Post by Admin on Apr 25, 2014 8:26:13 GMT -5
Issue #4: “When You Want To Walk”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Art by Kevin G
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie, and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #4: “When You Want To Walk”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Art by Kevin G
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie, and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
Hurry up, talk the talk
Say "yes sir", when you wanna walk
And bite your tongue
Tell yourself you're paying dues
The trouble is ya know the truth
—Jo Dee Messina, “Hard Life”
It was instinctive. If someone stretched out a hand to him, Ron shook it heartily, without processing who the greeter was. One of these days, he knew, he’d come up on the wrong end of one of Joker’s joy buzzers, but his Great Aunt Maude had always acted as though bad manners were a condition worse than death anyway. By the time he was five, he’d learned that if Great Aunt Maude were unhappy, usually, one way or another, he ended up unhappy, too. So, although the last thing he wanted to do was smile and shake False Face’s hand, he did so warmly. Then he looked to Les. “How does this work exactly?” he asked, wearing his best poker face.
Paxton smiled. “It’s simple,” he said calmly. “At some point prior to the court date, you and Sharon will meet to discuss strategy. At a prearranged time, during your little tête-à-tête, there will be a noise from outside. You’ll both look up and see Bruce Wayne glaring at you through the window—so make sure the blinds, curtains, or what-have-you are open. Fortunately, you’ll have your cell-phone with you and you’ll have the presence of mind to snap a photo or two. Make sure you have the time and date stamp. Maybe get some shots of Sharon posing by the window either before or after Mister...” He chuckled. “Mister... er... Face shows up, to establish that Wayne was at her house and she didn’t just hire a photographer to snap a candid shot of him somewhere else and later claim it was at her house.”
Ron thought quickly. “No offense to either of you,” he said, “but didn’t we suggest bringing in outside help at our first meeting? I thought we’d rejected that option.”
For a moment Paxton looked puzzled. “What...? Oh, I think I know what you mean.” He smiled. “You’re talking about when someone suggested bringing Joker onboard. No,” he turned to False Face. “We did strike that idea down pretty fast, and a good thing too. I don’t deal with murderers, especially not those with a reputation for stabbing their friends in the back.” All hint of joviality vanished. “I take a very dim view of disloyalty.”
Ron nodded, resisting the urge to ask him what exactly he thought he was doing to Bruce.
“Our new associate,” Paxton continued, “may have something of a shadowed past, but at least it’s not a violent one.” He looked at False Face. “I presume you’ll have no problem going to the meeting unarmed?”
False Face shook his head. “I’ve never enjoyed violence,” he said. “It’s why I started disguising myself in the first place; why bludgeon people standing between you and your goal when, if they think they can trust you, nine times out of ten, they’ll either get out of your way or help you to that goal?”
Paxton beamed. “Sir, I believe I like the way you think.” He turned to Ron. “See?”
Ron pretended to think it over. Then, with a calm he hadn’t thought he could fake, he said, “I wish we’d discussed this earlier, Les. I really hate having surprises dropped on me like this.”
“But you can work with it?”
Ron gave him a quick smile. “Just because I don’t like having to think on my feet doesn’t mean I can’t, Les. Leave this with me for a bit. I want to look at the angles; make sure we have all our bases covered.”
Paxton nodded. “Try to get back to me by the end of the day,” he said.
Ron let out a low whistle. “Good thing I work well under pressure.”
False Face chortled. Paxton laughed. “Come on, False Face. Let’s let the resident spin doctor turn our straw into gold.”
The two men left his office. Ron slowly walked to his desk and slumped into his chair. This was just too much. Someone had to stop Paxton now, before things went any farther.
Jeremiah Arkham set down the paper and regarded Cass, his expression unreadable. Cass should have been able to get an inkling of what was going through his head from his body language, but the asylum director was a rigid man, not given to stray movements. If he were more relaxed, she would be able to pick up more, but it was hard to read his movements when he made so few of them.
