Post by Admin on Oct 22, 2015 14:41:23 GMT -5
Issue #13: “Ashes and Roses and Time”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Cover by ArtTeach
Beta Read by Kathy, Debbie and PJ
Edited by Mark Bowers
I stared back at myself
Feeling as empty as I've ever felt
But I keep on going and I hope I've learned
More of what's right than what's wrong
It's ashes and roses and time that burns
—Mary Chapin Carpenter, “Chasing What’s Already Gone”
Dr. Stuart Knowlton walked into the commissioner’s office with a tight smile on his face. Sawyer looked up expectantly. Most people wouldn’t have spotted the almost imperceptible tapping of her left index finger against the blue stone of her class ring, but Knowlton’s eyes missed nothing. Out of courtesy, he pretended not to notice.
“Well?” she asked.
Knowlton shrugged. “I can see why the preliminary assessment found him unfit. There are a lot of problematic issues in Wayne’s background, but then, you knew that already.”
Sawyer nodded unhappily. “I’d hoped that it wasn’t as serious as it looked,” she admitted. “But—“
Knowlton shook his head, but he was smiling. “I can’t deny the facts, commissioner. But I can take issue with the earlier conclusions. If Wayne were a fresh recruit, we wouldn’t be having this conversation—because the question uppermost in my mind would be ‘if he’s like this now, what’s he going to be like ten years down the road?’ The thing is,” his smile deepened, “he’s not a fresh recruit—not really. And for him, this is already more like fifteen years down the road. And I’ve had a lot of fifteen-years-plus veterans come through my office in considerably worse shape after experiencing maybe half of what he’s seen to date.” He paused for a moment, noting with satisfaction that Sawyer was no longer tapping her ring. “I’m passing him.”
Sawyer nodded briskly, fighting the urge to grin. “Thank you, Stuart. If you brought your report with you, I’ll need it to distribute to the panel.”
Knowlton handed her the manila folder he’d been carrying under his arm. “I notice you said ‘to the panel,’ and not ‘to the other panel members,’” he remarked.
The commissioner sighed. “I’m recusing myself from this one, Stu. I’m a bit too invested in the proceedings. If he passes this next hurdle, like the others, it’s got to be because he’s qualified and not because I want to give him a smoother path than he has the right to expect.”
Knowlton nodded. “Fair enough, ma’am. Have a good evening.”
Halfway out of the room, he turned back to face her. “By the way,” he said lightly, “I did have several arguments marshalled against the idea, if you had been planning to sit on the panel. Much as I’m happy not to have to fight you, I can’t help feeling just a bit…”
“Disappointed?” Sawyer asked.
“Cheated. Good night, Commissioner.”
Maggie waited until the door closed behind him before she allowed herself a brief chuckle.
The next day, things weren’t looking quite as rosy. It fell to Deputy Police Chief Diane Goodrich (retired) to deliver the news. “We voted,” she said. “Final tally, four in favor, three opposed.”
Maggie sighed. Under most circumstances, a majority vote carried the day, but not when it came to police admissions. “How soon can we convene a hearing, then?”
Diane tilted her head. “You’re asking? I thought sitting behind the big desk meant you get to call the shots.”
Maggie’s lips twitched. “As I recall, Di, someone told me that my orders would go a lot farther if my people had the illusion of being part of the decision-making process.” She took a deep breath. “Very well. The hearing will convene the day after tomorrow at nine o’clock, sharp. And Di, I’m making it closed-door, invitation only.”
A steely eyebrow shot up. “That’s... irregular.”
“But not unprecedented,” Maggie countered. “Wayne’s made his fair share of enemies, many of whom are capable of concealing some fairly lethal devices that could get through our safeguards. I’m not exposing him to any unnecessary risk—nor our people, for that matter.”
“Understood,” Diane nodded. “We’ll keep it quiet.” She frowned. “You really want him on board, don’t you?”
“He’s the best. Or, at least, he used to be.”
