His father was a drinker
And his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne’s t-shirts
When the swingset hit his head
The neighbors they adored him
For his humor and his conversation
Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things, rotting fast, in their sleep
Oh, the dead
Even more, they were boys
With their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?Sufjan Stevens, “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”
Privileging The Hypothesis
Bruce Wayne wasn’t used to being blindsided by a possibility that he hadn’t even considered, but Commissioner Johnny Gelio, in naming the Batman as the primary suspect in the murders of three Gotham boys had struck him dumb.
Dick Grayson, witnessing this, was concerned. He’d seen Bruce get something wrong before, but usually there was, at least, some level of preparation for it. Proportionate preparation, was what Alfred had called it.
The commissioner hadn’t just zigged when they expected a zag, he had oranged when they expected a triangle.
Following the presser, Dick sent his campaign manager, Barbara Gordon, to get more information from her father, Lieutenant Jim Gordon, about this new commissioner. Dick was more than a little relieved when Barbara expressed some similar concerns over Commissioner Gelio’s conclusions:
“I suppose that there’s nothing to suggest that it’s not the Batman who killed those kids,” Barbara had said, mostly thinking out loud. “But, it seems like they’re really biasing the public and any ongoing investigation against him.” She used the pronoun almost as a question. Many people had assumed the Batman was male, but, publicly, it was inconclusive; many doubted the Bat was even human.
“Privileging the hypothesis,” Bruce remarked, off-handedly.
“Huh?” Barbara and Dick said in unison.
“There are about three million people in Gotham. Let’s count the Batman as one of them,” Bruce explained. “To even consider a specific suspect without say, finding a clump of bat fur on the body of one or more of the victims, is giving undue weight to that suspect. If Gelio doesn’t have something other than a gut feeling, then he’s violating the Batman’s civil rights–“
“– Assuming he’s human,” Dick added.
“Well, no,” Barbara cut in. “Even if he’s not explicitly human, if he lives among us and has the ability to reason, then he should be treated as though he’s a human. If a dog started speaking English, and demonstrated that it could read, write, and survive on its own, we’d have to respect its agency.”
“I agree with you,” Bruce confirmed, “but for the purposes of this, let’s assume he does have to be human – It just leaves less to consider.
“So the point is, detective’s intuition isn’t enough to even suggest a suspect. It’s reckless, because people – in the absence of a competing, already-held belief – are much better at confirming ideas that have been presented to them than they are at refuting those same ideas. By calling the Batman Gotham’s most wanted criminal, detectives are much more likely to tie evidence to the Batman than they otherwise would’ve been.”
“Gee,” Barbara pondered, “this has some grim implications. I wonder how many people have been sent upstate because of detective’s intution.”
Bruce nodded, and Barbara, looking somewhat distressed, excused herself to track down her father, adding that it wasn’t likely he’d tell her everything, but she thought her father had also looked bowled over by the announcement.
“Let’s get back to the house and talk,” Dick suggested, and he needed to physically pull his adoptive older brother and mentor along to shake him out of his distracted state.
The Wayne Manor library was often better suited to discussions – even discussions of a clandestine nature – than the abandoned mine (or “the Bat Cave,” as Dick had started calling it).
The room smelled like leather and the light, vanilla-like notes of the lignin from aging pages; the faintest traces of pipe tobacco lingered in the air.
Superman could conceivably see into the room, but with the methodical, erratic campaign of bombings going on in Metropolis, Bruce weighed the conspicuousness of his and Dick’s being available to receive Barbara (or a call from Barbara) as a valuable component of his cover – only Alfred had the radio channel that would connect the house with the Bat Cave, and both Bruce and Dick were prone to bouts of intense hyperfocus in a space so well-suited to creative thought.
“So now what?” Bruce asked, surprising Dick.
“Are you asking me because you don’t have a plan, or because you want my input?” Dick asked back.
Bruce said sternly, “I’ve got ideas, but I want to hear yours without my influence first.”
“Well the Batman isn’t turning himself in,” Dick remarked. “So the questions we need to answer are ‘how well-resourced is the mayor making GPD?’ and ‘what happens when nobody comes forward?’ – unless you’ve got something else?”
“I’d considered both of those questions. Let me add a point, and see what conclusion you reach. The new commissioner and the mayor want to be seen as strongmen when it comes to crime. This was a public relations event, not a public policy event.” Bruce looked at his watch.