He was frowning, but that told her nothing. Frowns came more easily to him than smiles. He frowned if she arrived late, if she appeared too eager, if she appeared too anxious, if she needed to excuse herself to go to the bathroom, if she tried to make small talk—and she did try, hoping that it might set him more at ease. His current expression might be caused by a misplaced comma, or by the little yappy dog that someone had tied up outside the store across the street that was trying to jump on passersby.
“Well?” she asked finally.
Jeremiah handed her back the essay. “You’re still leaving out articles,” he rapped out. “A murderer,” he pointed to a paragraph on the page. “Here, and you make the same error again, here.”
Cass nodded. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize to me, young woman,” Jeremiah replied. “You were using them correctly until that paragraph. Then, it’s as though you became careless.”
She felt her face grow hot. “Not... careless,” she mumbled. “Words... had to come fast. Couldn’t write enough.” How to explain what it had been like—to have the ideas practically screaming to come out on the page, when she could barely type one before the next caught her attention. She’d lost control of the essay. The thoughts had needed to come out, even if she hadn’t had the right words or skills to express them. It had been like being caught in a flood—frightening, and yet strangely exhilarating—except that she had swum the tide... clunkily.
Arkham shook his head impatiently. “There’s no reason to apologize for stream-of-consciousness writing,” he said tartly. “It’s undisciplined and undirected, yes, but there is a certain raw depth and power to it that you ought not to discourage.” He pushed the page back to her. “However, once you have let the words out, you need to review and revise.”
Cass made a face. “Easy for you.”
“Hardly,” Arkham sniffed. “There is a tendency to be blind to one’s own errors. That is why most people do show their work to others before submitting it. Unfortunately, the test that you intend to take follows a different paradigm.”
She blinked. “Sorry?”
Arkham’s frown disappeared. She couldn’t exactly call the expression on his face a smile, but it was close. “Learn the rules, Cassandra. Master the syntax. And if you finish ahead of schedule, take advantage of the extra time to look over what you’ve written.” He pushed a folder at her. “I would suggest that you use these study sheets for help with your civics,” he added.
Cass looked in the folder. “You... did this... for me?”
Arkham cleared his throat. “You need the work. It’s scarcely as though I had anything better to do with my time.” He held up a hand, as though to ward off her smile. “Now, to work. Leave me to my newspaper in peace.” He gestured to the pencil lying before her.
Cass nodded. “Thank you.”
He harrumphed again and motioned to the practice pages.
Ron reached for the telephone and began to dial Lucius Fox’s extension. He could have just hit the speed-dial, of course, but he thought he could use the extra couple of seconds to frame what he was going to say. Also, that was one button, whereas the extension was four. Which meant that if he changed his mind...
He hit three buttons before he replaced the receiver. What if he just told Les that this whole idea was preposterous? That they’d already had one thing go haywire with the plan, and that Les’s idea of ‘damage control’ was moving their scheme out of ‘nasty-but-necessary’ and into ‘downright illegal’? He hadn’t signed on for any of this.
He was concerned about the possible loss of shareholder confidence should Bruce take over the corporate reins. Corporations had their ups and downs and were impacted by many factors—including sheer dumb luck. But with Wayne at the helm, who knew what that would do for PMWE’s share values? Even if Wayne was now mentally fit, who was to say that, without Batman to occupy his time, he wasn’t looking to take a more hands-on approach to the company? And that could prove disastrous. So far as Ron knew, Bruce Wayne had no formal business training whatsoever. The man had left school at the age of fifteen and dropped off the face of the earth, only to return to Gotham a decade later. Not long afterwards, he’d hired Lucius Fox to handle the day-to-day running of the company and devoted his own day to spending as much time away from the board room as possible.
Ron reached for the phone again. His first loyalty was to PMWE, and whatever was in its best interests. And whether those ‘best interests’ included Bruce Wayne in the executive chair or not, Ron was reasonably sure that they didn’t include being on the receiving end of a potentially messy lawsuit which basically boiled down to an attempt to wrest the company away from its majority shareholder. He didn’t want to be a part of it. He couldn’t be. But crossing Les Paxton wasn’t a thing to undertake lightly and without forethought.
