Post by Admin on Jul 2, 2015 12:48:19 GMT -5
Issue #11: “Spinning Down Round Down”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #11: “Spinning Down Round Down”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
Author’s Note: References to Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (1999-2000). I’m making a couple of tweaks, if only because there’s support elsewhere in canon for them.
I saw you standing in the middle of the thunder and lightning,
I know you’re feelin’ like you just can’t win but you’re tryin’,
It’s hard to keep on keepin’ on when you’re bein’ pushed around,
Don’t even know which way is up, just keep spinnin’ down, round, down…
—Gary Allen, Hilary Lindsey, Matt Warren: Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)
Chiarello watched Bruce closely, gauging his reaction.
For his part, Bruce didn’t have to hide his surprise. He would have laid money on False Face calling his lawyer. He tensed when Chiarello took his arm.
“Let’s head back to my office,” he said, with a frown. “We have a few more questions to go over.”
Bruce followed with a mental sigh.
Chiarello waited until the door closed behind them before asking, “What does the cost of a good impersonator run to, these days?”
Bruce frowned. “I’m not sure.”
“Oh, come on,” Chiarello coaxed. “You mean you’ve never needed to be in two places at once?”
“It’s been necessary,” Bruce admitted, refusing to rise to the bait, “but it’s always been a good deal easier to have a family member substitute for me in the costume. I’ve never needed to hire a stand-in, no.”
The backgrounder frowned. “But you do have some associates who can change their shape or create illusions, correct?”
Bruce sighed. “I do, but if you think about it, I believe you’ll understand why they might take a somewhat dim view of my request for help in violating a restraining order. And even if they were willing to impersonate me for some reason, it’s doubtful that your people would be able to arrest them without taking more extreme measures.”
“And even more doubtful that their one phone call would be to PMWE’s VP of Finance, instead of you, or their lawyer,” Chiarello smiled for the first time since they’d gone downstairs.
Chiarello’s smile broadened. “I guess this could be some elaborate setup on your part to terrorize someone for starting up with you with a TRO and implicate one of PMWE’s top execs in the ensuing scandal, while you’re at it. I mean, I have no doubt that if you wanted to do things that way, you could arrange it. But, somehow, I just can’t see you doing anything that convoluted or,” he shook his head, “amateurish.” He sighed.
“In other words, Mr. Wayne?” He clapped Bruce on the shoulder. “Go home. Get a good night’s sleep. You’ll need to be back here tomorrow at 10 AM sharp to talk to a guy who’s going to be nowhere near as nice and polite as I am, and I wouldn’t want to keep him waiting, if I were you.” His smile thinned. “Go on, get out of here.”
Bruce nodded and extended his hand automatically when Chiarello reached for it. Outside in the hallway, he frowned. Was the backgrounder softening, or was this all a ploy to catch him with his guard down?
It didn’t matter, he realized. He hadn’t hired False Face, he wasn’t violating the restraining order, and unless there was circumstantial evidence to suggest otherwise, he might as well take Chiarello’s words at face value.
…As soon as he made sure that Oracle was monitoring police channels for any nasty surprises that might come up in the investigation.
The doorbell rang, shattering the peace of a Sunday morning breakfast. “Oh, honestly!” Sharon Ryerson muttered, pulling her bathrobe more tightly closed.
“Want me to get it, Ma?” Joel asked, his mouth full of breakfast cereal.
“No,” Sharon sighed. “Eat. I’m already standing.” She hurried to the door, absently tucking a lock of hair behind her ear as she pulled it open a crack. “Yes?”
“Detective Chiarello, ma’am,” the man rumbled, holding up an ID badge. “May I come in?”
“Police?” Sharon asked sharply. “What do you want?”
“I just need to ask you a few questions,” Chiarello said. “There’s been some suspicious activity in the neighborhood, and I thought you might have seen something.”
“Oh.” She hesitated for a moment, before pulling the door open. “C-come in,” she said, as she led him to the living room. “Excuse the mess.” She realized that she was still standing there in her bathrobe. “Could you excuse me for one moment, please?”
Chiarello nodded and took the seat that she waved him toward. The room was modestly, but comfortably furnished, with a Lawson sofa and two matching armchairs grouped around a glass-topped coffee table. He settled into the armchair, then frowned and reached behind him to remove the throw cushion. He balanced it on his lap and took out a Moleskine notebook.
Sharon re-entered a few moments later. She was wearing a loose t-shirt over stretch pants, and had pulled her hair back with a lycra band. “How can I help you, Detective?” she asked.
Chiarello smiled. “Why don’t you have a seat? I won’t take up too much of your time.”
She obeyed with a look of weary resignation.
“Ms. Ryerson,” Chiarello began, “last night, we received a call about some suspicious activity in this neighborhood around seven o’clock. Did you notice anything unusual?”
She shook her head, bewildered. “No…”
“Were you at home?”
“Yes, I was.”
“How is that your business, again?”
Chiarello sighed. “I’m just wondering if you were with anyone who might have seen something.” He regarded her soberly and she looked away first.
“No, I wasn’t alone,” she said irritably. “I was meeting with a friend and an attorney.”
“Those are two different people?”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes.”
“Have they got names?”
She frowned. “Do you really need that information?”
“Like I said,” Chiarello replied, “I’m trying to get to the bottom of things. We have a man in custody right now, and we’re trying to get an eyewitness to confirm if it’s the person who was causing the disturbance. Since we’ve established that you didn’t see anyone, I’d like to verify whether these other people did.”
Indecision flared briefly in her eyes before she let out a long breath. “Ron Chester and Zach Shaw,” she said.
Chiarello’s eyebrows shot up. Where would Ryerson have got the money to hire a guy like Shaw? “Thank you, ma’am,” he said. “I appreciate your assistance. Oh,” he said, almost as an afterthought, “about the restraining order—“
“I knew it,” Sharon snapped. “I knew that’s what this was about. He sent you to try to strong-arm me into backing down, didn’t he?”
