“Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case)–had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends–either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class–and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.”John Brown, Abolitionist; at his sentencing; November 2, 1859
A City on the Rise
Dimitri Vladkov turned back to his comrades in silence as Alexander Luthor walked back and started scribbling something on a piece of paper at the small table he occupied with his –– what, Assistant? Wife? Mistress?
All three men were struck dumb. Dimitri was a bit shellshocked from the flying man, but this meeting seemed to compound his confoundedness. Of course, everyone in the Skylight Club knew who Lex Luthor was; the rumor was that he owned the place, or partially owned it, but Lex Luthor didn’t just speak to patrons. A drink –– vodka and tonic water with a twist of lime –– arrived at the table in a highball glass, and Dimitri quickly downed it.
“Sorry mack, but Dimitri’s had a bit of a rough day. Seeing bird men and all,” explained Saul, slapping his hand on Dimitri’s shoulder and gripping it a bit too tightly as if to tell him get it together. Saul maintained eye contact and a grin with the irishman at the table. “What did you say your name was, pal? Warren?”
“Warner,” the man replied in a thick Irish brogue. “Liam Warner, and I’d say I’ve got an opportunity that could make the two of you a pretty penny.”
Dimitri straightened up at that. It had been hard to find a consistent job in Metropolis; in spite of the glittering glamour of the city, the Unions seemed to prioritize their access to President Roosevelt over their bargaining power with the new administration.
“Why don’t you tell us a little bit more about this opportunity,” Dimitri hoped he had used the right amount of subtle emphasis on the word “opportunity” to indicate that he was willing enough to do work of a less-than-legal nature.
“Well lads, I’ve got a company on the verge of being acquired. Originally, we did imports and exports,” the irishman continued to tell them about his company, their recent foray into radio tower parts, and how he’d made a fortune during the Great War contracting with the US Military to install telephone lines. Now, there was a bidding war between two American industrialists: Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne.
“And this is where you come in, lads,” Warner smiled, his bushy beard seeming to creep up higher on his face. “See, I’ll be wantin’ to start a new venture stateside. Custom luxury and security installations including cutting edge telephony. Once this acquisition is finalized, I can shore up a contract with the federal government inside of a month, given our history, and with a steady stream of cash from President Rosie, we’ll be able to build out radio and telephone infrastructure while we build our book of business. Crystal clear call quality, nationwi––“
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Liam,” Dimitri sounded very drunk. His heavy Eastern European accent coming through. “It sounds like you’ve got a lot of money coming your way, but uhh, Saul, how did you meet this guy? And where exactly, do we fit in?”
“My apologies, Mr. Warner,” Saul shot Liam a smile, then continued in Russian. [“I met this man in the lobby of the hotel this morning. He noticed my ledger, and asked me if I knew a ‘talented’ accountant in the city. After telling him about the work I’ve done for Mr. Calhoun, he asked me if I had any connections to good managers. Foremen who could scale his operation fast. Please don’t be so hostile”]
[“I didn’t think you believed in coincidences, brother.”]
[“I don’t. I believe that God has seen fit to bless us with this opportunity. If that means cooking the books to make two men with much more than they’ll ever need drive up the price of this working man’s company, then I am sure as hell going to get in early. Play it cool.”]
Liam Warner set down his drink as the men finished their discussion. He understood every word, but he didn’t need them to know that.
“Everything alright, lads?”
“My apologies, Mr. Warner, please, go on.”
Liam started to explain his plan to the two, reading from a script he held in his mind. In his peripheral vision, he saw Lex Luthor stand up, tear up a piece of scrap paper, ball it into a napkin, and toss it into a nearby rubbish bin.
When they understood their roles and deadlines, Liam handed each of the men his business card, and requested a check-in call the following week.
The three men shook hands, and Liam Warner headed to the bar to settle his check.
“Mr. Luthor said you three were his guests today, and everything’s been taken care of,” the bartender beamed at Liam.
“How gener–– oh!” a crisp sawbuck fell from Liam’s hand into the wastebasket, and he leaned over to pick it up. “Sorry, mate. Cheers!” he exclaimed, handing the bill to the bartender with a slightly drunken wink.
As he arrived back at the hotel, the concierge sprang to life, telling Liam that a telegram had been delivered for him. Liam opened the note, reading it to himself:
YM Richard giving strong consideration to your suggestions.
Scheduling a fundraiser tentatively for a week from Wednesday.
You’ll allow him to scale back on his work in the evenings, I’m sure.
In service, AP
The sender using punctuation, which cost extra, instead of saying “STOP” indicated a slightly careless attitude towards money, meaning that the sender was either very wealthy, or spending someone else’s money to send the message.
