Post by Admin on Jan 27, 2017 16:27:04 GMT -5
Issue #20: “Finding the Center”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy and Debbie
Edited by Mark Bowers
Issue #20: “Finding the Center”
Story by Ellen Fleischer
Beta Read by Kathy and Debbie
Edited by Mark Bowers
…You can bet
Before we're through
Mister, I'll make a man
out of you
Tranquil as a forest
But on fire within
Once you find your center
you are sure to win
You're a spineless, pale
And you haven't got a clue…
—Matthew Wilder and David Zippel, “I’ll Make a Man Out of You”
Although Bruce had already been issued his Class A uniforms, Monday morning at 5:45 found him in a suit and tie, lined up with thirty-three other new cadets outside the Rucka Auditorium in the main building. The uniform was in a garment bag in the trunk of his car, as Fochs had advised him. After today, he would have a storage locker in which to keep it.
He hadn’t bothered going to bed last night, settling for a four-hour afternoon nap, over Jim’s pointed protests. Bruce hadn’t minded. It had actually felt a little bit like old times to be nagged about his sleeping habits. Besides, Orientation Day began at six, which would have meant getting up before five —and he’d been in the cave alternating between meditation and target practice until well after two. Jim had called it ‘first day jitters’. Bruce hadn’t bothered dignifying that with a comment. It wasn’t as though he’d meant to be up that late. He’d just lost track of the time.
“Fine!” Jim had fired off as a parting shot. “This is probably going to be your last chance at getting a late night workout on a school night for the next few months, anyway.”
Bruce had turned around to face him then. “What makes you say that?” he’d demanded. “It’s not like I’m taking the full course load.”
“Right,” Jim replied, peering down his glasses at him. “So… you were just planning to saunter in at noon or whenever every day. Maybe stand off to one side while everyone else is frantically cramming for the next Homeland Security pop quiz, completely unconcerned.” He shook his head. “Look. I know how all those digs and cracks have been wearing you down. I haven’t said anything, because first, you’ve been toughing it out, and second, there wasn’t much of anything you could have done to stop it, beyond what you were already doing — unless you were going to quit. What you’re thinking now, on the other hand?” He sighed. “If you don’t want the prima donna treatment, then don’t act like a prima donna!”
Bruce blinked. “So you think I should be at the academy from seven to four every day — and from six to five tomorrow?”
Jim nodded slowly. “I think you should plan on it, at least, for the next little while. There’s more to the academy than academics, and just because you passed the courses doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the opportunity to review a few things. Mind you,” he said slowly, “it wouldn’t surprise me if the top brass has something else in store.” He smiled. “Part of the academy experience is about wearing you down, after all. Don’t make assumptions and don’t count on… whatever you’ve been counting on.”
Bruce’s eyes narrowed. “Do you… know something I don’t?”
“I was a cop for forty years,” Jim chuckled. “What do you think?” His smile broadened. “While I could make an educated guess about what you’ll respond to that question, I can make a better one about what the instructors at the academy are thinking. Your background investigation and test results highlighted your strengths, but they also pinpointed your weaknesses. Don’t think you’ll get away with keeping those under the rug for long,” he said, his smile vanishing. “Because you won’t.” He sighed. “Now, I’m off to bed.” He clapped Bruce on the shoulder. “Have a good day at school, tomorrow.”
Bruce rolled his eyes at Jim’s retreating back.
“I saw that.”
He smiled at the memory, as the auditorium doors swung open and a uniformed officer began barking orders from the head of the line.
“Move inside. Take a seat in one of the first two rows. No talking. Eyes forward. It is now zero-five-fifty-five. Orientation will commence at precisely zero-six-hundred. Proceed.”
They filed in.
At exactly 6 AM, true to the officer’s word, MacInnes got up from his seat in the front row, ascended the steps to the stage, and took the lectern. His gaze panned the room, taking in each cadet, but never lingering too long on any one of them. Finally, he smiled thinly. “Good morning, cadets.”
Maybe the others didn’t know what was expected, but after his first dressing down from MacInnes, Bruce was ready. He was on his feet in an instant. “Good morning, Sir!” he snapped.
He wasn’t the only one. At least half a dozen others responded similarly. Someone else snickered.
MacInnes whirled in that direction in an instant. “Your name?”
The young man swallowed, but replied firmly, “Pete Norton.”
MacInnes waited, saying nothing, his gaze steady.
“Peter Norton… Sir.”
MacInnes nodded. “That’s right, Cadet,” he said with deceptive mildness. “You will address your superior officers as ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’. Moreover, Cadet,” his expression hardened, “you will follow the example set by those cadets who already know their business, and stand when spoken to. On your feet.”
As Norton hastily complied, MacInnes waved his hand across the room, encompassing the others. “That goes for all of you! Stand up. We’re going to try this again.”
Wooden chairs creaked as seats tipped up and the class struggled to their feet.
MacInnes shook his head. “Pathetic,” he said softly. “Fine. We’ll begin at the beginning. Take your seats, all of you.” He waited for the noise to die down. “Now. When I say to stand, you are going to stand in unison. You will remain standing at attention until I give you leave to do otherwise. And when I say ‘Good morning, cadets,’ you will all respond as your fellows did a minute ago. Am I being clear?”
“Yes, Sir!” the class chorused, mostly in unison.
MacInnes shook his head again. “We’re going to get this right before you leave this room, if it takes us into tomorrow. Get up!”
