by Dave Barnowski
Jim Corrigan rolled over in bed at the sound of his name, dimly aware that someone was calling him.
Corrigan awoke with a start to find himself floating in a sea of endless white. It had no top nor bottom, nor any horizon. Corrigan recognized the place and immediately became afraid. He quickly began to check his body for wounds, because the two times he had been here before, he had recently died.
“YOU ARE NOT DEAD, MY SON,” said the deep, calm, warm, resonant, and reassuring Voice that was the master of this realm.
“Then — then why am I here?” Corrigan meekly asked the Voice, which he sometimes considered to be God and other times thought of as just another powerful entity, of which he’d seen plenty in his adventures with the Spectre.
“YOU ARE HERE BECAUSE YOU HAVE DISPLEASED ME, MY SON.”
“YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE POWER OF THE SPECTRE. YET YOU HAVE LET HIM BE IN COMMAND OF YOU WHEN ONE OF MY CHILDREN ON EARTH IS MURDERED. YOU HAVE SHIRKED YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.”
“The Spectre takes command!” replied Corrigan. “I’m just a man! He’s damn near all-powerful, even after you took away his more cosmic power! If he wants to take over, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“YOU HAVE FULL COMMAND OVER THE SPECTRE! HE MUST ABIDE BY WHAT YOU COMMAND!”
“YOU MUST TEACH THE SPECTRE THE WAY OF JUSTICE. I NO LONGER HAVE A NEED FOR A SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, FOR VENGEANCE BEGETS VENGEANCE. I WANT A SPIRIT OF JUSTICE AND REDEMPTION.”
“Why not just create another spirit? What you want isn’t ol’ moon-face by a long shot. It goes against his very nature.”
“THE SAME COULD BE SAID ABOUT THE OFFICER FROM CLIFFLAND WHO USED HIS FIST ON MERELY SUSPECTED FELONS AND FELT NO GUILT IF THEY WERE LATER FOUND TO BE INNOCENT. YOU HAD A FOUL AND MISERABLE TEMPER, MY SON. YET YOU HAVE CHANGED. SO, TOO, CAN THE SPECTRE.”
“I’m not the man I was. But that was almost fifty years ago. And only then I changed because I had to. I would have lost my badge. Before Andrea and the kids, being a cop was all I had. But the Spectre’s been the spirit of God’s vengeance for centuries!”
“HE HAS BEEN A TRUE AND LOYAL SERVANT. YOU WILL SEE IT THROUGH THIS DIFFICULT TIME.”
“Speaking of time, how long? I mean, the first time I was the Spectre’s host, I didn’t age for thirty years. Over the past fifteen years as an ordinary man, I’ve aged normally, of course, but now I’m the Spectre’s host again, and it feels as if I’m aging in reverse. Not that I’m not grateful about that, but I don’t want to see my wife and kids grow old before my very eyes.”
The Voice cut him off with a decree. “YOU WILL TEACH THE SPECTRE THE LESSON OF HUMILITY AND HUMANITY. YOU WILL TEACH HIM THE MEANING OF THE WORD JUSTICE.”
Corrigan shuddered at the idea of the long nightmare of watching his family grow old and die as he taught the Spectre to go against his very nature.
“DO NOT FEAR, MY SON, FOR YOUR WIFE SHALL NOT AGE, NOR SHALL YOUR CHILDREN NOR THEIR MATES WHEN THEY REACH THE APPROPRIATE AGE. AND WORRY NOT THAT YOU WILL HAVE TO CHANGE JOBS TO KEEP YOUR FELLOW OFFICERS FROM REALIZING THAT YOU DO NOT AGE.”
Corrigan suddenly found himself wide awake in his own bed, damp with sweat. His wife Andrea, alert and concerned, was looking intently at him.
Andrea Corrigan thought her husband was having another of the frequent nightmares he’d had since rejoining with the Spectre. There was many a night where she would have to hold the sobbing James Corrigan as he cried out the horror of the Spectre’s grisly retribution on Gotham City’s murderers.
Jim had been a cop for well over half a century, with many of those years spent in homicide. He was also a combat veteran of World War II, and yet the things the Spectre did to those guilty murderers (there was never any doubt that they were guilty) made him sick to the depths of his spirit. It wasn’t just the actions of the Spectre that so repulsed Jim. It was the kick of excitement the Spectre received when he let loose with that uncontrollable temper. The Spectre enjoyed his fits of rage. He looked forward to finding ways to torment murderers. He was becoming what he himself despised.