Diane grunted. “Retirement’s not for everyone.” She blew air out between her teeth. “I’ve served under the best and the worst. Loeb, Grogan, McKeever,” she counted on her fingers, “Gordon, Vane, Gordon again, Pauling, Gordon,” she stopped fighting her smile, “Essen-Gordon, Gordon again, Howe, Gordon yet again, Akins…” she sighed. “When Jim left for good, I felt like it was time for me too, but I didn’t want to take the plunge until I knew the city was in good hands. With Akins… I wasn’t sure. He was all right in the beginning, but there was something… I don’t know. I thought I was still needed, even though I was beginning to feel my age. When you stepped up, it was time.” She frowned. “You really care about this one, don’t you?”
Maggie nodded. “I’m doing my best not to let it cloud my judgment, but, yes. I do. I like the idea of Batman working hand-in-hand with us. Every year, we lose a lot of good officers to natural attrition. We lose skills and general knowledge that we don’t realize we’ve lost until we start reinventing the wheel. I don’t mean book smarts—those are easy to teach. I’m talking about life experience, patterns, things it takes a lifetime to learn to recognize, and then the people who’ve lived that lifetime leave and their expertise goes with them. Batman has that missing knowledge and then some.”
“But does he want to share it?”
“I think so. Or at least, I think he sees it as an acceptable cost for the chance to make a difference.” She sighed. “Look, at the end of the day, I want him out on the streets, doing what he does best, and I don’t want to have to put out an APB on him for probation violation when we’re on the same side. I also don’t want him out there if he can’t or won’t take direction. So…”
“So,” Diane nodded. “All right. That’s fair.” She frowned.
“Getting back to your earlier comments,” Diane continued, “you’ll want to arrange for increased security for the hearing, I take it?”
Maggie nodded back. “Inside and out. I’ll take care of that.”
“Good.” She raised two fingers to her temple. “I’ll be seeing you… Commissioner.”
After Goodrich left, Sawyer let out a long sigh. Then she reached for the telephone. She had to call Mr. Wayne to tell him the news.
“Helena wants to say goodnight,” Selina said, leading her daughter into the study.
Bruce smiled and held up his index finger, asking for a minute. “So,” he said into the telephone, “what does that involve? I see. Yes, I’ll make myself available. Thank you, Commissioner.” His voice took on a lighter note. “Yes, that is encouraging. Yes. Thank you.” He hung up the phone and bent a bit lower in his chair, holding out his arms for Helena.
Helena hesitated for a moment before toddling forward, picking up speed with each step.
“That was Sawyer, I take it?” Selena asked, as Helena faceplanted on Bruce’s shin.
Bruce nodded, smile fading. “I’ve passed the preliminaries,” he said, “But the panel vote wasn’t unanimous. So there’ll be a hearing.”
“Oh.” Selina studied him carefully, trying to gauge his thoughts. “That’s... bad?”
Bruce hesitated. “Not necessarily,” he replied. “They hold hearings when there’s even one dissenting vote on the panel. However, while it’s convened, I’ll need to be close to where the proceedings are taking place—in case they need to clarify any of my previous statements.”
“Well, at least you’ll get to explain,” Selina said. “So… what, they’ll meet and discuss things, and then call you in at the end if there’s anything they’re not sure of?”
“No. They’ll meet and I’ll be expected to sit outside the room where the hearing takes place. They may ask me to step inside at any time and for any reason.”
Selina winced. “I had one teacher who would give us a pop quiz on Mondays. On Tuesday, she’d call us up to her desk, one by one and review it while we were standing there. She tried to talk softly, but if you sat in the front row, you got to hear a few things that weren’t any of your business. I used to hate it.”
Bruce nodded. “For all I know, everything will be straightforward and I’ll be wasting several hours awaiting a summons that never comes. Or they might call me in every five minutes. I just… have no way to prepare for this beyond being there at the appointed time and being prepared to review everything that was in my application.”
“In other words,” Selina’s lips twitched, “you’re pretty much going to be like every other recruit. Hang in there, handsome. You’re in the home stretch.”