Bruce sighed inwardly. It was going to be a long day…
The grand tour followed. Once again, Bruce found himself following Sgt. Fochs around the campus, only this time he was joined by 32 others. Fochs was going into far more detail this time. Whereas before, he had simply pointed out the buildings and landmarks, now he took them inside, showing them the classrooms (where they would be spending most of their time), the gym, library, and other areas of interest.
“Physical training takes place outside, unless there’s a cold weather alert or,” Fochs smiled, “a smog warning in effect. We’re not actively trying to kill you, although I promise you, there will be times when you’ll wonder.”
There was an appreciative laugh.
Bruce took a moment to glance at the others. Most of them were Dick’s age or younger, though he spotted a few who were clearly in their 30s. He was probably the oldest, however. Nearly half the class was female and at least a third, non-white.
“Get used to hard work,” Fochs continued when the laughter subsided. “The course load is heavy and this isn’t high school. The minimum passing grade is a 75. For firearm accuracy it’s 84 with a pistol, 80 with a shotgun. If you fall behind, you will not catch up.” He was still smiling, but his words, delivered in a friendly tone, were serious. “There won’t be time. Some of you have families. Cherish the time you have with them. It’s going to be minimal for the duration. It helps if your family is behind you, but even if they aren’t, you’re still going to need to stay on top of things.”
His voice grew sterner as he continued. “If you study best in a group, show some initiative and form one. If you’re better on your own, do that. Keep up with your courses, have your gear ready for inspection at all times, and you just might get to enjoy one day out of your weekend.” He grinned. “Best financial investment you can make isn’t going to be a new laptop — you’ll be issued one before you’re dismissed at the end of the day anyway. Forget the latest smart phone or energy bar. Oh and forget donuts until you’re past physical training. You’re going to need something with more nutritional punch. No,” he shook his head. “The best investment you can make at this point is in a good iron. Your uniforms, including exercise gear, are to be clean and pressed at all times. Correction,” he admitted, “exercise gear needs to be clean at the start of class. If parade grounds are muddy and your drill sergeant has you doing calisthenics, you will also be doing laundry that evening. Find a good detergent and a better stain remover. As you’ll discover when you get your Class C uniforms, your t-shirts are white. Keep them that way. Athletic shoes are for physical training only. They may not stay white, but toss them in the washing machine as needed. Your dress shoes should always be clean and polished to a mirror shine. Get to bed early on Sunday night. Oh. And one other thing…”
Foch’s normally cheerful face turned solemn. “I shouldn’t have to say this, but I want to make it very clear. When classes are over and you go home, you may be on your own time, but you are still Gotham City Police Academy Cadets. If you break any laws while off-duty, expect to face repercussions inside campus as well as outside. If you drink while off duty, that is your legal right, but if you can’t hold your liquor and you make an ass of yourself, it may not be illegal, but it will still bring down disciplinary action on your head. If you are found behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or greater, you will be expelled.” Someone must have looked disbelieving, because Fochs took a measured step forward.
“When you get out there, you’re going to enforce the law. You’ll embody the law. Anyone who thinks that that puts them above the law is invited to turn around and walk out now. If you withdraw before the first week is out, you’ll get back almost your full tuition.” He waited. “No takers? Good. Remember that, if you want people to listen to you when you tell them to obey the rules, you need to set an example.” He drew himself up ramrod straight. “Am I being clear?”
Suspecting that this was about to become the norm for him, Bruce squared his shoulders and added his “Yes, sir!” to the chorus.
Selina lifted Helena out of the bathtub and enveloped her in a fluffy towel of luxurious Egyptian cotton — the kind carried in stores that seemed to loudly proclaim “If you want to know the price, you clearly can’t afford it.” Not that Helena knew that, of course. She just knew she liked wriggling in it. Selina was drying her daughter’s hair when the telephone rang. She groaned. “It’s like they psychically know the least convenient time for you to run and pick up,” she groused. She had half a mind to ignore it, but it was a long distance ring. Best to listen and hear who it was.
Gathering up Helena, she emerged from the bathroom and strode briskly to the phone on the hall table, just as the message began to play.
“Bruce, it’s Lois. I need to talk to you ASAP. Can you call me back at 302-555—”
Selina frowned. It didn’t sound like she was trying to get a story. It sounded like she was trying to warn him about something. Unless that was a ploy. Great. Live with someone this paranoid long enough and watch it start rubbing off on you. Not that it helps when people really ARE out to get him. She grabbed the phone. “Lois, it’s Selina. What’s going on?”
“Selina?” For a moment, Lois sounded surprised, but she recovered quickly. “I hadn’t realized I could reach you at this number.” A sly note crept into her voice. “So, confidentially… is it Selina… or Selma?”
Selina laughed. “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies. Normally, I wouldn’t have picked up, but you sounded a bit tense and…”
“It’s fine,” Lois said. “And maybe it’s nothing, only…” She paused. “No,” she continued more firmly. “It’s not nothing. Today, our Entertainment and Arts editor was prancing around the office gloating about having received an invitation to the latest Wayne Foundation gala. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, except for two factors.”
Selina shifted Helena on her hip and switched the receiver to her other ear. “Go on.”
“First, Cat’s never been invited to a WF function before.”
“Hold on,” Selina smirked. “Cat?”