Dick knew the exercise. Consider the problem or problems for five minutes, without proposing anything. He stood up and started pacing around the room.
Bruce stood, closed his eyes, and breathed deeply. He wouldn’t describe it as meditation, exactly, but it provided him a bit of internal calm, even in situations of high pressure. While Dick conceived of answers to the new information Bruce had introduced, the elder brother thought through myriad scenarios, each less likely than the last, but exponentially greater in consequence.
By the time that five minutes had passed, Dick had been writing his fleeting thoughts (regardless of how absurd they seemed), for nearly three.
“Bruce,” Dick broke the hush of the library, handing Bruce his notes. “Here’s what I got.”
Bruce scanned the notes, laughing to himself that the quality of Dick’s penmanship was so inconsistent.
“This is interesting, can you explain more?” Bruce pointed to a bullet point where “What if he isn’t after the Batman?” was scribbled.
“I haven’t fleshed it all the way out, but I found myself asking ‘is there anything Gelio or the mayor have done so far that wouldn’t be true if they were after something other than The Batman?’”
“The Batman just feels like a vehicle for something else. I just haven’t figured out what it’s a vehicle for yet,” Dick answered. “What about you?”
“I was trying to figure out something along those lines,” Bruce said, then added, “but I think someone will turn themselves in–”
“Wait, but not the Batman?” Dick interrupted.
“Not the real one,” Bruce explained, “but that won’t stop them from saying it’s the genuine article.”
“Hmm, what would they get out of that? It would be so easy to prove it false.”
“Well if they weren’t proven false, then their premise gets reinforced. Violent crime in Gotham has been down, but you wouldn’t know it if you don’t read our papers.”
“The cops report those statistics anyway. They’d have a lot to gain by suggesting otherwise,” Dick noted.
“Correct,” Bruce affirmed, “but if it turns out to that whoever ‘turns himself in’ is a sham, it could be used to justify sinking additional resources into ‘fighting crime.’”
Dick let the information sink in.
“They could use that to justify anything,” he finally said.
“Well what does ‘anything’ even mean here?” Barbara demanded.
“Barbara,” Bruce gently intoned, not wanting to bring additional tension to an argument in progress between candidate and campaign manager, “I understand why you have an affinity for police officers. We don’t need or expect you to believe what we believe. I think what Dick wants, is to know that you will acknowledge potential abuses of power if we correctly predict them.
“We need to be better prepared for the commissioner’s next move than we were for today’s. Neither I – or Dick – will ask you to do or say anything that puts your father in danger.”
Bruce could feel that Barbara’s second guessing was reactionary – it was a belief that she’d held tightly, but that Bruce and Dick had challenged – so, because she was so bright, it created a mental confrontation for her. But he also knew that helping her to come to that belief on her own was going to be more effective than shouting at her, regardless of how correct the shouts happened to be.
“I’m sorry,” Dick lowered his eyes, “I overreacted.”
“Well, apology accepted.” Barbara spat, not seeming ready to really accept the apology…yet. “Anyway, my father told me what he could, but he was just as caught off guard as we were,” a deep breath, “he doesn’t know whether the Batman is a killer, but he doesn’t think he’s The Peter Pan killer, either.”
“Peter Pan because the victims were so young?”
“Yeah,” Barbara rubbed her neck, “something like that.”
“Well what does he think?” Dick asked.
“He said that Gelio took over his task force, and he’s being much more hands on than Grogan ever was,” Barbara explained. “Dad said that he and his partner are supposed to brief the commissioner every morning, but that they’re to operate as usual otherwise. Detective Kyle – that’s dad’s partner – said that she isn’t holding her breath about anyone turning himself in.”
Bruce looked at his watch; moments later, one of the staff knocked on the door to the library.
“The evening editions, mister Wayne.” the woman said with a warm smile.
“Thank you,” Bruce smiled back. “If you’re not leaving for the day just yet, could I trouble you for a pot of coffee?”
The worker smiled, said of course, and departed. Bruce tossed a newspaper each to Barbara and Dick.