Renee Montoya knocked on the commissioner’s door and walked in without waiting for an invitation. “I just had a call from the Herald,” she snapped, “asking me…”
“…to confirm whether Bruce Wayne had been accepted to the police academy?” Sawyer shook her head. “Take a number. We’ve been fielding calls since about ten last night. Of course, we aren’t confirming or denying anything at the moment,” she said, “or at least we’d better not be—but this won’t stay quiet forever.”
“Would it be so terrible if they found out that we had Batman on the payroll?” Renee asked. “I mean, is this really something that needs to be hushed up?”
“The application process is nerve-wracking enough without the media breathing down everyone’s neck,” Sawyer said firmly. “Expediting Wayne’s application has put most of the relevant staffers under a hell of a lot of extra pressure. Neither they nor he will appreciate being in the center ring of a media circus. Now, if his application is approved, I’ll prepare a brief statement to present at a press conference. If it’s denied, I don’t really think it’s anyone’s business. Mr. Wayne’s been keeping a low profile up until now—it’s not as though he’s been mugging for the society pages. At this point, unless he wants to take things public, I’d like to do him the courtesy of respecting his privacy—for as long as possible.”
Cassandra Cain chewed nervously on her lower lip as she typed with one finger: j… e… r… r… m… Wait. She frowned. That wasn’t right. The ‘e’ and the ‘r’ were next to each other on the keyboard. And in ‘Jeremiah’, sometimes the second ‘e’ got swallowed up when people said it out loud. And ‘r’ was so often a double letter, and… She glowered and tried to find the backspace key. When she didn’t spot it at once, she closed the window and opened a new email session.
Again, she began: j… e… r… e… m… i… a… She stopped. “Jer-e-my-uh,” she said aloud. She frowned. It didn’t seem quite right, but when she pronounced it, she couldn’t find a missing sound. “Jeremiah at… at…” she found the ‘at’ symbol and bit back a groan of frustration as the number 2 appeared in the email window. Rather than look for the backspace key, she closed the session and reopened it once more. Now, how did you get the signs on top of the numbers?
She needed to test it on something… ah! She clicked a familiar icon that looked a bit like a small notebook and a new window popped up. She was glad that Oracle had shown her how to save a file on her desktop, even if she couldn’t remember the procedure now. Shift with the ‘2’. Okay… [email protected] She frowned. What was the rest of it? He’d told her. He’d written it down, but she couldn’t make sense out of some of his letters. He’d said that it was easy to remember, because she probably used the search engine every time she went online… Oh! She remembered now. Triumphantly, she typed, [email protected] She opened up a new tab and hit the homepage. That was it! Gigglemail.com. She attached the scan of her latest practice essay and typed, ‘please tell how this is. Also where is back space key’. She frowned. She needed another one too. She continued, ‘and question mark.’
She hit “send” and smiled. Her smile faded a few seconds later when a message appeared in her inbox. “Barbara?” she opened voice chat. “What is… mailer demon?”
Maggie Sawyer arrived home at five-forty the next morning and, half-asleep, turned on Good Morning, Gotham: First News 5:30. She was headed for the kitchen and a cup of herbal tea, when the voice coming over the television shocked her to full alertness in an instant.
“…got 28 of our best and brightest killed three years ago. And now, the top brass wants to welcome him with open arms? I tell you, if I weren’t so close to retirement, I’d quit today.”
“What the HELL?!” she spat. The voice was distorted, she realized furiously No way to prove who it was… yet. Her eyes narrowed at the caption on the screen: GCPD officer agreed to comment on condition of anonymity. “Yeah, I just bet you did,” she snarled.
She dialed the First Shift commander’s line. “Sarge!” she barked. “Yes, I saw it. I want a list of every officer within five years of retirement on my desk by the time I come in this afternoon—and I’ll probably be in early. Meanwhile, nobody outside of the Press Information Office is authorized to speak with the media. Period. Not about Wayne, not about policy, not about the weather. Am I being clear? Good. I should be in before you finish your shift.” She sighed. “Enjoy the rest of your day.”