He could confront him. Threaten to go to Fox—or Wayne, for that matter, if Paxton didn’t drop the idea. They could contain this without involving False Face. First Sharon’s idea about a restraining order’s effectiveness in her situation was completely wrong: it wouldn’t keep Wayne from the gala or any other public place. It would keep him from approaching her, yes, but Paxton’s original idea had hinged on her approaching Wayne. And there would be hundreds of witnesses at the gala to attest to who confronted whom. The proper thing to do now, Ron realized, was for the PMWE board to distance itself from Sharon Ryerson. Drop the idea; let Wayne come to the gala. Really, just because he was attending a party didn’t mean that he was looking to return to the company so fast. And even if that was a long-term goal, if Wayne was working slowly, then the board could afford to do the same.
As for Sharon, Ron frowned. He really didn’t bear her any ill will. She was a deeply-troubled woman, still mourning the loss of her husband. Although he couldn’t have predicted her taking out the restraining order, the fact remained that she’d probably never have gone that route had the board not decided to involve her. And now, the most sensible thing to do was to disavow her and let her bear the brunt of any repercussions. Threaten her with the same sort of messy legal processes that they’d initially used for Bruce—with one crucial difference. If Bruce was willing to deal with the media spotlight that a drawn-out legal battle would involve, he had the means and ability to fight back for as long as necessary. Sharon didn’t. If she didn’t agree to keep quiet about PMWE’s involvement, the corporate lawyers would make mincemeat out of her. Bottom line: without funds, she couldn’t afford the kind of legal representation she’d need to have a decent chance. PMWE would win and she would be left high and dry. He sighed. Justice and legality didn’t always go hand in hand.
Still, Ron could just tell Paxton—now, today—that hiring False Face was too much, that if Paxton was intent on doing so, then he—Ron Chester—was out.
And Paxton would threaten him with something. Probably to blame him for the whole plan. The board would go along with that, Ron suspected. Someone had to be the fall guy, and most of the other members would just be happy if it wasn’t them. Besides, he was already involved. It hadn’t been Paxton chatting up Sharon Ryerson, nor any of the others. It should have been Ross Hendricks, he remembered. Paxton had designated him from the start. But Ross had pleaded off at the last moment—some client meeting that was running long—and begged Ron to step in. And, like a patsy, he’d done so. Ron mopped his brow. He was already in too deep.
Ronnie, Ronnie... He blinked and looked around the room, wildly. For a moment, he could have sworn he’d heard Great Aunt Maude. But he was alone. Ronnie, when you’re stuck in a hole, the first thing to do is STOP DIGGING!
Ron Chester’s eyes widened. He looked to his computer and moved the mouse to get rid of the screensaver. He called up his project folders. “No, that one’s too bare bones,” he muttered. “Too easy... Nowhere near ready... Ahhhhh!” He reached for his phone again, but he wasn’t calling Paxton or Fox. “Frank? Do you have a moment?”
Frank Orczy, head of media relations, heard him out. Then he sputtered in disbelief. “At this point, we don’t have enough trained people in the department, as it is. We’re hoping to get clearance to hire a few more in a month—”
Chester’s voice cut him off. “It’s not high-level work, but there is a lot of it. Look, we’ve got a bunch of big projects on the burner now, and we don’t want to lose momentum on any of them. Let me think.” He frowned. “How about people who used to work in your area but transferred out? Maybe their current bosses can spare them.”
Orczy considered. “I have had a couple of folk leave in the last twelve months. Louisa Sherriff is already working for you, as I recall...”
Chester nodded. He’d been prepared for that suggestion. “I’ve had some turnover recently,” he said. “She’s already taken on extra duties. I can’t give her more right now.”
“Okay... let me think.” There was a moment’s silence on the line. “Lynwood Nguyen moved over to R&D.”
Ron let doubt color his voice. “They’re busy too at the moment, but I’ll ask. Todorov’s area?”