“Well ain’t that a kick in the trousers!” Barbara said, reading the headline:
NEW COMMISH BATTLES BAT
“Look at this,” Bruce pointed out a line in the front page interview he was reading in Gotham Financial the headline – “Exclusive Interview: Top Cop’s Big Plan for Big Businesses” – was less combative, but no less ominous to Bruce:
GELIO: The mayor’s got a plan to keep people, especially
the job creators who operate our essential businesses
here, in Gotham. My people love it. It starts with more
foot patrols, more quality of life interventions –
stopping people from littering, arresting people for
misdemeanors to get them to roll on the higher ups in
their organization, and starting immediately, neighborhood
check-ins. Gothamites will get to know the officers in our
communities as we periodically knock on doors, chat with
residents, and become a part of it all. Feel free to
invite us in, I’m partial to lemonade myself.
The staffer returned with a French press, a coffee service, and three small mugs; Dick started pouring.
“That doesn’t seem so bad, does it?” Barbara asked, and Bruce cast a look in Dick’s direction to indicate that he would take this one.
“Not on the surface – if the police got to know the communities they worked in, there’s good reason to believe that would help with empathizing with those communities,” Bruce answered. “But this approach, here,” (he read aloud) “‘…quality of life interventions,’ it’s correlative, but not causative. It’s meant to make it look like and feel like something is happening, but they’re just going to churn through these low level arrests; anyone with an organization will have competent lawyers, which means these arrests won’t roll on anyone, and they’ll be back on the streets the same day.”
“That doesn’t sound useful though. If the same guy ends up back on the streets tonight, the residents in the neighborhood will see the police are being ineffective. That sounds like a bad plan, frankly,” Dick protested.
“Well, it’s like we were discussing earlier: violent crime is already pretty low in Gotham,” Bruce went on, “so the police can start reporting the effect – lower crime rates – and then post hoc they can position themselves or the mayor’s ‘plan’ as the cause.”
“And if crime goes up,” Barbara worked it out out loud, “they can show how well it worked in the mayor’s plan, and that we need to invest more into that plan, either by spending more money on the police, or expanding their powers.” She looked up at Dick, and she looked nervous.
“Or both,” Bruce added.
“Bruce thinks they’re going to announce that the Batman turned himself in, or that they’ve made an arrest later tonight,” Dick said. “But he doesn’t think it’ll be the genuine article.”
“No,” Barbara replied softly, “no, that doesn’t sound right. Dad would have to be in on that, and he would’ve told me, even if he didn’t tell me directly, he’s got a pitiful pokerface.”
It had been almost twenty-four hours since the last time Commissioner Gelio had stood on the marble steps of City Hall and delivered a rousing message to the people of Gotham.
The Batman had not been arrested, or turned himself in, and so a press conference was set to start in just minutes to discuss “what happens next.”
The chime of the clock in city hall indicated the hour, and Commissioner Gelio stepped forward.
“The Batman remains at large,” he said, and he let it hang in the air, not saying another word for almost thirty seconds, while the drama of the simple phrase persisted in the silence. “When I first spoke to you, I told you we would increase the size of our Superhuman Task Force tenfold, and I have requested the funding for this requisition from Mayor Karlo and the city council. I expect to hear back from the mayor before the end of the day today. In the interim, city council has authorized an emergency curfew between seven o’clock p.m and five a.m, starting this Friday.
“Lest anyone be concerned about an impingement on their freedom to work, or visit family, this curfew will need to be reauthorized by the council every thirty days, and they are able to cancel it at will.”
“Commissioner!” A voice from the press, a woman. “Lois Lane, with The Daily Planet. What will the consequences be for breaking this curfew? What about dockworkers or graveyard shift at Gotham General?”
“Miss Lane,” the commissioner smiled, “This is a temporary measure. Individuals found out past curfew just need a note from their employer, or doctor. If you’re not a person of interest, we will escort you home on your first offense.”
“Commissioner!” It was Lane, again. “One more question. Do you think the bombing at the estate of Carmine Falcone, a notorious crime boss, is in any way connected to the bombings in Metropolis?”
Murmurs of “Falcone?” passed through the press corps. It was no secret that “The Roman” was the executive of a once-thriving criminal enterprise, but reporters working in Gotham never plainly stated that fact. Partially because of fear, and partially because no one who would ever substantiate Falcone’s more nefarious dealings was willing to go on record.
“We know the bombing in Silverwood Barrens was executed by the super-powered individual calling himself the Batman. We have not ruled anything out, yet, and have been exchanging information with investigators in Metropolis,” Gelio answered. “Thank you, we’ll keep you updated.” And the commissioner left the lectern.
