Chapter Seven: Maxxie

“I don’t see why we’re here,” I grumbled as Jace tugged on my arm, urging me onward. Snow floated around us in heavy flurries. His fingers were cold and tight around my hand. He guided me into a tiny alleyway and brought me to a large blue door.

     “He’ll tell us what they mean,” Jace explained as he rapped twice. I tightened my scarf around my neck. “He’s very smart.”

     “But he’s crazy.”

     “Who you calling crazy?” a raspy voice said. I turned to see a short, wrinkly man standing in the doorway, his beady eyes squinting at me. The wisps of his gray beard framed his pointed chin and his bald head was covered with a burgundy coloured beanie. The overalls he wore hung loosely off his thin frame and they were covered with various unidentified stains. There was also a faint smell of decay emanating off of him.

     “Hello Mr. Sheppard,” Jace said with a smile. “How are you?”

     The old man waved his hands around. “Cut the chit chat, boy. Come in, come in. Watch your step.”

     I followed Jace into Mr. Sheppard’s loft. I made my way through the building cautiously, continuously eyeing the creepy things surrounding his house: smudge sticks hanging off the ash gray walls, trees twisting and turning along the walls and furniture, a Siamese cat sitting in the corner of the room, staring out the stained glass window. A twisted and smashed gramophone hung from the ceiling with purple flower pouring from it and books were littering the floor. It looks as if a tornado had ripped through here, leaving only a few tidbits of things for Mr. Sheppard to use.

     “Interesting home,” I murmured. Jace elbowed me. Mr. Sheppard only brushed me off.

     We arrived in the kitchen where Mr. Sheppard began tending a bowl of foul smelling something. It took all my might not to gag as the odor circulated around me. Jace gave me a look and I swallowed back my bile.

     “So what is it you boys need?” Mr. Sheppard demanded, stirring a wooden spoon around the pot. I dug my face into Jace’s back to get away from the smell.

     “We would like you to try and ‘decode’ these letters we’ve been getting,” Jace explained. “So we can our son.”

     Mr. Sheppard sipped the green liquid he was stirring. He nodded and said, “Yeah, I heard about your son. Shame.” He held his hand out. “Well, let me have the notes then, hm?”

     I coughed as Jace pulled the notes out of his jacket and handed them to the old man. I watched carefully as the wrinkly man read the words and sentences, his eyes squinting more and more until they looked like slits being swallowed in a sea of skin. How did Jace ever even meet this guy? He was the witch doctor of the twenty-first century; a lot of artsy people would go to him if they ever wanted organic remedies without the drugs of the hospital or doctors. But although he was very smart, there were stories floating around that he was actually crazy. One time I had even heard that he jumped into the Hudson River in attempts to walk on water.

     “So, is there anything you can find?” Jace asked. “Anything at all?”

     The older man raised a bony finger. He raised an eyebrow and looked at us. No, he looked at something behind us. He stepped away from his stove and walked to the tree cascading around his house. He reached up and pulled a small piece of paper from one of the branches. My breath caught in my throat. No. This couldn’t be. It couldn’t be another… no, it was impossible. There was no way the Joker could predict we’d ever come here. We never saw Mr. Sheppard.

     My heart beat began to falter as the old man’s eyes skimmed across the piece of paper. The hairs on my neck stood as his chilling voice read the words on this note.

Dear ‘Batman’ and ‘Robin’,

   You are underestimating just how smart I am. I know you two. I know how you work. I have my insights. Since you two don’t seem to be smart enough to put the pieces together, perhaps this final clue will put it all together: A place where superheroes first came to life. And I don’t mean in comic books.

   Good luck, boys. See you soon.

   --The Joker

     I gasped.

     Jace’s whole body went limp beside me.

     It all clicked.

     The Joker brought Robin back home, back to Washington.

     “Fuck,” Jace whispered. "It was so obvious."

     It had been obvious. How could we have been so clueless? Everything made absolute sense--we had just been too stupid to put two and two together. I was beginning to feel dizzy just thinking about how we could have figured this out days before.

     "I need to sit down," I murmured. Jace guided me to a chair and sat me down. I put my head in my hands while Jace's gentle hand rubbed my back soothingly. Nothing could make me feel better, though; I felt stupid and horrified.  

     "We have to go to Washington," Jace said. "Right away."

     "Good luck with that," Mr. Sheppard scoffed. "A storm's brewing. Nobody in their right mind would fly or drive. Not unless you want to die."

     "Yeah, well if we don't get there tonight that's exactly what might happen to Robin," I hissed. "He might die.

     "Max," Jace warned, squeezing my shoulder.

     I sighed. All I wanted to do was have my son back in my arms. I wanted to sit on the couch, Jace's arms wrapped around me and my arms wrapped around Robin. I just wanted everything back. Now I was so close to having it back. Screw mother nature for making it snow.

     "Mr. Sheppard, do you think the storm will have passed by tomorrow morning?" Jace asked. It amazed me how he could remain so calm through all of this.

     "Should be," the man replied. "You could probably leave by dawn tomorrow, if my estimations are correct."

     Jace nodded. "Good. Thank you sir." He grabbed my hand. "Come on, Maxxie. We have some planning to do."

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