Liam slipped the concierge a five dollar bill, and headed for the elevator, itching at his beard.
His room was well-appointed, as would be becoming of a successful businessman, especially an international businessman.
But it was crowded, with tabloid clippings including headlines like
ARE SHADOWS STALKING SCUM IN GOTHAM? and
WHO ARE THE “GHOSTS OF GOTHAM?”
and with notebooks bearing the scrawlings of a man on the brink of a mental breakdown.
Times and locations of sightings of Gotham City’s so-called Ghosts. None of the papers printing these stories were exactly what one might call credible, of course, but the publisher of both of these tabloids, Parliament Publishing, had similar rags up and down the East Coast and as far west as Colorado.
There was a Red Flash in the Central City Caller known for being seen just before near-miss automobile accidents; the Smallville Smear was an oft-sighted blur that would, inexplicably, rescue cats from trees and once was said to have saved a school bus full of children from a twister.
Many of the stories in these papers could be called urban legends, but Liam was, first and foremost, a talented forecaster. And when the Metropolis Informer reported a blue blur stopping a mugging of some tourists more than a year after the last attributed sighting of the Smear, he began to start connecting lines and concocting theories.
Researching, planning, preparing, and interviewing.
When people talk about good detective work, they never mention the importance of asking the right questions.
Liam looked out the window at the dusk sky of Metropolis, Industry City, as it had been dubbed by a former mayor, and felt the ground tremble beneath him for a brief moment; followed by what could be described as a blue blur streaking past his window, followed shortly by a sound not unlike a whip crack.
The irishman bolted to the window, throwing it open to look out, seeing little more than a dot on the horizon, but flags blew violently in the wind, halyards clanging against their poles.
Liam noted the time on his watch, and scribbled it and the date and more-or-less precise coordinates, then tried to calculate the speed of the object that just flew by.
“Three thousand feet per second, forty percent humidity, twenty stories above sea level,” Liam remarked to the empty room while writing the estimates into his notebook. “Way above muzzle velocity for a Browning M1917. That’s faster than a speeding bullet.”
The phone in the room rang, it was the concierge.
“Mr. Warner, there’s a call for you. A man called Henry Butler. Shall I connect you?”
“Yes, please, but first, do you know anything about the building shaking just now?”
“Metropolis is a city on the rise, Mr. Warner. There are new skyscrapers being built all the time. I’ll connect you now.”
A series of clicks, then “Jesus. Henry Butler? Let’s get you a less obvious list of aliases, Alfred.”
“I maintain that you are, as ever, too paranoid, Mister Wayne, but you’ll note that while I am trained in subterfuge, I do enjoy a good chuckle now and again. How is the recruiting and…er…research coming along, sir?”
“I’ve just seen it. Well…almost, kind of. As for the recruiting, I’ve got two fellas who are interested, and, as luck would have it, the one with the flying man story just so happens to be a union man.”
“Very well then. Solidarity, forever, Mister Bruce.”
In May of 1920, six months prior to General Election, and one month before the Gotham City Primary Election, Henry Ford, the man credited with the “invention” of the modern assembly line, published a series of antisemitic stories in his newspaper, The Dearborn Independent.
Those stories would go on to become a series of pamphlets called The International Jew.
In June of that same year, just six days prior to the Primary Election, the Wayne family, as well as the workers of Wayne Enterprises declared that they would no longer be doing business with Mr. Ford.
“The Jewish men and women of Gotham have served our fine city from bank counter to barbershop,” began Martha’s brief public statement on the matter. “It is, frankly, unconscionable and unchristian to reject these families or differentiate them in any way. Gotham is stronger because of the diverse experiences that stitch together the fabric of our city. To people of the Jewish faith who work for Mr. Ford, I encourage you to come, make your homes in Gotham City. Man or woman, white or black, Irish, Italian, Cuban, catholic, protestant, or Jew: regardless of who you are or what you believe, you are welcome in Gotham.”
That evening, radio announcers reported that the stock prices for General Motors had closed at a seven-month high, and attributed that gain to Martha Wayne’s bold condemnation of Henry Ford.
Just two weeks later, an outburst of arts and culture exploded in Black neighborhoods and eventually across the city in what would come to be known as the Gotham Renaissance.
Since its founding in 1920, none of the many cars or trucks owned by The Pennyworth Foundation and its associated companies, including Wayne Enterprises, were built by Ford.
Their private collection of cars included the 1933 Pontiac Eight Convertible.