“Well, I believe Nguyen reports to Curlew, but Todorov’s over Curlew, and he’s probably a better one to talk to.” He considered. “I have another name, for you. Richard Grayson. He was in media relations for just under two years, before he moved on to Risk Management.”
Chester smiled. He’d been waiting for that suggestion. “Who’s in charge over there?”
Chester nodded to himself. Now if Grayson was one of the only available candidates, Paxton shouldn’t suspect anything. Still, he should just make sure... “Anyone else?”
Orczy sniffed. “Nobody you’d want. Frankly, Sherriff would be my first choice for the kind of work you’re describing. If I were you, I’d put her on it, then bring Nguyen and Grayson both on board if I could, and have them take on some of her current projects.”
“Not a bad idea, Frank. I’ll get in touch with Todorov and Simms. Thanks for the thought.” He hung up the phone and let out a deep breath. Step one accomplished...
Bruce had been out the door at 7:45 that morning. If he was going to go through with this, then there was no point in delaying things any further. Sawyer had let him know yesterday that she’d assigned a backgrounder to his case—which meant that by now, the word was out among his peers. They were expecting to be contacted.
He grimaced. Sawyer had told him that the forms he needed to complete would be waiting for him any time after 9 a.m. on Monday. It was now Wednesday. Time to stop procrastinating and get started.
He got caught in the rush of morning traffic, and it was almost nine when he reached his destination. By the time he’d found a vacant spot in a nearby parking garage and made it up the steps of GCPD headquarters, it was five to nine. The way to Police Personnel wasn’t marked, but Bruce had memorized the building blueprints long ago. When Akins had declared him persona non grata, there had still been times when he’d needed to sneak into GCPD unobserved, and knowing the quieter entrances and exits had helped.
While all GCPD workers were municipal employees, the Police Personnel Office was a unit apart from the Gotham City Human Resources office. Following his memory brought Bruce to a small cinder-block room with a water cooler in one corner, a coffee machine in another, and a couple of couches lining the walls. Two uniformed officers were loitering at the cooler. Facing Bruce, directly opposite the door, was a counter topped by a domed window that resembled nothing so much as a movie theatre ticket booth. There was a small barred grille where the glass met the counter. The booth was empty. Peering through the glass, Bruce could see that there was an inner office behind the booth, with a door at the back wall. There was nobody in the office, though.
Bruce glanced at the two officers, but they didn’t seem to notice him. Or at least they were pretending not to. He gave a mental sigh. Brady cops. Jim had explained to him that most police departments—and the GCPD was no exception—had officers on the payroll who were rotten enough to keep off the streets, but not quite “bad” enough to be fired—not without the Department risking a wrongful dismissal suit. Among other offenders, officers who had been known to lie about what a suspect had told them in custody fell into that category. A mistake like that, Jim had explained, followed an officer for life. Any suspect they collared was likely to walk free, simply because any judge or defense attorney worth their salt would summarily discount the testimony of any officer with a known history of falsifying evidence. Brady cops generally ended up working clerical and administrative jobs—like Permits, or Personnel—often, Bruce thought with a measure of irritation, while earning a six-figure income.
He seethed silently while the two men continued to talk among themselves. Five minutes passed. Seven. Ten. Perhaps, Bruce considered, he was mistaken. The officers might be here because this was the closest coffee machine, and he might just have arrived too early. He hadn’t checked what time the office opened. He’d just presumed that if it was open at nine on Monday, it would open at the same time on Wednesday. There had been no hours posted on the door, although it had been unlocked. He cleared his throat.
The officers ignored him.
“Pardon me,” he ventured.
Finally, one of them glanced his way. “Hold your horses, why don’t you, Mac?” he said with some exasperation. “I’ll be there in a second.” He shrugged to his companion. “Sorry, Hawk. Duty beckons.” He looked to Bruce. “Hang on,” he repeated. He clapped the other officer on the shoulder. “Have a good one, Hawk. See ya.”