Chiarello’s eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”
“Well, you can tell Mr. Wayne that I’ll see him in court!” she barrelled on.
“Ms. Ryerson,” Chiarello said calmly, “that’s between you and Mr. Wayne. Now, I’m here on police business, and I’m just trying to get some answers. I’m only curious about whether you decided to take out the restraining order before or after your conversation with Lester Paxton. That’s all.”
As Chiarello spoke, the expression on Sharon’s face changed from fury to confusion. She blinked. “Who’s… Lester Paxton?”
Bruce set down the revolver and punched the controller button on the console to retrieve the paper bullseye. With every incremental increase in accuracy came an increase in his realization that he was holding a weapon whose primary purpose was to take life. Of course, not every bullet was fired at a living being, and not every bullet wound was fatal. None of that changed the fact that a gun was designed to kill. His batarangs carried that potential, yes—as did most of the knives in his kitchen, or a clothesline, or a hammer, for that matter. However, none of those other items had been created with that aim in mind.
As the weight of the gun grew more comfortable in his hand, the weight in his heart grew harder to bear. Always before, he had felt exhilaration when he mastered a new skill. Now, not only was he not feeling it, he knew that a part of him would have been horrified if he did.
It wasn’t too late to back out, he knew. He could take on another identity, keep a lower profile. As long as he avoided GCPD headquarters, he could probably just wear the suit and everyone would assume that it was Dick.
His jaw set. He was no quitter! Worse, he’d given his word to Sawyer that he was going to go through with this. He might have lost his loved ones, his freedom, his self-respect, his reputation, his company, his colleagues, his privacy, and a host of other gifts he’d taken for granted, but his word was still golden—in his own eyes. He had to make it meaningful to others, too. He clenched his teeth. He might still fail the admissions process. He might wash out of the academy if he couldn’t pass gun handling. But if he did, it wouldn’t be because he’d given up.
He took a deep breath and clipped a new target to the carrier for deployment.
“You sure you don’t want me to wait for you when I’m done?” Selina asked, as Bruce pulled on his jacket. “Fix your collar,” she added, reaching forward to straighten it.
“I’ve got it,” Bruce said, pulling back. “And it’s going to be a while. You don’t need to wait,” he added, as he fussed with the collar. “You’re clear on what to tell him?”
Selina nodded. “As long as you’re clear on what he hasn’t already been told.”
Bruce nodded, still fiddling with the collar. “It’s almost a shame,” he mused, “we’ve managed to be almost completely honest until now.”
“Yes, but since, in their eyes, I’m not Catwoman, obviously, saying that we met in costume would be…” She broke off with an exasperated sigh. “You’re making it worse. Here,” she reached toward his collar once more. This time, Bruce gave in with a sigh of his own.
“I,” he took a deep breath. “I don’t need you to wait for me at the station. However, if you could be here when I get back, that would be appr—” He stopped. “I would appreciate it.” He sighed. “There’s a side of me that I try very hard to keep under control. Everyone… Dick, Jim… Chiarello, has been quick to let me know that what I’m about to face today will test that control.”
“I’ve seen you bat out before,” Selina interrupted. “I don’t enjoy it, but it’s not exactly going to scar me for life.”
Bruce shook his head. “You’ve seen me get angry when I had a regular outlet for my frustrations. I don’t,” he took a deep breath. “I’ve been trying to figure out whether I’m really… managing as well as I think I am, or whether I’m still suppressing things, the way I used to. Saving them for the costume. Exercise—training—does help, but I don’t know if it’s been enough and I’ve just been keeping everything buried like I used to. From the way everyone else has been acting, today’s evaluation stands a good chance of letting me know for sure, one way or the other. If the results aren’t what we’re hoping for,” he looked down, “I’d prefer a chance to calm down on the way home, rather than have you see me at my worst.”
Selina sucked in air through her teeth and blew it out. Then she placed both hands on his shoulders. “I’ve seen you at your worst,” she said, “running yourself ragged, looking like you hadn’t changed your costume—or shaved—in a week, sending everyone away, right when you need us the most. And…” She looked away, but tightened her grip on Bruce’s shoulders, “when I found out I was pregnant, I broke into Arkham. I thought… I don’t know what I thought. That if you knew, you’d sit up and start fighting again? I, I got there at eight—swiped a nurse’s uniform, and made it down to your… room. Dick got into the elevator as I got out. And I saw you. I c-called your name. You,” she swallowed hard. “You never answered.”
“When was that?” Bruce asked hollowly.
“About two months after you were admitted.”
“I… there isn’t much I remember about that time. I was under heavy sedation for a while—”
“I know that,” Selina gulped. “I knew it then. I’m not trying to blame you for not acknowledging me. I’m trying to tell you,” she turned back to face him. Her eyes glistened, but only the faintest tremor betrayed her voice. “You don’t want me to see you at your worst, Bruce? That night in Arkham? That was you at your worst. And whatever you think you might let slip out today, it’s not going to be worse for me than it was seeing you then.”
Bruce pulled her closer. “Still, if you stay, that means that Jim will be looking after Helena for over six hours. I’m not sure that’s fair to him.”
“Better not let him hear you say that,” Selina replied, with a half-smile. “Fine. You win. I’ll come back here when Chiarello’s done talking to me.” She moved away from him to get her own coat out of the vestibule closet, then turned back to face him. “But if Dick wasn’t going to be waiting for you when you came out, I’d drop Helena with the Titans and come back.”
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “The Titans? That’s a bit of a switch from a few months ago.”
“Yeah, well, Helena’s a few months older now. I think she can handle them.” She pulled her coat off the hanger. “You lock up,” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek. “I’ll wait in the garage.”
“Wait. She can handle them?” Bruce called after her retreating figure.
“Hurry up, Bruce,” she sang back, “time’s not moving any slower!”
Interviewee: Selina Kyle
MC: How did you two meet?