It was a little too attractive to the police, which Alfred chalked up to the color, “though whether of the car or driver is up for debate.”
This specific 1933 Pontiac Eight Convertible had a media red paint job, with a cream ragtop, black fenders and trim, and brown leather seats, all standard. And it just so happened that red suited Dick Grayson just fine.
It was an overcast day when Dick left Wayne Manor, but that almost never stopped Dick putting the top down.
The rush of air throughout the cabin on a cool day like today, on a drive through the winding roads and hills of Gotham County were just what Dick needed to clear his mind and really think about Alfred’s inquiry.
Mayor of Gotham City.
At only 22 years old, he would, if elected, be the youngest mayor in the Gotham history, by almost ten years. That the idea had come from Bruce spoke to how he was, perhaps, handling –– no, that wasn’t the right word –– moving on from the shellshock of his parents’ assassination just fourteen years ago.
It was clear that there was an opportunity here. Dick had a lane, and a very obvious path to victory.
Mayor Basil Karlo was not exactly popular, not anymore at least –– a B-list actor who decided to try his hand at politics. He was often called Clayface, because of his somehow equally forgettable and highly-expressive face.
He had the uncanny ability to meet someone and make them feel like he was authentically mirroring their priorities for the city in the seconds between handshakes. It was said that he could meet twenty men with competing values, and have them all believe that he was fighting for them by the end of a fundraiser.
By the second month of his first term, he was known as Killer Karlo. His advocacy for and institution of “tough-on-crime” policies gave the cops more arrests and convictions than ever, but crime just seemed to get more organized, more improvised, and far, far less elegant.
It was Gotham’s worst-kept secret that Mayor Karlo was on the take from at least one of the city’s manifold racketeering operations.
Conveniently, or perhaps not (for his opponent), violent crime took a precipitous drop in the final year of his first term.
Owing primarily to rumors of a secret society called the Yīnyǐng –– vigilante criminals trained in the oriental fighting arts, violent crimes fell, even as The Depression caused countless crimes of desperation throughout the country.
The movement of crime from behind a gun to behind a desk sent Karlo to a tight win; just one hundred and three votes. Everyone in the city got the uneasy sense that the cops were just as corrupt as Karlo, and even Mayor Karlo had privately said to the few people he really trusted that he got the sense that he was being extorted “comin’-and-goin’.” But as the Yīnyǐng scaled back or disappeared, violence once again seemed to be cropping up in Gotham.
The thought occurred to Dick: as Mayor, he could set the agenda on crime; the opportunity to create a local jobs-and-housing guarantee, and enhance the protections of The Roosevelt Administration was there, but so too was the chance to stop the exploitation of working men and women: setting a minimum wage for workers, or alternatively, a maximum wage for executives would mean lifting thousands of Gothamites out of poverty, and giving them alternatives to the shakedown lifestyle so many had turned to.
Dick looked in the rearview mirror. His eyes wore the lines of a much older man. A faded smudge of grease paint that he originally assumed was a bruise remained above his cheekbone.
“This is how we save the most lives,” he muttered to himself while wiping off the smudge. “But that doesn’t mean you let yourself get soft.”
He dug his foot into the accelerator with a new sense of resolve.
Bruce Wayne took in the lunacy scrawled on the scraps of paper on his hotel table and itched at his beard. Rough sketches and scribbled words like “Bungee?” were accompanied by flawed-but-sufficient arithmetic. Lex Luthor was skeptical of the veracity of the flying man stories, but not so skeptical that he thought he needed to be more careful with his thought process.
It was clear from the notes that Luthor had much more research to do, and so did Bruce.
Bruce Wayne muttered a couple words in his faux brogue, and slipped into the character of Liam Warner. He visualized the tics, both verbal and physical, and let Liam become him.
Levels and levels of faux persona came naturally to the man who had been wearing a mask since the world ended on his thirteenth birthday.
Liam Warner picked up the phone in his room and asked the operator to connect him to the concierge.
“Mr. Warner? Something that you need?” the voice on the other end of the line sounded genuinely enthusiastic to help with any arrangements.
“I’ll be checking out late this evening. Please charge the full day to my account. I’ll leave the room key on the pillow. Thank you.”
“Very well Mr. Warner. We hope you enjoyed your stay.”
Liam Warner hung up the phone and watched the sun fully set over Industry City.
He stood at the open window and took a deep breath of the rapidly cooling evening air.
He pulled a knitted mask over his head, cracked his neck, rolled his shoulders, and tied his boots tightly.
Bruce Wayne, formerly the Ghost of Gotham, and member of the Yīnyǐng, leapt out of the window and into the night.