Post by Admin on Oct 27, 2018 2:06:21 GMT -5
Issue #31: “Stand Up and Face a Fight”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy and Debbie
Edited by Mark Bowers
First comes a point in everybody's life
When they gotta stand up and face a fight.
There comes a point in everybody's life,
When they gotta wonder if they done right.
—David Bryan and Joe DiPietro, “Steal Your Rock ‘n’ Roll”
A throwing star could only shear the muzzle from a gun in a cheesy action-comedy film. Launching the projectile from a machine might achieve better results, but a human being simply could not achieve the necessary velocity. If anything, the sharp points on the star would do more damage to the thrower’s hand than to any hollow steel shaft. In that regard, Dick suspected that using batarangs against guns would have a similar outcome. However, using batarangs against the gangsters themselves—even though they were garbed in lined trench coats and leather gloves—achieved markedly different results.
The lookout at the top of the subway stairs went down with a strangled cry and two ‘rangs in his forearm. Almost in the same instant, a smooth ceramic “boulder” marble, notable for being—at one inch in diameter—nearly twice the size of most standard varieties, slammed into the man’s hand. His gun clattered down the concrete steps. Harrier slipped another marble into the pocket of his sling, while thanking his stars that the lookout had kept the safety on. From the frown Batman directed at him, it was clear that he was thinking the same thing. Harrier shrugged his shoulders apologetically and let the next boulder fly, barely pausing to discharge a third.
The two gangsters at the back tried to take aim, but in the narrow stairwell, it was impossible for them to draw a bead without risking hitting their companions. Once disarmed, one tried to flee the hail of batarangs, but was almost immediately apprehended by Gotham Transit Authority enforcement officers. Batman allowed himself a brief smile when he saw the officers approach the stairway.
“We can take care of them from here, Batman,” one announced, hauling a fallen thug to his feet. “I’m guessing that the police will know what to charge them with?” Behind him, another officer spoke quickly into his radio, requesting backup.
“If they don’t,” Batman replied, “we’ll fill them in.” He and Harrier advanced menacingly toward the other wounded men. They shrank back nervously.
“It’s us or the subway cops,” Harrier pointed out. “Who would you rather surrender to?”
When the thugs exchanged dejected looks and edged closer to the TAE officers, the younger vigilante’s lips twitched. “I guess you were right, Batman,” he said. “They are smarter than the average bear.”
This time, Batman’s smile lasted longer. He looked at the officers, noting with satisfaction that four more had already arrived at the scene. “Appreciate the assistance,” he said. “Sorry about the noise.”
Under the watchful eyes of the two vigilantes, the TAE took the would-be shooters away. Only after the stairwell was empty once more did Batman direct his attention to the code panel on the maintenance door.
Selina waited, smoke grenade in hand, as the iron door slowly opened. When she saw Batman and Harrier enter, she set the device down with a sigh of relief.
“I haven’t got the passwords for the surveillance equipment here,” she explained. “I got a warning tone when you punched the code in, but I couldn’t access the cameras to see who it was.”
“Understandable,” Batman said, tugging back his cowl. “Bruce wouldn’t have changed them since he was away. I’m not sure I know them myself. You almost had some excitement a couple of minutes ago, though,” he said, his expression turning serious, even as he sent a friendly wave to Helena. The little girl giggled and ducked under the table.
Selina’s green eyes widened. “What?”
Harrier filled her in tersely on the details. “Too well equipped to be run-of-the-mill mobsters,” he added. “Those guns were top of the line and they were packing C-4, too.” He sighed. “I wish we could have kept one for questioning, but the transit cops were a little too quick to respond.” He scowled. “Not that I should be complaining, but...”
“But you a-are,” Dick drawled in a sing-song voice.
Harrier tried to look annoyed. “It would have been nice to have someone to question,” he said plaintively.
“Oh, I would have had a few questions for him,” Selina replied with a dangerous glitter in her eyes.