The two men left the room, but a moment later the door at the back of the inner office opened and the officer-who-was-not-Hawk came in and made a show of puttering around. Five minutes later, he looked up, seeming annoyed to see Bruce still standing there patiently. With a long-suffering sigh, he finally walked into the booth area. “Yeah,” he said, speaking into the microphone in a bored voice. “What do you need?”
Bruce suppressed his irritation. “Commissioner Sawyer told me that there was a packet for me?”
Not a flicker of interest from the officer. “Name?”
Still no reaction. The officer reached down and slammed a thick manila envelope down on the counter. He raised the grille and pushed it forward. There was a large white label stuck to the top of the envelope with a set of typed instructions. Without looking at Bruce or the envelope, the officer began to recite, word-for-word, the information on the label.
“You have seventy-two hours to complete the paperwork.” He met Bruce’s eyes for the first time. “Starting now. Keep your schedule clear for the next seven days.”
“I know,” Bruce started to say. Maggie had told him as much.
“Sir, my instructions are to explain the rules to every applicant who comes around,” the officer said with a twitch of his lips that hinted at a sneer. “It’s procedure. Gotta respect proper procedures now, don’t we? Seeing as we operate by the book and all.”
Bruce caught the not-so-subtle emphasis on the word ‘we,’ but forced himself to smile pleasantly. “Go right ahead.”
“Right. You should have three things inside that. Better look inside to make sure it’s all there. Clock’s ticking.” He looked at Bruce expectantly.
Bruce fought back his annoyance, tore open the envelope and removed a stack of papers.
“First thing you should have in there is a standard application for all Gotham City municipal employees from cops to street sweepers.”
“It’s here,” Bruce nodded. It was six pages long and, from what he could tell, seemed to be asking for basic personal and employment information.
“Next packet has instructions for taking the PHQ online.” The officer smirked. “That’s a Personal History Questionnaire, in case you were wondering.”
Bruce nodded again, looking at the second stapled sheaf of papers. It was almost as thick as the first. He flipped through it idly.
“PHQ has about a hundred sixty-seven questions to answer. You have two hours from the time you log in. If you need to get up for any reason, remember to pause the program. The timer will resume automatically when you continue.” The officer snorted. “Sure glad I didn't have to go through that hell you're about to experience.” He sounded downright cheerful. “Oh, and if you don’t finish the test by the deadline, it’s an automatic fail.” He smiled then, as if relishing the thought. “Flunk it? You can forget your delusions about being one of us.”
Bruce blinked, barely processing the jibe. A hundred and sixty-seven? What was the interviewer going to have left to ask him at the face-to-face? He forced himself to ignore the officer’s tone. It wasn’t like he hadn’t had to endure jabs like that during his two years in Arkham.
“You clear about the app and the PHQ?” the personnel officer asked, after Bruce stood unmoving for a few seconds too long.
He flipped through the pages quickly. “Yes.”
“Good. Don’t miss that last sheet. It’s your appointment for the Live Scan. If you double-check the date and time, you’ll find it’s set up for... oh, about an hour from now.”
“What?” The syllable escaped him involuntarily. Why hadn’t Sawyer told him? If he hadn’t come by today...
The officer continued in a monotone, as though Bruce hadn’t spoken. “The Live Scan is the process we use to take your fingerprints electronically and run them against any records on file with the U.S. Department of Justice, the feds, the state, and other local agencies' databases. Don’t worry,” he added. “It won’t leave you with ink stains.”
“You said it’s in an hour?”
The officer glanced at his watch. “Forty-one minutes and counting,” he said. “Ain’t it a shame you’re just Batman and not the Flash?” This time, he did sneer. “Better get moving.”
Bruce clenched his teeth. “Thanks for your help,” he muttered as he spun on his heel and strode briskly out of the office.
On the steps outside GCPD headquarters, he called Barbara on his cell phone. “O, I need to know how quickly you can restore my fingerprint records to the necessary databases...”