“Cat Grant, yes,” Lois said impatiently. “Are you seriously going to waste time poking at a feline reference? As I was saying… she usually gets invites to society events here in Metropolis, but never in Gotham. And never with travel and accommodation included.” She took a deep breath. “Cat Grant might currently be one of our section editors, but she got her start as a gossip columnist and… let’s just say that she sometimes still writes a society column as a ‘special’ and her roots are pretty apparent when she does.”
Selina nodded, frowning. “I think I’m starting to get the picture.”
“I think you are, too,” Lois replied. “I caught that interview Bruce did with Summer Gleason almost two weeks ago. If he’s going to be at that gala…” Her voice hardened. “I did some digging, made some phone calls. I’ve got contacts at other papers. Let’s just say that Cat’s not the only journalist with a society page credential who got an invitation. She may be one of the kinder ones, though.”
Helena was squirming. Selina set her down with a mental sigh, knowing that the towel would be on the floor inside of a minute and her daughter would be streaking — and shrieking — down the hall. “What message did you want me to pass on to Bruce?”
“Just… tell him to be careful. And see if there’s any way you can get an official list of who’s already RSVP’d for that thing. The AP picked up that story about the woman with the bogus restraining order and the PMWE exec who hired an impersonator. If you can’t incriminate an adversary, it’s been my experience that humiliation is the next best thing.”
Selina bit down on the inside of her lip. “I’ll pass it on. Thanks.”
After she hung up, she closed her eyes for a moment. As if Bruce doesn’t have enough to worry about right now… she thought angrily. Then she bent to pick up the towel and ran to chase after her daughter.
After the campus tour, another officer marched them into one of the classrooms. Unlike the auditorium, there were only forty seats here. Bruce considered and then took a chair in one of the middle rows toward the back of the room. The officer introduced herself as Sergeant Adams and divided them into groups of four and five. She handed out paper and pens, and instructed them to create a group resume.
“Don’t be modest,” Adams advised. “And don’t just list past work experience. Some of you have unconventional skills. That’s part of the reason you’re here. List them.”
There went his thoughts of keeping a low profile. He hadn’t actually believed he’d be able to do so for long, but he’d entertained some fleeting hopes.
Two of the others in his group had their resumes with them and were quickly transcribing details onto the new sheets. Bruce started writing. After a few moments, he looked up and realized that the others had finished and were looking at him with disbelieving expressions.
“I’m almost done,” he said. “Um…” He passed over the first two sheets. “You can have these.”
A young woman with short auburn hair framing elfin features accepted them. “Guess I’d better start combining everything,” she said.
Bruce continued to write, feeling increasingly self-conscious as he felt eyes from other tables focussing on him.
He was pleasantly surprised, however, when Adams began writing the class’s skills on the whiteboard. There were more than a few entries that hadn’t been on his list. His eyebrows shot up. An International Sniper Competition finalist, an eighth-place runner in the Boston Marathon. His eyes widened. Someone else had finished the Iditarod. Then there were veterans, transfers from the GCFD and the Harbor Patrol…
Adams’ voice broke into his thoughts. “So, as you can see, each and every one of you is bringing a different set of skills and competencies to the table. Don’t discount past experiences and don’t assume that a fellow cadet whose class work is dead average has nothing to contribute. Every one of you has earned a spot in this class. Now it’s on you to earn the right to continue.”
Lunch was next. As Bruce downed his soup and sandwich in the cafeteria, he became increasingly aware of looks darting his way. Whispered snatches of conversation reached him.
“…Kinda old for a cadet. Think he’ll keep up?”
“Man, have you been living under a rock? That’s Bruce Wayne. As in Batman? Don’t you read the papers?”
“That’s him? Whoa. But he looks so… normal.”
Bruce did his best to ignore the whispers and concentrate on the meal. The food wasn’t bad — a hearty split pea soup and a roast beef sandwich — not gourmet fare, but certainly satisfying.
“He wants you to think that,” someone intoned in a sepulchral voice. “It’s all part of the plan.”
Bruce set down his spoon and looked around. Heads instantly lowered to plates and bowls and the room fell silent, apart from the sounds of scraping spoons and shifting chairs.
One of the cadets made eye contact for a moment, then smiled nervously and looked down again.
Bruce went back to his meal and tried to tune it out when the whispering started up again.
After lunch, Fochs handed out personalized access cards. Then he loaded them down with uniforms, policy manuals, locker assignments—both in the main building and the physical training area—and schedules. Bruce felt more than a few eyes on him when the sergeant passed him over for everything but the locker assignment, schedule, and card. He studied the schedule with a frown.
“Problem, Cadet?” Fochs asked quietly.
Bruce looked up. The other cadets were speaking amongst themselves now and didn’t seem to be paying attention to them. “I’m not sure,” he said in an equally low tone. “…Sir,” he added belatedly, as he saw the sergeant’s expression harden.
Fochs nodded. “Better.” He turned around. “Carry on, Cadets,” he called. Then he motioned Bruce toward the door. “Walk with me.”
As soon as they were outside, Fochs turned to him. “I’ll ask again,” he said seriously. “Is there a problem, Cadet?”
Bruce hesitated. “Sir, are you aware of the agreement that I made with Commissioner Sawyer before I applied to the academy?” he asked.
Fochs nodded. “I am.” He motioned to Bruce to keep walking.
“Sir, this is a complete schedule.”
“That’s correct.” Fochs paused. “Let me ask you something, Cadet. If you hadn’t been given the texts for review, had you taken the exams with no preparation, how do you think you would have scored?”
Bruce’s eyebrows shot up. “Lower, Sir.”
