Post by Admin on May 7, 2015 16:20:51 GMT -5
Issue #10: “Reckoning”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #10: “Reckoning”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
How swiftly those who've made a pact
Can come to overlook the fact
Or wish the reckoning be delayed…
…you're walking on the pavement cracks.
Don't know what's gonna come to pass.
Now y'know the devil's got your number.
Y'know he's gonna find y'.
Y'know he's right behind y',
He's starin' through your windows…
—Willy Russell, “Shoes upon the Table”
Chiarello froze. He’d known that something like this could happen when he’d accepted this assignment. He wasn’t entirely surprised by his current circumstances. If anything, he was annoyed at having been caught off-guard.
“Give me the case!” the voice repeated harshly.
Out of the corner of his eye, Chiarello saw a heavyset man crouching next to him. There was a layer of mud on his boots, he noted.
“I won’t ask again,” the voice warned.
Chiarello sighed. “I’m lying on top of it,” he said, keeping his tone even. “You’re going to have to let me move.”
The muzzle dug deeper into his shoulder blades for a moment. Then the pressure on his spine eased as the gun withdrew. “Okay. Keep it slow. Don’t give me a reason to use this.”
Chiarello nodded once. Then, carefully, he rolled onto his left side, so that his back was nearly touching the car parked next to him, hefted the briefcase, and passed it over.
The gunman kept his weapon trained as he reached over and grasped the handle. “Okay,” he said. “Get up. Come on, move!”
“Gimme a sec,” Chiarello muttered. “I’m not as young as I used to be—agh!”
“I’m warning you...”
Chiarello groaned. “Look, Mac, I’m sorry, but I can’t get up that easy anymore.” He fought to keep his voice level. The guy had the briefcase. There was no reason that he’d need a hostage on top of that. So, either his attacker thought that he had additional information, beyond what was in the briefcase...
...Or he meant to kill him in a location that wasn’t crawling with cops.
Chiarello forced himself to remain calm as he continued, “Give me a minute to get some feeling back in my leg so I can stand, will you?”
The gunman cursed loudly. “Hurry it up.”
Chiarello nodded. Then, with a pained expression, he braced one hand on the dusty concrete floor and began to massage his lower leg with the other.
An instant later, an ear-splitting noise erupted from the briefcase. Simultaneously, the gunman shrieked, dropped both case and weapon, and frantically clutched his left hand in his right.
“Fast enough for you?” Chiarello asked, retrieving his case and picking up the fallen gun. He rose easily and pointed it at his unresisting former assailant. “Now where can I take you where you won’t be able to pull something like this for a while, and where you can have plenty of time to think about how you got to this point? Oh, geez. Guess what building is right over our heads.”
The other man swallowed hard as Chiarello nodded. “All right,” the backgrounder continued. “Walk ahead of me to the elevator. You here alone?”
The other man frowned. “I...”
Chiarello drew a breath. “How many and where are they?”
“Just one and he’s here,” a light voice said. “Sorry if we startled you.” Two costumed figures emerged from between the rows of parked cars. They were supporting a third person between them—a man with his hands cuffed before him.
Chiarello frowned. “Harrier. And... Ms. Martian, is it?”
The green-skinned girl smiled. “Yes, that’s right, Sir.”
“Stun-alarm briefcase?” Harrier asked, with a faint note of excitement in his voice.
Chiarello nodded. “I keep the remote in an ankle holster.”
“What are you kids doing here, anyway?” The backgrounder demanded. “This area’s off-limits to the public.”
Harrier didn’t bat an eye. “You’re carrying some pretty sensitive information around. We’re watching out for you.” His eyes flickered to the injured man before them. “Not that you needed us tonight.”
Chiarello’s frown yielded to a reluctant smile. “Thanks... but it could have been a different story if you two hadn’t taken care of the backup.” He exhaled noisily. “Well, if you caught him, you might as well bring him upstairs with me. Come on.”
“Detective Chiarello,” Ms. Martian ventured, “you’re no doubt aware that the threat to you isn’t just physical. I’m not the only telepath on this planet.”
“I realize that,” he replied with a cough, “but I think you’ll excuse me if I prefer not to have any of you people messing around with my head. That’s assuming you’re giving me a choice,” he added pointedly.
The girl sighed. “I understand. And I wish I could say that ‘of course’ you have a choice, only... I realize...” Her eyes flickered to their two captives. “May we speak in your office afterward?”
Chiarello let out a long-suffering sigh. “Fine. Just let me let my wife know I’m going to be late getting home. Again...”
“Either of you want a coffee?” Chiarello asked, as they walked up the stairs to his office after depositing the two would-be abductors in a holding cell.
The teens politely declined. There was no further conversation until Chiarello ushered them into the room he’d been so sure he’d left behind for the day and closed the door behind them. “Okay,” he said. “Talk. And if your suggestion involves giving you or anyone else access to my mind or memories, the answer’s no.”
Ms. Martian lowered her eyes. “You have to admit, it would make things easier.”
“There are a lot of ideas that would make things ‘easier’. That doesn’t make them ‘right’. Now do you have a Plan B, or are we done, here?”
The green-skinned girl hesitated. Then, slowly, she extended her hand and opened it to reveal a metal disc, threaded on a slender chain. “Keep it next to your skin at all times,” she said. “It’s a portable version of the telepathic jamming field that Martian Manhunter and I set up in this building. It’s a temporary solution,” she added.
“And I suppose a more permanent one would be wiping my mind of all sensitive information about you people? No dice. Besides, it wouldn’t do much good. We keep recordings of all interviews on file.”