“By the way,” Dick said, taking two brown paper bags out from somewhere within the folds of his cape, “Bruce sent these for breakfast. Or at least, he told us to exercise our judgment in making a selection, but it was his idea.”
Selina accepted them with a smile. “Raisin scones?” she asked. “I’d say your judgment got a good workout.” She rolled her eyes. “Which, incidentally, is what I’ll need after I eat a couple of these.” She opened the second bag and inhaled deeply. “The rolls must have just come out of the oven!” she exclaimed. “Thank you!”
Her expression turned serious. “You realize that we can’t stay here now, though. Not if someone’s already tried to break in.”
The two young men exchanged a quick look and nodded reluctantly. “Oracle knows of some safe-houses,” Harrier said. “Some of them aren’t in Bruce’s files. You should contact her.”
“I’d love to,” Selina retorted. “It’s a bit difficult at the moment, though.” She explained tersely about the cell phone.
Dick frowned. “Was it locked? Did you report it stolen?”
“Yes to both. Credit cards have been cancelled too... oh!” She clapped a hand to her mouth. “I use a service for my cards: call one number and the company takes care of shutting down the accounts, but Bruce also gave me a card just before we went to the Solomons, and that one’s not on my list. Tell him, won’t you?”
“Sure.” Dick scribbled a ten-digit number on the top sheet of a block pad, which he then ripped off and handed to Selina. “That’s the best way to reach Oracle for now.” He hesitated. “Do you want us to take Helena back to the manor?”
“Yes,” Selina admitted, “but right now, I’m not sure that’s safest.” She thought for a moment. “Are you two done with patrol for the night?”
“Unless we see something on the way back,” Harrier nodded.
“Okay. Okay,” she took a deep breath. “Hang around for a minute or two. I’ll call Oracle now and see what she’s got. If this place has been compromised, we need to move out ASAP. If she has a better location for us tonight, can you...?”
Dick bowed and extended his arm. “Madam, it would be our pleasure to escort you.”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, she couldn’t help smiling. Then she walked over to the phone console while Dick started to gather up Helena’s outerwear.
“So I figured I’d fill you in, Boss,” Oracle said cheerily. “Right now they’re at...”
Bruce held up a hand to the vid-screen, cutting her off in mid-sentence. “No.”
“I beg your pardon.”
Bruce fought to keep his voice steady. “You’ve told me they’re safe. That’s all I need to know.”
Barbara shook her head in disbelief. “You mean you aren’t even going to visit them.”
“I believe that to be unwise at present,” Bruce replied. “Don’t you?” He ended the connection before she could respond.
Alone in the cave, his fist pounded the arm of his chair. Of course he wanted to visit them, to see with his own eyes that they were well. But if Selina had been right about the manor being under surveillance, he couldn’t take the chance. He only hoped that whoever their unknown spy might be, they hadn’t uncovered the cave. If they had, if they were monitoring his communications down here, then it was probable that Oracle’s security had been compromised as well.
Not for the first time, he wished that she would keep her holographic avatar up whenever initiating contact. He shook his head. If the cave was under observation, then the damage was already done and Barbara’s home defenses were almost as formidable as his own. If it wasn’t... if it wasn’t, then he still didn’t want to continue the conversation. If Barbara persisted with her arguments, there was every reason to believe that he would allow himself to be convinced. And if he led their adversaries to her new safe-house, he would never forgive himself, should anything happen.
Filing a complaint with the Independent Police Auditor was an option open to all individuals who had dealings with the GCPD, whether cop or civilian. In point of fact, it was generally the purview of the latter, though police personnel weren’t barred from doing so.
After reading the information in the Academy handbook and corroborating the data with that found on the municipal website for Gotham City, Bruce realized that using this channel was likely to lose him any supporters he still had at the academy. This would be like... he frowned. As a member of the Justice League, he’d carried UN sanction. While the League did operate independently, the sanction meant that the UN had technical oversight. If Bruce were to file a complaint with the IPA, it would be like Robin complaining to the UN because he disagreed with one of Batman’s decisions.
