a control pad on the left forearm of his suit, though there's no screen visible. Something in his helmet, maybe?

"I might be able to track similar patterns of interference," he remarks. "But more importantly, we've got a line on Zatara. He's close to this, whatever it is." Those lenses focus on Constantine, narrowing slightly. "Finding this demon is obviously the first step, but dealing with it presents some other problems, from what I've read. How dangerous is this thing Kaszinsky summoned?"

—-

"The summoning attempt at the tannery was designed to call up Mammon. Mammon's in management, mate. That's several degrees short of being as bad as it gets when you're talking hierarchy in Hell. That's not what /this/— " A gesture at the room around them, " —was, but he probably used the same ritual words, even if he left out the sacrifices and other really juicy bits. Like…throwing a net without any bait in it. He wasn't going to bag what he wanted, but he could've inadvertently gotten something else. I can only speculate. Probably one of the underlings. That's going to be something to do with personal gain, maybe."

There's a pause, then a shrug. "That's just a guess, though. I wouldn't want to stake my life on it." Or anybody else's, which is the more likely scenario.

—-

"Motive, means, opportunity," Batman repeats, growling.

"We don't have enough data. We don't know what the demon wants, where it's going, or how it's getting there. Just that there's a monster in Gotham and Zatara's chasing it." He tugs his cloak back into place, the dark, nonreflective fabric seeming to absorb the little light there is.

"You're the expert on demons," Batman tells Constantine. "They're predators. Predators hunt, drink, and eat. Where would a demon go for a watering hole? Where would it rest, feel most secure?"

—-

John steps away from the table, crossing back toward the man in black. "I'm not sure if Zatara was here for the accidental demon, for Kazinsky, or for the man Kazinsky was in contact with. If he knows there's a demon about, though, it'd be just like him to try and put it down." His smile is crooked, still conflicted. "Something we always had in common. Pissing in the devil's eye."

The nostalgic moment passes quickly enough. He doesn't rush to answer the second set of questions, though he has his answer almost immediately. "It depends on the kind of demon, but there are some universal constants. Concentrated masses of souls are a definite attraction. They're all capable of shape-shifting, so it's not like you can just put out an APB on a red-skinned, horned thing with a tail. Blathoxi's got brokers in power suits on Wall Street, for Chrissake. But big groups, sure. And anywhere that people are doing a lot of mag—"

He stops, stumbling over a thought that he obviously doesn't like. "—ic. Bollocks. I should get on the phone and start making calls." There's a clean /fwip/ sound as he withdraws a business card from his pocket, offering it across. "Why don't you give me a bell if you hear something? Less likely to give me a bloody heart attack that way. If there's something you want me to look into, I'll have a look-see. But I expect we won't have to wait long, anyway. Patience and subtlety are not the hallmarks of Hell's peons."

—-

Batman takes the card, smoothly pocketing it somewhere in his cloak, out of sight. But he doesn't back away from Constantine. Not yet.

"One more thing," Batman growls at Constantine. "Zatara was looking for a book. The Liber Consecratus," he informs him. "It's the only lead I have on him. My usual sources are a bit sparse on it but it's important enough to bring him across Europe to find it."

"And Zatara's the sort to be a step ahead, so that implies to me that if he found it, it's because someone else—" he says, pointedly, "was looking for it first. Find out what you can about it. It's being auctioned at the Gotham Auction Charity as lot #617."

—-

'Liber Consecratus.' The words cause John's brows to shoot up toward his hairline, although not in recognition.

/Holy Book./ Really? They couldn't have come up with a more interesting name than 'Holy Book?'

Focus, John.

"Right. Makes sense. News to me, though. I last saw him earlier in the year, and we didn't part on the best terms." His mouth is running, but he's thinking, thoughts elsewhere, cobbling together pieces of the puzzle. "Hm. I have some thoughts. I don't suppose you can get me close to the book? Pull some strings with auctioneers? Maybe find out who's selling it? I can dig around on that myself, but, uh." His grin is a flashfire. "I'd have to break the law."

The subtext is clear. He has no problem whatsoever with breaking the law — he just expects Batman not to nail him for it if he's forced to.

—-

Batman just stares at John. And for a man wearing a full cowl, mask, goggles, and disguised by a cloak, the disapproving, slow downtick of his scowl— an angry slash over a pointed chin— speaks volumes as John so casually suggests breaking the law in order to obtain the book.

—-

More fearsome men than John have doubtless soiled their trousers over so small a sign of the Dark Knight's displeasure. And yet…

He lets the silence spin out between them, lethal disapproval radiating from the man in the batsuit like the ominous tolling of some dreadful bell. His bowels ought to turn to ice water. He ought to break out in a cold sweat, stammer, backpedal, maybe hurl himself out of the window, to keep from being shattered into a thousand pieces by a man with a build like a sack of unmixed concrete. He should /apologize/, at the very least. Any sane man would.

Any sane man.

What John Constantine does is lift both hands, palm-up, and let one of his brows cock a bit higher than the other. "What? I would. Not all of us have got the keys to Gotham Kingdom, mate. Some of us have to make do. At least I'm letting you know, yeah? That's professional courtesy, is what that is."

Because John Constantine is not a sane man, as anyone who knows him well could attest.

"If that's a dealbreaker, then fine, but you're going to have to get me access. Somehow I doubt we want the seller getting wind of just who it is asking after that book. People hocking objects of power tend to get a little /squirrely/ when they hear my name."

—-

"There are a string of mysterious circumstances around the book," Batman says, after giving John just enough time to wonder if his life is going end in a flurry of Batarangs. Mercifully, it does not.

"After the book was announced, several charity board members were robbed. One was assaulted, the other, shot. There is… someone looking for the book, and at least one person I'm in contact with is attempting to procure it herself."

"Getting to it ahead of the auction is likely to prove problematic otherwise. My influence with Gotham doesn't extend to breaking into auction houses whenever it's convenient for me. If you are going to obtain it beforehand, you'll have to accept the risks that goes with it," he says, a bit pointedly.

—-

Now it's /John's/ turn to frown. "Awfully fussy for a man who wants answers." It looks as though there's more he wants to say, but in an astonishing display of wisdom, he chooses to keep those things to himself, releasing the ghost of them instead in a sigh that leaves him looking weary. "Right. I'll look into it. But I'm not going to be any good dealing with demons if I get thrown in bloody jail, am I? I swear to Christ, if this kicks off another End of Days scenario because you're /squeamish/…" He presses his lips into a thin line. "Well, I'm off then." And he reaches into his pocket for his phone, even starts toward the door without any ceremony, albeit not before tossing the UV flashlight. He has the full confidence that Batman will catch it, after all, even unannounced. "You hear something that sounds like demons, don't be a hero. Ring me up. /Lovely/ chatting. Chas'll probably piss himself when I tell him who I spent the afternoon with."

—-

The flashlight soars through the air and clatters against the wall. At some point between 'answers' and 'right', John had moved away to make his departure— and when he turns back to puncuate his statement about Chas with the tossing of the flashlight, it proves that he's alone in the room.

Batman must have made a departure stage right, without sound or sign, leaving only the tugging of wind on the cheap curtains in his wake— and Constantine to voice his complains and wisecracks to a room empty of anything except the scent of death.

—-

The clatter stops John in his tracks. He looks over his shoulder at the empty room, the drifting of the curtains, and heaves the sigh of a man deeply put-upon, eyes rolled heavenward.

"/Capes,/" he mutters, as he shuts the door behind him and trundles down the stairs, and out into the night.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License