“Yes,” Ms. Martian nodded. “I know. Actually, a more permanent solution would be to teach you how to shield your thoughts. There are some basic techniques, which most people can learn—although I’d still recommend using the jammer as a precaution. Particularly while you’re sleeping. It’s waterproof,” she added, as Chiarello reached for it. “And unbreakable. As is the chain.”
Chiarello sighed. “And I suppose I’ll need to keep wearing this for the rest of my life?”
“You said you didn’t want the other options,” Harrier spoke up.
“No. First of all, I don’t know if I trust anyone to pick and choose which memories you’re going to allow me to keep. Secondly, it seems like it wears off after a while anyway.”
“Well,” Ms. Martian said, “not when I do it. And I don’t need to erase those memories, so much as bury them.” She leaned slightly forward as she spoke. “When you were a child,” she began, “or even when you were older, you watched television, correct?”
“Um... I still do,” Chiarello replied.
“Yes, but I suspect that the programs you watched were different. If I were to ask you now to give me a short synopsis of a specific episode that you watched some twenty years ago, you probably wouldn’t be able to, right?”
“Depends on the episode, but I’ll give you that point, for the sake of argument.”
“Thank you,” Ms. Martian smiled. “Now suppose that I were to start out by saying,” she tilted her head to one side, “Hey! Remember that one when the kids got worried because the dog was eating cat food?”
Harrier’s hand flew to his mouth as he coughed, but not before Chiarello saw his grin.
Ms. Martian elbowed her teammate in the ribs. “You might not remember that scene,” she continued, “or think about it for years. But when someone brings it up, the memory will surface. What I propose to do would be similar, but I would take the further precaution of anchoring those memories to a specific location, namely this building. In other words, within these walls, if someone were to inquire of you regarding our... internal affairs, the relevant memories would be accessible to you. It would still be to your discretion what you choose to disclose.” She sighed. “And that is the major drawback: I can’t use this technique on everyone. And I won’t use it on an unwilling party. Should you, of your own volition, choose to divulge your findings, the safeguards that I’m proposing will not prevent you from faxing your interview transcripts to the Gotham Post, or... or talking to unauthorized personnel within these walls. Or reviewing your notes off-site, for that matter—although the instant that you put them away, you will also be putting their contents out of your mind. This technique is meant to protect you from casual telepathic probes when you’re in an unshielded area—by keeping that specific knowledge buried in your memories. It’s somewhat akin to hiding a rare book among an assortment of other volumes in a bookcase.”
Chiarello’s lower lip jutted out as he considered her words. “I’ll take it under advisement,” he said finally, as he slipped the jammer chain over his head and then tucked the disc inside his shirt. “Thanks. Is that all for now?”
Harrier and Ms. Martian looked at one another and then back to the detective. Both nodded.
“Right.” He got up. “Then I’ll walk you out. Wait. Can I drop you somewhere?”
Harrier shook his head. “Thanks for the offer, but we have our own transportation.”
“Lucky you. So... you’ve been hanging around for the last couple of days, keeping an eye out?”
“Well, not us personally,” Harrier said, as he and Ms. Martian followed Chiarello into the hallway, “but yes,” he continued while the detective locked the office door behind them, “some of us have been keeping you under surveillance.”
“I suppose I would resent that,” Chiarello rumbled, “if I were too pigheaded to realize that if you hadn’t been there a few minutes ago, I probably wouldn’t be here now.” He smiled. “You’re planning on tailing my car, too?”
The two Teen Titans exchanged a guilty look. “Well, until the Aparo. Then...” Harrier frowned, “is it Superman tonight?”
“Hawkman. Unless he was called away, in which case, yes, Superman will take over.”
“I’m honored.” He sighed. “Fine. Go on and do what you have to. I won’t try to lose you. Not tonight, anyway.”
Ms. Martian laughed. “Thank you, Detective. Enjoy your drive.”
Hal left after supper. Bruce waited until Selina went to put Helena to bed before motioning to Barry to accompany him down to the cave.
“Um...” Barry cleared his throat. “Look, about—”
“If you’re going to apologize for not coming to visit earlier,” Bruce held up a hand, “don’t. I wouldn’t have been amenable in Arkham. And afterwards,” he shook his head, “it’s unlikely that I would have been... comfortable... reconnecting.”
Barry nodded slowly. “I guess I can understand that. I mean, not that it’s exactly the same thing,” he continued, “but I think I can kinda relate to some of that. After I came back, let’s just say it was a readjustment. So many people I used to know seemed... different. And I wasn’t sure if they’d changed, or I had, or if having been away for so long, my memories were playing tricks on me.” He sighed. “There was a point when I was spending most of my workday just holed up in the crime lab and then racing to get home so I could shut myself up with a few good books and try to pretend time hadn’t marched on without me.” He shook his head. “Sometimes, it was like I could just slip back into the old routine... and then something stupid would remind me that I’d lost out on a few years. No more VHS tapes, or cassettes,” he shook his head. “And when did cell phones get so... tiny?”
Bruce nodded. “And people expect you to be able to pick up the pieces and move on, and when you don’t, they try to hide their disappointment, but...”
“...when you do, they can’t let it pass without a comment on how well you’re coping.”
Bruce sighed. “They mean well.”
They shared a fleeting smile. Bruce took a deep breath. “I... could use some insight,” he admitted. “I’m trying to steel myself to what lies ahead if I manage to pass these... preliminaries. Jim and Dick have been open about their experiences, but yours are a bit more recent. I was wondering...”
Barry grinned, glad to be back on easier ground. “Sure. What did you want to know?”
