“Hades, all the fine suits in the world won’t change the fact that you stink of death.”Rachel Smythe • Lore Olympus
Gotham Police Commissioner Yiannis “Johnny” Gelio was spinning an ever-more-precarious number of competing plates.
There was his new position on the Board of Estimates. Three hundred Henchmen (Johnny hatedthe nickname, but it refused to come unstuck around the department) furnished by Henshaw Allied, which was in no uncertain terms, a shell corporation for Carmine “The Roman” Falcone. And those henchmen needed to be groomed into loyalty to him, to the work of Justice. The work of preserving the enlightened Man against the brute force of Gods.
Carmine Falcone represented the Old Way. Something unencumbered by the modern understandings of quote-unquote legitimate business, and Johnny was providing a modern take on police work with a mind on the future, corporatist organizing that was doing so well in Falcone’s homeland.
But there was the inherent conflict between “keeping the peace” and the ominous threat of Falcone’s illegals. Not something that Johnny had to be afraid of, per se, but that didn’t stop him from giving more responsibility and overtime opportunities to the Greek, Polish, and Irish henchmen. A little extra insurance was easy enough to come by.
In all of this, his people – the people of his city were getting restless. Between the heated local politics, the constant, looming paranoia of The Bat, the moment seemed ready to foment popular action. But Chaos was fickle, and Eris could rearrange even Athena’s best plans.
The brutal efficiency of his henchmen were creating a precarious push toward boiling over. Fourteen non lethal officer-involved-shootings in as many days, and four people dead at the hands of police just this month.
The people had been pushed to their limit: law and order didn’t mean much until the proper systems were in place, and in Gotham, the system was broken in multiple places.
Roosevelt was making an honest effort to set these systems up properly, but it was clear that the man’s mind would eventually fall into the same disrepair as his body – Johnny had seen the man’s bizarre gait, and was certain that the poliomyelitis that afflicted his body was being diminished only by a concerted conspiracy on behalf of the press. But he knew the President would succumb, just like Althea had.
I could’ve taught him a thing or two.
Roosevelt surrounded himself with trade unionists and communists – there were rumors that Stalin himself had illegals in the White House – but FDR governed in a way that did show a remarkable understanding of the gears within the machine. Roosevelt was governing as though the plot of Capitalism was a waning, ephemeral thing, and Johnny agreed.
The kind of populism that Wayne and his kid brother were peddling could be re-framed and made appealing to men like Falcone – but not if the people were so aligned against their bosses.
In Johnny’s view, the best strategic move that Thomas Wayne had ever made was resigning after he unionized his business – he got to live out the (admittedly small) remainder of his days with the wealth of building a successful business, but without any of the enmity of his subordinates. And the truth was, there shouldn’t be enmity. The people and the bosses should all have similar goals based on the work they do, and similar power to advocate for those goals with the government.
Police, steamfitters, and school teachers all had different priorities, and a state that reorganized around industrial syndicates and recognized and accounted for those priorities by giving everyone some of what they wanted was a model that was taking hold to great success in Italy. Eliminate class not through some homogenization of everyone’s economic station, but by letting things be as the should be already, with bosses and laborers working toward new innovations daily.
The Nazis were attempting something…similar in their new Germany, but they were taken to atavistic evaluations that didn’t sit right with the commissioner, having been mistaken for Jew, Slav, Italian, and Ottoman, Johnny found himself agreeing with the Italian Prime Minister that “national pride has no need of the delirium of race.”
That said, Johnny had to admit that getting the negroes to fully trust the police did present a complicated and arduous conundrum. One made more complex by the presence of the wealthiest colored man in the country living right in town and, by all accounts, sowing unwarranted distrust between his officers and the people of colored communities.
All of this was just a facet of what he’d need to discuss with Falcone after the dust settled on the recent, unfortunate violence coming from his adjusting department. After the debate and after the election. Carmine would be a much easier sell if the conversation with the man they currently had in custody went (accounting for chaos, of course) according to plan.
Johnny approached the latest addition to the department: the superhuman entry, interrogation, and detention room; or “S.H.E.D.” Filippou and Zaleski kept watch over the interview thus far. The commissioner unlocked the many bolts and twisted the handle to the lead-lined box, and Lieutenant Jim Gordon emerged.
“He isn’t saying shit to me,” Gordon said, the frustration only barely showing in his murmuring.