He had no illusions about that going over well. However, that wasn’t the point. Either the manual on police ethics detailed a code to live by, or it was so much theoretical material to be parroted back on an examination and never taken seriously again. Despite the jibes and cracks he’d been enduring thus far, he couldn’t accept that it was the latter.
He checked the site again. Complaints could be filed in person, over the telephone, or in writing via mail or email and he would receive a summary of his complaint, complete with a case number and the name of the officer assigned to resolve the matter within thirty days. Bruce sighed. Much as he would have preferred to go in person, the office’s business hours conflicted with his academy schedule. He didn’t trust the telephone. It was too easy for information to be taken down incorrectly. He flexed his fingers, brought up his email and began to type up the details. He would attach a copy of the report he’d initially sent to Fochs and, if he didn’t hear back within the thirty day timeframe, he would follow up with a hardcopy via registered mail.
At the back of his mind, a voice once more demanded to know why he was doing this. It wasn’t as though Jandt had been some sort of model cadet before this incident. That wasn’t the point. Jandt had been coerced into getting behind the wheel. It hadn’t been a lapse of judgment brought on by intoxication. Jandt had literally been under someone else’s control. If drinking to excess was an offense punished by automatic expulsion, Bruce wouldn’t have taken things this far; nobody had force-fed Jandt those drinks. But to expel him for something he hadn’t been able to help—getting behind the wheel while intoxicated—offended Bruce’s sense of justice. He’d been duty-bound to file his initial report, but wasn’t he also duty-bound to see that the verdict handed down would be fair?
Jim was right about one thing: it wasn’t his call in the first place. But if Bruce was to be a part of this service, he wanted to know that those in a position to render judgment were going to be aware of all factors—even if he had to point them out himself.
When Bruce didn’t respond to Jim’s voicemail immediately, Jim did not become alarmed. The police academy had a killer workload and it wasn’t surprising that, between his regular class work, his squad leader responsibilities, the extra firearms practice that he put himself through, and his normal reserve, Bruce didn’t have time for social niceties. Jim was still somewhat surprised each time he turned away from Bruce for a moment and found him still in the room when he turned back. He supposed that expecting a quick reply to his telephone messages was pushing it.
Still, when more than twenty-four hours passed without a response, Jim took the manor key that Bruce had given him out of his desk drawer and started down the quarter-mile path to the kitchen door.
He wasn’t expecting anyone to be home. Bruce was supposed to be at the academy and the cleaning staff should have finished by now. His visit was strictly to ensure that Bruce hadn’t fallen down a flight of stairs or gotten pinned under that blasted T-Rex in the cave or crushed by that giant coin that looked like it should have been a memento from one of Two-Face’s capers instead of the Penny Plunderer’s.
A crash from upstairs and an oath from a voice that was definitely not Bruce’s interrupted his thoughts. Jim considered for a moment. If this was an intruder, his footfalls on the stairs might tip them off. In anyone else’s house, his wisest course of action would be to get out quickly and call 911. However, if it turned out to be one of the cleaning staff, Jim was going to feel rather silly. And if the emergency response team started poking around and found something that Bruce would be hard-pressed to explain, even if Bruce wouldn’t blame him for being cautious, Jim would still be kicking himself.
No, before he involved anyone else, he was going to check this out for himself, but he was going to do so quietly. He pulled out his cell phone and sent a quick text to his daughter: At manor. Someone upstairs. Checking now.
He waited for her acknowledgment before adding: If I don’t contact you ASAP send help.
Then he headed for the elevator at the end of the hallway. Under the circumstances, it was a far more discreet option than the stairs. Once on the second floor, he removed his shoes and made his way cautiously down the hall, his stocking feet sinking into the luxurious pile carpet, as he followed the sounds of drawers opening and closing and clicks of metal, wood, and ceramic against polished wood.