“Trouble?” Dick asked. “Or just tired?” Wally and Linda had been gone for an hour, but Barbara had spent the better part of the day cooking in preparation.
She looked away from her monitors and gave Dick a weary smile. “A bit of both, I think. Someone made an attempt on Chiarello, earlier. Luckily, Tim and M’Gann were in place, but now he knows we’re watching.”
Dick frowned. “How’d he take it?”
“Well, he’s not thrilled about it, but he understands. Actually,” Barbara smiled, “Tim said he was carrying a booby-trapped attaché case. Remote-controlled stun-alarm, Kevlar-exterior... it’s the kind of thing we should have ordered for him.”
Dick let out a low whistle. “Glad to know someone’s taking this seriously. I wonder if GCPD footed the bill for it or he paid out of pocket. Those things don’t come cheap.”
Barbara nodded. “We can’t watch out for him forever. And... he’s married. One daughter—she’s a sophomore at Ann Arbor.”
“She’s probably safer there.” Dick nodded. “Okay.”
“Where are you going?”
Dick was already moving toward the door, his expression grim. “Off to suit up. Then I’m going to pay a visit to GCPD holding and find out how those guys knew what Chiarello had in his briefcase. Because somehow, I don’t think he’s been talking about how he’s spent the last couple of days to very many people, so I want to know who found out, and who else they might’ve told.” He doubled back, features softening for a moment as his lips found hers. Then he was speeding out the door with a hasty “Don’t wait up,” as he crossed the threshold.
In the privacy of his den, Chiarello opened his briefcase. Noreen was in the dining room, engaged in a high-stakes conference call with a team of investors in Seoul and was unlikely to disturb him for a while. Besides, she always knocked first.
He brought his hand up to the base of his neck and felt the outline of the pendant beneath the fabric of his shirt. He sighed, debating whether he ought to suggest that Noreen take a week or two and go to South Korea to close whatever deal she was trying to make in person. She’d have questions that he wouldn’t be able to answer, but she’d do it. She knew that in his line of work, he had a tendency to dig up secrets that might be safer left buried.
There was a tentative tap on his window. Chiarello took a breath and pushed aside the shade. He wasn’t surprised to see who it was. He raised the glass. “You’re handling my home security?” He asked the cowled figure standing outside.
Batman shook his head. “Sorry, no. But you are under protection.”
“Yeah, I gathered that earlier,” he remarked. “So what can I do for you?”
“Just thought you might want to know: those guys who were waiting for you in the garage? Believe it or not, it had nothing to do with Bruce. “
Chiarello raised his eyebrows. “Do tell?”
As Batman opened his mouth to speak, Chiarello held up a hand. “Look, I have neighbors, and while they’re not normally nosy, I’m not sure I’d want to explain what you’re doing in my backyard. Or if I could,” he added in an undertone. “You want to come in?”
Batman hesitated. He appeared to come to a decision. “You’re here alone?”
“No, my wife is here. That a problem?”
Batman shook his head. “It shouldn’t be. I’ll come around to the front.”
“The first thing you should know,” Batman said, almost before he’d come past the vestibule, “is that it had absolutely nothing to do with anybody’s secrets.”
“Really?” Chiarello’s eyebrows shot up. “What then?” He gestured to the cowled figure to follow him as he padded back to the den. Batman did so, waiting until they were both in the dark-paneled room with the door closed before he spoke.
“Ever heard of a guy named Brick, aka Danny Brickwell?”
The detective frowned. “Mobster, yeah. But he’s out on the West Coast, isn’t he?”
Batman nodded. “Star City. Two months ago, one of his lieutenants took out a rival boss. From what those guys in holding told me, Brick sent the guy to Gotham to lie low until things blow over. He’s got a couple of connections here. One of them spotted Green Arrow in town—”
“—and thought he was here about Brick’s man,” Chiarello nodded. “It makes sense.” He smiled. “So I can breathe easier for a day or two, at least until the media gets wind of this. And they will.”
“I know,” Batman’s mouth was set in a grim line. “We’re keeping an eye on the situation.” His lips twitched. “As you probably figured out tonight.”
“Yeah, but for how long?”
“There are a lot of us, Detective Chiarello. Some of us aren’t as active or high-profile as we used to be. While we can’t be everywhere at all times, we can come close.” He smiled. “And I suspect that your performance earlier wasn’t a one-off. You may not need our assistance.”
Chiarello grunted. “As long as you’re here, I may as well save myself a phone call. You free for an interview on Sunday afternoon around two o’clock?”
Batman considered. “I’ll let you know if there are any conflicts, but that should be doable.” He smiled. “Or you can dig up your notes from five years ago. From what I recall, they should be pretty thorough.”
Chiarello’s laugh was closer to a bark. “First, that was about you, not your dad. Second? Do you mean to tell me that you’re the same person you were five years ago? I don’t think so.”
The smile vanished “Point.”
“Thanks for stopping by,” Chiarello said formally. “If you’d like some free advice? If it turns out you do have plans for Sunday, change them. Your father should be coming out of his psych eval, shortly after I aim to finish our session. You might want to stick around until he’s done.”
Batman’s lips parted slightly in surprise. An instant later, his composure returned. “Thanks. For the tip. I can see myself out.”
“Nah, I’ll walk you to the door, Batman. Thanks for stopping by.”
As they were halfway down the hall, the dining room door opened and a dark-haired woman stepped out. “Maury, is someone here...?” Her voice trailed off as her eyes grew wide. “Um...”
“Uh...” Chiarello coughed, as he tried to sound casual. “Batman just had to stop by for a minute. Police business.”
Batman inclined his head. “Sorry if we disturbed you.”
