Post by Admin on Jul 21, 2017 14:18:14 GMT -5
Issue #23: “Moment of Truth”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and Robin
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #23: “Moment of Truth”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and Robin
Edited by Mark Bowers
If you can do it
Get up and prove it
Get up and show them who you are
It's the moment of truth
It's all on the line
This is the place
This is the time
—Peter Beckett, Dennis Lambert, “The Moment of Truth”
Bruce was running toward Jandt’s car before his conscious mind had fully processed what he’d witnessed. His wet tux didn’t matter. The audience—horrified pedestrians and gawking motorists—didn’t matter. He was across the street, while an ambulance was who knew how far away. That was the only thing that mattered. He reached the car and opened the driver’s door. Jandt’s airbag had deployed, pressing him back into his seat. His breathing was slow and shallow, his nose was crooked, and he was evidently on the road to sporting two impressive black eyes. As Bruce watched, Jandt’s eyes opened a fraction and he emitted a low groan. “Jandt?” he asked softly.
There was another groan. Bruce caught a strong whiff of alcohol on the injured man’s breath.
“Hold still,” Bruce urged, wondering how aware Jandt was of the situation. He reached into his pocket for his keys. There was a flashlight on the key ring and he gently held Jandt’s eye open with one hand while he shined the light into it with the other. He repeated the action with the second eye.
“How is he?” Dick was at his elbow.
“Alive,” was Bruce’s terse report. “But his pupils aren’t contracting under bright light. He’s probably sustained a head injury. EMTs?”
“Babs is on with them now.”
Bruce nodded. Jandt was breathing and the car showed no signs of catching fire or exploding. Trying to get him out of the car was likely to do more harm than good. He noticed that the motor was still running and quickly turned off the ignition.
“He always has me drive when he’s had too much,” Bruce heard a woman’s voice nearby. He pulled his head out of the car and looked around and saw Jandt’s wife… Michelle. Jim had his arm wrapped around her shoulders and was nodding sympathetically.
“I know he drinks too much at these parties but… it was like he was possessed!”
Bruce frowned. Then he looked back to Jandt. Still frowning, he pulled the cap off of the injured man’s head and examined the inside. Carefully, he ran his fingers along the inner rim and stopped when they encountered something hard and flat. A moment later, he held up a square chip.
“Hatter?” Dick asked.
“I think so.” He walked over to Jim and Michelle.
“How is he?” Michelle demanded, the steadiness of her voice belying the fear in her eyes.
Bruce hesitated. “The airbag deployed, but it looks like he hit his head. Paramedics should be here any minute.” He took a breath. “Did you and your husband check your coats in the Center?”
“Yes,” she said blankly. “Why?”
“Do you have a hat?”
“What? No… I,” she put a hand self-consciously to her hair. “I was afraid it would crush this,” she patted the flower lightly. Her face crumpled. “Oh, my Go—, why are you asking me that?” she said with a strangled sob. “What difference does it make?”
Bruce ignored the questions. He noted that, instead of a coat she was wearing a woolen cloak, with the hood hanging slack behind her. “Mrs. Jandt,” he said, “this may seem like a strange request, but would you mind if I examined your hood for a moment?”
She gaped at him. “You want me to take off my coat? Now?! Who are you? My husband has just… and you’re… Why aren’t you helping him?!”
“No, taking off your coat won’t be necessary,” Bruce said, trying to get her to focus. “I just need to see the hood.”
“What does this have to do with Alvin?”
“Possibly a good deal.” When she buried her face in her hands, and Jim shot him a disapproving look, Bruce relented. There wasn’t any real reason not to elaborate. None beyond his normal drive for secrecy. “Mrs. Jandt,” he said gently, “as you might be aware, the Mad Hatter recently escaped from custody. You’ve told me that your husband’s actions were out of character, and he was wearing a hat. I found this,” he held up the chip, “in the brim. I’d like to see if there’s one in your hood, as well.”
Her eyes grew wide. “You think… Su-sure. Go ahead.”
“Thank you.” It took him less than thirty seconds to find the chip. He turned to Jim.
