Post by Admin on Mar 21, 2018 13:51:04 GMT -5
Issue #27: “Turning Tables”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie, and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
You always fight the hardest
With your back against the wall
Back on the savage street
I'm ready to make my stand
I'll stand on my own two feet
No more room
Tables are turning
I can't turn back
- “Back on the Savage Streets” by Gary Scott and Dean Pitchford
If Batman’s combat reflexes had been a fraction slower, he would have been dead. Batgirl’s attack had come virtually without warning. Some instinct made him sidestep. A split-second before her blow would have connected, she overbalanced and stumbled, but recovered quickly, landing on her hands and retaliating with a sweeping kick.
It caught Batman in the side and he fell, catching hold of her foot and pulling her down after him. They grappled together, rolling back and forth on the rooftop, more evenly matched than Batman would have believed possible. Both were quick and agile. Batman was stronger physically, but Batgirl could read his moves before he knew he was making them. At least, he realized as he deflected yet another blow, that was how it normally worked; but she was uncharacteristically off her form tonight.
She jabbed her fingers toward his eyes and he revised that thought, even as he evaded. She wasn’t off enough. Still, he reminded himself as he tried unsuccessfully to pin her for the third time and took a knee to the abdomen, there was a difference between knowing what he was planning and being able to stop him. As the thought ran through his mind, Batgirl broke through his hold and rolled on top of him. His head knocked against the concrete and he bit his tongue hard as Batgirl pressed her advantage, sitting high on his chest. He tasted the metallic salty tang of his own blood and he curled up, hooking one foot around her neck to peel her off. She landed on her side with a gasp and he flipped to his feet before she could recover.
To his surprise, Batgirl pressed both hands, not to her throat, but to her head. “Fight me,” she croaked.
Batman froze. “Batgirl?” He knew she’d been on Hatter’s trail at last check-in and it hardly took a genius to figure out why she was attacking him now. But if she was resisting his control… Batgirl lunged forward again and he forgot about analyzing her performance and twisted, barely managing to deflect her kick to his kneecap by raising his leg so her foot slid down his shin.
She fell back for a moment, then sprang, hands extended in a maneuver that he hadn’t seen since… Goode Ole Bernie! He managed to grasp her wrists, holding her hands inches away from his chest. If she’d actually followed through with that move, it would have stopped his heart instantly. “What are you—?”
“FIGHT!” she snapped. Then she flinched, as if from a blow and gasped in pain. With a snarl, she twisted out of his hold and reached toward him again.
Batman flipped her over one shoulder and dropped her heavily to the ground. As she landed on her back, she tugged at his arm and pulled him down after her. A groan escaped her as his full weight slammed into her chest.
Batman’s eyes widened. That was an amateur move, and Batgirl was definitely no amateur. The harder she fought, the worse she got—that was it. It had to be. He aimed a blow at her collarbone, calculated not to incapacitate, but to hurt. Batgirl stifled a cry at the impact, but still strained to ram her head into his nose. She fell back with a gasp, as he dodged. She struggled like a wildcat but, although she nearly broke loose a couple of times, he maintained the hold. “Sorry about this,” he muttered. He snapped a pair of cuffs around her wrists, then passed a second pair of cuffs over the connecting chain and secured her ankles.
Batgirl continued to struggle, even though they both had to know that she wasn’t getting free until he released her. “Get. It. Off,” she gritted, still fighting hard. “Cowl.”
“I’m just getting to that,” Batman nodded. “O,” he spoke hastily into his comm-link, “Batgirl’s been hatted. I need to get her cowl off. Can you check if there are any cameras pointed my way and mess up the recordings if there are?”
“If they’re on a network,” Barbara’s voice confirmed. “But you’re SOL if someone across the street is just taking candids.”
“I’ll have to take that chance,” Batman acknowledged. He loomed over Batgirl, enveloping her in his cape. Doing his best to keep her concealed from any prying eyes, he felt for the seam of her cowl and slowly pulled it up with one hand as he felt for the controlling chip with the other. “Got it.”
