Post by Admin on Aug 28, 2015 15:52:31 GMT -5
Issue #12: “Close to the Edge”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #12: “Close to the Edge”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
You say it’s got no chance
You make no mistakes
’Cause you’ve been close to the edge before and walked away
But your day’s comin’
Don’t kid yourself
And when it comes you’ll be down before you knew you fell
—Marc McClurg, Jerry Salley, “You Can’t Break the Fall”
Michael Abbott glanced pointedly around the board room. “Aren’t we missing someone?” he demanded.
Ron shook his head. “Les wasn’t invited tonight.”
Michael blinked. “Wait. You mean that when you asked us here…” His expression hardened. “Just what are you trying to pull, Ron?”
“Maybe you should be asking yourself what Les was trying to pull, Mike.” Ron took a deep breath and rose to his feet, bracing his hands on the polished oak table and hoping that nobody would see that they were sweating. “Last week, Sharon Ryerson had a temporary restraining order issued against Bruce Wayne. There was no legal justification for doing so, and it was done without the prior knowledge of myself or Lester Paxton. However, Les took it upon himself to justify the restraining order by hiring an actor to impersonate Bruce Wayne and,” he took another breath, “make it appear as though Wayne was in violation. The actor was caught.”
“And Les?” Teresa Korning ventured.
Ron exhaled. “Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I mean… if you were an actor hired to do a job and you then found out that what you were doing was, in fact, illegal, and that you could be facing—I haven’t looked up the statutes, to be honest. Fine, imprisonment, community service… it doesn’t really matter. Bottom line is, if it were me, I’d be trying to prove I had no idea what I was getting involved with.”
“Which means,” Ross Kendricks said heavily, “that there’s a good chance that this is going to reflect back on Paxton.”
Ron nodded. “Unfortunately, that’s not all of it. The actor in question has a criminal record. Les knew it going in. Matter of fact, it was a big reason why he hired him—he wanted someone whom he figured wouldn’t care if the job was on the shady side. Obviously, this could be a serious concern if the press finds out. A PMWE director hiring a known criminal to discredit a former CEO and current majority shareholder…”
Abbott let loose with a loud expletive. “Can this be traced back to us?”
“Not unless Paxton tries to implicate us,” Ron replied. “Of course, he might try to do exactly that.”
Sonia Arnold frowned. “How do you know so much about it, Ron?”
Ron sighed. “Because Paxton tried to pull me in. Sorry. I know I’ve been behind him one hundred percent on other matters, but I had to draw the line there. And considering that this is now poised to blow up in his face…”
Ross Kendricks paled. “If word of this gets out to the media… Ron, you’re a bit of a spin doctor. Can we get out of this unscathed?”
Ron fought not to smile. He’d been hoping for a question like this. “Well,” he said slowly, “the last I looked, the ‘P’ in PMWE didn’t stand for Paxton—much as he might like it to.” He took a deep breath. “Okay. Everyone remembers that what set this whole thing off was Les getting word that Bruce Wayne is attending the gala, and his jumping to the conclusion that it’s a precursor to Bruce’s retaking the reins here. Honestly, I’ve been asking myself how likely that is, in light of certain recent developments. For example,” he continued, “in the last couple of days, I think we’ve all been contacted by the police and made aware that Bruce Wayne is looking at a midlife career change.”
There were a few startled nods.
“Okay. We can assume that before they approve him—if they approve him—he’s going to have to undergo a thorough psychological…” he frowned. “…or should that be a psychiatric assessment? Anyway, I’d say that at this point, we forget about keeping him from attending the gala. Either he passes the psych assessment—whatever the ‘psych’ is short for—in which case, he probably is fit to return to the office… If he even wants to, I mean… or he fails the assessment, which gives us stronger grounds for arguing against his return. But if he passes the assessment, he’s going to be training for another job—one which would almost definitely interfere with any hours he might want to put in here, at PMWE. In other words, maybe we’ve been looking at this all wrong, and Wayne just wants a night at a society dinner—like old times.” He shrugged. “He is president emeritus. Why should it be cause for concern if he wants to attend a Wayne Foundation function? It’s his foundation, after all. Regardless, unless and until he makes a move toward regaining his former position—a more concrete move than attending a Foundation charity gala, I mean—I think we can sit back and observe.”