“Notify the hotel staff. If they don’t listen—”
“I’ll call Sawyer,” Jim nodded. No need to mention that they needed to inspect the garments in the coat room before the evening ended and the gala guests started to leave.
Bruce glanced toward Dick and Barbara. “You didn’t check your hats, did you?”
“With Tetch on the loose?” Dick grinned. “Who wore one?”
Bruce’s lips twitched. “Good.”
A siren wailed, interrupting their conversation. A moment later, an ambulance and two police cars pulled up and Bruce went over to talk to them.
Dick headed back to the hotel. “I’ve got to get to work,” he muttered to Barbara, as he passed her in the plaza.
Batman went easy on the coatroom attendant. Going by the man’s sluggish movements and the utter lack of skill or style in which he charged the vigilante, it was plain that his actions weren’t entirely his own. A choke-out hold ended the fight quickly.
Batman wasn’t at all surprised to find another mind-control chip in the brim of the attendant’s hat. He removed it swiftly and nodded to the convention security staff waiting in the hallway. “Looks like our hunch was right,” he said. “Anyone want to lend a hand getting the chips out of these hats?”
“I will,” one of the guards stepped forward. “Trust me, you don’t want to hold these people up when they want to leave.”
Batman grunted. “Entitlement issues?”
“You have no idea.”
Batman allowed himself a brief smile. “You’d be surprised...”
Bruce watched stoically as the paramedics got Jandt safely into the ambulance, just as his brother came rushing up. To his surprise, the councillor made no attempt to approach the vehicle, stopping next to Bruce instead.
“There’s no reason for word of this to get back to the Academy, is there?”
Bruce tensed. “I beg your pardon?”
“Surely, a man like you can appreciate the need for discretion,” Councillor Jandt replied. “There’s an election coming up in a few months, and I’m looking to court the police vote. My brother’s antics could jeopardize that. Now, I have ways of downplaying these sorts of incidents in the general media, but I need to know that you’ll help me out on this as well.”
He fought back a wave of irritation. “Councillor, I—”
“Oh, please, Bruce. Call me Neal.”
“Councillor,” Bruce repeated, “I’m not entirely sure what you want me to do. It’s not like I have any, um… pull at the Academy. If anything, my speaking up would likely be construed as an attempt to use my social standing to garner special treatment. I’m sure you can see how that’s likely to make matters worse.”
The councillor laughed. “I’m not asking you to say anything, Bruce,” he said with a hearty smile. “The last thing I want is for them to be aware of this. If I can count on you in this matter,” he continued, “I know you have a big day coming up this summer. In front of a judge, I believe? I might be able to put in a good word or two on your behalf. What do you think?”
He’d fought Clayface before. He remembered the wave of disgust he’d felt that first time, as ropes and runnels of cold, slimy mud had oozed over him. This was almost worse. “I think, Councillor,” he said slowly, “that if my brother had just been seriously injured in a car accident, I’d be either trying to ride with the paramedics in the ambulance or following behind them in my car. I think I’d stop focusing on damage control and start focusing on family. But maybe that’s just me.” He looked at his companion and was gratified when the councillor dropped his eyes.
“Sir?” An officer said, approaching them and looking at Bruce. “I understand that you witnessed the accident? May I ask you some questions?”
Bruce nodded. He glanced at the councillor. “Good night… Neal.”
He strode away briskly and did not look back.
Cass listened to the math problem again and jammed the heel of her hand against her forehead.
A painter mixes gallons of paint in a large cylindrical bucket so that there will be no difference in colour among individual gallons.
If one gallon of paint has a volume of approximately 8000 cubic centimeters, what is the maximum number of whole gallons of paint that can be poured into a bucket with a height of 60 centimeters and a base of 40 centimeters?
She heard the choices, but she didn’t have a clue how to solve the problem. Angrily, she paused the audio program. There was a formula, she knew. She’d memorized it. But she’d memorized so many of them. “Length times width times height,” she muttered. “Volume. But… base?” She frowned. Reaching for the printer tray, she extracted two pieces of paper and then reached for a ruler and pen. “Doesn’t have to be centimeters,” she said. “Okay, inches. And okay, six and four, not sixty-forty.” She measured a four-inch line on her page. “Okay. Four. And six…” She drew a six-inch line on the second sheet. “Scissors,” she muttered under her breath. She stopped. No, if she cut the line, it wouldn’t be a cylinder. A cylinder had a round base. So that line had to be the widest part of the circle, which meant it was the middle of the… Her eyes widened. “One half base times height.” No. No, that wasn’t right. That was for a triangle. Circles were different. Something about 3.14 and…
She pushed the book away with a sigh. She knew this. She’d known it fine before she’d gotten so focused on the essay section. But she didn’t know it now.