“It’s alright Jim, we’ve got time now,” Johnny placed his hand on the lieutenant’s shoulder. “Go home, get some sleep.”
“Yes sir,” Gordon answered, pulling a cigarette out of his jacket case and striking a match against its exterior.
At a lead table, with lead bracelets connecting his gigantic wrists and ankles, a hulking man sat silently. It was, in fact, remarkable that he was still alive. Hastily-tended bullet wounds in his bicep, shoulder, and ribs were just beginning to clot, brown stains on the dressings we no longer getting larger. In the hollow, washed out light, the cape that was clumsily strewn on the floor looked more deep, blood red than black. The man’s blonde hair was drawn back in a ribbon behind his head like a secretary’s, his scraggly beard made him look older than Johnny guessed him to be.
Johnny would be the first to admit that it didn’t make any sense: bullets were lead, and they couldn’t stop Superman, but the material stopped his x-ray vision, and it might have a more profound effect on other varieties of supermen. For now, this was the best solution they had, but it occurred to the commissioner that the man shackled to the table was toying with them, or that he was trying to get “inside the department” to do more damage; thus far, he hadn’t made his move.
The stench was unsettling. For all of this monster’s blessings in strength, speed, and power, he played an exceptionally convincing Gotham City invalid. In a way, the man looked like one might imagine a modern Mordred to look. A dark knight of sorts, and an adversary to Order.
“Mr. Valley,” Johnny started, pulling the door shut behind him where it was rebolted by the guards outside. “Should I call you Batman,or do you go by The Batman?”
“Apprehended?” Lois Lane shouted it into the phone, and no one seemed to notice, except Clark. Clark always noticed. Lois offered him half a smile and then sat down in her chair and spun so she was facing away from the farm boy from Smallville. “Vicki this better…I just…me? Me, specifically? Why me?” Lois listened to the voice on the other end of the line. The woman was talking a mile a minute, and Lois was scribbling notes in shorthand onto a tattered stack of scratch paper that had maybe, at one point, been a legal pad.
“Thanks Vick, I’ll figure it out and we can touch base when I get to Gotham.” Lois put the receiver down on the cradle. She pushed her chair out, and stood up, performatively brushing nonexistent wrinkles out of her dark blue pencil skirt.
Five minutes later, there were muffled shouts from Perry White’s office. When Lois emerged, she was again, rubbing her hands along the front of her skit to straighten out creases that weren’t there. Not a single hair was out of place.
“Everything alright?” Clark asked with that clumsy-but-authentic empathy that Lois found so grating. He opened his mouth to say something in followup but Lois just held up a finger at the ape of a man.
“Mm,” she answered, only making eye contact with Clark for a passing second. She picked up her phone, and clicked the cradle twice for the operator. Lois didn’t want to give Clark any further details, but she didn’t want to be outright rude either. She just needed to make arrangements and discussing her feelings with the guy who she too often caught undressing her with his eyes wasn’t high on her list of priorities. “Mary? Can you please get me Vicki’s desk at The Voice? Thank you.”
Clark closed his mouth and turned back toward his typewriter, hunting and pecking for keys with all the grace and speed of a donkey.
“Vicki? Hi. Yes I’ll be coming in by bus in a couple hours. Is your photographer available? Perry is sending Jimmy to Washington to get pictures for the Townsend piece…Okay, I’ll figure something out…at half past six, yes. Oh Vicki, only if it’s not too much trouble…Oh, thank you Vick…Maybe you can give me more notes over a martini at the Iceberg Lounge. That won’t be a problem, I know a guy, I’ll introduce you.”
“It’s a private club, Vick, the curfew won’t matter. Anyway how is that curfew still in effect if they have him in custody? Excellent, I’ll see you then,” Lois hung up the phone, piled some papers together into a messy stack, threw her coat over her shoulders, and pulled on a pair of suede gloves.
“Have a good weekend, Smallville,” she said, shoving a pen into her moth and heading for the elevator.
Clark Kent set his jaw and searched his typewriter for the “B” key.
“I want to thank you for these interviews Commissioner. If they’re newsworthy, they’ll be in the evening edition of tomorrow’s Planet, though I’m afraid the Batman interview will supersede yours.”