SK: It was a society dinner. I was there as the guest of some Gothcorp AVP. Mike… Rochester? Roark? I [giggle] oh, dear. This is embarrassing. You’d think I’d remember. Especially since, when I went to freshen up, I came back to find my date pawing some barely-legal young thing who could’ve been his daughter. Well, I stormed out onto the patio and nearly collided with Bruce. Spilled my Cabernet all over his white tux jacket. Red wine makes such a dreadful mess, you know. I was mortified.
MC: How did he react?
SK: He apologized for not getting out of my way and offered to get me another drink. We got to talking and…
MC: You were together ever since?
SK: No, but we kept running into each other. I found out afterwards that he suspected me of being Catwoman. He wasn’t the first or the last, so I can hardly blame him.
MC: And when he found out you weren’t?
SK: Well, Batman stopped stalking me. Bruce… How can I explain it? He didn’t really ask me out, but we’d keep running into each other at parties. I didn’t realize until much later that when he’d disappear to answer the signal, he’d often come back to discover that his date had gone home with someone else. Sometimes, my dates would do the same. Other times, I attended on my own. Sometimes, we’d both just enjoy a conversation, and then go back to whoever we’d arrived with.
MC: When did you find out he was Batman?
SK: Hmm… That’s a tough one. I guess I sort of noticed that he’d usually find some excuse to make himself scarce if the signal went up. And one time, I… I kissed him good night, on the cheek. The light wasn’t very good. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw a bruise that hadn’t been there before he disappeared for a good part of the evening.
MC: And you hadn’t noticed it until then?
SK: No. I think he realized that I had because he walked away, touching his cheek where I’d kissed him, with this… well, it was almost a boyish smile, really. But he was covering the bruise.
MC: Which you don’t know you saw.
SK: Which I wasn’t sure I’d seen. Until I got in and started cleaning off my makeup. And there was something on my lipstick.
SK: Foundation. He’d used makeup to cover the bruise. It came off when I kissed him.
MC: And that led you to believe he was Batman.
SK: Not right away. I did think it odd that he’d be wearing makeup, of course. After that, though… well, I started to pay attention to little things. Actually, I started seeing more bruises. I… admit I started imagining all kinds of scenarios, from his owing money to a loan shark—not everyone knows how to live within their means, after all, to his getting into drunken brawls.
MC: Did you ever see him drunk?
SK: I never saw him touch alcohol. It made me wonder whether he might have been struggling with a problem in that area. Maybe he didn’t drink at parties, where he’d make a spectacle of himself, but went to cheap bars when he wanted to get loaded. I even wondered if there wasn’t some sort of domestic situation. Sounds like something out of a bad melodrama, doesn’t it?
MC: So, how did you find out?
SK: We were walking in Robinson Park one evening. It was getting dark. We heard something from a wooded area, a bit off of the path. Bruce told me to wait where I was. I followed him.
MC: What was it?
SK: Two men were attacking a woman. Bruce… it was… he was trying to hold back, to make it look like he was getting in lucky punches. One of them pulled a gun. The other had a knife. He… had them both disarmed in about five seconds. Then he went back to trying not to let on how well he could fight.
MC: And you suspected him of being Batman?
SK: No, I suspected him of being a masochist. I… to be honest, I wanted to get away from him. I didn’t know what was going on. When he finished with the muggers, I told him I was going home. It was getting cold. I wasn’t really dressed for it, but I didn’t want to be around him right then.
MC: How did he deal with that?
SK: He wasn’t happy.
MC: What did he do?
SK: Well, he tried to talk me out of it. When he saw that wouldn’t work, he asked me to wait and he’d call me a taxi. I refused. I just wanted to put as much distance as possible between us.
MC: How did he react to that?
SK: I’d say he was… disappointed, but not surprised. When he saw I was serious, he took off his jacket.
MC: His jacket?
SK: The temperature was dropping. I really wasn’t dressed for it. I didn’t want to take the jacket, but, well, I was shivering. He told me I could mail it back to him if I wanted. I thanked him.
MC: So you went home.
SK: I did.
MC: But obviously, you saw him again.
SK: Well, yes.
MC: What made you decide to?
SK: I wanted to give him back the jacket—in person.
SK: Well, I wasn’t sure if I’d get into trouble mailing it back.
SK: He hadn’t gone through the inside pockets. Or, maybe he knew what was in them, and it was easier to let me connect the dots than tell me outright. In any case, I wasn’t sure if it was legal to send… batarangs… via USPS…
MC: Do you think he did mean for you to find out that he was Batman?
Interviewee: Barbara Gordon
BG: With Bruce, it’s sort of hard to tell.
MC: Can you clarify, please?
BG: He plans for every scenario and adjusts those plans accordingly, when real life changes the rules on him. It’s very hard to catch him by surprise.
MC: How did you find out?
MC: Ms. Gordon?
BG: A few years back, the annual Policeman’s Ball was a costume gala. I was attending. I’d created a version of the Bat-suit to wear. I thought I’d surprise my father. Well, long story short, Killer Moth crashed the party to abduct Bruce Wayne. I thought I could help…
MC: Because of the costume?
BG: Partly. The cowl hid my hair and, between the drape of the cape and the muscle padding of the suit, it was less obvious that I was a woman. And I knew a bit about hand-to-hand combat. More than a bit, actually. Being the police commissioner’s daughter, there was always a real possibility that someone might try to abduct me to use as leverage against my father. So, as soon as I was old enough, Dad enrolled me in self-defense classes. Judo, savate, kick-boxing, gymnastics—if I hadn’t gotten to college on an academic scholarship, I might have wrangled an athletic one. I figured if I stuck to the shadows, maybe I could pull it off.
MC: Was your father aware?
BG: Of course not. This is confidential, right?
BG: Good. Yeah, well, it went better than I’d hoped. Of course, I never counted on getting my cowl ripped in the back so my hair showed. Next thing I knew, the media was inquiring about who “Batgirl” was.