She jammed the heel of her hand against her forehead again. Think. Think! She pulled the math text off of the overhead shelf and opened to the first page on which she’d affixed a sticky note. It wasn’t that one, nor the next, nor the one after that. Finally, on the fifth sticky note, she found it. “Pi times radius times radius times height.” Barbara had told her that ‘radius times radius’ meant ‘radius squared,’ but that had confused her. How could a circle be square? It was easier to remember that the ‘little two in the air’ meant ‘the number times itself’. And as long as she knew the formula, who cared what she called it? And she did know it… now.
She shook her head. She knew it now, but she needed to know how to solve this type of problem when she took the test, too! She brought the heel of her hand to her forehead once more and closed her eyes. Then she resumed the audio, gave her answer and listened to the next question.
“You’re quiet,” Jim remarked, as Bruce drove back to the manor. “Not that you’re ever much of a chatterbox, mind you, but are you okay? Was the soup hotter than it seemed at first… um… splash?”
Bruce shook his head, scowling. “No. Jandt.”
“Ah. Which one?” Jim sniffed. “Not that either of them seems like much of a prize to me.”
That elicited a grunt. “Alvin and I have our differences. His brother’s overall behavior sheds some light on his… situation.”
“And by situation, I take it that you mean ‘baggage’,” Jim nodded. “So. Now what?”
Bruce changed lanes. “Sorry?”
Jim was silent for a few moments. “You’re still covering the Police Ethics module, right?”
Bruce’s eyebrows shot up at the change in subject. “For another two weeks. Why?”
“How about I help you review the material, seeing as that’s one of the ones you have to retake. Here’s a hypothetical. You are a police academy cadet in a city where police have been generally perceived as corrupt in the past. Although the current administration is taking steps to shed that reputation, old feelings and attitudes die hard. For that reason, the academy has adopted a zero tolerance policy on several behaviors deemed ‘unbecoming a cadet’. This policy and these behaviors are clearly outlined in the Academy handbook and verbally restated at orientation, along with the consequences for infraction.”
Bruce took his eyes off the road long enough to shoot Jim a hard look. “Hypothetical,” he muttered.
“Hey, ‘hypothetical’ doesn’t mean it can’t happen.” His smile faded. “You encounter one of your fellow cadets while outside campus.”
“Shouldn’t that be ‘off campus’?” Bruce asked under his breath.
“Not when you’re discussing the Police Academy. No, I don’t know why. Moving right along, now. Your fellow cadet has been drinking, which, while not precisely against the rules, is not something encouraged. However, you subsequently see him get behind the wheel while still under the influence. There is an accident, albeit one which causes no injury to any other parties. Because this cadet has certain connections, there is reason to believe that the entire incident will be kept out of the media. Assuming that the cadet did not sustain any permanent or long-term injuries, he is likely to return to the Academy in a few days time—hopefully a good deal more,” he coughed, “sober in his outlook. What do you do?”
Bruce shook his head, frowning. “In this hypothetical situation,” he said slowly, “a lot might depend on whether the cadet was acting of his own volition. For example, if it were to subsequently come to light that a recently-escaped criminal with a propensity for mind-control experiments had targeted the event which my fellow cadet and I attended, and if it were determined that the only reason that the cadet was DUI was because he was being controlled by said criminal, there might be grounds to excuse his offense.”
“There might be,” Jim allowed. “Interesting that you used the term ‘DUI,’ though. ‘Driving under the influence’. I know it’s officially supposed to refer specifically to alcohol and other drugs, but—”
“You can’t be serious,” Bruce said. “He was as much a victim as—”
“As someone who hadn’t been drinking? Let’s remember one thing, Bruce. Alcohol is a legal substance. However, being under its influence doesn’t absolve an individual of culpability. In other words, the courts tend to frown on ‘Your honor, my client was too drunk to know what he was doing,’ as a defense.”