Fochs smiled. “That’s why you have a complete schedule. Don’t misunderstand me. The deal you struck with the commissioner holds. You don’t have to attend the classes you’ve already passed. However, the material on which you were tested was never intended to be something you learned for an examination and then forgot. You need to have the data in your head at all times — because sometimes, you won’t have the luxury of pulling over to check your onboard computer. I know the panels have been down on you about your past use of physical force. At the very least, you need to know when you are sanctioned to use it.” He frowned. “Unless you’re one hundred percent positive that you won’t second-guess yourself at the worst possible time.”
Bruce stopped. “Excuse me?”
“Before I was assigned here as an RTO,” Fochs said with a shrug, “I used to work vice at Third Precinct, down in Park Row. Let’s just say I’ve had to make a few split-second decisions — which IA subsequently supported.”
Bruce frowned. “To clarify, Sir, you’re saying that I can disregard this schedule, with the exception of the subjects I haven’t yet passed.”
“That is what I’m saying, Cadet,” Fochs nodded. “However, my recommendation to you is to go home tonight. Take your policy manuals and turn to the practice tests at the back. Pick ten to fifteen questions at random from each one and see if you still know the material. If you don’t, I’d strongly suggest that you audit the classes. Think of the tests as optional; but, if you get a better grade the second time around, it will stand.”
“And if I do know the material… Sir?”
Fochs shrugged. “Do what you want. I still recommend auditing the classes. Of course, this is just some friendly advice, not an order. But it’s friendly advice from someone who’s been here for a few years and knows what he’s talking about.” He smiled again. “Not to mention, friendly advice from someone with two rounds at Kelly’s riding on your successful completion of the program. I’m just protecting my investment,” he added. “Think it over, Cadet. Let’s head back.”
Bruce returned to the manor, Fochs’s final exhortations to them all to get a good night’s sleep ringing in his ears. He pulled into the cave and noted a metallic blue Camry hybrid parked in one of the bays. He shook his head in resignation, but he wasn’t really displeased—or surprised to find that Dick was already here. He took a deep breath and headed upstairs.
He couldn’t quite suppress a smile as he stepped into the living room. Dick was taking Helena through some basic stretches, while Selina looked on.
“Hey, that’s great,” Dick was saying. “But I betcha can’t do it like this! See?” Both were sitting in their stocking feet on the carpeted floor, their legs extended straight out in front of them. As Bruce watched, Dick slowly bent forward until his fingers touched his toes. “Can you keep your knees straight?”
Helena studied him for a moment, her small face serious. Then she bent forward.
“Uh oh!” Dick warned. “Look at your knees!”
“Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Helena’s dismay was so comical that Bruce had to stifle a laugh. Dick felt no such restriction. In a moment, Helena was giggling too, and Dick reached over and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close.
“Okay,” Dick grinned. “Let’s try again. Watch…” As he returned to the starting position, he glanced over at her. “Now, you.”
This time, she got it.
“Whoo! Atta girl, Helena! Yayyyy!” Dick applauded as Helena beamed. “Can you do another one?”
“I thought we’d agreed that you were going to call ahead,” Bruce remarked, though with none of the irritability that would have marked his words in times past.
Dick looked up. “Oh, hi, Bruce,” he replied. “The thing about calling you ahead is that you don’t always pick up.” He pulled up to a shoulder stand and flipped upright, causing some of the crystal knickknacks in the breakfront to sway. “Sorry,” he murmured. “That didn’t happen the last time I tried it.”
“As I recall,” Bruce remarked, straight-faced, “the last time you tried it, you were eleven.” He stooped to detach Helena from his leg and swept her up to his shoulders.
“Yeah. That could be a factor,” Dick replied with equal seriousness. The smile returned a moment later. “So, how’d it go?”
Bruce sighed. “I suppose, as well as could be expected.” He hesitated. “Maybe it’s good that you’re here. I’ve been presented with a dilemma. I’ve heard from two parties already, but I’d like your input.”
Dick blinked. “Hit me.”
Dick’s opinion finally convinced him. At 6:58 the next morning, Bruce joined the 30 cadets already lined up in front of the criminal law classroom, his text book and policy manual under one arm, together with the three-ring binder he’d been directed to procure.
The cadet in front of him turned around. “Morning.”
Bruce smiled pleasantly and returned the greeting.
“Steve Kotsopoulos,” he said, shifting his books to his left arm and extending his right.
Bruce shook it firmly. “Bruce Wayne.”
“Yeah,” Steve grinned. “I know. Rumor has it…” His voice trailed off as a tall, dark-skinned woman in GCPD blue, her hair twisted in a no-nonsense bun, approached them, the soles of her polished black oxfords barely squeaking on the slate flooring. As she drew closer, the others fell silent as well.
She surveyed them slowly before pursing her lips and pushing them in and out. “Good morning, Cadets.”
This time, they responded in unison.
In the distance, Bruce heard the sound of running feet drawing closer. He wasn’t the only one. The instructor’s face settled into a stony frown. There was a skittering sound, which Bruce identified as a metal pen clip hitting slate tile, followed by a muffled curse as the footsteps momentarily halted. Then came the thud of a textbook falling and the rustle of loose-leaf pages. The instructor’s brown eyes slid over them, almost daring them to laugh. Nobody accepted the challenge.