He could sense this even if the Spectre could not, because they shared the same consciousness when the Spectre was active, although Jim was pushed aside into an inactive role where he could do nothing but watch the Spectre mete out his brand of vengeance. Jim had told Andrea how his years apart from the Spectre had made the ghost a cold and cruel thing. While the Spectre had never been particularly warm and friendly, he hadn’t been openly hostile and aloof to one and all in years past. Of course, the merging of the two of them had seemed to moderate the Spectre’s attitude more recently.
Andrea gently touched Jim to keep from startling him, then noticed that he was already awake and asked if it was another nightmare.
“No,” he replied as he then told her about his conversation with the Voice.
“Was it a dream, or did it really happen?” she asked.
“Only one way I know to find out for sure. Hey, Spectre!” he said, looking down at his chest. “Come on out here; we need to have a talk.”
A chalk-white figure of a man wearing a dark green hooded cloak emerged painlessly and effortlessly from the chest of Jim Corrigan and floated, standing with his arm folded. His face was covered in the shadow of the cloak. His voice could daunt the bravest heart when he chose, for it truly sounded like it came from the other side of the grave. “What do you want, James Corrigan?”
Andrea, who had shrunk back when the Spectre first appeared, sat up and — to the surprise of everyone in the room, including herself — said, “Was Jim’s dream real? Did the Voice really talk to him tonight?”
Jim stared at his wife, open-mouthed at her bravery to talk to the Spectre that way. The Spectre merely stared darkly. The silence lasted for what seemed like hours, but wasn’t more than seconds when Andrea, instead of being intimidated by the Spectre’s stare, repeated the question.
“Yes,” replied the Spectre finally.
Andrea was about to ask the Spectre something more when she heard her daughters Diana and Libby getting up, and the Spectre vanished. Jim continue to stare at his wife with open-mouthed amazement.
Detective Lieutenant Barney Peters was normally a calm, quiet, efficient police officer in charge of the 78th Precinct. Today, however, was the first day the police department’s new smoking policy went into effect, and he was short-tempered and edgy, because that policy required the chain-smoking Peters to smoke only outside or in a small room downstairs and not continuously as he did his paperwork, as was his custom. Today was also the day he was receiving a new detective third grade who was promoted to the squad. At the 78th Precinct, a newly promoted detective would always be partnered with Detective First Grade Evan Evans, who unfortunately was out with the flu.
Department regulations said that the rookie detective had to be partnered with a detective first grade, and Lieutenant Peters didn’t trust Corrigan all that much. He moved around from assignment to assignment too often, working first at one precinct, then another, then Homicide, then Narcotics, and then back to the first precinct. His actual police work was good, except for solving homicides. All the homicides he’d investigated since coming to the 78th either went unsolved, or the perp wound up dead in the most disgusting way, such as that loan shark they’d found covered with giant leeches shortly before last Easter. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Spectre: The Specter of Easter.]
This particular rookie was something special. According to the bulletin he received about her, April Catrella was at age twenty-five the youngest detective in the history of the Gotham City Police Department since they made being a college graduate a requirement, and the press made a big deal of it. He felt that teaming her up with Corrigan would be letting the force down, but he didn’t have any choice.
Sighing and wishing for a cigarette, he saw Corrigan come in with his current partner, Kurt Bling. They were both a half-hour early. Neither were great typists or all that dedicated to the paperwork part of the job, so Peters figured it probably had to do with a case they were working on. He motioned them into his office and told them of their break-up.
Ten minutes later, Detective April Catrella showed up at the detective squad room for the first time. She was five feet, ten inches tall, weighed no more than one hundred and twenty pounds, and had brown eyes and matching brown hair cropped short, but not severely so. She was an attractive twenty-five-year-old woman dressed in a light blue pant suit and low-heeled shoes. She quickly glanced around the squad room, taking in all of its shabby ambiance, and proceeded directly to the lieutenant’s office.
Outside, Corrigan and his now-former partner Kurt Bling were having a couple cups of coffee. “I bet Evans doesn’t really have the flu,” he said to Corrigan. “I bet he got tired of breaking in rookie detectives. Hell, he broke me in, and that was ten years ago.”
“You’ve been a detective here ten years?”
“Sure. The 78th is a good precinct.”
Jim silently agreed; he liked the 78th precinct. He liked precinct detective work best over specialties such as homicide or narcotics. Perhaps, if he could soften up Peters, he would stay here a while. Of course, a lot also depended on his new partner, too.