Bruce’s eyebrows knit together. “I can appreciate that. However, there is a marked difference between choosing to drink and get behind the wheel, versus choosing to drink, putting on a hat, and being compelled by an outside agent to get behind a wheel.”
“So, you contend,” Jim said carefully, “that he should not be liable to consequences because he was being unduly influenced by something done to him without his consent.”
This time, Bruce’s look was incredulous. “Are you disagreeing?”
“Not exactly,” Jim said slowly. “But I am thinking of a hospital patient who was given a certain mood-altering medication without his knowledge or consent. The medication rendered him violent and paranoid and, while under its influence, he attacked and severely injured a bystander. As a result, he was kept under heavy sedation and restraint. The thing is, when the patient became cognizant of his past actions, he did not contest the hospital’s decision.”
“That’s because the hospital’s ruling was precautionary, rather than punitive.”
“But the patient still held himself accountable.”
Bruce let out a sigh. “Yes.”
“And now he’s arguing that another individual should not be held accountable for a situation that has more than a few parallels.”
Jim waited a few more minutes, until Bruce took the turn for the Kane Bridge back to Bristol. “I think our hypothetical cadet needs to keep one thing in mind. He has no idea whether the police academy staff is going to take the extenuating circumstances into consideration. It really can go either way. His fellow cadet may not have made the decision to get behind the wheel. That doesn’t change the fact that being drunk, inside or outside campus is considered ‘behavior unbecoming an academy cadet’ and is grounds for disciplinary action. They put you and every other cadet through hell just to get accepted into the Academy. They’re not going to shrug their shoulders and turn a blind eye if someone messes up significantly, despite their best efforts to weed out the applicants whom they deem likeliest to do so. But our hypothetical cadet needs to keep something else in mind when he’s determining whether he needs to take any sort of action.”
Bruce waited until he’d merged into the lane for the Crest Hill exit before glancing at Jim again. “Which is?”
Jim shrugged. “It’s not the cadet’s call whether the Academy brass are going to throw the book at his classmate or not. He is unlikely to be asked for input into actions taken or verdicts rendered. In fact, the only thing in this whole scenario that is the cadet’s call is whether to submit a report of the events he witnessed… or whether to allow the entire incident to be swept under the rug.”
The traffic light changed to red and Jim reached over to give Bruce’s arm a fatherly pat once the car pulled to a stop. “It is your call, Bruce. Nobody’s going to make it for you.”
Bruce was silent for the remainder of the drive.
Barbara had barely gotten home and settled into her office when Batman slid over the windowsill. “You’re lucky,” she said, as he pulled back the cowl. “I just turned off the defenses.” She leaned in for a kiss.
Dick was shaking his head as they parted. “I wish you hadn’t. I can deal with them and with this contract out—”
“Yeah, but when you deactivate them, I usually need to replace components. When I do it, they stay intact. What’s up?”
Dick reached into his utility belt and extracted a thin control chip. “It’s one of Tetch’s. See what you can do about tracing the signal.” He made a face. “He might be piggybacking it on another frequency, though I don’t think it’s one of the local radio stations.”
Barbara nodded. “I’m glad he’s got a thing for hats. I mean, could you imagine if he did send out his commands over the WGBC?”
“I’m trying not to,” Dick said with a pained smile. He sighed. “Okay. I haven’t spoken to Penguin yet and I bet he’s got a new deathtrap he’s just itching to try out. Luckily,” he bent down to kiss Barbara again, “he doesn’t know that my significant other has taken it upon herself to make sure I’m able to deal with every sneaky surprise a person can come up with and then some. Which,” he kissed her other cheek, “is why,” he brought his lips to hers, “I need you to keep those defenses on!” This time, his lips lingered a good deal longer. “Okay?”
Barbara sighed. “Okay. But you’d better call in if you come back in no shape to disable them or it’s gonna hurt.”
He pulled the cowl down again and headed for the window. Then he dashed back to her for another kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you too. Just remember that if you trip my systems later.”