MC: Wait. You were Batgirl?
BG: I wore a costume. One night, I became Batgirl. Then I hung up the costume and went back to my life. Or I tried to. Not long after that, I met Batman.
MC: Mr. Wayne.
BG: I didn’t know that then. He thanked me for helping and told me to stay clear from that point onward. He… may have said something about my father being a good friend and not wanting to have to explain to him what I was up to.
MC: How did you take that?
BG: I was furious. I mean, not only had I gone out just the one time, but his coming up to me and telling me to stop…
MC: You resented it.
BG: Oh, hell, yeah.
MC: Go on.
BG: Well, I started to work out more. I think it was pride. I told you before that I knew that being the commissioner’s daughter had its risks. I didn’t want to be in a position where I’d have to depend on Batman—or my father, for that matter—to save me.
MC: So, you had no plans to become a vigilante?
BG: Fantasies. But I really didn’t like the idea of going behind my father’s back, and I knew he’d never condone it.
MC: Ah. So, getting back to Mr. Wayne…
BG: Sorry. Yes. Okay. Gotham Libraries had a Books-on-Wheels program for shut-ins. Still did, the last time I checked, which—admittedly—was a few years back. It’s a library van that drives to people who aren’t able to get to one of the branches and essentially brings a branch to them.
MC: Yes, I’m familiar with it. Go on.
BG: Usually, we had a designated driver for the van, but if he or she couldn’t make it, we tried to get another staff member to make the rounds. One night in July, I volunteered. I had a delivery in Park Row. And, as I was slowing down to make sure that I didn’t miss the address, I happened to look down an alley and I saw Batman drop something on the pavement. He seemed… I dunno… less… scary. Kind of… down.
MC: What did you do?
BG: I kept driving. I made the delivery. When I was coming back, the alley was deserted. I admit it: I was curious. I got out of the van and went to explore—and yes, I know just how stupid that was.
MC: Go on.
BG: It was dark. I had a flashlight on my key-ring. That didn’t give me much light, but it was enough. I saw two roses on the pavement. And… things fell into place. Everyone knew about the Wayne murders. I could only really think of one reason why Batman would be leaving flowers in Crime Alley.
MC: What did you do next?
BG: Well, I… got attacked. Three thugs in gang colors. I fought them off—all those self-defense classes paid off. They broke and ran. I looked up, and I saw him standing there, watching. A week later, Mr. Wayne came into the library and said that he was looking for someone to tutor his son for the SATs. He wondered if I’d be interested. There was something about the way he asked that made me think there was more to it than that.
MC: Was there?
BG: Yes. After I’d been working with Dick for about an hour, he asked if I could join him in the gym. Then, he proceeded to dissect every move I’d made the other night. He pointed out everything I’d done right and everything that would have failed against more-seasoned opponents. Then he asked me if I wanted to learn more. I accepted.
BG: If Batman wanted to give you pointers in self-defense, wouldn’t you jump at the chance? I’d never planned on being Batgirl, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t interested in the whole cape-and-tights bit. I did get to know the women who became Batgirl afterwards. I mentored one of them, in fact. And… that was how Dick and I started to get to know each other. Oh, and he aced the SATs.
MC: Did Mr. Wayne ever encourage you to engage in illegal activity?
Interviewee: Richard Grayson (Wayne)
RG: Not at first, no. When my parents were killed, he wanted to bring the guy who engineered it to justice, but he didn’t intend to involve me.
MC: But he did involve you.
RG: Um… I sort of involved me. He told me to stay out of it. I didn’t listen.
MC: Couldn’t he control your behavior?
RG: To be fair, I don’t think he expected me to climb out a second-story window, then move along a four-inch ledge for about twenty feet until I got to a tree, climb down, and hide myself in the back seat of the car under a tarp when Alfred went on an errand.
MC: How old were you?
RG: Almost nine.
MC: And after that, he made you Robin?
RG: No, after that, he chewed me out for putting myself in danger, grounded me, and installed a window safety lock, so it only opened about four inches. I didn’t even know he was Batman, at the time.
MC: So… wait? When he did all that… was he Bruce or Batman?
RG: Batman chewed me out and escorted me back to the manor. Alfred sent me upstairs and told me that Bruce would be up shortly to discuss matters with me. I was tempted to go the window route again, but…
RG: I was afraid he’d decide to tell Child Services I wasn’t happy there, since I kept running away. And I knew I was lucky. Running off to join the circus may be something of a cliché, but there were a couple of roustabouts who had done that—run off from situations that were a lot worse than the one in which I’d landed. Besides, I figured I had a lecture coming to me.
MC: What kind of lecture? Was he abusive? Verbally or physically?
RG: No, absolutely not. He told me he understood. I didn’t believe him. Then he told me about how he lost his parents, and that he took me in because he thought he could help me. I told him the only way he could help me was… was by giving me five minutes alone with Zucco. He just shook his head and told me that I was confined to the manor until further notice, and that he was putting the safety lock in.
MC: How did you take that?
RG: I was angry. I think I felt a little guilty. No, I know I felt more than a little guilty. I went downstairs to apologize. Alfred told me he was out.
MC: Being Batman?
RG: Yeah. Not that I realized it at the time. He was actually out looking for my parents’ killer. But all I saw was that he’d given me grief and bailed on me again.
RG: He wasn’t home that much. He was in the office, or out on patrol—something he called “having other plans,” or sleeping in until noon.
MC: When did he make you Robin?
RG: Well, “Robin” was actually a nickname my mother had for me. I was born on the first day of spring. I guess things really got started, on the night of the Fourth of July. I’d been living there for about five weeks. That night, Bruce went out as usual and so did I.
MC: Where did you go?