Batgirl sighed with relief, as the small disc skittered to the concrete.
“You okay?” Batman asked, pulling her cowl back down.
She nodded. “When I fought,” she said slowly, “he… couldn’t control… well. Until I stopped.”
Batman nodded slowly. “Those chips overwrite normal thought processes,” he mused aloud. “But your thought patterns, especially when you fight, aren’t normal. That probably helped you shake off some of his mind control.” He bent down to unlock the cuffs. “Where’s Harrier?”
Rubbing her wrists, Batgirl tilted her head toward him. “Um…”
His eyes widened. “Oh, no.”
It took Bruce scant seconds to realize that Tim wasn’t in control of his actions. Unfortunately, that knowledge didn’t help his immediate situation. He couldn’t activate the Cave’s defenses with Helena down here. Although the gas and lasers were designed to be non-lethal, they were also meant to be used on adults. He couldn’t take the risk of Helena getting injured in the crossfire. As he leaped and twisted to avoid Tim’s barrage of throwing knives, he also realized that he needed to lure Tim away from the play area entirely, before he—or Hatter—became aware of his daughter’s presence.
There were now three H-shaped knives embedded in his chair. Bruce grabbed them, tensed, and took a running leap toward his assailant. As he’d expected, Tim dodged his flying kick, and Bruce landed behind Tim. Immediately, he pivoted and flung one of the knives. Then he darted into the narrow space between two of the Crays and quickly ran his hand over the rough stone wall, feeling for the right spot. He allowed himself a fleeting smile as he found the niche. He was right. He had stashed a cache of batarangs there years ago, and they hadn’t been disturbed in the intervening time. He grabbed the weapons hastily.
As Bruce had hoped, as soon as he began hurling the ’rangs, Tim turned and raced deeper into the cave. With a grim smile, Bruce donned a pair of infrared goggles and grabbed a metal canister resembling a fire extinguisher from a recess in the cave wall. Even if Tim made it to the maze of catacombs beneath the main cave, Bruce could track him now.
Once out of the computer hub, he slowed down. He wasn’t sure of the extent of Hatter’s control, but he was damned if he was going to run blindly into an ambush. He considered for a moment. Then he quickly opened an equipment locker and grabbed a few key items, checking to make sure that Tim wasn’t doubling back.
He was nearly at the passage that led from the main cave to the catacomb network when he heard the telltale scuff of a rubber sole on a sandy floor. Instinctively, Bruce leaped back, whirled, and hit the trigger on the metal canister.
Tim evaded the spray and sprang for another attack, but this time, Bruce was ready. A second spray quickly encased the youth in quick-hardening sticky foam.
“Hold still,” Bruce urged, even though he knew he was wasting his breath. He tore Harrier’s hood back in a swift, fluid motion and quickly removed the control chip.
Tim blinked. He tried to stretch, then looked down in puzzlement at the foam cocoon surrounding him. “Bruce?” he asked. “What’s going on?”
“You’re clear,” Barbara said, after what seemed like an eternity. “Once Harrier got onto the manor grounds, your jamming field kept Hatter from sending new commands and blocked his seeing what was going on.”
Tim rubbed his head, frowning as he looked at Barbara’s face on the vid-screen. “But I didn’t snap out of it when I got here,” he said. “Are you sure?”
“Positive,” Barbara nodded. Her smile grew wider as she turned to Bruce, who was holding Helena protectively in his arms. “You weren’t receiving any new orders; you were just acting on your last instructions. You didn’t let him know about Helena,” she stated. “She’s fine.”
Bruce acknowledged her reassurance with a curt nod. “Barbara,” he said slowly. “If Tim faced me…”
“Yes,” Barbara confirmed. “Cass squared off against Dick. They’re both okay.”