She heard a merry laugh incongruous with the costume as he leaped into the night.
Selina wasn’t there when he got back to the manor.
Tim rolled his eyes in the direction of the nursery. “She… might be tapping into the speed force,” he said. “It took forever to get her ready for bed. You haven’t been lacing her formula with espresso, right?”
“She’s been off formula for about a year,” Bruce said absently. “Thanks for babysitting.”
Tim smiled. “No big deal, once she finally got to sleep. I got four pages done on my Poli Sci paper.”
Bruce grunted noncommittally.
“Fine,” Bruce said with forced joviality. “Have a good rest of the night.”
Tim wrinkled his nose. “Is that seafood I smell?”
“Good night, Tim.”
Tim watched as Bruce retreated into the study. “Oh… kay,” he said, wishing that he knew how to get Bruce to open up a bit and feeling a bit guilty when he acknowledged that he probably wouldn’t know how to deal with it if Bruce ever did.
Bruce could barely wait until he made it down to the cave. He’d done enough push-ups and ab crunches this week already. He made a beeline for the weight machines. Although he welcomed the burn, after twenty minutes, he realized that he needed to hit something. He forced himself to complete the weight routine before he strode over to the boxing corner to tackle the heavy bag.
Damn it. He didn’t even like Jandt. Why was he so dead set against writing the report? As he landed blow after blow against the weighted bag, he realized that it was probably because he didn’t like Jandt that he was resisting it. He didn’t want to appear as though he was letting his personal feelings in any way cloud his judgment. That and… something within him recoiled at the entire process. He jabbed at the bag again. The process that forced him to become a snitch. Another jab. The process that reduced him to being a cog in a machine. Jab again. Jandt was salvageable. He knew it. If he could only work with him… If Jandt was willing to be worked with… but expelling him would do him no good at all. But would keeping him on do any good for the Academy and later the GCPD? Jim was right about one thing: regardless of whether he would have driven the car without Hatter’s commands, the fact was that Jandt had been drinking in direct opposition to the Academy’s directives. And while Bruce hadn’t exactly been carrying a breathalyser on him, there’d been more than a hint of booze on the other cadet’s breath. The hospital would have the full details, but Bruce had no doubt that Jandt had been driving under the influence.
According to Jim, the Academy wouldn’t necessarily take extenuating circumstances into consideration. Bruce actually understood that. He’d always held himself to a higher standard than he expected of anyone else. Operating outside the law, he’d known that he would need to, if he was to have the police recognize him as an ally in the war against crime. It shouldn’t surprise him that the individuals who embodied the law would adhere all the more strictly to it. Corrupt cops made headlines. So did incompetent cops. And so did cops who were drunk or otherwise intoxicated while on-duty.
He headed into the trophy room for the Beretta, reflecting dryly that some might think he’d already been through enough torture for one night, between the gala, the conversation on the way home, and the workout. Still, he got the gun and ammunition and headed for the firing range.
He felt a fresh surge of anger as he loaded the gun. He wasn’t sure if it was directed at the Jandt brothers, at Jim, or at the fact that he couldn’t deal with the situation in his own way. The police had his statement, which placed him at the scene of the accident. That was going to get back to the Academy—and relatively quickly—unless the councillor had been serious about being able to keep the matter hushed up. But Bruce would be damned if he’d pursue that avenue.
He aimed the gun and fired at the target until he’d discharged all the rounds in the magazine and then, as usual, he pulled the control lever to retrieve the target. He wasn’t sure why he was bothering. He’d been anything but focused tonight. He’d practically been on autopilot. With a sigh, he detached the target and reached into the basket to his left to clip a fresh one. Then he looked at the one he’d just removed and his eyes widened. He’d discharged every bullet into the red zone in the center of the silhouette.
“You’re not worried?” Selina asked at breakfast the next morning. “I mean, if you’re trying to keep Helena’s relationship to you under wraps, the cat’s going to be out of the bag, the minute she starts calling you ‘Daddy’.”
Bruce sighed. “It can’t be helped. I’ll tell Ortega that I’m the only father she knows and that for understandable reasons, I’m not parading her to the world. And,” an almost boyish smile flitted across his face, “that I have to admit I don’t mind being called ‘Daddy’.” He sighed. “I suppose that it’s that or we build her a tower in the woods and stop cutting her hair.”