A moment later, Peter Norton rounded the corner and raced toward them. His cap was askew, his clip-on tie was falling off, and one of his sleeves was unbuttoned. Lined paper was spilling out of his three-ring binder at all angles—he’d clearly shoved them inside the cover without securing them in the rings—and there was a highlighter cap clipped to the cover, with no highlighter in evidence. He took one look at the others and his face, already bright red from exertion, grew several shades rosier.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
The instructor bore down upon him. “I didn’t quite catch that, Cadet.”
Norton did his best to stand at attention and keep his books from slipping. Several sheets of paper floated to the ground, despite his best efforts. “Sorry, Ma’am!” he belted out smartly.
She looked him up and down, her expression thunderous. “That’s going to cost you twenty push-ups, Cadet.”
“Now, Cadet! We don’t have all day.” Someone snickered and her head snapped up. “That goes for all of you. Drop your supplies, get down, and give me twenty.”
In a moment, thirty-two cadets were hastening to obey. Once they were done and had been instructed to pick up their things and stand once more, the instructor bore down on Norton again. “In the field, Cadet, carelessness can be fatal. Sloppiness can be fatal. Tardiness can be fatal. If not to you, then to every fellow officer depending on you.” She surveyed them impassively. “Doubtless,” she continued, now addressing the entire troop, “you’re familiar with the maxim most often proclaimed by the Three Musketeers, ‘All for one, one for all’?”
Silence greeted her. From what Bruce’s peripheral vision could make out of the expression on Kotsopoulos’ face, he could tell that the other cadet was coming to the same conclusion that he himself had drawn as soon as they’d all been ordered to the ground.
“I asked you a question, Cadets.”
“Ma’am, yes Ma’am!”
She nodded. “Good. Because one of the most important things that each and every one of you needs to get into you heads is that your actions, positive and negative, will have repercussions for the entire class.” She looked at Norton. “By tomorrow morning at 0700 hours, Cadet, I will expect, in my email, a memorandum from you detailing your infraction, the reason, and the steps you have taken to prevent a reoccurrence. Moreover,” she continued, surveying the entire class, “I will expect a five-hundred word essay from each of you on the importance of punctuality.”
“Oh, come on!” someone muttered. “Are we back in middle school?”
“Six hundred words.”
Norton raised his head. “Ma’am, that’s not fair. I’m the one who was late.”
“Yes. You were. And just as your actions can negatively impact your team in the field, the same applies in the classroom. Seven hundred words.”
He opened his mouth again, but before he could utter a sound, she stopped him.
“Care to go for eight hundred, cadet?”
“Shut up!” someone hissed.
After a moment, Norton lowered his eyes.
“Inside, all of you,” the instructor ordered. “We’ve wasted enough time on this.” She unlocked the classroom door. “Find a seat.”
They began to file in. As Bruce was about to walk through the door, she stopped him. “Cadet Wayne?”
“I was advised that you had already passed this course. Is that true, Cadet?”
“Then why are you here, Cadet?”
Bruce returned her gaze levelly. “I’m part of this class, Ma’am.”
She eyed him searchingly for a long moment before a hint of grudging approval showed in her face. “Just so we’re clear: if you’re part of the class, Cadet, you’re part of it in good times and bad. You don’t get to opt in to the lectures and out of the discipline. In other words, Cadet, I hope you think your change of heart is worth a seven-hundred-word essay.” She extended her arm. “After you.”
Selina waited until Bruce had left for the academy before calling Barbara. “…So,” she concluded, “I didn’t get around to telling him last night. I figured he had enough on his plate, and I didn’t want to dump more on him on his first day.” She closed her eyes. She knew that he would have wanted her to tell him, but that didn’t mean that he would have wanted to hear about it. Particularly when there wasn’t much he could do to counter it. “Can you do some checking for me?” she asked. “Find out how bad it is?”
There was a pause on the other end of the telephone. Selina could hear the faint sound of typing on a computer console before Barbara’s voice came on the line. “I’m on it,” she said. “Wonder if it’s too late to get them to move the gala to a weeknight, so Bruce would have a reason to miss it.”
Selina smiled at the thought but, although Barbara couldn’t see it, her head was shaking as she did. “You know he wouldn’t back down now.” Then, under her breath, she added, “If you look up ‘blind bat stubborn’ on Wonkipedia, there’s a photo of Bruce there.”
“I know,” Barbara said seriously. “I just added it last week.”
Selina tried to stifle a laugh. It worked, too—until Barbara giggled. Then she lost it.
“I’ll see what I can find out,” Barbara promised, calming down. “After I get some sleep. I’ve been up all night running interference for the League.” She sighed. “Crisis in Indonesia. It won’t be in the papers, I don’t think, but it was tense for a couple of hours. Besides,” she admitted, “I wasn’t sure if anyone else might come down with a bad case of insomnia and pick up the phone.”
“I hear you,” Selina smiled. “I don’t know if anyone would actually think to do that, but it’s nice to know it’s an option.” She heard a squeal of laughter from down the hall. “Enjoy your nap, Barbara. That’s one option I don’t think I have anymore.”
On the other end of the line, Barbara chuckled and closed the connection.
The rest of the class passed without incident. The instructor introduced herself as Sgt. Calhoun, and wrote her name on the whiteboard. She took attendance, handing out plastic name plates with each “Here,” and instructing them to keep them on their desks at all times. One person was missing. Bruce wondered whether they’d already dropped out. Calhoun didn’t dwell on the matter. Instead, she immediately launched into an overview of the state penal code. Most of it was familiar to Bruce already, but he dutifully took notes. As the period progressed, he realized that, in addition to knowing her material, Calhoun had a real love for the subject.