“And if he passes the assessment?” Sonia asked. “Do we want him back?”
Ron shrugged. “If he passes the assessment, we might find it harder to stop him, if that’s his choice. Like I just said, though, I’m not sure how much time he’ll be able to devote to the company if he’s also going to be wearing a badge. My guess is that he’ll do what he’s always done: trust Fox to handle things and put in a couple of appearances, every now and again. When you think about it, I don’t honestly believe his return would significantly alter the status quo.”
They were nodding again, but Ron noticed a few smiles, as well. He allowed his own to surface briefly. “Now, as far as Paxton is concerned…” he said slowly.
“We weren’t consulted on this latest course of action,” Sonia Arnold said flatly.
Abbott half-rose to his feet. “He’s gone the limit and I think we can all agree that we’re not going down with him.”
“If the media should get wind of this…” Sean Vansickle’s face was pasty. “In addition to publicity we don’t need, can you imagine how the shareholders will react?”
“Unfortunately,” Ron nodded, “I can and I have. They’re going to want blood, and I think we all know whose. The only real question is how many go out along with him. I’d just as soon not have my head among the rolling, and I’m sure most of us feel the same. Or does someone have an objection that they’d like to voice?”
He looked around the room. Five sets of eyes looked back at his and then down at the table. Nobody uttered a word. He nodded, only slightly surprised at how quickly allegiances had shifted. It was easy enough to see which way the wind was blowing now. “Very well. Let’s proceed to the next order of business, then.” He paused a beat. “Damage control. Specifically with regard to Ryerson.”
Kendricks frowned. “She made her bed.”
“With PMWE-supplied mattress and box springs,” Ron shot back. “Bottom line: Paxton used her, but we let him. If we’re worried about media fallout, I don’t think it’s going to look very good for us if it comes out that we knowingly went along with Paxton’s taking advantage of a grieving widow.”
“What are you proposing, then?”
Ron told them.
“That’s correct,” Abbott spoke into the telephone several minutes later. “We are prepared to continue to pay Ms. Ryerson’s legal fees, even though Paxton made the initial arrangement without proper authority or consultation. No,” he said, with a strange smile crossing his face, “no, I don’t think there’s any reason to assign a different attorney, unless the attorney already assigned to the case or Ms. Ryerson specifically requests it. After all, if Les wanted the best for her...” He swatted the air around him as though he could slap down the muffled laughter from some of the other board members. “...Well, even if he’s made the offer without going through proper channels, far be it from us to override him. Very good. Thanks, Consuela. We’ll be in touch.”
He hung up the phone with a smile. “Done!” he announced.
“You okay?” Selina asked.
Bruce looked up, just in time to catch his daughter as she raced toward his knee with the precision of a guided missile. And if he hugged her a bit more fiercely than usual before he set her back down again, it was only because it felt like ages since he’d last seen her that morning.
“We would have come down to the cave,” Selina continued, “but I wasn’t sure if you wanted company.”
Bruce nodded. “It’s probably just as well you didn’t.” The sofa cushion sagged as Helena clambered up and climbed into his lap. Bruce sighed. “Like mother, like daughter,” he said with a faint smile. “Just make yourself at home, why don’t you?”
“Well, if you’re inviting…” Selina sat down next to him. “…or not?” Selina asked, the playfulness vanishing from her tone.
“I don’t mind, Selina,” he said, trying to coax some lightness into his own voice, but failing. “I…” He let out a long breath. “I’m honestly not sure how much more of this I can take. Or how much more I’m willing to.” He shook his head. “I think I’d prefer they haul out the rack and thumbscrews at this point; there are techniques for coping with physical pain.”
She reached toward his shoulder, stopping a fraction of an inch away. “Um… may I?” Bruce shifted marginally closer. She brought her hand down gently at the juncture where his shoulder met his neck. “Hey,” she said, “you’re pretty tense, yet. You know that, right?”
Bruce nodded. “It went away earlier, but…” Helena squirmed and he lowered her gently to the floor.
Selina made a sympathetic sound. “Trust me?”
She smiled. “One of my brighter moves was taking a stress management workshop, a few years back. I know a little bit about massage therapy. If you’d like…”
Bruce considered. He looked over to where Helena had clambered atop an ottoman footstool. She was lying on her stomach, arms and legs dangling, clearly enjoying herself. He smiled. Then, he leaned a bit closer to Selina, turning to present a bit more of his back. As Selina set to work on his shoulders, he felt his muscles relax. He sighed.