She hung up the phone. Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it! And Sarge had been just as furious and appalled as she was, but she’d still come down on him like it was his fault. They’d probably never catch the guy, unless… unless… All at once, she began to smile. She checked her directory and called another number.
“Maury? Sorry to bother you at home. Listen… What? Yes, I saw it. That’s why I’m calling. Do you, by any chance, have handy that telephone number I gave you at the start of the investigation?”
Unless he was travelling overseas and hopelessly jetlagged or being held captive in some arch-criminal’s secret lair, Bruce had—even when he’d worn the cowl—usually been asleep at six in the morning. He was thus, less than amused, when the phone rang at twenty-past. “You probably want to get an early start,” Barbara’s voice rang cheerfully in his ear. “Beat the crowds.”
Bruce groaned. “Barbara,” he snarled, “a long time ago, you informed me that you gave up your costume because you were tired of... I believe you said ‘playing Wendy to my flock of lost boys’? May I suggest that you suppress your mother-hen instincts? At least until after sunrise?”
“Sorry, Bruce,” Barbara said, the mirth in her voice belying her sincerity, “but you should get a move on. I wasn’t kidding about the crowds. And today would be a very good day to make one of your more discreet entrances to GCPD.”
“Barbara, if there’s something you’re trying to tell me, either say it directly or wait until I’ve had my coffee.”
Barbara sighed. “Someone tipped off the media. There’s a crowd of reporters camped around GCPD headquarters now, and it’s going to get thicker the later it gets.”
Bruce’s knuckles whitened on the receiver. “Wonderful.”
“I’m still trying to figure out how the leak happened. Sawyer told me she swore everyone she interviewed to secrecy, and I believe her. I don’t think any of our people would blab in public, and maybe nobody else meant to either, but you know how it is: word gets around through the grapevine, someone goes home and talks to their spouse, who tells a close friend, who...”
“I’m familiar with the pattern.” He sighed. “I suppose I should stop wasting time wondering how the breach occurred and just accept that it has, and move on from there.”
“Yeah, finding the source of the leak is my worry,” Barbara agreed.
“You don’t have to do that,” Bruce said sharply.
“Actually, I do. Commissioner’s orders. Well, I mean, her exact words were ‘I want to know how it happened and who’s responsible, and I realize that you have accesses to resources and individuals that I don’t. Can you make this happen?’”
Bruce could almost see her shrug.
“I said ‘yes.’ So, I’m doing some poking around. I mean, unless you want me to pass it over to the League.”
Bruce covered his eyes with his hand. “No.” He glanced at the clock. The hearing was scheduled for nine o’clock sharp and he needed to be alert and ready to explain anything they might need him to. Today definitely called for a cold shower and a strong coffee... or several. “I’m getting up.”
“Good. Oh, and Bruce? Don’t overdo the coffee. You don’t want them to think you’re jittery over this whole thing. Dick swears by apples and peppermint tea as pick-me-ups.”
Yes, Wendy. “I appreciate your concern.”
If he’d had the costume, it wouldn’t have been difficult. Hell, if he’d thought he could get away with swinging into Sawyer’s office on a Bat-line, he would have. But then, he was supposed to be proving that he could play by their rules, take their orders, jump through their hoops. He snarled and adjusted the wig of sandy brown curls over his own hair and studied the effect. He shook his head. He wasn’t about to start dying his eyebrows. If he kept his cap down until he was inside, he should be fine. He unscrewed the jar of adhesive and set to work on the moustache.
“What are you doing?”
Selina stood in the doorway, a peach silk bathrobe hanging open over a turquoise nightgown of the same fabric.
Bruce sighed. “Barbara called—”
“Oh, I was wondering—“
Bruce filled her in tersely. “It’s winter. With a cap hiding my face, a long coat, and a different walk, I should be able to slip through undetected.
“Or, you could give them an interview. Let ’em know you’re back and ready to take on the world.”