The commissioner smiled politely, and the Voice’s staff photographer, Spence something-or-other started snapping pictures of the quiet, poorly-ventilated facility, which Lois presumed was previously used for evidence storage.
“I think I need to state for ethical reasons that, while many assume that an exclusive interview would afford them some level of quid pro quo, that won’t be the case here. I cannot make any implicit or explicit guarantees on what these interviews will look like after the editors work their magic, and either or both piece may not even see print. I have been told I ask tough questions, and I would never compromise my reputation as a journalist by sending puff-pieces to print.”
Gelio’s face creased, just barely, into a frown, and Spence blushed, looking away under the guise of taking more shots. Vale had insisted he was a good photog, and she’d started as a photojournalist, so Lois trusted her, but the kid seemed easily rattled.
“Ms. Lane,” he said, furrowing his brow in consternation, “I brought up your name to the man we have in custody because of your reputation. And it seems you’re the only person that he’ll speak with.”
Lois made a puzzled face, pursing her lips. The commissioner, whose body Lois thought to be what a marionette brought-to-life might look like, did a pantomime of grace that was equal parts unnerving and mesmeric.
“Follow me,” the commissioner rolled his neck and slunk toward a small room. Lois noted the officers standing guard outside of a larger, more ominous windowless cube that sat conspicuously in the center of the caged-concrete bullpen of a sub-basement.
“My plan is to give you a brief rundown on what we know about Mr. Valley, and tell you about our containment and security procedures, how we’ll work to keep you safe during the interview, and then allow you to do your work.” Gelio was methodical, sounding like these protocols were rote, and like there wasn’t a vampire-monster-superhuman being held within the cement-and-lead cube they’d passed on their way to this makeshift office. “Does that work for you?”
Lois nodded. She didn’t love the idea of having too much background going into an interview – information like that tended to inform a bias, and the police were especially crafty when it came to trying to influence stories but this Valley character, like his Batman persona, seems to have just sprung into existence out of the shadows.
“Jean-Paul Valley, who has confessed to being the individual known as ‘Batman,’ was, according to his own accounts, born in the year 1412 in Vosges, in the North of France.” The commissioner stopped, staring stoically into Lois’s eyes. Lois didn’t love it when people tried to read her like that, but her expression was ambiguous, betraying nothing of the lunacy that she’d just heard.
“I’m sorry, I’m not quite up to date on geography,” Lois broke the silence. “Isn’t that the village where and the year when Joan of Arc was born?”
“I’ll admit I’m not a student of Western History,” Gelio confessed, “but if those details are ringing a bell for you, then it wouldn’t surprise me if that was true. Unfortunately, there is no birth record of a ‘Jean-Paul Valley’ in Gotham or anywhere in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, or Pennsylvania. While we are conducting more expansive research into this, we have, more or less ruled out that he is a five hundred year old Patron Saint of France.
“What we have been unable to rule out is the possibility that this individual is a former resident of The Arkham Hospital Asylum For the Medically Hysterical and Criminally Insane – the hospital used to be,” the commissioner’s eyes seemed to search for the right words, “suspiciously easy to break out from, and prior to the most recent renovations taking place on the island, there was a serious fire and a mass breakout. So our Batman could be a former patient. We also, with some level of skepticism, of course, have not conceded the possibility that he may be a so-called Kryptonian or a visitor from some alien planet, such as the individual called Superman claims to be.”
“Why are you skeptical of that possibility?” Lois questioned, pen at the ready.
“I believe that Superman has shown…remarkable qualities, but I’ve looked the man directly in the face, I’ve seen his movements and heard his voice. I’m skeptical that he originated in outer space as well, and, while this isn’t the official position of the department or Mayor Karlo, I suspect that the story of his dying planet lacks the substantive evidence needed to be taken at face value.”
“How do you mean?” Lois had her doubts, to be sure, but she wondered if the commissioner had any novel theories that she hadn’t discussed in her meetings with Luthor. Maybe she would find a correspondent ally in Gelio.
“He’s said his ship burned up in the atmosphere, so why didn’t he burn up? And – and mind you I’m no astronomer – it seems convenient that he tells us he comes from a planet that was literally destroyed, so even if we had technology powerful enough to find it in the sky, it wouldn’t be there?” Gelio paused and rolled his eyes. “I’d bet he’s a government experiment. If he had an accent or was blonde, I’d bet my bottom dollar he came out of Germany. They’ve made a lot of claims of advancements in our understanding of genetics?” Gelio emphasized the second syllable, making the word sound like “Jen-UH-ticks.”