“Many of you,” she stated, “may be able to recall a time, not too long ago, when the Criminal Code was temporarily suspended.” She surveyed the classroom. “How many of you were in Gotham during the No Man’s Land?”
Several hands shot up, Bruce’s among them.
“For those of you who weren’t, read up on it when you can. It’s a prime example of what happens when folks just make the rules up as they go along. We want to believe that people are basically good, and some are. But when people believe that they can commit an illegal act with impunity, up to and including murder, many will. Some of the laws that we’re going to learn will seem like common sense. Others will make you agree with Charles Dickens when he wrote that the law was an ass. For example,” she said, “when we get to section 2C of the criminal code, you’ll find that it’s illegal to wear a bulletproof vest while committing a murder. And no,” she added, “that does not mean it’s legal to commit murder if you aren’t wearing one.”
There was a ripple of amusement.
“It’s illegal for a man to knit during the fishing season.”
Bruce’s eyebrows shot up at that. Looks like there’s one crime I really haven’t witnessed in this city.
Calhoun wasn’t done yet. “For obvious reasons,” she said, “these laws tend to be ignored. Unless your criminal justice instructor is looking to add a bonus question on a pop quiz,” she smiled.
A few people laughed.
“Every now and again, though, there’s a chance that one of them might be repealed. It’s currently illegal to delay or detain a homing pigeon. However,” she continued, “since The Birdwoman walked when it turned out that the bulk of the DA’s case hinged on evidence uncovered by intercepting her trained pigeons,” her lips twitched, “that one’s currently before the State Assembly. If it’s repealed before the end of the program, I’ll announce it so you’ll have the correct information to study for your exams.”
She glanced at her watch. “We’re done for the day. I look forward to your essays. Review Section One of the text book for next class and have your notes typed up in your binders and ready for inspection. Take ten minutes now to do what you need. Report back at oh-eight-thirty.” One eyebrow quirked up. “Don’t be late.”
Ma’am, yes ma’am, Bruce thought sardonically, wondering whether he’d made a mistake in taking everyone’s advice after all.
Ethics was next. He recognized the instructor from his panel exam. More classes followed before lunch rolled around.
Once again, Bruce found himself in line behind Kotsopoulos, this time in the cafeteria. “I wouldn’t,” he ventured as his classmate reached for a second sandwich.
Kotsopoulos turned to face him. “I’m hungry,” he said.
“So am I, but physical training is up next. Eating too much before calisthenics probably isn’t the best idea.” Seeing the other man frown, Bruce shrugged. “Your call. But keep in mind that a hundred ab-crunches or so right when you’re trying to digest isn’t the best idea.” He sighed. “I… have more experience than I’d care to admit about things like that.”
Kotsopoulos considered. Then he picked up the second plastic-wrapped sandwich and returned it to the counter. “Got any more tips?”
“Going by this morning?” Bruce asked. “I’m setting my alarm a half hour earlier tonight.”
“So, what’s it like in the field?” a young woman who looked like she was barely out of high school asked. “I mean, how much of what we learn here is actually going to apply?”
Bruce frowned. “Why ask me?”
“Well,” she looked down, her face flushing. “You’ve been out there.”
“Not as a police officer,” Bruce pointed out. “My past methods were a bit different from standard operating procedure and I’d rather not give you the wrong information.”
The young woman—Bruce thought her name was Ortega—hesitated. “A few years ago,” she said finally, “my older sister was taken hostage by Mr. Zsasz. She was lucky. She lived.” She looked down. “Thanks to you. I spent last night flipping through the texts and… there’s no unit on how to deal with…” she hesitated. “Well, I guess with… Gotham. I thought maybe you’d know something that might make a real difference out there.”
Bruce nodded, his expression sober. This was something he could understand all too well. “The best advice I can give you is to try to keep your emotions out of it. I’ve… generally taken more severe injuries when I’ve let my feelings run high. Other than that, if you suspect you’re going to face a… costumed foe, check the files ahead of time. The more you know about an adversary, the less scary they seem.”
“I dunno,” Norton said dubiously. “The more I read about Joker, the less I want to face him.”
“Yes, but you’ll have a better idea of what you’re dealing with when you do,” Bruce pointed out. “Better the devil you know…” He frowned as someone sauntered into the cafeteria and grabbed a tray. The newcomer was wearing a Class A uniform like the rest of them, but Bruce was positive that he hadn’t been there earlier.
From the looks that the others were exchanging, they didn’t recognize him either.
The newcomer glanced around the room and grinned. “What’d I miss this morning?” he asked. Without waiting for a response, he took a yogurt and fruit cup from the display. “I overslept, but I figured the first day was just going to be ‘meet the teachers and get the sylilabuses,” he frowned, “silly busses. Whatever. No big deal.”
Kotsopoulos shot the rest of the table an incredulous look. “Who wants to set him straight?”
“My guess,” Bruce said dryly, “is that we won’t have to. This is likely to be resolved in about a half hour.”
Norton coughed. “Uh… people. I’m sorry about this morning.”
Bruce shook his head. “If it hadn’t been you, it would have been someone else.”
“Yeah, but it was me.”
“And if I’d been about three minutes later, it would have been me. Look at it this way: a few extra push-ups aren’t going to kill any of us. Let it go.”