“N-no,” Noreen Chiarello said. “Not at all.” She shot her husband a look. “I... Did Maury offer you a cup of coffee, because—”
“Not necessary,” he said, dropping his usual gravelly tones. “I was just leaving. Detective.” He ducked his head. “Ma’am.” As Chiarello opened the front door for him, Batman whispered, “Next time, either tell her first, or show me to a window. Preferably second-story.”
After his guest had gone, Chiarello went back to his notes. He hadn’t had a chance to respond to Drake’s message. Apparently, the guy was backpacking across Europe and didn’t have easy access to a phone, but in his voice mail message, he’d indicated that he’d try to set something up. He’d left an email address, too. Chiarello sighed. He preferred face-to-face contact, but time was of the essence with Wayne’s case. He considered. With all of the other people he needed to talk to, was it that essential that he interview Tim Drake?
He went over his notes. Drake had achieved a certain level of notoriety some years back by sneaking into Gotham during the No Man’s Land. Chiarello snorted. He wondered how the kid had managed to get past the armed troops, the guarded bridges, and the mines in the river. Wayne had filed for guardianship after Drake’s father had died... He frowned. That had been shortly after the mob war. He rifled through the file photos and his eye fell on a newspaper clipping. Drake had been at the funeral of a classmate shot at the beginning of that incident. Aquista’s kid. He shook his head. From the photo, it didn’t look like any of her other classmates had shown up. Interesting. It looked like Drake had been close to her. He checked the date of the clipping and shook his head. Darla Aquista’s funeral had been exactly one week before the death of Jack Drake. To have lost a girlfriend and a father so close together...
Chiarello froze. And Drake had moved to Bludhaven less than a month later. He chewed on his lower lip thoughtfully, remembering what Wayne had told him about Harrier, that night at the bar. And if Harrier and Robin were the same person, and Harrier had also lost his father and his girlfriend and...
He sat unmoving for several long moments, as the evidence whirled through his mind and slowly dropped into place. Then he reached for the message pad on which he’d written the email address that Drake had given him and moved his mouse to banish the screensaver.
Enjoy your trip, he typed into the message text box. I think I’ve just about figured out everything I need to. Should that change, I’ll be in touch.
“Have a seat, Jim,” Chiarello directed. “Thanks for coming by.”
The former police commissioner settled into the padded chair with a sigh. “I’d say it was my pleasure, but, I think I told you a long time ago in the break-room that I hated being interviewed. It hasn’t changed.”
Chiarello chuckled. “I’ll try to keep it as painless as possible. Guess the two of you have a history,” he said. “I mean... you worked with the guy for over a decade and now you’ve moved into manor, I think?”
“Caretaker’s cottage, actually.”
“Ah, I see. So you’re close with him.”
Chiarello’s eyebrows shot up. “Even though he operates outside the law—or did for a number of years.”
Gordon nodded. “You can arguably say the same for any member of the Justice League. Look, you remember what the law was like when I started with GCPD. Hell, if I hadn’t trusted him, I doubt I’d be here talking to you now. I’d have either made a few compromises I couldn’t live with or... let’s just say, Loeb would have made it look like an accident.”
“I told you to try for the FBI,” Chiarello grinned.
“And I told you, ‘Not in this lifetime,’” Jim smiled back. “Police work is in my family’s blood and has been for over a century. I’m not even the first ‘Commissioner James Gordon’—that would have been my father in Lakeside.”
“Lakeside?” Chiarello asked blankly.
“Little town in upstate New York. He moved to Chicago after the war and took an academy position.” He shook his head. “Joining the feds just never entered my mind. Besides, no matter how prudent that move might have been, it still would’ve felt like abandoning Gotham.” Jim smiled again. “I think that’s probably why Batman and I connected. With his money, and with what this place took from him, he could’ve abandoned the city years ago. But he stuck with it because he felt he could make a difference. And he was right. He didn’t just attack the criminals we couldn’t touch. His family built this city up. He continued that legacy. And after the earthquake, he rebuilt it from the ground up.”
Chiarello made a notation on his pad. “Why do you think he wants to join us?”
Jim sighed. “You might say it’s because Sawyer’s twisting his arm—and that’s probably why he’s jumping through all of your hoops now, instead of backing out and doing things his way. The truth is, the sole reason that he does what he does is because of what this city took from him.”
Jim nodded. “He told me once that he wanted to make Gotham a place where no other child would have to see his loved ones murdered in front of him. So... when it comes to urban renewal, his money is at the forefront. When it comes to philanthropy, he’s there. When it comes to getting crime off the streets, he’s doing that too. Has done it for years, and the city’s better for it. If you ask me, what he’s doing now isn’t the least bit incompatible with his long-term goal.”
“Maybe,” Chiarello said. “There is the matter of the brutality of his approach. At least in the past. Shouldn’t we be concerned about a reoccurrence? The press would be all over that.”
“He’s had anger issues,” Jim nodded. “He’s been working on them for over a year and a half.”
“I know he attacked you when he was drugged. Is it possible that the drug didn’t ‘make him violent’ so much as weaken his control?” Seeing Jim’s stony expression, he continued, “Look. If a person commits murder while drunk or drugged, the judge doesn’t throw the case out. It may mean a difference of degree: Murder One to Two or Two to Manslaughter. But ‘too drunk to know what he was doing’ isn’t normally grounds for acquittal.”