“Genetics,” Lois corrected.
“Yes, pardon me. In any case, we cannot fully rule that out, but the suspect has not demonstrated any of his observed preternatural abilities since being brought into custody. He has been remarkably calm, showing no indications of pain while he received wound care from our medical staff, and–“
“Wound care?” Lois was more incredulous than she’d wanted to let on. “Superman has never been wounded. Bullets flatten against him. How did you apprehend this man?”
“He was sleeping, in costume, in a site of interest,” the commissioner sounded more self-satisfied to Lois than he had before. “A number of the drifters we’ve spoken with in the area identified this as a place where they’d witnessed someone matching the description of the Batman. Dark costume, cape, a tendency to work at night. We found him intoxicated on what appeared to be several bottles of low-quality, possibly prohibition style gin, and were, after a minor engagement, able to take arrest him and bring him in.” The smug tone lingered, but Gelio didn’t smile.
“Why were there wounds?”
“Valley is exceptionally strong. Both in this confrontation and in previous confrontations he has been observed to move at unnatural speeds and to have high durability. In a sting where I was personally present, I observed him to jump through a brick wall from a third story warehouse. The suspect was easily able to overpower two of our officers using unorthodox combat techniques, and run, almost losing us in the process. Thank god for broad daylight though. Detective Selina Kyle gave fresh pursuit on foot, and, in order to avoid a repeat of previous entanglements, discharged her service weapon four times before other officers arrived. She’s the real hero.” At this, the commissioner smiled.
“Ms. Lane, Jean-Paul Valley has not shown any signs of violence or resistance since we put him in chains early this morning. The only thing he has done aside from request bread, water, and for someone to write the confession that he would eventually sign is to ask for you, specifically. He has not eaten any of the provided food or drank the water, he has not relieved himself or requested to do so. He has not been observed to sleep, and he has spoken aloud infrequently. We consider him to be exceptionally dangerous, mentally insane, and to have abilities and biological prowess beyond our comprehension. You will not be left alone with him, and a syringe that has previously been able to penetrate his flesh filled with a high dose of tranquilizer will be ready for administration should he become aggressive or show any signs of potential threat. This is obviously not any thing resembling a guarantee of your safety, but we believe that, given the circumstances and protocols we have in place, we are doing everything within our power to minimize your risk,” Lois nodded, and Gelio continued: “I do want to reiterate, however, that this is done at your own risk and liability, and that we will not bear any financial or medical responsibility for what happens here today. Do you understand?”
Barbara Gordon was concerned. The debate was three days away, and Dick was pacing back and forth in the dining hall.
“I don’t think you understand, Barbara. When people hear what I am saying they overwhelmingly agree with it. That’s why Karlo is so afraid of the debate. It’s why he wanted to do it private, with no reporters and no radio. He doesn’t want to give people the time to think about the comparison.”
“That’s just it! People need to hear what you’re saying, Dick,” Barbara blew a sputtering sigh out in annoyance at her principal. “And they won’t magically absorb your comprehension of complex or bureaucratically-entangled policies just because you use lots of big words.”
“We haven’t been insulting people’s intelligence before, why start now? Gothamites are smart and well-read,” Dick shot back. “They know what tools Karlo has used to try to keep them down.”
“Aren’t you at all concerned about how well you’re doing? About how many people we’ve logged as ‘likely or strong support?’ Because if you asked me what was the downfall of the ostensibly-good kings or military leaders in the books I’ve read, the answer is hubris more often than not, and no amount of whining about how you didn’t get your way is going to conjure the votes you need to win after they’ve already been counted.”
“Karlo completely underestimated us. If anyone is overconfident, it’s him.”
“Dick.” Barbara didn’t immediately continue, letting the pause turn the candidate’s name into a jab. “How many years have you been the mayor of Gotham?”
“What?” Dick asked, confounded. Bruce and Alfred opened the door to the dining hall quietly, taking seats across from Barbara’s like a couple who’d arrived late to the theatre.
“Clayface has been doing this job, however poorly, for nearly eight years. He had a plot to be Mayor that relied mostly on being a well-known actor. He had name recognition. And he made it obvious very early on that he was willing to listen to less-than-savory ideas if they came with the right kind of ‘gifts.’ Maybe I need to ask this question another way.”