RG: The outskirts of town. The circus was still there since the police investigation was ongoing. I decided to do a little investigating of my own. It didn’t go well. Someone clubbed me from behind with a gun butt. I went down, split my forehead on a rock. And then, Batman showed up. He just… swooped down from I don’t know where. One second the sky was empty, the next, there was this huge cape looming up behind the guy who beat me. I was a bit dazed, maybe concussed, but he took the guy out, pinned him down and told him the circus was off limits to him. I passed out and woke up in his… um… HQ. He asked me… scratch that. He told me that I wanted to find out who killed my parents. I didn’t deny it. Then he said he couldn’t let me go out untrained or I’d get hurt or worse.
MC: How did you react?
RG: I knew he was right. I just couldn’t figure out why he cared—or why he kept popping up in my life more than Bruce did. So I asked him. Using roughly those words. And he pulled off the cowl and told me we had a lot to talk about.
MC: And he made you Robin?
RG: No. He made me practice. I honestly thought he meant to keep me training until I turned eighteen, but we did go out on patrol. Once. I wasn’t ready.
MC: What happened?
RG: I got careless and my anger got the better of me. Luckily, he had my back.
RG: The perp had a heart attack. Batman called an ambulance while I was accusing the guy of faking it.
MC: Did the perp make it?
RG: Yes, but I didn’t know it then.
MC: When did you find out?
RG: After the sentencing. As it turned out, my testimony wasn’t needed to put him away—not after a full confession.
MC: Wait, so Batman left you hanging all those months?
RG: That was more or less my reaction when he told me the truth. I think it was partly a scare tactic, partly a test. He wanted to scare me into not letting my emotions run away with me in the field. And he wanted to test how far I was okay with letting them take me.
MC: And you don’t consider that abusive?
RG: Not under the circumstances, no. He was testing if I was ready to be his partner. More, he was testing if I had what it took. And that meant not crossing the line to becoming a killer. He needed to know if I could leave things in the law’s hands, even when I really wanted to take them further.
MC: It sounds like you failed.
RG: It felt like it, too, but in his book… it wasn’t that I killed—or thought I had; it was that I didn’t mean for it to go that far, I wasn’t… pleased by it, and I didn’t see it as an option going forward. I failed the ‘ready to patrol as his partner from tonight on’ test, but passed the ‘possibly fit to be his partner at some point in the future’ test.
MC: What happened after that?
RG: After that, I went back to training. He didn’t want me out again. Looking back now, I understand it, but back then, all I wanted was another chance to prove myself.
MC: So you went out again to look for trouble.
RG: No. That time, trouble came to me…
It was taking everything Bruce had to keep his temper under control as Dr. Cinar continued the assessment.
“So, after your parents were killed, it sounds as though you transferred your filial devotion to Mr. Pennyworth and Dr. Thompkins, and now that they’re out of the picture, you’ve found a father figure in Mr. Gordon, is that about right?”
“I was eight years old when my parents were killed,” Bruce said evenly. “Alfred and Dr. Thompkins did their best to step into that void, but I didn’t appreciate it until years later.
Dr. Cinar nodded with something that might have appeared to be sympathy. “So, one set of parents abandoned you when you were eight—”
“They were murdered,” Bruce corrected.
“Yes, but as a result, they weren’t there when you needed them most. Then your eldest son dropped off the face of the earth for eighteen months—”
“After I did everything possible to alienate him.”
“Yes, I do notice that you try to take responsibility for the actions of those around you. Still, it’s evident that his departure contributed to your abandonment issues.”
“No.” The police psychiatrist was wrong, he knew it. But he didn’t seem to be able to come up with a counter argument beyond his one-word denial. “Well, I suppose I can see how you might take it as abandonment issues, but—”
Dr. Cinar nodded with satisfaction. “Precisely. And your second son abandoned first your moral code, then your home, then—in death—you, and finally, when he miraculously returned, it was to turn his back on everything you stood for.”
“He thought I’d abandoned him!”
Dr. Cinar clasped his hands together before him and smiled smugly. “Of course, Mr. Wayne, of course. There’s that insistence on holding yourself personally accountable for the behaviour of others, once more. Now,” he consulted his notes, “your third Robin… oh, yes, several abandonments at critical junctures here… hmmm… likely why you haven’t been able to form very many personal connections. At least not… appropriate ones.”
Bruce clenched his teeth. “What exactly do you mean by that?”
“Well, clearly you’ve had a long string of female companions, very few of whom you’ve even considered committing to. Those that do get close, you find some reason to push away.” He looked down his spectacles at Bruce. “Would it perhaps be a cover for feelings that are… inappropriate?”
Bruce fought down the urge to spring to his feet and walk out. “I’m still not sure what you’re getting at,” he replied.
“Did you ever wish to pursue a romantic relationship with your guardian?”
“Well, it’s plain from the way you talk about him that you loved and admired him a great deal. Some might say you idolized him. And, of course, his not being a blood relation would—“
“Absolutely not,” Bruce interrupted.
Dr. Cinar frowned. “You seem rather reluctant to even consider the possibility. I was under the impression that you prided yourself on looking at evidence from a logical, rather than an emotional standpoint. And yet, here you are, unwilling to even entertain the notion that your neuroses could stem from feelings that you’ve long been suppressing.”
Bruce felt his face grow hot. “I’m unwilling to entertain the notion because I know that it’s as preposterous as… as… Joker winning the next Nobel Peace Prize.” Careful, Bruce. If Luthor could become president…
Cinar frowned. “Now, your feelings for Mr. Gordon…”
Are you there?
Martha Kent smiled and began to type a reply. Her forehead creased as she read the next line:
Nhjhjfhhpi8ttm n =-s
She erased what she had been writing, and typed instead:
Did the keyboard just fall? Or did Selina give you a new kitten that thinks computers were made to walk upon?
The answer wasn’t long in coming.
Neither. But I’m afraid I have a beautiful young girl on my knee, who’s young enough to be my granddaughter.
Martha laughed aloud.
And how IS Helena this fine afternoon?
The response wasn’t long in coming.
Ah. That well. She sighed. And how are you doing?