Selina laughed out loud.
“Do you disagree?”
She shook her head, still smiling. “No, but I never thought I’d hear you admit it.”
“Well,” Bruce said slowly, “if I can’t accept the situation, it means that I’ll have to admit that Roy Harper can juggle the demands of a costume and child-rearing better than I can—and I don’t think I’m comfortable doing that.”
“I… hate to bring it up,” Selina said slowly. “I mean, I’m glad to hear you talking like this. But how safe is Harper’s kid?”
Bruce sighed. “There have been incidents. However, I think that when we take into account that you and I have various competencies that Harper lacks, and recognize that my security is somewhat better…” He closed his eyes. “It’s not ideal. I’d be a fool to state otherwise. But I can’t keep her locked in the nursery when people come to call—particularly people with small children of their own. As long as we take the necessary precautions, I think we’ll manage.”
“I think you’re right. Let’s just hope we both are.”
Bruce nodded soberly.
Samantha Ortega took to Helena instantly and the feeling appeared mutual. “Want to play Candy Land?” She looked at Bruce. “Do you have Candy Land, Mr. Wayne?”
“I… think she may be a little young for that, chiquita,” Ortega said gently.
“Oh.” Samantha pressed a small finger to her cheek thinking. “Let’s play house!”
Selina laughed. “Why don’t I take you young ladies to the nursery while,” she glanced at Bruce, “you and… Luisa…?”
“Sounds good,” Bruce nodded. “We can set up in the dining room.”
Ortega pushed away the manual with a sigh. “Looks to me like a lot more responsibility and no glory whatsoever.”
Bruce helped himself to the plate of sandwich cookies he’d emptied from the package before they’d sat down.
“We’re not in this for glory,” he pointed out.
“Well, no,” Ortega said, reaching for a cookie of her own, “that’s true. Still… if they’re going to make us work this much harder, it would be nice to get some appreciation.” She popped the cookie into her mouth, chewed and swallowed. “Instead, it just feels like they’ve got us under a microscope and they’re increasing the magnification.”
“That’s fairly accurate,” Bruce admitted straight-faced.
“Jeez, are you always this optimistic?” Ortega bent down to the page again. “I love it. After two weeks of trying to make us all one big happy family, I feel like I’m getting disowned.”
“Did you read this?”
Bruce nodded. “On Friday evening, yes. “ He sighed. “I presume that you’re referring to our new place in the chain of command.”
Ortega took another cookie. “First we’re supposed to have each other’s backs. Now we’re supposed to…” she shook her head. “I was bullied in school. Snitching only made matters worse.”
“How’s it going?” Jim poked his head into the dining room. “That plate looks a bit low. Here.” He placed a round cookie tin on the table and pried the lid off ceremoniously. “Martha sent them.”
“Thanks,” Bruce said. “But if she meant them for you…”
“She meant them to be shared. I’m sharing them.” He sat down. “For what it’s worth, ‘snitching,’ as you phrased it, can make matters worse in the short-term. The problem is that if you keep quiet about something and it blows up later, the people who had the chance to nip things in the bud early and didn’t tend to get caught in the blast radius. Let’s look at things from a purely economical perspective. You’re paying your tuition, but the City is still investing a certain amount in your training and development, as well. Every year you’re with the force makes you that much more valuable and gives you that much more experience. When things go wrong, someone has to answer for it, and if things go very wrong, it’s not just the person who screwed up; it’s all the people who let that person slide. If the problem is endemic to the system—like the stories that come out about high school graduates with high averages who are functionally illiterate—the system gets taken to task and, hopefully, reformed. But if it’s one mess-up? The fish who get fed to the sharks are the ones with the lowest rank that the Department believes will satisfy them. A major corruption scandal? Yeah, they’ll go for the top brass. But a couple of cops on the take? Whoever they report to had better have a very good explanation for how they missed what was going on right under their noses or why they chose to overlook it.”
“What if it’s something we can deal with ourselves? I mean, without escalating things up the line?” Ortega asked.