“Better?” Her fingers found a tension knot and she set about working it out.
“Don’t stop.” Bruce murmured.
Selena gave a throaty laugh. “As you command…”
Bruce slumped. “I’m… Honestly? At this point, I don’t… ah! …actually care whether I pass or fail. I… ah! …just want this to end.”
Selena’s hands moved further down along his shoulder blades. “How much more can there be?”
“Don’t ask.” He let out a long breath as Selina continued to work. “I’m not sure I want to find out.”
“You could walk away.”
He shook his head. “I don’t quit.”
“Ah. So this is all pretty much grousing until you get your second wind, then.”
Bruce’s gasp ended with a growl.
“I… suppose so.”
“Okay. Just so we’re clear.” Her fingers were halfway down his back now. She laughed. “Honestly, you’ve handled this a lot better than I would. If you did decide it was too much, I wouldn’t blame you for backing out now. Nobody could say you didn’t give it your best shot.”
Bruce nodded an acknowledgment. “Even so,” he sighed, “if I don’t make it, it’ll be because they made that decision—not because I quit before I heard the verdict.”
“Mmmm… from what I hear, that’s a bit of change from the last time.”
For a moment, Bruce wasn’t sure what she meant.
“Oh.” Bruce shook his head. “No, that was different. Then, I’d destroyed their trust. The vote didn’t matter. Unless they had unanimously wanted me in—and I knew that they wouldn’t—the wisest course of action was to leave and give them a chance to cool off. Had I stayed… it would have hurt the League more than my departure.”
“Now?” Bruce closed his eyes. “Now, I’m hoping that after more than three years, the GCPD has had their chance to cool off and I’ll be able to regain their trust. Because, if I can’t… then it really is over.”
Chiarello looked up at the knock on his door. A moment later, it opened and a familiar face looked in.
“Commissioner.” He rose to his feet. “Come in. I’m just about finishing up the background report, now.”
Sawyer entered, her face serious. “What’s your decision, Maury?”
“What?” Chiarello chuckled. “Can’t take the suspense?” He shook his head. “You win, Commissioner. Damned if I’d be that stable if I’d seen a fraction of what he’s been through. Or if I could have kept my cool nearly as well. I only got him to raise his voice once, you know that?” He frowned, noticing that her expression hadn’t lightened. “What?”
Sawyer sighed. “Dr. Cinar doesn’t agree with your assessment.”
Chiarello sniffed. “Now, there’s a shocker.”
The police commissioner didn’t smile. “Maury, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I want Wayne working for us, but I can’t ram this through if he really isn’t suited. So, in your opinion, if I were to order a second assessment—gave it over to Tate or Knowlton, this time—would it be reasonable to predict a similar outcome? Or do you think that they would interpret Wayne’s reactions differently? And would it be willful blindness on my part not to give full weight to Cinar’s initial report?”
“Well,” Chiarello said slowly, “Cinar tends to go harder on candidates who didn’t grow up in suburbia with two parents, a white picket fence, zero-point-four siblings, and a dog named Spot.”
“Okay, maybe a whole sibling gets a pass from him. You know what I mean. Wayne comes into his office; he’s an orphan, unmarried, raised by a single man, has kids he adopted when they were past babyhood… My guess? It wouldn’t have mattered about Batman or Arkham. Cinar looked at his bio and made up his mind on the spot. Now, does Wayne have issues that should disqualify him? Hell if I know. Maybe. Not based on my investigation—he passes that with flying colors—but I’m just one part of the picture.” He frowned. “Give the file to Knowlton. Tate’s only been here a couple of months. He doesn’t know you like I do. If he thinks you want Wayne to pass, he’ll pass him, hoping to get into your good books. Knowlton’s going to be tougher than that, but he’ll give Wayne a fairer chance than Cinar did. Still won’t be automatic, but then… you don’t want automatic, do you?”
Sawyer smiled. “Thanks, Maury. I look forward to seeing your report.”
Bruce hung up the telephone quietly. Then he turned around and punched the wall. The broom that he had left leaning in a corner, instead of returning to the closet, fell to the floor with a clatter.