A line of type appeared below her own a few moments later.
This weather isn’t the greatest for my leg, but all things considered, I’ve still got my health. Not something I should be taking for granted at my age. Not that you’d know anything about that.
Martha chuckled. Charmer.
I try. How’s the planting coming?
I’m seeing quite a few sprouts in the greenhouses. Once the threat of a late frost is over, we’ll have to start moving them—not to mention sowing the later crops.
There was a pause. Wish I’d known something about setting up greenhouses back in the No Man’s Land days. Until Poison Ivy started allowing exports from the park conservatories, we were mostly eating dried and canned. At least until the carrots and tomatoes came up.
Martha bit her lip. We should have done more. We wanted to. There was talk of sending some of our surplus your way, but more cynical voices prevailed. Some said dropping parcels over Gotham would only incite rioting. Others said the government might just fire on anyone trying to breach the barricades.
That’s possible, Jim typed back. Not that I’d have wanted to hear it back then.
Do you still have a garden? Martha typed.
The answer wasn’t long in coming. Well, at the moment, it’s more like potted parsley and ornamental chillies. But after all the trouble Bruce and I went to clearing the kitchen gardens last suma0frasnjgfpoksorigt
For a moment, there was nothing. Then, Jim resumed.
Sorry, Martha. I’d better go put someone down for a nap. But as I was saying, I think I’ll be doing a bit of planting outdoors in the spring. Of course, if you have any tips…
Martha smiled. I just might. Skrype back later? Not too late, mind. Busy day tomorrow. As always.
The reply wasn’t long in coming. If not tonight, then tomorrow. Take care.
Dick closed the office door behind him and wiped his brow theatrically, even though there was no audience to see him. It actually hadn’t been as bad as he’d thought it would be; despite what Gordon had said about police vetting procedures tightening up over the last few years, Dick remembered his own background check as having been a lot worse.
He took the elevator down to the second floor and headed toward the office number that Chiarello had given him. When he was nearly to his destination, a door opened and Bruce strode out. The door closed softly behind him.
For a moment, as Bruce walked toward him, Dick thought that all was well. Then the mask faltered.
Dick took a hesitant step closer. “Bruce…?”
Bruce pressed his lips together and closed his eyes for a moment. “Not now,” he said curtly. “Let’s go.” He moved off rapidly in the direction from which Dick had come.
“Don’t go back to the manor, yet,” Bruce said abruptly, as Dick put his key into the ignition.
Dick nodded. “Where to, then?”
Bruce was silent for a long moment. “Away from here. Just… just drive.”
Dick nodded. “You got it. Got a direction in mind?”
Dick thought for a moment. “I don’t think I’ve been up to South Darby for a long time. You?”
When Bruce didn’t answer, Dick took it both as a ‘no’ and as permission to proceed. South Darby was in the northeastern corner of Bristol, about as far from Wayne Manor as one could get and still be in the same township. “We’ll take the scenic route,” Dick added, heading west toward the Vincefinkel Bridge—one of two that connected the three islands that made up Gotham City with Somerset Township on the mainland. From there, he headed north along Starkings Parkway, keeping one eye peeled to make sure he didn’t miss the sign for the Mooney Bridge, which would start them looping back toward Bristol.
Bruce didn’t utter a word until the chain-link fence and wide open fields of Archie Goodwin Memorial Airport came into view. When he did, it was in a voice so low that Dick missed it at first.
Bruce’s hand locked around the Mulsanne’s recessed door handle as his eyes screwed tightly closed. “Have,” he repeated himself in a slightly louder voice, “have I changed at all in the last three years? Or have I just been fooling myself these past months?”
He would ask that at a time when Dick needed to keep his eyes on the road. “You really have to ask?” he exclaimed.
“I wouldn’t have thought so before this afternoon,” Bruce said dully, “but now—“
“Now, you keep thinking that way,” Dick’s voice was firm. “Because I can tell you this much: before Arkham, you wouldn’t have invited the Kents to spend Christmas. You wouldn’t be going this whole police route at all. And you sure as hell wouldn’t have hugged me before I went into quarantine.”
“If I hadn’t,” Bruce replied, “and if it had been smallpox, I would have spent the rest of my life regretting not having done so when I had the chance.”
“And before Arkham, you wouldn’t have let yourself consider that possibility.” He changed lanes, preparing to take the exit to the bridge. “C’mon, I know you, Bruce. You would have left me in Alfred’s care, telling me, him, and anyone who challenged you that I was going to beat it—and yeah, you did say that before I went into quarantine, but then it was encouragement, not denial.” He paused. When Bruce said nothing, he went on. “Going by your past track record, you would have gone out on patrol, taking your time with it, staying out as long as possible and expecting me to be on the road to recovery by the time you got back. Then, when that didn’t happen, you would have just spent more time away, because you wouldn’t have been able to deal with it, so you’d have thrown yourself into work, the office, anything that would keep you from having to face what was happening.”
Bruce flinched. “I never realized…” he whispered.
“Yeah, I know. But bottom line? That was then.” He took one hand off the wheel and gave Bruce’s arm a quick squeeze. “So, if you really don’t know if there’ve been any changes, there’s proof right there.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bruce open his mouth to speak. “And in case you were about to mention that you couldn’t patrol this time, one: right up until the point you were arrested, you were out there even though you knew that Akins wasn’t sanctioning it. Two: even if you weren’t going to patrol, we both know that you could have gone out, or just stayed upstairs, or spent my whole quarantine period holed up in the lab, refusing to take time out to check up on me. So, sorry. Not buying that one either.”
Bruce’s jaw closed.
A moment later, a rueful smile ghosted across Bruce’s face, as they skirted Brentwood, headed into Gotham Heights. He let go of the door handle.
He didn’t say anything further, but it was apparent to Dick that he was more relaxed than he had been when they’d started the drive.
It was nearly ten minutes before Bruce spoke again. “Dick?”