Ron came back from lunch to find two young men waiting in his outer office. He smiled. “I hope I haven’t kept you gentlemen waiting,” he said heartily. “Mr. Grayson. Mr. Nguyen?” The two nodded. Ron shook their hands. “Come on in and I’ll show you what I need.” He glanced at his secretary. “Thanks, Bonnie.”
When the two men entered his office, Ron’s expression turned serious. “We’re launching a couple of major initiatives over the next six months. Grayson, you’re in Risk Management, so I’m sure you can appreciate the need for confidentiality.”
Grayson nodded. Nguyen followed suit.
“Excellent. For that reason, I’d like to ask that you refrain from discussing the contents of your project files with one another. I want to stress,” he added, “that it’s not because I don’t trust you. It’s because, to be blunt, this building isn’t soundproof. A lot of people think that corporate spying involves some shadowy figure breaking into an office after hours, or a master hacker figuring out the right passwords. That happens, but it’s rarer than you might expect.” He looked at the two of them. Grayson was nodding; Nguyen seemed to be feigning polite interest. “Many times, a corporate spy is someone who walks into the building acting like they belong here, follows an employee off the elevator, and keeps following them into a card-restricted area. This is a big place, and nobody knows everybody. What they do know is that, if they’ve opened a door and they see someone running—particularly if that someone is pushing a cleaning cart, or stumbling under a stack of books and papers—common courtesy dictates that they hold the door.” He leaned back in his chair. “And common courtesy may allow a corporate spy into a restricted area. Once inside, that spy might learn a lot of classified information—just by walking up and down the hallways or hanging out in a locked stall in the bathroom. People talk among themselves; and sometimes, they talk about things that shouldn’t be overheard. So, I want to be clear: work on these files by yourselves. Don’t discuss the contents with one another. You’ll find your instructions in a sealed envelope in the first folder. If you have any questions, no matter how trivial... you both have your smart phones on you?”
“Text or IM me. Any questions, comments, suggestions, you may have. If you can’t find me, Louisa Sherriff is off-site today, but you’re taking over some of her duties, so she probably knows what’s going on.”
Grayson frowned, but kept silent. The look on his face, though, told Ron that he was probably wondering what the rush was and why they weren’t waiting for the project lead to return.
“Things are piling up pretty fast,” Chester went on. “I’d feel a bit better if you two started putting a dent in the workload right now. So,” he smiled, “roll up your sleeves, gentlemen. Mr. Nguyen,” he picked up one stack of folders and handed them over, “these are for you. Mr. Grayson, here are yours. Now, if you’ll follow me, I’ll show you where you’re going to be working...”
Dick found himself in a small office with a chair, desk, and computer. From the size of the room and the quality of the furniture, it appeared to have belonged to middle management, but going by the lack of personal effects, nobody else was using it now.
Dick frowned. Ron Chester had seemed affable enough, but something had been bothering him. After that speech about confidentiality... Dick wondered whether something about one of the projects might have been leaked. Maybe he’d ask Oracle to check on it. Or perhaps he’d do a bit of after-hours detective work. Idly, he opened the top folder and removed the envelope with his name on it. That struck him as a bit odd. Nadine had implied that she was loaning him to marketing to do basic “grunt-work.” Unless he or Lyn had specific skills that were an exact match for some aspect of the project—in which case, one might think they’d have been brought on board sooner, it shouldn’t really matter who got what. He shook his head, smiling. This was one mystery he could solve easily enough. He tore open the envelope and extracted a folded sheet of paper.
We need to meet off-site as soon as possible. Today would be best. Can you recommend a time and place? It is vital that we not be overheard.
Dick stared at the page for a long moment. Then he looked at the papers in the folder. They were all blank. He checked the other folders and found more clean paper. His eyebrows lifted. Chester was going to a lot of trouble just to find a way to contact him that wouldn’t arouse suspicion. He reached for his phone and texted:
Looks like I finished my work. Want to grab a coffee at the Sundollars in the Stock Exchange?
A moment later the response came back.
Too close. Robinson Park? In front of the castle?
I can be there in twenty minutes.
This time, Chester’s response came a moment slower.