The noises were coming from Selina’s room. As Jim peered around the doorframe, he saw a woman in the cleaning company’s uniform, her back to him, rummaging haphazardly through drawers and cabinets. She seemed frustrated.
Softly, Jim closed the bedroom door and smiled as he saw the electronic keypad. Bruce had installed new locks on the doors to curb Helena’s penchant for exploring. He generally left them disengaged during the day, so that the staff could get in to clean and while Jim suspected that Bruce probably would have preferred that each door have its own access code, as a concession to the others residing on the grounds, he’d set a universal PIN instead. Jim smiled and punched it now. The door chimed softly and the LED screen above the keypad changed to read ‘LOCKED’.
Jim’s smile widened as he heard quick footsteps from inside the room, followed by the sound of someone yanking on the doorknob. With a sense of satisfaction, he took out his cell phone once more, knowing that his daughter was standing by.
Sergeant Trinity Joyner gaped at her colleague. “Wayne did what, now?” she demanded.
Fochs sighed. “He went to the IPA with his concerns about Jandt. I’m not sure whether to be impressed by his audacity or...” He shook his head. “I am impressed by his audacity. If he were to come to me for advice now, though, I’d have to recommend that he withdraw from the Academy immediately, because if he was getting hell before, he’s going to be making the move from Limbo directly to Treachery.”
Joyner chuckled. “I never picked you for a Dante fan, Guy.”
“That’s just because you don’t know me very well. What say we change that around eight tomorrow evening?”
Joyner rolled her eyes. “You just don’t quit, do you?” She sighed. “So now we have IA and the IPA breathing down our necks about this. Why is Wayne doing this anyway?”
Fochs hesitated. “He didn’t inform me. I will say this. He came to me to argue Jandt’s case. I know for a fact that when I told him to let the investigators handle it, he went to MacInnes.”
“Oh,” Joyner drawled. “One of those.”
“You’re familiar with Batman’s record when it comes to following protocol?” Fochs asked. “I want to be very clear that I am not defending his actions. In fact, while I don’t normally condone retaliation, if it wasn’t explicitly forbidden in these situations, I’m not denying that I’d be tempted to make an exception, but...” He frowned. “But,” he continued, “you take a guy with a clear sense of right and wrong who’s used to doing things his way, put him in a situation where his hands are more or less tied, and he’s aware that following established protocols might... might, mind you, result in a miscarriage of justice—”
“I read his report,” Joyner interrupted. “I know what you’re getting at. The easiest thing to do would be to expel Jandt. Right or wrong, it would stick. And...” she took a deep breath, “maybe it would be best. His performance was lackluster before the incident. I know he was barely scraping by. If he’d come to me and said that he wanted to withdraw, I wouldn’t have tried very hard to talk him out of it. But Wayne did have a point about the coercion factor.”
“Even so, going to the IPA while the investigation is still going on makes it look like he doesn’t trust us or the top brass to be thorough enough. Not exactly something that’s going to win him any medals.”
Joyner nodded. “So, if the pressure gets to be too much for Wayne after this and he wants to withdraw...?”
Fochs shook his head. “He won’t. He’s got too much riding on this. And everyone here knows it.”
“But if he does?”
“At this point?” Fochs sighed. “I’d have to support his decision. Waste of potential, but if he can’t learn to trust the chain of command, then maybe he shouldn’t be here.”
“Then he won’t be Batman.”
“I know.” Foch’s lips twitched then. “On the other hand,” he continued, “it’s a moot point. Like I just said, Wayne won’t quit. If we don’t kick him out, he’ll stay the course if it kills him.”
“Not that it’s technically designed to accomplish that.” Joyner smiled.
“Of course not.” He paused for a beat.
“Though some days, everyone wonders,” they both said in unison.
Bruce frowned as he examined his shotgun score. They’d been firing slugs at targets fifty yards away and his accuracy was only at forty percent. He steeled himself mentally for Farnham’s usual dressing down. To his surprise, the firearms instructor moved past him to examine Norton’s results.