“Is there anything in South Darby that you actually wanted to see, or was this a strategic move to position us closer to the manor so it would be a shorter drive when I was ready to go back?”
Dick tilted his head to one side. “I thought you’d get a kick out of the scenic rail yards and chemical companies,” he said innocently. “Or the auxiliary cave, complete with punching bags and free weights in prime condition.”
Bruce shook his head, but the half-smile was back. “Turn it around and let’s go home.”
“You’re on.” He took a deep breath. “Guess you’ve probably had to spill your guts enough for one day, but if you do want to talk about it…”
Bruce blinked. “I just did.”
“Oh. Right.” He’d always been good at deciphering Riddler’s cryptic clues—a skill which had a relevant application now. “It’s just… all I got out of it was that someone who’s never met you before decided that you were exactly the way you were three years ago, before you ever even walked into his office; and somehow you decided that he’s a better authority than the people who’ve known you forever, because he’s got a couple of pieces of sheepskin on his wall.”
Bruce’s eyebrows shot up. Then his shoulders slumped. “Unfortunately,” he said, “he does have a certain amount of authority in my circumstances.”
“True,” Dick admitted, his smile dimming fractionally.
Bruce made a disgusted sound. “Chiarello’s convinced that my temper is a time bomb, waiting to go off. Cinar…” He sighed. “Cinar made me feel like I was eight years old again. Helpless.” He nearly spat the last word out. “As though all the work that I’ve done since… since I started working with Alex was just a façade. He attempted to test his theory.”
“I don’t know.” He sighed. “I didn’t dissolve in tears. I didn’t throw his snow globe out the window either—although I’ll admit I was tempted. But I don’t know if I convinced him to re-evaluate his hypothesis, or whether he interpreted my refusal to accept that hypothesis as denial bordering on delusion.” He let out another long breath. “Thanks. I think I just needed to hear someone else disagree with his opinion.”
Dick gave Bruce a hard look. Then he turned back to the road. “We’re having a spar when we get back.”
Bruce shook his head. “I don’t need—“
“Great. I do. Either I go out tonight and give that guy a piece of my mind, or you help me burn off some of my energy now. Your call.”
Bruce looked like he was about to protest, but something checked him. “Spar,” he said finally.
Dick gave him a curt nod. “Spar it is.”
“I appreciate your taking the time to come back, Mr. Paxton,” Chiarello said. “I realize that you’re a busy man, and I’m sorry to ask you down here on a Sunday evening.”
Les smiled benevolently. “Not at all, detective. I recognize the need to be thorough. Especially where Bruce is concerned. How can I be of service?”
Chiarello frowned. “I was wondering if you could clarify for me how Mr. Wayne—Bruce, if you like—how he was able to give you all the slip when he needed to get away quickly. I mean, obviously, during the day, if he wasn’t at the office, you wouldn’t have been keeping tabs on him, but at fundraisers… late-night meetings…”
Paxton spread his hands expansively. “Well, he missed more than a few of those, too. But honestly, I’m not sure whether you’ve ever attended one of our galas. They tend to be rather crowded. It’s very possible to get away, with nobody the wiser.”
“Ah,” Chiarello nodded. “Now, Bruce has, on occasion, needed his presence to be noted in one place while he was off doing something else. Did you ever detect anything of that nature? It’s fine if you didn’t. He would likely have hired the best.”
Paxton’s eyes narrowed. “You mean like an actor. A… a stunt double?”
“Well, it would have been Bruce attempting the dangerous stunts, when you think about it. But in essence…”
“Why that sonnovab… gun,” Paxton amended hastily. “So, that’s how he… yes, Detective, there were times when Bruce seemed more oblivious than usual. I guess I should have suspected but… well… when he was around, he always did seem more than a bit muddled.” His frown yielded to a relieved smile. “That actually would explain a good deal.”
Chiarello nodded. “Um… maybe you can help me with this one, actually. Pursuant to an unrelated investigation. Let’s say that we needed to hire a stand-in for a delicate operation. Is there a particular agency that you’d suggest we approach? Someone you can recommend?”
Paxton chuckled at that. “I’m sorry, detective. I’d like to help, but in all honesty, Bruce would probably be a better person than I to ask for assistance in that regard.”
“Ah,” Chiarello leaned back. “Now that puzzles me.”
“Does it?” Paxton asked, his hearty smile giving way to surprise.
“Well…yeah. See, someone matching Wayne’s description was brought in last night; the reason isn’t important right now. The thing is, he’s leading us to believe that you were somehow involved.”
“What?” The smile was gone, replaced by a thunderous look. “Surely, you don’t seriously think that…”
“We have to investigate every angle,” Chiarello said, raising his hands to chest level, palms facing out. “In most circumstances, hiring an impersonator isn’t illegal, of course. I’m just trying to see whether the individual’s contention holds any merit. Though I must admit I’m at a loss as to why you’d need to hire such an individual, when Mr. Wayne is more or less divorced from the day-to-day activities at PMWE at present.”
“Precisely,” Paxton said, smiling once more. Then his eyebrows drew together in a frown. “Unless Wayne hired him to try to implicate me in something or other.”
“Does Wayne have some sort of grudge against you?”
Paxton gave an exaggerated shrug. “Who knows what he was thinking? I was under the impression that he was in Arkham due to some mental health issues… delusion, perhaps? Maybe they didn’t fix him up as well as they’d hoped.”
Chiarello nodded. “I suppose that’s possible,” he allowed. “Mind you, that doesn’t explain how the impersonator had your personal cell phone number on him; the same one you gave me. The new number you were assigned when you changed service providers,” he paused a beat before he continued. “Four months ago. Well after Mr. Wayne’s direct involvement with the company had ceased.”
Paxton’s expression turned icy as he sat up straighter in his chair. “I don’t believe I’d care to discuss this matter any further without my lawyer present.”
Chiarello nodded again. “That’s probably a good call on your part.”