“Well, for starters,” Jim shot back, “he didn’t kill me. Second, he didn’t take the drug voluntarily.” He took a deep breath. “I’m not stupid, Maury. I get why you’re concerned about this, but I think maybe you’d be better off checking the records for sentences meted out to individuals committing crimes under the influence of Scarecrow’s fear toxin or Poison Ivy’s pheromones. The law treats those people as victims, and rightly so. If Bruce had knowingly taken the Desoxyn, I’d agree with you. He didn’t.”
Chiarello nodded slowly. “Since his release, have you ever seen him out of control?”
Jim shook his head. “Angry, yes. But not out of control.”
“Angry. What about?”
Jim sighed. “He’s used to being in control—of himself and of a given situation. It took him a while to accept that, when it came to the terms of his release, he wasn’t—isn’t. I’d say, more than anything, it’s been the restrictions he’s had to abide by.”
“Mmm,” Chiarello made another notation. “Have you seen him attempt to circumvent them?”
“No. I’ve seen him question them. I know he’s asked me about whether a particular action would be considered a violation of those restrictions.”
“Can you give me a f’r’instance?”
Jim nodded. “Shortly after his release, he decided to tackle a bit of gardening. Now, as you’d expect, given that nobody had attended to the grounds for over two years, it was something of a jungle. We weren’t sure it was safe to use a lawnmower, seeing as the weeds were waist-high in some spots, and we had no idea what sort of roots or rocks might be under them. Bruce asked me whether there was any restriction on his using a machete to clear a path.”
“Ah,” Chiarello leaned back. “At this point, he’d been out how long?”
Jim thought back. “Less than a week. He’d just gone back to the manor.”
“So, you’re saying that right from the start, he was trying to comply with the restrictions.”
“Were there any violations?”
Jim considered. “Not that I witnessed, no. I’m not saying he didn’t want to. There were plenty of times when it was obvious that the rules were chafing him. The truth is, if he had decided to flout them, I couldn’t have done anything to stop him other than file a report after the fact.” He gestured to the cane that rested against the arm of his chair. “But he knows how to channel his anger. I guess that, in the past, he saved it for his night activities—and even then, when he cut loose, he kept control. These last few months, he’s had other outlets: yoga, gardening, exercise. Plus, he’s still seeing his therapist.”
“So if you were in my place, you’d recommend hiring him?”
Jim smiled. “Absolutely.”
“So, Chiarello repeated dubiously, “you had no idea that he was Batman?”
Lucius Fox sighed. “It sounds incredible, I know, but Bruce always did put on a good act. And even though I saw through it, I have to say that it never seriously occurred to me that he could be Batman.”
Chiarello frowned. “I don’t mean to doubt your word,” he said, “but surely the technology that Batman uses struck you as familiar?”
“Of course,” Lucius nodded. “But here’s the thing: PMWE doesn’t have a monopoly on technological innovation. I wish we did; our profits would be a good deal higher. Generally, we’re involved in a race to get our latest product through testing, because we know that if we wait a month... a week... a day, then LexCorp or Queen Industries will get there first. I’d be frankly more surprised to hear that PMWE was the only company developing a certain technology at any given time. Not to mention that you’re overlooking something.”
Lucius nodded again. “How many encounters do you think I—or most other people of Gotham who were neither criminals nor police personnel—actually had with Batman? He’s saved my life on more than one occasion, yes, but that doesn’t mean that I had the opportunity to look at his suit and think, ‘Wait... isn’t that the lightweight Kevlar that we patented last fall?’ or ‘Aren’t those night-vision goggles our prototype?’” He smiled. “Yes, a lot of WE’s technology did find its way to Batman—but it wasn’t as though I was ever close enough to identify it. Plus, what I did see on the rare occasions when I was face-to-face with him? If it was ours—and, granted, it probably was—he modified it so it was less recognizable.”
“Ah,” Chiarello nodded. “Now, there is one thing that does concern me. When Wayne is doing something he wants to, it’s pretty clear to me that he’s focused on the goal. But when it’s something he’s not fond of, is it fair to say that he’ll find a way to evade his responsibilities?”
Lucius sighed. “How can I answer that?” he asked. “I guess, if you believe that a man without a business degree, who inherited his seat on the board but isn’t fully attuned to every aspect of the company, should nevertheless be compelled to prove his dedication by running the company, even if he runs it into the ground, you can make a case for it. What you have to understand is that the company is important to Bruce, not for its net worth, but because it comes to him from his parents. He sees it as a legacy to be protected. And to that end, he chose to appoint someone qualified to run the company in his stead.”
“But couldn’t he have gotten the qualifications on his own, had he gone a different route?”
“It’s possible,” Lucius admitted. “But as you might be aware, his parents’ legacy was more than just a corporation. The Waynes built Gotham.” He smiled. “I’ll tell you two things you may or may not already know about Bruce. One, he hates public speaking. Two, he hates politics. Come to think of it,” he frowned, “I imagine that, for all its legal problems, the vigilante approach does give him the advantage of cutting through a lot of red tape without having to make speeches or play ball. Sorry. Didn’t mean to digress.” He shook his head, smiling now.
“What I’m trying to say,” he continued, “is that when the Senate was debating whether to declare Gotham a No Man’s Land, Bruce didn’t delegate. He knew that a professional lobbyist wouldn’t have the same... passion for the cause. He hates politics. He hates making speeches. But he played politics and he made those speeches because there wasn’t anyone else. And when it didn’t work, he kept fighting. He had me working on the outside and,” he hesitated for a moment. “Well, now we know that he was working on the inside. And when the No Man’s Land was over, he had WE—not PMWE, by the way—spearheading the rebuild.” Lucius took a deep breath. “Mr. Wayne knows that you get more accomplished when you have the most qualified people in key positions. Knowing what I know now, it’s fair to say that, most of the time, he is—or was—the most qualified person. But not to steer a multinational corporation. Oh, if all he were interested in doing was siphoning off the profits and financing his personal extra-curriculars, he could probably keep it going for a few years. But he never intended WE to be his toy. He never lost sight of the knowledge that poor judgment on his part could translate into budget cuts and job losses. And he had no problem admitting that he wasn’t qualified to administer the company on his own, but then bring in people who were.”