“I’m sorry to have wasted your time, commissioner, but I’m afraid I don’t usually take unscheduled meetings with your people,” came the smokey Italian-Jersey accent of Carmine Falcone, “But why don’t we schedule an appointment for the very near future?”
“Carmine,” Flass said, conversationally placing himself between the two men, “I’ve known Johnny since I was a kid. We watched after his ma when his dad left out. I trust him with my life.”
Falcone looked through suspicious eyes at Flass, not appreciating the informality of the detective using his given name, nor that he was being insubordinate. Flass had been on Falcone’s payroll for almost as long as he’d been a cop, but this level of “comfortable” was inappropriate.
Gelio ran through the interplay in his mind. Flass was effective, not competent. Falcone was both, but with the weak spot of having a lot of incentive to look like he was doing the right thing – especially when having a discussion with a police officer who was, to Falcone, an unknown quantity.
Johnny found himself understanding why the mayor told him to pay an impromptu visit to The Roman, and why he was told to bring Flass: as a pipefitting; joining the commissioner and the crime boss together.
“Let’s hear what you have to say, Mr. Commissioner,” Falcone resigned, sitting back down at the table. He waved off the pair of armed guards who were stationed by the hole in the wall. Cinderblock was beginning to be mortared into place, but a drop cloth flapped occasionally, always followed by a warm breeze.
“The mayor has run into an impasse with the councilman from your district, and two of the other councilmen,” Johnny explained. “They have enough votes to vote down the funding for our rapid Superhuman Task Force expansion.”
“Regardless of what you may have heard, commissioner, I’m not in the business of shaking people down.”
Gelio’s left eye and the right corner of his mouth twitched, looking for all the world like he had just snickered at a killer’s explicit denial.
“Something funny, Mr. Commissioner?”
“No, I’m sorry Mr. Falcone. Tetanus. From the tenements in Crime Alley where I grew up.
“The Arts District?” Falcone asked, surprised. “You a paisano?”
“I see. My apologies about your, uh…condition. I got cousins who grew up over there. I know how rough it could be.”
“Not at all, Mr. Falcone. I didn’t mean to give the impression that we were here to contract a shakedown of Councilman Jackson,” Johnny maneuvered deftly in the conversation, offering contrition and charm in just the right measures. “What I need are men, or, rather, funding for men.”
“If I’m being honest, I’m one of GPD’s biggest boosters already. Which is to say, what will I get for my increased investment?”
“Your candidate wins re-election, and your public perception shifts further away from your past and more towards your position as a community leader and respected philanthropist. On top of that, you get to say you’re the guy who brought down the Batman.”
The Roman blinked twice, then smiled and reached into his jacket pocket, producing a checkbook.
“And to whom shall I make the check payable?”
Commissioner Johnny Gelio’s neck spasmed, and his mouth twitched. This time, though, he smiled in earnest.
It was an hour past curfew, and rain came down in sheets over Gotham City.
On Nanticoke Island, Dr. Victor Fries entered his home, calling out for his wife.
“Nora! I’m home, sweetheart!”
“Nora! Nora? Alan?”
Neither wife nor son answered the coroner. In better weather, or outside of the impositions of a curfew, he would be unlikely to give it a second thought, but this was cause for concern.
He checked the garden, but there was nothing there but flooded flower boxes and his wife’s tomato plant.
Victor donned his soaking overcoat, and placed a hand on the doorknob, when it turned from the outside. He pulled the door open.
“Victor, thank God!” Nora stood before him in a raincoat. She was dripping, and dropped a rain-gorged newspaper on the porch as she crossed the threshold.
It wouldn’t be obvious to a casual observer, but Mrs. Nora Fries was crying.
She ran into Victor’s arms, her sobs intensifying.
“It’s Alan, Victor.” She cried between great, stuttering breaths. “He hasn’t come home, and I told him to be here by five thirty – because of the curfew.”
This wasn’t like Alan, Victor thought. Alan was a punctual, obedient boy.
“Where did he say he was going?” Victor asked inexpressively.
“He went to the boardwalk at Nanticoke Beach with Billy,” Nora answered. “What if it’s that thing? What if the Batman has him?”
“Call the police. Jim should still be there, and tell him I’m driving over to the boardwalk in case I get stopped. Don’t worry, Nora, I’m sure he’s okay.”
Dr. Victor Fries, Gotham City’s coroner, kissed his wife, and walked out into the storm.