Bruce smiled. “Tempting,” he lied, “but not today. I have enough to worry about without the media.”
Selina shrugged. “You could say that if you can deal with the media first thing in the morning, the panel should be a breeze.”
Bruce shook his head. “The panel won’t be a breeze and I’m not putting myself through any more torture than I have to today.
“Mommy! Daddy!” Small feet padded softly down the hall carpet. Either Selina hadn’t stretched the safety gate across Helena’s bedroom door last night, or his daughter had already figured out how to neutralize it. No point commenting, unless he wanted another crack about how some things ran in the family.
Bruce sighed tolerantly. Helena appeared to be an early riser. Clearly, however, some things couldn’t be accounted for by heredity or environment. He bent down with a smile. “Good morning, Helena.”
Helena bolted behind her mother.
Bruce blinked. “Helena?”
The little girl frowned. “Daddy?” She reached a tentative hand toward his face.
Bruce held still. “It’s okay, Helena,” he said, realizing what the problem was. Then, carefully, he tugged at the wig. “It’s still me.”
All at once, Helena broke into a broad smile. She took two purposeful steps forward. Then, with a knowing laugh, she gathered two handfuls of sandy curls… and yanked.
Selena laughed. Bruce sighed. “I have others,” he murmured. “But… maybe I should wait until after breakfast to put one on.”
“Good idea. I was thinking of whipping up a batch of pancakes. Sound good?”
“Sounds wonderful,” Bruce admitted, “but according to Barbara, I shouldn’t waste any time getting down there.” He sighed again. “I’m going to have to microwave a frozen muffin, instead.”
Selina nodded. As she hefted Helena up and headed for the stairs, she called over her shoulder, “Just remember to take it out of the foil, first!”
Sawyer hadn’t exaggerated. The last time Bruce had seen this many members of the media in one place had been outside of Tim’s high school at the beginning of the mob war. Come to think of it, a lot of the same faces from that day were there now. As he approached the steps, he took a moment to scan the crowd; it would have looked more suspicious to just walk right on past a crowd of reporters without batting an eye.
There were a few new people, but nobody he recognized from any of the national news shows. He’d rarely participated in press conferences as a member of the Justice League, but he’d still watched the footage. He hadn’t expected that his story would be newsworthy enough to attract reporters from another county, and it appeared that he’d been right on that score.
He forced his face to remain blank as he made momentary eye contact with Summer Gleason. They’d had some good times together, and under other circumstances, he might not have minded catching up—if he could have been sure that their casual conversations wouldn’t end up in some six-part exposé.
“What’s going on?” he asked, affecting a South Boston accent. He glanced at the cameras. “You guys making a movie or something?”
One of the reporters looked him up and down and then, deliberately turned away. Bruce shrugged and continued inside.
Summer hadn’t recognized him either. He knew that it would have been awkward if she had, but he still felt a momentary pang. When he’d first gotten out of Arkham, he’d relied on Caller ID and voicemail to screen his calls. He’d been prepared when the media had tried to contact him for a piece on “Life in Arkham” or “Beyond the Cowl.” He’d never responded to the inquiries, and, as his story had fallen from the headlines, the calls had dwindled.
Summer had mailed him a card. Perfumed, with a pressed alstroemeria lily inside. On their last date, she’d worn the blossoms as part of her wrist corsage. The message hadn’t been anything special—just something along the lines of ‘Welcome back. Let’s get together.’ At the time, he’d considered calling her, but changed his mind at the last minute, unsure whether she was trying a sneakier way of gaining access to him for a story. Still, he’d appreciated the gesture.
“Can I help you?” A uniformed officer observed him, his face carefully blank.
Jerked out of his reverie, Bruce immediately remembered where he was. “I was told to report to room 125 at nine.”
“It’s only ten past eight,” the officer remarked. “You’re early.”
Bruce nodded. “I wanted to avoid the crowd outside.”