Barbara began rummaging through a leather briefcase, leafing through inscrutable paperwork to find something in a filing system that only she understood.
“Wayne Industries and the Pennyworth Foundation employ more people in this city than any other organizations,” Dick said with defiance. “They’re the first and third largest employers in Gotham, and number two is municipal workers.”
“Got it!” Barbara exclaimed, pulling out what looked like an old playbill and the sample ballot for the elections. She slid the latter towards Alfred, no doubt roping him in to one of their quarrels. Al was always a good sport about it, and if Barbara thought hard about it, so was Dick. He might get annoyed or loud, but he rarely took criticism personally, even if it sometimes led to his family needling him. “Alfred, could you please read to me who is running for mayor on this ballot?”
Alfred smiled, and cleared his throat.
“Dick (Richard) J. Grayson appears first and on two separate party lines. Mayor Basil Karlo appears next, with both his title and indicia that he is the incumbent.”
“Alfred, does it say ‘kid brother of Bruce Wayne, the guy with the buildings?’ Anywhere on the ballot, or possibly ‘youngest son of the third wealthiest man in the world, but he has a different last name?’”
“Overdoing it,” Dick supplied. Al made no effort to stifle his snickers, even Bruce gave a single, genuine chuckle.
“You say this is overdoing it,” Barbara picked back up, “but even your employer ranking scheme doesn’t work, because guess who signs municipal workers’ checks? On a fundamental level people know that they’ll still get paid if someone else becomes mayor, but there’s a feeling in the gut like ‘what if the transition goes poorly?’ And it’s a fair question – how many of those municipal workers can afford to miss a paycheck, however unlikely that scenario might be?
“And how many movies have you been in? Because Karlo was a bonafide celebrity before he ran for mayor. The guy knows how to deliver a line.”
“But I’m not going to lose a debate to him! He’s not smart, and people will know that when they see us go head to head.”
“He’s not constrained by the truth, either,” Bruce added. “That’s a disadvantage.” Bruce stood up, walking to the head of the table, and Dick accepted the invitation, rising from his own seat.
“How is it a disadvantage? I can just point out if he’s lying,” Dick sighed. “People trust me.”
“It’s a disadvantage because you have to teach people something new. Your ideas are appealing if people understand them, but that ‘if’ has a lot of work to do.”
“The mayor gets to take shortcuts by lying, and it is much easier to construct those lies within the framework of the familiar, so they’ll sound true,” Barbara joined in. “And there’s a political machine to contend with. We’re still missing precinct captains in crucial districts. How much money do you think Karlo or Falcone would have to pay someone to ‘lose’ a few ballots?”
Dick cracked a knuckle against his jaw.
“So how do we prepare for that?” Dick asked, tussling his hair.
“Shorten the inferential distance. Make sure that the average person in the audience has the comprehension needed to come along for any rhetoricalrides you want to take them on. And victory will need to be decisive. You’ve got three days.”
“If you don’t understand the words someone says,” Barbara joined in, “you just get confused, or you tune out. But if you know the constituent words, you can make it mean anything.”
Lieutenant Jim Gordon turned the typewritten page over in his hand.
He held the paper up to his desk lamp, waiting for it to warm up, or to detect a watermark.
Rotate: Mrs. christie’s hack Murder solution
Crow Donut (Ear Numb): all of them
m xunqdmx fuzk
dgyad mhqzsq m
tqqx m oxqmz ruzot
“These off the cob bums have no idea what detective work really is,” Gordon muttered to himself. “Highfalutin codes? What am I supposed to do with this. Who can I even ask?”
Gordon crumpled the page into a ball, and made to toss it into the wastebasket, but hesitated. He uncrumpled the paper, and folded it into his breast pocket, lifting the dingy patina’d phone from the cradle.
“Barb,” he said to the voice on the other end of the receiver. “Hey sweetie. You ever read that Abigail Christie?”
“Agatha, that’s her! What are you doing for dinner tonight?” Jim lowered his voice into a more inconspicuous tone, “I need some help on a case.”
“I haven’t really done codes since junior high, dad.” Barbara admitted. “But I read Murder on the Orient Express.”