He wondered whether Norton’s score had been lower, or whether he’d made a more obvious error, which Farnham wanted to address first, but no... Farnham continued down the row, inspecting and commenting on each score in turn. When he reached the end of the line, he gave the order to reload and repeat the exercise.
This time, Bruce scored a thirty-eight. Farnham bypassed him once more.
“Sir,” Bruce ventured.
He turned to look at him then. “Carry on, cadet,” he said evenly. He moved past Norton to Ortega.
Bruce frowned, wondering what was going on. When the class was dismissed, he hung back.
Farnham ignored him for several moments, as he made a show of collecting gear and straightening papers. Finally, as though he were doing Bruce a favor, he nodded. “Cadet Wayne?”
“Sir...” Bruce began carefully, “I was wondering whether you had any advice on how to improve my range scores.”
Farnham’s eyebrows came together in an irritated frown. “Practice, cadet,” he said, as though it were obvious.
“Sir...” Bruce repeated.
“Do you have a problem with putting in more practice hours, cadet?”
That stung. “No, sir.”
Farnham wasn’t done. “Because if you don’t like the way I handle the class, cadet... If you think that my methods are improper.... Well, cadet, you’re certainly free to file a complaint with the IPA. I think you’re already familiar with the procedure?”
So. That was it. Bruce bit back a retort. “I am, sir.”
Farnham nodded. “I see you understand me. You’re dismissed, cadet.”
Bruce saluted smartly and trotted back toward the locker room to change into his Class C uniform.
“...It has now been confirmed that there were no fatalities in the explosion which destroyed a blue Subaru in an East End parking lot on Monday. Police are seeking information regarding the whereabouts of Selina Kyle, whose handbag was found at the scene. Ms. Kyle, an East End resident, was seen in the vicinity prior to the blast, but has been missing since then. It is believed that she may have witnessed the explosion. The GCPD have yet to confirm whether the explosion was accidental or deliberate. Police are also seeking information regarding the owner of the Subaru, who has not yet come forward. If you are able to assist in either matter, please contact the GCPD tip-line at 555-9207.
“That’s the news. For traffic, we now go to our eye-in-the-sky, Curtis Favreau. Curt?”
“Thanks, Mona. The Aparo’s moving well southbound from the Kane Bridge to the Sprang...”
Derek Powers sipped at his Perrier water and tried to appear relaxed. While meeting in the Iceberg was relatively safe from one perspective—it was hardly a place that other PMWE executives were likely to frequent—it carried its own set of hazards. He wasn’t overly concerned about being attacked by one of the bar’s more colorful patrons. So far, the tip that he’d received before coming to this place appeared to bear out: so long as he didn’t bother them, they wouldn’t bother him. No, his chief worry was that several of those more colorful patrons might attack each other, the police would arrive, and all present would be taken to the nearest precinct. Even if he weren’t involved in any altercations, he didn’t have any illusions about the possible ramifications if word got out that a PMWE executive had been arrested. It wouldn’t matter if he were then released without being charged. There would be questions about what he’d been doing in a place rumored to be unsavory, a favored haunt of many with known criminal records, and God help him if someone with a camera phone caught him in the same frame as the Riddler or Poison Ivy or...
“Sorry I’m late.” Mr. Fixx slid into the seat across the table from him with a grace that belied his hulking frame. “I had matters to attend to.”
Powers frowned. “I’m not accustomed to being kept waiting,” he lied. In point of fact, Paxton often subjected him to that particular indignity. However, he did not intend to allow that state of affairs to persist into the future. “What have you found?”
Fixx sighed. “They escaped the car bomb and the Bats interfered with a team of agents I sent to their last known location to corral them. I still have a set of eyes and ears in Wayne Manor looking for clues that might point the way to other safe-houses. I was hoping that she would have reported in by now, but no luck.” He let out another breath. “Unfortunately, she now knows that she’s in danger and the Bats are on the alert.”