Bruce exhaled. “As of this moment,” he pronounced, “Hatter gets top—”
The vid-screen split into two. Batman’s face filled the second half. “He’s already getting top priority, Bruce,” he announced. “He’s had it since the day you registered at the Academy.”
“And he remains at large,” Bruce pointed out, not mollified in the slightest.
“Not for much longer. We’ve already found two of his hideouts. He’s running out of options. Not to mention allies able to think for themselves. We’ll get him.”
Bruce nodded curtly. “Send me what you have. I’ll review it. Bruce out.” He closed the connections without waiting for acknowledgment.
In a satellite cave, Dick looked at Barbara via his vid-screen. “I know you’re on top of this,” he said, his tone light, but his expression serious. “However, if there’s anything else you can think of that we aren’t doing to bring Hatter in, do it.”
Barbara nodded. “You’re okay, right?”
“Yeah. I took a couple of pressure point strikes that’ll hurt for a bit, but it could have been a lot worse.”
“Tell me about it,” Barbara smiled. “Tonight. Over a home-cooked meal.”
“If I’m awake that long…”
Barbara clucked sympathetically and closed the channel.
Bruce was still thinking about how badly things could have gone wrong when he arrived at the academy the next morning. There was a quiz first period that he hadn’t studied for, but luckily, they’d finished the Criminal Code module the week before and the current subject was Crime Scene Management. Bruce probably could have answered questions on that material coasting on three hours sleep, in a booby-trapped funhouse, while Harley and Ivy tag-teamed him.
It was just as well. The instructor spent the rest of the period discussing the next chapter in a dry monotone that sent nearly a dozen cadets to stand at the back of the room to avoid dozing off. (Bruce had initially been amused to read an instruction printed in the Academy handbook that advised cadets to do precisely that, in case of drowsiness. After the first week, he’d realized that it was there for a reason.)
Then the bell rang and Bruce squared his shoulders, made sure his collar was straight and his boots polished, and made his way to the administration building. He suspected that the ordeal awaiting him would not be pleasant and, although he wouldn’t have said he was nervous, precisely, it was fair to say that he wasn’t looking forward to this meeting.
Chiarello was waiting for him, along with another man whom Bruce had never seen before. Again, they left him standing at attention while they made a show of reading what appeared to be his report. They conferred among themselves before finally turning back to look at Bruce.
“Cadet Wayne,” the other man said without cracking a smile, “Detective O’Flaherty, and I believe you know my colleague, Detective Chiarello.”
Bruce knew that a nod wouldn’t suffice. “Yes, Sir.”
“We’ve just been going over your report,” O’Flaherty said, his mouth still a taut line. “But I’d like to hear you tell us again.”
The fact that Bruce understood why the exercise was necessary didn’t make him resent it less. They wanted to be sure that his oral accounting of the incident dovetailed with the report he’d submitted. They’d be ready to pounce on any omission or deviation. In his own detective work, he’d done much the same thing: comparing sworn statements and testimonies, looking for discrepancies. He’d rarely had the witnesses standing in front of him when he did so, though he’d been known to cross-examine them on occasion. If he was sure that they were lying, he’d usually dangle them over the side of a building. He fought not to smile. His methods were harsh, but at least his suspects knew where they stood with him. That was more than he could say for his current situation.
Resigned, he went over the details again. He’d seen Jandt at the bar.
“How many times?” Chiarello demanded.
“Did you see him drink?” That was O’Flaherty.
“I did, Sir.”
“How much did he have to drink?”
They seemed to be taking turns. Bruce faced Chiarello. “I don’t know, Sir. I personally witnessed him down two shots.”
The ‘sirs’ were beginning to leave a sour taste in his mouth, but he forced himself to include them. “Sir, the liquid was amber in color.”
“Might it have been something non-alcoholic? Say, cola or root beer?
That was two questions in a row from O’Flaherty. “Anything is possible, Sir,” he admitted, “although it’s been my experience that non-alcoholic beverages are seldom served in shot glasses.”