I’ll take Pierce Avenue. You take a different route. Go now. I’ll leave in 10 minutes.
Dick texted his acknowledgement. He started to leave, but stopped. If Chester was right about being observed, it wouldn’t do to leave the folders lying around. Anyone finding the clean pages would either realize that something was up, or possibly suspect Dick of substituting blank papers and making off with the information.
He headed back to his cubicle in Risk Management, locked the folders in his desk and grabbed his coat.
The Live Scan went by without incident. Bruce was back at the manor by noon. Nobody else was home; Selina had taken Helena downtown to do some shopping. Jim was likely down the path at the guest cottage where he had been living since Bruce’s release from Arkham. He sighed. He should be happy to have the house to himself; if that cop in Personnel hadn’t just been yanking his chain, he didn’t need anything distracting him from the task at hand. Still, it had never been particularly pleasant to come back to an empty house. He smiled ruefully. Selina would be home soon enough, and then he’d be wishing he’d tackled the police application when he didn’t have a toddler clamoring for his attention. Best to get started.
The standard application held no surprises for him. Name, address, date of birth, employment history—he’d rarely had to fill one of these out before, but he found it more tedious than onerous. It only took him a few minutes to complete, but it felt like longer. When he’d signed the last page, he took the PHQ questionnaire downstairs to the Cave typed in the url specified in the information packet, and logged in with the username and password that had been provided.
The first few questions were a rehash of the basic personal information he’d just filled out. His lips twitched at question 9.
List and describe all Scars, Distinguishing Marks, Tattoos, etc., and where they are located.
All his scars? Did the text box have a character limit? He rolled his eyes and started typing. He didn’t run out of room.
Next he was asked to list dependants and family members. He hesitated. Dick was a given, of course. Tim gave him pause. He’d been Tim’s legal guardian, but Tim was now over 18. “Former guardian” wasn’t a family tie. He left Tim out for the time being. He frowned. Would listing Helena open up a can of worms? Probably. They’d want to know who the other parent was, what their current relationship was, and, from what Jim had told him, they’d probably want to interview Selina as a character reference. That would be problematic, considering that Catwoman was still wanted in connection with several unsolved crimes. He’d need to discuss how she felt about walking into GCPD headquarters before volunteering her name. As far as Helena was concerned... Bruce considered. From a purely legal standpoint, there was nothing to tie him to Helena. Safest not to mention anything about her for now. He moved on to the next section with a pang, as though denying the relationship on paper had been a repudiation of his true feelings for her. What was the next question?
List five persons NOT RELATED to you and NOT FORMER EMPLOYEES who have known you at least FIVE YEARS.
This was going to raise a few eyebrows. He smiled as he typed Jim’s name. Tim’s came next. Then he added, Superman, Flash, Doctor Mid-Nite. He filled in the JLA’s contact information for the last three.
The questionnaire moved into the “yes-or-no” section.
Have you ever been ordered to pay child support or alimony? That was a “no.”
Have you ever been terminated or resigned in lieu of termination? That was a bit trickier, given his current status. He hadn’t exactly been terminated, but... But nothing, he realized. If he hadn’t been terminated, then the answer was “no,” end of discussion.
The questions continued:
Have you ever been delinquent on income tax payments?
If yes, was it more than once?
Were you ever the subject of a military criminal investigation?
Has your license/privilege to drive, ever been Suspended or Revoked? (If “Yes,” explain.)
As a driver, have you ever been involved in an accident where you left the scene without identifying yourself (hit& run)? If yes, please explain and give dates.
He sighed. He’d never hit a person, but he’d caused quite a bit of property damage driving the Batmobile through plate-glass windows and the like. He thought about responding in the negative, but “hit and run” did apply to fixtures as well as to people. He brought up a new window on his monitor and started searching his case logs for the necessary information. At least, he’d always taken care to send adequate payment to cover the damages. They might take that into consideration.
List each traffic accident that you have been involved in, whether your fault or not, as the driver of the vehicle.
He winced. This was going to take a while...