Craigie wasn’t waiting for them on the parade grounds. The beefy drill sergeant introduced himself as Sgt. Severin. After the first five minutes, Bruce was fairly sure that the man had been military before coming to the academy. He began by taking attendance. When he finished, he surveyed the line, his face neutral.
“Jandt,” he said, “step forward.”
The cadet who had joined them at lunch obeyed.
“Mind explaining to me why the access report shows you entering the main building at oh-one-hundred today and not earlier?”
Jandt was silent.
“I asked you a question, Cadet.”
“I overslept, Sir.”
“Oh,” Severin replied slowly. “E-leven thirrrrr-ty,” he repeated drawing out the syllables. “Well. That would mean that you missed out on the twenty push-ups the rest of the class had to do this morning, when someone else thought they could pop in whenever they felt like it. You can start by doing them now plus another ten.”
Jandt didn’t move.
“Cadet. Drop and give me thirty!”
“Sir, the ground’s muddy.”
“Oh, the ground’s muddy,” Severin mimicked. “Well, we’re not going to stand here and wait for it to dry, Cadet! Get down! Forty.”
The rest of the class watched in silence.
When Jandt finally stood, his uniform bore a layer of mud from neck to knee.
Severin looked at him. “One person showing up two minutes late netted everyone else a seven hundred word essay. Your arriving six hours late should be…” He surveyed the class noting the looks of horror on more than a few faces. “At ease,” he said finally. “I’m just going to slap another hundred words on. Cadet Jandt, you’ll also submit a second essay to me, one thousand words, on the importance of pulling your own weight. In addition, you’ll compose a memorandum explaining how you messed up and how you won’t mess up again. That’s going into your file. Get your assignments from one of your classmates and don’t count on getting much sleep tonight.” He gave him a final withering glance. “Now, get back in line.”
He surveyed the line again. “We’re going to start with the basics. When I say ‘fall in,’ form two lines. Seventeen in the back row, sixteen in the front, with four feet of space around you in all directions. You will stand at attention. In case any of you newbies don’t know what that is, it means chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in. Your arms should be fixed at your sides with your middle finger parallel to your trouser seam, eyes front and heels together with your feet out at a forty-five degree angle.” He held up a protractor. “In case of dispute, this is the final arbiter.”
There was some controlled scrambling as they tried to sort themselves into two rows. As Bruce stole a quick glance at the field, he saw that there were only fourteen cadets in the front row.
Severin rolled his eyes. “Looks like we’ve got a LOT to do.” He beckoned to the back row. “You two on the ends, come forward. Join the front.” He walked up along the front row. “I said a forty-five degree angle, Cadet.”
Kotsopoulos saluted smartly. “Sir, yes, Sir!” he said, moving his feet further apart.
He turned as if to go, and then came back. “Those shoes are scuffed, Cadet! Drop and give me ten.”
He moved on as Kotsopoulos dropped. He handed out ten push-ups each to the next five cadets for the same reason, before ordering the rest of the class to the ground. When they rose again, he surveyed them poker-faced. “From now on, you will each keep a shoe polish kit in your lockers. This exercise was just a little something to help you remember. That’s for tomorrow. For now, we’re going to learn some basic drill commands. Starting with ATTENNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNshun!”
Bruce found that it was possible to stand even straighter as his arms snapped involuntarily to his sides.
Firearms handling was next. To Bruce’s relief, Farnham devoted the entire lesson to gun safety and maintenance.
“Nobody gets to set foot on the firing range until they know this material cold,” he said. “Read over the sections in the manual on how to clean and check your weapons,” he concluded. “There’ll be a written quiz tomorrow. After that, you’ll start putting theory into practice, beginning with cleaning and checking your own weapons.”
Once he dismissed them, the cadets hurried to the PT locker rooms to change into their Class C uniforms for physical training.
Craigie was waiting for them when they came back. Without being told, they formed a single line and stood at attention for inspection. Craigie walked along, surveying them. Then he ordered them to remove their sweatshirts.
There was a murmur of dismay. It was barely above the freezing mark, and in the mid-afternoon, the temperature was dropping.
“Don’t worry,” Craigie smiled. “You’ll be working up a good sweat before you know it.” He proceeded to take them through a fifteen minute warm-up drill comprised of stretches, lunges, jumps and squats.
Bruce managed it easily enough, but from the grunts and gasps around him, he could tell that not all of his fellow cadets were as fit.
Craigie blew his whistle. “I don’t know how some of you wusses got in. That was pathetic!” he bellowed. “When I call off your names, step forward: Burns! Dawson! Jandt! Kim! Laramie! Lerner! Norton! Paulof! Wayne!”
Bruce blinked. His first thought was that he’d misheard. Maybe there was a Cadet Payne in the class, or some other Wayne. He took a disbelieving step forward. Craigie marched up.
“Cadet Wayne,” he growled, “recite the movements in the drill that you have just completed including the number of repetitions.”
Bruce squared his shoulders and complied.
“Cadet Wayne,” Craigie said, “you will work with these cadets for the next forty-five minutes. At the end of that time, you will have them able to complete this drill or you will run five laps for each cadet who cannot. Am I being clear?”
Bruce kept his face impassive as he replied with the obligatory “Sir, yes, Sir!” So that was it. Well, it wasn’t as though he hadn’t put less-disciplined trainees through harder exercises. He turned to the others. Some looked nervous, others embarrassed. Jandt smirked.
Bruce moved into the first position. “For the bend and reach,” he began firmly, “stand with your hands in the air—”
“Isn’t that for the crooks?” Jandt sneered.