Chiarello scribbled something on a lined foolscap pad. “How much did you have to drink that night?”
“In total, Sir,” Bruce replied, “I had two glasses of club soda, but nothing alcoholic.”
“Nothing?” O’Flaherty’s eyebrows shot up. “Was it hard for you to refrain?”
“No, Sir,” Bruce returned. “I don’t drink at parties.”
“When did that change?”
“It never changed, Sir,” Bruce kept his tone even. “I do not drink at parties.”
“Did you have anything before the party?” Chiarello asked.
“Wait,” O’Flaherty said, “so you’re telling me that at all those society parties, you were tossing back soda water?”
“Or ginger ale, Sir,” Bruce replied.
“Are you currently taking any medications known to impair judgment, cause drowsiness, or in any way impact your vision?” This from Chiarello.
“Do you wear eyeglasses or contact lenses?”
“No, Sir.” Chiarello was being a good deal less belligerent, and as annoying as the questions were, Bruce could see the point of them.
O’Flaherty wrote something down. “So, Cadet Jandt left the party early and you followed him.”
“No, Sir,” Bruce shook his head. “I didn’t follow him. There,” he took a deep breath, “there was a separate incident. A waiter spilled soup on me. I went outside the gala to get some air in the plaza. I did not see whether Cadet Jandt left the hall before or after I did. However, while I was outside, I heard a woman—later identified as Michelle Jandt—scream, and witnessed Cadet Jandt’s accident.”
Chiarello nodded. “Then what happened?”
Bruce went on to describe how he had administered emergency first aid, confirmed that he’d discovered a mind control chip in Jandt’s hat…
“Where is that chip now?” O’Flaherty demanded.
“Sir, I turned it over to Officer Eugene Wood, who arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. His badge number is provided in the report before you.”
“You weren’t tempted to keep it to run your own tests?” Chiarello asked.
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “Sir, I did not remove or withhold evidence from a crime scene.”
“Wasn’t what I asked, Cadet.”
So, Chiarello was still trying to see if he’d tell a lie to protect himself. Bruce sighed inwardly. “Sir, the thought did run through my mind, but I did not act upon it.”
Chiarello nodded. “So, you did your best to stabilize Cadet Jandt until the police and paramedics arrived, gave your statement, and left. Is that about it?”
Bruce frowned in thought for a moment. “Sir, I also advised the paramedics of the symptoms which Cadet Jandt was then exhibiting and informed them of the first aid procedures I’d already administered.”
“Was that before or after you gave your statement?” O’Flaherty asked.
The questioning continued for another few minutes, as the two investigators went back over questions they’d already asked. Bruce stuck to the facts as he’d reported them, adding additional details only when pressed to elaborate. Finally, both men stood up.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Cadet Wayne,” O’Flaherty said formally. “We’ll be in touch.”
“Dismissed, Cadet,” Chiarello rumbled.
Bruce saluted smartly, spun on his heel and exited. Although the questioning had ended for now, he strongly suspected that the ordeal wasn’t over yet.
Captain Alanguilan was considerably shorter than he’d seemed on horseback. He surveyed the four cadets standing before him and his lips curled into a tight smile. “Bring your Class C uniforms with you tomorrow,” he ordered. “You’ll need to change into them before you start mucking out the stalls. While there are full-time grooms on staff,” he continued, “you are expected to know how to care for your horse, and most officers in our mounted unit do so as time permits. Therefore, for the duration of this training, each one of you will be assigned a horse. It will be your responsibility to feed and brush that horse and keep its stall clean. The stable grooms will report to me if this is not done.” His eyes narrowed. “Three years ago, one cadet attempted to bribe a groom to do his job for him. Do not try this. A withdrawal from the Academy will look a damned sight better on your record than an expulsion. This is now your last class of the day, because there is no way that you’ll be able to clean up and make it to Drill Sergeant Craigie’s class on time. Don’t get too excited. He’s expecting you to continue his regimen on your own time and be able to keep up when this is over and you rejoin his class. Are there any questions?”