“Bad news?” Selina asked from the doorway.
Bruce spun to face her, his anger giving way to resignation. “Good and bad,” he said, “and I’m not sure which is which. That was Chiarello. I failed the psych evaluation. They’re redoing it tomorrow at nine. I was this close to telling them to let it stand.”
“You could call them back,” Selina pointed out. “I mean, if you’re really ready to drop it, then drop it.”
Bruce sighed. “I’ll admit it’s tempting, but if this is something that I can do, then…” He took a deep breath. “If nothing else, my time out of costume has forced me to address various weaknesses that I’ve overcompensated for in the past. We… know that I’m not the easiest person to know. My regular coping strategies aren’t particularly adequate for the long-term, but until recently, I’d never bothered to take the time to learn new ones. Now, I’ve at least made a start.”
Selina nodded. “Okay, but…?”
Bruce sighed. “I need to improve my teamwork, too—and not with a team that will accept my orders because they’ve done so in the past.” He shook his head. “I have my blind spots and my… issues. I need to work with people who are going to be willing to challenge me, instead of just repeating ‘He’s Batman; of course he’s right.’” Bruce winced. “I can’t think of a bigger challenge than working with people who’ve witnessed one of my more spectacular failures. And,” he let out a long breath, “no, I’m not looking forward to the experience. Which is all the more reason why I have to.”
Selina nodded. “So… tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow,” Bruce nodded back. “And let’s hope that this is the end of it. One way or another.”
It was nearly eleven o’clock when Lester Paxton arrived at PMWE. He’d passed an uncomfortable few hours in a holding cell with a number of unsavory-looking individuals, before being transported to Central Booking. They’d handcuffed him for the trip, he remembered. He’d been seething. Did these idiots have no idea who he was? They’d confiscated his wallet and cell phone at Central. He’d had to call his wife collect from a payphone to get her to contact his lawyer. He was glad he’d made sure to tell her to call his squash partner, Cliff Maxwell, rather than the 24-hour line for PMWE’s in-house counsel. This was going to have to be on his dime, and Cliff was one of the best.
As for False Face, Paxton hadn’t seen him. Doubtless, he’d been in some other cell. Just as well. Paxton felt like he could have cheerfully killed the man with his bare hands. Well, maybe someone else had… No. He doubted he could be that lucky.
It had been 9 AM before he’d been brought before a judge, 9:15 before he’d been released on $75,000 bail. He’d been seething, but he’d paid it. Then he’d gone home to shower and change his clothes before showing up at the office. He supposed he could have stayed home, but he wasn’t about to put his personal issues ahead of business. Besides, he needed to speak to Chester and find out exactly what had happened that night. He’d been trying him since Saturday night, but the VP of Marketing wasn’t returning his calls. Maybe Chester was afraid to face him? Paxton couldn’t blame him, but he still needed to know exactly what had happened with Ryerson. Zack had been no help…
“Oh, Mr. Paxton?” his assistant called to him when he would have stalked into his office without his usual ‘Good morning’.
Paxton sighed. “Yes, Mariette?”
Mariette tensed at the testy note in his voice. “I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “Lucius Fox asked to see you at your earliest convenience. He did say that he needed to talk to you in person.”
“Oh, did he, now?” Paxton demanded.
His jaw set. “Very well,” he said. “As soon as it’s convenient, I’ll be delighted to accommodate his request.” Without another word, he marched into his office and shut the door behind him. Once inside, he hit Ron Chester’s extension. It rang twice.
“Hello. This is Ron Chester—“
“Chester, you idiot! Because of your incompe—“
“...telephone, or in a meeting. Please leave your name, telephone number, and a brief message, and I will return your call at the earliest convenience.”
Everything was ‘at the earliest convenience’ and none of it was convenient enough for him! “You know damned well who this is, Chester!” he snarled. “Call me!”
He slammed the phone down.
“Okay, so as I understand it, when you were in your teens, you left Gotham alone.”
Bruce sighed. “Yes.”
“It was necessary.” The new psychiatrist—Knowlton, he’d said his name was—regarded him thoughtfully, waiting for him to elaborate. “I’d already learned as much as I could in Gotham without calling too much attention to myself. I didn’t want to be known as a multiple… let’s call it ‘black belt,’ even though that designation is meaningless in a number of martial art disciplines. To learn my skills discreetly, I had to go to the source.”