Jim nodded seriously. “That’s why you need to learn the material in that handbook. There are situations that you can deal with on your own. You still need to file reports so there’s a written record. You’re cadets. It’s understood that you’re not all going to ace everything out of the gate. It’s also understood that shortcomings are meant to be worked on. You’re getting a rare opportunity to demonstrate judgment and leadership—among other things. Most of your class won’t get that opportunity until they’ve spent some time out of the Academy and get assigned to a precinct. Recognize that for the gift it is. And by the way,” Jim smiled, “part of the goal of the Academy is to winnow the crop; separate the wheat from the chaff. They wouldn’t have put the two of you in this position if they didn’t think you could handle it.” He took a deep breath and let it out.
“But then,” he added, “you probably both realize that already and you have enough to do without listening to an impassioned pep talk by an old, retired commissioner. I suspect you already know what you have to do,” he smiled, looking from Ortega to Bruce and fixing his gaze a few seconds longer than necessary before looking back to Ortega. “Carry on, Cadets.” He lifted the coffee pot. “This is getting low. I’ll put up a fresh pot and leave you to it.”
When Ortega took a break to check the nursery, Bruce headed downstairs. He supposed that he could have called Barbara from the house, but he was used to restricting his dealings with Oracle to the Cave.
“Councillor Jandt informed me that he’s used to cleaning up his younger brother’s messes,” Bruce explained. “I’m reasonably sure that if I file a report about what I observed last night, and there’s no corroborating evidence anywhere in the system, it’s going to appear as though I’m using my newfound position to frame a cadet nobody likes for an infraction that could get him expelled. At best, it will make me look sloppy. At worst, vindictive.”
“Understood,” Oracle replied. “You gave a statement last night. Did you get the name of the officer who took it?”
“I’ll check into it. The hospital is supposed to report any suspected criminal activity to the police, but BAC doesn’t fall under that rubric. Still, my guess is that Jandt isn’t enough of a hypocrite to bribe cops to look the other way and then try to get re-elected on promises to clean up police corruption. Or if he is, he knows exactly who he can approach without having the whole thing blow up in his face. I’m betting his connections are with the hospitals.”
“We’re on the same page,” Bruce nodded to the vid-screen. “How long will it take you to find out?”
“We’re looking for something that happened within the last 24 hours, in Gotham, involving places that are known for keeping good records. Check back with me around supper time.”
Four hours passed. They finished covering the manual and started work on the general Ethics assignment. “This is one area where we can’t just hold our own,” Ortega pointed out. “We’d better lead the class. I mean…” she looked away, in sudden embarrassment. “Not that you’re likely to have any problems with the material. Um…”
“You wouldn’t think so,” Bruce rejoined softly. “But I am having problems where my personal code of ethics—or that of the Justice League—conflicts with that set down by the department.” He sighed. “For example, a number of years ago, one of our number became involved with drugs. We dealt with the matter internally, helped him get back on track, and although it took some time before he was ready to resume crime-fighting, he did eventually get back to it. I don’t think we were wrong to give him time to clean up his act and subsequently reinstate him.”
Ortega nodded, but she was frowning. “Yeah… but you guys don’t really have to answer to anyone external to your team, unless you want to, right? I know that if I were a civilian and I’d seen people get hurt or worse, and then found out that one of the Justice Leaguers called to the scene had been drunk or high and couldn’t think straight, I’d be screaming blue murder and rallying for some sort of ‘cape oversight committee.’ I mean,” her expression turned stricken. “I’m sorry. If you say that guy turned his life around, I believe it. But that was him. That’s not everyone. Sometimes… you have to look at the stats and play the odds.”
Bruce sighed. “Don’t think we didn’t bring up those same arguments at the time. At any rate, there are many places in which the Police Ethics code and the code I’m used to following overlap. I’m not saying that mine is necessarily better. But it’s what I’m used to and I’m finding it difficult to remember the areas where they don’t.” He looked at the assignment again.