The cadets were silent.
Alanguilan nodded. “Right. If you’ll follow me, I’ll introduce you to you new partners.”
A couple of minutes later, Bruce found himself standing before a chocolate-brown gelding named Shilling. Bruce regarded the horse for a moment. Liquid brown eyes stared back into his. Then, he slowly eased the stall door open and stepped inside.
Shilling nickered and Bruce spoke softly to him for a few moments before resting his hand on the big gelding’s neck. The horse remained calm as Bruce continued talking to him, all the while gently stroking his neck. After a moment, Shilling turned to sniff at him and Bruce blew into his nostrils. The horse breathed in deeply, then responded in kind.
“Good boy,” Bruce whispered, still stroking the horse’s neck. “Good boy.”
He stepped out of the stall for a moment and took a brush from the tack box. Shilling nickered again when Bruce returned. He stood still, allowing Bruce to brush his neck and body. When Bruce was about to move on to the legs, he sensed a presence behind him and turned to see Alanguilan watching him, his expression unreadable.
“Nice work, Cadet,” the captain rumbled. “When you finish grooming, get him saddled and lead him out to the corral.”
Bruce acknowledged the order and Alanguilan moved on to the next stall.
He allowed himself a brief smile and continued brushing.
Norton was already in the corral when Bruce got there. He was leading another brown horse, a mare with a white star on her forehead. For once, Norton seemed completely relaxed. “They’ve been taking good care of this beauty,” he remarked, scratching the horse’s neck. “I think we’re going to get along just fine. How about yours?”
Bruce nodded slowly. “We’ve become acquainted,” he said.
“He likes you,” Norton grinned. He glanced down self-consciously. “My dad fosters horses,” he explained. “He’s a vet for a rescue organization. I grew up on a farm just on the edge of Somerset, and we usually had one or two horses around who needed a bit more care before they could be permanently placed. I learned how to look after them early.”
“It shows,” Bruce nodded again.
Angelina Parsons, approached them leading a seal-brown gelding. “Oh, good,” she beamed, looking at Norton, “then you’re probably the person to talk to if I get stuck.” She sighed. “I learned to ride at summer camp, but it’s been a few years. I’ve forgotten a lot and,” she stroked her horse’s forelock, “I think Coco knows it.”
“Brenner’s taking a while,” Bruce remarked.
Parsons rolled her eyes. “I think Brenner’s experience with horses is ‘you put a quarter in the slot and it goes back and forth for two minutes.’ Seriously, the guy held out his hand to his horse like it was a dog.”
“Then, why…?” Norton started to ask, when Chuck Brenner finally appeared, leading a brown mare with one white sock. Alanguilan followed close behind.
“We’re going to spend the rest of today and tomorrow,” he stated without preamble, “finding out if you know as much as you think you do. If you don’t, you can either rejoin the rest of your troop under Drill Sergeant Severin or you can come in before and after classes and on weekends and learn on your own time. Am I being clear?”
“Sir, yes, Sir!”
He nodded curtly. “Mount up.”
Three cadets obeyed. Brenner’s horse sidestepped and the cadet overbalanced and let out a yelp as he fell backwards and landed on his rear.
Bruce closed his eyes in sympathy. Norton winced. Parsons hid a smile behind her hand.
Alanguilan rolled his eyes. “We’re waiting, Cadet,” he snapped.
Brenner gulped and steeled himself for a second attempt.
Before the class ended, Bruce knew that he was going to be going home later for the rest of the week and possibly returning on the weekend. Alanguilan had made it clear that, as squad leader, it was Bruce’s duty to assist those cadets under his command when they faltered, and Brenner was definitely faltering in this class.