“Yes.” Powers took another sip of his Perrier. A slow smile spread across his lips. “Oh. Oh my,” he said. “There may yet be a way to turn matters to our advantage and ensure that Lester Paxton finds himself in a good deal more trouble than he already is.”
As he began to explain himself, he was gratified to see a similar smile sprout on Mr. Fixx’s face.
Cass bit down on the cap of her pen and tried to concentrate on her essay. The words were proving more elusive than usual today. She looked up to see Dr. Arkham’s steel-gray eyes fixed on her with a disapproving glower. She winced. “Sorry.”
Dr. Arkham sighed. “Young woman,” he said testily, “need I remind you that I am here on a Wednesday at your request, because you believe that you need the extra coaching.”
Cass shook her head. “No,” she whispered. “Sorry.”
“Cass,” Dr. Arkham frowned, “is anything wrong?”
“No. Maybe. No.” She took a deep breath. “Date. Tomorrow.”
The doctor shifted in his chair. “Tomorrow’s date marks some unpleasant... anniversary?” he asked in a way that Cass thought sounded almost hopeful.
“N-no,” she said, feeling as inadequate as she had the other day at the make-up counter. “I... I have a date. Tomorrow. I guess... nervous.”
“Ah.” He shifted again, an uncomfortable expression on his face. “Well.”
“Well,” he said again. “Well... congratulations. I trust it will go well for you. If you were,” he swallowed, “if you were thinking to ask me for advice, however...”
Now she knew her cheeks were burning. “No! No. I have... other friends for... that. No. Sorry. Just... just nervous. First date with him. First date in... a long time. No.”
Doctor Arkham heaved a sigh of relief. “There’s nothing wrong with expanding your social circle,” he said. “And it is good that you have others to turn to for assistance in that matter. As for the task at hand, if you truly can’t concentrate, then we may as well end this session and meet again at the regular time.”
Batman would have insisted that she train regardless of her mood. It was one of a very few traits that he shared with her first mentor, David Cain. She would have understood the insistence, even as part of her resented it. Faced with the opportunity to cut today’s session short, however, she balked. “Date is... tomorrow. Won’t study then. Need to learn now.” She winced. Her speech was always choppier when she was nervous or upset. After all the exposure to language she’d been getting, from her friends, from TV, from the manga, from the GED prep and essay writing... she should be able to speak properly. “I need to learn this now. No matter what I think about. I have to know this. Please.”
Doctor Arkham smiled. “In that case, I would make one suggestion.”
“In the list of essay topics, see if you can find one that is relevant to your feelings right now. And if there is not,” his lips twitched, “see if you can imagine a topic that would be. Write that down and then create an essay based on it.”
She blinked. “That’s... Is that allowed?”
“Well,” Arkham sighed, “not on the actual test. However, I don’t need to remind you that you are preparing for the test by learning to write. For the time being, I see nothing wrong in writing on a topic that currently interests you.” At her dubious nod, he smiled again. “Enjoy it while you can, Cass.”
She returned his smile cautiously and bent over her page once more.
If Bruce had thought that he was having a difficult time before, it was as nothing compared to now. Farnham wasn’t the only instructor who seemed to look through him, ignoring his questions, disregarding his attempts to participate in discussions, and otherwise treating him as though he were invisible.
His fellow cadets, for the most part, took their tone from the staff. Laramie still muttered the occasional ‘Bat-pigeon’ under his breath, but most of the others simply moved aside when he drew near. They weren’t obvious about avoiding him. They acted as though they hadn’t seen him and had been planning to move anyway. However, as it happened every time that Bruce approached, their intent was plain.
The only three to buck the trend were Norton, Brenner, and Ortega, but Bruce tried to keep his interactions with the three brief. He told himself that he didn’t care what the others thought about him, although he had to admit that it was an extra stress he didn’t need. However, if those others decided to subject anyone associating with him to the same treatment that he was getting, there was no way that he wanted that on his conscience.