The officer shrugged and waved toward the front counter several yards ahead. “Give your name at the desk, grab a seat on the wall, and wait until someone comes out for you.”
Bruce nodded again. He should probably lose the disguise before he did that. “Mind if I use the men’s room?” he asked.
The officer shrugged again. “You’ve got time. Turn around. It’s the door on your left.” He spun on his heel and headed toward the counter he’d pointed out a moment ago.
Bruce watched him go. Then he went to remove his wig and beard.
Two hours later, he was seated outside room 125 on a hard wooden bench, trying to read the morning paper. There were two uniformed officers standing on either side of the door, and others positioned at intervals in the corridor.
The door opened and another blueshirt looked out. “Mr. Wayne? Could you step inside for a moment?”
Bruce folded the newspaper, left it on the bench, and followed the officer into the room.
Ten minutes later, Bruce re-emerged into the corridor and rested one hand on the back of the long wooden bench for a moment.
“How’s it going?” a low voice asked him, as he took his seat once more.
Bruce looked up. “Barry?”
Detective Allen smiled. “I guess they figured it made sense to put me on security detail—seeing as I don’t really know the city that well anymore. This is the first time I’ve really been back since the ‘quake.” He frowned. “What happened to the Mick’s in Old Gotham?”
“It’s still there,” Bruce replied. “But they moved it three blocks west to the Old Dutch district.”
Bruce was silent for a few moments. Then, “I thought you were here researching some crime lead.”
“I am,” Barry nodded. “I’ve spent the last few days going through the files for data that isn’t online yet, but you know how that gets after the first few hours. You want to start skimming, only that’s when you miss things, and I don’t know about you, but when I take things too fast, I don’t remember what I read anyway. So, this morning, when they asked if I could help out here, I figured a change of scene might do me good—and save them having to assign another officer who could be put to better use elsewhere.”
“Seriously,” Barry said, “how are you doing?”
Bruce looked directly into Barry’s eyes. “How do you think?”
“Well, you look like you’d rather be swinging across Midtown right now.”
Bruce sighed. “You always were a decent detective. Or is it just that obvious?”
Bruce’s lips twitched.
“There’s an alcove at the end of the hall with some vending machines and a microwave. You want anything? Sandwich? Cup of coffee? Ramen soup?”
Bruce shook his head. “I’m not hungry. And I don’t need anyone fussing over me either.” A quick smile ghosted across his face. “Thanks, though.”
“You know you’re going to be okay, right?”
The door opened. “Mr. Wayne? Would you step inside, please?”
Bruce rose to his feet with a sigh. “Good talking with you, Barry.”
“I was a bit surprised when you called,” the young man admitted when the front door opened.
Les Paxton stepped aside to allow his visitor inside. “I do appreciate your coming by,” he smiled. “The thing about setbacks is that it gives a man a chance to know who his friends are.”
Derek Powers smiled. “I understand. I hope you had no doubts about my loyalty in all this.”
Paxton looked away. “I had no doubts about anyone’s. Foolish, I can see that now. No matter. You’re planning to attend the gala, aren’t you?”
Derek blinked. “I don’t know how I could avoid it, between my work for the Foundation and my position with PMWE. I RSVP’d same day.”
“Excellent,” Paxton said with a fatherly smile. “I want you there.”
“Call me ‘Les,’ Derek,” he chuckled. “We’ve known each other long enough not to stand on formality.” His chuckle quickly turned to a slight cough. “Circumstances being as they are, I’m afraid my own attendance will draw too much of the spotlight in my direction, when it needs to be pointed elsewhere. You’ve already proven yourself to have a good pair of eyes and ears. I want you to employ those at the gala.” He frowned. “Keep a close watch on Wayne. Without being too obvious, I want to know how he looks, how he acts, who he talks to, what he talks about… But don’t let him suspect that you’re watching him. He’s planning something, Derek, and I want to know what it is.”
Derek smiled. “You can count on me… Les.”
“Mr. Wayne, Councillor Riba has voiced a concern that we’d like to you address.”