There was no way round it. Neither he nor Brenner wanted to come in earlier. They already needed to in order to care for their horses—grooming them would probably take a good half hour on its own, to say nothing of mucking the stalls. If they rode first thing in the morning, the horses would also need to be cleaned after the exercise. And once that was done, he and Brenner would still need to shower, change into their Class A uniforms, and report for their first class by seven hundred hours. At least, in the afternoon, they could take as long as they needed, though they would still have their regular assignments to complete when they got home.
“I could always go back to the regular class,” Brenner said reluctantly. They were cleaning their horses after the training exercise. “I shouldn’t have put my hand up in the first place.”
Bruce looked up from rubbing Shilling down. “Have you ridden before?”
“Yeah,” Brenner sighed. “On nature expeditions where they go slow and the saddles just about come with seat belts and safety bars. I love those,” he admitted.
Bruce fought back the urge to roll his eyes at that. “Captain Alanguilan could have ordered you back,” he pointed out. “He didn’t. Evidently, he’s leaving the choice up to you.”
“Or he just wants me to admit I’m out of my league.”
Bruce set his brush down. “That’s one way to look at it,” he nodded. “Of course, you could make that argument for virtually every aspect of the Academy. Again,” he said, scratching Shilling between his ears, “you volunteered for a challenge. You can choose to back down or you can choose to rise to the occasion.”
Brenner shook his head. “What would you do if you were me?”
Bruce raised an eyebrow. “I don’t back down. If you want to do this, I’ll help you. If you don’t,” he deliberately walked off to return the brushes to the tack box, “I have assignments to grade and I’ll be able to get to them earlier.”
“But you don’t mind sticking around… Squad Leader?”
Bruce exited Shilling’s stall and leaned into the adjacent one, where Brenner was brushing his horse’s mane. “If you’re prepared to put in the effort and the hours,” he stated, “then so am I. It is going to be more work, don’t delude yourself. However, if you’ve decided to rise to the challenge, I’m willing to…” he extended his hand, “boost you along?”
Brenner took a deep breath. Then he shook Bruce’s hand. “Okay,” he exhaled. “Okay, let’s do this.”
“Tomorrow afternoon,” Bruce nodded. “One word of advice. If you don’t have a topical heat rub in your medicine cabinet already, pick one up tonight. Your muscles will start to stiffen in a few hours and it’ll help.”
“Yes, sir,” Brenner nodded. “Thank you.”
Batman folded his arms and loomed over the mahogany desk, his cape billowing wide behind him. “Why am I not convinced?”
Oswald Cobblepot reached into the box before him and deliberately extracted a slender cigarette. Under Batman’s watchful glower, he inserted it into an elegant holder. As he picked up a silver lighter, however, Batman’s hand came down over his.
“You really enjoy living dangerously, don’t you, Ozzie?” he demanded.
Cobblepot struggled vainly in Batman’s grip. “Let’s just say that I’d prefer my air be fouled by a pollutant of my own choosing,” he snarled.
“When was the last time you saw Jervis Tetch?”
“I have no idea,” Cobblepot sniffed. “Business has been rather good, lately, and with so many customers, I really haven’t had time to greet them one by one. I suppose you could talk to my wait staff,” he mused. Then he shook his head. “Ah, but there’s such a high turnover rate in the service industry. You may find it difficult to locate anyone who’s been here long enough to even know who that fellow is, much less have crossed paths with him.” He sighed. “And now, I suppose you’re going to try to intimidate me with one hand, while you bug my office with the other.”
Batman shook his head, smiling. “No need, Ozzie. The one I left last time is still working just fine. I’ll be back soon to see if you or your wait staff remember anything. Anything at all. Because if you don’t, and I find out that he was here, I promise you, Ozzie, I won’t forget.”