“Meaning the Far East.”
“Meaning wherever it was necessary to go,” he clarified. “India, Tibet, Japan, Brazil… France…”
“Did you tell anyone where you were?”
“Yes and no.” Bruce smiled slightly. “Alfred was former British Intelligence. I tried to cover my tracks, lay false trails, give him just enough information to let him know that I was alive and well, but not so much that he could track me. Except that on my birthday, without fail, there would be something. A card, a phone call, a messenger at the door of whatever hotel or hut I was living in with instructions on where to go to pick up a wire transfer—there was a point where I wondered whether he’d implanted a microchip in my arm before I left. It wasn’t until years later that he let on that he had a network of former intelligence contacts scattered across the globe—all of them keeping an eye on me.”
“Mmmm…” Knowlton made a notation. “Now, I know you’ve indicated that, at a certain point, each of your sons has needed to strike out on their own, too, correct?”
“Did you try to keep them at home?”
“I tried to keep them safe. On my terms, not theirs—although it’s taken me time to recognize that. They refused to accept those terms.”
“And you let them go.”
“What else could I have done?”
Knowlton frowned. “I’m not passing judgment, Mr. Wayne. Just clarifying. After they left… what happened? Did you wash your hands of them or…”
“That’s not a fair question,” Bruce said, trying not to sound defensive. “Dick was angry at my decision. I was angry at him for not abiding by it. I didn’t want to make things worse by chasing after him before he was ready to talk, so I waited for him to come back, not realizing that he was waiting for me to apologize. Jason was…” He closed his eyes. “I took Jason in, partly—mostly—because, after Dick left, I felt… alone. I’d grown used to facing the night with a partner. When I let Jason into my world, I thought that he reminded me of Dick. In some ways, he did. He was a quick study, absolutely fearless, athletic, determined…”
“But he really reminded me of me. Or, of a me that I could have been, had my circumstances been even slightly different. Alfred taught me to channel my anger and… and grief… into something productive. In Jason, it festered. I didn’t see it then—probably because my own coping skills were more on the level of masking the symptoms.”
“Clarify?” Knowlton asked.
Bruce nodded, noting in passing that Knowlton wasn’t asking anywhere near as many leading questions as Cinar had. “I took my anger and pain and kept them tightly reined in during the daylight hours. At night, I loosened those reins, but never fully let go. Jason had the same anger, but his control was more tenuous. In costume…” Bruce frowned.
“I’m not trying to be disingenuous,” he continued after a moment’s pause, “but it seems to me that the best way to explain it touches on the reason that I—that any police academy candidate—needs to go through this testing procedure. If you’re going to sanction an individual to use violent—at times, lethal—force, then you’re going to do your best to make sure that the person in question doesn’t abuse that sanction. I rarely had to worry about that with Dick. He could be hot-headed at times, and it occasionally made him reckless—but he knew that there were certain lines that he couldn’t cross, no matter how angry he was or how… justifiable… it might be. Jason didn’t have that knowledge. Or, perhaps, his code didn’t align with mine. I don’t know.” Bruce closed his eyes. “When I realized that the problem went beyond… hotheadedness, I put him on inactive duty. I didn’t know how to handle the situation. Alfred was trying to help, but I felt that we were both losing him. I knew he needed more. I was debating asking one of my colleagues in the Justice League whether they knew of someone who could be discreet if certain topics came up.”
Bruce nodded. “And then,” he continued, “things came to a head. Joker escaped and made his way to the Middle East. Somehow, he’d acquired a nuclear weapon and was intent on selling it to terrorists. I went after him—not realizing that Jason was also headed that way.”
“On his own?”
“He’d gone for a walk in the neighborhood where he’d grown up. One of the neighbors recognized him and gave him a box of keepsakes that had been entrusted to her. He discovered that his mother might be alive and in that general area. He decided to go after her. I don’t know whether he tried to talk to me and I was too preoccupied, or whether he thought I wouldn’t want to help him, but he left without a word. I ran into him in Lebanon.”
“If he had approached you, would you have helped him?”
Bruce leaned forward angrily. “Of course!”
“Even though it might have meant that you’d lose another partner?”