“Of course,” he continued, “it appears that Sergeant Tocchini had that thought in mind when creating these questions. Nearly every example so far seems to cover one of those areas…”
“Councillor Jandt got him booked under a fake name, same as we did with you after the Arkham fire,” Barbara reported. “It’s not that uncommon when dealing with high-profile patients, and a politician’s kid brother qualifies. He’s at Gotham General. His injuries are relatively minor: snapped collarbone, a couple of cracked ribs, whiplash, mild concussion, some bruises… Considering he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt when the airbag deployed, he was pretty lucky.”
Bruce nodded. “And his BAC?”
“That could be a problem,” Barbara admitted. “I mean, it was taken and it was 0.096—definitely over the legal limit. The hospital did full blood-work on him when he came in. The problem is that if the officers didn’t go along to the emergency room and demand the sample for testing, patient confidentiality comes into play. State laws prevent hospitals from proactively notifying police; and without a subpoena, they won’t release those records.”
“Did they?” Bruce asked, leaning forward.
Barbara hesitated. “I’m not sure. If they did, it would make it harder to cover this whole thing up, unless the cops are in on it. Or unless…” Bruce could hear typing in the background. “Hang on… Yes!” Her words came faster, as they always did when she was excited. “Gotham General stopped routine testing for BAC a few years back. They’re not alone; there are a bunch of hospitals that are worried that the patients’ insurance companies will refuse to cover injuries sustained while DUI, so they’ve stopped the routine testing. But if they tested Jandt…”
“Then it must have been requested by the officer at the scene.”
“Right. And… here we go. The order’s here alright, but because Jandt was registered under a pseudonym, his records are all under the name of ‘Melvin Stanton.’ So if the BAC comes back for Melvin Stanton and Melvin Stanton doesn’t exist…”
Bruce nodded. “The courts are overloaded. Jandt didn’t kill or injure anyone other than himself. The property damage caused was relatively minor. The likeliest scenario would have him discharged from the hospital while the blood report goes to the police for processing. It won’t be a priority—not with so many more serious crimes taking place every day. Most likely, they’ll send out a summons for traffic court and, when he doesn’t show, eventually, there will be a warrant issued for his arrest, but the police won’t be conducting a city-wide manhunt for him. They’ll figure that sooner or later, he’ll get pulled over for some traffic violation or other and arrest him when his name comes up in their computer—which it won’t.”
There was a pause. “Well,” Barbara said slowly, “that’s if everything goes according to plan. However…” a lighter note crept into her voice, “what if the person tasked with registering Jandt under a false name was just the tiniest bit sloppy? Remember, they need his real name for the medical insurance, which means it has to be in the system somewhere. So… what if Jandt’s real name gets accidentally attached to the blood-work results?”
Bruce pressed his fingers to his temples. Jandt wasn’t entirely responsible for his circumstances, but he wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander either. Still… Still, it wasn’t his call. He had to write the report. And if he knew that the evidence to corroborate it was about to vanish into the system, he had to ensure that it wouldn’t. It wasn’t cheating. It was counteracting someone else’s attempt to cheat.
“They’re really hitting it off,” Luisa Ortega smiled, as she watched the two children race for the slide with squeals of glee. “I just hope Samantha remembers that Helena isn’t a toy.”
“Somehow,” Selina said, “I don’t think Helena’s going to let her.”
Helena slid down the shiny metal expanse into a pit of soft rubber balls. A moment later, Samantha followed. Samantha glanced over to where the two women were sitting and waved. Helena was already lining up for another turn. After a second, Samantha followed suit.
“They’re fine,” Selina grinned. “I never knew this place existed, but I’ve got a feeling that we’ll be back.” She felt the hairs prick up along the back of her neck as her eyes panned the room. Something was off. Her gaze lingered on the threesome at the takeout counter. All wore long coats with the collars up and hats pulled low. A father, mother, and child, from the look of things. Then why…?
“Luisa,” she said slowly, “I need to go to the ladies room. Can you go over and keep an eye on the kids?”
“I can see them fine from here,” Ortega protested.
She forced a smile. “Let’s just call me an over-protective mother and humor me. If we aren’t both keeping an eye on them, I’d rather you were closer, okay?”
“Is something wrong?”
Selina sighed. “I really hope not, but—”
All at once, the trio turned and pulled long rifles out from under their coats. “Everyone, stay where you are and keep your hands where we can see them!”
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