“Are you kidding?” Ortega had demanded when Bruce had suggested calling off their Saturday meeting. “Samantha’s been begging me to take her back to your place. Apparently, you have the best toys this side of an F.A.O. Schwartz display.”
Bruce’s lips twitched, even as he berated himself mentally. If he’d only left the pre-school toys up in the attic, Samantha would probably have gotten bored with the toddler toys in the nursery. But no, he’d taken Alfred’s teachings to heart and tried to be a good host. “Helena won’t be there,” he said. “She and her mother needed to go away this weekend.”
“Oh,” Ortega said. “Well, I think she might be a little disappointed, but she won’t mind too much. Unless... you’re trying to rescind the invitation?” she ventured.
No. He was trying to make her rescind it. That was different. “I’m not,” he said. “However, you might be wise to consider what associating with me will do for your prospects.”
“Short-term at the Academy or long-term in the field?” she shot back so quickly that Bruce knew she must have already examined the situation on her own and made up her mind. “I need to master these skills, and honestly? You’re the best. Maybe I could try to track down some of the people who taught you, I mean, if they’re still alive...?”
“Several,” Bruce allowed. Old age and young enemies had thinned the ranks though.
“Okay. But I haven’t got the time or the resources to go globetrotting right now and I don’t think Samantha would appreciate being yanked from continent to continent and I won’t leave my daughter behind for months on end. So, Mister,” she clapped her hands to her hips and thrust her chin forward, “it looks like you’re it.” She tilted her head to one side and the tough pose fell away. “Please?”
Bruce sighed. “Just so long as you realize what you’re letting yourself in for.”
Brenner hadn’t used as many words when Bruce had tried arguing with him, but he’d made it clear where he stood on the matter as well. As for Norton, he seemed as oblivious to the situation as... as the academy instructors purported to be toward Bruce. Any attempt to make him see the light was met with “If I actually cared what people thought, I’d never have applied to the GCPA in the first place. Dad wanted me to be a riding instructor. He came around. So will these clowns.”
“Norton...” Bruce had warned.
“Squad Leader Wayne,” Norton retorted, “respectfully, just about anytime someone tries to tell me who I should hang out with, I have a tendency to do the opposite. Just thought you should know.”
Bruce shook his head. “Fine. In that case, you should stick with me.”
“Just about every time, sir.” Then, “Would you look at the hour, Squad Leader? We don’t have another second to waste talking if we’re to get these guys,” he gave his mare’s neck a gentle scratch, “ready for class. Squad Leader.”
After that, he shrugged off Bruce’s attempts to keep the conversation going. Oddly enough, Bruce didn’t resent being ignored nearly as much this time.
Dick usually avoided the cafeteria at PMWE. Barbara’s lunches were better than the daily specials any day of the week and if she was too busy to prepare one, he was just as capable of slapping a filling between two slices of bread and grabbing a couple of snacks and a drink as anyone else. Of course, every so often, it happened that Dick stumbled in from patrol at four in the morning, to find that Oracle was still up—researching ancient Phoenician mythology for the Teen Titans, while trying to safely deactivate the lock on Ultra-Humanite’s invisible car for the JSA and simultaneously listening to the feed from the Birds of Prey, who were operating undercover and needed her to feed them the information they needed to avoid arousing suspicion.
Generally, PMWE allowed him to be flexible with his hours, but on days when there was a departmental meeting at 9:30, he knew that he was expected to be there, no matter what time he’d gone to bed the night before. Today was definitely a ‘grab an energy bar for breakfast on the way out the door and buy lunch’ day.
There were mountains of work to get through. The department was getting a quality audit next week and Sal had emailed him a checklist that would probably have depleted an acre or two of the Brazilian rain forest, had it been a hardcopy. He didn’t take lunch until nearly 3:30.
He was just crunching the last bite of his biscotti on the way back to his office, when he heard someone calling his name. He turned around and tried to hide his surprise when Derek Powers strode up.
“I need to talk to you,” Powers said without preamble. “Paxton’s gone too far this time.”
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