“Do you seriously…?” He caught himself. Knowlton had only just met him today. Knowlton didn’t know him well enough to realize how offensive that question was. “I’d adopted Jason on the assumption that he was an orphan. I’d never have tried to keep him from his biological parent, if he’d wanted to be with her.”
“And if he hadn’t wanted it? Suppose that he’d met her and she’d wanted very much to be a part of his life, but he’d wanted to stay with you?”
Bruce frowned. “In that situation… I don’t know what I might have done. I think I would have pushed him to go with his mother, but for all the wrong reasons. If I had discovered in my teens that one of my parents had somehow survived the shooting and been living under an assumed name, and wanted me to come live with them, I wouldn’t have thought twice. I would have jumped at the chance. And I think I would have projected that onto Jason, without consideration for other factors.”
“I see,” Knowlton said, making another notation. “And today?”
Bruce closed his eyes. “It still wouldn’t really be his decision. It would be up to a court to decide—although they’d consider his wishes. But I’d like to think that I’d support his decision, whatever it was. Not,” he pressed his lips together and blinked hard, “that this scenario would ever stray from the hypothetical, at this point.”
Knowlton nodded. “Sometimes, it can be hard to know what the right course of action is—particularly when there isn’t an actual playbook.”
“If you’re trying to draw a parallel between childrearing and vigilantism, it’s not the same,” Bruce pointed out. “Doing what I did each night, I may have written my own… playbook, but I followed the rules I’d set out for myself. With my sons, each required a different playbook and the rules didn’t necessarily stay consistent.”
“Do you appreciate routine?”
Bruce frowned. “I think it’s fair to say that routine keeps things on track. If I know that as soon as I come back from patrol, I need to log my findings, it means that any vital information will be accessible in my files, as needed. However, while I do recognize the need for schedules, routines, and the like, there has to be a certain amount of flexibility built into the system or it becomes unnecessarily restrictive.”
“Point taken,” Knowlton smiled. “Now, during the No Man’s Land, I know that just about everyone’s, um, playbook got tossed out the window. How did you cope under those circumstances?”
Bruce thought back. “Well,” he said, feeling his shoulders relax, “for the first three months, I wasn’t actually in Gotham…”
“Sir, I have Mr. Fox for—“
Paxton bit back an expletive. “Keep taking messages, Mariette!”
There was a pause. “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Paxton.”
“What?” He couldn’t believe this. “Now listen to me, Mariette,” he said, rage propelling him halfway out of his leather-upholstered swivel chair. “I have had one hell of a weekend, a sleepless night, and I am not dealing with Lucius Fox today. Now tell him whatever you like: I’m with a client; I’m volunteering at charity carwash, hell, I don’t care, I’m taking investors on a tour of one of our overseas plants. But I am not taking Fox’s calls. Got it?”
His office door opened and Fox stepped inside. “We have to talk, Lester.”
Paxton settled back into his chair with a glower, and tried to force a smile. “Why of course, Lucius. How can I be of assistance?” He busied himself with one of the reports on his desk.
Lucius reached across the desk and pushed the report down. “You can explain to me why I’ve been fielding calls from reporters all morning, asking me to comment on whether it’s true that you hired an impersonator to discredit our president emeritus. You can tell me why a candid shot of you standing before a judge at a bail hearing is currently getting thousands of rechirps on Tweeter and nearly as many shares on Facespace. I haven’t checked Topplr, but I’m fairly sure that there’ll be plenty of reblogs there. Lester… what the hell is going on?”
Paxton blinked. “What?” he barked automatically. “That’s—”
“I’ve also been getting calls from some of our shareholders, several of whom have pointedly reminded me that name change or not, this company is still Wayne Enterprises, whether or not we stuck ‘Patrick Morgan’ in front of it. They’ve been demanding answers and I’d like a couple myself. Lester, again, what the hell is going on?”
Paxton matched Lucius glower for glower, but it was he who looked away first. “I’ll handle it,” he said slowly. “Give me a couple of hours and—“
“Actually,” Lucius interrupted, “maybe you should take all the time you need. Away from the office. Things have been stressful lately. Maybe,” he mused,” you should just take it easy and concentrate on getting this situation resolved.”
Lucius’s expression hardened again. “Go home, Lester. Take a rest. Concentrate on rectifying this matter. Because until I can go back to our shareholders and tell them that the photo has been taken completely out of context, I don’t want you on the premises.”