Lucius nodded slowly. “I’m not the only one. And I’ll tell you something else: underneath that clueless façade, Bruce set out to make himself aware of what was going on. Nobody as bored with the company as he pretended to be would ask so many questions. And yes, he did ask them in a vague, offhand manner, but he always hung around for the answer. And he remembered it.” Lucius took a deep breath. “Not long ago, he needed some data. It wasn’t classified information,” Lucius smiled. “Just some old records we had in our archives that I’d mentioned to him at one point. That was some years ago, but he knew exactly where those records were kept.”
“Did he say what he wanted it for?”
Lucius frowned. “You know, thinking back... I don’t believe he ever did specify. I think Dick mentioned that he was reviewing some cold cases for your offices?”
Chiarello grunted. “Moving right along...”
“How did you meet him?”
Captain Montoya gave him a rueful smile. “I was in Commissioner Gordon’s office. He showed up at the window.”
Chiarello chuckled. “Must’ve made your night.”
“I almost shot him.”
“How’d he take that?”
“Pretty well,” Montoya admitted, “given the circumstances.”
“He’s been helping you with some of our unsolvables, right?”
Montoya nodded. “I thought he could probably use the mental exercise, so I got Sawyer to sign off on it. Before his release, we were able to close the books on over a dozen.”
Chiarello’s eyebrows shot up. “Without access to a computer.” It wasn’t phrased as question. When Montoya nodded again, he let out a slow breath. “That’s pretty impressive. Not just that he solved them without the usual resources—that we didn’t, even with those resources. Okay. Obviously, he can follow the evidence, even if the trail’s faint. What concerns me more is his tendency to use force. I mean, off the record, Captain, we all know that some perps deserve it, and sometimes, I’d like to hang a freaking medal on the guys dishing it out. Doesn’t change the fact that if he starts beating up on people in custody, we’re going to have a lot of explaining to do. We know he can dish it out. Can he rein it in?”
“I think so,” Montoya said. “After the quake, a lot of inmates escaped from both Arkham and Blackgate. We had our hands full rounding them up. Batman was helping, of course. Oddly enough, so was Two-Face. Or maybe, it wasn’t so odd. His coin had been coming up unscarred for a while.”
“Excuse me. You said, Two-Face was helping you round up escapees?”
“What?” Montoya blinked. “Oh! No, no, he was helping us dig survivors out of the wreckage. Anyway, Batman swooped down and was ready to haul him back.”
“How much force did he use?”
“Minimal. Harvey… Two-Face didn’t put up more than a token resistance. Actually, I… I convinced him to let him go.”
Chiarello leaned forward. “You convinced Batman to release Two-Face?”
“We needed every pair of hands we could get. And… Harvey saved my brother. Batman asked me if I was prepared to vouch for Two-Face. When I said I was, he released him.”
“Have you ever seen him lose control?”
Montoya considered. “I don’t think I have. I’ve seen him get scary-angry, but he’s always got it reined in. Sometimes, he lets something slip, and it looks like he’s about to lose it… but I think even that’s part of the act.” She grinned. “Scares the hell out of the perps, I can tell you. It’s like, “Oh hell. If he’s like this when he’s just angry, what happens if I really tick him off?”
“Which would be the general idea.”
“Do you have any concerns about accepting his application?”
“Tell me more about the No Man’s Land.”
Bruce wasn’t surprised when Chiarello called the manor at five o’clock. By five-thirty, he was in his car and driving toward GCPD.
At five-forty, the radio in Detective Barry Allen’s squad car crackled to life.
“Car 31, do you read? Over.”
Barry glanced at the officer sitting beside him. “31 here. Go ahead, Dispatch. Over.”
“What’s your 20, 31?”
Barry hesitated. “Renfield Heights?” he whispered to his new partner, trying to remember the guy’s surname. Something with a “D” that was also a first name... David? Dennis?
The other officer, Daniel! That was it! Daniel nodded. Barry relayed that to the radio.
“Head on over to Battergate, 31. Someone just phoned in a tip on a 10-14 in the neighborhood. Check it out. Over.”
A prowler, Barry translated with a nod. He’d studied the map thoroughly before heading out with Daniel, concentrating his efforts on a neighborhood that was less than five minutes away from where he really needed to be—close enough to be the nearest car in the vicinity when False Face made his move, but far enough away that False Face wouldn’t spot their black-and-white and possibly be scared off. “Roger that, Dispatch. We’re on our way. Over.”
Sgt. Daniel frowned. “It must be a quiet evening,” he said. “We don’t usually get called in before a crime’s actually in progress.”
Barry turned left. “Guess it’s some perp’s unlucky night, then,” he remarked easily. And it’s a good thing that Oracle can hijack Police Band and get the right message out at the right time—or getting into Battergate without making my partner suspicious would be a lot harder!
False Face checked the address once more and turned his car onto Wrightson Way. He frowned. The south side of the street had signs prohibiting weekend parking. There was no unoccupied spot on the north side. With a sigh, he continued to the end of the street, turned the corner slowly, and looked for another place to park. He finally found one nearly three blocks away. He sighed. Yes, Paxton had told him to make sure that he was spotted, and he realized full well that the more people who saw Bruce Wayne walking down the street, the better; but it was a cold night and he didn’t relish the trek.