“I’ve been waiting for you to get back,” Barbara exclaimed, wheeling over to him with a broad smile. “How’d your interview go?”
Dick bent down and kissed her, but it was clear that his mind was elsewhere. “Better than my first one, when I signed on with BPD. You?”
Barbara sighed. “Well, I fudged a bit on how long I operated as Batgirl. I couldn’t lie outright, but I didn’t want to share everything.”
“Right,” Dick nodded absently.
Dick sighed. “I almost wish I were a drinking man. I think I could use a shot of something, round about now. Except that since I don’t usually touch the stuff, I probably haven’t got the tolerance for anything stronger than a beer or two.”
Barbara pressed her lips together. “Well,” she said slowly, “you are over 21, and you aren’t patrolling tonight. If you wanted to go down to the corner… or…”
He gave her a sad smile. “Nah. It’s okay. It’s probably better I don’t. I’m about this close to tearing that shrink a new one, and I don’t think I need anything impairing my judgment right now.”
His tone was light, but there was a note of bitterness beneath the flippancy. “I gather Bruce’s evaluation didn’t go well,” she replied.
Dick let out a long breath. “He was pretty worked up when he came out, but we were expecting that. He did a bit of venting about it in the car—venting for him, I mean. I could tell he was still pretty upset, so I challenged him to a practice spar, knowing that I was probably setting myself up as a punching bag. That was when I found out the rest of it.”
Barbara hesitated for a moment. Then she wheeled over to the liquor cabinet.
“What are you…?”
“Getting the brandy and Kahlua,” she said. “Half an ounce of each in a cup of black coffee, with a teaspoon of sugar, whipped cream and a cherry on top. You’re going to have one and I’m going to have one. And then, we’re going to lock the doors and windows and just have a quiet evening together. Keep talking.”
Dick needed little urging. “Do you know why he started getting so… cold when I was a teenager?”
Barbara froze, her hand more than halfway to the brandy bottle. “I… I thought it was because he couldn’t deal with your struggle to be your own person, but if you’re asking me… I guess not?”
“No,” Dick let out a sigh.”I mean… that was probably part of it. Only… He went to pick me up at school one day. I must’ve been about fourteen. He had the window down; I guess he wanted to call out to me when he saw me coming. And he heard some kid make a crack about…” He broke off.
“You know the tabloid rumors? Three guys living together under one roof? Maybe there was a reason why no woman caught Bruce’s eye? And since the paparazzi never caught him in a compromising position with any men in public, there was speculation about what went on at home…”
“Oh my God.”
Dick shook his head. “Kids say stupid things sometimes. Hurtful things. I dealt. I didn’t want to tell Bruce about it because… you know, snitching wasn’t exactly something you did. And I didn’t want to hurt him. And there wasn’t anything I would have wanted him to do about it anyway. I was afraid he’d call up the principal, make a stink, I don’t know. Like I said, I was fourteen.” He gave her a pained smile. “Kids think stupid things sometimes. Anyway, Bruce decided—without talking it out or letting on he’d heard anything—that the best way to squelch that kind of talk was to be extra careful that nobody saw anything that could be misconstrued. You heard about that whole debacle, not so long ago, where some photographer with a long lens snapped topless photos of Kate Middleton, while she was sunbathing in private? Bruce didn’t want to take a chance on someone getting shots of… anything that could be taken out of context if anyone took shots of the grounds or the manor from outside the property line.”
He bit his lip. “I’ll put the coffee on.”
“Thanks.” Barbara murmured. “So, all that time, he backed off…”
“Because he thought he was doing me a favor. For my own good or whatever.”
“And today, the shrink thought that he backed off because… what? Because he really did have those feelings?”
“Well,” Dick said disgustedly, “the shrink seemed to have it in his head that there was a…” He reddened and looked away. “…A sexual component to his feelings for anyone who’s lived on the property for any length of time.”
Barbara set the two liquor bottles down on the counter with a bang. “You’re not serious. That… person implied that Bruce had been sleeping with you? “
“Well, wanted to. And Alfred,” Dick said disgustedly. “Apparently, the guy brought up Jason. And that time when Tim was living at the manor while his dad was in the hospital. And…” He stopped. “And… that’s about it.”
Dick hadn’t known she could turn around the chair so quickly. Her eyes were blazing. “Of all the… Bruce and… You were kids! And Alfred? He suggested that Bruce…” Her expression hardened. “You were going to mention my father, just now. Weren’t you?”
Dick nodded, tight-lipped.
“The shrink implied that Bruce was… The court appointed my dad to keep an eye on him. If they were… involved… argh! I… the power dynamics… the abuse of trust… the… the…” She was sputtering. “He actually implied that they were sleeping together?”
“Or wanted to,” Dick repeated. “Obviously, Bruce told him that he was barking up the wrong tree, but the guy sounded like his mind was already made up. Anyway, you can understand why Bruce was—”
“Upset? Oh, yeah. What I don’t understand is why this guy even has a license to practice. Well when I get through with him, he’ll be lucky if he can get a license to fish! I’ll—”
“Don’t ‘Babs’ me! Damn it, Bruce has been through enough already, without that guy jumping to those kinds of half-baked conclusions. Ugh! I’ll kill him, I’ll…”
Dick caught her hands in his and squeezed. “No, you won’t,” he said softly.
Barbara closed her eyes and nodded. “No, I won’t. But I can still dream.”
She sighed. “I was going to just have that coffee break to be sociable, but I think I could actually use one, right about now.”
“Coffee’ll be ready soon,” Dick smiled. “Oh, I almost forgot; I need to check in with someone; fill him in on what’s been happening lately. It’ll just take a minute…”
“Thank you. Yes, this does put a better slant on things. Let me test the waters and I’ll get back to you.”
The man hung up the phone and then immediately keyed in a different number from memory. “We need to meet,” he said without preamble. “There’ve been some new developments regarding the gala and Ms. Ryerson’s involvement...”
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