Bruce inclined his head politely toward Goodrich and then turned in Oliver Riba’s direction. The councillor for Tricorner Island cleared his throat. “Mr. Wayne, you’ve never made any secret of your feelings about guns. How can you reconcile your distaste for firearms with the fact that, should your application be approved, you’ll be expected to carry one in the line of duty?”
Bruce took a deep breath. “I dislike guns, Councillor. You’re correct on that one. I think it’s fair to say that in every occupation, there are likely to be a few tasks that a person dislikes. I’m not overjoyed at the idea of carrying a gun, much less using one, but I do recognize that there are times when it might be necessary.” Don’t ask me for examples.
“Have you ever carried one before?”
From the trophy room to the practice area and back. “Not outside the manor. My grandfather was something of a collector, and my father after him.”
Riba frowned. “And…?”
He steeled himself. He’d known that this question might come up. He’d prepared an answer in his head. Now that the moment had come, though, the words weren’t as ready as he would have preferred. “After my parents were murdered, I didn’t want to go near a firearm. When I came upon the trophy case, I was horrified. Or,” he admitted, “perhaps ‘terrified’ would be more accurate. My first impulse was to destroy them. My second was to avoid the room.”
“How old were you?”
“Eight.” He straightened his posture. “When I was thirteen, I was walking past the room. The door was open and Alfred was unlocking the case. I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that he oiled them every few months. I watched him do the first. He started talking about basic gun safety and maintenance, even going so far as to show me the procedure. After that, I still didn’t like firearms, but I didn’t fear them either.
“Did you ever fire one?”
“Rarely. As I said, I don’t care for guns, but if necessary, I’ll do what I need to.”
“Did you ever use a gun as Batman?”
“Not with live ammunition. Tranquilizer darts, and those rarely.”
“Would you? If we approve your application?”
Bruce frowned. “At this point, the question’s moot. I’m not permitted to wear the costume at this time. As for down the road, I… can envision a scenario where I would need to change into costume while I had a firearm on my person. If there was no secure place to store it, then yes, I would keep it with me. However, I doubt that I would use it. With respect, I’ve been Batman for over two decades and not needed a gun. I’d suspect that, even if I were carrying one in costume, my first instinct would be to reach for a batarang over a revolver.”
“Do you ever think that a gun is the answer?”
Bruce’s eyebrows drew closer together. “I don’t think that anything is the answer. I would say that in a case of self-defense, a gun could be an answer, but there are always options. The question is how many of those options can be perceived in field conditions.”
Riba nodded. “Thank you, Mr. Wayne. I’ve nothing further at this time.”
Deputy Chief Goodrich smiled. “Don’t go too far, Mr. Wayne. We may need you again.”
Bruce ducked his head once and spun on his heel. Once he was safely outside in the corridor, he sagged against the wall and employed a basic relaxation technique. Then he returned to the bench and picked up his paper. When he turned the page, he noted, to his chagrin, that the ink had rubbed off on his sweaty palms.
Over the next three hours, they called him in another six times. When he emerged the fourth time, he discovered a SunDollars bag and a sealed Styrofoam cup with the same logo under his newspaper. The bag contained a chicken salad sandwich, three creams and three sugars, and a yellow post-it note with a jagged lightning bolt drawn in black ink. There was no note. He looked around in irritation, ready to give Barry a piece of his mind, but there was a different officer on security detail now.
He’d almost finished half the sandwich before the panel ordered him inside for the fifth time.
Maggie Sawyer could have gone home hours ago, but illogically, she felt that she should be in the building when the panel reached its decision. It made no sense; they could call her at home just as easily as they could tell her in person, and probably even more so. Still, she waited.
Finally, when the bright face of the Cathedral Square Clock—visible through her window, even from twelve blocks away—showed a quarter to nine, she heard rubber-soled boots striding purposefully toward her door.
A moment later, there was a knock, and Diane Goodrich stepped inside, her face unreadable. “Well, Mags,” she announced quietly, “verdict’s in.”
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