His jaw set. It was a simple assignment. Appear outside the woman’s window, be seen, and go home. Five thousand dollars for what—even with the walk from his car—amounted to a half-hour’s work, maximum. He had no real cause for complaint. He knew…
“…Wayne? Excuse me? Sir?”
Startled, False Face looked up, registering blue eyes and the golden gleam of a police detective’s shield. “Pardon?”
“I thought I recognized you, Mr. Wayne,” the detective smiled affably. “Out for a walk?”
“Um…” False Face strove to sound casual. “Uh… yes. Yes, I am. It’s a quiet night.”
The detective nodded. “That it is. Um… Mr. Wayne, maybe you didn’t realize it, but you appear to have come within 500 feet of number 68 Wrightson Way.” His tone was apologetic. “I’m afraid you’re currently in violation of the terms of your restraining order.”
False Face opened his mouth to protest, but the officer barrelled on.
“Look, I’m sure it was just an oversight on your part, so suppose we just let this go with a warning. If you turn around now, we can pretend this didn’t happen.” He glanced at the uniformed officer standing a half-pace behind him. “Sound good to you, Sergeant?”
The sergeant smiled. “Absolutely.”
The detective draped a friendly arm across his shoulders. “Let me walk you out of range, sir. Just so you’re aware of the demarcation line. Come on,” he said, ignoring False Face’s protests and steering him back the way he’d come.
“Okay,” the detective said, as they neared the corner. “That fire hydrant is about 500 feet away. Stay on the other side of it and you’ll be fine. Got it?”
False Face forced himself to smile.
“Have a good night, Mr. Wayne.”
As the detective headed back to his partner, False Face’s smile died. He started walking slowly back toward his car. At the end of the block, though, instead of continuing straight, he turned right—hoping to approach the Ryerson house from the west this time. He turned onto Wrightson, but he’d only passed by five houses when he heard the officer’s voice calling, once more.
“Oh, Mr. Wayne!”
False Face froze.
“This tree?” The detective drew his attention to an oak that he’d just passed. “That’s the 500-foot boundary on this side. In case you were wondering.”
“I’ll remember that,” False Face said, trying to sound vague. “Thank you.”
“Not at all.”
Under the watchful gaze of both officers, False Face retraced his steps. Now he really did need to go to his car—so that he could, in relative quiet and privacy, let Paxton know there was a problem.
“I’m afraid there’s been a snag, Les,” False Face said with a helpless laugh. “Yes, it appears that the police are watching the Ryerson house tonight. Silly, I know, but I don’t see how I can get onto the property without getting myself arrested.” He chuckled. “Another night, then?”
Paxton remembered that he’d always hated Bruce’s cluelessness in the boardroom. Especially that stupid, inane laugh—just barely better than a giggle. The fact that False Face was able to replicate it so precisely didn’t help his mood. “I was under the impression that I was dealing with a professional,” he said icily. “Our contract stipulated that you would be at the Ryerson house at seven. It is now six fifty-five. Therefore, I expect you to fulfill your obligation and be at that house, as directed, within the next five minutes.”
False Face sucked in his breath, stung to the quick. “It’s because I’m a professional,” he retorted in his own voice, “that I know that this isn’t going to work. Not tonight, with the police watching. I could try again in an hour or so—”
“An hour would be too late.” Paxton insisted. “Very well. I’ll add another thousand to what we agreed on.”
“That’s nice to hear,” False Face said, “but I’d prefer you paid for a good attorney. If I approach that house again, there’s an excellent chance I’m going to need one.”
There was a moment’s silence. Then Paxton spoke again. “Perhaps you’d be able to evade the police if you were to disguise yourself as a different individual, and then become Wayne once you’ve safely passed them.”
False Face shook his head in disbelief. Did this man know nothing? “Mr. Paxton,” he said, enunciating each word distinctly, “you told me to make myself look so much like Wayne, his own parents wouldn’t know which one was which. That’s what you got. If you want me to just put on a non-descript face, yes, I can do that, too. But once I change my face, it’s not so easy to restore the Wayne look. You don’t appear to realize that there’s more to it than putting on a wig and an expensive suit. It took me over three hours to apply the necessary makeup and latex prosthetics. I can’t very well put them back on again outdoors, in the dark, in five minutes or less. You wanted an expert? I’m giving you expert advice. The conditions are wrong tonight. If you’re going to insist that I try, regardless, then I’ll require payment commensurate with the risk.”
Paxton drew his breath in sharply. “Six thousand dollars, plus the services of an attorney.”
“Six thousand dollars,” False Face replied, “the services of an attorney, and two hundred dollars for every day I spend in holding awaiting a trial. If the trial goes against me, it’ll be an extra one thousand dollars for every week I spend behind bars.”
“Are you mad?”
“Noooooo,” False Face drew out the syllable. “That would be Clayface. I’m just taking out a bit of insurance—to make sure that you look out for my best interests and don’t see me as another loose end to eliminate. After all, you wouldn’t want me to worry that I was being set up to get arrested and then have you deny all knowledge of my actions,” he added ingenuously, “would you?”
“Of course not,” Paxton said irritably. “Fine. I’ll agree to those terms. If complications ensue, stay in character for as long as you can.”
“One other thing, Mr. Paxton,” False Face added. “Before I set out tonight, I left a complete description of my activities, documented with dates, times, meetings, and so on and so forth with a couple of people I know. In the event that I do not return home safely this evening, and that you fail to live up to the terms of this agreement, a single phone call from me is all it will take to ensure that copies of our correspondence will be sent to the media… and, to certain,” he coughed, “associates of mine who really don’t like it when old money and old power think that they can hire people like me to do their dirty work and then leave us high and dry when the crunch comes.”