Bruce glared at him. “Hands in the air,” he repeated. “As if a… crook took you by surprise because you were too busy trying to be clever to remember to watch your back.”
“That wasn’t a joke,” Bruce said. “Overconfidence can be your worst enemy. Criminals do stupid things. That doesn’t make them stupid. Now. Hands in the air, palms facing in, feet shoulder distance apart in the straddle stance.” He frowned at a wiry young man with an olive complexion and close-cropped white-blond hair. “Straddle stance,” he repeated.
“I’m… sorry, Sir. Um… Cadet. Cadet Wayne. I… I don’t know what that is.”
“Feet pointed straight,” Bruce explained. “That’s it, Cadet… Laramie?”
“Yes, Cadet Wayne.”
He was about to tell Laramie to drop the formalities, when he realized that in this circumstance, it was probably warranted. Definitely, telling them to call him “Bruce” was a bad idea here, where everyone was addressed by surname. Keeping the rank seemed safest. “On count one, bend at the waist, bend your knees a little and place your hands on the inside of your ankles. On two, return to starting position. One…”
Forty minutes later, Bruce could see that four of them were getting the hang of it. Three were doing better, even if they weren’t where Craigie wanted them. Then there was Jandt, who seemed to be treating the entire exercise like a big joke. He was quick with a sneer or a snide remark, but went through the motions of the drill languidly, as though he was doing Bruce a huge favor by deigning to participate. “Just a suggestion,” he said, addressing them all. “Practice this tonight any time you have fifteen minutes to spare.”
“Yes, Cadet Batman, suh!” Jandt said with a mocking salute.
Bruce let it pass.
All too soon, Craigie was back. “Let’s see what they’ve got, Cadet,” he told Bruce. “Walk ‘em through.”
Now, Jandt made a show of trying to perform the drill properly, but it was obvious to Bruce that he was deliberately going more slowly than the others. The other cadets were giving it their all—with varying results.
Craigie nodded curtly. “Not bad, Cadet,” he said. “But you can make them do better. Twenty laps.”
Bruce acknowledged the order and turned toward the track. Craigie’s voice checked him.
“Hold it, Cadet.”
“I think you need company. Cadet Jandt. Thirty laps.”
“What?” For the first time since Bruce had started working with him, Jandt wasn’t smirking.
“Do you have a question, Cadet?” Craigie was nearly purring.
Jandt swallowed. “Sir, that’s not fair. You never said…”
“I never said that if you mucked around, disrespected a fellow cadet in a position of authority over you, failed to pull your own weight and did not take the exercise seriously that you WOULD FACE CONSEQUENCES?” His voice had been rising steadily as he spoke, until his last word came out as a shout. “Welcome to the Gotham City Police Academy. You think you have what it takes to be a peace officer? Let me paint you a goddamned picture. One day, you are going to be given a job to do, and it won’t be something glamorous or fun. It won’t be the kind of thing that gets you a medal or your picture in the paper. But it’s going to be a job and your team is going to depend on you to do it. Are you going to decide, ‘Oh, now, I’m going to pitch in and do what’s expected,’ or are you going to shrug it off because you don’t believe it’s necessary and you think that, even if you’re wrong, if any heads are gonna roll they’ll be those of the higher-ups? Let me tell you something, Cadet Jandt,” Craigie took another step forward. “At this moment, your head is on the chopping block and I am holding a keen-edged ax. So, get the hell out on that track, run your thirty laps and be damned glad I don’t slap another ten on for insubordination. Get moving.”
As Jandt staggered off, Craigie turned back to Bruce. “Cadet Wayne,” he said calmly, “go run your twenty. “The rest of you… On your backs! Let’s see how many ab-crunches you can do in a minute.”
Lester Paxton was trying to keep a low profile. In the last few days, he had stayed home for the most part, emerging only to visit his lawyer. His wife was often out of the house. She was volunteering at a local distress hotline. Or a soup kitchen. Or fundraising for United Path. He shook his head. They’d always been active in various charities and other non-profits, but while Lester had been more than happy to write a check and get his tax write-off, Vivi tended to get more hands-on.
Since his involuntary leave of absence from PMWE, she’d been getting more hands-on than usual. Or had she always been this involved and he’d just been too caught up in his work to notice? He was noticing now. A few times, he’d been tempted to join her, but the thought of being spotted by some reporter and pressed to comment on his current situation kept him homebound.
Cliff had told him to avoid the media at all costs. A month ago, he would have been sure he could handle them without letting the wrong thing slip out, but then he wouldn’t have been in this mess in the first place if he hadn’t said the wrong thing to Chiarello. He couldn’t take the chance. He had no intention of going to prison, and if Cliff thought that keeping out of the public eye would help his case, then he would listen to his lawyer and barricade himself in his Brentwood mansion until his court date.
He was startled out of his thoughts when the front gate intercom buzzed. Derek never came this early and he would have called first. “See who that is, Thackeray,” he called to his butler. “And if it’s the media, I’m not here.”
Thackeray nodded his acknowledgement and left the room. Nearly five minutes later, he returned. “The gentleman refused to tell me his business, Mr. Paxton,” he said. “However, he did advise that he was leaving his calling card in your mailbox. I took the liberty of going to the gate to retrieve it for you.” He handed Paxton a small white envelope.
Paxton took it, extracted the folded note inside and frowned. “Who the hell is Dr. Thomas Elliot?”
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