“Rank intimidation!” Cobblepot sputtered. “You come here and make threats—”
Batman released his wrist and held up a hand. “First off,” he said, “if I were going to intimidate you, it would look more like this.” He snatched the cigarette holder and snapped it in two. “Second, do I really need to point out that I made you a promise just now? I mean, I even said, ‘I promise you, Ozzie’. Could I have been clear—Argh!”
Cobblepot smiled as Batman crumpled. Behind him, a henchman in a striped shirt held up an umbrella. “Worked like a charm, boss,” he said, pointing the tip at the dazed vigilante. “Want me to tase him again?”
The Penguin shook his head. “No, Osprey. The gentleman came here looking for Tetch. I really think we might be able to… escort him directly, eh?” He laced his fingers together as he looked down at Batman and his smile grew wider.
Helena was having supper when Bruce got in.
“More chicken?” Selina was asking.
Smiling, she added another small cube to the highchair tray. Helena started to pick it up, then pulled her hand back. “Hot!”
Selina sighed. “It’s mostly cooled off,” she protested. “Fine. Peas?”
She spooned a few onto the tray and smiled a greeting at Bruce. “I need to talk to you,” she said.
Bruce set his books down on the table. “I’m here.”
“Before I tell you what I’m going to tell you, I want you to know that it’s very possible that your normal paranoia is finally rubbing off on me.”
Bruce tensed. “What’s happened?”
“I took Helena to the supermarket with me today. Again, I’m not sure, but I think I may have been followed. I mean, it could be my imagination. I took your advice and drove into Gotham so I wouldn’t run into any of your well-meaning neighbors asking if I’d just moved into the area, and where I was living, and so on. And the quickest way into the city is over the Kane Memorial and onto the Aparo—”
“Selina,” Bruce interrupted, “I know the fastest route into Gotham.”
She closed her eyes. “Of course, you do. What I mean is, I don’t honestly know if I was being followed or if the blue Chevy with license number P59 MRT—I already called it in to Oracle and she confirms it was a rental, and is now back at the agency—was just someone who happened to be headed for Gotham at the same time I was. The agency in question is in the train station, so…”
“But you’re suspicious.”
Selina sighed. “When I was leaving the store, I thought I heard something in the parking lot. It might have been a remote door opener, or someone playing a video game… or a camera shutter clicking. But when I looked up, I saw a blue Chevy driving off. I couldn’t get the plates that time—the angle was bad and it was moving fast. But…”
“But you’re concerned,” Bruce nodded.
He let out a long breath. “I’m going downstairs to double-check the security systems. I’ll probably be there for a while.”
“Recognize her?” Mr. Fixx asked, handing a photograph over. “One of my people has been watching the manor for the last couple of days. She appears to be living there.” The two men were seated in a private booth at the back of a darkened pub, where they were nearly sure not to be disturbed.
Derek Powers studied it and a smile spread to his lips. “Mr. Wayne seems to be a… very lucky man, then,” he remarked. “She’s a cut above many of the women he used to date in his heyday.”
Fixx leaned forward. “Her name is Selina Kyle. At one time, she was believed to be Catwoman, although that story has been officially discredited.”
Something in Fixx’s tone made Powers look up sharply. “Officially? But you think otherwise?”
“I think,” Fixx said slowly, “that Catwoman has always had a… complex… relationship with Batman. The original Batman, I mean. Now a woman, at one time believed to be her, is living with—or at least, staying over at—Wayne Manor with the original Batman. And there is a child.”
“You think it’s his? Or… theirs?”
Fixx hesitated. “More than six months ago, there was a news story. It didn’t get much coverage here, but it was a big deal in New England for a few weeks. Apparently, Catwoman turned up there and there were a few rumors that she’d abducted a little girl of about a year old. The story petered out and the little girl was never identified. Suppose it wasn’t an abduction? Suppose she was trying to go off the grid with a child who might be valuable to parties interested in settling some scores with the original Batman?”
Powers nodded slowly. “It would make sense, but right now, it’s sheer speculation. I need proof.”
Fixx smiled. “You’ll get it.”
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