When Dick approached the castle in Robinson Park, he found Ron Chester there ahead of him. “Okay,” he said in a low tone. “Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?”
Chester glanced about nervously, as though expecting paparazzi to be lurking behind a nearby tree. Finally, he asked, “How’s your... well, your father?”
Dick blinked. “He’s doing better,” he said carefully.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Chester replied. “This... there’ve been some concerns.”
Dick waited. “Okay...”
Chester lit a cigarette. “Have you spoken with him in the last couple of days?”
“Yeah, why?” When Chester hesitated again, Dick said, “Look, Mr. Chester, don’t take this the wrong way, but I do a lot better when people just tell me what’s on their mind. I mean,” he smiled, “I’m a decent enough detective, I guess, but I’m no telepath.”
Chester took another drag on the cigarette. “Has he mentioned anything about a restraining order?” The question came out so quickly that the words were nearly garbled.
Dick frowned. “No. No, he didn’t. What’s going on?”
Chester hunched forward. “That’s... kind of a long story...”
Bruce clenched his jaw again and wondered why the rack and iron maiden evoked such horror in most people. He knew the answer: most people had never taken a PHQ. The questions seemed endless. He’d reached the multiple choice section by now.
Approximately how often do you lose your temper?
a. Once per month or less
c. 1-5 times per month
e. More than once per week
g. More than once per day
He checked ‘a,’ reflecting that his experience today had very nearly made it ‘b’.
Have you ever attacked anyone in anger in the last 12 months?
c. Once or twice
e. 3-5 times
g. 6 or more times
He scowled, reminded himself that Joker counted, and checked ‘b’. His face drooped as he read the next question:
...Within the last 5 years?
He wasn’t sure what was more ludicrous: his thinking that he had a snowball’s chance in hell of passing this thing, or Sawyer’s conviction of same. Jim had to be wrong. This was an elaborate way of letting him know that there was no way that he would ever be able to put on the suit again with the GCPD’s sanction.
His fury started to build. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t like it was going to lose him any more points off of this damned questionnaire—
Abruptly, the sneering face of the Personnel cop rose in his memory. Knew you didn’t have it in you. Knew you’d give up your delusions of being one of us once the going got a little tough. Knew...
If he’d had heat vision, there would be two holes in the screen right now. Instead, he saw only the question hanging there, awaiting his input. “D.” They already knew the answer to this one anyway. And while the most sensible thing to do was walk away, quitting simply wasn’t in his nature.
Sawyer knew what was on the test and she still thought he could qualify, he reminded himself.
A memory surfaced from months earlier. He’d resolved to take his first step back to what he’d once been: he’d asked Dick to train him. Dick had responded by ordering him to do twenty push-ups, but that hadn’t been the real test.
For the first time in hours, Bruce smiled. The real test had been whether he was willing to take direction, or whether he planned to run roughshod as he had in the past.
It didn’t make sense for Sawyer to set him up for a test he was bound to fail—unless that was never the test in the first place. She needed to know whether he was willing to play by the existing rules before she went about trying to bend them for him.
She needed to know that she wasn’t about to sanction another Brady cop.
Bruce stared at the question for another minute. He paused the program, got up, walked over to the exercise area, and sat cross-legged on the mat. He closed his eyes and began a basic relaxation technique. After five minutes, he felt his tension drain away.
Ten minutes later, he walked back to the computer and resumed the questionnaire.
Dick heard Ron Chester out without interruption. When the VP had finished, Dick nodded slowly. “I appreciate your telling me. Thanks.” He took a breath. “Okay. So, Paxton’s still waiting to hear from you about the setup?”
Chester nodded. “Obviously, I’d like to turn him down, but I’m a bit concerned about retaliation.”
“I hear you.” He paused for a beat. “Call him. Tell him you’ll keep the meeting.”
“Call him. Or call her to make sure that there is a meeting, and then call him.”
The VP swallowed hard. “And then?”
“You go to the meeting, I guess.” He smiled, but there was something about that smile that made Chester take an involuntary step backwards. “Leave the rest to me...”
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