“How dare you?” Paxton blustered. “Let me assure you that I’m a man of my word, and there are many people out there who can vouch for my integrity.”
“Even if it should come to light that you’re hiring a double to destroy one of your former colleagues? I must have missed the wellspring of support he engendered a few years back when his activities came to light. Ah, but maybe you’re different. And in any case, I do apologize if I offended you just now. I only wanted you to be clear on where things stand, on the off chance that expert legal advice were to suggest that you compromise your… integrity. Think of it as encouragement to… oh, let’s say, ‘do the right thing,’ hmmm?”
“I quite understand,” Paxton said stonily. “Now get over to the Ryerson house.”
Sgt. Daniel glanced at his partner. “It’s been two minutes since the last time you looked at your watch,” he said. “Tops. Why are we still here?”
“Call it a hunch, Sergeant,” Barry replied. He noted with satisfaction that the tracer he’d stuck on False Face earlier was moving again. He was around the block, headed east on foot. Barry sighed and began walking toward the corner. All at once he stopped. The tracer wasn’t heading east anymore, but north. Barry smiled. So he was trying to cut across the backyards. He looked at Daniel.
“You see that?” he asked, craning his head as though trying to see behind the house that he was passing.
Barry’s voice turned grim. “Maybe nothing. But I think I just saw someone trying to scale a back fence. And Wayne seemed pretty intent on getting to number 68 before.”
“That bugs me,” Daniel replied, falling into step behind Barry. “I mean, up to now, Wayne’s pretty much kept his head down. Why pull something like this now? I mean…” He let his voice trail off.
Barry nodded. “I’ve heard the talk around the water cooler,” he admitted. “I agree it makes no sense. But you saw him. Unless you have a better explanation?”
Daniel laughed. “In this city? Theoretically, it could be anything from extortion to mind control, but without proof…”
“Yeah. Better take him downtown and let his lawyer deal with it. Come on.”
The two officers eased open the gate to the yard in time to see a shadowy figure drop heavily over the fence. He landed in an ungainly half-crouch and immediately fell backwards. With a grunt, the figure rose and advanced toward the house. Instead of attempting to enter the darkened kitchen, the figure headed for the gate—and directly into the arms of the two police officers.
“Sorry about this, Mr. Wayne,” Barry said, as he pinned False Face against the side of the house and manacled his wrists behind his back, while Daniel began informing him of his Miranda rights.
“You have the right to remain silent…”
“Coffee?” Chiarello asked solicitously.
Bruce shook his head automatically. “No tha—” A coughing fit overtook him. “Actually,” he managed, “water would be appreciated.”
“Take it easy,” the backgrounder said, as he walked briskly out of the office. He returned a moment later with a conical paper cup. “You okay?”
Bruce nodded. “My throat was dry.”
“I don’t doubt it.” Chiarello’s lips twitched. “Okay, now, that issue you were mentioning last time with the super-steroid…”
“Venom,” Bruce supplied.
“Yeah, I was meaning to ask—” The phone on his desk rang, breaking into their conversation. Chiarello held up a hand. “Hang on till it rings to voice mail,” he said.
The phone rang three times and stopped. Chiarello shrugged. “Okay, so—”
The phone rang again. Chiarello exhaled through his teeth. “Excuse me,” he said, and picked up the phone. “I’m in conference,” he snapped into the receiver. “What?” He listened for a moment. “Are you seri—He’s sitting across from me right now. Yeah, we’re on our way.” He replaced the phone and looked across his desk at Bruce. “Have you got an evil twin?”
Bruce’s eyebrows shot up. “Not that I know of.”
Chiarello nodded curtly. “Roll up your sleeves.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“On your application, you described a number of scars. I’d like to verify a few of them now before I get to see two people trying to denounce each other as imposters. And since I can check your forearms easily enough, let’s start there.”
Without another word of protest, Bruce shed his suit jacket, unbuttoned the cuffs of his long-sleeved dress shirt, and pushed them back. Chiarello inspected the flesh briefly and nodded. “Okay, grab your jacket and let’s head downstairs.”
“Well?” Chiarello demanded. “What’s been done so far?”
“He’s been booked for TRO violation. We’ve run his prints, should get them back in 48 hours or so…” the other officer’s voice trailed off as he stared at Bruce. “The two of you’ve been together all this time?”
Chiarello’s amusement was clear. “Since about six this evening. He phone anyone, yet?”
The officer nodded. “Figured you’d want to have a look at the number,” he said. “The other party didn’t pick up and he didn’t leave a message.”
“Understood.” Chiarello accepted the paper that the officer held out to him. “I’ll see if I can figure out who this belongs to.” He turned to Bruce. “Out of curiosity, who would your one call be to?”
Bruce considered. “My attorney,” he replied, “if only because my family would probably be aware of my circumstances before I arrived here.”
“Somehow,” Chiarello said glancing at the page. “I’m not surpr—I take it back,” he said, letting out a low whistle.
Chiarello reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded slip of paper. “It matches,” he said as he unfolded it. “Your evil twin was calling the private cell phone of PMWE’s chief financial officer.” His voice was grim. “Lester Paxton.”
To Be Continued…
Author’s Note: Yes, I do realize that Tim and Darla weren’t a couple. Chiarello is basing his conclusions on the information that he has available to him, and coming up with the right answers—even if he is zeroing in on the wrong deceased girlfriend.
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