“Now just one moment,” Paxton blustered. “You can’t just—“
“I’m just stating a preference, Lester. Of course, I can’t force you to leave.” His voice hardened. “But I’m certainly willing to put the question to the shareholders, if you wish.”
Paxton seemed to deflate. “That won’t be necessary, Lucius. I’ll get my things together and be out in an hour.”
It took barely fifteen minutes for the judge to rescind the temporary restraining order. Bruce listened as Rae confirmed to the judge that they were prepared to drop the harassment suit (that he hadn’t wanted to pursue in the first place, but which Rae had urged him to file anyway), provided that she leave them alone in future. He nodded as Rae added that they’d prefer not to pursue their own restraining order against Sharon Ryerson and would consider the matter closed, so long as they had Ryerson’s assurance that she would cease any attempts to contact or harass him in future.
“My client is far from insensitive to Ms. Ryerson’s circumstances,” Rae was saying. “We’d like to move on, and we have no wish to make things more difficult. But this behavior needs to stop.”
The judge glanced toward the table where Sharon and her lawyer sat. “Mr. Shaw?”
The lawyer rose to his feet. “My client is in agreement, Your Honor.”
“I’d like to hear that from Ms. Ryerson herself.” She fixed her stare on Sharon Ryerson. “On the record, Ms. Ryerson, do you assert that you will have no further contact whatsoever with Mr. Wayne, and that you will stop any kind of harassment directed at him?”
Ryerson looked like she was about to argue, but a quick frown and barely perceptible headshake from her lawyer stilled her. She nodded stonily. “I will, Your Honor.”
The judge nodded. “Very well. The TRO against Mr. Wayne is rescinded as of this hearing. Ms. Green, have you prepared a written order?
Rae nodded back. “I have, Your Honor.”
The judge smiled and automatically held out her hand for it. “Thank you, I'll sign it now and enter it into the record.” Her gaze flickered from one table to the next. “Thank you all,” she added. “It isn't very often that the parties are able to reach an amicable agreement in a case like this. Ms. Ryerson, you are to be commended for your decision.” She smiled and turned to the bailiff.
“All right, you can call the next case on the docket...”
“You can’t be serious, Kendricks,” Paxton stood in his living room, fighting the urge to fling the phone through the picture window. If he did that, he’d never hear Kendricks’ explanation and it had to be a doozy. “I’d always presumed that I could count on you to back me. Surely your corporate loyalty—“
“—lies with the president emeritus and acting CEO of my corporation,” Kendrick cut him off smoothly. There was a faint self-righteous note in his tone. “I’m sorry, Lester. I can’t support your course of action.”
“So that’s it,” Paxton sneered. “You’re afraid of a little bad press now. Well, this media brouhaha will blow over, and when it does, I’ll remember just who my friends were who stood by me in my hour of need.”
“That’s… highly commendable, Lester,” Kendricks coughed. “I’m sure Mr. Wayne will, too.”
“You’re throwing your lot in with him? That… That…”
“I believe the term you’re looking for is ‘majority shareholder’? Perhaps ‘president emeritus’? ‘Batman?’ Because frankly, I’d rather count Batman among my friends than my enemies.” His tone hardened. “That would apply to both past and present incarnations. Nothing personal, Lester. I’m sure you understand.”
“How dare you! Why, I could—”
“Save it for the press conference. Goodbye, Lester. Stay safe.” The phone went dead as Paxton started sputtering again.
How dared he? How dared he! A press conference? As if— All at once, Paxton began to smile. The best way to get a media furor to die down was to give them something even bigger to get their teeth into. He was smiling as he typed ‘Gotham Herald’ into 411-dot-com.
“Yes, may I have the city desk please? Yes, I believe I do have a possible story for you. Doubtless you’re aware that it’s been barely six months since Bruce Wayne was released from Arkham Asylum. The poor man spent two years in therapy before they released him, and well, Arkham does have a reputation for releasing their patients somewhat… prematurely. What? Yes, I’m getting to the point. It seems that Mr. Wayne is now attempting to join the GCPD, and I don’t know about you, but the idea of a recent Arkham inmate with a propensity for violence being legally sanctioned to carry a firearm fills me with no small amount of trepidation…”
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