Her father grumbled, and Barbara suspected it was because he had no time for leisure reading anymore, or possibly because he didn’t much care for detective stories, which he described as oversimplifying his work.
“What was the solution?”
“Everyone,” Barbara paused, trying to remember all of the passengers. “Twelve people – I think.”
Jim rolled his eyes and muttered more discernibly.
“If that isn’t the stupidest goddamn thing…”
“It says ‘hack’ right there in the note, Dad.”
“So it does,” an annoyed sigh. “So what’s the rest of it mean?”
“You know I bet Bruce could solve this, if you’d give him a chance,” Barbara said, and her father just stared. “Failing that, let’s see. So ‘rotate’ probably refers to a type of code,” Barbara tore out a page of her notebook as the waitress came by, refilling her father’s coffee mug, and setting down a plate of meatloaf covered in beef gravy in front of him. Barbara’s grilled cheese was set down with the waitress’s other hand, and father and daughter thanked her as she walked away. “There’s a code called a ROT-13 that was invented by Caesar, I think?”
She pushed her plate out of the way and began writing.
“So if this is a ROT-12, then maybe the letters that don’t look as crazy aren’t part of the code? Maybe they’re a clue or a separate message? I noticed that ‘Crow donut’ and ‘Ear Numb’ feel like they might be just scrambled letters, and ‘all of them’ feels a little too clean. So…”
Barbara laid the letters out, with additional spaces between each, whispering letters under her breath as she solved.
Then, a moment of contemplation bursts with electric excitement.
“Word count, (a number)!” Barbara triumphantly showed her father, who had tucked a paper napkin into his collar, and was grinding a bite of meatloaf with his teeth. “And maybe ‘all of them’ is referring to the number of killers in the book.”
She began quickly drawing a tiny grid. Twenty six letters up and down, and twelve numbers across the top. Then she filled in each letter, hastily scrawling them to the point of only the barest legibility.
“So let’s assume that’s this rotates each letter 12 times, that gives us this:
a liberal tiny
rumor avenge a
heel a clean finch
“And what if this is an anagram for the solution? We need to make twelve words out of these letters.”
“Words that you can jumble up to make other words, dad.”
Barbara turned the napkin over, writing the partially decoded message again, and then created a line of all the letters, in alphabetical order:
a a a a a a b c c e e e e e e e e e e e f g h h i i i l l l l l l m m n n n n n n o o r r r t t u v v v y
“Twelve words,” she tapped her lip with her pen, “hmm, twelve words. Gotham?”
She wrote the letters, to Gotham, scratching through one each time it was used, like solving a hangman puzzle with a lot of duplicates.
a a a a a a b c c e e e e e e e e e e e f g h h i i i l l l l l l m m n n n n n n o o r r r t t u v v v y
“Hill? Gotham Hill? Is that something?” She looked up at her father, who stopped, mid-chew to shake his head, his reading glasses glaring the last shards of sunlight to the point that she couldn’t see his eyes. “Wait. L…I…B…”
a a a a a a b c c e e e e e e e e e e e f g h h i i i l l l l l l m m n n n n n n o o r r r t t u v v v y
By the time she had twelve words she found acceptable, it seemed almost as jumbled as before.
“Gotham Library Eleven Eleven Eleven Atrium Alone Final Chance? What in the world is ‘eleven eleven eleven?’”
Her father turned the paper around, holding out an open hand for Barbara’s pen, which she handed off, tapping her foot under the table, and remembering her sandwich (which was cold enough to just be a cheese sandwich at this point), took a disappointing bite.
“Hrm,” the detective scratched through the letters making up the three elevens, and began writing.
11/11 11(o’clock). Gotham Library Atrium. Alone. Final Chance.
Barbara had solved it, but hadn’t considered that it could be a date and time, (though whoever had given this to her father had wildly overestimated his prowess with puzzles).
“Dad, who did you say this was from?”
Sorry for the delay on this chapter. It took a bit to really decide where to go, even with my notes, and, eventually, it started to get unwieldy, so I split this into this week’s chapter and next week’s.Dave
Let me know if the code was too difficult to decipher, or if I was assuming too much background information (inferential distance, ha!). Next week will be the debate, as well as more about what Lois learns about who the Gotham P.D. has in custody (I typically don’t provide details like this in advance of the next installment, but it felt a little like the “debate” can was getting kicked down the road too much. Thanks for reading!